Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Man Like no Other

Mankind has undergone the oppression and dominion of sin almost from the time of the earth's inception. Shortly after the creation we have suffered from effects of sin.  The Bible recounts for us the fall and entrance of sin into the world (Genesis 3:6; Romans 5:12).  Those who deny this, do so because of blindness.  

Adam's sin was passed down or, imputed to us. It was charged to our account. It was placed on our side of the balance sheet.   He was our head whom God chose to represent all of mankind.  His sin is our sin.  Not fair?   Was it fair that God rescued some of us by placing our sin upon the one who never sinned?  This is called imputation, whereby God placed our guilt upon his perfect sinless son Jesus Christ so that we might become just in the eyes of God(2 Corinthians 5:21).  Was this fair to him?  We don't want fairness, but mercy and grace.

Make no mistake, those who are not just in themselves have been justified and declared to be righteous because of the actions of Jesus Christ.  They place their faith in him as their substitute.  Their eyes have been opened and they now realize their guilt before God and the fact that they can be saved from the wrath of God by accepting the work of Jesus Christ on the cross as payment for their sin. Payment in full.  Because of this, the birth of Jesus Christ is the single most important event in history.  He was the Son of God. He was
Immanuel, God with us.  Though we do not really know when exactly he was born, we can rejoice in the fact that he came, was obedient unto death, and conquered sin.

Merry Christmas to you.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Courtship and Betrothal: Biblical or Reactionary?

As Bible believers we should constantly ask "Is it biblical?".  But, that may not be enough.  Many things are biblical but we don't do them. In your church, do you greet one another with a holy kiss or a handshake?  A holy kiss is "biblical" but, through bible interpretation we have determined that it was an activity based in culture, and did not have its roots firmly planted in the character of God. So it is biblical but not practiced today in the US. Ephesians 4:32 tells us to be kind to one another. This is not based in culture but in the character of God. The passage tells us the reason we should be kind, which is the fact that Christ was kind to us. Therefore, The interpretation and application of the verse is based in God's character.  It doesn't change...ever.

Courtship and Betrothal are words that have been tossed around for years in Christian home- schooling circles (See David Crank's article).  Depending on whom you follow, one could come away with varying degrees of emphasis and understanding.  Various passages are used to teach this but fall short when biblical hermeneutics are applied.  Many of these teachers are misapplying the "biblical" principle illustrated above. 

The idea that parents should be involved in dating and marriage propositions on behalf of their children has become popular, and with good reason. The culture is corrupting the church in ways that are not repairable.  Reverence for God and a resultant concern for others has been lost.  Thus, the activities of church-going individuals with regard to dating has seriously devolved into selfish gratification that is harmful to all involved.  I like to refer to what we are seeing today as "recreational dating". No purpose, just fun and excitement.  There is little regard for young ladies as "sisters in Christ" or young men as "brothers in Christ".  Everyone is fair game and my happiness is the goal! I wonder, is this idea biblical?

This downward spiral is no surprise, is it?  Is Christian culture in the US becoming more like Christ or more like the world?  The result is that parents are becoming involved in the dating process.  They want to be sure that their son or daughter does not make a mistake in marriage. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, this godly concern is a biblical concern because marriage is to be a picture of Christ and his church, his bride.   But, how we get there is the thing with which I have a problem. In other words,  How parents become involved and stay involved in this process is where there is an issue.

Some parents err on the side of patriarchy and  force themselves into this process against the will of their young people.  They are well intentioned but wrong. This is simply a short cut.  They have never had much of a relationship with their kids.  So, they have forced obedience and neglected to look at the heart. I must say they have done their best, but simply did not know any different. Other parents err on the side of humanism, thinking that junior is 18 now and they have no right to speak into his life.  They stay out of the entire process and give no guidance at all.  They "hope" junior has found a good match but have never really taught him what to look for.

