A Pantomime Gospel

There is a quote that I have heard repeated by well meaning people over the course of the past few years that has always unsettled my heart.  Yet, it is said with passion, enthusiasm and the authority of the mystic St. Francis of Assisi…

“Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”

Now, it certainly has a spiritual ring to it, doesn’t it.  It stresses the importance of preaching the Gospel…and doing that at all times, even.  So, “what is so unsettling with the statement?”, you might be asking.  Well, it is how the statement ends.  Let me try to paint the picture for you by making some similar statements in other disciplines:

  • “Care for the hungry at all times; when necessary, use food.”
  • “Treat the sick at all times; when necessary, use medicine.”

Can you imagine those statements being the agenda for a rescue mission or a relief agency?  They would at least be ridiculed, and more likely their support would drop.  If you are going to help people with their needs, compassion and bedside manner are important, but ultimately they need food, they need medicine.

Now, I understand what people who say “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words” are trying to emphasize.  They want us to be careful to live lives that are consistent and a reflection of the glorious Gospel.  So, I champion that agenda.  In fact, you can make a very good case from Titus 2 that we should live our lives in such a way that we are “adorning the sound doctrine” we hold dear and therefore we are to “do good” or practice “good works” before men.  So, I am all for that.

So, here is the problem.  We cannot pantomime the gospel by simply living exemplary lives before people.  Certainly we are called to live our lives in such a way that they reflect the Gospel, but the very nature of the Gospel requires (makes it necessary) that we use words.  The Gospel isn’t a lifestyle of good works.  It is, however, a message of Good News, and that Good News can only be shared by opening our mouths and using words.

Opening the door for a lady at J.C. Penney’s may be an expression of kindness, and greatly appreciated, but it doesn’t let her know that God sits as the Sovereign Creator over His universe.  Cooking a meal for a neighbor who is suffering from cancer and now undergoing chemotherapy is a huge help and expression of love, but it doesn’t proclaim that Christ died on the cross as a willing substitute on their behalf.  Being a peacemaker in the workplace and appreciated by co-workers is admirable and a bridge for the Gospel, but it doesn’t proclaim that repentance and forgiveness of sin come as a result of God regenerating the heart.

Imagine an instructor of Life-Guards telling his students, “Make sure you rescue those who are drowning; and when necessary get them out of the water so that they can breathe.”  Both go hand in hand.  You cannot have one without the other.

The reality is that we have the answer to man’s problem in the Gospel and simply living our lives in front of people isn’t sufficient.  We have the spiritual food they need, the medicine that will heal their spiritual sickness.  God has called us to proclaim it, to share it, to speak it.

So, maybe we should change the quote to read:

“Preach the Gospel at all times; and be sure to use words.”

Paul gives us some food for thought on this too…

[14] How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? [15] And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” [16] But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” [17] So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
(Romans 10:14-17 ESV)

Calling requires Believing which requires Hearing which requires Preaching which requires Sending…


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“Growth by Osmosis”

I remember my first year of university.  After finally determining where I would attend my parents braved the 14 ½ hour trip from Clarkston, MI to Greenville, SC.  Of course the car was full of my newly purchased dorm-room furnishings:  A bed spread, sheets, an iron and ironing board, a hot pot, plenty of shampoo, toothpaste, the usual toiletries, a slew of unworn ties, and a brand new fluffy pillow.  I was set to make my meager bunk bed space my new home.

After unpacking and settling in, one more major purchase still needed to take place – the textbooks.  Now, I thought that I had seen textbooks before, but these defied all imagination.  I knew that I was now at university, but I didn’t expect my textbooks to come with wheels and a handle.  As I leafed through my new History of Civilization textbook I was overcome with the reality that more than likely I would be expected to read it – a novel thought, I know.  Then I perused my Accounting 101 textbook and saw the mound of homework that accompanied each chapter.  I began to wonder how I would ever be able to climb the mountain of all the work that would be required of me and wished that I could place the books under my pillow and by osmosis allow the facts to settle on my mind.  Sure, I was smart enough to realize that osmosis doesn’t really work, but at that point in time I wished that it would.  It would be an awesome thing to have a shortcut to knowledge.  It would make life much easier and it would allow me to enjoy all the other benefits of living on a campus with 5000 other students.

