Monthly Archives: August 2010

Ricky Skaggs: Acoustical Domination and Teller of Salvation

My wife and I had the privilege (yes, privilege) of attending a Ricky Skaggs concert at the Leeds Center of the Arts in Winchester, Kentucky.  This is the second time I’ve seen him in concert, and I must say that he puts on about as good a concert as you’ll find in any genre.  He and six others stood up with their mandolins, violins, bass, guitars, and banjo and played for the sheer joy of making top-flight music. 

The first Ricky Skaggs work I ever bought was his Country Boy cassette (remember cassettes?) back in 1984.  And even when I veered away from country music in high school, I still kept that Ricky Skaggs cassette with me.  Though I wasn’t a country fan at that point, I did recognize good musicianship. 

When I went off to college as a music major, country and bluegrass sank to the bottom of my likes along with rap.  Looking back, I was a bit of a musical snob.  I said yes to Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, and Debussy.  I said yes to jazz greats like Bill Evans, Bud Powell, and Dave Brubeck.  I said yes because they were, in my opinion, more musically inventive.  They didn’t just have three chords and a yee-ha!  They explored the musical heights and depths, showing why these masters still hold interest after decades and even centuries pass by. 

And yet, I still kept that Ricky Skaggs cassette in an old shoebox and toted that box with me for years—through college, seminary, marriage, children.  A couple years ago, I pulled it out and popped in my cassette player and, after all these years, was so impressed with his musical ability. 

When I began to be intrigued with the Appalachian area and having a desire to understand the culture, I began to appreciate Bluegrass music all the more.  I became acquainted with many Kentucky-born Bluegrass players such as Bobby Osbourne, Grandpa Jones, and of course Ricky Skaggs.

So when I heard that Skaggs would be at the Elk Creek Vineyard in Owenton, Kentucky, I had to go.  So my wife and I sat in 50 degree weather and listened to some of the most wonderful music we had heard in a while.  I felt like I had finally found a musical home. 

Yet, what I enjoyed about Skaggs was how forthright he is about his Christian faith.  He was clear in the benefit concert we saw in Winchester that he has given over his music ministry to the Lord and will use it to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Below is a great song called “Hallelujah! I Am Ready.” 

Not everyone may be a fan of bluegrass or Ricky Skaggs, but he gives us a great lesson in how we can use our gifts and talents for the Lord and the spreading of His Word! 

Take time to check out his new Christian album, Mosaic

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Religions of Abraham (2): Christianity

Influence Seen in the Gospels

What type of influence did Abraham have on Christianity? We can start with the very first gospel (and the very first book of the New Testament), the gospel of Matthew.

So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations (Matthew 1:17).

From the lineage of Abraham (as well as King David) came forth the Messiah for the Jews and the Savior of the nations, Jesus Christ. So in a way, Christianity also shares in the notion of Father Abraham. This did not come as a surprise to God, for in His sovereign plan, He ordained the Messiah to come to come biologically from Abraham through Mary’s side (Matthew) and supposedly from Joseph’s side (see Luke 3:32). Even though Joseph was not his earthly father, Joseph was also from the lineage of David. Mary sang about Father Abraham in her song exalting God for favoring her with carrying the Christ-child:

54He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
55As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever (Luke 1:54-55)

Mary in her Magnificat, recalled the fact that God remembered the covenant he established with Abraham over 2,000 years prior (Genesis 12:1-3).

Many of the Jews believed their righteous standing before God depended upon their racial descent from Abraham. During John the Baptist’s brief ministry as he paved the way for the soon-to-come Messiah, he told the crowd by the Jordan rather clearly, “And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Matthew 3:9). So as the foundation of Christianity was laid, one of the main obstacles to the Jews receiving Christ was their understanding of being from the genealogy of Abraham.

During one of Jesus’ tense encounters with the Pharisees, he observed that, even though the Jews claimed to have Abraham as their father, they sought to kill him.

48The Jews answered him, "Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?" 49Jesus answered, "I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death." 52The Jews said to him, "Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?" 54Jesus answered, "If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad." 57So the Jews said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?" 58Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." 59So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (John 8:48-59)

He turns and says that their father is not Abraham, but Satan (John 8:44). Yet, Jesus continued to draw the ire of His opponents over His connection with their ‘father’ Abraham. By not only connecting Himself with God the Father but also with Abraham who longed to see the day of the Christ come, Jesus was claiming Deity and Messiahship. So while the Jews may have claimed a racial lineage, they were in the process of forfeiting their spiritual lineage by rejecting the one to whom Abraham rejoiced and longed to see. Paul warned of this in his epistle to the Romans: “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring” (Romans 9:6b-7).

