DUMB THINGS PEOPLE SAY Thursday, Jun 8 2017 

Some of the things people say are just plain funny, while others are extremely harmful. Quite often, things that are stated are only strange because of where they are uttered. This is like the visitor who goes to the OB ward to visit an obviously expectant mother. The visitor says, “Are you still here?”  Then there is the man who is visiting at the funeral home and comments about the deceased, “My, he looks so nice”.  My favorite is church bulletin humor.  “The Pastor’s message: What the fool said”.  Dumb things can often be quite entertaining.

When the time rolls around for elections, we are subjected to some of the dumbest things I have ever heard.  You sometimes have to wonder how anyone could possibly be elected who appears to be totally brain dead.  I love one-liners, and they probably are the best way to respond to dumb statements, if you are not still laughing after five minutes.  Dumb things are not always verbal; sometimes they are put in print.  I tend to do this in emails because I never spell- check them.  That can get you into a lot of trouble, as some of you well know!  Then there is social media. This is the king of written dumb things.  It covers almost 50% of the comments posted. We live in a world that doesn’t think. That, of course, is the fruit of today’s liberal American education, and almost everyone I know struggles with thinking before speaking.

IN THE CHRISTIAN CIRCLES

Let me begin with dumb things preachers say.  An oft repeated statement is, “The lost will be separated from God for eternity” or “The worst thing about hell is that God is not there”.  Unless you have a different God than the one described in the Bible, that is a dumb statement.  The God of the Bible is omnipresent.  That means He is present always, everywhere, for all time and eternity.  There is NO place where He is not eternally present.  The psalmist put it this way: “If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.”  (Psalm 139:8)

My pet peeve involves a string of things that all mean the same thing.  “I believe”, “I think”, “my view”, “my opinion is”.  Let me be blunt.  What the preacher believes, thinks, opines is not relevant.  I don’t care.  What we want to know is what the clear teaching of the Word of God says.  If you don’t know, either say so or wait until you do know.  The authority in the pulpit is the Word of God, not the imagination of the preacher.  If you do know what the Bible says, then say it clearly and pointedly: “The Bible says…”  That is not arrogance; it is obedience.

We should all agree that preachers telling lies in the pulpit is dumb.  Everything we say ought to be tested with the truth.  Let me focus on lying about time: “This is my last point”, “I am almost done”, “Just a minute more”.  This is fine if it is true; but if you then ramble on for another half hour, let’s face it – you lied, and that is dumb.  Oh, I see – “the Lord led you”.  Why do we always blame our errors on God?  That is also dumb.  The best preaching doesn’t ever refer to time.  It holds the attention of the listener so that, when the end does come, the listener is surprised.

The problem appears to be that there is more error taught in the name of God than truth.  Part of this has to do with a tragic, casual approach to the study of God’s Word.  Digging in the text is hard work.  It takes time, energy, and persistence.  I often wonder why anybody listened to me in my early years of preaching, and I wish I had known then what I know now.  What I do know, for sure, is that I now know very little of the whole even after fifty-seven years of ministry!

A second problem with this issue of dumb things is the infringement of “historical theology” upon the clear teaching of the Scriptures.  Instead of being like the saints at Bera (Acts 17:11). who “searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” too many preachers blindly accept what other men have said about the text.  Everyone wants to be loved and accepted, so asking questions about historical positions is off base.  To those who have chosen to be followers of a man, disloyalty is almost criminal.  Even the faithful know better than to ask questions about historical conclusions that don’t make sense.

This would include the problem of the worship of scholars.  I repeat: scholars and scholarship have great value for all of us, but they do us no service if we are not allowed to ask questions. How often are scholars wrong?  The answer is “often”, and that is easy to prove.  With so many and such varied conclusions about a text, they couldn’t possibly all be right.  Maybe one of them is; but even if one is right, it means the majority must be wrong.  Let me remind you that the Bible was not written to scholars; it was written to the common man.  Deep inside, the liberal in you may be saying that this writer is opposed to scholarship and serious education, even if the evidence is the exact opposite.

