Friday, December 28, 2007

Getting Back to Basics

What is my greatest desire? What is the most important thing in all of life to me? It is this: to hear the Lord I love say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:23). Heaven is a wonderful goal, but I want even more than heaven to please the Lord who has loved me so abundantly and graciously.

“Faithful over a little…” Another version says, “faithful in a few things.” None of us is perfect, nor can we be. We all do our best to serve the Lord we love. Or, do we? Are we faithful even over a few things? Are we faithful in attendance? In prayer? In regular Bible study? In our moral lives? In our service? Can God depend on us personally to spread His word?

We are responsible to use well what God has given us. The issue is not how much we have but how well we use what we have. Each believer should faithfully carry out the duties entrusted to him or her by God and multiply his or her God-given “talents” for the sake of the kingdom.

As we ponder the coming year, the best thing we can do is to get back to basics, to practice the things that help us to grow spiritually healthy and strong. We cannot do that apart from the basics.

Are you as spiritually strong today as you were a year ago? Where will you be spiritually in a year?


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Treasure your Bible

I like to recommend giving Bibles as gifts during the holiday season. There is no higher treasure. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Christ and his word. I want to tell you a true story, but I must change the names and places of some individuals involved to protect a precious brother. You will understand why.

About a month ago I received an email from a city in Turkey asking for Bibles to help a struggling congregation in a nation dominated by Muslims. Of course, evangelism is illegal in most Muslim countries; and the punishment for evangelizing is usually death. Muslim countries under Sharia law have no freedom of religion.

Since I did not recognize the name, I asked for some references. I wanted to know if this brother who wrote to me was faithful to the Lord. Since he did not know any American members of the church, he pointed me to an Australia, who vouched for the sincere efforts of the Turkish brother who had come out of Islam and into the faith. This took some time. I am so grateful for my elders who acted with speed.

In the meantime, I found the Turkish brother who asked for funds, was not seeking funds for himself but for a friend in another country, who had found a way to smuggle Bibles into a predominantly Islamic country in Africa. When we made the commitment to help, the Turkish brother put me into contact with the African brother, who sometimes lived in another country than the one where he was taking the Bibles. We will fictitiously call this precious brother Ammed. So we have a Turkish brother and an Australian saying that Ammed is a faithful brother. Then I learned from Ammed that he attended a congregation in East Africa.

Rather than asking for the money for himself, Ammed said send it to an elder of the church in East Africa, where he attends and is the only foreigner. He informed the elders, and we sent the money to them to buy the Bibles. The church where he attends rejoiced at his faith and at our willingness to help buy Bibles to smuggle in to the lost.

In the meantime, Ammed worked all day at his job and spent his nights printing evangelistic literature that was designed for his native, Islamic land. I marveled at a man who would risk his own life and that of his family to evangelize the Islamic world. I marveled at a man who rejoiced that an American church would help him, something he never expected.

He would loved to have smuggled ten times as many Bibles into his native land. This story, which involves people from four continents, is amazing to me. I am humbled by the sacrifices of a man who converted from error to truth. In his last email, he asked if he could download my studies on the internet and translate them into Arabic. How could I refuse such a servant?

In coming weeks and months I hope to hear more from Ammed about the Bibles and his evangelism he is doing among his people. Please pray for his safety and success.

in hope,

Monday, December 10, 2007

Singing in Half Voices

On one of my overseas campaign trips, I met Luda, who translated for me and who worked very hard with WBS. She is a graduate of British Bible School. She visited Concord Rd. some weeks ago, and now is back home. She is a bedrock for a congregation there. Here is her email. I took out some portions that were not needed for this post:

Dear Phil,
I am so thankful to God that I had a unique opportunity to see an American Church of Christ and meet you. It was such an inspiration. And see, how blessed you are: the building, many Christians, faithful and experienced preachers, an opportunity to travel to other churches and attend lectureships.Maybe you, people, take it for granted? We, here, are devoid of this.

The church still meets in secret as is not registered. To register nowdays is practically impossible as the "Russian orthodocs atheists" are vigilant and we have, as in old days, the so called "cesaropapism". Despite loud declarations the accepted state religion is the above. Even registered baptist and pentecostal churhces with own buildings have problems and some buildings were expopriated. Catholic priests also have hard times though one third of the population is catholic as big territory was Poland before the advent of the Soviet power.

However, my church strives to preserve the "first love" and we are doing fine: regular Sunday service and the Bible class after, Ladies class and the OT class during the week as well as a small Sunday school for children. We sing in half voices as we rent an apartment in secret and it is also illegal. Our preacher Nickolay has studied in the WBS and had individual studies under one preacher from the Evansville church for some three years. Now starting from January we are on our own. I decided to give some part of my salary plus money from collections to pay the rent and continue. The rest of people, we are about 10, cannot help financially. I think I owe this to God and do not feel deprived. It is difficult to grow in such circumstances and the fact makes us all feel unhappy. Of course, we pray for an increase in number and having students but so far everything has not been effective. Some could not accept what they heard and how the service was structured and that we did not have a magnificent building decorated with icons and gilded worship objects, some could not accept that our Bibles do not bear a Russian orthodox cross (with a additional line below pointing to to hell or the paradise) etc.

Best wishes,
In Christ,

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The List

For some twenty years I have been hearing about "the list." This is a list of instructions that "ChurchofChristers" made up to distinguish the saved from the lost. Progressives claim that this list is really a basis for self-righteousness and meritorious salvation.

Now, I suppose there are some misguided brethren who think they can save themselves by their own doing. On my part, I know that I need saving. I need the grace of God. Most members of the church understand that. But those who are always hollering about the list are not interested in being fair. They find the most hard-headed legalist among us and pretend we are all that way. They love to invent a stereotype and criticize their imagined persona.

I have to admit I have never seen this list. In my thinking it has all the credibility of "Quelle," the supposed document of the higher critics. They made up "Q," and some brothers have invented the "list." Both make good propaganda. It is easier to defeat an invented list than it is to deal with the commandments of the Scripture.

What we have read is the Scripture. Jesus intends to be obeyed when He speaks. The way to love Him is to obey Him--He said so. This is not auto-soterism (self-salavation); this is love. We are to observe and to teach others to observe everything He commanded. Some don't like us saying that, but we didn't. Jesus said that (Matt. 28:20).

When we say that, some respond with the accusation that we make every commandment have the same level of necessity, that we flatten out our understanding of Scripture. No, we realize some matters are weightier than others--Jesus said so. But Jesus also said those who would relax or annul or breaks one of the least of the commandments will be the least in the kingdom.

We have no desire to make lists, but we do not wish to ignore anything the Lord teaches. We have no preconceived notions that by keeping commandments alone we can save ourselves from the wrath to come. No, no. We need the blood, and we obey because we love.