13These all [that is, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob] died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.  14For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.  15And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.  16But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city (Hebrews 11:13-16).

If Not By Lineage to Abraham, Then What Hath Abraham to Do with Christianity?

Hearkening back to Genesis 15:6, we see that Abraham believed and it was “reckoned [credited to his account] as righteousness.” Abraham possessed faith, which through this belief put God’s righteousness to his account. The word ‘righteousness’ in the Greek is dikaiosu,nh (dikaiosune) which Strong’s defines as:

(1) In a broad sense: state of him who is as he ought to be, righteousness, the condition acceptable to God 1a) the doctrine concerning the way in which man may attain a state approved of God.[1]

So even in the Old Testament, the way one finds ‘approval’ from God is by faith, from which the apostle Paul understands is foundational not only to his original faith of Judaism, but also to Christianity. Consider Romans 4:16:

1What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?  2For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.  3For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.  4Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.  5But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness (Romans 4:1-5).

So Christianity is influenced and connected to Abraham through this foundation of belief, faith, and righteousness that moves all through Scripture.

In his epistle to the Galatians, Paul writes:

7Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed." 9So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith (Galatians 3:7-9).

The apostle James also expresses the influence of Abraham, also referring to Genesis 15:6:

18Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.  19Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.  20But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?  21Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?  22Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?  23And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.  24Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only (James 2:18-24).

So from Christ Himself to the apostle Paul to the apostle James, we see that God worked in Abraham to lay the foundation of faith which leads to righteousness, being approved by God. Through Abraham’s line, God worked in redemptive history to bring the Messiah, Jesus Christ, into the world.


[1]Strong’s Dictionary (1342). From BibleWorks 7.1.10.

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Roger Clemens Indictment: Defiant, Deluded, or Determined?

The long-time issue with former All-Star pitcher Roger Clemens took an elevated pitch this past week.  He has been indicted by Congress on three counts of false statements, two counts of perjury, and one count of obstruction of justice.  When the Mitchell Report implicated Clemens in his use of performance-enhancing drugs, he was summoned to Congress to testify.  Everywhere, and even before Congress, he claimed innocence.  Even in the face of Brian McNamee, his former trainer, and Andy Pettitte his (former) best friend and fellow pitcher with him with the New York Yankees and Houston Astros, he still claimed innocence. 

Now, he has his day in court.

And he cannot wait. 

As it turns out, Pettitte’s testimony was key in this indictment.  Former Representative Tom Davis of Virginia notes:

We didn’t call Andy Pettitte, we deposed him, and he supported McNamee and that was a problem for [Clemens].  Without Pettitte, neither McNamee nor Clemens was that articulate or credible.

In listening to varying opinions on the matter, almost to a person believe that Clemens is guilty. Though some come to his defense (“We all make mistakes. Leave the guy alone!”), everyone still believes he cheated. 

So what do you think:  is he defiant even with the mounting evidence?  Is he deluded (as Skip Bayless believes) due to a hero worship?  Or is he determined, given that he testified before Congress, even though he knew the consequences of possible jail time?

Also, does he deserve the Hall of Fame?

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What Urban Meyer’s Plight Teaches the 24/7 Leader

Originally posted December 28, 2009

I was sitting in my in-law’s living room watching the Meineke Car Care Bowl (what an awful name for a bowl game) between the University of Pittsburgh and the University of North Carolina when I saw the story of Urban Meyer’s resignation as coach of the University of Florida’s football coach.  After two national championships in five seasons, this was stunning news.

Twenty-four hours later, we un-resigned, saying that he would be taking a leave of absence.

When he resigned, there were looming health problems that caused him grave concern.  Meyer is noted for his high intensity and being driven in preparation as well as recruiting.  He, like so many other Division 1 head coaches, live football 24/7/365.  Pat Forde sums up the weekend’s festivities nicely:

We know the stated reason for the brilliant 45-year-old coach’s sudden, stunning resignation was health concerns that forced him to realign his perspective and put his family first. He mentioned his family three times in the resignation statement released Saturday night, and athletic director Jeremy Foley mentioned it twice more in the same statement.