THE HEART OF DUMB THINGS

The road to “dumb things” is paved with wrong interpretation.  Actually, it is paved with wrong systems of interpretation.  I am racing to finish the book “The Normal Hermeneutic”.  In it I deal with the word “interpretation”.  The Bible interprets itself.  God put truth in, and He wants to lift it out of the text.  Somewhere, it seems, we got the idea that God needs our help; so, we began to add our wisdom to that of the scriptures.   We end by adding our ideas to the text.  Our task is to find out what God has plainly said and to make sure that is what we teach.  What has happened is that we teach what we think about what the Bible says and so end up saying a lot of dumb things.

An example of this problem is found in our own national government.  The founding documents of this nation are its laws.  The responsibility of the courts is to see that the original documents are upheld and that people obey those laws.  Now enters a system that allows the courts to interpret the law rather than uphold what was written.  The product is a corrupted judicial system that does not represent the original documents.

That is exactly what has been done to the Bible.  Instead of letting the Bible speak, we have added our ideas and ignored the things we don’t like.  So, we end up drowning in a sea of dumb theological ideas.  And then there is music…but don’t even get me started!

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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.

NOW I LAY ME DOWN TO SLEEP Sunday, Oct 30 2016 

The book of The Revelation of Jesus Christ opens with a sobering description of our glorious Lord.  It is followed by messages to the pastors of each of the seven churches.  These were literal churches that existed in that day.  The meaning of each name reveals a good deal about what each church looked like.  In our day, there are churches that exhibit some of these characteristics.  While the text does not prophesy future historic periods, it takes only an elementary understanding of history to see that these names clearly identify each period from the early church to this very day.

The Laodicean church identifies with “the rights of the people”.  It is the “lukewarm” church.  It is also interesting that this is the church that is caught away from the earth.  That is evident from chapter four in that there is no mention of the church on earth during the following seven years.

This is the Laodicean age, the period of the lukewarm church when the church has fallen asleep at the wheel.  It possesses a lot of things and is very busy.  The essential things, however, appear to be missing.  There is snoring and plenty of noise, but it is snoozing spiritually.

WHERE IS THE BOOK?

The majority of professing Christians hardly ever pick up their Bibles, either electronic or printed.  For some, it’s only once a week when they go to what is called “church”.  In most churches, the book is never even needed.  Personal Bible study is an unusual activity for most Christians, and serious Bible study in most churches has become a thing of the past.  For the minority that still have more than one meeting a week that might include any study, the time is short – just a God token.  If it is serious Bible study, perhaps a total of little more than one hour a week would be a stretch for most of today’s churches.

Many of the current Laodicean churches provide only one service a week, and the amount of biblical truth provided in it could be put in a thimble.  If there are other meetings, they probably represent less than ten percent participation of the whole group.  This is exacerbated by the fact that, in most of these churches, more error is taught than truth.

This is the age of the goat church.  It would have been difficult to find any unsaved person in any of the early local churches.  On the other hand, in this lukewarm age it might be difficult to find any true believers in the entertainment church.  This is due in part to the fact that so few of these churches have leaders who actually know the Bible although they, of course, know about the Bible.  Note that when one of these leaders tells us that authoritative truth about God isn’t limited to the Bible, the crowds cheer.  Anything to make the Bible say what they want it to say.  You may not like them being described as goats, but if they look, smell, act, eat, and socialize like goats, what else might you call them?

The millennial age is the quintessential Laodicean church – forget a sovereign God and the authority of the Scriptures.  It despises the very message they need.  The “rights of the people” demand that we stop quoting God about sin.  They are asleep in the pseudo-love church.  God’s love demands holiness, and that is the most hated doctrine of the current church of Laodicea.

WHERE IS THE CHURCH?

Many of these groups will not use the word “church”, particularly as part of their name.  In most cases, that is good since they really aren’t churches anyway!

A biblical church is a “family” with a local resident headship.  How can you have a core family when its members are in the same home only once a week?  How can you be a family when most of the members never function to the benefit of the family unit?  They are brothers and sisters only if God is their Heavenly Father.  God intended that every true believer should be part of a local church.  There are a hundred reasons why this is necessary. The local church is definitely Christ’s clear plan for this church age.

A biblical local church is a flock for sheep, with a local resident shepherd to lead the flock with all the implications of the illustration.  The loose affiliation of the Laodicean church certainly does not represent this picture, and that is why the individuals in these gatherings are so easily gobbled up by wolves who teach error.  False teachers in this lukewarm age can draw great crowds and have massive organizations because the people of this age know so little of what the Bible teaches about a holy God.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers having itching ears.  (II Timothy 4:3)

The biblical local church is a body.  The present Laodicean church hardly represents a body, but is more like a pile of bones.  A healthy body would expect its members to function well and to do the things that are expected of each specific member.

