VULGARITY CELEBRATED Tuesday, May 16 2017 

Under Old Testament law, vulgarity was forbidden and the penalty was serious.  “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.”  (Exodus 20:7)

Under grace, the standard for such speech is even higher.  It extends to any words that have the slightest bent toward disrespect of God’s name, vulgarity, swearing, and even vain repetition.  In setting a higher standard, Jesus said that committing such an act in the heart is the same as actually doing it.  (Matthew 5:29)  The epistles overflow with commands saying that questionable speech and vulgarity do not belong in the mouths of the saints.  Paul tells us that if we rein in our thoughts, we can guard our words against those things that offend a holy God.

“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalted itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”  (II Corinthians 10:5)

With all this in mind, can you tell me why our present world is covered with a tidal wave of vulgarity?  The offense is multiplied when humans, made in the image of God, actually defend the right to be foul mouthed!  A celebration of vulgarity.

WHO SHOULD BE SURPRISED?

A foul mouth rises from a corrupt, putrid heart.  We are surprised when a wicked heart is polite, kind, reasonable, and gentle in speech.  It does happen.  The reader has learned by now that I leave the devotional ministry, in the main, to my other friends; and they do well with it.  My task, however, is to be a truth teller; and even believers are uncomfortable with truth in plain speech.  Let’s be clear about this.  Any heart that has rejected Christ as Savior is “wicked”.  It has committed the most heinous sin that can be committed.  The murder of the unborn and sodomy are wicked acts, but rejection of the Son of God, His deity, and His virgin birth are the height of wickedness.  That is why liberalism is a wicked movement.  It is why the majority of people you know are wicked.  That is why some politicians, judges, and business men and women are wicked.  So, when they vent their wickedness through their foul mouths, it is only a confession of just how evil they are.  We are obligated to remember that God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son.  We are commanded to remember that God hates all sin, both small and great.  While we are commanded to love all mankind, we must hate what God hates.

IMMERSED IN A WORLD OF VULGARITY

It is everywhere – news, radio, television, printed media, and our own communities.  Spirit-filled Christians are buried in verbal filth at work, school, and out in public.  No-one seems to care that God has forbidden such low-level conversation.  If we go out for a special dinner, the conversation at the next table often turns to garbage.  Try enjoying a night with the family at a special sports event -there is an onslaught of offensive language on all four sides.  How many times have you been driving somewhere and encountered vulgar warfare between drivers or pedestrians?  We live in a world where many people have the morals of a “junk-yard dog” with language to match.  If you want a real eyeful or earful, go to social media.  If you try to have a reasonable discussion, some liberal will bust in with a string of vulgarity that only demonstrates that he doesn’t have the slightest idea of what an answer should be… but he sure knows how to cuss!

You get the point: it’s a bad world out there.  Let me ask you a question: Is there anything God’s people can do when buried in such despicable situations?  There are times when it is best to be silent.  In the vulgar world, people have been known to become violent if they think you are “judging” them.  We know what Jesus did under such temptation; He quoted scripture.  Many of you do that on Facebook.  We can try a reasonable answer, but that usually doesn’t work with people who have rejected truth as a way of thinking.  We probably don’t think of praying for depraved people, but that might be the first thing that should come to our mind.  Of course, you could isolate yourself and pretend it is not really happening; but remember that “Silence isn’t always golden; sometimes it is just plain yellow!”  Of course, you could side with the perpetrator and defend him/her by attacking the person who brought up the subject of holiness and truth.

THIS IS WHAT REALLY HURTS

It is so easy to pick on the children of the devil.  In case you have forgotten, anyone who is not a child of God through faith in Christ is a child of the devil.  That is the reason why they lie, cheat, steal, and communicate with vulgarity.

Would someone please explain why there is so much vulgarity flowing from the mouths, pens, and keyboards of those who call themselves Christians?  You can see it for yourself.  Go to Facebook right now, and see how many vulgar words are being used by those you think are believers.  Sure, they think hiding vulgarity in code (OMG, etc.) is not the same thing.  Shame on anyone who tries to defend “hidden swearing”.  If I were an unbeliever, I sure would not be impressed with the fact that your foul language is just like mine.

You sure wouldn’t expect to hear this kind of language at church, right?  Then you might want to listen a bit more carefully.  Have you listened carefully to the conversations of teens?  What boggles my mind is that several “evangelical gurus” have been championing vulgar language inside their messages and teaching.  It may get some laughs, but it is not funny.  Teaching others to sin does not set well with a holy God.  Those who feel free to abuse grace hate it when their feet are held to the fire.  When they are angry about the message, they attack the messenger.  That is an old liberal trick.

APPLICATION

This seems like an impossible task.  How do we get rid of this plague?  In our own lives, we follow the commandment “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation”.

(I Peter 1:15)  Since God lives within us, the answer is that His holiness makes it possible for us to live His holiness out in our living and speech.  That means we don’t defend vulgarity in our lives or in the lives of others.  Remember – silence is approval.

WHO TAUGHT YOU TO THINK? Thursday, Apr 13 2017 

There are two basic premises in the process called thinking.  Within each premise there are a variety of differences, but at the poles of each there is a difference as great as that between night and day.  In philosophy, this idea is demonstrated in Raphael’s painting, The School of Athens.  At the center of the painting, Plato is pointing upward and Aristotle holds his hand downward.  Each of them is emphasizing his center of thought and authority – Plato the absolutes or ideals and Aristotle the particulars of earth.

The difference between these two foundational issues is critical to life and death.  It is clearly demonstrated in the third chapter of Genesis.  God is the authority, and everything He utters is true and flawless.  Eve allows the devil to deny God’s Word and add his own ideas to God’s words.  Then Eve follows that error and adds some words of her own.  God’s Word is wholly without error; its statements are pure truth.  Repeating what God has said is always trustworthy. This is the correct process of thinking with the words and mind of God.  The majority of individuals in our world, however, have followed the thinking process that Satan invented.  They deny truth or add error where they choose.  Here you have the conflict between pure truth and truth that has been corrupted.

