Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What's In A Name - Part 2

Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Catholic, Mormon, Pentecostal, etc., etc., etc., etc. So, what's in a name, and does it matter?

To some people in some groups it does. It clearly doesn't mean much to the First United Methodist Church in _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _, since they are apparently comfortable doing joint ministry projects with the Mormons. By the way, the name does matter to Mormons. While they want orthodox Christianity to accept them as Christian, they do not accept the orthodox doctrines of Christianity.

Does it matter what you call yourself? If you say you're a Baptist, what does that mean? If you say you're a Catholic, what does that mean? I know Baptists who think like Calvinistic Presbyterians and Baptists who think like Armenian Methodists. I know Catholics who think like agnostics, and Catholics who pray the Rosary daily.

Some will fight for the name. One pastor told me, "If I wasn't Baptist, I'd be ashamed." Another Pentecostal lady said, "You can pray for me, but you ain't Pentecostal." One guy told me, "Oh, yes, I'm a Christian. I was Baptized when I was a kid, but I do what I want now."

So, bottom line, there's not much in name, at least not the names we call ourselves. There is, however, something in one name. What you call yourself is a virtual non-issue in the grand scheme of things. What you do with Him, His commands, and His life is the only thing that matters when all is said and done.

His name is Jesus. He is not the Jesus defined by men, whether they call themselves Christian or not. He is not the brother of Satan named by the Mormons, or the prophet Isa named by the Muslims, or the still-suffering Christ re-sacrificed at each Catholic mass, or the systematized Jesus explained by the hyperCalvinists, or the legalistic political Jesus campaigned by right wing Baptists, or the culturally inclined approver of all sinners oozed from liberal pulpits.

He is the Jesus named by the Father, the only Son. He is self-defined, self-sufficient, and glorious. And, all that will matter in the end is not what we have called ourselves, but what He calls us on the day we each stand before Him. And, that will depend, not on what we called ourselves, but what we did with Him, with the one named Jesus. And, the intent of His heart, expressed in His own Words, is that He is "not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

What's In A Name - Part 1

I live in the rural south. The Confederate flag flies freely alongside the US flag on many flagpoles. I have always wondered how they could fly side-by-side, but I am a native Texan and we flew our flag alongside the US flag, too. Understand that those of us born Texan remember the Alamo and that we were an independent Republic before we were a United State.

Churches here where I live are rural. That is not to mean they are bad, or backward. They are simply rural. So, when the new family, who had moved from a metropolitan area came to our church and the mother said, "You're not like any other Baptist church we've been to here," it didn't bother me. We are solid in our doctrine. We just do things a bit differently, a bit less rural than others here (but very rural compared to "city"churches). If we were in a metro area, we would be just like many other churches, and more country than many others. It's all relative, but everyone assigns some set of expectations to the name, Baptist.

Presbyterian used to mean conservative, reserved, Calvinistic, Christian. Last week three in a growing number of churches left the Presbyterian Church USA because it has refused to affirm that Christ is the only way to God and it has refused to condemn sexual behavior outside of heterosexual marriage. What does Presbyterian mean?

Martin Luther campaigned to clean up the Catholic Church, was excommuicated, and hunted for believing in the Scripture alone and Grace alone. Today, the Evangelical Luthern Church in America is deciding to allow local congregations ordain homosexual clergy. What does Lutheran mean?

Saturday the mormons came by the house. I declined their offer to discuss the "restored" truths of Christ. They were polite as they handed me a photocopied ad for a Mormon photographer's exhibit on the life of Christ. At the bottom of the ad, I read this, "Sponsored by First United Methodist Church of ******** and The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints." John Wesley, if he were not in heaven, would certainly roll over in his grave. Methodist used to mean holy, evangelistic, firey. Now it means Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors and apparently, in at least one church, open to the heresy of a cult. What does Methodist mean today?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Evaluating God's Performance - Part 3 (Yes, I know there were only supposed to be two parts.)

How do we overcome the world with Christ? How do we consistently trust Him, evaluating Him worthy of worship, worthy of praise, worthy of absolute obedience?

Ignoring the world is not an option. The world is bad and getting worse. Surrendering to despair is not an option. Adopting a positive attitude, that everything will work out, is also not Scriptural. A positive attitude, in and of itself, is not Biblical. Jesus was not positive about the Pharisees. He called them white-washed tombs. He was not positive about the Jewish people. He wept at their disobedience and pronounced a prophetic curse over them that they would not see Him again until they repented and worshiped Him as Messiah. Woe to Chorazin, woe to Bethsaida, and woe to Capernaum were not positive affirmations of their inherent goodness. He was not altogether positive about people in general. Remember, "broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. . . and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it." (Matt. 7:13-14)

He was, however, absolutely convinced that His Father would triumph and that He would triumph. I know He was the Son of God, but how did He stay there? He faced the hard facts about the fallenness of man. He faced the hypocrisy of religious leaders. He faced the grim prospect of the cross. And, He faced it all filled with the Holy Spirit and with joy. How did He do that?

No one on this planet has ever been more aware of the fallenness of man and creation than He was. His abode had been Heaven, spotless, perfect, immaculate, filled with the Glory and Praise of God. Then He walked here. If He had not been convinced in the performance of His Father, surely He would have been overcome at His first breath.