Take an honest look around you.  There are many groups who call themselves a church, but where is the evidence?  There once were many churches that demonstrated the power of the gospel, but now many of them are gone.  Others have little spiritual power – not enough power to blow the nose of a flea!  What happened?  It is the age of lukewarm, and they are asleep.

THE GOOD NEWS

Take heart, however.  There are a few churches that look and sound like Ephesus (desired).  Some churches I know are going through suffering (Smyrna), and there are actually some Philadelphia churches (brotherly love).  There are churches where biblical preaching is the center of the ministry.  The idea that true believers are not interested in preaching that represents true doctrine is absolutely false.  Goats hate it, but true believers love feasting on the green grass every Lord’s Day.  They even have spiritual stomach upset when the “food” is ill- prepared and (God forbid) boring.

There are fellowships that act like a family, where the members long to be together. They care for one another and bear each other’s burdens.  They share in the sorrow of the home-going of the elderly and join in the joy of new babes born to the young.  These churches love to worship “in spirit and in truth” where God, and not man, is honored.  They feel safe in a congregation where sin is not welcome, but where the repentant sinner is comforted.

Do you know churches like that?

THE OMNIPRESENT ETERNAL GOD Thursday, Sep 22 2016 

We should have little patience with those who deliberately abuse the scriptures, particularly in central doctrines.  At the same time, innocent statements can also be dangerous, even if they were not intended to be harmful.  The Bible is about God, and His purpose in giving us the scriptures was to reveal Himself to us.  His character is displayed in marvelous detail, and we are obligated to avoid statements that might mislead our listeners.

Here is an example of a careless comment, even though it might be intended to express the danger of rejecting the grace of God in eternal salvation.  How often have you heard someone say that “to be lost is to be separated from God eternally”?  It is true that the unsaved person will be separated from God’s love and mercy, but separated from God eternally?  Really?  How could that be?  David observed, “If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there”.  (Psalm 139:8b)  I remember, as a child, hearing an evangelist shout “The worst thing about hell is that God is not there!”  The truth is that the worst thing about hell is that God is there.  The careless student might say that the issue is not important.  The “cute” theologian may say that the place for the lost to dwell eternally is not hell, but is the Lake of Fire.  That is true, but it is not the point of this discussion.  After all, we are told “…and death and hell were cast into the lake of fire”.  (Rev. 20:14a)  To say that God is not in hell or eternity is an attack on the omnipresence of God.

CHRISTIANITY LITE

Much of the doctrinal error suggested by people who only know “about” the Bible comes from an erroneous view of the doctrine of God.  Whole denominations have invented ideas about the Holy Spirit that fail to recognize that He is God the Spirit.  That includes, without exception, all the attributes of God that belong to Him.   The Holy Spirit is eternally all-present in the first, second, and third heavens.  Eternity is hard for us to conceive, but He is, has always been, and always will be totally God.

An example of the general misunderstanding of the Spirit surrounds the event of Pentecost.  All that the Bible says on the subject is true.  He did come at Pentecost in special presence and ministry.  To hear some people tell the story, you would think that the Spirit had never been there before and was surprised at Jerusalem the first time He saw it.  While that is farfetched, it is no more misguided than some of allegorical ideas that historical theology offers, or that experiential religious views press on the Bible.

The Spirit has always been omnipresent, so that is not the issue of Pentecost.  The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost has to do with the inception of His special ministry; and that ministry is clearly related to the Church, the Body of Christ, that came into existence on that day.  Some aspects of His ministry had never been exercised before, and the Scripture makes it plain that they will be used from Pentecost until that moment when the Church of Jesus Christ is caught away.  When the Church is removed, so will be that special ministry of the Spirit.  (I Thess. 4:13-18; II Thess. 2:1-12)  The Holy Spirit will still be all-present, but those special ministries He began at Pentecost will cease to function with men on earth.

COME, HOLY SPIRIT

What do people mean when they sing “Come, Holy Spirit”?  He is already here, omnipresent. Why would we ask for something He already has given us, His marvelous presence?He came once in special ministry for the age of the church, and He is not going to come like that again.  If we mean that we want Him to move in our midst with power and purity, bringing obedience to the saints, then that makes sense.  It isn’t healthy to confuse people, so we should say and sing only what we mean because the average Christian, who only knows “about” the Bible, may well think we mean something else.