I think it sad that some in order to excuse their self-made religion have to resort to imaginary lists and impugning motives. They must point the finger at others in order to take notice off of their own self-made righteousness.


I ask, "What commandment of God can a person refuse to obey or willingly disobey and still please God?"

Monday, December 03, 2007

Love and Rules

Love is what God's will is all about.

Matt. 7:12 "Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." Rom. 13:8-10 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

When I hear of someone bad-mouthing rules, I wonder what they are thinking. They certainly are thinking of commandments the way God does. Calvinism has made trashing any kind of "works" popular. "No flesh will be justified by the works of the law" (Gal. 2:16) does not mean that we are free to dismiss whatever commandments we don't like. Nor does it dismiss (as some desire) the need for the obedience of faith. We are saved by grace--yes--through faith--yes! Grace alone without faith does not save. Faith alone without grace does not save.

What kind of faith saves? It is not dead faith. It is not mere believing. It is an active, living, obedient faith. The apostle Paul spoke God's will by inspiration in Galatians 5:6 when he said: "in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith WORKING BY LOVE."

I hear people save we are saved by faith alone, but they take it back every time when you mention love. They take it back every time when you mention repentance. Grudgingly they take it back when you mention obedience. Well if faith also requires love, repentance, and obedience, then one is not really saved by faith alone.

God's commandments teach us how to love Him (Rom. 13:8-10). You can talk emotional love all you wish, but you have to know how to love. The commandments teach us how to love (Jn 14:15). It is not legalism or Pharisaical (as some charge) to speak about keeping commandments. One has not forgotten grace simply because he speaks of obedience. After all, we can never do enough to earn forgiveness or heaven. I do not believe in legalism; I believe in loving God enough to take His word seriously and be obedient. This is what I call loving lawfulness--it is thoroughly Biblical and right.

We are not speaking of meritorious works; we talking obediently complying with the Lord's conditions. These are His conditions; we didn't dream them up. Jesus made it clear that keeping His commandments is how we abide in His love (John 14:21, 23; 15:10).

Some speak of rules as if they were hateful things. They are, however, God's rules. The Lord Jesus rules our lives by rules. We acknowledge His Lordship of our lives and show we love Him by listening to His rules.

God gave us rules for our best interests, because He loves us. They were rules that show love, not enslavement. People who reject the rules of God are also rejecting His means to protect us and to make our lives better.

Instead of rebellion against God's love by rejecting His rule in our lives, we should embrace Him and His words (Isa. 1:18-20).

let the love of God rule in your life.


Friday, November 30, 2007

Trembles at my word

The Lord declared in Isaiah 66:2, "But this is the one to whom I will look:

he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word."

This last chapter of Isaiah was likely written shortly before his death. According to Jewish tradition, Manasseh sawed Isaiah in two. It is thought that Hebrews 11:37 is a reference to Isaiah.

When the prophets came to Manasseh, he paid no attention (2 Chron. 33:10). Manasseh was a wicked king. He worshiped Baal, erected an Asherah on the temple mount, worshiped the astral gods, and made his son to pass through the fire in worship to the god Molech. Manasseh shed "very much innocent blood until he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another" (2 Kings 21:16). He erected altars in the two courts of the temple. It was Manasseh's wickedness that God remembered when Jerusalem was destroyed (2 Kings 21:13). Manasseh was a wicked, wicked king who had no regard for God or his word... until...

God had enough. The Lord sent the king of Assyria against Judah. They captured Manasseh with hooks (thongs put through the nose), bound him and took him with bronze chains to Babylon (2 Chron. 33:11).

And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. 13He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God. (33:12-13).

In response to God's blessing, Manasseh rebuilt the outer wall of Jerusalem, removed the idol and the foreign gods from the house of the Lord, as well as the altars. He threw them out of the city. (33:14-15). He restored the altar of the Lord and sacrificed peace and thank offerings. He ordered Judah to serve the Lord God of Israel. The people still sacrificed in the high places, but only to the Lord (33:16-17).

Unfortunately, many of the reforms of Manasseh were too late. His son Amon in his short, two-year reign brought back to Israel all that Manasseh got threw out. But we must admire Manasseh for humbling himself--even if for a short time.

Some lessons:

God forgives the penitent, even when one has been a terrible sinner. (Psalm 51:17) A humble and contrite heart is precious in God's eyes.

When one fails to hear God, he is following the path of destruction (Matt. 7:24-27). Bible authority is not something to be ignored or dismissed, as many progressives do. God means what He says. We ought to "tremble" at His word, taking it seriously enough that we do not get involved in idolatry or self-made religion (which is itself a kind of idolatry, since all idols are made). Manasseh carved out his altars and brought in his gods. We should not bring in the human-made machines for worship. God did not ask for them or teach us to use them. People thought that up on their own.

When we learn something is in error, we should throw it out.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Change your perspective

Finally, brothers,

whatever is true,

whatever is honorable,

whatever is just,

whatever is pure,

whatever is lovely,

whatever is commendable,

if there is any excellence,

if there is anything worthy of praise,

think about these things.

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:8-9)

people are about as happy as they choose to be

people are about as content as they choose to be

people are about as optimistic as they choose to be

My friend Charles Williams wrote in his bulletin today:

Historians say the first “Thanksgiving” was when the Pilgrims gave a great feast and invited the local native Indians to participate in a peaceful feast and the offering of thanks to God. Whenever the early Pilgrims worshiped, they did so in the face of constant danger, but on that day, they celebrated the blessings of peace and plenty.

In their services, they prayed for their safety and that the dangers would one day be removed. Their primary purpose was to thank Him for the blessings they had already received. They had traveled thousands of miles; endured untold hardships for the right to worship Him in freedom. The religious persecution in Europe taught them just how precious that freedom was.

We live in a great country. She is not perfect, but she is a beacon to the world for freedom of speech and religion, blessings we too often take for granted. As we celebrate Thanksgiving as a part of this great country’s customs, let us not forget the fact that our freedom to worship safely is one of the greatest gifts we enjoy.

Perhaps today is a good day to change our perspectives, to make a friend, to say "thank you" not only to God but to those who bless our lives daily, to forgive, to make peace, and to think the best about others.

Let us be done with lipservice, low goals, sight-walking, and appearance judging. Let us grow in grace and knowledge. Let us take God serioiusly.


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Name Calling

When there is a discussion, and one of the conversationalists cannot advance his position, he may be tempted to advance an ad hominem argument. An ad hominem argument is a logical fallacy and moves from the issue to an appeal "against the man."

Such arguments stereotype the opponent, so that the audience or readers are biased against him for being such a person. In the church we tend to label and mark too quickly. It is easier to make a charge than it is to convince others the charge is not true.