Some years ago, I started using a term to clarify this contrast.  There are only two religions on earth.  I know Christianity is not really a religion, but please bear with me.  Christianity holds that the eternal, sovereign creator is God and that our authority is the pure Word of God.  The other religion is “Humianity”, a play on words.  All other religions are part of this.  The god of Humianity is man, and his authority is human reason.  Once again, you have the contrast of two authorities, two ways of thinking.

CLEARING THE AIR

The problem is that human authority often borrows true statements from God, but then adjusts them to fit flawed human reason.  The sad commentary is that believers who should know better often take the clear statements of scripture and either add to them or do the unthinkable – they deny the plain statements of scripture.  Believers who can’t find the answer they were looking for simply go ahead and invent one.  Unfortunately, the discipline of Systematic Theology is full of these inventions.  They call them “different points of view”.

Just a reminder, in case you may have forgotten: Shepherd’s Staff isn’t about forcing answers on the reader; it is about making people think.  So, before you get all bent out of shape, do some thinking, and beware of borrowing from flawed human reason.

THE SAME QUESTION

We began this discussion by asking “Who taught you to think?”  Thank God for churches, pastors, professors, parents, etc., who have reminded us that true thinking begins and ends with the Word of God.  All other expressions are opinions.   On the other hand, though, we also had teachers who ought to know better tell us that science, physical evidence, philosophers, and scholars are the true source of authority.  As a result, we borrowed from human thought, experience, physical evidence, etc., and made them part of our authority.  State education is particularly culpable in this shift of authority.  In fact, almost everyone reading this – if not all of us – have been moved in our thinking and have adjusted the one trustworthy authority.

Science, as defined by man, has become an authority higher than God.  Let me ask you this: has science ever been wrong?  In the Old Testament, if a prophet gave one false prophecy, he was stoned.  Why would believers ever doubt the clear statements of Scripture in order to please the false prophecies of science?  Is God wrong – was there indeed a “big bang”?  Read the plain statements in the book of Romans, and consider what God says about those who deny Him as creator.

This, however is the problem; the god of intellectualism permits men to deny the things that God has simply stated in His Word.  Their argument is that it can’t really be that simple, so they borrow from another authority to get their way.  That is why “intellectualism complicates to confuse” while the biblical thinker “simplifies to clarify”.

Science, falsely so-called, has information, but not truth.  It is intellectual, but it does not have intelligence.  Did you forget that those who deny the creator are absolutely sure that there was no “intelligent design” in what they call “nature”?  It has knowledge, but it does not have wisdom; it has opinion, but not fact; it has belief, but no final authority.

BRING IT HOME

It is easy to pick on intellectual pagans; however, we shudder to consider how deeply the wrong kind of thinking and the final authority of flawed human reason have made their way into theology.  Most of my day, at this point, is spent in study and research in the Word.  How can it be that theologians in our camp can go to the same text and come away with a dozen different conclusions?  If they go to the same statements, with the same authority, why do they disagree? The answer is simple; you cannot go to the same text, and use the same language system and universal rules, and get more than one answer.  I know that scholars tend to hate simplicity.  It robs them of human creativity and the power to have it their own way.  Remember, though, that the Bible was not written to scholars; it was written to the ordinary humble believer who finds peace in the fact that each text has only one interpretation.  If the answer is illusive, there may not be an answer; but we certainly are not free to invent one.  That is a major problem with historical theology – it certainly does have value, but it is not authoritative.  An error long held is still an error.  Any idea as to what you are thinking, or how you are thinking?  Your next words will reveal that.

THINK ON THIS FOR A MOMENT Wednesday, Mar 22 2017 

At some point in life when the future looks brief, it is a wise thing to take stock of one’s own life. With that in mind, it dawned on me that my life is really made up of the people I have known. Each of them has put something into my life.  These days I am attempting to say thank-you to as many of them as I can.  It has turned out to be a slow process, so let me turn to the Shepherd’s Staff to reach as many of you as I can.  If you know me to any degree, you are one of those individuals.  Our contact may have been brief, but you left something with me when our paths intersected.

Counting negatives is a waste of time, so let me major on the positives.  I am thankful for a father, and also his father, who taught me how to work.  Some of my employers added to that gift, and today I can say that I love to work.  That is why at eighty-one years of age I am still working.  This is the kind of gift we can pass on to our children, and our family of five have all exhibited a strong work ethic.  My parents were products of the Depression.  They had learned some hard lessons, and I inherited them.  If we didn’t cut firewood, we would have frozen to death.  If we hadn’t raised our own food, we would have starved to death.  In my youth, I was angry about this, but now I thank God for those hard days.

My mother exhibited genuine Christianity.  Instead of being bitter over the circumstances of life, she used them to minister to others.  Even in her advanced age, she was ever the servant.  It was her patience and love that drew me to her Savior.  Many of her positive traits were a gift to me, and I am thankful for those qualities.  They often say that it is the woman in a marriage who makes the man what he is.  I confess that that is true in my life.  Ruth’s remarkable patience has made all the difference.  Mother-in-law jokes never worked for me.  God gave me a great one, and I loved her dearly.  There were many other family members who had a part in my growth, but these are just a few.

No one could have had a better pastor than I did.  He loved his people and especially the teens. He was steady and firm.  As a result, I came to Christ under his ministry, was baptized, licensed to preach, ordained, and married.  (He threatened to do my funeral, too, but I conducted his instead!)  I fondly remember a few adults in the church who set a high standard by the way they lived.  It was in this same ministry that some of my fellow teens ministered to me, and some of those friendships are still alive today.

OTHERS WHO ADDED TO MY LIFE

There were also those who taught me in the classroom.  Some whose names I remember from the early years have passed from this life, but their influence remains.  The years in Bible college brought onto my path more people who marked my life.  The same is true of graduate and post-graduate work – too many names to remember.  Thirty-seven years in the pastorate added some unbelievable people who helped to turn my life in the right direction.  Many of those friends are still in touch.

