December Newsletter Article

Labels can be extremely important.  If you don’t think so, go ask a diabetic!  But many people are uncomfortable when it comes to labels and Christianity.  There is concerted effort to redefine or change the terminology these days.  It used to be enough to say that there was a difference between being religious and being Christian.  Now you can’t even be a Christian anymore, but you need to be a “Christ-follower.” We’re told that this is not only hip and trendy, but necessary to reach a people that don’t like Christianity or the church anymore.  Some even say that they don’t have a problem with Jesus, just the church!  We’re too judgmental.  We’re too hateful.  We’re too opinionated.

What I find is that most people have a caricature of Jesus, Christianity and the church that they are responding to.  Let’s take Jesus for a minute.  Yes, he is loving and kind.  Yes, he died for us.  But he called out sin.  He even called people names.  He made a whip of cords and drove people out of the temple, probably not once but twice!  Do you have a full picture of who Jesus is?  Does society?

Many people look at the Church or the concept of Christianity and feel physically sick.  They see a constant picture of abuse and neglect.  They think about the people that have harmed them in the past.  They can’t get beyond any of that.  But, from my understanding, most Red Cross meals that are served after a natural disaster are served by Christian organizations.  Food banks are provided by churches.  Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian organization, is on the forefront of the fight against Ebola in Africa.  Churches offer counseling.  They house community events.  They reach out.  They help provide a sense of belonging and caring that can be so difficult to find in today’s world.

I believe that one of our basic problems today is that we don’t have a real sense of who God is and how he works in the world.  We don’t really believe that the Holy Spirit convinces, that God calls, or that the Bible convicts.  We think that it’s all up to clever marketing, high pressure sales, and a watered down message.  Blame my rant on my current sermon series.  God is Sovereign!  God is in control!

Does that mean we don’t try?  Does that mean we don’t present the gospel?  Does that mean we don’t reach out to people? Of course not!  “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace.”  We are called to proclaim.  We’re called to be faithful.  We’re called to follow.  But we have to make sure that we understand that God is doing the work, God is doing the calling, God is doing the convincing, and that, try as we might to have an effect through our own power and reasoning, we probably just end up convincing ourselves how clever we are instead of pleasing God.

So, after all is said and done, what am I?  Sure I’m a Christian, but I’m also a protestant, evangelical, Baptist pastor, and I’m not ashamed to say it.  I believe that if we follow God it doesn’t matter what we’re called or what we call ourselves.  I believe that theology is important.  I believe that the gospel is important.  I believe that God is on his throne.  And I think that all of that it important this Christmas.

Why I like Clear Creek Baptist Bible College, or, a tale of three Southern Baptist schools…

When my son was looking for an affordable school to attend for his undergraduate studies, my wife stumbled upon Clear Creek Baptist Bible College in Kentucky.  We took Andrew for a visit and were very impressed.  Clear Creek is not the flashiest school, or the school with the most resources, but is committed to its mission of training theological students.  Although Andrew hasn’t physically attended classes on campus, he was able to take all of his courses online and will be finishing his degree this year.

Because the school is focused on helping students train for ministry, they do everything they can to support their studies.  Part of that includes financial assistance.  Their tuition is extremely low, as is room and board for those students who live on campus.  Every Thanksgiving and Christmas Andrew has received a love gift, and this last semester Andrew received an unexpected scholarship that helped with his tuition!

Let me contrast that with two other schools, both with historic buildings, endowments, and prestigious histories. The first, one of my alma maters, recently held a 10 year anniversary party for their president, to the tune of $50,000.  The second, in an immense story of self-aggrandizement, has just commission 69 stained glass windows for their new chapel to “immortalize Baptists who helped effect the culture change to more conservative attitudes in the Southern Baptist Convention.”  Believe it or not, the current president and his wife will be prominently displayed in a window.

So, which one of these schools is using their resources wisely, and helping their students more?

A question of theology…

My recent trip to Bethel University prompted some people to ask me what I thought of the school and the seminary, particularly with regard to their theological leanings.  I haven’t spent a lot of time researching the issue, but I do have two comments:

1) I do take issue with the school for its handling of the open theism of Greg Boyd.  I do not believe that open theism is compatible with Biblical Christianity.  If you are interested in reading a Biblical refutation of open thesim, I would point you to issue 46 of the Founders Journal.  For a philosophical refutation, try The Case Against Open Theism.  Incidentally, if you are interested in furthering your Biblical knowledge, I highly recommend the free online courses at  Their apologetics course also has a lecture on open theism.

2) This is more of an anecdotal incident.  Many of you know my friend Dr. Maurice Robinson, professor of Greek and New Testament at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.  While he was working on his PhD (back in the 70’s), one of his professors decided that he could not affirm the Southern Baptist’s new emphasis on Biblical inerrancy. Where did he end up?  At Bethel!