Sadly, we often approach our spiritual growth in a similar fashion.  We don’t want to do the hard work of prayer and Bible study.  We say to ourselves, “Surely if we simply let go God will fill us with His grace and will.”  There is an element of truth in that statement, but God wants us to be at work “disciplining ourselves toward Godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7).  There is far too much “Zap Theology” going on in our Christian culture.  By Zap Theology I mean to say the attempt to grow in Christ by means of special Zaps from God.  For example, we go to a weekend retreat and God zaps us, or we go to a concert and God zaps us again.  On Sunday Morning God zaps us through a message.  We go from event to event looking for the next “spiritual zap.”  Now, let me say clearly that God does use events like these as part of the overall formation of our growth, but too often they are our only approach and often more emotional than spiritual.  In short, we would rather be zapped from God than place ourselves in the path of God’s grace by a steady daily walk with Him.  We would rather grow in God by means of osmosis than through the daily spiritual disciplines God commands and that Jesus models for us, disciplines like Bible study, prayer, meditation, evangelism, worship, etc.

Let me encourage you take a hard look at yourself and ask, “What am I doing with my Bible?”  Is it getting dusty?  Do I think that if it is simply in my general vicinity – on the night stand, in my car or with me at church – which somehow it is going to get into my heart and that growth will take place?  Am I steadily and regularly reading through it asking God to conform me to Himself as I meditate on it?  Am I simply waiting for the next “spiritual experience” to come my way?  Am I so overwhelmed with the content of the Bible that I feel inadequate to understand it?  Brothers and Sisters may we not allow ourselves to default to a Zap Theology and deceive ourselves into thinking that we are growing in Christ.  Although we may have placed ourselves in this mode because of our laziness, our inadequacy or a distorted view of spiritual growth, we can rekindle the flame of a regular daily walk.  Let’s pick up our Bibles, blow off the dust and begin afresh the daily and steady devotion of communing with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Retro Post – “Would You Like to Visit the Gates of Hell?”

Here is a Retro Post that will cause you to think!!! No pun intended…echem!

I enjoy living in the California Bay area for a number of reasons. The weather, the beauty of the scenery, the changing ecosystems within miles of each other and the variety of ethnic food that is slowly adding to my fleshly burden.

So, when I have friends visit I enjoy giving them a view of where I live, but I love to ask them, “Have you ever been to the gates of hell?” It is a tongue in cheek question, but I truly mean it. When they say “no” I follow up with, well, it looks like it will be a great day to do just that.” Then I explain to them one of the incredible wonders that I have found located at the Art Museum at Stanford University.

Of course I play with it a little. I ask them what they think the gates of hell look like, or what they are expecting and when we arrive I take them immediately to the gates and have them contemplate for a few minutes.

The Gates of Hell is a sculpture created by Musee Rodin that depicts scenes from the Old Testament, contemporary cultural life and one person that really made me think (and this is not a pun). As you look at the sculpture you notice people in all sorts of circumstances being sucked into the gates with expressions of despair and hopelessness. But, sitting on top of the Gates of Hell is probably the best known sculpture of Rodin’s, The Thinker, who seems to be contemplating all that is taking place below.

It is amazing to me that a pagan could create such a masterful, visual and vivid picture of the predicament of mankind destined for a tormented eternity in hell. And to have The Thinker as the focal piece. Wow! There is something very humbling standing in front of this masterpiece. The weight of the world, the burden of the souls of man, the destiny of so many and the seriousness of the picture of man’s hopelessness and despair.

I enjoy visiting the Gates of Hell every now and then. It is a healthy reminder of the beauty of the certainty that I have as a child of God. I don’t have a thinker sitting above, I have the very Son of God, enthroned above, who has my soul in His safe and secure hands. He has snatched me from the Gates of Hell and will one day bring me to my inheritance prepared for me in heaven.