Then came the years of education and missionary ministry.  You will note that I have not mentioned many names so far.  Recently, however, a great friend and theologian, Dr. Hoyle Bowman, moved to his heavenly residence.  His passing was what started my effort to make a record of those people who have impacted my life in a special way.  It also sent me on a journey to thank those who are still living.  In every area of my life there were special people, but those peers in academics and ministry are especially on my mind.  Please forgive me if I have missed you with this summary.  I am thankful for your investment in my life.

I have just returned from a journey to the Middle East, where I have been ministering off and on for seventeen years.  Our youngest son, Kraig, and Pastor Frankie Matthews were along for the ride.  It would have been good if we could have visited all the countries we worked in, but time did not allow.  Some of you who read this have blessed my life, and I would have loved to see your face one more time.  In Egypt, we did see many of you.  This allowed me to embrace you and say thank-you for what you put into my life.  Thirty years in the pastorate was the center of ministry for me, but the last seventeen years as a missionary and educator in the heart of the Middle East was the capstone.  The students there, and our fellow servants, poured their lives into mine, and I send you a collective package of gratitude.

A NEW DAY

Now it is early morning, and I have another day to say thank-you; and I will continue to work on this project of thanks for as long as I can.  Today I can say thanks for loving pastors who have been a great source of encouragement to me.  My wife, five children, fifteen grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren have also enriched my life.  The members of my Sunday School class make another long list.  Add to this a few men who are helping me with research for writing projects. Then there is the lady who edits my diatribes before they go to print.  To list friends would be impossible, but they all have made an impact on my life.  That would include a good group of couples who reside at Maranatha Village.  This may sound strange, but I am thankful for those folks who are willing to bring me up short when I am “off base” – you know who you are.  Perhaps you are now able to see why I used the Shepherd’s Staff to say how thankful I am for the hundreds of people who added something to my life to help make it worthwhile.

A LONG WAY TO GO BEFORE NIGHT FALLS

While I stop here and there to say a word of gratitude to many more folks, I still have some things to do.  There are two books I have authored that have been in constant print for well over twenty years. Those are The Weeping Church: Observations on Church Polity and The Conflict: The Separation of Church and State.  Both are available at FaithfullLifePublishers.com.  There are three more in the works, but the most important one is The Normal Hermeneutic: The One Biblical Hermeneutic.  This has become the centerpiece of our ministry.  It has also been the core of the tremendously effective ministry in the Middle East.  I can only ask that you pray that I will have the time and energy to finish it.  Hani Hana, my spiritual son, is co-author; and the book will be published in both English and Arabic.

And so, to all of you I say thank-you for what you have put into my life that has helped to make it worthwhile.

THAT IS NOT A CHURCH Tuesday, Feb 14 2017 

 

They say that confession is good for the soul but bad for the reputation.  There comes a time in later life when we are no longer threatened by this.  After fifty-seven years in the ministry, I still have in front of me a Scofield Reference Bible.  Back in Bible college we learned that, while the scripture text is always right, the notes inserted by men are not.

I am reading from Matthew 18:20 – “For where two are three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”.  That is true because God is all-present, and that is the meaning of the text.  The note above this verse in the text before, however, says “the simplest form of a local church”.  Nothing in the text even hints at this being a church.  That is because two or three believers who are gathered together is NOT a church.  It is good way to have fellowship, but it is not a church.

THE CHURCH ACCORDING TO THE BIBLE

The Old Testament prophets made it clear that there would be salvation for the gentiles.  In John 10:14-16, Jesus makes it clear that the future church would be composed of Jews and gentiles.  The idea was repulsive to the Jews.  In Matthew 16:18, there is a clear prophecy about the future church.  In the gospels, the church is eschatological, and the disciples would not have had a clue as to what was being referred to.  The church was a mystery until after the gospels, and the apostle Paul clearly explains this mystery in his writing.  In reference to Matthew 18:15-19, Scofield wrongly inserted “Discipline in the future church”.  There is nothing in that text to indicate such a command.  In fact, the disciples would have thought of the synagogue when he used the word.  While the book of Matthew may have been written for the church’s benefit, it definitely was not written to the church.  The content of Matthew demands that it was written to the Jews who were still under the law.  “Behold your King”.  The church could not have existed prior to Pentecost despite what historical theology claims.

The Bible calls the heavenly church the Body of Christ.  That body includes everyone who is redeemed in the time from Pentecost to the catching away of the church prior to any part of the tribulation.  Some of the members of that body are in heaven, others are alive on earth, and some have not even been saved yet.  In this age, God has chosen to use the local church to function and minister through.  Some members of the local church are members of the Body of Christ; others are not.  The local church is definitely not equal to the Body of Christ.  The local church represents the Body of Christ on earth.  Every true believer is part of the Body of Christ and should also be part of a local church body.  The local church is made up of people, not buildings.  It is God’s agent for ministry to carry the gospel message.

God helps us understand the ministry of the heavenly church by painting a clear picture.  The Body of Christ is a flock with a Chief Shepherd.  It is a body of redeemed members with Christ as the head of that heavenly body.  It is also a household, or home, and it is a theocracy.

The Bible clearly assigns these functions to the local church.  The local church is a flock with a local resident “under-shepherd”.  Members of a local church are sheep.  Obviously, some of them are wolves’ in sheep clothing.  The New Testament local church is supposed to function like a flock, not a political organization.  The local church is a body with a local resident head assigned by Christ himself.  It has members with different spiritual gifts, roles, and functions.  In reality, it is a theocracy.  The Bible is the rule book, the Holy Spirit directs the church, and the church administrates that which God has commanded.  Sadly, many have pressed a humanistic model onto the church by inserting culture into the text.

SO, WHAT IS A CHURCH?

Using the word “church” for a building or group does not make it a church.  It may be a gathering, assembly, fellowship, or small or large group; but any one of these does not make it a New Testament local church.  In Acts 19 you have an assembly in the theater at Ephesus, but it was not a church.  A true local church will be a functioning flock with a shepherd.  It will be a local body with members who have gifts and ministry through the church.  A Bible study group, a family, or a prayer group is not a church in itself.  Without a local church, an individual believer is without a flock and a shepherd.  He would be a member alone without the benefit of other members or a local resident head appointed by Christ.  He would be a person who is an orphan without a church home.

