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Worth A Look 1/7/17

These are a few articles I’ve recently read and enjoyed.

I’m Complementarian and I Read Books By Women
Challies explains why he enjoys books by women and makes some great points about the marketing of books authored by women.

Bioethics in 2017
I preached a sermon series on bioethics in 2016 and find these points to be true and haunting.

Why You Probably Don’t Need A Quiet Time
Don’t worry, the article isn’t what you think. Donald Whitney lays it on thick and ends by saying, “Significant changes in your life may indeed be needed. But think: How can less time with God be the answer?”

Bible Reading Plans
If you are looking for a reading plan, this article has about everything you can imagine.

 

A Baptist And A Jehovah’s Witness

I had an incredible conversation with a church member last Sunday. As I was about to leave the church, I noticed a member waving for me to come over and talk to her. So, I did. She began the conversation by saying, “I had two Jehovah’s Witnesses come visit me this past week.”  Stop right there.

At this point, my mind starts rapidly filtering into my JW database in order to anticipate her question or concern. I was expecting to hear something along the lines of how annoying “those people” are and perhaps I was being summoned to give her a few pointers on how she can get them off her front porch. But, that’s not what happened…

As the conversation ensued, this friend of mine explained how God gave her patience and a soft heart when these two elderly women at her doorstep introduced themselves as JW. Even surprising herself, my friend open her door wider and invited them in. Yes, she invited them into her home. From there, this Baptist church member joyfully exclaimed that she ended up having the best spiritual conversation of her life over the next 45 minutes. Not willing to compromise on truth, but very willing to show love, hospitality, and a listening ear.

That is how people see the beauty of the gospel.

Here are a few takeaways from my conversation with this amazing church member:

  1. Women tend to take more risks. Certainly not always, but more often than not when I hear about risky, bold moves for the gospel, I’m hearing the testimony of a woman.
  2. Speaking truth with grace really is possible. I think this friend of mine was a powerful picture of Jesus Christ as she opened her home to a couple of people with whom she knowingly disagrees…strongly disagrees…with their faith and practice.
  3. My friend is a long-time, strong believer. I would not necessarily recommend this specific course of action for a new believer in the faith, at least for them to be alone during the encounter. As my friend was telling me this story, I had no concerns that she would capitulate on the truthfulness of the word of God.
  4. I was rebuked. A couple of months ago I had two gentlemen visit my door at an inopportune time. Although I was certainly cordial with my guests, I quickly let them know my position at the Baptist church just up the hill and shut things down in just a couple of minutes. That’s not good enough.
  5. I need to stock up on Sanka and coffee cake. I’m hoping my wife is chuckling at this point because not long ago we watched a comedian discuss how things have changed over the last 20 years when we hear a knock at the door. 20 years ago when you heard your doorbell, it was a “happy moment.” Today, we duck, turn off the tv. and play dead so they will go away. Sanka was (is?) a brand of instant decaffeinated coffee. The point is that I need to be prepared to welcome in a stranger, offer them a drink, and talk about the goodness of the Lord.

I’m thankful for the conversation I had last Sunday morning about a Baptist and a Jehovah’s Witness, and I’m hopeful that others in the church will follow her example.

Christmas At Graefenburg

The seasons of Advent and Christmas are special times for Christian churches, and at Graefenburg Baptist Church it really is the most wonderful time of the year. More than the programs and the music and the special services is the warmth of the people who express kindness in a million different ways. I love my church, and I really love her during Christmas.

Although there are many things to love about Graefenburg during the month of December, what rises to the top of the list is the determination to keep the mission of Christ at the forefront of our activities. I don’t just mean hanging banners that say, “Jesus is the reason for the season” (which is certainly true), but I mean sacrificially responding to lostness around the world because we know that Jesus was born to die.

The members of GBC work throughout the Advent season to raise money for something called the “Christ For The World” offering which is broken into four parts:

75% – Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. This is an offering that is used to support international missionaries of the Southern Baptist Convention.
15% – Eliza Broadus Offering. This offering supports Kentucky Baptist mission causes.
5% – A local ministry. The church chooses a different local ministry each year and supports it with these funds. This year we chose the “Kentucky Changers” ministry that will be in Shelby County during the summer of 2017.
5% – Stays at GBC for our own mission trips and Great Commission efforts.

Every year our Christ For The World offering goal is increased, and every year we meet our goal. This year I was a bit concerned. Our Acts 1:8 Team set a goal of $25,000 for the offering and that is a pretty huge amount for a church our size. But, our mission team prayed for the church to joyfully give and for the money to reach people with the good news of Jesus Christ. I was excited to see what would happen.