It is hard to imagine, but it is a certain truth that the Bible calls “our hope”. Let me encourage you to be the thinker for a few minutes today and contemplate man’s plight…

Note to Reader:  If you click on the picture you will be able to see a larger picture of the gate…then click on that picture and it will be magnified and the detail is amazing…enjoy!!

Sit Back and Relax

Well…do you need some encouragement to help you through the week?

  • Are you feeling a little down?
  • Are you tired of a long day’s work?
  • Have the kids have been noisy all afternoon?
  • Do you need a great way to relax, to soothe yourself?
  • Do you wish you had a way to just make those problems go away?

Well, there is an answer and it is just one click away.  Enjoy and then let me know how it worked for you…

Just click the cute picture or the link below…

http://www.raincitystory.com/flash/screenclean.swf

A special thank you to my good friend Jim Newcomer who learned this in therapy classes…Thanks Jim…

The Great Debate

I have grown in my theology through the years that I have been both a Christian and a local Pastor.  That growth is normal and should be understood as an outworking of God’s continuing process of sanctification in my life.  Certainly, as a new Christian, I leaned on others to teach me the foundational doctrines of the faith.  In other words, I borrowed the convictions of others, and have been spending the rest of my life seeking to understand the teaching of God’s Word for myself.

Along the way I’ve had some “aha” moments which have brought great comfort, strength, awe and confidence in God and in what He is doing in my life.  One of those arenas of progress is in my growing understanding of what are often referred to as “The Doctrines of Grace” or the teachings that are often referred to as Calvinism.  You see, I became a Christian in an context that was decidedly against Calvinistic teaching, an Arminian context, and, thus, my initial understandings of Scripture and the gospel were groomed in that kind of ideology.  Yet, through the years, as I studied and taught God’s Word He made it very clear that the heart of His gospel finds its expression in “The Doctrines of Grace”.

Now, to some reading the word “Calvinism” is a dangerous word.

It smacks of having a cold view of evangelism, a harsh view of God, rigid view of life with Christ and a stuffy legalism that snaps the joy out of life.

But, of course, those are unwarranted caricatures that seem to be painted by many who really don’t understand the issues at all.  In fact, in my pastoral experience I have found that most believers haven’t taken serious time to truly understand the differences between what is known as Calvanism and Arminianism.  In fact, what is more popular is to plead ignorance on this issue as a mark of spiritual maturity.

I’ve heard people say, “Well, I don’t think that it is good to be divisive and this issue is simply divisive,” or “I’m a two-or three-or four- point Calvinist” as if holding to “some” of the five points of Calvinism is a good thing.  I have also heard people say, “Well, this subject has been debated for centuries and still there is no consensus, so I don’t  think that it is important to choose sides one way or the other.  I don’t want to be known as an Arminian or a Calvinist, I just want to be a Biblicist.”  In other words, “I don’t want to affirm any theological position, I just believe what the Bible teaches” which is, of course, a cop out on the whole issue.

Of course we want to believe what the Bible teaches.  The question is, “What does the Bible teach?”

Here is an example of what I mean.  While serving as Sr. Pastor in a church in Michigan another local church and Bible College hosted special seminars on the subject, “The Evils of Calvinism”, and they met in a room named after one of their hero’s of the faith, the Charles Haddon Spurgeon Room.  Now what’s ridiculously hilarious about that is that Spurgeon, Pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, England, and known as the Prince of preachers, was a clear and thorough Calvinist.  Again, I attribute this to a lack of understanding of the real issues and an unwillingness to be honest about them.

Along my journey I came to realize that so many of the pioneer missionaries and historical pastors that were being held up to me as great examples of godliness and faith by my Arminian instructors (Pastors, Teachers, Seminary Prof’s) were in fact thorough believers in the Doctrines of Grace, and were driven to follow their sovereign God in obedience, finding joy and comfort in their Calvinism.  Missionaries like David Livingston, Adonirum Judson, John G. Patton, George Mueller, Hudson Taylor and Pastors and leaders such as Luther, Zwingli, Wilberforce, Bunyan, Newton and Owen are just a few of the myriad of names that saw God and His gospel in this light.  Then we can add to that the likes of George Whitfield, Jonathan Edwards, Gresham Machen and D. Martin Lloyd-Jones and even contemporaries like Alistair Begg, John MacArthur, C.J. Mahaney, R. C. Sproul, John Piper, Thabiti Anyabwile, Mark Dever, Mark Driscol, Francis Chan, etc, etc, etc, to the list of men embracing Calvinism.