AND WHAT IS NOT A CHURCH?

In our day, there are many groups who choose not to use the word “church” in their names.  That would be good, because many of them are not really churches.  There are those groups who one day were New Testament local churches, but their candlestick has been removed and God has written “Ichabod” over them.  They once were, but now they are not.

What about the churches who have the form, but not the content?  A true local church depends upon what a church believes and where its authority comes from.  The Word of God will be the final authority in all matters.  If a church denies the Word of God, it has denied the God of the Word.  So, if a church rejects the inspiration, inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency of scripture, is it a church?  You cannot reject the deity and virgin birth of Christ and expect to go to heaven, so is a church that rejects the real Christ actually a church?  If a church pulpit disrespects the clear truth of scripture, and the “worship” person leads them in singing lies, is it a church?

So, if a “church” meets once a week, and there is no real shepherding or flock interaction, if all the sheep get is a “cute” story time to sustain them for a week, is that a church?  If a so-called church body doesn’t interact daily in ministry with members who have atrophy, is that a church? Is it a flock, body, and home?  What would you think of a home where members only interacted once or twice a week?

There is no end to the questions that need to be asked, but the real point is this: Are you part of a local church, and is it a church?  I personally know a lot of people who have no idea what their church believes.  It may be a cult, and they wouldn’t know it.  Before you waste your time debating the above, consider reading the following, which has been in print since 1985.

The Weeping Church, Confronting the Crisis of Church Polity. By Clay Nuttall, D.Min.  Faithful Life Publishers, North Fort Myers, FL 33903.  FaithfulLifePublisers.com

WHO GETS TO DEFINE SIN? Sunday, Jan 15 2017 

The answer to this question has to do with who your God is.  For the true believer, this has to be the Sovereign Creator God.  He is the spiritual Father of all who truly believe.  If you are not a true believer, your God is man and your father is the devil, the father of lies.

The first problem here is that, in the circle of professing Christians, you are likely to end up with a variety of definitions.  That is because, on the right, “externalists” have put things into the Bible text that were not there originally.  On the left, the “libertines” simply reject what the Bible does clearly define.  The first question is “Who is right?”  The answer is that only God is right, and His definitions are in the Bible text.  They were placed there by divine inspiration and are true.  They are clearly understood only when the reader approaches the text with the one biblical hermeneutic.

THE HAZING OF AMERICA

In our nation, the definition of sin and wrong has been forcibly changed.  The most egregious of sin and wickedness is now celebrated by those who control education, government, economy, entertainment, sports and, sadly, the professing church.  How did this happen?

In his book, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, the author, Erick Larson, records a terrible truth from the past.  It is a clear statement of where our own nation is today.Captain Reginald Hall is described and quoted on page 350 of the book.  He visited Germany and Austria in 1934.  Ever the intelligence man, he reported his observations about the National Socialist movement to the government.  He also described his experience to a friend in America.  “All the young are in the net,” he wrote; “anyone who tried to keep out of being a Nazi is hazed till they change their mind; a form of mass cruelty which exists only in such a country.” He added, “It will sometime soon be the duty of HUMAN BEINGS to deal with a mad dog.  When that time comes, your people will have to take their share.”

By using federal education (falsely called public education), the minds of generations have blindly accepted “liberal, progressive socialism”.  It has created a nation of intellectual pagans who support everything they believe with lies.  They are expert at turning truth into lies and lies into truth.

To ensure that everyone follows their “lie pact”, anyone who disagrees has been, is, and will be “hazed”.  They are made persona non-grata, ridiculed, punished, and dismissed from the public sector.  The socialism described by Hall is the very same destructive, liberal, progressive socialism being forced on this nation.  If you want an example, all you have to do is turn on the liberal media for one day.

This process of making sin acceptable may begin with redefining words, but it continues with derogatory name calling.  If you have any sense of godliness, you are called homophobic, Islamophobic, etc.  Political correctness only adds to the hazing.  Change your speech, fall in line, be silent about what you believe – or else.  This plan ultimately includes legal and physical force until you submit to the wicked ideas of liberal, progressive socialism.

TELL ME IT ISN’T SO

The church in America should be first in line to speak strongly to the definition of sin that God has given us in His Word.  The liberal church has long ago turned its back on the clear statements of God.  Sadly, this has given momentum to the paganizing of America.  With a low view of scripture, this group has become complicit in the removal of God’s moral standards.

Mainline evangelical church leaders have simply hid in the shadow of liberalism.  For whatever motive, they hold their silence; and their pronouncements find them guilty of teaching people to sin.  It seems that if a person is very good at communicating he gets a pass on what they are communicating.  Anyone who challenges one of these popular gurus is subject to “hazing”.

Without any shame, the Emergent, Emerging, and now Millennial churches are on a dead run to leave God’s standard for holiness in the dust.  It is no wonder that these churches ignore or offend basic doctrines.  The way one lives always rises from what he believes.  The more you degrade the Bible and its pure doctrine, the easier it is to throw off moral and righteous constraints.  If anyone dares challenge this moral runaway, they are “hazed” with words like “legalist”.  It is no wonder that cults have found a place to hide among these movements.

WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS?

In the end, the biblical church must bear some fault for this.  Almost everyone you talk to, it seems, has their head in the sand.  They want no part of truth when it brings conflict and rejection.  Silence is the watchword when it comes to what is happening in our own world. Remember that “silence is not always golden; sometimes it is just plain yellow”.  Leaders tend to hide behind things like “political” and deny that we have responsibility to speak the truth on every subject, even outside the pulpit.  It is true that much of the problem is ignorance; leaders often simply don’t know.  A careful reading of Acts 20 will help with that problem.

Paul’s words in his two letters to pastor Timothy make all this very clear.  He was not afraid to speak the truth, no matter what the consequences.  Timothy was instructed not to cut corners, run and hide, or be silent about what God has said.  Paul made it clear that people would not listen and would reject the truth, but that did not mean this young pastor should be silent.