The Seven People Americans Now Trust More Than Their Pastor (2013)

Views on clergy honesty and ethics hit record low. However, Gallup still finds clergy rank No. 7 out of 22 professions.

Makes you wonder if Hebrews 13:17 matters anymore: “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.”

The Call to Life!

When I was finishing up my undergraduate degree at Liberty University, both Valerie and I had the opportunity to work for the Liberty Godparent Home.  The LGH is a home that provides education, care, and (if wanted) adoption services for young ladies who are pregnant out-of-wedlock.  Valerie was a receptionist and worked the hotline, and I taught computer skills and worked on the office mainframe.  While we were there we learned the facts about fetal development and the untold dangers about the different types of abortions.  That, coupled with a good understanding of what the Bible says, has made us profoundly pro-life ever since!

This Sunday (January 22) is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.  At First Baptist we celebrated it on the 8th, because I didn’t want to interrupt a sermon series that I just started.  The sermon was entitled “A Call to Life” and can be found here.  At the close of the sermon I had a chance to use a video that may be the best video I’ve ever seen regarding the Sanctity of Human Life.  It doesn’t just talk about abortion, but mentions all of the various issues that are involved.  If you desire to be moved, click this link!

Reflections on Mission

As I get ready to head out for the annual meeting of the Great Lakes Baptist Conference, I find myself thinking about the upcoming vote that we’re going to take.  The vote concerns the new emphasis of the conference and how it is going to impact the ongoing relationship between the conference and the churches.  I find the conference (and Converge Worldwide) placing an extremely high emphasis on mission (singular)  and evangelism, which can be good.  Unfortunately it can also be a problem, because a stilted emphasis on evangelism can cause other aspects of ministry to be neglected or discarded.

I have been a part of three Baptist organizations now, and the ongoing trend seems to be this:  Existing church = worthless; Church plant = Godly.  The rationale behind this thought process is that existing churches simply do not or cannot reach people the way that church plants do.  That idea is born out statistically, and existing churches do need to place a priority on reaching people.  However, it is also a serious problem when a church or an organization makes evangelism the sole focus of its ministry.

Although I have some issues with “The Purpose Driven Church,” it does provide us with a decent framework for what a church is supposed to do Biblically:  fellowship, discipleship, worship, ministry, and evangelism.  You may be familiar with the concept from reading “The Purpose Driven Life” (which I also have some methodological issues with).  Here is the point: evangelism is not the only aspect of a churches ministry, and to judge a church solely by that criteria is unBiblical.

A blog post got me thinking about this issue recently.  It is by a church planter who is successful, and feels like he has neglected some aspects of church life and ministry along the way.  His post is entitled Church Planters and Missionalotry.

The Dark Night of the Soul

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t been on Facebook or Twitter as much for the past few months, and that the blog posts have been somewhat haphazard (well, to be honest, that’s probably true much of the time!). The truth is that since the beginning of the year I’ve been experiencing what some have called “The Dark Night of the Soul.” The metaphor was first used by a Catholic mystic in the 16th century, and is often used to describe a time of great spiritual turmoil. Some believe that Christians should never be down, or depressed. However, most understand that faith has its mountaintops and its valleys. R.C. Sproul has this to say about the issue:

The dark night of the soul. This phenomenon describes a malady that the greatest of Christians have suffered from time to time. It was the malady that provoked David to soak his pillow with tears. It was the malady that earned for Jeremiah the sobriquet, “The Weeping Prophet.” It was the malady that so afflicted Martin Luther that his melancholy threatened to destroy him. This is no ordinary fit of depression, but it is a depression that is linked to a crisis of faith, a crisis that comes when one senses the absence of God or gives rise to a feeling of abandonment by Him.

Spiritual depression is real and can be acute. We ask how a person of faith could experience such spiritual lows, but whatever provokes it does not take away from its reality. Our faith is not a constant action. It is mobile. It vacillates. We move from faith to faith, and in between we may have periods of doubt when we cry, “Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief.”

We may also think that the dark night of the soul is something completely incompatible with the fruit of the Spirit, not only that of faith but also that of joy. Once the Holy Spirit has flooded our hearts with a joy unspeakable, how can there be room in that chamber for such darkness? It is important for us to make a distinction between the spiritual fruit of joy and the cultural concept of happiness. A Christian can have joy in his heart while there is still spiritual depression in his head. The joy that we have sustains us through these dark nights and is not quenched by spiritual depression. The joy of the Christian is one that survives all downturns in life.

