Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Wisdom

Image result for proverbs 4:7 kjv

"Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding." Proverbs 4:7
We live in an age where Christians assign and encourage many and various markers of true spirituality and faithful maturity. Some chase after Charismatic excesses such as  prosperity theology, or healing.  Some exalt in  ongoing  subjective experiences of peace and religious excitement. A few seek aesthetically or ethically appealing aspects of religion, and embrace only those teachings consistent with a broader humanism or Christian experiences often  reduced to benign passivity and banal generalities . Additionally, it is not uncommon to encounter those whose religious experience is only as valuable and  compelling as their latest (and transient) emotional outpouring. We are clearly beings with emotions, but emotions at their best complement wisdom, they do not supplant it - and actually can become for some,  a sort of cheap substitute for the primacy of wisdom grounding and promotion.
If Christians can be confused about the nature of wisdom, how much more confusion  is the world at large? Much of the secular world is skeptical about even the possibility of genuine wisdom, because the very concept of wisdom demands the function of righteous judgment and specific standards. The overwhelming subjectivism of pop culture makes it a poor incubator for genuine wisdom. To the degree most of the world at large even recognizes the existence of wisdom, it tends to view it  in mostly contradicting opinions that align with  preferences and assumptions rife with various stripes of atheism, nihilism or dubious religiosity. 
So what exactly is wisdom and why is it so important?
First, let's consider two things wisdom is not.
1. Spiritual wisdom is not synonymous with knowledge. One can accrue great knowledge and still be bereft of wisdom. Knowledge is necessary for wisdom, but wisdom is the distilling of knowledge into "real life" pragmatic outworking.
2. Wisdom ought not be thought of as an essential equivalent to prudence in regards to the conduct of life. Prudence and discretion will be a fruit of wisdom, but they are not wisdom itself.
How then can we describe wisdom within the Biblical framework? Let me offer four characteristics of true wisdom. Please consider this brief list suggestive and not comprehensive.
1. Wisdom is primarily grounded in apprehension of the knowledge of God coupled with a gracious state of the heart in relation to the Savior. It is made manifest in the keeping and spiritual discharging of His commands.
2, Wisdom is the promotion of Godly standards to every area of life, both secretly (that is, personally and privately in ourselves) and publicly among both the people of God and unbelievers alike.
3. Wisdom is the recognition of the primacy of Scripture, and our reliance upon it as the only completely sure guide by the necessary and generous illumination of the Spirit of God.
4. Wisdom is the realization and ongoing awareness that every action we ever take, every thought we ever entertain, every inner and presumably secret motive that informs our behavior is under the all-seeing eye of God. In other words, wisdom is proceeding through every day of life knowing we must be spiritually responsible because we are ultimately accountable before God.
James 1:5  "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that givith to all men liberally and upbraiddeth not; and it shall be given him."  
Proverbs 18:15  "The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge; and the ear of the wise seeketh knowledge." 
Luke 21:15 "For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay or resist."
James 3:17 "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

When I'm Sixty-Four

Send me a postcard, drop me a line
Stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, wasting away

Give me your answer, fill in a form
Mine for evermore
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I'm sixty-four


"When I'm 64" was written by Sir Paul McCartney as
a 16 year old in 1958 and recorded by the Beatles in
1967 on the "Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band"
album. I would have likely been a freshman in high
school when I first heard it sometime in 1968. At that
time it would have been inconceivable to imagine young, vibrant Paul McCartney as sixty-four years old.  McCartney, by the way will be 76 in about 6 weeks. I  will be 64 in about 2 weeks.

Sixty-four isn't generally thought of as a significant
mile-marker as say sixty, or sixty-five, or thirty-nine
or twenty-one generally are. For better or worse Paul  single-handedly rescued sixty-four from otherwise certain obscurity. Thanks... I think.....old fellow.

McCartney is still to this day one of the most recognizable names and faces in the world. He is wealthy beyond any reasonable expectation of spending even a fraction of the resources he commands in this life. His eventual death will be the source of melancholy among countless numbers of Beatles  & Wings fans. He has drunk deep and long from the cup of all the world has to offer...and yet....

...and yet, as a Christian I cannot help but feel sorry for McCartney. I am living and will die in almost total obscurity, and financially poor - but I have a great wife, family, church and most of all, a Great Savior.

