When Church is Mundane & Truth is Not Central

Peter,_Paul_and_Mary_2006When I was in high school and college I loved the music of the folk group Peter, Paul & Mary.  I still think they had one of the purest sounds ever recorded.  While they didn’t share many of my political views they wrote and sang some incredible music.

One of my favorite songs by them was not one of their most popular.  It was simply entitled “Hymn.”  It spoke of institutional religion without any reality in faith.  It was sung from the perspective of a young boy as he went and observed the hypocrisy of ritualism without truth.  I have often wondered if it were not a song written before its time.  Because the lyrics speak volumes to the contemporary church, I’m afraid.   Below I will print the lyrics and you can hear Paul Stookey sing it HERE.

It certainly gives us pause to think:

Sunday morning, very bright, I read Your book by colored light
That came in through the pretty window picture.

I visited some houses where they said that You were living
And they talked a lot about You
And they spoke about Your giving.
The passed a basket with some envelopes;
I just had time to write a note
And all it said was “I believe in You.”

Passing conversations where they mentioned Your existence
And the fact that You had been replaced by Your assistants.
The discussion was theology,
And when they smiled and turned to me
All that I could say was “I believe in You.”

I visited Your house again on Christmas or Thanksgiving
And a balded man said You were dead,
But the house would go on living.
He recited poetry and as he saw me stand to leave
He shook his head and said I’d never find You.

My mother used to dress me up,
And while my dad was sleeping
We would walk down to Your house without speaking.

We must be certain that our churches are filled with truth and love, and be able to point them to the One who is not dead . . . but is alive!!!

A Christian Holiday to Celebrate — Oct 31

Luther & 95 Theses492 years ago this Saturday (October 31) was a day that changed the course of the church for all time. On that day Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenburg Chapel. His desire was to begin a debate about abuses that he saw by the Papacy and the church. He had no intention on beginning a new church or even a movement. He simply wanted to see the church “reformed” that is re-formed by God’s word and in the image of Christ.

While the abuses may not be the same as they were in Luther’s day, the church today has departed from the pure Gospel message in many ways. There are many abuses where the church has watered down, distorted, and simply denied the Gospel. We have been content to let “little” errors enter without challenge thinking that a little error won’t do much harm. But it has and today the church is in as great a need of re-forming as it was in Luther’s day. What if you received a letter from your drinking water provider that said, “we have had a little problem with our water filtration system and some of the sewage from the treatment plant has gotten into the water supply. But the good news is that it is only 10% and 90% of your water is still pure.” You would be outraged. Yet, every day we allow the “sewage” of false teaching to enter into the church and think that it won’t hurt anything. How wrong we are.

Out of the Reformation came five “battle” cries. These expressed the basics of the Gospel for their day. They have not changed over the past 491 years . . . indeed over the past 2000 years . . . though we sometimes forget them or we let little errors push them aside. In 1998 as we dedicated a new campus of the church I pastored back then, we used these five “alones” (or Solas) for a dedication Bible Conference. Today we need to remember their importance as we remember the Reformation.

Sola Scripture — By Scripture Alone

It is through the Scriptures, the Bible, that God speaks today. The Bible is not just a book that somehow contains God’s word, but rather it is God’s Word! It is in His word, with the enlightenment and guidance of the Holy Spirit, that we find God’s will, His purposes and His requirements for our lives.

While we believe that denominational traditions and church history are important and should be known and studied, it is God’s Word, the Scriptures, where we find our ultimate and absolute authority.

2 Tim 3:16 -17 — All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Psalm 19:7 — The Lord of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.

Solo Christo — By Christ Alone

We live in a day which cries for diversity and tolerance. Thus, when people hear a church or group claiming that there is “only one way” to a relationship with God they appear to be horrified. However, the Word of God is quite clear on this matter. Jesus Christ himself left very little doubt as to where salvation is to be found.

John 14:6 — Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.

Acts 4:12 — “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.”

We believe and proclaim that there is no salvation, no relationship with God, apart from the person and work of Jesus Christ. His death was as a substitute and sacrifice taking away our sin and giving us His righteousness. In reality, He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He died in our place the death that we deserved.