Every true believer has the Holy Spirit indwelling his/her body.  He is already there. God meant for us to utilize His indwelling, teaching, guiding, convicting, empowering, etc.; and the fullness of the Spirit is simply yielding to the indwelling Spirit.  Since we have the power dwelling in us, what are you praying for?  God has already given us the answer, and we are not using it.  Why are people looking for something new or additional?

Our world is at the edge of disaster, on the verge of a world war, and our nation is more divided than it was even at the time of the Civil War.  One international or national spark could set off a war or cause fighting to erupt in our streets.  Some folks have their heads in the sand in denial; others are frightened half of their wits.  Some Christians believe that revival is the answer.

If you are praying for revival, what are you praying for?  Praying for others isn’t wrong, but if you don’t have revival and repentance of sin in your own heart, then don’t waste your time.  The greatest hindrance to revival is the need in each individual heart, and that is what each person should be paying attention to.  Many believers pray in vain for revival because they embrace doctrinal error and expect God to honor their prayer while they abuse the Scriptures and are openly disobedient to Him.  To take lightly the omnipresence of God, for instance, is a serious offence to Him.

IT IS NO CHRISTMAS PRESENT

Christmas time is one of those periods when people are habitually careless with Scripture.  You have already heard my diatribe on this issue, but it illustrates the problem with misleading people about the omnipresence of Christ.  We are told that Jesus came down to earth at Bethlehem.  While that is true, much of the description is misleading.  Where did we get the stuff saying that the angels wept at His departure because they would miss Him?  On the day of His birth He was still present everywhere.  While He as a babe, clothed by God in flesh, lay in a manger, He was still the Creator and present everywhere in the universe.  We see Him as a helpless babe, a man of little wealth, or a despised servant; He was still the all-present God.

It is no Christmas present to mislead people about the God/man even if ours are innocent comments.  We don’t need “cute” explanations when we come to questions about Christ in the flesh.  We don’t need to feel that we have to explain things that are not explained in the Bible. Those who are plagued by the “Lucifer Syndrome” want people to think that they know the answers to everything.  Dr. Bowman repeatedly said, “We always begin with what we most assuredly know”.  Then we accept the clear, plain statements of the text.  The mysteries of the Scripture remain embraced in the omniscience of God.  Our task is to remain confident in what we know, such as the attributes of our Eternal God.

THE OMNIPRESENT ETERNAL GOD Friday, Aug 12 2016 

We should have little patience with those who deliberately abuse the scriptures, particularly in central doctrines.  At the same time, innocent statements can also be dangerous, even if they were not intended to be harmful.  The Bible is about God, and His purpose in giving us the scriptures was to reveal Himself to us.  His character is displayed in marvelous detail, and we are obligated to avoid statements that might mislead our listeners.

Here is an example of a careless comment, even though it might be intended to express the danger of rejecting the grace of God in eternal salvation.  How often have you heard someone say that “to be lost is to be separated from God eternally”?  It is true that the unsaved person will be separated from God’s love and mercy, but separated from God eternally?  Really?  How could that be?  David observed, “If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there”.  (Psalm 139:8b)  I remember, as a child, hearing an evangelist shout “The worst thing about hell is that God is not there!”  The truth is that the worst thing about hell is that God is there.  The careless student might say that the issue is not important.  The “cute” theologian may say that the place for the lost to dwell eternally is not hell, but is the Lake of Fire.  That is true, but it is not the point of this discussion.  After all, we are told “…and death and hell were cast into the lake of fire”.  (Rev. 20:14a)  To say that God is not in hell or eternity is an attack on the omnipresence of God.

CHRISTIANITY LITE

Much of the doctrinal error suggested by people who only know “about” the Bible comes from an erroneous view of the doctrine of God.  Whole denominations have invented ideas about the Holy Spirit that fail to recognize that He is God the Spirit.  That includes, without exception, all the attributes of God that belong to Him.   The Holy Spirit is eternally all-present in the first, second, and third heavens.  Eternity is hard for us to conceive, but He is, has always been, and always will be totally God.