"And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul." Mark 8:34-47


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Our Astonishing Capacity For Self-Deception

See the source image


We all (that is, all of Adam's progeny) have a remarkable propensity for self-deception. In spite of our common human experiences soaked in various frailties and sins and nurtured in relentless ego driven fantasy - we tend to imagine ourselves brighter, friendlier, skinnier, taller, more attractive, better balanced, and more fetching in every conceivable way to almost all those we encounter. Even if in a few categories we are forced by relentlessly cruel realities to occasionally acquiesce to some undeniable superiority observed in others, we secretly assure ourselves that this is merely a rare exception, or even more likely, some obvious travesty against fairness.  Spiritually, we Christians often believe ourselves more doctrinally astute, more loving and patient, more gifted with every and all Christian graces than we perceive those around us manifesting or displaying. We are smarter and more insightful than our pastors. We are more productive as servants than our deacons. We are more experienced and wisely capable than our teachers. If God gave us as much income to us  as Bro. So-n-so makes, we'd be the best givers in the church. We are under-appreciated, under-utilized, and denied the recognition we so richly deserve.

Why do we think such things - and worse? Is it pride? Is it inherent self-deception? Is it evidence of a pathetic want of introspection and self honesty? Why do we tend to so relentlessly exaggerate our self worth and abilities? And it's really far worse than even that. We not only often foolishly evaluate ourselves as generally superior, we are prone to undervalue those around us with the worse sorts of assumptions about their motives,  abilities and spiritual gifts. The blind eye we turn to our own besetting sins and faults sadly becomes razor sharp as it cuts and slashes into  similar behavior observed in others. Can we deny that dwelling in us is often a barely concealed tendency to boorish, sanctimonious & self-righteous spiritual priggishness? How is it we can meet with the people of God over and over and over again and  never sense our own stubborn, self-centered conceit as we smile and speak pleasantly to those that in our secret thoughts appear to us as vaguely (or perhaps overtly) spiritually inferior?

It is often a very difficult thing to be honest with one's self. We thrive on our delusions - they nurture that which is least Christ-like in us, and they deliver us from our darkest suppressed knowledge of self. Most of us are very poorly practiced in serious and ongoing introspection. There can be pain in such honest self-assessment, and we mostly tend to want to avoid pain. Even necessary pain. True spiritual introspection is not for the faint of heart. Thus, it seems to be all too rare. 

"For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing he deceives himself."  Galatians. 6:3

Now you may or less be in agreement with all the above. But what, you wonder - what if - you genuinely are in some sense and in some areas superior to your neighbor or your Christian brother or fellow family member? That's a reasonable question, but it has a pretty simple answer. Humility. Humility and love. The truth is, no matter what a shining example of any good quality, ability or trait you display, or imagine you possess in abundance - the best of all that you are or ever can be  is rooted in the gifts and mercies of God. Therefore, you have zero to boast in. And besides, if you are motivated by love and not vanity or pettiness and are functioning aright before the Lord...you will discover no reason for a vaunted sense of self. Such narcissism runs contrary to love and humility, and it knows nothing of Christ. 


     

Monday, April 9, 2018

A Truly Awful Book

Not often, but occasionally, I will pick up a book to read at night before sleeping...  that I consider to be a long shot if not a likely looser. The idea is I want a lousy enough book  to usher in hurried, irresistible sleepiness. Such a book was Squire Rushnell's "When God Winks at You," published by Nelson Books, 2006.

I considered it a looser at the outset due to the silly title. But the title is nearly profound  compared to the subtitle which is "how God speaks directly to you through the power of coincidence." Coincidence? "Power of coincidence" no less? 

His thesis is that God sometimes (often?) speaks to us in what he calls a "godwink."   You doubtlessly can't resist asking yourself in insatiable curiosity - "what exactly is a "godwink?" "Godwinks" according to Rushnell are  simple coincidences - which he argues  we should ascribe (in some sense)  to God's intentional and playful insertion into our lives as some sort of Christianized serendipity.  Here's what he says in his own words:

     "Every time you receive what some call a coincidence or an answered prayer, it's a direct and personal message of reassurance from God to you - what I call a godwink."

Really? A "personalized message of reassurance?" Oh pity poor Calvin for what he missed and Edwards for his lack of modern insight!

The author makes  a deliberate and calculated  coupling of "godwinks" with "answered prayer" - which seems to be a devise to legitimize "godwinks."  But the book is not about answered prayer, save when answered prayer is  occasionally claimed to  vindicate "godwinks." I'm not a Th.D, nor is anyone likely to confuse me with a genuine Bible scholar....but I think I am familiar enough with God's Word to categorically say that "godwinks" is not in my concordance. I don't even see anything even remotely like this concept in Holy Writ.

After briefly establishing this dubious notion of "godwinks," the rest of the book consists of short anecdotal stories displaying examples of said "godwinks." He even reports a "godwink" in the life of elderly comedian Tim Conway. Tim Conway, who I think is funny but a mighty poor subject for Christian biography,  is a Roman Catholic, and is certainly not known for his theological prowess, holy life or Christian insight.