Our first Christmas event to raise money is called the “Lottie Moon Craft Auction.” It is the coolest event of the year. Our congregation brings crafts, candy, desserts, and all kinds of hand-made items to auction off in order to raise money to meet the Christ For The World goal. I have never seen anything like it. This year our one-night craft auction brought in over $10,000! This money was raised with all kinds of laughter and love. It really is a beautiful thing to behold (a photo of this year’s auction is below). I was watching a tin of 12 pieces of peanut butter fudge sell for $100.

I am so thrilled and thankful to say that Graefenburg Baptist Church met our 2016 goal and it is still climbing at almost $27,000. Yes, Christmas at Graefenburg is special for many reasons. The fellowship is wonderful, the spirit is sweet, and the conviction to fulfill the Great Commission is clear. I’m already looking forward to next year.

Two Wonderful Memorization Tools For Children

As you consider your family worship plan for 2017, here are two wonderful catechism tools for your consideration. When I say “catechism,” I mean a series of questions and answers designed to teach our children (and ourselves!) the important doctrines of our faith.

New City Catechism
The Meade 5 (my family) has been working through the New City Catechism for a little less than a year and we love it. This discipleship tool is a product of Tim Keller and The Gospel Coalition and has several strengths. It has series of questions that spans the best of the Reformation catechisms (Calvin’s Geneva, Westminister Shorter and Longer, and the Heidelberg Catechism). At 52 questions long, it is the perfect size for memorizing one question and answer a week. The website and app versions (iPad) are user-friendly with helpful commentary in both video and written form.  It is appropriate for both Baptists and those in the Reformed tradition (many catechisms get tricky on the issues of baptism and the Lord’s Supper). And it provides both adult and children’s answers to the same question, making it perfect for the entire family to memorize. The children’s answers are an abridged version of the adult answers and are color coded.

You can view the homepage for New City Catechism here
You can view the first question and answer here

The Big Picture Bible Verses
This catechism serves as a companion piece to the wonderful “The Big Picture Story Bible” by David Helm (if you aren’t familiar with The Big Picture Story Bible, check it out). The strongest element to this catechism is how the answers to the questions are taken directly from Bible verses. So, not only are children learning answers to important life questions, but they are also memorizing Scripture in the process. Brilliant!

You can view and download an excerpt of this resource here

What Ages?
How old should your children be before you start using a catechism? There is no right answer, but most children are able to begin memorizing at a very early age. When I started the New City Catechism, my oldest was 7 years old and my youngest was 4. I was amazed to watch my 4-year-old memorize the answers just by being in the same room when we were working through the material! Children will amaze us if we give them opportunities.

Family worship is a wonderful blessing for parents and children. God’s grace on us all as we lead our children in the wisdom of the Lord.

The Resolution You Should Make And Keep

I like making resolutions. I have written before on the benefit of creating a list of goals for the new year and we are in good company when we do so. A young, nineteen-year-old Jonathan Edwards, who is considered the greatest American theologian, famously wrote 70 resolutions aimed at his joy and God’s glory. The best part about Edwards’ resolutions? He begins by saying, “Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.” That is a beautiful example of what Jerry Bridges calls “Dependent Responsibility.” We are dependent on the grace of God to do anything, and yet we are responsible to act.

So with that in mind, here is one resolution you should make and keep for 2017:  Resolve to be committed and consistent with your local church family.

Here’s Why…

Being Committed and Consistent Is A Command
I’m not an antinomian. I still believe when God tells us to do something (or not to do something) then we are responsible for obeying. In His wisdom, God does not issue commands to His children without good reason, so we know there is joy waiting for us in the instruction to consistently gather together as the church (Hebrews 10:24-25). Nevertheless, if there were nothing else to say concerning this resolution, this remains the only point we need to make. God said to do it, and because of the power of grace, we can.

Being Committed and Consistent is How We Develop Intimacy With One Another
The gospel of Jesus Christ provides two kinds of reconciliation; we are reconciled to God and we are reconciled to one another. The disastrous effect of sin has broken our intimacy with God and created enmity toward one another. It is no accident to read of Cain’s murderous jealousy against Abel in Genesis 4, one chapter after the curse of sin was unleashed on the earth. The gospel tears down this wall of contempt, but it requires a commitment to one another. Something beautiful begins to happen when Christians are committed and consistent to their church family – they begin to be real with one another. Putting on thinly disguised facades becomes a thing of the past because God uses consistency to create trust, and trust causes us to be open with our struggles, our pain, and our suffering. Then, the loneliness of our suffering dissipates into the comfort of learning how others are struggling right alongside with us. And what a joy it is to share one another’s burdens as we worship together, often through tears. But it will never happen without being committed and consistent.