Now, please tell me that these men don’t care about evangelism.  Please tell me that these men are stuffy and have a harsh view of God.  Please tell me that C. J. Mahaney has a hard time finding joy in His walk with Christ because he is holding to the Doctrines of Grace!

Friends, my point here is not to convert you to Calvinism, but to alert you to the fact that too many in the Body of Christ really don’t understand the history and the content of the discussion.  But we should.  There are significant differences that have huge implications for us as we live our lives for His glory and attempt to do His will.

Here is what J. I. Packer says is the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism…

“The difference between them is not primarily one of emphasis, but of content. One proclaims a God Who saves; the other speaks of a God Who enables man to save himself. One view [Calvinism] presents the three great acts of the Holy Trinity for the recovering of lost mankind-election by the Father, redemption by the Son, calling by the Spirit-as directed towards the same persons, and as securing their salvation infallibly. The other view [Arminianism] gives each act a different reference (the objects of redemption being all mankind, of calling, those who hear the gospel, and of election, those hearers who respond), and denies that any man’s salvation is secured by any of them. The two theologies thus conceive the plan of salvation in quite different terms. One makes salvation depend on the work of God, the other on a work of man; one regards faith as part of God’s gift of salvation, the other as man’s own contribution to salvation; one gives all the glory of saving believers to God, the other divides the praise between God, Who, so to speak, built the machinery of salvation, and man, who by believing operated it. Plainly, these differences are important, and the permanent value of the ‘five points,’ as a summary of Calvinism, is that they make clear the points at which, and the extent to which, these two conceptions are at variance.”

Those are very important comparisons and implications, therefore we should pay closer attention to what it is that we believe on this issue.  To plead a “mature spiritual ignorance”, especially on the part of Pastors, Elders or Deacons, is to demonstrate a weakness in theological passion and conviction.  Certainly we are all growing in our understanding of the issues.  Although I embrace the Doctrines of Grace, each day as I encounter new texts and insights each truth shines brighter.  I want to know Him and His Truth more and more.  To revel in it.  To be motivated and satisfied by it.

To that end, then, I want to introduce you to a very simple read that carefully, clearly and honestly walks you through the issues so that you can be better informed and ultimately better equipped to stand on God’s Truth.  For example:

  • Do you know what the five points are?  Can you articulate them?
  • Did you know that John Calvin didn’t write the “five points of Calvinism?”
  • Did you know that the five points were a carefully studied response to five points of doctrine brought against the church by the followers of Joseph Arminius which is know historically as the “Remonstrance”?
  • Did you know that true Calvinists are very concerned about Hyper-Calvinism?

The  following document, A Brief Survey of the Origin and Contents of the “Five Points” of Calvinism by David N. Steele & Curtis C. Thomas, is a rare treasure for gaining a simple yet clear understanding of the issues.  It is written in an easily understood manner and is available for a free download or in a book format.

Let me plead with you to not stay in the “ignorance is bliss” category of this issue.  We need to be people of conviction and clarity about who God is, what He does and the Gospel that He has called us to embrace, guard, preach/teach and sow.  It is too crucial to brush aside.

So, please let me encourage you to be honest before God and prayerfully read this article seeking to know His will.

The Greatest Story

It was a chilly October in the Midwest as I stood at an airport newsagents waiting for a plane to take me from Detroit, Michigan to Evansville, Indiana.  I was tired of the textbooks I had been reading in preparation for my seminary classes, and now found myself gazing over the shelves and coming to rest on an intriguing title – “Harlequin” by Bernard Cornwall.  I bought it, began to read it and was sucked into the 100 Years War between England and France.  I couldn’t put the book down.  The plot was thick and the characters charming.  The battle scenes were alive and full of noise and sweat.  For the whole trip, going and coming, I entered a fantasy land of sorts and enjoyed a great story.  It was so good that I began to wonder why others were not buying it or even reading it. How come I was the only one on the plane reading this book?  If only others knew how great it was, they would want to read it too.