An example of the general misunderstanding of the Spirit surrounds the event of Pentecost.  All that the Bible says on the subject is true.  He did come at Pentecost in special presence and ministry.  To hear some people tell the story, you would think that the Spirit had never been there before and was surprised at Jerusalem the first time He saw it.  While that is farfetched, it is no more misguided than some of allegorical ideas that historical theology offers, or that experiential religious views press on the Bible.

The Spirit has always been omnipresent, so that is not the issue of Pentecost.  The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost has to do with the inception of His special ministry; and that ministry is clearly related to the Church, the Body of Christ, that came into existence on that day.  Some aspects of His ministry had never been exercised before, and the Scripture makes it plain that they will be used from Pentecost until that moment when the Church of Jesus Christ is caught away.  When the Church is removed, so will be that special ministry of the Spirit.  (I Thess. 4:13-18; II Thess. 2:1-12)  The Holy Spirit will still be all-present, but those special ministries He began at Pentecost will cease to function with men on earth.

COME, HOLY SPIRIT

What do people mean when they sing “Come, Holy Spirit”?  He is already here, omnipresent. Why would we ask for something He already has given us, His marvelous presence?

He came once in special ministry for the age of the church, and He is not going to come like that again.  If we mean that we want Him to move in our midst with power and purity, bringing obedience to the saints, then that makes sense.  It isn’t healthy to confuse people, so we should say and sing only what we mean because the average Christian, who only knows “about” the Bible, may well think we mean something else.

Every true believer has the Holy Spirit indwelling his/her body.  He is already there. God meant for us to utilize His indwelling, teaching, guiding, convicting, empowering, etc.; and the fullness of the Spirit is simply yielding to the indwelling Spirit.  Since we have the power dwelling in us, what are you praying for?  God has already given us the answer, and we are not using it.  Why are people looking for something new or additional?

Our world is at the edge of disaster, on the verge of a world war, and our nation is more divided than it was even at the time of the Civil War.  One international or national spark could set off a war or cause fighting to erupt in our streets.  Some folks have their heads in the sand in denial; others are frightened half of their wits.  Some Christians believe that revival is the answer.

If you are praying for revival, what are you praying for?  Praying for others isn’t wrong, but if you don’t have revival and repentance of sin in your own heart, then don’t waste your time.  The greatest hindrance to revival is the need in each individual heart, and that is what each person should be paying attention to.  Many believers pray in vain for revival because they embrace doctrinal error and expect God to honor their prayer while they abuse the Scriptures and are openly disobedient to Him.  To take lightly the omnipresence of God, for instance, is a serious offence to Him.

IT IS NO CHRISTMAS PRESENT

Christmas time is one of those periods when people are habitually careless with Scripture.  You have already heard my diatribe on this issue, but it illustrates the problem with misleading people about the omnipresence of Christ.  We are told that Jesus came down to earth at Bethlehem.  While that is true, much of the description is misleading.  Where did we get the stuff saying that the angels wept at His departure because they would miss Him?  On the day of His birth He was still present everywhere.  While He as a babe, clothed by God in flesh, lay in a manger, He was still the Creator and present everywhere in the universe.  We see Him as a helpless babe, a man of little wealth, or a despised servant; He was still the all-present God.

It is no Christmas present to mislead people about the God/man even if ours are innocent comments.  We don’t need “cute” explanations when we come to questions about Christ in the flesh.  We don’t need to feel that we have to explain things that are not explained in the Bible. Those who are plagued by the “Lucifer Syndrome” want people to think that they know the answers to everything.  Dr. Bowman repeatedly said, “We always begin with what we most assuredly know”.  Then we accept the clear, plain statements of the text.  The mysteries of the Scripture remain embraced in the omniscience of God.  Our task is to remain confident in what we know, such as the attributes of our Eternal God.

SOMEONE TELL ME Tuesday, Aug 2 2016 

These long days of illness have given me a good opportunity to triple my reading time. It has been very profitable, and I am reading more widely than ever. While it assists me in my research, I keep coming back to questions that are not found in any written text. Having spent a lifetime in ministry, education, and missions, my mind is full of questions.Some answers are clear; others are not. As you read my questions, you may have some wisdom to share. If so, I ask you to pass it on to me.