It appears that the silence of those who have the truth in this country has cost us deeply. Religious and theological games are very expensive.  If we had preached the gospel fearlessly, taught sound doctrine with passion, and clearly defined the holiness of God and His instruction in the Word, things might have been different.

THAT’S NOT A CHURCH

You will have to wait for the February, 2017, Shepherd’s Staff for this, but we don’t expect much from those who aren’t really churches.  They really don’t disappoint us, but the real churches are those we look to for truth and sacrificial effort to do battle and define the wickedness of this hour.  These pastors will give an account in due time.  (Hebrews 13:17)

THE INVITATION Wednesday, May 11 2016 

Let me begin with a warning: this monthly article is meant to incite discussion.  If you read it only until you are offended, you have missed the point.  This issue takes aim at the extremes surrounding the “invitation”.  We use this term almost every day in some way or other.  In the end, I want us to consider what has been termed the “altar call”.  Invitations are not bad.  Jesus often gave invitations, beginning with one to His disciples.  (Matthew 4:18-22)  Andrew followed that example.  (John 1:41-43)

An open invitation at the end of a meeting is a relatively new thing in church circles. During the great periods of revival, it was used in evangelism.  It then became a popular tool in conservative churches.  Even if some did not like the idea, at its heart it was, and is, effective.

WHERE IT IS TODAY

Among churches headed toward the flawed “emerging church” trend, there is a growing disdain of the practice, some of which is encouraged by certain historical theological elements.  There are also churches that have become discouraged with this tool because of its excesses and misguided use.  There are even some churches that ought to forget about giving an invitation, since they have nothing to invite people to, anyway!

The danger in excluding it completely is that its rejection derives from cultural arguments rather than from scripture.  The mob mentality dictates that as soon as they are able, everyone has to follow the “change culture” that scraps all old things.  We are told that the “millennials” can’t be reached with anything other than what they demand.  It is sad that people have forgotten that all generations, including this one, have the same need.  We are all sinners and need the God of the Word and the Word of God.

A good number of conservative churches continue the practice.  The problem is that we so seldom evaluate ministry.  If we do, it offends some folks who think they are more important than the work of God.  Rather than searching for the value of this practice, they go on tripping over all kinds of obstacles.  That may be one of the reasons why there so few churches anymore who are seeing real conversions over the period of a year, rather than seeing people saved “daily” as God intended.  (Acts 2:47)  Now that I have made everyone mad, let me add some constructive advice.

USE AND MISUSE

One of the major traps of “culture authority” is that you are obligated to follow the methods that everyone else is using.  To be considered relevant, you have to use all the “stuff” that others are using.  What the devil could not accomplish outside the church he has now done inside the church.  This is not a new problem; among conservative churches, the same mentality has existed for a long time.  The idea is that if I want to have the largest church in the area, I will have to use the same tools others use, whether good or bad.

With that in place, all of us need to take a good look at the use of an open invitation in order to see what and why adjustments may be helpful.  We are not, and should not feel obligated to do what others do in their churches.  Any adjustments, however, need to make sense in order to be effective.

If you dare, take a look at the extremes.  We should indeed present the gospel clearly, and we should offer a way for further explanation and reception of the message.  A carefully crafted invitation can do that.  Our task is to sow the seed, but it is God who gives the increase.  High-pressure invitations are highly questionable.  Giving an opportunity to come forward is not the question, but extending an invitation until everyone is “down front” is questionable.  The invitation is often confusing rather than being pointed and clear.  By the time an invitation is given, things should have been made so clear that long explanations are not necessary.  The Holy Spirit can and will work when God’s message has been presented clearly.

SOME PRACTICAL IDEAS

There are some excellent illustrations of how to use an effective invitation.  I will refrain from recommending certain names because that gets in the way, but there are some speakers who do get it right.  A well-ordered message will tell the listeners what is going to be said, and it can be summarized quickly afterward.  This comes from the old country preacher who said, “I tells them what I is going to tell them, then I tells them, then I tells them what I told them”.  So from the very beginning the listener should know what to expect and what is expected of her/him.  At the end, all that remains is to quickly open the door and invite them to respond down a clear path.

A well-ordered message flows swiftly into the conclusion and the opportunity to respond.  It should not become an obstacle, but should remain an opportunity.  One of the keys is to never refer to time.  The listener ought not to be able to anticipate the transition; this way the attention of the lost person is never broken.  His mind is on his need and the answer the preacher has given, and one question remains: What will I do with Jesus?  Distractions spell disaster when it comes to closing a message.  There is no law saying that we have to sing, even if it is helpful at times.  Singing a dozen verses of a hymn is most often a distraction.  If you haven’t made the message clear at this point, a last-minute explanation can be a distraction.

When you get over being mad about this, take some time to think it over.  Most people aren’t opposed to an invitation; actually, they are opposed to distractions.

WHO IS A CONSERVATIVE? Tuesday, Mar 1 2016 

These days, designations and tags are flying around like bumblebees. The problem is that these categories only represent the user’s point of view. “A conservative is someone who agrees with me!” There is no static view in any of them. Conservatives come in many colors. Because of this, all of these groups change meaning over the years. Designations alone are like trying to pick up mercury.

The only way to get to the root of this problem is to ask, “How did they come to that conclusion?” rather than “What is their conclusion?” Your mindset, your system of thinking is really the issue, because that is where your conclusions, points of view, and beliefs come from. We face this every day in theology. It is why people contentiously debate doctrinal positions. One needs to ask, “How did you come to that belief; what system did you use?” The reason there are so many differing doctrines is that people use different systems of thinking. If they all faithfully used the same system with its rules, they could readily come to the same conclusions.

In the early days of American education, there was a strong emphasis on “critical and analytical thinking”. This can be demonstrated in the founding documents of our nation, and it is the reason why certain people are trying to destroy them. What we have in state education today is not “critical and analytical thinking”, even though they claim that it is. What is going on in this rapidly deteriorating system is “brain washing and indoctrination”. Sadly, this same approach has sunk its teeth deep into what is called Christian education. That is why we look, think, act, and smell like the American education failure.