Being Committed and Consistent is a Strong Attack Against Idolatry
John Calvin famously said that “man’s nature is a perpetual factory of idols.” The prophet Jeremiah would have agreed. He wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it?” No one is immune from the creation and worship of idols and the romanticized notion of “just follow your heart” is a recipe for disaster. I have noticed how our idols tend to grow, mature, and develop into objects of worship we would have initially never conceived as possible. None of us set out to construct a golden calf in its entirety. Instead, we form a leg and think it isn’t such a big deal. And then we form an ear. And then the tail. And after time, without realizing, we have a shiny, fully constructed calf in front of us that demands our time, attention, and worship. The greatest attack against this pattern of idol construction is committing you and your family to the ministry of the church.

Being Committed and Consistent Makes Up The Whole Body
God has graciously given each Christian gifts with which the church can be edified. This is pretty simple. If you are not committed and consistent to the church, then neither are your gifts. According to Paul, that’s not good. You make up the whole body and your presence is important.

Being Committed and Consistent Trains Our Children
Do you want your children to have an active faith in the Lord and consistent service to the church? They won’t if you don’t.

Being Committed and Consistent Keeps Us Accountable
The leadership of the local church has been established by God, in part, to help maintain accountability for its members (and there are structures in place to maintain accountability for the leadership). Becoming a member of an evangelical church will mean that you are willingly coming underneath the leadership of that church and acknowledging that your life needs accountability. Not in a stalking, invasion of privacy way, but in a biblical call to holiness way. Being committed and consistent allows pastors and other church members the opportunity to say, “hey, how are you doing?” in a safe and God-honoring environment.

Being Committed and Consistent Helps Us Grow
Sitting under the preaching of God’s Word, participating in a Sunday School class, attending a mission trip, volunteering at the local soup kitchen, and taking a sick family a meal are ways that God transforms lives in Jesus. A committed and consistent family will be more active in all these areas than an inconsistent family.

Being Committed and Consistent Helps Give Us Strength
The joy of the Lord is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10) and consistent worship with fellow Christians is the best way I know to experience joy in the Lord, which means it is an absolutely essential part of our strength.

Back to Jonathan Edwards…
Resolutions can become a means to guilt and self-condemnation when we slip up and fall off track. But the grace of God is bigger. We truly are unable to do anything without the grace of God enabling us, so the best place to start with your resolutions is the gospel. Through the gospel we have peace with God, peace with our fellow man, and power to grow in our spiritual lives. No matter how well you are doing with your commitment and consistency to your local church, the power of the gospel is the only means through which you can turn around and change. So do not allow this resolution or any others to become a source of frustration for you. Rather, let them be a reminder of the good news of what Christ has done in your life. Then, live in the power of the good news!

So, if you are a member of Graefenburg Baptist Church, I’ll see you on Sunday! If you are a member somewhere else, then your pastor will see you on Sunday. If you aren’t attending, then get to a church on Sunday. Grace and peace to you all in 2017.

 

 

 

 

Why Kenny Rogers Is The Greatest Voice In The History Of Music

The singing voice of Kenny Rogers is the greatest of all time. This article will attempt to explain why.

I’m not a music theorist and I, like most people, enjoy music simply based on what “sounds good” to me. I don’t base my appreciation of a person’s voice or a band’s music on a “J. Evans Pritchard” scale of virtuosity and technical ability. It is completely a “feel” thing and, ergo, the title of my article is completely useless and flat out wrong since it is impossible to determine the “greatest” voice in music history (I thought that article title would get you to click the link and read the article, looks like I was right).

Having said that, no one is better at eliciting a varying degree of emotion in his music than Kenny Rogers. Below are a few reasons why this is true, followed by an audio sample of some of my points in action. If you make it through the article, be certain to listen to the audio. It is the convincing proof necessary to back me up.