Then on Sunday, Meyer apparently went out to practice and decided that burnout is for losers, and his family may or may not come before his players. They had a spirited practice in unseasonably cold weather and, shazam, Urban’s not resigning after all! Just taking a vacation of unspecified length! While looming over the program like a 900-foot shadow!

"To see that come out this morning … with a great attitude and great work ethic and just go to work, I admire that," Meyer said. "I know I’m dealing with some stuff, and my family comes first. That’s never been an issue. That’s non-negotiable, that I want to make sure I do right by my family. My second family are my players and our staff, and to see that was the moment. I went immediately to Jeremy, and we had some discussions after that."

Said Foley: "He called me from the practice field, and he didn’t come to that decision right then, but he was just, I guess, a little stunned may be the right word."

The rest of us are a lot stunned.

Pastors, Take Note

Ministry can also take on a 24/7/365 lifestyle very easily.  There is always sermon preparation, prospects to visit, the sick and shut-ins, books to read, meetings to attend, counseling to undertake, etc.  And for men who find great identity in their work, this can be a large snare.  I see that happening with Meyer and I see that happening with dozens of ministers.  No wonder the majority of families say that full-time ministry has a negative effect on the family.  Other wives have noted that they felt their 24/7/365 minister husbands were having affairs…with their church! 

Meyer was a sympathetic figure in many minds (mine included) on Saturday the 26th, especially after hearing Meyer’s daughter say, “Now I have my daddy back!”   He noted in a recent interview with Sports Illustrated:

"It’s something that started about four years ago," Meyer said. "It was chest pains that became rather significant two years ago. Whether it’s stress related … I started to become very alarmed with that. And then I’m a person of faith, and I just wanted to make sure I had my priorities straight. A lot of times coaches do not have their priorities straight. You put business before God and family, you have a problem.

"So when we had the issue, when I had to go to the hospital, and a couple issues after that was when I came to the conclusion that I had to re-prioritize everything. So that’s exactly what it is. I was advised that I have to get this right or it could lead to damage. That’s what made that decision."

On the 26th, Meyer noted that his faith, family, and health dictated he step down.  On the 27th, he called Jeremy Foley and, after seeing practice, and told Jeremy Foley they needed to talk—and presumably before he talked with his family about his reversal.

I understand how difficult it must be to give up your livelihood (and your life?), only to see your successor go in a different direction.  You pour your all into building a program or ministry that the line separating you as a person from your handiwork becomes increasingly blurred. 

So, pastors, take note.  Your priorities are your relationship with God the Father through Christ, husband to your wife, father to your children, ministers to your church in that order

To retool one of Jesus’ saying: “What does it gain a minister if he builds a thriving ministry, but loses his family?” 

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When Facebook and Twitter are Gripped by the Gospel

Facebook and Twitter have many uses and functions, but without question they are the two biggest mechanisms for social media around.  And many have noticed that I have taken the plunge with both.  As a pastor of a local church in Lexington, KY, some have misunderstood why I use these mediums to such a degree. 

  1. Encouragement:  I post on Twitter (which also updates my Facebook status) quite a bit.  Whenever a news article comes my way, or a thought crosses my mind during my sermon preparation, or anything along that line—I post it.  My aim is to help all be gripped by the gospel, and who knows what a thought or a helpful article can do to plant a seed so the gospel of Jesus may grow in that heart.
  2. Accountability:  This is especially true with Twitter.  An article by Chuck Lawless from Southern Seminary actually convinced me to use Twitter for this very reason—accountability.  I use this to update on my whereabouts (visiting, traveling to different towns/cities, etc.) so my parishioners know where I am.  And, if God has used that visit for a great purpose or there is immediate prayer needed, I can get the word out to literally thousands of people who will begin praising and praying.
  3. Communication:  Face it: e-mail is passe for many of our younger users.  Some are going back to that, granted.  But the majority use Facebook for e-mail and chat because it’s all in the same site.  Young adults and a surprising amount of older adults use Facebook.  So I use both e-mail and Facebook, and get more of a response from the latter. 
  4. Connecting with old friends and family members: From 1989 (when I graduated high school) until about 2006, I had not kept up with a single soul from high school.  Now?  Dozens!  In fact, through this I found out about my 20th high school reunion and had a chance to catch up with a bunch of my fellow Panthers.   Also, many of my family members whom I haven’t seen in years are on Facebook. 
  5. Witnessing: Amazing the opportunities!  Through chats and responding to news feeds, conversations are generated about who Jesus is and what He is done and, frankly, why people in 21st century America should see that He is a dominating factor in all we do.  These media have allowed me some great conversations.  One began: “Man, I remember you from high school.  AND YOU’RE A PASTOR!!  WHAT HAPPENED?”  Opportunity to share!