I would like to bring balance to this whole issue.  Are you ready?  The key to this whole thing is very simple and biblical. Develop such a thriving relationship with God that your life overflows into a fruitful relationship with your children so that when they come to the place of making these kinds of decisions they will desire your input with open hearts and minds.  No coercion, no manipulation.  John Wesley said something to the effect;  "don't look for a ministry but anticipate the fruit of a disciplined life".  This begins at a young age and carries through. Start today.  You may have blown it many times over.  Start today. Your kids might be older now.  Start today.  Create a culture in your home of loving God and loving others because it is the right thing.  Put away the legalism and forced "godliness".  Allow God to change your heart. If you have taught your children to know and love wisdom then they are going to desire all the counsel they can get (Proverbs 11:14).  Allow Spurgeon's Catechism to guide your emphasis and motivation for living: 
Q. What is the chief end of man? (what is man's purpose?)
A.  Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.

There is a culture in your home.  You may not be aware of it but there is one.  In your home, projects may be more important than people.  Things might be more valuable than godly character.  Anger and coercion may be the means by which you get your kids to obey you.  Manipulation may be the way you relate to your spouse. Achievement may be more important than humility.  This is culture.  They key here is to find out what Scripture says about culture. On what does your family place value?  (Proverbs 29:21, 12:15-16; Colossians 2:8; Ephesians 5, 6; Luke 6:45)

Quick guidelines for relationships
  1. Until one is ready to support a family, or is on a reasonable path to this,  no thought should be given to dating, courtship, betrothal or whatever you want to call it. But, one should always be preparing spiritually by being under sound biblical teaching and engaging in ministry.
  2. Ask others more mature than you if you are ready for marriage based on issues of spiritual maturity and responsibility.  Be teachable and listen. 
  3. Parents, if your kids are in a youth group, the inevitable dating will only complicate things and cause harm in the church and drama in your home.  Your young person will end up being affected by hurt feelings, misunderstanding and wrong assumptions.  (I do not care for youth groups because unhealthy dating is virtually impossible to avoid) 
  4. Can premature dating help my child grow in godliness and increase in godly character?  I think not.  If godly character and a rich relationship with God through Christ is not my goal for my children, I must reevaluate my focus.  Sound radical?  Living for Christ is supposed to be radical (Luke 9:23). There is no other kind of Christianity. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

My Child and The "Sinner's Prayer". Is it the "sinners prayer" that saves us?

Will my child profess Christ? What do I do when my child asks to be saved? Does my eight year old understand the gospel? Is he old enough or mature enough? I doubt my salvation, what should I do? Can someone know for sure they are saved? I prayed the sinner's prayer 20 times and I still don't have a confident assurance of my salvation...
How should Christian parents handle these questions? The easy answer that has become popular since the mid 1800's is to lead our child in "the sinners prayer". The better answer is much longer but more in line with Scripture. Keep in mind, the Bible gives us a clear answer to these questions.

Leading a child in a "sinner's prayer" in a moment of emotional crisis may be the catalyst for a lifetime of spiritual doubt and confusion.

In fact, children are not the only ones with questions about salvation and assurance. Many adults who have been raised in Christian homes and who have prayed "the sinners prayer" multiple times still find themselves without assurance. They doubt their own sincerity and so they pray "it" again and again hoping to finally find confidence and comfort.
Let me just say at the outset that I am aware of Romans 10:9-10 which seems to teach this idea of a sinners prayer.  However, many people profess belief in the elements listed in these verses but still lack the saving faith necessary for salvation.  The point of these verses is not only belief but what happens when one truly believes on Christ.  IF I believe Romans 10, what does this  really mean?  The demons believe and tremble (James 2:19).  Belief in these things is critical but an intellectual belief and saying some words is not what the passage is teaching.  We all know people who have done this and who have no desire to follow God or know him. So, this is not a formula to be followed.  In Romans 10, Paul is teaching that I must be willing to submit to Jesus' Lordship in every area of my life.  It is a deep personal conviction of without reservation that Jesus is my own master and sovereign.  Hence the term Lord Jesus in the passage.  It is teaching that submission to Him is what I am signing up for.  An individual whose heart has been penetrated by the saving Grace of God is one who willingly submits to this.  We see this idea in other passages as well (Luke 9:23-26, 14:26-27). Only God can do this work in a human heart.
 So, what is wrong with "the sinner's prayer"?  History has part of the answer.