He’s Brutal
I’ve been ridiculed before because of my insistence on this point, but Kenny Rogers has a voice that is absolutely brutal, not simply because of the content of the lyrics, but because of the nature of his delivery. Perhaps you might have an image of Kenny Rogers where he is decked out in fluffy sweaters singing a sweet little Christmas song. Not me. The first image I had of Kenny as a child is still the one that resonates with me. It is the image of him on the cover of his incredible “The Gambler” album. I mean, look at this album cover. Kenny has a look about him that says, “I know something you don’t, and if you mess with me, I’ll seal your fate.” The ladies are all mesmerized by him, the dude in the background is concerned about what Kenny might do next and perhaps jealous of his mysterious ways, and the dealer is perplexed at Kenny’s ability to dominate at the gambling table. And yet, all of this imagery is presented with a feeling of class and substance.

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And if that image isn’t enough to convince you of his manliness, then this epic fight scene from “The Gambler” where Brady takes down Rufe will certainly be all you need to agree that Kenny is a beast. But we are talking about his voice, not his appearance. The thing that makes Kenny so brutal is not the presence of yelling or screaming or getting angry while he sings. Of course not, Kenny isn’t a death metal vocalist. But rather it is the way his voice will break and crack just at the right moment. I refer to this method of Kenny’s singing as the “Brutal Break.” An amateur might hear this rough-edged breaking of his voice as an example of poor singing, but just the opposite is true. I have tried for 30 plus years to make my voice do the “Brutal Break” on cue in the shower so I can be more of a man like Kenny. I still can’t do it. And neither can you. Only Kenny can make us shiver because of this gift.

Then, when you take this slight break in his voice combined with what he is saying, it is almost unbearable. Sometimes when I listen to Kenny I have to pause the music and take a few deep breaths. I mean, when you take the “Brutal Break” in his voice while he is singing the lyrics, “if I could move I’d get my gun and put her in the ground,” nothing else anyone has ever sung can really come close.

The Spoken Word
So many artists have attempted to talk in the middle of their songs and so many artists have failed. Johnny Cash is the only one who can even come close to Kenny at this point, and even the man in black can’t quite pull off what Kenny is able to do. Some of my favorite spoken words from Kenny are:
“…but you could have heard a pin drop when Tommy stopped and locked the door.”
“…for God’s sake, turn around.” (the all-time best spoken word performance ever.)
“…God our love is true.” (the second best spoken word performance ever)
“Son, I sentence you to life with Marianne” (Kenny speaks the “Son, I sentence you to life” part but then sings the last two lines “with Marianne.” But guess what? When he sings “Marianne,” he incorporates the “Brutal Break” described above. An absolutely unbelievable combination of Kenny talking and Kenny using the Brutal Break in one line. Whoa.)

Making Men Better Men
Kenny Rogers can sing a single line in a single song and make me want to be a better man, a better husband, and better father. For example, the first line of “Lady” typically makes me cry:  “Lady, I’m your knight in shining armor and I love you.” I mean, let’s just cut to the chase. First line and boom, he declares who he is and expresses his love for his lady. And then there is “She Believes In Me” and for any guy who has had a dream, especially us musicians, and was blessed enough to find a woman who supported us, this song is the ultimate tear jerker. These lines are breathtaking:  “While she lays dreaming, I try to get undressed without the light And quietly she says ‘how was your night?’ And I come to her and say, ‘it was all right,’ and I hold her tight.” It really defies any kind of explanation. Kenny Rogers makes me want to be a better husband and father, it’s that simple.

You’ve Got It, Mister
Perhaps the most important reason for my declaration of Kenny’s premiere voice is the “x” factor – that thing which just can’t be explained. As I was contemplating this point, I thought of this line from Young Frankenstein:

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Yes, Kenny, you’ve got it mister. That’s the only way to explain the surpassing greatness of Kenny’s voice. After all, the greatest and the best and the elite cannot ultimately be explained, they just have to be experienced. That’s why when you listen to “Love Will Turn You Around,” you will immediately stop what you are doing and look for someone to hug. We don’t know why, it’s just Kenny’s greatness. That’s why when you listen to “Coward of the County” you will immediately look for a bully to kick the daylights out of.

So, if you have time, listen to the audio track below to hear examples of Kenny singing in the ways I mention above. I think you will agree that he is tough to beat!

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My Simple Post-Election Thoughts

I recently wrote four simple thoughts before election day and now I will offer three simple thoughts in the wake of a Trump victory.