As good as that book was there is another book that has stood the test of time and is a best seller every year.  In fact it has dominated the best seller’s lists since lists were invented.  It has all the intrigue and plot of anything you will find at your local bookstore and it has helped shape much of the world in which we live.  Of course I am talking about the Bible – the story of God and His love for mankind.  It has achieved permanent bestseller status for a good reason.  Its influence can be felt across our culture.  Shakespeare, Milton or Bunyan cannot be understood without it.  The paintings in the Sistine Chapel, the integrity of our Founding Fathers, and the emancipation of slaves cannot be understood without it?  In fact, Charles Dickens considered the Bible to be “the greatest novel ever written.”

Now I know what Dickens means but the Bible is more than simply a novel.  It is history, or more accurately “His Story.”  The Bible is the record of God’s dealings with mankind.  God created man in His own image, but man rebelled and sinned against his creator.  God in His time and wisdom would sent a Deliverer, a Savior, to bring reconciliation to the broken relationship created by man’s rebellion.  This Deliverer, Jesus Christ the Son of God, would eventually hang on a cross on a hill called Golgotha as a sacrifice for man’s sin.  He would be buried in a sealed tomb, but on the third day He would rise again proving once for all that the Love of God had come bringing hope and salvation to all who would trust in Him.  The Bible “is” the greatest book because it contains the greatest story.

So, are you like me, wondering why people aren’t reading it?  Everything you could ever want is contained in it.  Why not find your Bible on your bookshelf, dust it off and begin to read it.  Don’t give up if you aren’t connecting the dots.  Ask those whom you know have read it and they can begin to help you connect them.  As you see the plot unfolding you won’t want to put it down!  Go ahead, I dare you….

Finally Home

As many of you know, I was born in Tel-Aviv, Israel to an American mother and an English father who worked for British Airways.  As a result I held both an American and British passport and had the freedom to become an Israeli citizen if I so desired.  I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity, because of my father’s job, to live in different countries:  Israel, Germany, England and the USA.  Since entering the ministry God has allowed me the privilege to serve, visit and minister in countries like Russia, Costa Rica and Bolivia.

Each time I am away there is always a part of me that misses home.  Yes, I miss my wife, Elia, and our four children, but I find that I also miss the country that I have called home for over 23 years.  There is an incredible feeling of comfort, security and freedom when I put my feet on American soil.  Even with the warts – and there are many – we are extremely fortunate to be citizens of this country.   We must not forget the many people who have given their lives, or have had their lives drastically changed, to protect these shores and to establish the freedoms we now have.  Too often we take our freedoms for granted, and it is only when outside the country that our appreciation for what we have is magnified.

But there is another citizenship to which I belong.  I am a child of God, a citizen of heaven.  This citizenship is not bound by treaties, border crossings and visas.  No, it transcends all ethnicity, culture and earthly location.  I am a member of the Body of Christ and I am free to worship with all who know my Savior as Lord whether in Kirovo-Chepetsk, Russia; Samaipata, Bolivia; or San Jose, Costa Rica.  The reality is that when I am with other believers I am with my family, and when I am with my family I am home.

Yet, that is not the total story for because of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross I have a certainty about my future.  Peter reminds us that God “according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4).

Therefore, I am certain that when I pass from this life to the next my citizenship transfers from being an Ambassador for Christ on this earth to a dweller in the mansion He is preparing for me in heaven (John 14:2).  As the songwriter says,

“Just think of stepping on shore and finding it heaven, of touching a hand and finding it God’s, of breathing new air and finding it celestial, of waking up in glory (heaven) and finding it home.”

Just as creation groans to be liberated from the graffiti of sin that is displayed throughout it, so too we groan to be liberated from the lingering presence of sin in our lives (Romans 8:22-25).

We want to be home, in heaven.

We want to be truly free.