AN OBSERVATION

To illustrate this problem, I am forced to use some current designations; but hang on – I will explain later. We seem to be dealing with “liberals, moderates, and conservatives”. I know there are other fringe tags, but I will let you have that discussion among yourselves. Liberalism has a hundred threads, and they are not necessarily similar. What is common about all those tangents is that they use the same system of thinking. Human reason is their authority, and they have a disdain for truth. In fact, many of them do not even believe there is such a thing as truth. Their final authority is man, culture, intellect, etc. No matter how illogical their conclusions may be, they will defend them to “your” death. Liberalism is not wrong about everything; but as I often say, “It doesn’t have answers, but only creates problems and then blames them on someone else”. So liberalism (as an illustration) is about how they think and not so much what they think.

Conservatism (bear with me here) at its heart is interested in truth that can be demonstrated, unlike the so-called science of liberalism that is based on faith or what one believes based on man’s authority. Early conservatism leaned heavily on “analytical and critical thinking”. Sad to say, most people we know in this category love to argue but are not able to answer the “why” of their position. In these days, I fear that thinkers are in the minority. We must remember, however, that even in this group the views are not unanimous.

When people declare a position, or the importance of that position, they create questions that allow us to discover their systems of thinking. That is why you have conservatives championing liberal positions. The left might hold views that the right holds, and vise-versa. That is where moderates come in. They are neither one nor the other, but the problem is that moderates always move left and not right.

BACK TO THE FUTURE

So in this present atmosphere, we ask “How can you tell who is what?” It is not about what they say, but how they arrived at what they say. If one thinks like a liberal, he divides things up; he is a moral conservative, a liberal in economics, and so on. That is the problem. This is not about the leaves; it is about the root. It is how they think, and so many people who claim to be conservative simply tend to think like liberals. How you think determines what you believe and what you are.

Perhaps you can explain why I have never met a person who is liberal in politics who is not also liberal in religion. This is not about whether they got something right; it is a system of thinking as to how they view everything in life. So, if you are thinking about who is a conservative, you should be asking how that person thinks.

There are some positions that quickly identify with liberal thinking. Abortion and sodomy are two of them, and you have to think like a liberal to support such heinous acts. These, though, only allow you to ask the right questions. Any person who is soft on any major issue of any kind is giving you a message. As believers, we should be reminded that for us there is no such thing as a separation of the religious and the secular. The Bible is clear; every thought, deed, and position is subject to the will of God.

LOOKING DOWN THE BARREL

Since we are on the subject, consider pulling out the rifle and looking down the barrel. Let me talk about “us” – those who claim to be conservative and profess salvation. In theology, you have all three of these categories. Call them what you wish; it is right, middle, and left. There are those who are completely committed to the Word and will of God. We may not always practice it right, but we trust a Holy God and believe the Book is God’s Word.

Then how did we get to the “theological error of the month”? It is because we have been taught to think like liberals. Look at how quickly our “professed” fundamental friends run to defend and buddy up to the moderates. By their very nature, moderates think with a liberal mind-set; so the truth is that our own brothers have been duped by that humanistic way of thinking.

I want you to remember this: “Moderates, those in the middle, are far more dangerous than the worst heretic among liberals”.

That is where we are today. In the present atmosphere, our own brothers and sisters are running to cast their lots with a system of thinking that opposes God at every step. That system of thinking is not conservative, and neither are they. Just saying!

THE BIBLE ON CRIME AND PUNISHMENT Wednesday, Dec 30 2015 

The Bible speaks to everything in one way or another. Where it does speak directly, it is correct even if the pagan culture in which we live disagrees or thinks that God’s way is too simplistic or idealistic. The criminal justice system in our country is seriously flawed and corrupt, and this is because the system does not represent the basic model presented in God’s Word.

The fact is that during the establishment of our nation much of the foundational law represented the Judeo-Christian principles. It wasn’t perfect, but the years of judicial, administrative, and legislative adjustments have stripped our law of its value. A majority of these changes were in violation of the original documents, without the permission of the people.

The end result of pagan intellectualism has given us a prison system that multiplies the criminal element and moral perversity. The present practice celebrates and rewards the violator and punishes the victims, who are the core of our society. The rejection of capital punishment mocks a holy God and encourages murderers, rapists, and other evildoers to continue committing their crimes. The unequal application of the law ends up punishing the little guy while the elite go free and even run for high office. In the courtroom, the defense is expected to get the guilty off. While the family of the victim lives with the grief of the crime, our legal system bankrupts a nation, encouraging a violent society.

The end of this spiral comes when those in charge do away with real punishment because they say that “the system is flawed”, but then go on spreading evil by moving further away from the answer God has given. This pagan philosophy is based on folly – the idea that man is basically good and society has the power to change the criminal into a good citizen through re-education. How has that worked out? The bottom line is that evil things are made good and good things are made evil. This nonsensical system murders the innocent child in the womb, but rewards those who are guilty and sets them free.

GODS WAY ALWAYS WORKS

God’s plan is clear and simple. Cities of refuge and temporary confinement were only for the purpose of making sure that judgment was served honestly and with alacrity. The goals were restitution and retribution. For the criminal, there was always an end to the dealing with evil. The pagan mind tells us that capital punishment doesn’t work, but the truth is that no murderer who died for his crime has ever murdered again. The liberal mind complains that capital punishment is “cruel and unusual punishment”. The record, however, makes it clear that prison is a cruel and unusual punishment, while execution is actually merciful and quick. God’s plan shuts the door on the manufacture of the criminal element. The growth and respectability given to sodomy at this hour is a by-product of a useless prison system. The answer to crime from frustrated leaders is simply to make things legal, no matter how evil the practice is in God’s sight. The problem is that making things legal doesn’t make them right, but it does reveal the serious lack of wisdom in the present system. Pagan philosophy counters with the argument that moral people want to establish a “theocracy”. The truth is that God’s plan works; it is what is needed, no matter what you may choose to call it.