Media and America
Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan critiques her profession and says, “In the end, a huge number of American voters wanted something different. And although these voters shouted and screamed it, most journalists just weren’t listening. They didn’t get it.” The past eight years of the Obama administration has brought significant change to the social and cultural landscape of our country. Issues that are primary for many urban-based, liberal-minded Americans, which constitutes most journalists, received unprecedented attention and action. For the first time, issues related to the LGBT community were not just rhetorically batted around but actual policies were implemented. For the first time, universal healthcare was not just a wish to be discussed among fellow dreamers but became the hallmark of President Obama’s leadership. And so forth.

In light of these radical changes that occurred over a relatively short amount of time, I believe there has been a reluctance at best and a refusal at worst to remember the millions and millions of working-class  Americans who fundamentally view things differently. It is as if any voice other than the progressive voice of a specific social agenda is barbaric, reflecting an ancient time where people were less educated and ill-informed. Surely America has moved on from those dark ages of our political past and  surely their voice is not one we have to worry about, right?

Well, it seems the media has received a wake-up call on the power of every American voice, not just those who fall into a certain ideological camp. Sullivan summarizes her thoughts and says, “although we touched down in the big red states for a few days, or interviewed some coal miners or unemployed autoworkers in the Rust Belt, we didn’t take them seriously. Or seriously enough.”

The Conservatism of Trump
I’m not very good at predictions. I would have made a terrible biblical prophet. But here is my prediction – in addition to the plethora of character concerns related to Donald Trump, those of us who identify as politically and spiritually conservative have been questioning his conservatism from the very beginning. I can’t help but think that on several key issues for conservatives, such as the right to life, Donald Trump will backstep into the shadows where he hopes conservatives can’t see him while he politically moves toward the center. In this way, I wonder if progressives might find his administration to be rather kind to many of the social issues for which they and President Obama have been advocating. Having said that, there are still other areas where Trump seems to be determined to go the other direction from Obama, such as climate change and universal healthcare. So, we shall see.

President Obama
I really like President Obama. I really dislike most of his policies. But he seems like a great man who loves his family, loves children, and loves our country. I respect President Obama because he had a clear agenda in 2008 and for the most part, he achieved what he set out to do. Conviction – Vision – Implementation. Now, it just so happens that my convictions and his convictions are usually polar opposite from one another and I grieve the impact over many of the laws that have been established by the President. But here’s the thing…

Whether or not I might be happy if some of President Obama’s policies are repealed by President Trump, I can nevertheless empathize with President Obama. Can you imagine what it would be like to have worked a significant part of your life to make something that millions of people told you was impossible become the law of the land? In the process, dealing with attack after attack after attack. And finally, when your life goal is met, it could very well all be undone with a stroke of a pen by the next President. That is brutal. Again, I’m not commenting on whether it is politically correct or best for our country. I’m simply saying that from a human-to-human standpoint, I feel bad for the guy if a big part of his presidential work is undone with a signed document. That would be hard to take.

I have been working at my church for 5 years to establish a culture of gospel-minded discipleship. To help our congregation see the power of the righteousness of Christ in them (we are hidden!). To help them view the bigness of God like never before and desire to be fed by the Bible. I have worked with my staff and volunteers to implement ministries to achieve these things, to adopt language for our church that signifies these things, and so forth. I can only imagine what it would be like if a pastor came in behind me and essentially tore it all apart. That would sting.

So, depending on what President Trump does the first year in office, I could anticipate President Obama having the wind knocked out of him as he watches much of his life work erased away.

Grace and peace to you all, and remember, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God first. Always and forever.

 

 

My Simple, Last Minute Election Thoughts

This past Wednesday I shared a few simple thoughts on the upcoming election with Graefenburg Baptist Church. Here are three points for your consideration.

Two Extremes To Avoid
Two potential mistakes for evangelical Christians concerning the election involve one of two extreme views. The first view points to the sovereignty of God and says since his will cannot be stopped, thwarted, or confused, Christians need not be concerned about Presidential candidates or the election. Although it is true that God’s sovereignty is absolute, we must not deny the role God has given humans as he works out his purposes. Since the garden in Genesis 1, God has used humans as his primary means of fulfilling his will. And even though things have been accomplished precisely how God has ordained from eternity past, humans are still commanded to be diligent in working toward the well-being of others. Despite the obvious tension between God’s control and human choice, the Bible does not provide for us an escape from personal responsibility, and to suggest it does is a perversion of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty.

This is also the view utilized to “Jesus Juke” unsuspecting social media accounts with a “holier-than-thou” attitude, for nothing is easier or more satisfying than to reply to a person trying to sort out this election mess by saying, “Don’t you know God is in control and everything is going to be fine?”