I also came across a wonderful sermon that Charles Spurgeon preached on Job 35:10 that he entitled “Songs in the Night.”  His great insight and understand comes from the fact that he himself suffered from severe depression.  Here are some excerpts from that sermon:

Man, too, like the great world in which he lives, must have his night. For it is true that man is like the world around him; he is a little world; he resembles the world in almost every thing; and if the world has its night, so hath man. And many a night do we have—nights of sorrow, nights of persecution, nights of doubt, nights of bewilderment, nights of anxiety, nights of oppression, nights of ignorance—nights of all kinds, which press upon our spirits and terrify our souls. But, blessed be God, the Christian man can say, “My God giveth me songs in the night.”

It is not necessary, I take it, to prove to you that Christian men have nights; for if you are Christians, you will find that you have them, and you will not want any proof, for nights will come quite often enough. I will, therefore, proceed at once to the subject; and I will speak this evening upon songs in the night, their source—God giveth them … their matter—what do we sing about in the night? … their excellence—they are hearty songs, and they are sweet ones … their uses—their benefits to ourselves and others.

I. First, songs in the night—WHO IS THE AUTHOR OF THEM? “God,” says the text, our “Maker:” he “giveth songs in the night.”

Any man can sing in the day. When the cup is full, man draws inspiration from it; when wealth rolls in abundance around him, any man can sing to the praise of a God who gives a plenteous harvest … It is easy to sing when we can read the notes by daylight; but the skillful singer is he who can sing when there is not a ray of light to read by … Let all things go as I please—I will weave songs, weave them wherever I go, with the flowers that grow upon my path; but put me in a desert, where no flowers are, and wherewith shall I weave a chorus of praise to God? How shall I make a crown for him? Let this voice be free, and this body be full of health, and I can sing God’s praise; but stop this tongue, lay me upon the bed of languishing, and it is not so easy to sing from the bed, and chant high praises in the fires. Give me the bliss of spiritual liberty, and let me mount up to my God, get near the throne, and I will sing, ay, sing as sweet as seraphs; but confine me, fetter my spirit, clip my wings, make me exceeding sad, so that I become old like the eagle—ah! then it is hard to sing.

It is not in man’s power to sing, when all is adverse. It is not natural to sing in trouble—”Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name:” for that is a daylight song. But it was a divine song which Habakkuk sang, when in the night he said—”Though the fig-tree shall not blossom,” and so on, “yet will I trust in the Lord, and stay myself in the God of Jacob.” Methinks in the Red Sea any man could have made a song like that of Moses—”The horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea;” the difficulty would have been, to compose a song before the Red Sea had been divided, and to sing it before Pharaoh’s hosts had been drowned, while yet the darkness of doubt and fear was resting on Israel’s hosts. Songs in the night come only from God; they are not in the power of man…

II. Thus we have dwelt upon the first point. Now the second. WHAT IS GENERALLY THE MATTER CONTAINED IN A SONG IN THE NIGHT? What do we sing about?

Why, I think, when we sing by night, there are three things we sing about. Either we sing about the yesterday that is over, or else about the night itself, or else about the morrow that is to come. Each of these are sweet themes, when God our Maker gives us songs in the night. In the midst of the night the most usual method for Christians is to sing about the day that is over. “Well,” they say, “it is night now, but I can remember when it was daylight. Neither moon nor stars appear at present; but I can remember when I saw the sun. I have no evidence just now; but there was a time when I could say, ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth.’ I have my doubts and fears at this present moment; but it is not long since I could say, with full assurance, ‘I know that he shed his blood for me; I know that my Redeemer liveth, and when he shall stand a second time upon the earth, though the worms devour this body, yet in my flesh I shall see God.’ …

Remember, it was not always night with thee: night is a new thing to thee. Once thou hadst a glad heart, a buoyant spirit; once thine eye was full of fire; once thy foot was light; once thou couldst sing for very joy and ecstacy of heart. Well, then, remember that God, who made thee sing yesterday, has not left thee in the night. He is not a daylight God, who can not know his children in darkness; but he loves thee now as much as ever: though he has left thee a little, it is to prove thee, to make thee trust him better, and serve him more…

He who can sing songs in the night, too, proves that he has true love to Christ. It is not love to Christ to praise him while every body else praises him; to walk arm in arm with him when he has the crown on his head is no great deed, I wot; to walk with Christ in rags is something. To believe in Christ when he is shrouded in darkness, to stick hard and fast by the Saviour when all men speak ill of him and forsake him—that is true faith. He who singeth a song to Christ in the night, singeth the best song in all the world; for he singeth from the heart.

I am pleased to report that I am doing much better – there was a time when I don’t think that I could have done much worse!  I still have some moments, but the things that are helping me through it the most are the Word of God and prayer!  Remember, Romans 10:17 says that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”  The Bible is God’s precious gift to us, and it helps us to have and increase our faith: “but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).