Not everyone is crazy about Facebook and Twitter–and for good reason. Yet, I am finding out that we can use them for redemptive purposes.

What about you? What use has Facebook and Twitter been for you?

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The Religions of Abraham: Judaism

The end of Genesis 11 introduces a man whom James Montgomery Boice considers “apart from Jesus Christ . . . is probably the most important person in the Bible.” First introduced as Abram, God renames him Abraham. Boice continues:

Abraham is a giant in Scripture—his stature is far greater than that of Moses, David, or Paul. These latter three were great men, and God used them in great ways, even giving portions of the Scriptures to us through them. But each of them would have agreed without qualification that Abraham was his father in faith.[1]

Boice makes a solid case in stating this opinion. Yet, one must note that Abraham’s stature is not merely confined to the Old Testament, but also influenced two other religions besides Judaism: Christianity and Islam.

We first meet Abram in Genesis 11:

27Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot.  28And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees. 29And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah. 30But Sarai was barren; she had no child.

31And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there. 32And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran.

This genealogy is given immediately after the account of the Tower of Babel, and serves as a listing of Shem’s descendants. Who is Shem? Shem is one of the three sons of Noah (along with Ham and Japheth). Shem and his brother Japheth respected their father while he lay exposed after a time of drunkenness and thus was blessed by Noah (see Genesis 9:18-27). Whereas Ham and his descendants migrated southward toward Northern Africa and Japheth migrated north, Shem’s descendants travelled east and settled in the easternmost part of the Fertile Crescent.

Among the descendants of Shem, God focused on a family of Terah who lived in Ur of the Chaldeans. This family and this culture were pagan, as archaeologists have uncovered.[2] As stated in verse 31, Terah intended to proceed to Canaan, but settled short of there in Haran. Abraham would proceed, but not based upon his earthly father’s leading, but on his Heavenly Father’s will. Instead of Canaan being their place of choice, Canaan ended up being God’s place of promise not simply for Abraham’s immediate family, but for his descendants. With this, he would go from Abram (which means ‘exalted father’) to Abraham (which means ‘father of a multitude’). This incident would not be the first time that God would intervene with his promise over and against their plans.

This chapter gives a brief but (hopefully) helpful overview of the Religions of Abraham: Judaism, Christianity, and to a lesser extent Islam in their origins.

Abraham’s Influence in Judaism

While Abraham may not have recognized that he would be the founder of Christianity nor Islam, he did understand that he would be the father of a people.

1Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: 2And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: 3And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3).

That nation which would come from Abraham would be known as God’s chosen people, whose history the entire Bible outlines. The beginnings of this reality were rather rocky. Sojourns into Egypt when Sarah was taken into Abimelech’s harem (Genesis 12:10-20), a rescue operation to retrieve his nephew Lot from wartime captivity (Genesis 14:1-16), and the loophole Sarah devised to bring this promised offspring into the world through her handmaiden Hagar (Genesis 16) would all have significant consequences in later events which would be detrimental to the Jewish nation.

This nation would be from the son of promise known as the Hebrew nation, the Jews. And all through these obstacles, God continued by His sovereign grace to reinstill his promised covenant to Abraham. For instance, examine Genesis 15:1-6:

1After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.  2And Abram said, LORD God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?  3And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.  4And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.  5And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.  6And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness. (Genesis 15:1-6).

Abraham began to wonder whether God would fulfill the promise He made to him back in Genesis 12. When God made this promise to Abraham, he was 75 years old! His wife was barren—she could not have children. Abraham asked Yahweh, “O LORD God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? . . . Behold, you have given me no offspring” (Genesis 15:2-3a).” The response? “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir. . . . Look toward the heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. . . . So shall your offspring be” (15:4-5). Abraham believed God—to which God credited this to his account (15:6)—a verse that will figure prominently in New Testament writings as foundational to Christianity, and show that God intended the faith of the Hebrew people to be based on faith which was motivated by the Law He gave through Moses.