Sola Gratia — By Grace Alone

Man is notorious for wanting to “do it for themselves” – no matter what the “it” is. The Gospel teaches us that in the matter of salvation and being right with God, there is absolutely nothing that man or woman can do for themselves. Man is in rebellion toward God and will never seek God according to Romans 3:

Romans 3:11 — THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD;

If it were left up to man to “get saved” it would simply never happen. The good news is that God has determined to save a people for His glory. The Holy Spirit, in drawing men and women to Christ, demonstrates that salvation is totally of grace. It is only because of this grace that anyone will ever be saved.

John 6:44 — “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

John 6:37 — “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.

Sola Fide — By Faith Alone

The core, or fundamental truth, of the Gospel is that justification, being made right with God, is not on the basis of works, that is, anything we have done, but rather by faith in Christ alone.

Eph 2:5-8 — even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), (6)and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, (7) in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (8) For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;

Salvation does not involve being as good as you can be . . . obeying all the 10 Commandments . . . or living by the Golden Rule. Salvation comes by faith in Jesus Christ alone.

We acknowledge that when true faith is exercised in Christ there will be a change in life. New attitudes and actions follow faith in Christ. But this is the work of Christ in us, not our work for Him.

Soli Deo Gloria — To God Alone belongs the Glory

What does a person say when they have come to faith in Christ? The only proper response is “Thank you God!!” Too often men try and claim the glory, the credit, that belongs only to God. However, the Word of God clearly declares that God alone is worthy of worship, praise, and adoration.

Who should receive the glory for what we gain in this life? God should, because it is only by His grace that we have anything at all.

1 Corinthians 6:20 — For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

1 Peter 4:16 — but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God.

Job 1:21 — And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

This is indeed a day of celebration . . . and also a day to call for a new reformation in the 21st century. It is time to see that these 5 solas are the foundation for the church to be formed in the image of Christ.  For too long now the church has taken on the “look” of the culture around it.  It is time to be counter cultural . . . to focus again on what God’s word says about salvation and proclaim it boldly.  Fads come and go . . . but the Truth of God abides forever!!

Five Stones -- Five Solas

Awesome? Is it Really???

Last week I led a Bible Conference in North Carolina on the theme of “The Eclipse of God.” The general idea is that we allow things, or stuff, to come between us and God thus making Him appear to not be present.  Much like in a solar eclipse, when the moon gets between the earth and the sun and casts a shadow across the earth, it appears that the sun disappears or loses its power.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  The sun remains just as bright, just as hot and just as powerful as when it is shining at noon day.  But it just doesn’t appear to be so.

In our lives we allow “stuff” to cast a shadow on our lives that makes God seem to be weaker or not as glorious.  Who at times hasn’t made a comment to the effect, it just seems my prayers don’t get past the ceiling and seems as if God is not there or doesn’t care.  Again, nothing could be further from the truth.

Now, there are obvious things that can “eclipse” God in your life.  Known purposeful sin is the most obvious, and so are the things that David, in Psalm 19, called, “presumptive sins” which are those we tend to excuse as only being “little sins.”

One of the things that I mentioned in one of the sessions was that we can also “eclipse” God with the language we use.  I was speaking with someone this week who was told that a friend’s dog had just had puppies.  This person responded, “that’s awesome.”  I was walking down the street with someone and they saw a new corvette parked on the curb and again their response was, “wow, that’s awesome.”  I was even eating with someone the other day, we were having burgers (and good ones no doubt) and my friend said, “this hamburger is awesome.”  Do you see where I am going?

The word “awesome” is a word that means to see something and stand in awe of it.  It is a word that when applied to something means that it causes me to want to fall down and worship it, I am so struck by it.  I don’t know about you but I have never seen a car (even a vette) or a puppy (even a litter) or a food product (though I love to eat) that made me want to fall down and worship it.

It just appears to me that we do serve an awesome God.  When I think of His character and attributes and glory I want to fall down and worship Him.  But when we speak in the same way about everything else in the world, do we not lessen His glory in the eyes of those who know we are Christians?  If the same word is used to describe God and a car, or a dog, or food . . . well, you get my picture.