He filled His heart and mind with God, God's Word, and with fellowship with His Father. He did not begin His day with an hour of Fox And Friends. I cannot help but think that He filled His early hours with His Father. He regularly, consistently, and constantly sought out His Father. Hide from the world and you hide from your purpose for being here. Hide in Christ, abide in Him, fill your mind with the Word that inspires confidence and faith in the Father, and you will overcome.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Evaluating God's Performance - Part 2

God has never sugar coated life. He made it abundantly clear that this world is evil, will become progressively more so, and that we will have trouble in it if we follow Him. He has also never failed to make known to us that if we trust Him, we will be more than conquerors.

Just before Jesus' crucifixion, He evaluated His Father's performance and found Him faithful. To His closest friends, who would abandon Him in His darkest hour, He said, "Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me." He then spoke to all of us and said, "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace." Jesus, the ultimate realist spelled out what life would be like as He said, "In this world, you will have trouble;" Jesus, the ultimate believer then made our choice clear, "but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." (John 16:32-33)

Trusting God is not just a choice. It is an evaluation of Him. When we choose hopelessness, frustration, anger, or defeat, we have decided that God will not perform. We have decided to trust the trouble, not God. Even when we are the trouble, when we are he ones who fall short, when we point the finger at our own weaknesses and use them as an excuse not to change, not to try, not to strive, even then we are evaluating God. In those days of self-pity and self-loathing, we are still pointing a finger at God and saying, in essence, that He has not made us equal to the task.

No matter what the news, no matter what the situation, no matter what your resources, every choice you make reflects what you think of God. You either believe He has overcome the world, or you don't. Assess Him faithful, trust Him, and the peace that passes all understanding will fill and guard your thoughts and your emotions.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Evaluating God's Performance - Part 1

I watched the news this morning and was overwhelmed with frustration, but not that the new administration are opposed to what I believe. I was frustrated by what I perceive to be a rampant lack of integrity and a rampant epidemic of incompetence. "Pass this bill immediately or we will die," then head off for a weekend celebration or a trip to Italy? A new age of ethical reform, except for political appointees. A new era of change, except for those now in control. So many promises made have already been broken, and not even broken well. Some lie with style. Some deceive with flair, but not those leading our nation today. Lesser liars and deceivers have taken charge. I am overwhelmed with the feeling that there is no one in charge who has the character to competently lead us. I had hoped for so much more.

Then there are the masses, like the mob in Rome, who are frothing at the bit for another handout. It's like the movie Gladiator when Commodus fed the masses free bread and the spectacle of the coliseum, and they loved it, ignoring their poverty. Americans, deceived, en masse, elated with a scrap of bread and a morsel of moldy cheese. Anestheticized by the promise of handouts from their government, while others pay the price.

This effects me. My friends and parishioners are anxious, struggling as logging crews shut down, mills run at lowered capacity, hours are cut, and there seems to be no end in sight. That no end in sight thing is the catch.

A spouse at the end of his rope begs me to do something to change his mate. A deacon, struggling with the overwhelming need of a friend, shares that increasing helplessness and frustration. A friend who has gone above and beyond wonders if it will ever produce fruit, if there is ever an end. Yet, the underlying issue is not the government, or the unbelieving masses, or the economy. The fulcrum upon which my sanity and joy rests is my estimation of whether God is performing as He should? The underlying issue is what I think of God.

(Part 2 tomorrow.)

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Hills Upon Which We Live Or Die

"I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth." (Psalm 121:1-2)
I had a conversation with an judge yesterday as we talked about how to help a man get some treatment for substance abuse. The judge has to make sure the law is fulfilled, but wants this nonviolent criminal to have a chance at change.
The conversation turned to politics, then philosophy; the philosophy of change. The judge had been a conservative who considered being a preacher. I had been a liberal who considered becoming a lawyer. In the end, I made this statement, "The only time anyone really changes is when their hearts change, and only God can change hearts."
We look toward Capitol Hill for answers. The CNN headline reads, "How much stimulus $$ will you get?" Churches used to be built on the highest hill in the town, to draw people "up" to God. When David lifted his eyes to the hills, he may have been looking for an army, but then he looked beyond and realized that his help would come from the God who created the hills which he looked beyond and the same God created the heavens into which he gazed.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Toast & The Sovereignty Of God

In light of the current condition of our country politically, economically, and culturally, I'd like to voice my opinion. We are toast.
In light of God, His Word, and His involvement in all of human history, I'd like to state something beyond opinion. God is sovereign, even if we are toast.
One more thing. Jesus will return and straighten everything out. Until then, we have an increasing opportunity to trust and obey Him. The important thing is that we don't end up spending eternity looking like toast.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


"Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I still would plant my apple tree." - Martin Luther

The future is a skeptic and the past a critic. We cannot live well with either as our constant companions. There is only one companion who gives us true hope and true joy, and there is only one place we can experience Him. While God holds our future, and redeems our past, we can only know Him and His blessings in this moment, in this day. We can only know Him, walk with Him, enjoy Him, and make Him known today.