Charles Finney (1792-1875) was an attorney by profession and ministered in the wake of the "Second Awakening," as it has been called. Finney one day experienced "a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost" which "like a wave of electricity going through and through me ... seemed to come in waves of liquid love." The next morning, he informed his first client of the day, "I have a retainer from the Lord Jesus Christ to plead his cause and I cannot plead yours". At that time, Instead of applying himself (Ezra 7:10) to the study of Hermeneutics, Church history and Theology, at Princeton Seminary, or any seminary, he decided to begin conducting revivals in upstate New York right away (Red Flag!). One of his most popular sermons was "Sinners Bound to Change Their Own Hearts." This was typical of his man centered theological system. Can man change his own heart (Matthew 5:8; Ephesians 2:1)? He was a convincing orator but lacked background and understanding of the Attributes of God and Scripture. Finney used persuasive tactics to coax thousands of his listeners to "come to the altar" and "make a decision for Christ".
The “sinner's prayer” was born.
"Just ask Jesus into your heart” the saying goes. No repentance. No understanding. Just a decision that makes mom and dad the preacher feel better. Prior to this time, sinners were given Scripture, counsel, and left to the Holy Spirit until finally they cried out to God for forgiveness. They came to an understanding by the aid of the Holy spirit.  They were given time and allowed to be illuminated as to the severity of their sinfulness against a holy God. Finney's persuasive speech yielded thousands of professions of faith but when examined later these professions were nothing more than temporary, emotional responses which left the sinner unconverted and unrepentant. Under Finney’s teaching of Self Reformation, many decisions were made but few persevered. Church buildings were built only to sit empty just a few years later. If few persevere, few were converted (Mark 4:17). We cannot reform ourselves.
The new birth is induced by the Word of God (1 Peter 1:23).  It is a monergistic work (the work of God alone) brought about by the power and working of God, not by human ingenuity or emotional persuasion. It is a work which God begins (Philippians 1:6) and completes on our behalf (John 1:13). We cannot take credit for something God did in our life, we're not that special :) (Romans 3:10-18). However, when our will is regenerated, we do repent, we do believe and cry out to God for Mercy and salvation. 