I know I am probably going to be viewed as out of step with this post-modern culture we live in.  But that’s OK.  I once had a staff member who accused me of trying to be controlling of other people, simply because I thought this word ought to be reserved for God, and I said so in a sermon.

I don’t want my language eclipsing God in my life or in other’s lives. It just seems to me to be prudent that we reserve one descriptive word for God alone.  Awesome seems to be that word, in my humble opinion.  What do you think?

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

rainbow018The hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness has long been one of my favorites.  So I was interested today when Bob Kauflin of Worship Matters sent out an email dealing with the story behind the hymn.  I believe it is worth a read:

The story behind Great is Thy Faithfulness should encourage every Christian who thinks of their life as ordinary. There’s no tragic story (think “It Is Well” by Horatio Spafford) associated with this hymn. It’s just the fruit of a faithful man with a simple faith in a faithful God.

Thomas Chisholm, who sometimes described himself as “just an old shoe,”  was born in a Kentucky log cabin in 1866. He was converted when he was 27, became a pastor at 36, but had to retire one year later due to poor health. He spent the majority of the rest of his life as a life insurance agent in New Jersey. He died in 1960 at the age of 93. During his life he wrote over 1200 poems, most of which no one will ever hear.

But back in 1923, at the “beyond his prime” age of 57, Thomas Chisholm sent a few of his poems to William Runyan at the Hope Publishing Company. One of them was Great is Thy Faithfulness, based on Lamentations 3:22-23.

Lam. 3:22    The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Runyan was particularly moved by Great is Thy Faithfulness and sought to set it to a melody that would reflect the response of wonder and gratefulness to God’s faithfulness conveyed in the lyrics. Apparently, he succeeded.

The song quickly became a favorite Moody Bible Institute, and later George Beverly Shea sang it at Billy Graham crusades. Now it’s known all over the world and has been used to encourage millions of Christians to trust in a faithful God.

Pretty impressive spiritual fruit from a life insurance agent.

When Chisholm was 75, he wrote in a letter:

“My income has not been large at any time due to impaired health in the earlier years which has followed me on until now. Although I must not fail to record here the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God and that He has given me many wonderful displays of His providing care, for which I am filled with astonishing gratefulness.”

The hymn has three verses and a chorus. Verse 1 speaks of God’s faithfulness revealed  in his Word, and is adapted from James 1:17: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Verse 2 tells us of God’s faithfulness revealed in creation. The seasons,the sun, moon, and stars all continue on their courses perfectly, orderly, quietly – guided by God’s faithful hand, without any help from us.

Verse 3 reminds us of God’s faithfulness revealed in our lives. He pardons all our sins, fills us with his peace, assures of his presence, gives us strength, hope, and blessings to numerous to count!

Whatever challenges, trials, or disappointments you might be facing right now, this hymn reminds us that God’s promises are true, that he never changes, that his compassions never fail, and that his faithfulness to us in Christ Jesus is more than good—it’s GREAT!

God doesn’t need incredibly gifted or wildly famous people to proclaim those truths from his Word.

Just faithful ones.

So? Whom Do We Really Worship?

One of my major concerns about evangelical Christianity in the 21st Century is that worship is not that . . . at least not toward the proper object of worship, the True and Living God.  In many churches man is exalted, recognized, applauded, and congratulated, but God is less and less the main focus.  God’s word is not read all that much . . . prayers are brief . . . being silent before God (Psalm 46:10) is feared . . . songs don’t reflect doctrinal truth, but rather emotional syrupy sentimentality.   In other words man is catered to rather than being pointed to the Sovereign Creator and Redeemer.

This was brought to my mind when I read the following in a blog that I frequent.  The writer is recounting a recent vacation where he visited a local (I’m sad to say) Southern Baptist Church:

Away on vacation in North Carolina at the OBX last week. We attended worship at a Southern Baptist church. First they introduced all the visitors. Then they honored all the fathers. Then we sang happy birthday to all the birthdays. Then we sang Happy anniversary to all the anniversaries. Then the pastor called the kids up front and played with a ventriloquist doll, and the point was to come to VBS next week.