INSULT TO INJURY

The saddest point in all of this is that some of those who name the name of Christ are siding with the seared mind of the unregenerate. There are several reasons for this. One reason is the philosophy of the state educational system in our nation, which has been adopted by so-called Christian institutions. The liberal mindset has no valid authority base. That mindset has taught a whole generation to use human reason as the highest authority. God gave us the ability to reason, and that ability, when properly used, will end up in agreement with God’s wisdom. Man’s wisdom ends up working full-time to prove that God is wrong.

EXAMPLE

Yesterday a friend of mine was sentenced to jail time for lying to the IRS. None of us would approve of any deliberate and clear violation of the law. In this case, however, he did not owe anyone anything, so restitution had taken place and there was no evidence of deliberate violation. It was not a capital crime, so retribution was not an issue. In God’s plan, the issue was settled. So, what is going on here with the imposition of jail time? Most of us have taken deductions that were disallowed, and many have not included so-called income that was questionable. It would be very easy for the current vacillating system to put us behind bars; in fact, this system has been used many times by a vengeful administration to punish those who disagree with them.

CORRUPT

Corruption is a very strong word, but it is true and is the point of this discussion. When the little guy is punished for something, he is judged harshly. At the same time, those at the top use power and money to avoid justice. Some of the most public figures owe huge amounts of taxes and have avoided paying them. This is corruption. If lying to the IRS is a crime – and it is – then why are major leaders so often shielded from responsibility? If lying is a crime, then half of Washington should be indicted given the fact that liberalism lives on lies.

The argument used to protect the elite is that nothing has been proven, and they are innocent until proven guilty. That may be true of the court, but it isn’t true in the real world. If someone murders and a corrupt defense attorney gets them off, they are still guilty. It seems, however, that if you have enough power, influence, and money, you can get away with murder. It may all be legal, but it still is corrupt. So, while the average citizen has no “real” protection, he can be incarcerated for questionable charges. Meanwhile, the guilty run for the highest offices in the land and may never even be charged even if their crime was treasonable, such as rewriting the founding documents of our nation!

CONCLUSION

This is the real story of flawed justice. In the end, it doesn’t work because it flies in the face of what the sovereign creator God has given us. His way is perfect and always works. Man’s way is flawed and produces injustice. So who should be behind bars?

HOW TO KNOW WHEN THE EMERGING CHURCH IS EMERGING IN YOUR CHURCH Monday, Nov 23 2015 

WARNING!!! To keep you from having a “hissy fit”, please keep this in mind. Most of the things on the following list are not bad in themselves. This is not a condemnation of change or of things that are new; rather, it is a list of things that almost always appear on the road to the Emerging Church and its denial of biblical authority and sufficiency.

My heart is grieved by the fact that many of my long-time friends have been fooled into replacing a theology that is biblical with “culture authority”. They do this by mocking things of the past and ridiculing those who press for biblical responsibility. Theology is a nasty word to them, but theology is actually a growing understanding of the God whom we serve.

HERE IS A PARTIAL LIST

Hymnals disappear. The Psalms are actually a hymnal. There is nothing wrong with a hymnal, even though there are things in some hymns that are errant. The Bible doesn’t command us to have hymnals in our churches. On the other hand, many people need to see the notes in order to be able to sing. Some churches have put the score on the screen to solve that problem. Without it, the blending of voices in harmony is nearly impossible.

The organ disappears. The Bible does not require that a church should have an organ, but trying to replace it with a tinny technical sound does not solve the issue. Nothing in our world can possibly replace the majestic sound of a pipe organ.

The platform is renovated. Anything that represents the past is bad and has to go. The choir loft and other furniture, including a communion table, are all replaced with new items designed to modify worship activity. Even the pulpit has to go, one way or another. It is certain that none of these things are commanded in Scripture, but their removal is the first hint that the Bible is no longer the center of worship.

The building is renovated. In this war on history, anything that speaks of the past has to go. When walking into some of the today’s new facilities, it’s hard to even know for sure that you’re in a church. We can worship anywhere, but that is not the question. The question should be, “Is real worship going on here at all”?

Music does a turnabout. There are many kinds of music, much of which can be used tactfully. This is not an easy area to discuss, but replacing beautiful harmony with discord, yelling, repetition, and songs written by low-talent writers is certainly not helpful. It’s not that all current music is by any means bad; but when lyrics fly in the face of Scripture, there is a problem. It seems that the great majority of “worship leaders” don’t really even have enough theology to know when they are offending God.

Sermonettes replace biblical preaching. This is the second thing that reveals a turn away from Scripture. Preaching of the text is derided. Certainly some truth is spoken, but there is so little solid teaching of what God has said that people are starving spiritually. This happens when the communicator only knows about the Bible and very little of what God has actually said in the Bible.

Services dry up and disappear. The assembly of the local church is necessary for the health of the fellowship. Even with three services a week, there is a dearth of Bible teaching. People should be doing studies personally and with their families, but it is probably less than ten percent of the congregation that actually does. The Bible gives no strict rule on this, but during the persecution in the first century, they met daily. After all, how could once a week possibly provide for the coming persecution?

Evangelism almost disappears. For most churches, this is long gone. The task of reaching the lost should not be relegated solely to the preacher. The first line of evangelism is each true believer living and sharing the gospel in a needy world. Some human theological inventions have removed this from the believer’s responsibility, but it is still there.

Altar calls are non-existent or non-effective. Invitations at the end of a service are a recent invention, but they do have value. The important issue is why they have disappeared. If no one ever responds, why should you even bother to have one? And why doesn’t anyone one respond? This has to be a topic for another discussion, but a lot of it has to do with poorly crafted messages.

Unregenerate membership. This is an old problem. We invented a church membership concept that allows professing Christians to be part of a local church. When attendees act and talk like pagans and confess that the Spirit of God does not dwell in them, they should not be part of a membership. The new approach today, however, is to welcome pagans into the church without any clear testimony of conversion. The percentage of unsaved people in today’s congregations is now staggering. This is a third major area identifying the departure from scripture.