Several years ago my brother-in-law, Dale Hartman, left the church in Senatobia, MS, to enter the mission field in Australia. Dale is from western Oklahoma and grew up on a farm/ranch. Rodeo is a big deal in Oklahoma, and some rodeo wannabes are often called "goat ropers." Since I was coming to Senatobia as he was leaving, he told everyone I was a "goat roper."

Dale's description of a goat roper was rather detailed. He wore Levi's and had the circle of a Skoal can in one of his back pockets. Of course, he also dipped. He wore a western hat, belt, and boots. He practiced his calf-roping on goats and often road home-made or mechanical bulls. A goat roper was indeed a wannabe that never did. Oh, he said, and there is one last thing:

"A goat roper will deny it to the end!"

Now, I was caught between a rock and a hard place. No matter how often I told the guys at Senatobia that I grew up in town, didn't care about rodeos, and wasn't a goat-roper, the more they were sure of it. One dear friend even left a couple of cans of Skoal on the pulpit one Sunday morning after our twins were born. (I attended my dear friend's funeral a couple of years ago, and his boys gave me an empty can of Skoal.) This half-truth stuck on me for years.

When I began this blog, I began it due to criticisms leveled at me from both the far left and the far right. (Go to the early posts.) I have been slapped on both cheeks from the ultras at both ends of the theological spectrum in churches of Christ. I even found my name on a website featuring its title in red, burning letters....suggesting my eternal end.

Some folks think I'm conservative; others call me liberal. I guess it depends on what issue you are dealing with. I am often called a Pharisee, a traditionalist, and a legalist. I always liked what J.D. Bales said, "I'd rather be a legalist than an illegalist!"

I really don't care to be labeled except for this: I am a Christian. Jesus is the Lord of my life, and I don't care who knows it. I belong to Him.

Name calling is rude, pejorative, and often unfair. Few gossips who call names are honest enough to apologize or take it back, when they are found to be in error. I was once the featured victim of an acid pen calling me a deceiver and compromiser. The fellow who wrote the drivel had failed to do his homework, but he never apologized. Instead he got another guy to join in the slander.

Before you call a name, consider whether that is the best approach. You may lose any opportunity to dialog with that person later on. You may unfairly label someone you don't understand.

There is a time to mark and avoid (Rom. 16:17-18), but such an action on unfounded evidence is cruel and dishonest.

Our law does not judge a man until it hears him.

my thoughts,

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Dave Miller's book

Dave Miller's book, Richland Hills and Instrumental Music: A Plea to Reconsider, deserves a fair hearing by anyone who would like to think through this issue.

Dave is a good friend, a careful student, and well-qualified to deal with this discussion. Thanks to Paul Sain and the brethren at Pulaski, thousands of copies have been distributed quite widely. They need to be.

Miller's handling of the disciples teaching in the Temple is worth the price of the book.

We are to buy the truth, and truth is not always cheap. It is easy for people to accommodate the popular in our culture and not ask the harder question: what does God will? You see, it costs to do what is right rather than what is popular.

Go to to find out more about Dave. Books will available quite widely.

With thanks to Dave Miller,

Saturday, October 20, 2007

When People Say No to Christianity

For some years I have spent considerable time looking at the culture and society around us. Occasionally I find a book of rare value to this study. The one I am suggesting to you today is just such a book. David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, in association with George Barna, have given us an eye-opening volume, worthy of reading more than once. The book is titled "UnChristian." That is what outsiders think of Christianity.

They perceive that Christians are hypocritical, too consumed with converting, too judgmental, sheltered, and anti-homosexual. Their perception comes from the baggage they carry after they had attended church for a while. They are skeptical and bored with Christianity. They believe that the Christianity they have seen is both shallow and unbelievable.

They regard Christianity as too much of an enterprise. Too many "feel good" things to make a lasting change in one's mindset and life. They have little regard for Christ when they make life-decisions, even though they believe religion (Christianity being just like all religions) has good teaching and values. There is much to learn from their perceptions, if we are intending to help them find a meaningful relationship with the Lord Jesus.

Any Boomer evangelist struggles with how to reach a postmodern generation (ages 16-29) that has a mindset far different from the one we learned. God no longer has a serious voice today, since many people are listening to their inner feelings as to what "feels right" to them.

One of the reasons logic doesn't work well today is that young adults are mosaic in their thinking rather than linear. The live in a contradictory world with multiple voices and feel the need to give attention to a bigger picture than mere Christianity.

The parable of the soils (Luke 8) has never been more true than it is today. For many the seed is already stolen. Others pass through Christianity till it demand something from them. Still others are too busy with life to give their faith the attention it deserves. They don't produce much.

I have taught the course in Church Growth at NSOP and will always be interested in the literature in this field. This book should be required reading.

Now, for the folks who have all the answers, help us all to discover how to approach the outsiders aged 16-29! If you have positive suggestions, please share them. If you are only wanting to slap the church, then re-write your post. I do not mind honest criticism, but I have little patience in people who only want to slap. The question is how to do we make things better. I have not seen any evidence at this point that imitating the enterprise denominations or community churches is working. Many of the back door outsiders went to churches like that.

let's think together,


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Does Jesus Care about Doctrine?

Recently, a post on another blog read:
I don’t fully comprehend your emphasis on doctrine. Jesus never placed doctrine at the center of his good news. If anything he marginalized notions of doctrine (e.g., the sabbath is made for man). Thus, IMHO, I think any talk about doctrine (as typically conceived in our fellowship) as a central concern is a grave error. Wrong right out of the gate. If Jesus is our hermeneutic then doctrinal conversation should always be a marginal conversation. The early church was called The Way. Not a way of believing but a way of living. To miss that point is to, well, miss the entire thrust of Jesus’s life. Again, in my opinion.

This is such a good example of postmodern thinking. It makes Jesus into our own image rather than listening to what Jesus said. Consider how important Jesus considered his sayings, teachings, or doctrine:

Matthew 7:21-23 Hearing but not doing my words is like building on sand. The one who enters the kingdom of heaven is the one who does the will of God.

Matthew 10:14 “Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet."

Matthew 15:1-14 The teachings of men render worship vain. Every plant (human tradition) not planted by my Father will be rooted up.

Mark 8:36-38 “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? 37“For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 38“For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

Mark 13:31 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away."

John 8:31-32 “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

John 12:48-50
“He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day. 49“For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. 50“I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.”

John 17:17ff.

“Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18“As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19“For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

20“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.

John 18:37 Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

This is a simple and hardly exhaustive sample of the high place Jesus placed upon his words or his teaching. Jesus placed His words in a critical role. We are commissioned to preach and teach the gospel (a message). Whether people believe that message will determine their relationship with the Lord and affect their eternity.