Reflecting Thankfulness

Times of thankfulness are most often rooted in times of reflection.  They are purposeful opportunities to take a breath and look back over our lives remembering the kind of people God has used to fashion and mature us.  As I reflect a number of people come to my mind:  Dr. Paul Vanaman – My pastor who challenged me for ministry and had a huge heart for missionary work; J. Todd Vanaman – My Youth Pastor and soccer coach who loved me and encouraged me to make my life count for Jesus; Aubrey and Dorothy Phillips – My parents who love God, were extremely patient with me, and are an example of faithful prayer; Dr. Jim Newcomer –  A co-laborer in ministry – We have sharpened and encouraged each other through the years and If I am Jonathan of the Old Testament, Jim is my David; Elia Phillips – My wife, who is my closest friend and companion.  She knows me extremely well and has shaped me and completed me in every way.  As I reflect on this “shortlist” I can say with the Apostle Paul who is writing to the Philippian church that he loves dearly…

3I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all.” (Philippians 1:3-4)

I am sure that we could all come up with a “shortlist” of people who have had a great influence on our lives: teachers, coaches, ministers, friends, etc.  However, have you ever wondered if you would end up on someone else’s “shortlist”?  In other words, have you been living your life in such a way that your friends, coworkers, fellow church members and family would say, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you?”

A couple of years ago my wife and I received an e-mail from one of the young ladies that was part of our Youth Ministry in Buffalo, NY, fifteen years ago.  Among other things she shared the following…

“I now realize the importance of a non-parental adult in the life of a teen. I want to thank you so much for being those two adults in my life.  Thank you for loving me during those years and spending so much time with me.  I really appreciate the ‘open-door’ policy of your home and office.  I know that you probably had 1000 other things to be doing than hanging around a 16 year old, but 15 years later this ’16 year-old’ still remembers it and appreciates it.  The spiritual guidance and straightforwardness was exactly what I needed…I wish that our English language had the words to express the depth of gratitude and affection that I have for both of you.”

Now, I don’t want you to think that I have a file full of notes like this one – I don’t.  But this one is “a keeper” and I file it as a reminder that God is still working through me and that I can still help shape people’s lives.

We can and should take time to reflect on the lives that have influenced us; yet, we should also live our lives now in such a way that others would one day say to us…

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you!”

Who are you thankful for, and who is thankful for you?

Junk Mail

In my over 20 years of ministry a common phenomena is for my church mail to be full of enticements for me to attend a “One Day Seminar” or to purchase a video series that boasts “Ten Proven Ways to Grow Your Church – A Must Seminar for Every Serious Pastor.” Understandably I have a special file for such advertisements – the trash can!  Certainly God does want us to grow individually and as a church; yet, the “proven ways” are not to be gleaned outside of His instruction manual to us, His Word.  To that end and in order for us to be a people who are growing up we must passionately embrace the following three foundational principles:

1. A High View of the Godhead

A. W. Tozer reminds us that “what comes in to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”  He is not our “buddy”, “the man upstairs”, or “my copilot.”  No He is YAHWEH, the God of Israel, and the Triune One.  He is sovereign, all powerful, all knowing, everywhere, unshaken, pure, holy, righteous and fair.  We are desperate to know Him – His attributes, character and person.  We need to be careful that we don’t relegate Him to our level, but instead, stand in awe of Him high and lifted up, sitting on His throne.  Our God of grace and love Who, in accordance to His merciful will, sent His Son Jesus Christ to dwell among us, as one of us, with the purpose of reconciling us to Himself through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross.  This same Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, the despised of that day.  It wasn’t because He was hip and could relate to them, but because He is holy, knows them and was the only answer for their sinfulness.  A high view of God does not seek to give God a high five.  Rather, it bows before a holy and sovereign God.