I wondered when we’d get to God, you know, worshipping God as part of a worship service?

My hopes were raised by the call to confess a Creed.

But the Creed was, and I am not kidding, the following.

I’m too anointed to be disappointed.
I’m too blessed to be depressed.
I’m too chosen to be frozen.
I’m too elected to be rejected.
And I’ve got more to shout about than to pout about in Jesus’ Name, AMEN.

I don’t think God showed in the service at all.

We had three choices on the Island, Catholic, Methodist, and Baptist.

We made the wrong choice……… (from The Boar’s Head Tavern)

The first part of this man’s statement describes much of what I observe as I visit churches around the SBC (and that is my demonination).  As for the creed?  I think I’ll stick with The Apostles Creed !!

A friend of mine, Tom Ascol, posed this question in the Founders Journal in 2004:

What if I had to choose between a liberal church that does not believe in the full authority of Scripture yet thinks highly enough of it to read it publicly in worship, and a fundamentalist church that loudly affirms Scripture’s inerrancy but feels no compulsion to read it or be governed by it in worship?

We will prove our belief about the Scriptures and about worship, more by what we do than what we say.  Our worship services should include multiple readings of God’s word.

We must remember that “worship” means focusing on some(One) who is worthy of great worth.  It is not us (Psalm 115:1 — Not to us O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory) but it is God, through Jesus Christ, that is to command our attention.

Let’s work hard to keep the focus as it should be . . . on the Sovereign Creator and Redeemer.  Gazing upon Him will change us into His image!!  Programs, and entertainment, and man-centered activity will not. Let’s keep that out of “worship” so that it will really be that!!

The Gospel — keep it pure!!

John1_1 -- for blogOne of the things we speak regularly of at Grace Baptist Church is the Gospel.  Now you may say, “there’s nothing unusual about that, after all you are a church.”  But I think I would challenge that statement.  A lot of what is being spoken of in many pulpits across this land is not the Gospel at all.  Many times it is a pop-psychology or prosperity theory or even some of the effects of the Gospel, but all of those things are not the Gospel.  D.A. Carson, in the April 2009 issue of Themelios Journal made the following statement:

“Failure to distinguish between the gospel and all the effects of the gospel tends, on the long haul, to replace the good news as to what God has done with a moralism that is finally without the power and the glory of Christ crucified, resurrected, ascended, and reigning.”

I believe that Dr. Carson is correct.  In so many churches, from their children’s ministry all the way through to the adults, there is a moralism being taught that basically says “Do your best, God will like that.”  But that doesn’t even come close to the Gospel.

Paul made a very simple statement in First Corinthians 15:1-4 that tells us exactly what the Gospel is.  He makes clear that what he is saying is not his own idea, but that which is “according to the Scriptures”, by which of course he meant what we would call the Old Testament.  That was the only Scriptures that Paul knew about at that time.  Here is what Paul said:

“1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand,
2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures . . .” (emphasis mine)

The Gospel does not focus on man, or even man’s needs outside of his need for salvation, it focuses on the work of Christ on the Christ on the cross and His resurrection.  This is what the law and the prophets spoke of.  This is what will save, and this alone.

I appreciate Tim Keller on many levels.  He comes from a different denomination than I do, but we serve the same Lord.  He is spot on so often when he speaks of the Gospel.  Here are some of his contrasts between religion and the Gospel.  Well worth reading and re-reading, and posting somewhere  to see on a regular basis:

RELIGION: I obey-therefore I’m accepted.

THE GOSPEL: I’m accepted-therefore I obey.

RELIGION: Motivation is based on fear and insecurity.

THE GOSPEL: Motivation is based on grateful joy.

RELIGION: I obey God in order to get things from God.

THE GOSPEL: I obey God to get to God-to delight and resemble Him.

RELIGION: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I am angry at God or my self, since I believe, like Job’s friends that anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life.