When Abram tried to circumvent this with a plan his wife devised by going into Hagar, from whom Ishmael came, God reiterated his covenant with Abram but also made it clear through whom this child would be born: “I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of people shall come from her” (Genesis 17:16, emphases added). Here, God clearly showed that the child of promise would come through Abraham and Sarah. Given their advancing ages, they needed this continual reassurance that God had not forgotten His promise nor forsaken His servants.

Fast forward ahead to Genesis 21, God fulfills His promise to the 99-year-old Abraham and the 90-year-old Sarah. Sarah would conceive and bear a son of promise and would name him ‘laughter’ (which is the Hebrew translation for the name ‘Isaac’). Why ‘laughter’? How would you respond if an angel approached you at 90 years old and told you that you would father or bear a son in the natural way—conception, nine-month gestation period, and natural childbirth? You may laugh at the absurdity of the notion. So did Abraham (Genesis 17:17), as did Sarah (18:12). Yet, nothing is too hard for the Lord (18:14). Once Isaac was born, Sarah noted, “God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me” (21:6).

Russell Moore shows how this promise and its fulfillment would be foundational to the Jewish people (and to Christians as well) in the generations to come:

With the foundation of the Abrahamic promise, God further reveals the contours of biblical hope. Through the Mosaic covenant he outlines the blessings of an obedient nation and the curses of a disobedient people. In the Davidic covenant he promises a son to David who will build a dwelling place for God, defeat God’s enemies, and rule the people in the wisdom of the Spirit (2 Sam. 7; Pss. 2; 73; 89). In the prophesied new covenant God promises to unite fractured nations of Israel and Judah into one people, a people who all know Yahweh, are forgiven of their sins, and are restored as a nation in the promised land (Jer. 31:31-40). [3]

As we transition into Abraham’s influence on Christianity, let us look to the book of Hebrews, chapter 6, verses 13 through 18:

13For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself,  14Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee.  15And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. 16For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. 17Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath:  18That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.


[1]James Montgomery Boice, Ordinary Men Called by God: A Study of Abraham, Moses, and David (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1982), 13.

[2]Henry Morris, The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976), 288.

[3]Russell Moore, Personal and Cosmic Eschatology in A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel Akin (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Academic, 2007), 861.

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Connection Between Evangelism and Apologetics

“The very reason why Christians are put in the position of giving a reasoned account of the hope that is in them is that not all men have faith. Because there is a world to be evangelized (men who are unconverted), there is the need for the believer to defend his faith: Evangelism naturally brings one into apologetics. This indicates that apologetics is no mere matter of "intellectual jousting"; it is a serious matter of life and death – eternal life and death. The apologist who fails to take account of the evangelistic nature of his argumentation is both cruel and proud. Cruel because he overlooks the deepest need of his opponent and proud because he is more concerned to demonstrate that he is no academic fool that to show how all glory belongs to the gracious God of all truth. Evangelism reminds us of who we are (sinners saved by grace) and what our opponents need (conversion of heart, not simply modified propositions). I believe, therefore, that the evangelistic nature of apologetics shows us the need to follow a presuppositional defense of the faith. In contrast to this approach stand the many systems of neutral autonomous argumentation.”

(Greg Bahnsen, Evangelism and Apologetics. Accessed 21 July 2010, available at http://www.cmfnow.com/articles/PA013.htm [on-line]; Internet.)

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Tozer on “The Waning Authority of Christ in the Churches”

This article appeared in The Alliance Witness May 15, 1963, just two days after the death of Dr. Tozer. In a sense it was his valedictory, for it expressed the concern of his heart.

HERE IS THE BURDEN of my heart; and while I claim for myself no special inspiration I yet feel that this is also the burden of the Spirit.
If I know my own heart it is love alone that moves me to write this. What I write here is not the sour ferment of a mind agitated by contentions with my fellow Christians. There have been no such contentions. I have not been abused, mistreated or attacked by anyone. Nor have these observations grown out of any unpleasant experiences that I have had in my association with others. My relations with my own church as well as with Christians of other denominations have been friendly, courteous and pleasant. My grief is simply the result of a condition which I believe to be almost universally prevalent among the churches. I think also that I should acknowledge that I am myself very much involved in the situation I here deplore. As Ezra in his mighty prayer of intercession included himself among the wrongdoers, so do I. "0 my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens." Any hard word spoken here against others must in simple honesty return upon my own head. I too have been guilty. This is written with the hope that we all may turn unto the Lord our God and sin no more against Him.