Man-centered worship. Worship is about God, to God, and for God; but you wouldn’t know it in most of today’s “worship” meetings. Yes, there are lots of words about God, but it hard to actually find Him. How can you worship when the words being used are offensive to God and to His Word? Who in such a meeting can really worship? Unsaved Christ rejecters, as well as carnal, out-of-fellowship believers can’t truly worship. So, how many true believers who walk in the Spirit and who are able to worship are present? Man-centered entertainment “worship” is carnal and fleshly. One certain “worship leader” has confessed that “We do what we like”.

A hatred of history. This is the mantra of liberalism, socialism, and communism. Those on the road to the Emerging Church must shake the dust of history off their feet. The true believer rejoices in factual history, learns from it, and respects it, but does not live in the past. The road to “what we like” can have no historical markers.

A disdain for doctrine and scorn for theology. This is where it all ends. It is why churches often change their names, neuter their public doctrinal statements, and make fun of exegetical preaching. Their sick defense is that “We change our methods, but not our message”. Sorry, but that is an impossibility and, frankly, it is a lie.

WHOA!! Don’t waste one breath in trying to argue about any of the above. The fact is that we need change, and many new things do indeed have value. The standard, however, should ever be the Holy Word of God. The tragedy is that most people don’t know enough of a theology that is biblical to allow them to avoid the dead end. That dead end is the Emergent Church mob. How much of this has emerged in your world?

IGNORANCE AND APATHY Thursday, Oct 8 2015 

The story was told of a reporter who was taking a brief survey on a city street. He asked a passerby to comment on the biggest problems in our country, ignorance and apathy. The individual supposedly replied, “I don’t know and I don’t care”. That response reflects the attitude in the average church toward the Bible. I am amazed at the gross ignorance of the scriptures amongst those in our circles. The same is also true of the average church leadership and, unfortunately, of some pastors.

And now, if I have your attention, let me explain. Most people I know have knowledge about the Bible, but few actually have knowledge of the Bible. To know about Adam in the garden, Joseph’s coat of many colors, Daniel in the lions’ den, or David and Goliath is to know about the Bible. That is not the same as knowing what God is communicating to us. The Bible is a book about God. The scripture is there for us to understand who He is, what He has said about Himself, and what that means to us.

It doesn’t take an extended conversation to see that the average person in the church has surface information about the Book, nor does it take very long before they demonstrate a lack of understanding of what God has actually stated. They tend to repeat what other people have said or written, but they have never tested it with the text. A greater tragedy is that, when you ask them to explain their beliefs, they simply don’t care. Their ignorance is displayed when they say, “I think” or “I believe” or “my view is”. What is even worse is to hear them say, “That is what my pastor, or my church believes”. Apathy is evident when they say, “It’s not all that important”.

ILLUSTRATIONS OF THIS

Over the past year, I have been grieved again and again by people from my past who don’t know or even care what God has said. As students or members of the church, they have all had the same basic teaching. Some have done very well in embracing “what the Bible says”, so at least there is some success. Others have no shame in rewriting the Bible anytime it doesn’t agree with them. Some of these folks who sat under biblical teaching have joined churches that are actually cultic. Most of them do not even have a clue about the doctrinal position of the church and have never asked. Many have moved to the “emerging church” because of its entertainment emphasis as opposed to true worship. They have no idea where the church is or where it is headed theologically, and they don’t seem to care. Even when God has written Ichabod over them and closed the doors, they just move on to another church tragedy filled with ignorance and apathy.

I have been tempted to use some of the names of those churches and the individuals who have turned their back on God’s word, but then ignorant people would call that “judging”. One thing that seems evident is that this curse is caused by the fact that so many people in those churches have never been born again, and so they have no ability to understand the text that is spiritually discerned.

Do you have any idea why so many so-called churches today have changed their names? There was a time when you could see a church name and at least know where to begin with your questions. With the “dishwater” types of names so many churches have now adopted, you have to begin at the beginning; there is no other obvious place to start with your questions. Church websites have deliberately watered down their statements of faith in order to prevent your realizing that they are a cult. They know that most folks don’t know what questions to ask, nor do they know why certain doctrines are a key for understanding.

ACCEPTING THE CHALLENGE

This problem often begins with churches when they try to select a new pastor. To start with, it is Christ who calls pastors, not local churches. The church’s main task is to find out who it is that Christ has selected as His under-shepherd for that congregation. Countless hours are wasted in ignorance and apathy as those who are responsible discuss surface issues and miss the main focus. If Christ designates a man as local shepherd, you can be sure that person will be equipped and qualified. You can be sure that Christ would approve a man of the Book – not a man who knows just about the Bible, but one who actually knows what God is saying. We often end up with someone who is telling only what they think God is saying. God help us! When it comes to finding out what a man really believes, who in the average local church would be able to do that? Get off your high horse! Yes, it is true that all of us know some basic Bible facts, but who is going to protect the church from doctrinal error? Who in the church’s leadership has understanding that would root out false teaching in a candidate?

This is why so many churches have fallen prey to the “emerging church” movement and to entertainment in lieu of true worship. Pastors who know what God has said in His Book and who are called of Christ have backbone and will stand up to such nonsense. A man who is called by Christ will be a man who understands God’s holiness as being central to what we know about Him. He would be reviled by the worship of man and intolerant of having the filth of the world dragged into a congregation.

OUR RESPONSE TO THIS PROBLEM

How do we deal with ignorance? There is no end to opportunities in this arena. Ask yourself, “How many minutes each week does the average church member spend in solid, serious study of God’s Word, including church meetings?” There you have the heart of ignorance. The first step is to make sure that any and all teaching and preaching are carefully crafted and filled to overflowing with who God is and what He says. Then ask in what ways we can increase valuable study of the Word by each member. It should begin by setting aside books written by humans and then moving to studies of the Book. How do we deal with apathy? Challenge people to search their own hearts. God will speak to them if they have not become His son by faith. A spirit of revival is needed in the church that is self-absorbed, and that includes the preaching of God’s word regarding sin. Because they love their sin, the “emerging church” hates preaching on wickedness. They breed immorality because to them God’s word is only a toy.

Only God can break through to the mind that has embraced ignorance. Only He can break the heart of someone who doesn’t care. I grieve for those who are comfortable in their trap, but there surely must be some of them who are still open to preaching about a holy God.

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