THE GOSPEL: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I struggle but I know all my punishment fell on Jesus and that while he may allow this for my training, he will exercise his Fatherly love within my trial.

RELIGION: When I am criticized I am furious or devastated because it is critical that I think of myself as a ‘good person’. Threats to that self-image must be destroyed at all costs.

THE GOSPEL: When I am criticized I struggle, but it is not critical for me to think of myself as a ‘good person.’ My identity is not built on my record or my performance but on God’s love for me in Christ. I can take criticism.

RELIGION: My prayer life consists largely of petition and it only heats up when I am in a time of need. My main purpose in prayer is control of the environment.

THE GOSPEL: My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration. My main purpose is fellowship with Him.

RELIGION: My self-view swings between two poles. If and when I am living up to my standards, I feel confident, but then I am prone to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people. If and when I am not living up to standards, I feel insecure and inadequate. I’m not confident. I feel like a failure.

THE GOSPEL: My self-view is not based on a view of my self as a moral achiever. In Christ I am “simul iustus et peccator”—simultaneously sinful and yet accepted in Christ. I am so bad he had to die for me and I am so loved he was glad to die for me. This leads me to deeper and deeper humility and confidence at the same time. Neither swaggering nor sniveling.

RELIGION: My identity and self-worth are based mainly on how hard I work. Or how moral I am, and so I must look down on those I perceive as lazy or immoral. I disdain and feel superior to ‘the other.’

THE GOSPEL: My identity and self-worth are centered on the one who died for His enemies, who was excluded from the city for me. I am saved by sheer grace. So I can’t look down on those who believe or practice something different from me. Only by grace I am what I am. I’ve no inner need to win arguments.

RELIGION: Since I look to my own pedigree or performance for my spiritual acceptability, my heart manufactures idols. It may be my talents, my moral record, my personal discipline, my social status, etc. I absolutely have to have them so they serve as my main hope, meaning, happiness, security, and significance, whatever I may say I believe about God.

THE GOSPEL: I have many good things in my life—family, work, spiritual disciplines, etc. But none of these good things are ultimate things to me. None of them are things I absolutely have to have, so there is a limit to how much anxiety, bitterness, and despondency they can inflict on me when they are threatened and lost.

(HT: Tullian Tchividjian)

The truth is, moralism and religion will not do anyone any ultimate good.  It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that changes lives and sets men and women free. I love how Paul put it to the church at Rome,  in Romans 1:16-17:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith;  as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”

The Gospel — “Concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord . . .” (Romans 1:3-4) — LET’S KEEP IT PURE . . . LET’S KEEP IT ACCURATE  . . . LET’S KEEP IT BEFORE US EVERY DAY!!!

Many Reasons to Pray for Iraq

Each day when I engage in my personal prayer time one of the things I remember to pray for is my nephew serving in the U.S. Army in Mosul, Iraq. Patrick is there serving his country and his life is put on the line each day. I find some comfort in knowing that he is equipped for the mission he is on, and he is surrounded by soldiers who are trained to protect each other. But mostly I trust in Christ to protect him in the middle
of battle . . . But it is comforting to know it is a battle that he is trained to engage in.

You can imagine that my attention is grabbed anytime I see Mosul mentioned in a news article or anything else. I was reading a friend’s website this week who is a Chaplain in the U.S. Air Force. His name is James Gaylon and his blog is 2 Worlds Collide. On his site he related the danger that Christians in Mosul are encountering while practicing their faith in Christ. I think you need to hear what he wrote:

church-of-the-holy-spirit-mosul-iraq(Church of the Holy Spirit in Mosul, Iraq)

“In December (2008) and January, over 3,000 Christian families fled from Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. Mosul is currently “ground zero” for Christians in regard to persecution. The Iraqi government is either unable or unwilling to protect Christians in the city. it seems more likely that the government is unwilling since there is sympathy for radical Islamists among members of the Iraqi armed forces and police force. Christians who remain in Mosul risk certain death. Many Christ ians are being put to death by Islamic family members who are ashamed of a member within their own family being converted. Iraqi Christians face a nearly insurmountable challenge due to the number of pastors and church workers who have been murdered and targeted for murder by Islamists.