Confession time. Unlike other books I review (or personally recommend otherwise, or fail to recommend) - I did not finish this book. It was unbearably dreadful. I found myself wondering just  what were the editors at Nelson, a Christian publisher, thinking? Was someone at that office really convinced  this piece of pseudo-Christian trash was organized around a clear Christian thesis?? The average Christian could write a better book than this after a triple lobotomy performed by a blind Fiji first year medical student.  Don't buy this book. Don't read this book. Don't even read this brief review a second time. 









Saturday, April 7, 2018

A Church You Can See By Dennis Bills


What follows is a book review peppered with pithy insights by the reviewer,  Ben House.  I first met Ben over  25 year ago while living in Texarkana AR/TX. In those days he was a Baptist, but is now a Presbyterian -  proving, after all, that he is neither perfect nor infallible. Ben is an educator, author,  blog writer and has been an elder/pastor.  In addition to being both the best read man I know, and the most astute bibliophile - he is gently witty, with a grand intellect and nearly disconcerting humility. If classes were taught in how to acquire a genuine well-rounded Christian demeanor, I would nominate Ben to be the instructor.  Please note that I do not completely agree with every point below , but I do find the overall piece excellent and well worth a read. More nifty articles from Ben can be read at his blog "The Heavy Laden Bookshelf." https://benhouseblog.wordpress.com/
“It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”  That popular saying well describes many places we might go to on vacation, but it also applies to the way many people view church membership.  They might rephrase it like this:  “Churches are nice places to visit, but I would not want to be committed there.”  There are many cultural and spiritual battles we face in our day.  No Christian can dispute that the family is under attack.  For this reason, you can fill shelves with books on marriage and family issues.  No Christian can dispute that we are engaged in a multi-front culture war over issues that seemingly didn’t exist a century ago.  No Christian can dispute that major institutions in our society are reeling and rocking from corruption, wrong directions, unbelief, and evil.

Yet we rarely hear this being given as an answer:  Go join a church.  Even many of the better or more energetic evangelistic groups have often been neglectful of church membership.  The word “Christian” is used as an adjective for all types of things–many of which I approve–but is not used as frequently to describe or modify the word “church.” Church life is an appendage for some.  It can be a cross to bear.  Or it might be an added feature, just like tinted windows on the car you buy.

The word “church” itself can be used to name a building (like the one in the picture above), a denomination, a spiritually amorphous group of both living and dead Christians, a large historical group (like the Catholic Church or Anglican Church), a place to go (as in, we go to church each Sunday), or any assembly (in the more etymological meaning of the word).

A Church You Can See by Dennis E. Bills is a much needed book for Christians.  It is a book about building a church and the architecture of a church.  Let me clarify that quickly:  The book is subtitled Building a Case for Church Membership. This book is not about the best way to construct a physical building or design that building for acoustics or seating or multi-functional use.  This book is about the absolute necessity of Christians being tied to, committed to, joined to, and dedicated to a particular local group of fellow believers in order to live out the Christian life.
Before hitting a few key points in Pastor Bills’ book, let me line out the case for not joining a church.  First, no church is perfect, nor will any church fit your particular beliefs in every detail.  Second, church membership will not save you.  Third, many churches are routine and tradition-bound.  Fourth, there are all kinds of ways you can serve God without being a church member.  Fifth, where does the Bible say that you have to be a member with your name on a roll in a church?  Sixth, what about all those people who are in situations (like health, geographic location, in military service, in prison, etc.) who cannot be in church?

Some really strong arguments can be crafted from those six points and others as well.  But, the bottom line is that being committed to, being a member of a church is absolutely essential.  (Exceptions, such as health, geography, job, access, are just that–exceptions.)  While neither Pastor Bills nor I can cite a verse that says “All God’s people must have their names inscribed on the rolls of a local assembly of fellow believers,” the New Testament presupposes church membership at every stage.

The New Testament letters are written to churches and church leaders.  The Book of Acts is a book about church planting.  The Gospels are written to instruct believers in churches. The gifts, spiritual and otherwise, and teachings are all used in church settings.  Not a single word is directed toward Christian schools, Christian music groups, Christian bookstores, Christian political parties, or any other group prefixed by the word “Christian.”  While I strongly believe that all those Christian-oriented groups or causes should exist, they grow out of the church community and are not equals or peers with it.

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are also church-related.  I hope that sentence bothers you.  I hope it sounds a bit like it was just an add-on to what the church does.  I intentionally sought to do to two things:  One is raise the eyebrows of discerning readers and echo the verse in Genesis 1 that casually says, “He made the stars also.”
Baptism–lay aside the matters of mode and subjects–is essential, absolutely commanded, defining, and not negotiable for one who professes faith in Christ.  (Yes, I understand that if your hands and feet are pierced with nails and the Roman government is in the process of killing you, you can appeal directly to Jesus.)  Baptism is a work and ordinance of the church.  Along with that, the Lord’s Supper–laying aside more details about frequency and what elements are used–is a part of the Christian life in the same way that breathing is part of physical life.  I hate when someone says that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are just symbols.  If I tell a woman that my marriage ring is just a symbol, I hope someone bashes me over the head.  (I expect my wife to do so.)  In the example I use, a marriage ring really means that I am married, but it is a tradition.  How much more are baptism and the Lord’s Supper real and vital since they are established by Christ Himself?