It is "sand theology" to treat the teaching of the Lord as if it doesn't matter.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A common sentiment, but....

A fellow blogger says:

"My dear friends, if the use of instrumental music will send a Christ-follower to hell, then we're all going to hell. Over something. We're all wrong about something!!"

Through the years, I've noticed that when someone disagrees, one trick they use to try to make the opposition look bad is a statement about "going to hell." Judgment does not belong to us; it belongs to God. We are not in the place of God (Gen. 50:19), even when we deal with the guilty.

It is a smoke screen to pull out the "going-to-hell" complaint. One could just as easily apply this common complaint to any number of subjects. I remember hearing the same complaint from any number of people who objected to the Biblical teaching on the church, baptism, or various moral questions. Such statements are designed to make the person who is saying something is sinful to appear judgmental and thereby hypocritical.

Another complaint I've heard is the "Jesus didn't die over....." whine. Any time I hear that one, I know the person is stinging over the matter and has no other answer.

A more realistic understanding of the instrumental music issue or any issue is this: does such a belief, behavior, or practice violate an instruction of God? We must determine first whether something is a sin. If indeed the matter violates the instructions of God and is thereby sinful, then it can potentially be a salvation issue. Any sin can be a salvation issue.

That we are all imperfect, having imperfect knowledge and living imperfect lives, is not under question. What is under question is if ignorance is a license to self-made religion. Are we to assume that we can (because the water is presumably muddy) act on our own initiative? Do we really think that ignorance grants us the right to presume upon the grace of God?

Now I can perceive a novice or babe in Christ being judged less strictly. The disobedient who did not know the master's will will be beaten with few stripes rather than many. What of the church leaders who, departing from a unified view, presume to embrace out of a supposed uncertainty the right to self-made religion? Will not teachers incur a stricter judgment (James 3:1)? Will not leaders who grant permission to go beyond the instructions of Scripture be held accountable? Can people plead endlessly they lack certainty (all the while acting without evidence from the New Testament)? Do people never have to repent of self-made religion? Can they knowingly continue to practice their presumptuous ways?

Paul said, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15).

One must wonder if God's will is so hard to understand that a passage like Ephesians 5:15-17 is itself impractical and impossible. Do we believe we can obey it? "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is." You'd think to hear some talk that we can't understand anything. To hear some talk, there is no such thing as damnable heresy. To hear some talk, we should never admonish the factious (a divisive heretic) man. To hear some talk, self-made religion is as salvific as the revealed will of God.

In the end, the "going-to-hell" argument is designed to hush up the Truth, to bully away anyone who reminds us of right and wrong. When people can't find evidence to support an unauthorized practice, they resort to complaint and fault-finding. The point of the complaint at the top of this post is to make it appear that anyone who thinks instrumental music is wrong is arrogant and judgmental. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It is said, "we are all wrong about something." There is a difference between being mistaken through human weakness and in willfully driving a wedge in the body of Christ by pushing a divisive practice and making fun of anyone who disagrees.

Well, Phil, do you think you know everything or that you are always right? Of course not, I am a fallible sinner saved by the grace of God, dependent upon His mercy for salvation. I understand what it means to be saved, since I cannot save myself. But in all my weakness, I do not suppose that I can presume upon the grace and never need repentance.

The blood of Jesus can certainly cleanse those who walk in the light. Walking in the light is not sinlessness, because no one is capable of sinless perfection. But people can fool themselves, thinking they are in the light, when they are not (1 John 1:6). Sand theology does not yield the same results as rock theology (Matt. 7:21-27). Sand theology is when people build where they want rather than heed the words of Jesus. Self-made religion and innovations are sand theology. Those who plant their own plants will find themselves uprooted (Matt. 15:14). That's what Jesus says about it. That is how He feels about such things. I take that view because He has expressed His will in the matter.

think, think


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Myopic Judgmentalism

We live in a strange age that hates any kind of negativism or judgmentalism. That's the real taboo of our day--saying anything negative about anyone. If anyone says something is wrong or sinful, he opens himself up to all kinds of attacks, slander, and abuse. And there are plenty of judgmental people ready to pounce on the person who dares to be judgmental. It escapes their notice that they are doing the very thing they condemn (Rom. 2:1-3). Their thought is: "it's all right for me to condemn you for condemning someone or something, but don't you condemn anything or anyone." These folks become judges of judging-- or what they perceive to be judging.

You see their definition and perception of a judge is often out of line with God's will. To listen to them speak of the grace of God, there is no such thing as sin or heresy. Now should anyone bring up the fact that God says something is wrong, and POW! this person (in their mind) is "judgmental" and deserves to be attacked, abused, and slandered.

But what if he out of love toward God and neighbor is right and obligated to warn another that such an act or belief displeases God and is sinful. Is it judging to warn? Does the Christian have no obligation to warn of the consequences of sin? (Rom. 1:14-16; Ezek. 3:18ff.)

Why then, do people today punish the person for doing the will of God? The myopia (short-sightedness) of our culture is its bullying against Christian morals. It does not realize how morality is needed today. To bully people who mention something is sin is to take up the cause of sin against God.

You can't mess with God like that. When you tell Him to shut up and bully those who speak for Him, you end up having to face Him. He will step into the picture. You don't want that. God is loving, but He won't take being ignored or dismissed for long. Failing to listen to God is neither full of love or grace. When people dump God's teaching for their own desires, they are dumping the only hope they have. They are insuring their lives will be more and more filled with fear and misery. Amorality is no blessing.

Myopic judging is when people give themselves the freedom to beat up on anyone who warns people to follow God's will and leave sinful practices. They do not see their own sin.

Think, think, think

Friday, October 05, 2007

Seeking true unity--assessment of a review

Bobby Valentine recently reviewed my chapter in Seeking True Unity. Here is my response to his review:

I appreciate Bobby. He cares about the Lord and His church. I told Bobby in the beginning I felt that he was not an unbiased jury member but rather a witness or advocate for the defense. Reading his response to my chapter confirms that.