Nonetheless, Iraqi Christians are not praying for an end to the persecution. Rather, their prayer (and the prayer they are requesting) is that they might be faithful despite the oppression and to advance the work of the gospel. Please ask the Lord to strengthen the Christian families who remain in Iraq and that the Lord would use them to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. Also pray for Christian leaders to be able to continue in the work of ministry in the face of ongoing persecution.”
It is easy for us to be caught up in the troubles of our daily lives and things like the economy, that we forget that we have brothers and sisters across this world that are really suffering for the sake of the gospel. Let’s remember to pray daily and diligently for those who belong to Christ and thus belong to “our” family through Him.

Contending for the Faith in a Day of Pervasive Accommodation

Continuing our series on “10 Challenges Facing the Church in the 21st Century.”

1. Addressing Post-modern American with the authentic Gospel.

2. Cultivating a people of truth in a culture of relativism.

3. Preaching the unchanging Word in a time of increasing flux.

4. Recovering Biblical worship against a world sold on entertainment

stand-firmThis week: 5. Contending for the faith in a day of pervasive accommodation.

We live in a day, sadly, when the faith of the Christian church has been mixed and mingled with all sorts of “other gospels” which Paul said was no gospel at all (Gal. 1:6-7). Whether it be through novels, television programs, magazines, or just friends “ideas” all kinds of false philosophy are entering into the church. I have often been accused (not at Grace, of course) of being too hard nosed when it comes to doctrine. I’ve been asked before, “why do you insist that everything be theologically and biblically correct?” It is almost like, for some in the church today, that a little bit of error is alright as long as everything is “mostly” right.

How would you feel if your water company sent you a letter and said “our filtration system is not working completely right at this time, but we are happy to tell you that your drinking water only contains 10% of sewage from our treatment plant. But hey, it’s 90% pure.” You would be outraged, wouldn’t you? Of course you would. Well false teaching, no matter how small, is the sewage that will destroy the church if it is left unchecked.

That’s why I warn against TV preachers that distort and dilute the truth of God’s word; even call them by name. That’s why I can’t endorse books, no matter how much they are “only a story” if they distort the truth about God. I heard of a church in northern Kentucky that is using the current best seller The Shack as a study for their women’s Bible study. I almost flipped out. Is God really a black woman? Is there no problem with that? Is God really three people in such as way that they can manifest themselves at the same time with no unity, in a visible manner? I know that God is spirit and as such is neither male nor female, as we think of gender, but He choose to reveal Himself, in His holy word, as Father. We must maintain that expression.

I have a friend who has had to resign his church because he wouldn’t let a play be done this Christmas that was completely un-Biblical. Was it cute? Yes. Was it entertaining? I suppose so. But it distorted the message of God’s word. Again, sewage in the water of truth. We have already talked about the danger of entertainment. And when the entertainment violates truth it can be deadly.

Jude in his little epistle toward the end of the New Testament said in verse 3, “ . . . I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” That expresses my feelings completely toward the church in the 21st century. I find myself appealing in every way that we stand firm and hold fast to the faith that has been delivered in God’s word. There are too many who are ready and willing to accommodate false ideas and teaching in our day.

So I guess I will just continue on being “hard nosed” when it comes to things that pertain to the Gospel and to God’s word. And I pray that Grace Baptist Church will not surrender one inch in the battle for truth in Somerset.

Recovering Biblical Worship Against a World Sold on Entertainment

worshipContinuing our series on “10 Challenges Facing the Church in the 21st Century.” We’ve already looked at :

1. Addressing Post-modern American with the authentic Gospel.
2. Cultivating a people of truth in a culture of relativism.
3. Preaching the unchanging Word in a time of increasing flux.

And now today: 4. Recovering Biblical worship against a world sold on entertainment.

In 1986 Neil Postman wrote a book entitled, Amusing Ourselves to Death. It was published just two years after 1984 which was the title of Orwell’s novel. Postman looked at the American culture and gave an analysis in which he saw everything based on entertainment or amusement. He spoke about Orwell’s dark vision as compared to Aldous Huxley’s in Brave New World. Postman said:

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies . . .”