The second extreme view says that if Christians do not vote “correctly” in this election, then the United States of America is going to crumble, the sky will fall, and spiritual revival will be impossible. Those who dwell in this camp tend to have an overinflated view of the political system and its connection to biblical spirituality.  I believe religous liberty is a critical issue in this election, but I do not pretend that either candidate is somehow going to usher in a new era of spiritual awakening. Revival will spread when the people of God stop making their career and their bank account and their reputation their first priority and instead start boasting only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. So, this view is the opposite of the first. In this view, we put entirely too much faith in the political system as the means through which our country will return to the things of God.

Character Matters. Issues Matter.
Let’s start with character. If evangelicals want to have any credibility with the next generation of Americans, then we cannot do an about face on the character issue. I have been stunned and grieved at evangelical leaders who have come to the defense of Donald Trump’s words and actions, even using rhetoric such as, “we vote in a commander in chief, not pastor in chief.” That is a nice cliche, but we didn’t believe such a thing just a few years ago when a Democratic president was caught in a moral failure. Evangelicals at that time were calling for his impeachment because, well, character matters. That we have now, in such a short amout of time, abanonded our most deeply committed principle concerning the quality of a candidate’s character is chilling. That says to me that evangelcials have become so entrenched with a particular political party that we are willing to publically display the most blatant form of hypocrisy.

But wait, you may say, Clinton is no better. Indeed, she is not. But evangelicals aren’t coming to the defense of Clinton’s actions. Let me be very clear – my concern is not that a Christian might vote for Trump (I will address that more in my next point). My concern is that an Christian might vote for Trump while making excuses for his inexcusable behavior, especially when the issue of character has been the defining issue for evangelicals year after year.

Now, what about issues? Character and issues are inseparable because it is the character of a person who will follow through on their committment to the issues. A promise is only as good as the one who makes it (which is why God only takes an oath on his own name! Hebrews 6:13). Nevertheless, we must take a long, hard look at the positions of the candidates on critical issues. And in order to do that, I recommend you read both the Republican and Democratic platforms. They will provide much greater detail on the issues than the jumbled up mess you hear at the debates or the talking points on your cable news show.

We Must Show Charity To One Another
Friends, there are simply no clear choices for many of us in this election. Some of you will vote for Trump. Some of you will vote for Clinton. Some of you will vote for a third party candidate. Some of you won’t vote at all. If we have considered the character of the candidates, looked at the issues, reflected on the larger kingdom in which we serve, and vote our conscience based on the word of God, then we must be charitable with one another. There is absolutely no room for broken relationships, divided church members, and hurt feelings over who a friend or family member might vote for. We are all in this together, searching for anything that might help us leave the voting booth without a guilty conscience. Neither candidate makes that an easy task.

So, grace and peace to you all as you vote. Soli Deo Gloria!

What Should Christians Think About Ghosts?

People are fascinated by ghosts and everyone has a ghost story. Ghosts remain one of the most popular topics for the television and film industry, including the SyFy Channel’s “Ghost Hunters” which chronicles the adventures of two real-life “ghostbusters.” What should Christians think about ghosts? Are ghosts real?

Certain presuppositions are necessary for a Christian to process the existence of ghosts. The philosophy of epistemology is the field of study that is interested in the possibility of human knowledge. How do we know what we know? Does truth exist? What is the foundation for what we have come to know and believe? The God of the Bible is a self-revealing God who has provided one of his greatest displays of grace by giving us a revelation of not only his existence, but also of his character, his intentions, and his purposes for the created world. For Christians, we can understand the truthfulness of the world only because we have been introduced to the God who created it, and then revealed it to us.

In light of this, Christians are reminded of the command in Proverbs 3:5 to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and do not lean on our own understanding. Although we typically read this beloved Proverb when we are suffering or persecuted, it is an equally powerful reminder of our tendency to substitute our own subjective experiences for the truthfulness of God’s word. The former is not unimportant, but its boundaries are limited by the latter.

As with most things, when discussing ghosts we need to begin by defining our terms. What do we mean by “ghost?” It seems the word is most commonly used to describe the disembodied spirit of a human who has passed away but returned to the earth for some purpose. The word might also be used to simply describe the presence of a supernatural being on earth. In this sense – that of the reality of a supernatural presence on earth – we can and should affirm the reality of ghosts, although we should call them by another name which we will address below. In the sense that a ghost is the spirit of a deceased human who has come back or been exiled on earth, we must dismiss the possibility as wholly unbiblical.