Let me state the cause of my burden. It is this: Jesus Christ has today almost no authority at all among the groups that call themselves by His name. By these I mean not the Roman Catholics nor the liberals, nor the various quasi-Christian cults. I do mean Protestant churches generally, and I include those that protest the loudest that they are in spiritual descent from our Lord and His apostles, namely, the evangelicals.

It is a basic doctrine of the New Testament that after His resurrection the Man Jesus was declared by God to be both Lord and Christ, and that He was invested by the Father with absolute Lordship over the church which is His Body. All authority is His in heaven and in earth. In His own proper time He will exert it to the full, but during this period in history He allows this authority to be challenged or ignored. And just now it is being challenged by the world and ignored by the church.

The present position of Christ in the gospel churches may be likened to that of a king in a limited, constitutional monarchy. The king (sometimes depersonalized by the term "the Crown") is in such a country no more than a traditional rallying point, a pleasant symbol of unity and loyalty much like a flag or a national anthem. He is lauded, feted and supported, but his real authority is small.

Nominally he is head over all, but in every crisis someone else makes the decisions. On formal occasions he appears in his royal attire to deliver the tame, colorless speech put into his mouth by the real rulers of the country. The whole thing may be no more than good-natured make-believe, but it is rooted in antiquity, it is a lot of fun and no one wants to give it up.

Among the gospel churches Christ is now in fact little more than a beloved symbol. "All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name" is the church’s national anthem and the cross is her official flag, but in the week-by-week services of the church and the day-by-day conduct of her members someone else, not Christ, makes the decisions.

Under proper circumstances Christ is allowed to say "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden" or "Let not your heart be troubled," but when the speech is finished someone else takes over. Those in actual authority decide the moral standards of the church, as well as all objectives and all methods employed to achieve them. Because of long and meticulous organization it is now possible for the youngest pastor just out of seminary to have more actual authority in a church than Jesus Christ has.

Not only does Christ have little or no authority; His influence also is becoming less and less. I would not say that He has none, only that it is small and diminishing. A fair parallel would be the influence of Abraham Lincoln over the American people. Honest Abe is still the idol of the country. The likeness of his kind, rugged face, so homely that it is beautiful, appears everywhere. It is easy to grow misty-eyed over him. Children are brought up on stories of his love, his honesty and his humility.

But after we have gotten control over our tender emotions what have we left? No more than a good example which, as it recedes into the past, becomes more and more unreal and exercises less and less real influence. Every scoundrel is ready to wrap Lincoln’s long black coat around him. In the cold light of political facts in the United States the constant appeal to Lincoln by the politicians is a cynical joke.

The Lordship of Jesus is not quite forgotten among Christians, but it has been relegated to the hymnal where all responsibility toward it may be comfortably discharged in a glow of pleasant religious emotion. Or if it is taught as a theory in the classroom it is rarely applied to practical living. The idea that the Man Christ Jesus has absolute and final authority over the whole church and over all of its members in every detail of their lives is simply not now accepted as true by the rank and file of evangelical Christians.

What we do is this: We accept the Christianity of our group as being identical with that of Christ and His apostles. The beliefs, the practices, the ethics, the activities of our group are equated with the Christianity of the New Testament. Whatever the group thinks or says or does is scriptural, no questions asked. It is assumed that all our Lord expects of us is that we busy ourselves with the activities of the group. In so doing we are keeping the commandments of Christ.

To avoid the hard necessity of either obeying or rejecting the plain instructions of our Lord in the New Testament we take refuge in a liberal interpretation of them. Casuistry is not the possession of Roman Catholic theologians alone. We evangelicals also know how to avoid the sharp point of obedience by means of fine and intricate explanations. These are tailor-made for the flesh. They excuse disobedience, comfort carnality and make the words of Christ of none effect. And the essence of it all is that Christ simply could not have meant what He said. His teachings are accepted even theoretically only after they have been weakened by interpretation.

Yet Christ is consulted by increasing numbers of persons with "problems" and sought after by those who long for peace of mind. He is widely recommended as a kind of spiritual psychiatrist with remarkable powers to straighten people out. He is able to deliver them from their guilt complexes and to help them to avoid serious psychic traumas by making a smooth and easy adjustment to society and to their own ids. Of course this strange Christ has no relation whatever to the Christ of the New Testament. The true Christ is also Lord, but this accommodating Christ is little more than the servant of the people.