But the "why" we call  out to him is the critical factor.  Again, it goes back to Philippians 1:6.  He  begins this work on our behalf and we simply respond to His gentle but effectual wooing.
The Church for centuries had no “sinner’s prayer”. They responded by faith and repentance to the conviction of the Holy Spirit and called upon the Lord for mercy. Prior to Finney, preachers did not ask people, especially children leading questions like: “Do you want to go to heaven when you die?” Or, “do you want to spend eternity with Jesus?” Every child will answer these types of questions in the affirmative.
Dig deep  (Proverbs 20:5)
When your child says: "I want to be saved mommy!" Our first response should be a series of questions. Why? From what? When did you start thinking this way? We want to gauge their understanding of sin and God. Are they being motivated by simple self preservation or do they thinking clearly and rationally about sin and God?  Questions are a great way to try to understand their thinking. (Proverbs 18:13)
If your child asks something similar to: "will I go to hell when I die?" We could respond with "Why do you ask that ?" or "tell me what you know about that".  They may reveal that they lied or committed some other mischief. Do not flat out tell them "NO" because at that point they would be trusting your word instead of going through the process of beginning to trust God and His word.  If you try to ease their mind they will not have developed the discernment they will need later in life to look at the fruit in their life and compare it with the fruit mentioned in Scripture. This conversation with your child may reveal that God is convicting them of sin. We do not want to try to make them feel better by telling them they are "OK". We want the Comforter to do that in His time through His word.
Do not be the source of your child’s comfort. Rather, direct them to God's word and the ministry of the Holy Spirit for comfort.
Parents must know the Scriptures. What does good fruit look like in the Bible? Am I seeing this fruit in my child or young person? Are they making decisions that are not motivated by selfish desires but by a desire to honor God's word? Are they suffering for righteousness' sake? Do they hunger to learn God's word?
Prolonging, or not forcing a "decision" is far from detrimental if we use this time to point them back to God's word and His Character.  Patience.   Allow them to formulate a deeper understanding of God.  Teach them what repentance looks like in Scripture.  Show them examples of David (Psalms 51:1), young King Josiah (2 Kings 22:1-20 ), King Saul's bad example of repentance etc. They should already be exhibiting repentance in your home by the age of 3 or so.  A child should see mommy and Daddy modeling this by asking forgiveness. We must be growing in our walk with Christ which serves as a model for our children.
Your child May come to you and say "Daddy, I just asked Jesus to save me". That is wonderful. What a blessing. rejoice with her. "What prompted you to do that?" Ask more questions.  But, here is the critical point: I do not want to continually point my child back to a decision they made when he is feeling doubts about his salvation.  Nor would I do this with an adult. I want to point them to Scripture and teach them to examine the fruit in their life. Scripture, in some cases was written for exactly this purpose, to give assurance to the believer (1 John 5:13).

If an adult doubts his salvation, point him to Scripture as his source of assurance. We never want to convince him that he was sincere when he prayed  a prayer.  His assurance comes from God's word and the work of Christ, not the sincerity of a prayer.

What Bible verses would point us toward assurance of our salvation? Click here for marks of a true believer. There are obviously many more but these are a start.
The Christian life is a life of transformation and growth. Ask God for grace to walk with him in obedience and humility. Be teachable as you are exposed to the word. Humble yourself and refrain from imposing your views upon Scripture but allow Scripture to formulate your views. Assurance comes through obedience to God's word. Assurance comes as we examine the changes that God is making in our life and our conformity to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).   Biblical assurance does not come from questioning the sincerity of a prayer.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Not For The Faint of Heart

Your best life now. Everyday is a Friday. Positive messages for broken people. Our church is relevent. We are an inclusive congregation. God doesn't hate. Doctrine separates. The Bible is true because I believe it. That church doesn't have enough programs for my kids. There's not enough people my own age at that church. I want...

No doubt you have heard many of these statements. Titles and phrases like these are a glaring testimony to the state of the church today. For instance: "relevance". We unknowingly hold such a low view of God and His word that we have to declare our teaching "relevant", as if God's word alone somehow isn't. In its context, what is really meant by "relevant" is: "Our church will give you everything you  desire and we will make you feel good in the process".

Returning to biblical Christian living has been a difficulty for every generation. It is not for the faint of heart. The early Church was forced into a steadfast position on truth. Many were required to renounce Jesus Christ or be killed. Hence, we see the message proclaimed in Romans 10:9-11. This reference is not a recipe for a "sinner's prayer" but probably to a public acknowledgment of the personal lordship of Jesus Christ. Christians were forced to bow to Caesar or be killed; young and old, women and children. But, as time went on, the early Church eventually got off track. They left the simplicity and authority of Scripture and began adding to it human "wisdom". It wasn’t until the Reformation that these false ideas were renounced and "Scripture alone" became the hallmark. 

Many believers today think that suffering is reserved only for some future time of tribulation. Some purport that the Church will never suffer the hardships which believers have in fact undergone. The Church will be removed from judgment but not from suffering (1 Thessalonians 4:31, 5:9).  It is because of our unfamiliarity with Church history that we make such assertions. Christians have suffered greatly down through history and in many countries around the world, believers today are being violently persecuted.

