Archive for the 'Family' Category

Summer Vacation Meditation

Perhaps this summer finds you and your family loading up the car and driving off in search of pristine scenery and family memories. As you travel across our beautiful land, many striking sights meet your eye: forested hills, sandy beaches, vast plains, rugged mountains, deep canyons, and pounding surf. What do you see when you look at these beautiful sights?

God’s splendor in creation should provoke our worship.

Worship isn’t just something that happens for an hour and fifteen minutes on Sunday morning; it is giving God the honor and glory due him. It is recognizing who he is and what he has done. David’s meditation on God’s greatness and goodness in Psalm 8 is a great pattern for our thoughts. As we view God’s creation, we can’t help but feel very small. Yet God cares for us in an extremely involved and loving way! Such undeserved kindness!

God’s spectacular universe demonstrates his power and “God-ness” (Rom 1:20). The unrelenting power of the ocean, the silent immensity of the atmosphere, the undisturbed tranquility of mountain peaks and ocean trenches make it very clear that we are out of our league. Man is easily crushed, lost, exhausted, or even killed in his attempts to explore God’s vast creation. Only an omnipotent God could create and maintain such a universe!

God has created a beautiful world that, although marred by sin’s curse and man’s sinfulness, still causes the regenerate heart to resonate with the beauty of God’s greatness. A Christian should be able to appreciate the beauty of creation far beyond any scientist, astronomer, or geologist simply because we understand the greater significance of creation. It does not exist “just because”; it exists because God created it for his pleasure and to accomplish his will (Rom 11:36).

Many of our hymns echo this truth. Listen to these words penned by George W. Robinson in 1876 from the hymn “I Am His and He Is Mine.”

Heav’n above is softer blue,
Earth around is sweeter green!
Something lives in every hue
Christless eyes have never seen;
Birds with gladder songs o’erflow,
Flowers with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know,
I am His, and He is mine.

Allow your summer vacation to be a time of worship as you meditate on our great God!

July 2010

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Speaking the Truth in Love

Who among us has never had a situation where you confronted a person about sin, and did so in a firm but caring way, only to have the individual accuse you of being harsh and uncaring? Certainly there will be times when dealing with sin in a biblical manner will set us up for an accusation of being cruel. Although such a charge will sting, we are to be committed to ministry with the mind and manner of Christ.

As fundamentalists we seek to have ministries that speak “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” We remain vigilant against all “deceitful schemes” (Eph 4:14) that prey on undiscerning believers. But not only are we to teach and preach the truth, we are to do so “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15).

The two words “in love” are to be a discipline which impacts all ministry. I say discipline because it is one of those “simple but not easy” matters in Christian work. Truth is to be presented in a manner marked by Christ’s love and compassion. Anything less is disobedience.

The truth often gets watered down by new evangelicals and charismatics who emphasize love. Fundamentalists sometimes are thought to be heavy on truth but light on love. We have a responsibility to present the gospel and train up believers with truth and love. “In love” is not an option; it is clearly a command. All our communication should be stamped by Christ-like compassion.

The fact that Jesus was a gentle Shepherd should not be misconstrued to mean He was soft on sin. Christ spoke some very stern words and yet everything He taught was in keeping with His character. Elders, never be “domineering over those in your charge” (1 Pet 5:3), but be known for your gentle manner (1 Tim 3:3). Love is not canceled out by truth. Truth is to be declared in perfect conformity with true love. Christ’s love is to be the standard for even the strongest message you preach against sin or compromise.

Preachers need to examine themselves daily in this regard. None of us has license to say what we want in any way we want. Apologetics or preaching done in unloving manner are a detriment. Even when it is necessary to “rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13), we are duty bound to correct in a manner that testifies to the love of Christ. With truth we at times have to correct, but in love we do so in a way that is not censorious.

Biblical separatists are known for their vigilance, ready to defend God’s Word. May we also be known for our tenderheartedness (Eph 4:32), willing to show God’s love. This is one of the best ways to show that we are under control—the Spirit’s control. Acting in the love of Christ is the best way to show loyalty to Christ.