But I suppose I should offer some concrete proof to support my charge that Christ has little or no authority today among the churches. Well, let me put a few questions and let the answers be the evidence.

What church board consults our Lord’s words to decide matters under discussion? Let anyone reading this who has had experience on a church board try to recall the times or time when any board member read from the Scriptures to make a point, or when any chairman suggested that the brethren should see what instructions the Lord had for them on a particular question. Board meetings are habitually opened with a formal prayer or "a season of prayer"; after that the Head of the Church is respectfully silent while the real rulers take over. Let anyone who denies this bring forth evidence to refute it. I for one will be glad to hear it.

What Sunday school committee goes to the Word for directions? Do not the members invariably assume that they already know what they are supposed to do and that their only problem is to find effective means to get it done? Plans, rules, "operations" and new methodological techniques absorb all their time and attention. The prayer before the meeting is for divine help to carry out their plans. Apparently the idea that the Lord might have some instructions for them never so much as enters their heads.

Who remembers when a conference chairman brought his Bible to the table with him for the purpose of using it? Minutes, regulations, rules of order, yes. The sacred commandments of the Lord, no. An absolute dichotomy exists between the devotional period and the business session. The first has no relation to the second.

What foreign mission board actually seeks to follow the guidance of the Lord as provided by His Word and His Spirit? They all think they do, but what they do in fact is to assume the scripturalness of their ends and then ask for help to find ways to achieve them. They may pray all night for God to give success to their enterprises, but Christ is desired as their helper, not as their Lord. Human means are devised to achieve ends assumed to be divine. These harden into policy, and thereafter the Lord doesn’t even have a vote.
In the conduct of our public worship where is the authority of Christ to be found? The truth is that today the Lord rarely controls a service, and the influence He exerts is very small. We sing of Him and preach about Him, but He must not interfere; we worship our way, and it must be right because we have always done it that way, as have the other churches in our group.

What Christian when faced with a moral problem goes straight to the Sermon on the Mount or other New Testament Scripture for the authoritative answer? Who lets the words of Christ be final on giving, birth control, the bringing up of a family, personal habits, tithing, entertainment, buying, selling and other such important matters?

What theological school, from the lowly Bible institute up, could continue to operate if it were to make Christ Lord of its every policy? There may be some, and I hope there are, but I believe I am right when I say that most such schools" to stay in business are forced to adopt procedures which find no justification in the Bible they profess to teach. So we have this strange anomaly: the authority of Christ is ignored in order to maintain a school to teach among other things the authority of Christ.

The causes back of the decline in our Lord’s authority are many. I name only two.
One is the power of custom, precedent and tradition within the older religious groups. These like gravitation affect every particle of religious practice within the group, exerting a steady and constant pressure in one direction. Of course that direction is toward conformity to the status quo. Not Christ but custom is lord in this situation. And the same thing has passed over (possibly to a slightly lesser degree) into the other groups such as the full gospel tabernacles, the holiness churches, the pentecostal and fundamental churches and the many independent and undenominational churches found everywhere throughout the North American continent.

The second cause is the revival of intellectualism among the evangelicals. This, if I sense the situation correctly, is not so much a thirst for learning as a desire for a reputation of being learned. Because of it good men who ought to know better are being put in the position of collaborating with the enemy. I’ll explain.

Our evangelical faith (which I believe to be the true faith of Christ and His apostles) is being attacked these days from many different directions. In the Western world the enemy has forsworn violence. He comes against us no more with sword and fagot; he now comes smiling, bearing gifts. He raises his eyes to heaven and swears that he too believes in the faith of our fathers, but his real purpose is to destroy that faith, or at least to modify it to such an extent that it is no longer the supernatural thing it once was. He comes in the name of philosophy or psychology or anthropology, and with sweet reasonableness urges us to rethink our historic position, to be less rigid, more tolerant, more broadly understanding.

He speaks in the sacred jargon of the schools, and many of our half-educated evangelicals run to fawn on him. He tosses academic degrees to the scrambling sons of the prophets as Rockefeller used to toss dimes to the children of the peasants. The evangelicals who, with some justification, have been accused of lacking true scholarship, now grab for these status symbols with shining eyes, and when they get them they are scarcely able to believe their eyes. They walk about in a kind of ecstatic unbelief, much as the soloist of the neighborhood church choir might were she to be invited to sing at La Scala.