2. A High View of the Scriptures

The only way that we can know God is through reading and studying what God has revealed about Himself in the pages of Scripture.  Like Apollos in Acts 18:24 we must be “mighty in the Scriptures.”  Or, as Charles Spurgeon once said, “our very blood ought to be “Bibline.”  A high view of Scripture recognizes that God, in His wisdom, has given us everything that we need for “life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).  There is no circumstance in life to which the Word does not speak either explicitly or by means of timeless principles.  Spurgeon often reminded his congregation that “a Bible which is falling apart usually belongs to someone who is not.”  It is, therefore, imperative that God’s people be people of His Word.  In the face of a culture that reluctantly affirms that the Bible is a “good” book, God’s family must elevate His Word back to the place where we see it as “The” book.

3. A High View of Obedience to His will.

Certainly knowledge of the Word of God alone is not the end to which God has called us.  He wants us to be hearers, to know His Word and His will revealed in the pages of Scripture, and He also wants us to be people who are obedient to it.  Knowledge alone and apart from proper application is simply knowledge.  True growth comes only when God’s Word is understood and applied to the life of a believer or the congregation.  We must constantly be “doing” the Word as James 1:22 reminds us, and we must also be adding to our faith or we will be shortsighted and blind with the possibility of forgetting that we have been cleansed from our sin (2 Peter 1:5-9).

Honestly, I am not completely opposed to a seminar that will help me or the church grow, but the instruction should be gleaned from a clear understanding of God, His all-sufficient Word, and a clear call to be obedient to what our sovereign Lord is calling us to do.  This is a clarion call for all of us to lay the necessary foundation in our lives for a higher view of God, His Word and His will.

Family Reunion…

I spent the better part of today at the Garcia/Sosa family reunion at a park in Dublin, CA.  Now, I am neither a Garcia nor a Sosa, but my wife’s Grandma was a Garcia and her family is huge (numerically speaking of course).  Lots of large families which mean lots of children and grandchildren to carry on the legacy of the family name.

Now, understand, I have been grafted in.  I, a man with both British and Sweedish blood, married into a Latin clan whose patriarch, now with the Lord, started and shepherded the First Spanish Baptist Church in Oakland for over 50 years.  Now, I know that walking with God is still an important reality on that side of the family, but, honestly, today, I was wondering how that would play out with the family that I didn’t know – and there were lots of them.

I arrived and began to make my rounds introducing myself and learning about the other family members.  Some now living in Arizona, lots still living in the Bay Area and even some living out East in Virginia and Maryland.  But most of the conversation was simply introductions, family tree explanations, and the gathering of basic information about each others occupations and hobbies.  Then, one family member that I didn’t know tapped the microphone and asked everyone to gather around, thanked everyone for making the effort to come, gave instructions for lunch and then asked for another family member to come and pray for the meal.

Now, I wasn’t sure what to expect at this point.  Would he do the sign of the cross or fumble around with a “God is great, God is good, thank you Lord for my food” kind of prayer?  Well, to my surprise and delight when He began to pray and as he continued it was clear that this man was a dear brother in Christ.  The content was crisp and gospel centered, the tone was humble submission before a sovereign God and the joy was rooted in Christ.  Not only was he a distant relative, but he was part of a greater family and our city of residence is the same and our address is just down the street.  We are both citizens of God’s Kingdom and part of His spiritual family.

So, immediately after he prayed I walked up to him and thanked him, and told him that I was grateful that we were part of the same family – our spiritual family.  Then, as we stood in line for our food we talked and he told me that he was attending a new start-up church in the Phoenix, AZ area, but that he had spent the last 15 or so years in Southern California where he attended a church called Grace Community Church where a man by the name of John MacArthur was the pastor…and was wondering if I knew of him. (He..he…he…)  Needless to say the rest of the conversation went well as we talked church (something I tend to drift off doing) and about our growing faith.  It was truly encouraging to hear and know how God is at work in the lives of people we know, don’t know and may be part of our family.

There is a legacy of faithfulness to God that has continued through the generations, yet we both talked about the need of and responsibility for that legacy to continue.  God is certainly good and His faithfulness extends to all generations.  So, we must all keep the fight, hold on to our faith and continue to follow after Christ.  And one day, hopefully soon, we will have another family reunion…but it won’t be in Dublin, CA, but around a great and glorious throne…and you can be sure it will be a great time of fellowship – and I have a pretty good idea that the food will be good too—I can’t wait!