October/November 2009

Is God Still Working?

There is a shocking lack of confidence in the Gospel of Jesus Christ today. To borrow a phrase from Romans 1:16, it seems that many are “ashamed” of it, or at least doubtful as to whether it is indeed the “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” This Gospel doubting can be seen in at least two ways.

Some doubt the Gospel and therefore supplement or replace it.
There is no question that the church is embarrassingly pragmatic in our day. Pragmatism is essentially the idea that success justifies strategy—that the end justifies the means. “If it works, do it,” we are told. Thus, in the name of evangelism, we see all sorts of circus-like shenanigans: “preaching” that apes foul-mouthed stand-up comics, shockingly explicit “outreach” to the pornography industry, goldfish-swallowing youth pastors, bait-and-switch outreach efforts, felt-needs preaching, and the like. While the Gospel may be “snuck in” to such efforts, they actually reveal a sad lack of confidence in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. Such “evangelists” act as though the Gospel is an impotent thing—a hard sell that has to ride the coattails of more attractive products, not unlike the add-ons politicians tie to bills in order to pass unpopular measures using measures with broad support. But make no mistake—the tacky salesmanship that exists both inside and outside of fundamentalism betrays a lack of confidence in the unadulterated, unadorned Gospel.

Some doubt the Gospel and therefore expect no conversions.
Not all Gospel doubting is as crass as the used-car-salesman tactics listed above. Some have a more respectable shame of the Gospel, but it is a tragic doubt nonetheless. Some are convinced that God is finished, that the conversions we read of in the New Testament and throughout church history are relics of another time, evidences of more receptive hearers and more empowered churches. We shouldn’t expect solid churches to grow, we hear. In fact, our declining numbers are justified and almost celebrated as badges of our faithfulness—as though all growing churches must be doing something wrong.

I disagree with the second concept as vehemently as I disagree with the first. To quote a Christmas hymn, “God is not dead, nor does He sleep.” He’s still working. His Spirit is still convicting, illuminating, drawing, regenerating. The Gospel is still the power of God for salvation. The Word is still alive, and powerful, and heart-rending. And thus, I expect to see it work. I pray expectantly. I preach expectantly. And God is saving people—like the deacon who will preach in our prayer meeting in a few hours, like the drug addict whose life has been turned upside down in recent months, like the single mom who has turned from religion to Christ and been eternally changed; like the multitudes that have come to Christ in recent months at Grace Church of Mentor—not because the church is perfect, and not because the church is compromising, but because the Gospel is mighty and they’re unleashing it to one sinner at a time.

One of my favorite hymns about the power of the Gospel is Isaac Watts’ stirring “How Sweet and Awesome Is the Place.” After rejoicing in salvation blessings and marveling at God’s including us in them, the hymn ends with a prayer for the Lord to use His victorious Word to save souls, fill His churches, and glorify Himself.

Pity the nations, O our God!
Constrain the earth to come;
Send Thy victorious Word abroad,
And bring the strangers home.

We long to see Thy churches full,
That all the chosen race
May with one voice and heart and soul
Sing Thy redeeming grace.

We mustn’t be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We mustn’t sell it, as though it’s on a discount rack. And we mustn’t shelve it, as though it’s no longer useful. The Gospel is as powerful as ever! God is as alive as ever! Let’s pray and preach like we believe it, by God’s grace.

August 2009

Reconciling Scripture and the Problem of Racism

feature-article.gifOne of our world’s current “hot topics” is racism. Corporations posture themselves carefully to avoid any allegation of racism. Politicians, media personalities, and sports stars have ruined their careers with racist remarks. Billions of dollars each year are poured into improving race relations. Churches and religious groups are uniting for the all-important task of “racial reconciliation.”

What do we mean when we talk about “racism”? What race of people are we talking about? What does the Scripture have to say about this problem?

Continue reading ‘Reconciling Scripture and the Problem of Racism’

“Only In the Lord”

Sound Words graphicThere was a time when many fundamentalist Christians argued against inter-racial marriage on presumably biblical grounds. It was believed that interracial marriage was an attempt to rebel against God’s division of the races at Babel and a foretaste of the sinful uniting of humanity against God that will characterize the rule of the antichrist.