In A Church You Can See, Bills walks the reader through the stages of building a house or other structure.  This metaphor is carried through the whole book to teach different aspects of church membership.  This book, while good for individual reading, would really best be used by teachers and elders to instruct Sunday school classes or membership classes.  It is clearly written, very practical, heavily laced with Scripture passages, and intended to result in the reader either joining a church or becoming aware of the meaning of church membership.

Pastor Bills (and I would emphasize that he is an ordained Presbyterian minister in West Virginia) writes from a Presbyterian and Reformed perspective.  Those who might not line up with him on all points (meaning that they are not Presbyterian or Reformed) will still find this book incredibly useful and instructive.

This book can be purchased through Amazon for the ridiculously low price of $5.99.

Ben House. (Ben is the one with the glasses.)


Christian Biography

The Shadow of the Broad Brim the Life Story of Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Some nearly 40 years ago, when I was a young Christian in the military, I was exposed to the idea that Christian biography was a waste of time - that one's time was better spent simply reading the Bible and studying doctrinal books and commentaries. At least that's the way I think I remember it. But it's also possible that in my youth and inexperience (read: ignorance), it occurred to me (on my own) that a really deep,  super-spiritual idea was to forgo reading church history and biography in order to graze in the more sublime fields of doctrine and theology. Not that I had read much Christian biography/history at that time - the only such book I clearly remember reading was Day's The Shadow of the Broad Brim. 

I would not pretend that this issue was particularly burdensome,  but occasionally  over the years, particularly for the next few following decades I continued to have a nagging sense that biographical/historical reading was somehow a sort of substandard pursuit. Was it possible such books were simply glamorizing specific Christians or historical occurrences  and thereby deflecting from more spiritual activities?   Was it possible such works, no matter how well meaning, took emphasis off of Bible truth, or even the Lord Himself? Did such books ipso facto have a tendency to lead one into a Christianized "hero worship?"

These issues have long since been resolved for me. Many years ago I came to a definitive conclusion that such reading has great utility in my Christian walk. After all, does not Scripture use biography to teach many truths? Consider all of the OT historical narrative. Or Hebrews 11, sometimes referred to as the "faithful heroes hall of fame." What of the truth woven into the narrative of the early church in the Book of Acts?

Read Christian biography! Don't give up your time in the Word of God to do so, but do feel free to turn off your TV, fancy phone and other such devices and pick up a worthy book. Here are but a few that I have read in the last few years that I heartily recommend:

The Life and Writings of the Rev. John Gill, D.D. by John RIppon

The Life of John Gano 1727-1804 by Terry Wolever

Mountain Movers: Champions of the Faith by George Ella

Augustus Montague Toplady: A Debtor to Mercy Alone by George Ella

Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon by Tom Nettles

The Life and Diary of David Brainerd , Jonathan Edwards (ed)

George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great  Evangelist of the Eighteenth Century Revival (2 vols) by Arnold Dallimore

Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George M. Marsden 





Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Billy Graham






Billy Graham has gone to his reward today. What that reward is exactly, I cannot say. In a world filled with religious charlatans - chasing money, womanizing & racked by every sort of scandal - Billy Graham at least seemed free of those vices that so often mark public ministries.

Nevertheless, as admirable as his personal persona might be, Billy Graham's notion of the nature of God, the gospel and process of salvation itself... was the same humanized Christian-lite "gospel" that is a plague in churches today. Men are not saved because in an unguarded moment they respond to an emotional altar call. "Decisionism" is not the gospel. Conversion does not come by raising the hand, or repeating a "sinners prayer," intellectually believing in Jesus - or any other human action. 

True conversion is the fruit of the work of the Holy Spirit effectually drawing men unto Christ, regenerating and justifying them. Without regeneration preceding conversion, any claim to conversion is spurious. I fear many of Mr. Graham's converts are just that. They are HIS converts, but remained Christ-less. 

One wishes that Graham might have grown some, and come to a fuller appreciation of the true nature of salvation, and the need for discipleship and sanctification and moved beyond the two-dimensional, man-centered notions that were at the foundation of his preaching. There is no evidence that ever happened. 

Still, I only hope the best for him. I'd delight to know he is with the Lord. I am certain if that is the case, his theology has undergone a profound readjustment.