The Bible provides a consistent and simple pattern for the moments after a person’s death. Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Death is followed by judgment, which in turn ushers the spirit of a person into their eternal abode, that being heaven or hell. Jesus says, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Luke 16 records the immediate arrival of the rich man into the “torment” of hades and Lazarus into the comfort of Abraham’s side. Paul is confident in 2nd Corinthians 5:8 that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” The thief was promised a destination of paradise “today” by the Lord Jesus. The long list of passages overwhelmingly provides a clear picture of what happens at death – we are judged and we are placed in an eternal home.

This is significant because Scripture never provides the possibility of a human spirit breaking the boundary of their eternal destination for any purpose, and certainly not for “haunting” a particular person or place. Consider the implications of this kind of ghostly presence. For those who are separated from God in hell, the ability to break from the confines of eternal judgment in order to roam the earth would be a welcomed relief from the darkness, solitude, and torment of their unbelief. However, the devastating reality for denying Christ is the inability to find rest from “the smoke of their torment.” (Revelation 14:11). Likewise, a soul who has a desire to return to earth for a positive purpose will be denied. For example, the rich man in Luke 16 sought to issue a warning to his family of the reality of his horrific condition. He wished to go and proclaim the good news of Christ or even send Lazarus, which he suggests to God in Luke 16:27-28. But again, even for the purpose of “ghostly evangelism,” the boundaries of eternity are locked.

Friend, do you see why the Great Commission is so urgent? We have but one life to live on this cursed earth and one opportunity to make Jesus known to the nations.

This still leaves an unanswered question. How do we explain the supernatural experiences and apparent “hauntings” that so many people have encountered? Should we believe that every person who has ever witnessed the appearing of a supernatural being is delusional? From the very first “ghost sighting” until now, was every occurrence just a mistake? Were they just “seeing things?”

No, certainly not. To be sure, I think many, and let me repeat that – many – experiences are a misunderstanding or fabrication. But that can not be the sole explanation for the thousands and thousands of supernatural sightings over the years. How do we respond?

Remember, the issue is not the reality of supernatural beings. So far we have simply ruled out the possibility of human spirits returning to earth after death.  We learn of  spirit beings from Scripture who can have the ability to interact with humans, sometimes even in physical form, while we are on earth. These are called angels and demons. Angels are righteous and holy, faithful in serving God by serving the saints on earth. Demons are probably fallen angels who have rebelled against God and are seeking to harm and deceive all of God’s children. Deception is the key word. Demons will do anything in their power to deceive God’s people and lead them away from the truth.

It is impossible to believe the narrative of the Bible without believing in angels and demons. To deny the reality of a demonic presence on earth is to deny the “ruler of this age,” who is Satan, the ultimate deceiver. It is because of his deception that the earth is still today under a curse of sin, and it is because of that curse that Jesus Christ was placed on a cross. The hateful waging of war continues by the “father of lies,” despite the deathblow given to Satan on the cross. It is on this battleground of deception by the evil supernatural forces of the world that the experiences which are often known as ” seeing ghosts” will occur.

What about “friendly ghosts” who seek no harm and seem to just mind their own business? What about mediums who get in touch with family members for good purposes? Listen carefully to 2nd Corinthians 11:14-15 – “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.” What we must never forget is how demons seek to deceive Christians and will do that by any means necessary, even by revealing potentially true information. Yet, in the hands of the evil one, even true or partially true information can lead to deadly results.

What can we conclude?

  1. Human spirits cannot cross the boundaries of their eternal destination in order to return to earth. In this sense, there are no such things as ghosts.
  2. Supernatural beings – angels and demons – are very much real and have the ability to intersect with humanity.
  3. Demons are motivated by deception and will disguise themselves as “servants of righteousness” in order to lead people astray.
  4. God, in his great sovereignty and power, limits the ability of evil spirits to harm Christians and has dispatched angels to fight for and serve humanity.

I want to address a couple of other items from Scripture, including the witch of Endor from 1 Samuel 28, but due to the length of this article, I will address that another time, along with some personal application we can draw from these things for spiritual growth.