The Church in the USA is suffering, but in a different way. There is a silent killer devouring the Church. However,  this suffering and destruction at the church door is self-imposed. Churches are choosing the broad way, not the narrow way.  What is this silent killer? Two words: The first is Covetousness (Exodus 20:17).  Under the supervision of pastors parent's hearts are turned to everything BUT their children. They wouldn't verbalize this but their actions speak loudly.  In general terms, both parents today work 40-60 hours a week to afford two new cars, a large home, and expensive vacations. Wives and mothers are sent to work because for some, the thought of having a smaller, older home, older car or possibly educating children at home is not even a possibility. Career goals, ambitions and dreams have become the priority. We want stuff and things. We want security that we think is found in abundance and ease. Is Matthew 6:33 relevant to this discussion? Men, what about the admonition in Titus 2:4-5? Isn’t this a direct admonition for women to manage their homes. If our wives are working 25-40 hours a week outside the home how are they able to manage things effectively at home? Why doesn't this verse bring conviction to us? This is what covetousness looks like. We sacrifice spiritual fruitfulness so that we can settle for meagerness. We don’t want to walk by faith but by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). We don't consciously consider that God's word and work are at stake. We don't consider that sending our wives out to work may result in The WORD OF GOD BEING BLASPHEMED (Titus 2:5).  Covetousness clouds our judgment and changes our priorities.

The second word is Selfishness.  When arriving home from a long day at work TV, golf, hobbies, time with "the guys"etc., complicate our evenings. Men go on long hunting trips, ski trips or other outings with their friends leaving their families behind.  Would we consider giving up those things for a time to make investments in our kids?  Some would say this is legalistic and radical.  To which I say "yes it is".  The Christian life is not a bed of ease where we continue on like we are single and let others teach and train our kids. It is our Job.  What about singing with our families in the evening and teaching them the richness of the Hymnal? What about discussing theology and making it practical our your kids? What would happen to our families if our children knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are our priority?  What if they knew that we could not wait to get home to play ball with them, do projects with them or just spend time with them?  I know a single mom who is forced to work full time.  She recently became a believer and saw the danger her two teens were subjected to in the public school.  She pulled them out and is teaching them at home after she gets home from work. She goes into work extra early to be able to get home early enough to make that investment.  She is also going through a book study in the evenings with them to insure that they are getting teaching throughout the week in addition to online sermons.  She is not selfish.  She gets it. Unfortunately, too many do not.

What does Deuteronomy 6:4-9 have to say about this? 1 Peter 5:5 and Ephesians 5:21 admonish us to submit one to another.  Submission to one another simply means that “your needs compel me more than my own”.  Mom and dad, do the spiritual needs of our family come first in your planning? Do they compel you? When considering sports or activities are you first thinking about the spiritual impact?  Is the soul of your child more important than things and careers? Most of us would answer in the affirmative. But, what are we doing about it? If you asked your children what is really important to you, what would they say?  

In general, church leaders are allowing and even encouraging this abdication (discarding) of parental duties and responsibilities. We are so concerned with "growth" and building payments that the message preached becomes watered down. Mentioning the truths outlined above becomes too big of a risk. Some parts of Scripture are hard to hear for all of us, but we teach the whole counsel of God without apology (Acts 20:27). If people cannot handle truth spoken in love they may be a "weed" in the garden (Matthew 13:24-30) but we do not soften the message. Those of us who would teach the "radical" ideas outlined above are labeled by many as narrow minded family worshipers and legalists. In reality, we are simply identifying the root of the problem and calling out those who are perpetuating it. We will look at statistics in this area in our next post.  