Some important points:

  1. Being a member of the church and being in fellowship with God are two different things. One may by error lose fellowship with the Lord and His church and one’s salvation.
  2. One who willfully and persistently adds to the teaching of God and leads other men to do so has sinned against God and cannot remain in the fellowship of faithful Christians.
  3. When McGarvey left the Broadway congregation in Lexington, he did not leave because he no longer considered them brethren. He left because they introduced an error, which he could not participate in or approve or fellowship. When H. Leo Boles spoke in Indianapolis in 1939, he did not speak from hate or treat those in the Christian Church as anything but brethren. He used the words “brother” and “brethren” throughout the speech. Like McGarvey, he could not fellowship “brethren,” because they had left the truth and needed to come back to the truth.
  4. When people leave the Word to practice unauthorized forms of worship, they separate themselves from the will of God. They may think they are disciples, but they are not truly disciples (John 8:31). When people go beyond the teaching of Christ, whether on the subject of Christ’s nature, or a host of other essential topics, they lose their relationship with God (2 John 9-11) and are not to be welcomed or supported.
  5. When men venture into the practice and teaching of error, they leave God. They divide themselves from God. They cannot have unity with God unless and until they repent and leave their error. The Restoration leaders pledged to leave the errors of men and to return to the truth. In Revelation 2:18-25, Jesus distinguished between those who held to the teaching of Jezebel and those who did not. He rebuked them for tolerating that woman and her teaching. The church at Pergamum also held false teachings and practices. Jesus threatened them and called them to return to Him. Repentance is returning to the Lord by ridding ourselves of error and practicing the truth.
  6. The unity God desires from His people is not a loose confederation of people who ignore their errors. The unity of the body of Christ is to follow after the model of the unity between the Father and the Son. Can you imagine the Son following after his own initiative? Can you imagine the Son not following the instructions of His Father? Jesus’ very identity as the Son arose out of His dogged and exact devotion to the will of His Father (John 8:28-32; 12:48-50; 14:31). In like manner, our identity with Christ arises from our remaining, continuing, and dwelling within the words Jesus spoke. When people cease to hear God’s will, they cease to have an approved relationship with the Lord (James 5:19-20).
  7. Faithful Christians must shun those who teach false doctrine and adopt humanly-devised practices that split the church (Rom. 16:17-18; Tit. 3:9-11).
  8. Just because people claim to be Christians does not mean they have a positive relationship with Christ (Matt. 7:21-27). Men do not get into heaven by inventing their own means and doing things their own way—that is “Sand Theology.” Campbell and others required immersion because sprinkling is not baptism. They required faith before baptism, because the Bible does. Unlike Woodmont and Oak Hills, which grants brotherhood and gives fellowship to sprinkled infants, the Bible only recognizes one baptism—that of a penitent believer who understands what and why he is being baptized. One may believe he is right with God and even argue with Christ at judgment, but that does not make him right.
  9. Unity is possible only when people serve and obey the same Lord. If they hear voices in addition, they will be hybrid Christians not true disciples. If they practice what the world clamors for, they will be children of their age not true Christians.
  10. In John 17, Jesus prayed for His people to be sanctified in the truth (God’s word which He gave them) before He prays for them to be one. Jesus’ prayer for unity was not a prayer for the unifying of truth with culture but for keeping the disciples already taught and sanctified in the truth unified. The idea that we are supposed to drop truth and righteousness to accommodate error was never in the intent of this prayer.
  11. I do not plead for narrowness on our part as if we good make one hair white or black. I plead for devotion to the narrow way of Jesus. I have no misgivings about my own emptiness. I realize that only Jesus has the way, the truth, or the life. When I hear people (who ought to know better) recommend that we loosen up to the false practices and beliefs of those who teach another gospel, another body, and another baptism, I do not see that as restoration. I see that as compromise and rebellion. One wonders if Bobby read the Kelcy quote on page 18. I have only one Lord. I was not baptized in the name of Campbell, and Lipscomb was not crucified for me.
  12. As to inferences, Campbell must have inferred Proposition 6 of his Declaration and Address. Campbell infers and binds that you must not infer and bind. What right has he or any other man to say that some which is God’s truth is not to be bound on anyone? Now Bobby here calls me sectarian for my thinking about thinking. It is quite postmodern to put down thinking, unless you are the supporting a postmodern agenda. (“thinking correctness”) If you agree with him (that Campbell is right to infer and bind that you should not infer and bind), it’s all right to think; but the person who reasons from the evidence of Scripture by inferring what the Scriptures imply is sectarian and narrow.
  13. My assignment was not to prove instrumental music was wrong. My assignment was to discuss the restoration plea: the need to come out of error and to return to God’s word for our beliefs and practices.
  14. My reference to 1 Timothy 4, 2 Timothy 4, and 2 Peter 2 (et. al.) on page 18 had to do with the early church and its fall into error. Restoration has to do with that which has been corrupted. To suggest a different context shows weakness in your skills, Bobby.
  15. Did Paul fellowship those in error? Yes, for a time. He taught and admonished them, expecting them to repent. In the cases where false teachers did not repent or were harming the church, Paul disfellowshiped them (Rom. 16:17; Titus 3:10-11). Do you not recall Hymenaeus and Alexander and Philetus (1 Tim. 1:19-20; 2 Tim. 2:17-18)? Jesus did not put up with Jezebel or the Nicolaitans; and he rebuked the churches for doing so.
  16. I realize the immaturities and weaknesses at Corinth, but do you recall 2 Corinthians 13:1-4? Paul expects to spare no one who sins (neither the immoral nor the rest). Yes, God can forgive a weakness; but to suggest something other than “go and sin no more” is presuming upon the grace of God. Paul could overlook their error due to their immaturity, but he does not tolerate continued error or disobedience. There is an end to patience with error in Paul, and just because he is patient early on does not mean he will remain so.
  17. Bobby, I think makes more of the dish illustration than is warranted. I was illustrating a meaning of the word “restoration” in the physical sense.
  18. I highly resent the suggestion that I have bound my “opinions” as a test of fellowship. The fact the early church sang is clear in Scripture. The fact that we are to remain in the words of Jesus and not add or subtract to them is also clear in Scripture; both facts are evident. Atchley must make the water muddy to give his opinion guess (we can use IM) credibility. He believes in his guess so strongly that he is willing to split the church further to practice it. We were unified before he pushed his guess (an opinion is a guess in the absence of evidence) to the making of conflict. Now, who is binding opinion—the fellow who guesses or the fellow who sees evidence?
  19. Did Paul use his worship as a Jew in the Temple as a basis for bringing the instrument into the church? Did Paul worship in the church with an instrument? Paul understood the difference in covenants, that what was appropriate in one was not appropriate in the other. Did Paul offer animal sacrifices at church? Ridiculous.

Phil Sanders

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Problem of Patternism

For some patternism is a problem. We must wonder why...

The earth travels around the sun in a pattern. The moon travels around the earth in a pattern. Day and night, the seasons, seedtime and harvest, and the seven days of a week all happen in a pattern.

Every one of the trillions of cells in my body has a specific DNA pattern. My teeth, fingerprints, retina, bones, and muscles follow patterns. I remain amazed at my fearfully and wonderfully made body with its respiratory, circulatory, nervous, reproductive, and digestive systems. I thank God for my skin with its nerves that measure heat and pressure. I thank God for my balanced eyes and ears and nostrils. My brain (and yours) is the single most complex structure in the world with connectors between its billions of cells. Amazing.

