Sunday, July 31, 2011

Book Review: The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century by Francis Schaeffer

     "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by Him all things were created, whether in heaven or on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions, rulers or authorities-all things were created through Him and for Him.  And He is before all things and in Him all things hold together.  And He is the head of the body, the church.  He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent," Col. 1:15-18.
     You will probably notice fairly quickly that I give positive reviews to almost all the books I read.  The reason for that is simple: I don't have time for nonsense.  As a husband and father with a job that takes a lot of time to do to provide for my family, I simply see no reason to read something that will not, from all indications, be edifying.  I tend to read blogs and articles in which I'm often in disagreement but those are not terribly time consuming.  Now that I've made this point I'm certain that I will probably come across a book that will inspire a negative review and, in fact, I think I may be reading a commentary that fits that bill!
     Anyway, this is not that negative review and I cannot recommend "The Church at the End of the 20th Century" enough.  While you may be wondering, "Why should I read a book about the church at the end of the twentieth century", I assure you that this book was prophetic almost 40 years ago and it is no less important today.  You see, Schaeffer was a Presbyterian pastor in the U.S. who decided to pack up and go to Switzerland and start a ministry to wayward folks struggling with life.  He founded L'Abri Fellowship in the Alps and he wrote many prophetic and influential books dealing with the church, the dying western world and our relationship and ministry to it.  He was an orthodox C.S. Lewis who did not insult our biblical intelligence(like Lewis and many of his acolytes today) by denying the early chapters of Genesis or foregoing difficult doctrines in a politically correct world.  Schaefer took all of the Bible seriously and did not forfeit any of it to the pc gods of our secular age.
     There are at least four things that commend this book to the serious(is there any other) Christian: 1) Schaeffer emphasized a holistic approach to truth that is believed and preached and lived.  2)  He understood how important marriage was.  Not just the institution, which is foundational, but the picture it gives us of God's relationship to His people, both in the OT and the NT.  3)  He emphasized the idea of the church having "form and freedom".  "...there is a place for the institutional church and that it should maintain the form commanded by God, but on the other hand, that this also leaves vast areas of freedom for change," he goes on, "In other words, the New Testament sets boundary conditions, but within those boundary conditions there is much freedom to meet the changes that arise in different places and different times," pg. 67.  Finally, and most importantly, as I previously mentioned, Schaeffer takes the whole Bible as intended and especially the first half of Genesis.  He mentions several times how important Genesis is to our approach to the Bible.
     Finally, I have a pastor who recommended highly Schaeffer to me and I searched the library for his books and this was the only one not checked out.  It was a quick read, though deep and challenging.  It is only 153 pages and I was able to read it all on Saturday.  Yet now I must read the rest of Schaeffer's library and I'm not sure how appreciative I should be to my pastor who has inflicted upon me this appetite for Schaeffer's books!  Seriously though, this book got my synapses firing on several cylinders and prodded me to dig deep not just into a Christian philosophers bulging library but into the Bible itself.  I'll leave with my favorite quote from the book, "People(unbelievers) are looking at us to see if, when we say we have truth, it is then possible for this truth not only to take men's souls to heaven, but to give all of life meaning in the present time, moment by moment," pg. 72.
     God Bless you and learn, live and love the Gospel.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Visiting Prisoners and the Modern Circus Driven Gospel

     "For I was hungry and gave you food, I was thirsty and gave you drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me...The King will answer them and say, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did to the least of these my brothers, you did it to me,'" Matthew 25:35-36, 40.
     A circus driven, I mean purpose driven person (pastor would be blasphemous), is known for telling his people that if that want to be his friend or really get to know him, they need to go to another church.  He even warns them that if they expect him to visit them in the hospital, they need to know that if he does in fact come, it will be serious and a casket will be following behind him.  This is a man who professes to pastor a flock.  Imagine that.  Now I am paraphrasing his shocking statements, but to actually see him speak them is ten times worse.  Now I will name names, so bear with me.  It would be irresponsible of me to keep the wolf hidden,  his name is Perry Noble and I believe he pastors in North Carolina and if you google him and something about what I just wrote you should easily find his ignoble video.  You can also visit the Museum of Idolatry  and you should be able to easily find the offending video(s).
     Now imagine a pastor who visits an older gentleman in prison faithfully.  The crime is not important and I am not using names here.  This pastor faithfully visits this man every week.  This man will never get out of prison, will never tithe and is not the father/husband of a young family.  He seemingly has nothing to offer a local church and nothing to offer a time challenged pastor with a family of his own.
     Certainly, if the modern circus driven church teaches us anything, it is that we have to pursue a certain demographic for our churches.  We need to get young families in and make sure that we have all the fun n' games, er ministries, expected for that crowd.  Maybe we need to market more toward young professionals!  They aren't tied down too much and they're loaded with dough.  Didn't the early church market themselves like this?  I mean, they must have, they grew so fast!  Yet, what did Paul say, "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified," 1Cor. 2:2.  Peter's sermons pulled no punches and pierced people's pride and thousands were saved.  Paul's last letters, his pastoral epistles, constantly reminded his two young pastors to preach, exhort and encourage their congregations and to do away with idle babbling and the silly fads of the world.
     Silly fads and idle babbling are what so many churches are built on today and they would squirm at the idea of  faithfully visiting those in prison, the undesirables, who will never give a penny to the coffers.  Yet this faithful shepherd, who visits his sheep weekly, a sheep who has strayed far from the fold, does not worry about the reward he will get in his bank account.  No, he hears the voice of another shepherd.  "Feed my sheep," the voice says.  He obeys and his reward will be great.  He will be told, "Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world," Matthew 25:34.  God bless you all: learn, live and love the gospel.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Book Review: Hitler's Cross by Erwin Lutzer