Such arguments against interracial marriage are flawed on a number of levels, particularly because they arise from a mishandling of the Scriptures. They wrongly assume that there is more than one human race (an idea which Mark Perry effectively disproves in this month’s feature article). Further, they wrongly assert that the distinctions made by God in Genesis 11:9 were physical and final, when in fact they were linguistic, geographical, and reversible. No one would argue, for example, that a European whose native language is German is forbidden on the basis of Genesis 11 from marrying one whose native language is English, or whose native land is Australia. The distinctions made at Babel were neither physical nor absolute. Finally, the union of mankind under the antichrist and against God will be sinful, political, economic, and religious, not ethnic (Revelation 13 and 17).

Does Scripture teach that there is a factor which prohibits marriage between men and women with deep-rooted differences? Absolutely. But that factor is spiritual, not physical. When addressing the permissibility of a widow remarrying, Paul provides an inspired answer that must inform our understanding of marriage even today: “she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord” (1 Cor 7:39). Paul, a Jew by birth writing to a church filled with Gentiles, placed only one prohibition on the marriage of two single people: both must be Christians. Marrying outside of the Christian faith rebels against a clear command of Scripture and has tragic results—marriages in which Christ is the source of division rather than unity and children who are torn between the irreconcilable values and worldviews of their parents. We must marry “only in the Lord.”

However, just as we would be wrong to omit this God-breathed requirement, we are also wrong to add to it. Given the perfect opportunity to forbid marriage between different ethnicities, Paul did not do so. Nor should we.

Lest it be argued that the Old Testament forbade inter-ethnic marriage, it is clear that even texts such as Exodus 34:16 and Deuteronomy 7:1–5 were concerned with the faith of would-be spouses, not ethnicity. Among other examples, God’s ordaining the marriage of Boaz to Ruth the Moabitess (Ruth 4:10) and including her in the lineage of Christ (Matt 1:5) proves that spiritual rather than ethnic factors must be weighed in the selection of a spouse. Despite her ethnicity, Ruth was an eligible wife for Boaz because she had come to faith in Jehovah (Ruth 1:16).

Of course, our desire is not to be politically correct. We cannot merely capitulate to the opinions of our day. However, fundamentalists of all people should yearn to be biblically correct. The standard for marriage in Boaz’s day and Paul’s day was simply that a potential spouse be “in the Lord.” The same standard is sufficient in our day, as well.

March 2009

Rethinking Retirement Some More

Sound Words graphicIn last month’s Sound Words column, I applied Luke 12:13–21 to the topic of retirement, urging readers not to retire from life and ministry. Devoting your final decades to golf, gardening, and grandchildren would be unwise and unscriptural. Moving to Florida may be a selfish thing that leaves a gaping hole in your local church. On the other hand, your remaining productive years could be eternally useful, whether working in your local church, helping a church plant, or going to the mission field—without having to raise support!

While wasting the freedom afforded by your “autumn years” is tragic, the pattern of neglecting eternal needs for temporary pleasures starts long before retirement parties. We must not neglect urgent ministry needs in the “spring and summer” of life in order to stockpile for the future.

In James 5:1–6, James rebukes and warns those who are wealthy. Why? The riches with which they had been blessed were being misused—or not used at all! They were saving for “the last days” (v. 3) even as those less fortunate were unable to meet life’s basic needs (v. 4). In an apparent allusion to Christ’s teaching in Matthew 6:19–20, James bemoans such short-sighted and selfish hoarding. Unused possessions were rotting in storage (v. 2a); garments which could have clothed the needy were hanging in closets, moth-eaten (v. 2b); gold and silver that might have funded gospel ministry was “corroding” (v. 3). Such abuse of God-given wealth disgusted James. He warned of coming and ironic judgment in which hoarded riches would hinder their long-term security rather than insuring it (vv. 1, 3, 4).