In my yard I have oak, elm, maple, apple, and redwood trees. Did you know that every leaf on each of the trees has an identical vein pattern with every other leaf?

God's creation is full or order, design, and pattern. Everything God ever made, He made with intention. Everything is by His design and functions according to His will and glory. It is incredulous to me that some are suggesting there is a pattern in everything God ever made except God's family, God's kingdom, God's vineyard, Christ's body, the church.

Rigid patternism is to some heresy, legalism to the extreme. They prefer to speak of the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, as a nebulous, undefined organism made without order and capable of re-design in the re-maker's image. In their thinking it is a piece of clay that never quite takes form.

While the New Testament never debates baptism, the progressive non-patternists believe that any mode of baptism can be straightened out by a little prayer. While the disciples of the New Testament only baptized those old enough to believe, progressive non-patternists see little reason to disturb the peace of those baptized as infants. While the New Testament speaks of unleavened bread and fruit of the vine in remembrance of Jesus, progressive non-patternists feel no need to limit this memorial meal to bread and wine. While women in the New Testament did not assume preaching or leadership roles, progressive non-patternists see little need to remain within that culture. (Perhaps Eve came first?)

You see, rigid patternism means that we may have to confront our religious friends who didn't follow that pattern and ask them to correct an error. For the progressive non-patternist, it is much easier to ignore the Scripture and assure the person in error of God's grace anyway. After all, getting along and not offending is more important than anything--God won't mind... Or will He?

Are we not supposed to remain in the Lord's Word to be true disciples? (John 8:31-32)
Are we not supposed to handle God's Word accurately? (2 Tim. 2:15)
Is there not one faith handed down for all time? (Jude 3)
Is there not one body, one gospel, one baptism, and one faith? (Eph. 4:4-6; Gal. 1:6-9)

Am I not supposed to love the Lord enough to keep His commandments? Am I not supposed to avoid conforming with the world? If there are no patterns, how can I know anything?

Non-patternism is fuzzy thinking, muddy water, and self-contradictory. It doesn't represent the truth, because it is too busy chasing the changing cultural with all its relative truths.

Isn't the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus a pattern? (Rom. 6:3-7, 16-18)

think, think


Friday, September 28, 2007

To Whom Are You Listening?

We are all listening to something, and it is worth our time to think about what we are hearing. If we desire to please God, we must think about what we are feeding our souls. To what are you listening?

If you are listening to (or watching) less than wholesome media, don't be surprised when you think or say less than wholesome things (1 Cor. 15:33). If you spend your time with angry people, you will learn their ways (Prov. 22:24-25). If you flirt with gossip, you will damage yourself and others. To what and to whom are you listening?

If you persistently read the works of people who believe false teaching, it is more likely that you will find sympathy with what you read. You may even lose sight or fall victim to Satan's persuasive ideas. He may even steal the Word of God from you (Luke 8:11ff.)

Christian unity arises from listening to the Lord Jesus and serving Him alone. It doesn't come from blending the world in with one's Christianity. It doesn't come from being distracted by the world's thinking and values. It doesn't come from the world's techniques. The world will always try to convince us that it has a better way than the Lord. To whom are we listening?

Paul said,
"but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. 3And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. 6For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Cor. 4:2-6)

The devil would love nothing more than to adulterate the word of God with his own thinking, so that he might blind people to the truth.

The real cause of disunity among those who name the Name is the devil. He leads people to listen to a gospel blended with culture and popular thinking. Then when those who love truth call attention to the error, he vilifies them for it. He is a maligner of the Truth and those who believe it. Make no mistake.

If we listen to his lies and to his maligning of the righteous, we will not see things in the true light. We must continue to listen to the Lord, in whom is only Light and goodness. We must bring every thought captive to Him.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

In the culture but not of the culture

I recall all the talk of Woodstock and my generation. I graduated from high school in 1969. I recall the first heart transplant was that year. I'll never forget seeing on television Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon: "One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind." I cannot take such memories from the vault of my mind. I understand that.

But I didn't go to Woodstock, didn't take drugs, never liked hard rock, and never grew long hair. I didn't oppose everything about the Vietnam war (since I had two brothers serving in the Navy). I didn't go to Canada to avoid the draft.

Many of the features people say dominated my generation really didn't affect everyone. Fulfilling the instruction of Paul in Romans 12:2 to be not conformed but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds is possible and obligatory. People can live above their culture. Christians have done it for centuries.

The men of the restoration movement broke from the denominational mindset to return to Scripture for their faith and practice. What they did arose out of their commitment to the Lord and the instruction of Scripture more than anything else. They had read passages such as Jeremiah 6:16; 2 Thess. 2:15; John 8:31-32; and 2 John 9-11. They knew they were not to add or take away from the teaching of Christ. That was not culture telling them that--it was the Word they read and studied. They did not conform to the sectarians of their day; they transformed by the renewing of their minds. And so should we.

Were they right about everything. Of course not. That is why we all have the responsibility of renewing our minds and transforming our lives into conformity with Christ. There is a Biblical norm (call it culture if you like) to which we can and must adhere.

I am not a Campbellite, Lipscombite, or McCordite. I was not baptized in the name of Cambell. Campbell was not crucified for me. Nor Lipscomb, nor McGarvey, nor Lewis, nor McCord, nor Kelcy--though I may listen to them all. I know Whom I have believed. Only He is Lord and Savior.

So while some would accuse us of capitulation to the culture of restoration, we continue quoting the Scriptures and pointing out the humanity of restoration leaders. Perhaps that is why I don't preach from the King James Version, the Living Oracles, or the ASV.

I might point out that those who holler the loudest about the error of drawing doctrines from inferences practice that very thing. Campbell included.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Jury member?

In 2006 Dale Jenkins, Jeff Jenkins, Steve Higginbotham, Mike Green, Mike Baker, Wayne Hatcher and I embarked on a project to produce a book entitled, Seeking True Unity. The book has done very well, and only a few copies remain for sale. Brethren have appreciated the book and have even invited some of us to speak on the topics of the book.

Recently a blogger friend has set about the task of reviewing the book. He is a brother and acquaintance of mine. He said some nice things about the book. Bobby Valentine and I have exchanged views several times and find ourselves only occasionally agreeing. Our book dealt with the issues surrounding the 1906 division between the Christian churches and churches of Christ.

Among Bobby's comments on the book, I found this one interesting and somewhat misleading:

Thus as I read and reflected on the prosecutions arguments, as a member of the jury, it occurred to me that what I was actually hearing was actually an apology for the status quo .For division. I kept hearing, through the testimony, why it is good for “us” to remain basically as “we” are. We are told that some “refreshing changes” are being made but we never find out what they are.