Some weeks ago, I had lunch with a dear friend who is the president of a well-known seminary in another country. We were considering the impact, or lack thereof,of theological education on every level. I could easily spend a month recording the positive effects of training on the lives of so many who have served the Lord so well. Many of these folks have gone on to their reward, and we are grateful for having known them. On the negative side, though, it has been painful to see men and women who appeared to have been well-trained but who have slid, or jumped, into theological systems and questionable moral practices of which they now seem to be proud. This type of errant direction was unusual in the past, but it has now become a rush with men and women who ought to know better. So my question to you is this: “Why has this departure from truth become so popular?”

ONE THING I AM SURE OF

There is no question in my mind that the American model of education is responsible for adding fuel to this fire.  The liberal mind-set has always been a part of that system. It is flawed and tends to hide behind intellectualism, philosophy, and so-called “science“. It is intellectually cruel with the capacity to turn truth into a lie, deluding people into thinking that it is indeed the truth. As time has passed, this “liberal mind-set” has become the majority and has now created a mental dictatorship.

The admission that something is a lie comes when you have to force others to think like you do. Ultimately, you are punished if you don’t think (or believe) like they do. If truth doesn’t stand on its own two feet, then it is a lie. This is exactly where our world is at this moment.

The liberal mind-set makes much to-do about “critical and analytical thinking”, the truth is that their approach forbids such serious consideration. The American educational model is really just indoctrination and brainwashing. If you don’t support the fairy tales of evolution, global warming (even they know that was dumb), and moral degradation such as sodomy or transgenderism, you are a danger – an enemy. You are not allowed to either think or speak on the subject.

THE RESULT OF THIS PLAGUE

Almost everyone we know today has been raised to think with a liberal mind-set. It might be understandable that this could happen in an academic world run by intellectual pagans. It is understandable that the present plight of this nation came about because the liberal mind-set is now the only one that is tolerated.

What troubles me is that this mind-set has become the standard for most so-called Christian institutions. Our crowd “longed for the leeks and garlic of Egypt”. They wanted to be like the “big boys” in education. Like all departures from error, some of that error was carried along.  Such is the sad story of Luther and Calvin.

That is not to say that some institutions are not battling to pass on a biblical mind-set. Of course most of them would say that they do “think biblically”, but where is the proof? They have bought into the world of “form” rather than the imperative of “content and meaning”. A good education will cover a lot of ground and disciplines, but it will never bow to human reason as the final authority. Everything ought to begin and end with the authority of the Word of God.

OBSERVING THE FAITHFUL

So how can it be that some who were trained with a high biblical standard, with professors or pastors who were loved and respected, could then move to flawed theology?  At this point, I am thinking of men who were educated beside me or in front of me. Some of this has to do with our own circle of education, where indoctrination or brain-washing was used. They were not taught critical and analytical thinking, and the truth as it was presented never became their own.

Pick up the catalog of an institution, any institution, and start asking questions about individual courses or sections. Where is that clear effort to lead the student in owning the theological truth? Course after course is full of good information, our truth. We even give them exams so that we can know they remembered our truth. Where is the emphasis of God’s truth as it is displayed in the text, in that the student knows how to own what he gleaned from that text?

Those who have moved on to theological error and the liberal mind-set didn’t get it. They have joined the great movement of “adding to the Bible” whatever they want it to say. Intellectual pride makes that so easy. Young men in particular are lured by theologians with twisted minds who a have made rewriting the Bible into an art form.

So here we are back at the beginning.The fact is that not all students will get it, but I would be satisfied if most of them did. I have a short list in front of me; how did these men get drawn into a historical theology that reads like “Alice in Wonderland”???

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.

PROTECTING THE PASTORATE Friday, Feb 26 2016 

The scriptures are clear concerning the man who is pastor, shepherd, elder, bishop, and overseer.  His qualifications, role, responsibility, and limitation are plainly stated.  In my book, “The Weeping Church; Confronting the Crisis of Church Polity”, all of this is carefully outlined.  The book has been in constant publication since 1985.

I am amazed at how often people take the liberty of ignoring or rewriting the Bible text, particularly on this subject.  Almost every local church problem goes back to this issue.  Of course, the roots of those problems are sin and pride; but God blesses only what He orders.  If a church is organized in such a way as to create and feed conflict, one should not be surprised when it breaks out.  Everything man touches is flawed, but the closer we can stay to the plain, clear statements of the Word, the more likely we are to have peace.