To be sure, much of the reason for James’ frustration is that some of the wealth had been gained dishonestly, (vv. 4, 6). Still, there is a sense in which their hoarding and luxurious living—to the neglect of urgent needs—would have been unconscionable even if the riches had been gained honestly (cf. 1 Tim 6:18–19). While investing for the future is commended in both Testaments, we must ask ourselves “how much is enough?” We must invest in such a way that current needs are not neglected.

  • Ought we to stockpile for future comfort when hard-working brothers cannot make ends meet?
  • Ought we to plan for lavish vacations when missionaries toil three or more years to raise support?
  • Ought we to invest so much of our extra income into a dicey(!) stock market when our local churches are unable to meet budget?

We need to rethink retirement—both what we intend to do with it and what we’re willing to sacrifice in order to get there.

October/November 2008

Rethinking Retirement

Sound Words graphicFor many, “the good life” is a comfortable existence until age 65 and then a carefree existence thereafter. Retirement is “the promised land” where work is over and years of self-indulgence, travel, and relaxation await. Unfortunately, few give any thought to whether or not the Scriptures speak to that modern idea of retirement. They do.

Consider Luke 12:13–21. A man complains to Jesus that his brother is hoarding a family inheritance—the very sort of controversy that continues to divide families in our day! Jesus isn’t impressed by the complaint or the man’s request that He intervene. Instead Christ suggests that he is both greedy and shallow, warning him against covetousness and telling him that the essence of one’s life has nothing to do with his possessions (12:15). He then tells a parable that has “the American Dream” written all over it (12:16–21).

A wealthy farmer had been blessed with more than he needed. His barns (and bank accounts, if you will) were full (12:16). Yet, in a scene right out of the book of Ecclesiastes, the man refused to enjoy or share his substance and instead was troubled by his inability to amass even more (12:17). Finally, he determined to tear down his perfectly good barns and build others that would be larger (12:18). Why? What was his goal? His own words provide the answer:

“And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry’” (12:19).

Having “ample goods laid up for many years” may be prudent (Prov 6:6–11; 30:25). However, the man’s desire wasn’t merely to be secure and avoid burdening others; it was selfishness. “Relax,” he said. “Eat, drink, be merry.” In other words, live like a workaholic today in order to live like a hedonist tomorrow.

Rather than commending the man, God called him a fool and vowed to take his life that very evening (12:20). His plan to heap up treasure for future use—especially because it revealed his selfishness and self-reliance—brought Christ’s condemnation (12:21).

Of course, retiring from “the work force” isn’t a bad thing. If your pension, social security, and/or investments allow you to live without working for a normal salary, wonderful! Retire. Just don’t retire to a life of golf, gardening, and grandkids. Most retirees have many years—indeed, decades—of usefulness ahead of them. Begin planning now to use them for the good of Christ’s church! Here are some suggestions:

  • Help your church with administration, maintenance, secretarial duties, visitation, or discipleship. Look for opportunities to use the very skills that served you so well in your career in the local church. Ask your pastor where you can have an impact.
  • Invest yourself in younger believers. Befriend them. Disciple them. Pray for them. Teach them how to budget or parent or teach. Allow the church to benefit from your years of walking with Christ. (cf. Prov 16:31; 20:29; Titus 2:3ff.)
  • Think even more radically: move and help a church planter. Move abroad and help a missionary. Indeed, move abroad and be a missionary!

Whatever specific ministry (or ministries!) you pursue, resist the mindset that says the goal of life is to work now and play later—both for Christ’s sake and for your own. Many a retiree has stopped working only to fall into an emotional, spiritual, or physical funk. There’s a reason for that. God created us to be productive for His glory. The church needs the ministry of retirees, and retirees need to minister.

Retirees, use your newfound freedom to serve the Lord! Retire from your job, not from life or ministry. Workers, minister now and plan to minister with an even greater focus when the Lord allows you to stop working 40-plus hours a week for your employer. Finally, pastors, teach your flock that their greatest usefulness may actually lie ahead: help them plan for their futures with an open mind and an open Bible. Help them rethink retirement.

September 2008


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