"No one can serve two master...," Matthew 6:24a.

      Hitler's Cross is a tidy little explanation of what happened in Nazi Germany in the 1930's with special attention given to the church.  Erwin Lutzer, Pastor of Moody Bible Church in Chicago is a man who spends much time studying Germany's history and here he focused his attention on the bewitching influence and dominance of the Austrian madman.
      Lutzer concisely explains how Germany lost its soul in the decades running up to Hitler's ascension.  Germany was a defeated country that had an uncontrollable lust to return to greatness through any means possible.  Into this void, predicted by Nietzsche, arose a superman, Hitler, to start a master race that would dominate the lesser peoples of the world.  Perhaps Lutzer's most interesting observation is that he believed there was a supernatural element at work here.  Lutzer stated, "Hitler was thoroughly demonized being whose body was but the shell for the spirit that inhabited him."  There are a lot of bizarre stories surrounding Hitler's life that seem to corroborate what the author stated here but to go into too much depth would help ruin the read of a relatively short book that is well worth the time.
      A majority of this book is written depicting the battle between two masters and two saviors: between the Church of God and Hitler's church.  Obviously, we know he is victorious in the short run.  Lutzer depicts well the weakness of the Church against the Nazi onslaught.  Even the brave hero and pastor, Martin Niemoller had Swastika banners hanging in his church and his congregants gave the Nazi salute to its political leaders.  Yet, the best chapters are about the bravery of men like Niemoller and theologian/pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  These men suffered greatly against the evil regime and for the glory of Christ, as well as many others did and Lutzer offers their sacrificial faith as an example for all Christians to aspire.
     Even though Lutzer spares no criticism of a weak, faithless and feckless German church, he does end the book by illustrating how the church was the only real bulwark against the evil of Hitler.  I highly recommend this book, written in 1995, for its clear understanding of evil, God's sovereign rule and the importance of His church as a witness in a dark and evil world.  Lutzer underscores how we must guard against this in the U.S. and it is easy to see how an evil like Hitler could dominate in this country as well.  He insists that the church must be about the gospel and not nationalism, prosperity or any other idol that we allow to distract our worship of the Savior.  I leave you with this quote from Einstein on the church in Germany, "Only the church(not the universities or newspapers) stood squarely across the path of Hitler's campaign for suppressing the truth.  I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration for it because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual and moral freedom.  I am forced to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly."
     Learn, live and love the glorious gospel!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

More Fun with Depravity: How Depravity Should Inform Our Daily Life

     "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers, but his delight is in the law of LORD and on His law he meditates day and night," Psalm 1:1-2.

     Have you ever been lied to by a good friend and then trusted them again only to be burned a second time?  Has the old wisdom, "fool me once, shame on you, fool me again, shame on me," ever smacked you over the head?  Why do we do these things?  Well, it may well be that we do not have a proper understanding of depravity as it relates to our daily lives.  While I have written a previous post about humanities utter depravity according to the Bible and we may intellectually agree with it, sometimes our brain and our heart are unequally yoked.  What I'm saying is that we believe all people are depraved because of our sin nature, but not necessarily the people we hang out with!  I mean, our friends, family and familiars are generally good and would not lie, cheat and steal against us.
     Well friends, the Bible teaches that "all have sinned" and that the human "heart is desperately wicked" and that includes all of your friends, family and familiars who have not submitted to the rule of Jesus Christ in their lives.  In fact, that includes all of those you know who have surrendered their lives to Christ but are currently walking in disobedience.  So this makes things real tricky.  But this idea of protecting against natural human depravity is a deeply American belief and is in fact foundational to our founding!  Our founders understood this blemish in humanity and that is why they came up with a governing system founded on law, not man and why they set up a strict separation of powers in our government. They understood that "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely" so they devised a federalist system that gave the states more power than the federal government and the federal government was evenly divided between three branches. You can read about this more deeply elsewhere but my point is that this idea of depravity informing our daily life is not new and our system of  government is one obvious and awesome example.
     Here's another example: have you ever heard people talk about a close knit community or family?  Have you ever heard someone say that it is difficult to become accepted in a certain town or community or family unless you are born there or have lived their many years?  Why is that?  Well, our elders understood something about human nature: it is not good.  The biblical injunction is to welcome the stranger and be hospitable but it also stipulates that we don't put them in positions of authority or allow them unlimited access to the people and resources of a community, 1Tim. 3:6-7.  They needed to be watched for a period of time and evaluated.  Now, this can be and has been done to excess before but I do not believe this is as much a problem today and this situation has been largely inverted.  Now it is often to our shame in a community if we do not immediately embrace with open arms any stranger without any evaluation.  Today, money, prestige and just being "cool" sometimes allows strangers access to people and resources unthought of in years past.  One example you see all the time is the single mom who dates a man for a short period of time and then they move in together.  This is one of the most catastrophic situations in our country and it results in so much more violence than a traditional marriage.  So often the cases of horrific violence against women and children arise out of this predicament.  Why does this happen?  Because the woman wrongly believes that the man she has just met is a good man and she has not "been transformed by the renewing of her mind" that allows her to step back and look at things from God's perspective.  Obviously, by agreeing to this very arrangement they are disregarding God's law and rejecting Christ's rule in their lives.  The idea of depravity probably never enters her mind and it seems entirely rational to her.  I almost lost a family member to this madness.  Interestingly, most of the family thought this sinful arrangement was fine and the new boyfriend was "nice" and his family was rich.  He may have been rich, but he was depraved and in the worst sense of the word.  One hundred years ago, well, even 50 years ago this could not have even been considered because our culture was largely sanctified by its Christian influence but in a post Christian America, it is those of us who point out the need for time, testing and evaluation of new members of a community or a new boyfriend who bear the brunt of scorn and shame.