Right now in our country we are living out the tragedy of this kind of ignorance.  Creditable historians know that this country is a republic, not a democracy.  Democracies always end in tragedy, and there are clear historical reasons as to why that is true.  A republic has the rule of law, and people are meant to be treated in that way.  So I have often asked, “Where did the concept of democracy in a local church come from?”  If you found it in the text, it is only because you inserted it there.

BEGININNG AT THE BEGINNING

God always makes things simple for us; we are the ones who make them complicated.  We often do that on purpose in order to confuse people so that we can get away with making the Bible agree with us.  This is the problem with the average concept of the pastor in our churches.  Pastors are often installed in local churches as errand boys or merely someone to fill the pulpit.  A local church is a flock, and it needs a qualified under-shepherd.  Christ is the Chief Shepherd, and He is the one who appoints these under-shepherds.  The prayerful task of the local church is to find out who Christ has appointed for them.  The church should be seeking the will of God rather than the will of the people or a flawed majority.  Churches languish because, in the flesh, they think they have a better idea.

The selection process of a congregation often follows the pattern of the nation of Israel in its choice of King Saul.  They thought they needed a man who was tall, dark, and handsome.  Who cares about the heart of the man, let alone what is in his mind?  That is why people are so easily fooled – you don’t always get exactly what you see.  Sad to say, candidates are not always truthful.  More than one prospect has hidden his questionable theology; then, when his error comes to the surface, he is so firmly settled in that the people are not willing to stand up and be counted.  On the other hand, they would fight over the color of the carpet at the drop of a hat!  What percentage of local churches has leaders with enough knowledge of the scripture to ask the kinds of questions that would smoke out a theological “wolf in sheep’s clothing”?  That’s the problem: they only think they do.

We would have to add to this mix the intention of a candidate to change the flavor and format of church function.  All these changes may not actually be a biblical question, but hiding the intent to do so is.  If the prospect had been honest and had outlined his prospective changes that would scatter the sheep, the door would have closed – and he knows that.  Christ is fully aware of, and has not forgotten, these questionable and sinful assaults on the local church.

NON-ANSWERS TO THE PROBLEM

On the other hand, the local church often practices bad habits in order to control conflict and protect itself.  The clear answers to unrest in church polity are clearly stated in God’s Word, and they are the only way a church can solve difficulty in its fellowship.  Some have chosen simply to do away with the real shepherd of the sheep.  If you don’t have a pastor, then fifty percent of your problem is gone – right?  They forget this: But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.  (Matthew 9:36)

A flock without a true shepherd will falter and eventually be destroyed.  The function of a shepherd cannot be fulfilled by a false shepherd or a hireling. (John 10:12)  Only the qualified (I Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-10), a Christ-appointed shepherd (I Peter 5:1-4), can fully carry out that ministry of the pastor, elder, and bishop.  The Chief Shepherd appoints, qualifies, empowers, and approves true shepherds.

Be careful with your human response to this, but if a man does some shepherding, it does not mean he is a shepherd.  This is a simple concept.  When my wife was in the hospital, I had to do some mothering; but that didn’t make me a mother.  Humans can put any title they wish on a man, but only Christ can designate one of His under-shepherds.  Then there is the “Hagar Syndrome”.  They think they can solve the problem by multiplying the number of men they choose as pastor, elder.  The text clearly states that churches had, and have, multiple pastors; and that is true if they are appointed by the Chief Shepherd. Often this is used as a smoke screen to build an oligarchy.  This concept is in direct conflict with nature and the Bible standard.  Leadership and headship are always singular.

GOD’S PLAN OF ORDER

So why are churches so quick to join theological bandwagons when they know that the wheels are coming off?  Basically, it has to do with the humanly devised hermeneutic that is raging in the new church culture.  Intellectuals have provided a plan whereby churches can “have it their way”.  Churches follow unbiblical polity because there is so little knowledge of the Bible.  They know about the Bible, but have found a way to “fill in the blanks” in order to get their own way.  This is often done by means of the abuse of language, the ignoring of context, or the twisting of historical information.

Theological smart-alecks may have lot of information, but they are short on wisdom.  Intellectualism draws young novices because it is important for them to “run with the big boys”.  They fall into error willingly, but seldom find their way out of the theological slime pit.

The wise man will let the text speak for itself.  The strong man will be willing to stand up for truth even where error has been practiced for generations.  A holy God will bless what He orders, and that is how we protect the biblical pastorate

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