 

 

Union With Christ – A FAQ Series

A Christian’s “union with Christ” has been a major doctrine of preaching and teaching at Graefenburg Baptist Church for the last 2 years. In January of 2014, I preached a series through the book of Colossians called “Transform” where we began helping our congregation notice the seemingly endless verses which emphasize the two words “in Christ.” When I was in middle school, there was a little game we would play where a person who notices a Volkswagen Beetle would shout the word “Bug!” and then give the person next to them a little punch in the arm. Well, it wasn’t a very nice game, but all of a sudden I started noticing Volkswagens all over the place. I mean, they had always been there on the road, but now I saw them all the time because I was looking for them. Anthony Hoekema wrote that “Once you have your eyes opened to this concept of union with Christ, you will find it almost everywhere in the New Testament.” The same thing started happening at GBC. Folks began to tell me that they were starting to notice how often the New Testament speaks of “Christ in us” and “in Him” and “through Him” and so forth.

Union with Christ is such an important and necessary doctrine that it naturally raises plenty of questions. As part of my “Question Vault” series of blog entries, I am going to write 3 or 4 articles responding to a few of these frequently asked questions . The first and most natural question with which we will begin is a reminder to us…

What does “Union With Christ” mean?

John Murray once wrote that union with Christ is “the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.” When we speak of our union with Christ, we are talking about our identity, the very core of who we are and what we are capable of. It is sadly not a phrase that is well known in the church and has only recently seen a revival of sorts in Christian discipleship resources. When we think about who we are in relation to Jesus Christ, we tend to think of things such as “following” Jesus, “worshiping” Jesus, “submitting” to Jesus, “obeying” Jesus, and so forth. All of those descriptions are certainly true and clearly biblical, but they are only possible because of our union with Christ.

And let’s face it, most weeks we struggle to follow Jesus. Maybe we have found ourselves unhappy with the way we worship Jesus, as if we are just going through the motions. And obedience? If you are like me, then you are daily struggling in that department…big time.

What happens is that since we tend to think of our relationship to Jesus primarily through these kinds of things, we become guilt ridden when we have those bad weeks (or months) and our worship is off and our obedience is lacking. Guilt likewise leads to despair and feelings of worthlessness, that God might wreak havoc on us because of our shortcomings. Striving for holiness and living the Christian life will not only become a fruitless endeavor without a proper understanding of our union with Christ, but it will also become something we dread.

So, we must understand what Paul understood about his salvation that will do two things for us:
1. Keep us from feelings of guilt and condemnation.
2. Give us the power necessary for joyful Christian living and obedience.

What did Paul understand? His union with Christ. Here are just a few verses that show how Paul treasured and depended on this amazing truth:

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
“For you have died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, the old has passed away and the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)

All of these verses teach us a profound truth about the most fundamental aspect of our identity and our salvation:  Because of our position in Christ, his actions are our actions, just as if we had personally carried them out. Christ was crucified, therefore we were crucified. Christ was buried, therefore we were buried. Christ was raised to new life, therefore we were raised to new life. To be in Christ means that Jesus is our representative; what he has done, we have done!

Think about it and be amazed all over again – the reason Paul says we are “hidden” with Christ is because the work of Christ has been credited, or “imputed” to us through faith. Thus, our old nature is dead, it is hidden, it is gone. What’s left is Christ’s work in us, because we are in him!

God looks at us and pardons us for one reason only. God does not pardon us because:
-He is willing to overlook sin.
-He is willing to cut us a break if we do our best.
-He is satisfied with our own works.
-He shows grace instead of judgment.

So what is the one reason why God forgives us and calls us his children?
-He sees perfect righteousness when he looks at us. How is that possible? Because he sees Jesus Christ and his perfect righteousness.

But it doesn’t stop there. Not only does our union with Christ impute his righteousness to us so that we are approved by God, but it also provides for us spiritual power to do what we could never do before. Willpower Christianity does not work. We will never be able to muster enough power from within ourselves to stay consistent with the things of God and find joy in them. It doesn’t matter how many conferences you attend, how many decision cards you fill out, and how many times you “recommit” your life (all of which are great things), only the power of Christ in you is strong enough to carry you to the finish line with joy. That is why the gospel must not be viewed as the thing that gets us saved and then we take over. No, the gospel is our power for daily living.

Consider one more text. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul describes our union with Christ in a remarkable way. He demonstrates how all humans are currently united with one of two people. Either we are united with Adam, and are thus marked by his sinful rebellion, or we are united with Christ, and are thus marked by his righteousness. Listen to Paul:

“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22)

The rock band “Rush” once said, “if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” That is certainly true here. You will experience a union with one of two men. In Adam, there is death. In Christ, there is life.

So, with this remarkable truth that author Jerry Bridges called “breathtaking,” also comes some important questions. I will begin to address those in the next article.

Soli Deo Gloria!
 

 

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