For the true Christian the one supreme test for the present soundness and ultimate worth of everything religious must be the place our Lord occupies in it. Is He Lord or symbol? Is He in charge of the project or merely one of the crew? Does He decide things or only help to carry out the plans of others? All religious activities, from the simplest act of an individual Christian to the ponderous and expensive operations of a whole denomination, may be proved by the answer to the question, Is Jesus Christ Lord in this act? Whether our works prove to be wood, hay and stubble or gold and silver and precious stones in that great day will depend upon the right answer to that question.

What, then, are we to do? Each one of us must decide, and there are at least three possible choices. One is to rise up in shocked indignation and accuse me of irresponsible reporting. Another is to nod general agreement with what is written here but take comfort in the fact that there are exceptions and we are among the exceptions. The other is to go down in meek humility and confess that we have grieved the Spirit and dishonored our Lord in failing to give Him the place His Father has given Him as Head and Lord of the Church.

Either the first or the second will but confirm the wrong. The third if carried out to its conclusion can remove the curse. The decision lies with us.

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Reflections on Running My First 5K

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Yesterday, I ran my first 5K.  In the grand scope of my personal story, this is a monumental achievement. 

Having hated exercise in any form for the first 37 years of my life, I began exercising through light weightlifting and lots of walking.  Soon, the walking turned to running.  Having lost 40 pounds (from 206 to 166) and having about 10 more to go, I truly began enjoying running—getting up each morning at 6:15 to ‘hit the pavement.’ 

About two months ago, I registered to run in the Midsummer Night’s Run in downtown Lexington, KY. I registered and put down the money so I would have a goal to work toward. So I met Ron and Darlene Thomas (Ron is one of the deacons at my church) at the Applebee’s in front of Lexington Mall and we drove over into a sea of people. An estimated 5,000 had registered, but only 3400 ran.  Given that, in my training, I had never run 3.1 miles without stopping, I began to have doubts as to whether I could finish. 

On Thursday night after REACH group, Darlene called me and said they were signing up and that she would run with me. For a split second, I wasn’t sure about it, because that’s all I needed was another witness to what was sure to be a splendid performance. But then I thought, “I can do better with someone than I can alone,” so I was glad about it all. And you know what? I finished! It took me 31:08, but I finished! And I was grateful to have someone come alongside who was willing to invest some money to finish, in part, help this poor slob along to the finish line.  And I not only finished, but I finished strong.

Some random reflections:

  1. There is nothing wrong with setting goals, just so long as they do not become an idol.  My life still has value thanks to what Christ accomplished on the cross—not by whether I finished a race. 
  2. We were never meant to run our Christian race alone.  I was grateful that Ron and Darlene came to run with me.  It made a big difference.  Darlene was encouraging me the whole way, and giving me some great tips on how to finish well and strong.
  3. We must be determined to finished.  Darlene asked me on the drive home, “When did you think you would finish?”  I told her, “As soon as I got in line to race.  I was determined to finish and run the race with endurance. 
  4. I want to end strong and fast.  When I cross the three-mile mark and saw the finish line, I kicked it into high gear.  That’s how I want to live my life—the closer to the finish line I get, the more ‘high gear’ I want to be.
  5. God is readying me for the next big test.  I finished ready to tackle the next 5K.  Each thing God gets me through, I’m strengthened for the next task!

What about you?

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Which is More Helpful for a Christian College Student: Attending a Christian College, or a Secular One?

In a recent sermon, the minister noted something that really caught my attention. He said, “In some ways, worldly, secular universities are more helpful to the students’ Christian walk than are Christian universities.” As a product of a Christian university and a secular community college, I was intrigued to see what his insight was.

He said that Christian college risk watering down the gospel and the teachings of the Scriptures so they may appeal to a wider base of people so they may have more enrolled. Secular universities, while more antagonistic against the gospel and the Scriptures, cause Christian students to be more active in seeking God, seeking the Scriptures, and working harder to make a stand for the gospel.

What do you think?  Did you attend a Christian college?  Did they water down the strong view of the Bible and help you in your Christian walk?  Did you attend a secular college?  Did it help you focus your stand for the gospel?

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