Knowing Bobby, I am not surprised at his assessment of making the division for the split our fault for maintaining the status quo. Bobby would like to cast himself in the role of a jury member. In point of fact, he is more like a witness for the defense.

I have little inclination to defend anything but what he calls the status quo. We are, after all, to hold to the apostolic traditions (2 Thess. 2:15). It was the introduction of an innovation, the unauthorized or strange worship (among other matters), that caused the estrangement. They left us. We did not leave them. We could not go with them into their error.

Truth unites, and that is the meaning of seeking true unity. Forming a union with error, compromise, and innovation is not the unity for which Jesus prayed. The path to unity is when all men set aside their own opinions and remain under the headship of the one and only Lord. To have unity we must all conform to His will, not suspend it so that we can permit innovation.

So Bobby, we look forward to your further installments. As for freshness, being committed under the leadership of Christ, rather than capitulating to culture, is the freshest thing I know.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

If we silence God

I'm quite concerned about the 2008 election. One radio commentator I hear often was complaining about not letting the extreme left or the conservative Christians make the policy of our government any longer. The people should make the policy.

While I quite grant that I hope the extreme liberal left (with its policies of political correctness and socialism) will have no voice in our government, I believe it is utter foolishness to push God out of the thinking of our country. The particular commentator, whom I respect, said that the founding fathers never envisioned conservative Christians making policy in this country.

I was astounded at his reasoning. He apparently did not know the staunch views of our founding fathers. They believed that the freedom we enjoy came from those same conservative views. Many of the views people today regard as "right wing radical" were the norm of other generations. We have become in many respects what would have been unthinkable to them.

President Thomas Jefferson who wrote the Declaration of Independence and is credited with suggesting a separation of church and state, offered this National Prayer of Peace on March 4, 1805, the day of his second inauguration:

"Almighty God, Who has given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honorable ministry, sound learning, and pure manners."

While Jefferson detested those who abused and corrupted Christianity, he believed very strongly that the way of Jesus ought to be followed.

President George Washington addressed the General Committee representing the United Baptist Churches of Virginia on May 10, 1789. He said:

"If I could have entertained the slightest apprehension that the Constitution framed by the Convention, where I had the honor to preside, might possibly endanger the religious rights of any ecclesiastical Society, certainly I would never have placed my signature to it;
...I beg you will be persuaded that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against...every species of religious persecution."

In his National Day of Thanksgiving Proclamation in New York City, October 3, 1789, Washington said:

"Whereas it is the duty of all nations too acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor..."

Among other things in this proclamation, Washington urged that "we may then unite... to promote the knowledge and practice of the true religion and virtue...."

On March 11, 1792, Washington wrote in a letter to John Armstrong:

"I am sure that never was a people, who had more reason to acknowledge a Divine interposition in their affairs, than those of the United States; and I should be pained to believe that they have forgotten that agency, which was so often manifested during our Revolution, or that they failed to consider the omnipotence of that God who is alone able to protect them."

In his Farewell Address, Washington said:

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens....
"Let is simply be asked where is is the security for prosperity, for reputation, for life, if the sense of the religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in the Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded t the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. 'Tis substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government."

That our country's founding fathers saw little link between faith and government is a modern and postmodern notion. The fathers themselves would have been utterly shocked at such an absurdity.


Friday, September 21, 2007

I am a citizen of heaven

With all the political talk in the wake of next year's presidential race, it is easy to lose sight of our real loyalty. I am an American, true. My family has been in this country since well before the revolution. My forefather on my dad's side, Nahum Sanders, signed a pledge in 1778 to fight King George for North Carolina. My forefather on my mother's side, Patrick Henry, was at one time general of the army of Virginia in opposition to the crown and led a very successful raid on a British armory. As governor of Virginia and a friend to George Washington, Patrick sent once and again to the soldiers who wintered at Valley Forge. In fact, among his other statements, Patrick Henry is credited with the first public declaration, "I am an American." I am proud of my country.

When I was a boy, I asked my father about our nationality. Some of our ancestors came from Ireland, England, France, and Holland. Dad said, "Son, you're an American; and that's all you really need to know."

But as proud as I am of my country and its Christian roots, I am a citizen of heaven. Paul said in Philippians 3:20-21, "But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself." Citizenship in heaven is by far the most valuable possession I have. Nothing else compares.

In my lifetime, I've lived in twelve houses that I can remember. I bought my first house in Franklin some twelve years ago. Though it is a nice house, it is temporary. The place Christ has reserved for me (John 14:1-3; 1 Pet. 1:3-5), however, is eternal. Once granted, it is mine forever. Jesus is preparing it, and God is furnishing it. It will be more glorious and more lavish than anything I can imagine.

I have always treasured the promise of Ephesians 2:6-7. God "raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." My Father in heaven wants to lavish his love and grace on me in eternity. I can hardly imagine what all He has in store to bless me.

If heaven is my home, I need to think more about it (Col. 3:1-4). I need to let the values and the ways of God be far more influential on my thinking. If I am citizen of heaven, I need to live like one. If I am a person in God's household, I need to live like one of His family. I need to put away the offensive and live with love. My life ought to glorify God, not seek self-glorification or self-gratification.

There is no greater privilege than to have the right to be a citizen of heaven. I must not forget that.


A couple of projects

In coming days I will complete the second of two projects I've planned for this fall. About two weeks ago, I taped a 65-minute CD presentation for Focus Press on Marriage. The publisher is working on the cover and the reproduction now. It is composed of six 10-12 minute messages to help married folks live more happily.

I am now teaching and working on a CD dealing with parenting. We should tape it later in the fall. Focus Press will also make these available. I don't know everything about marriage or about parenting, but there will be lots of information on these CDs to make them worth your while. To get the best out of them, you may want to listen to them more than once.


Friday, September 14, 2007

The Enemy

Before Andrew Jackson became the seventh president of the United States,
he served as a major general in the Tennessee militia. During the War of 1812
his troops reached an all-time low in morale. As a result they began arguing, bickering, and fighting among themselves. It is reported that Old Hickory called them all together on one occasion when tensions were at their worst and said, "Gentlemen! Let's remember, the enemy is over there." *

We have people in the church to the extreme left and right who have no clue who their enemy is. One periodical I received seems to think that the enemy is sound and balanced brethren. They figure that since the balanced brethren are not as extreme as they are, they must be compromisers and the "enemy." With their pens they bite and slander and condemn. They demand everyone toe their line. Diotrephes lives again. Their hateful approach feeds the fire of those on the other extreme who are always slapping the church.