     So friends, lets understand that we must be "as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves" as we seek to live our Christian lives.  We must be dispensers of God's grace but, we must not allow the resources Christ gives us to be abused by those who do not know Him. 
     God bless you and let's learn, live and love the glorious gospel of our risen Savior!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Why Waste Words When We Can Be as God to Others

     "He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him," Exodus 4:16.
     Nothing is as irritating as listening to someone babble about something they obviously know little about.  I should know, I've been a master of this.  We've all done it and most certainly will do it again.  Yet, when it comes to the important issues of life: salvation, ethical living, relationships etc., etc., why do we allow ourselves to be suckered into believing people who have no idea what they are talking about.  Why do we listen to psychologists talk about important spiritual issues or politicians pontificate on principles or to Oprah about...anything.
     We have an authority to turn to and it is remarkable how knowledgeable He is about anything to do with life that we need to know.  He knows our hearts, He knows our sins, He knows our talents and He knows everything else there is to know about us.  In fact, we are made in His image.  We still bear His image even after we have marred our bodies and souls with disfiguring, Quasi Modoish sin and evil.  He knows us better than we know ourselves because He created us and He wrote the owners manual, the Bible, for us to figure out life's questions.
     I love the Pentateuch, the Books of Moses and I have been fascinated by the verse quoted above for a while now.  In a nutshell, God is furious with Moses for doubting Him and coming up with all sorts of excuses to not obey Him.  Finally, God tells Moses that He will send Aaron, his brother, with him to speak for him in the presence of Pharaoh.  God will tell Moses what to say so Moses can tell Aaron who will repeat it to Egypt.  The consequences Moses doubt and Aaron's help will plague the Hebrews for years to come but God in His grace gives Moses what he seemed to want.  What is so intriguing though is that line: " shall be as God to Him."  Really, wow, how does that work?  Well, we can figure out easily what it doesn't mean.  It in no way is saying that Moses is as God or a god.  We know that from what the Bible plainly teaches about God.  God's exclusivity had already been impressed upon Moses from earlier in his encounter with Him.  So, what does this mean then?  Oh brothers and sisters, this is so amazing and wonderful what this means.  This is so life changing and encouraging, so humbling and awesome that we must take it to heart!  It means that when Moses spoke the word of God to Aaron, Moses was as God to Aaron!  How awesome and simple.   When Moses spoke God's word to Aaron it was authoritative as if God Himself were speaking.  Now stop, drop and roll!  Meditate on that verse a minute or two.  Chew it real slow and pray it back to God.  Ask God to "Hide His word in your heart so you do not sin against Him."  Let this soak in.
      What application does this have for us?  Well, the next time you get into a discussion about the meaning of life, you can do no better than quote Genesis 1:26, John 3:16 or Psalm 1.  Don't babble endlessly about some crank belching out philosophical flatulence, go to the source.  Drop the word of God like napalm, pray over it and let it do God's work.  When someone wants to know about depression or some "psychological problem", go to Job 38-41 and then to Hebrews 12:1-2 and let them know that the surest cure for depression is a lack of self-esteem and a ponderous dose of Christ esteem.   Let the counsel of God drive your knowledge of every area of life and let it be your sword of the Spirit.  Only the Word of God can divide soul and spirit so why do we try to impart wisdom from our feeble minds?  What was God's response to Job and his friends pathetic attempt at wisdom?  "Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?  Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.  Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?"  Job 38:2-4.  Pretty good question from God huh, well do you have an answer?  Neither do I.  Let's let His word do the talking!  God Bless you and learn, live and love the glorious Gospel!