As a result of poor leadership, this community of church goers is allowing the philosophy of the world's system to "raise" its children. The Church has not been alerted to the admonition of James 1:27. TV, movies, various events, concerts and peers frame the thinking of our youth rather than Scripture. James 1:27 is not just instructing us to abstain from gross immorality but also wrong thinking, wrong philosophy (Colossians 2:8), and wrong assumptions about life, family and church. Generally, Christian kids are raised in the same way as non-Christian kids. The only difference is that the former goes to church weekly. But, attending a church that is trying to make the content "relevant" and does not teach parents the tough truth, will subtly erode their view of the word of God. They are getting human ideas and human philosophy, not truth that hits them between the eyes and changes them. The point is this: if parents are not being conformed to Christ's image (Romans 8:29) in the community of church through teaching, preaching and fellowship then they will not know how to pass that along to their children.  It will simply be an illusive, moving target that they can neither define nor hit.

In subsequent posts we will look at how a local church can help in this area.  Preview

This is not for the faint of heart. Proverbs 24:10

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Majoring on the Majors. On Purpose

Consistent Theology.  The attributes of God.  Family integration.  Plurality of Elders. Consistent hermeneutics. 1689 London Baptist Confession.  Church history. Evangelism.  Biblical manhood and womanhood.  Vision for our families.  Individuals seeking to minister.  "Standards".  Leadership in the home.  Keepers at home.  Home education.  Ministry mindset.  Music under God's Lordship. God-centered worship.  Creationism. Involvement in the public square.  Current events. Parental discipline, ie. training children. Careers. Missions.

This list is not exhaustive.  All these ideas are important; even essential. Putting them together can help a  local church and its individual members become usable and fruitful.  But taken individually, they can easily become "the issue" and "the focus".   It is so easy to become preoccupied with one idea or another and lose the overall vision that Scripture lays out for us.

Our focus must be on Christ alone by feeding on His Word.  A heart for Christ will influence our thinking about each of these areas listed above.  Christ is the theme of Scripture and Scripture is our basis for all of living.  Mary and Martha illustrate this important lesson for us in Luke 10:38-42.  One focused on serving.  And, incidentally, lost her joy in the process.  The other focused on literally "the best things" and was commended by the Lord.  What were those "best things"? The teaching of the Word of God by the Lord. Hearing his word.  It is here where serving is rooted and the foundations of fruitfulness are built.  Hearing and focusing on Scripture is where the underpinnings of our passions must be.

The power of God is not in methods, however biblical they may be.  The power of God is in receiving and obeying God's word. Attending a church that has the "right" doctrine and methods is needful.  But, hearing and reading are only the first steps to believing and doing.  James warns us to be doers of the Word not hearers only, deceiving our own selves.  Hearing God's Word, by design, produces faith, real faith.  If our faith is real it will literally be life changing. As parents, living a life changing faith is the only way of seeing the product of this in our own children.  If  we are going through the motions and we are not living a real, life changing faith, we will not be passing anything of lasting spiritual value down to our children no matter how many bible studies and conferences we attend. God does not call us to know it, but to live it.

What so many today fail to understand is that good doctrine produces life. But, in the Church today, people are bored by doctrine and have heaped to themselves teachers that provide self help ideas and success principles.  Understanding Theology, Ecclesiology, Soteriology and the like are not taught and so then are not understood by the Church.  We have a surface level understanding of God and so focus on what God can provide for us.  Even worship is focused on our desires to give God what WE want to give Him instead of asking what He would like for us to give Him.   We are content today for God to be ANYWHERE but on His throne because we have little understanding of God and His ways. We want Him to bless us but we do not understand that we are here for His glory, not the other way around.  The Church does not even understand what God's blessings are. We pray for what we do not understand.

This blog will explore the ideas listed above as well as other essentials like:

  • What does a "mature" son or daughter look like? 
  • What is the price of discipleship?
  • What are foundational character traits we and our children must develop?
  • How do we identify our real "needs" that God is pointing out to us in daily living?
  • How can we help men and women to see the "issue"?  How can we help them to develop a "whatever it takes" attitude when  it comes to knowing God and passing it on to those in their care?
Blessings to you and yours.

Scott Eckles for Bethel Baptist Fellowship

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