On the other side are arrogant bloggers who can find nothing right with the church. They constantly harp on all the negatives, charging that the church is tied up in traditions. They can't see why we don't use instruments. They seem to want the church to become a bad imitation of the evangelicals. They alone understand grace and can't see why anyone would insist on baptism for salvation. Anomia lives.

In their thinking mainstream churches of Christ are the enemy. One might suggest they take a long look at themselves (Matt. 7:1-5). It is the extreme approach that is causing so much conflict and controversy.

The real enemy is the devil, who preaches false doctrines and splits churches. He does it through self-willed people who have to be first and through sin-ridden libertines who want to cast off the rule of the Lord. Yes, there is conflict; but the source of that conflict starts inside of arrogant men and outside the New Testament.

There is the opportunity for Satan to get into anyone of us. To warp our thinking with selfishness, pride, or sin. It is easy to begin finding justification for our desires rather than submitting to the Lord. It is easy to puff up and compare ourselves with others. When you start doing that, Satan is at work.

We must not forget who the enemy is that we are fighting. It is the world. We must learn to set aside our personal, petty issues of pride and get back to the work at hand--winning the lost!


My personal thanks goes to David Sargent for the above illustration. He puts out an excellent weekly e-newsletter, Living Water. I read it with eagerness. You can subscribe to this newsletter at

Archived issues of "Living Water" can be viewed and accessed from our website at:

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A rainbow

This morning as I drove into work I saw a beautiful rainbow. There wasn't any rain, and the clouds were thin. Remarkably, the sun was to the right and the rainbow to the left. I was facing east. Usually when you are looking at a rainbow, the sun is at your back; but not this time. The rainbow was not very large, but its colors were vibrant.

The rainbow reminds us that God will never again destroy the world with water. That is God's covenant with mankind. Rainbows stand for promise and hope.

God placed his bow in the sky after He saved mankind from the evil of itself. It must have broken God's heart to see that the thoughts of all men were only evil continually. The devil never missed a trick, and he still isn't missing any. Anything and everything he can do to cause men to forsake God and righteousness, he will try. Too often he succeeds.

Last night as Jackie and I drove to church, we passed by Centennial High School. The soccer field up on the hill was filled with players and spectators. Have they not forgotten that God's people worship on Wednesday evening? The devil doesn't miss a trick. The world is an evil place.

Evil is turning this world upside down. Postmodern thinking along with Schuller's New Reformation have declared sin an outdated word in our society. Schuller believes the worst thing you can do in evangelism is to call attention to sin or to people being sinners. He thinks the only sin is when an individual thinks low of himself. Obviously we have no desire to offend people; but no one helps

Schuller's way makes man into his own god. Our personal view of ourselves is important, but it is NOT the only sin. The God of Heaven is the One who defines what is sin. It is untrue that Jesus never recognized sin or that He refrained from calling a sinner a sinner. He said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan." He constantly called the Pharisees "hypocrites." The message of John the Baptist, Jesus, and the twelve was "repent." Repent. Repent.

Noah preached repentance for one hundred years, but the people grew even more evil. God destroyed them for their evil hearts and lives. He wiped out the evil so that man could start fresh and clean from that evil environment.

There are times in our own lives when we must sweep out the ugly, so that the fresh and clean may live. Sweep out the immoral, the presumptuous, the false, and the hurtful. Let the good of God live on. Turn away from sin and turn to God.

God promised with the rainbow never to destroy the world with water. There is a destruction coming, but it will be fire (2 Peter 3) at the end of time. In the meanwhile, the blood of Jesus is at work, cleansing us from sin, and motivating us to live righteous lives.

The world is evil, but there is now hope in Christ. The love of God, the blood of Christ, and the truth of the Spirit all assure us that there is a better way than falling into destruction and ruin. We can live for God and love Him. We don't have to follow the easy path. We can make it into the ark of safety and live by following the Lord.

I was encouraged by the rainbow. It reminded me that God has a way of redemption for me.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

James Garfield and singing

Thanks to Frank Walton for sending me this post:

From the Diary of Gen. James Garfield

James Garfield, later President of the United States, preached among the Disciples of Christ/Christian Churches. Here are his thoughts on attending Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle in London, England to hear Charles Spurgeon preach:

“At half-past eleven Spurgeon came in, and at once offered a short, simple earnest prayer, and read and helped the whole congregation to sing Watts' stirring hymn: There is a land of pure delight.

For the first time in my life I felt some sympathy with the doctrine that would reject instrumental music from church worship. There must have been five thousand voices joining in the hymn. The whole building was filled and overflowed with the strong volume of song. The music made itself felt as a living, throbbing presence that entered your nerves, brain, heart, and filled and swept you away in its resistless current.”

Published in the 1883 volume of Century Magazine, and is quoted in "Charles H. Spurgeon: His Faith and Works," H.L. Wayland, Copyright 1892 by the American Baptist Publication Society.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Set them apart in the truth

"Set them apart in the truth. Your word is truth" (John 17:17).

Jesus prayed that too, and He prayed it before He prayed for unity. We can have unity because we believe the truth about the Person. We cease to have a relationship with the Person of Jesus if we are unwilling to listen to His truth, if we depart from the truth, if we do not love the truth, or if we compromise the truth.

Trust (or faith) is inseparably intertwined with the Truth. Jesus, after all, is the Truth. He came to bear witness to the truth; He sets us free with the Truth; and grace and truth come by Him.

We are to love the truth and to buy the truth, even when it costs us much and makes us ugly in the eyes of the world. We must love the truth more than we love the wisdom of the world. Those who sell the truth to gain the praise of the world have their reward already. They can expect none from God. They have chosen what is important to them.

The truth should not automatically be identified either with the traditions of men or the latest notion. Truth is not determined by opinion polls, majorities, counsels, or loyalties. Truth is determined by what God says. Truth is not determined by what crafty people can do to read into the Scriptures what they prefer, but truth is determined by what we can draw out from the Scriptures. Scholars may observe a truth, but they cannot manufacture it.

The postmodernists are wrong: truth is not manufactured at all. Truth is revealed by God. Men may manufacture their customs and mores; they may insist on their creeds and canons. They may enforce their fiats and faiths. But men do not manufacture spiritual truth; only God can do that. Men can merely observe it, and most men have a hard time doing that. Most would rather blend it with their own biases.

"Thy Word is truth." It has the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The Word alone is our standard and measure. All else leads us into confusion.

If I could stand upon the highest place and shout, I would call men back to the Truth of God's Word. I would call them away from the postmodern lie that every view is as good as another, that every church is as good as another, that every faith is like all the others, and that everyone's subjective truth is as good as everyone else's. Only God's truth matters for eternity. The rest is illusion.

For the love of God's truth,