There is no doubt that in 21st century America we have fallen prey to Huxley’s vision in a very tragic way. We seek to only be entertained, and that entertainment must be continuous. The real tragedy is that this attitude has infiltrated the church in a major way. It is all about “me” in so many of our churches. Make “me” happy or else I will go somewhere that they will. Lost is the concept that it is not about “me” but it is all about Jesus Christ.

Postman mentioned something that took place in 1985 where many celebrities gathered in a tribute to comedian George Burns for surviving 80 years in show business. Shecky Green, Red Buttons, Milton Berle, and others were joined by Billy Graham for this tribute. Postman tells this about the evening:

“The Reverend Graham exchanged one-liners with Burns about making preparations for Eternity. Although the Bible makes no mention of it, the Reverend Graham assured the audience that God loves those who make people laugh. It was an honest mistake. He merely mistook NBC for God.”

Sadly, in many church contexts there is more of an entertainment mentality than a worship attitude. Make me feel good, make me happy, wow me with something different and unusual, and the list can go on and on. When I come to church I want to see and hear something that I can find no place else. Something that nothing the entertainment media can give me. I want to have an encounter with the God of Truth. I want to “hear” from Him from His holy word. I want to express to Him my gratitude for all that He has done to bring about my salvation in the cross of Christ.

Corporate worship is the most exciting thing in the world . . . when we approach it properly. Of course, we can worship God individually throughout the week, but when we come together on Sunday there is nothing individual about it. It is the Body of Christ gathered with one purpose in mind, or it should be, and that is to worship — To declare the goodness, the grace, the glory of the living God in Jesus Christ, our Lord. To gaze into His face as we “see” Him high and lifted up.

When we seek entertainment, we are lowering God to our level. We “make” God too small in our estimation. David said in Psalm 96:5-7 — “For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before Him, Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary . . .Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.” Our God is a great God, a big God, the true God . . . Let us forget about entertainment and worship Him in a manner that is worthy of His greatness.

Blaspheming God!!

The very words should strike fear in our hearts. But do we ever stop and consider if that might be a problem? I remember in 1998 hearing John Piper preach the annual preaching lectures at Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, AL. One of his sermons that week was, How Not to Blaspheme God in the Pulpit.” (Click the link to listen)  It was one of the most penetrating sermons I have ever heard and I listen to it at least once a year.

Being a preacher myself, this is a question I ask myself regularly. My greatest fear is to not declare the glory of God in all its beauty and majesty when I preach.

I fear that a trend in our country today is to “dumb-down” God, to bring Him down to our level and to make Him dependent on us rather than us on Him. Mega-churches with their desire to reach great numbers and offend the least amount of people’s sensitivities (read that sins) dare not speak of God ‘s sovereignty and Christ’s Lordship, but paint Him as a buddy who only exists to make us happy. That is blasphemy!!

I remember reading something that Richard John Neuhaus wrote in First Things back in December of 1991 that dealt with this very issue. He was relating something he had read in The New York Review of Books about Albert Einstein’s view of organized religion. Here is what Neuhaus wrote:

• Discussing a number of books on cosmology in The New York Review of Books, Daniel Kevles quotes Charles Misner, a specialist in general relativity theory: “I do see the design of the universe as essentially a religious question. That is, one should have some kind of respect and awe for the whole business. . . . It’s very magnificent and shouldn’t be taken for granted. In fact, I believe that is why Einstein had so little use for organized religion, although he strikes me as a basically very religious man. He must have looked at what the preachers said about God and felt that they were blaspheming. He had seen much more majesty than they had ever imagined, and they were just not talking about the real thing. My guess is that he simply felt the religions he’d run across did not have proper respect . . . for the Author of the universe.” You might want to pass that on to your preacher. If you’re the preacher, you might want to give some thought to repenting. As might we all.” (Emphasis mine)

May we forever exalt the true nature of our Sovereign, Holy, Magnificent God. Sola Deo Gloria!! To God alone be the glory!!