Archive for the ‘Church’ Category

A Sinful Heart is No Surprise

June 5, 2015

Title: A Sinful Heart is No Surprise
Text: Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 3:10, 23, Numbers 32:23
Time: June 3rd, 2015

Last week I read that former House Speaker Dennis Hastert was charged with violating banking regulations in connection with his attempted cover-up of a sex scandal of thirty years ago. Now what’s sad about the whole situation is that Hastert has lived his entire public life as an honorable man, in fact, that’s why he was chosen as Speaker of the House by his colleagues, because the previous Speaker was involved in scandal and Republicans needed someone with an impeccable record. Hastert went on to be the longest serving House Speaker and then later sponsored a new center for economics and politics at my old alma mater Wheaton College. I’ve not seen the Hastert Center there but I’ve heard it’s impressive. So from the Wheaton connection and because I’ve heard Chuck Colson talk about him, I assume that he’s an evangelical Christian who cares about preserving biblical values and perspectives. But now he’s involved in this federal investigation with charges against him that might possibly lead to fines and/or jail time. Now first of all we need to make the fair presumption of innocence until proven guilty. So maybe, after all is said and done, he’ll be found innocent of all charges, including the sexual misconduct charges. According to the indictment Hastert was withdrawing money from his bank account in large amounts in a way to avoid federal law, and the reason he was doing so was in order to pay off someone in Illinois for some alleged misconduct offense. In other words, he was paying “hush money” to someone to keep them from telling the newspapers what they knew about Hastert from thirty years ago when he was a wrestling coach and teacher at a high school. The facts aren’t all known, so it might be someone wants to spread rumors falsely and Hastert agreed to pay them to not do so. More likely though is that Hastert is paying them to keep quiet about something real that happened thirty years ago, otherwise, why pay the money? Why not report it to the police as extortion? Unless, maybe, it involves something more sinister or dangerous like a murder threat or some potential hostage or kidnapping situation or a scandal involving a family member other than Dennis Hastert himself that he wants to keep quiet. We just don’t know. But when I heard the news and how people reacted to it I thought immediately of a couple of biblical passages that talk about the sinful human heart. Why are we shocked when sinners sin? Do we really think there are any real saints, in the strict sense of the word “saint?” Apart from Christ, we are sinners at heart. So this morning I wanted to spend some time talking about the human condition and the sinfulness of the human heart. We should be sad, but not shocked when we hear that sinners, all of us, have sinned. It only confirms the very reason Christ came and died on the cross – to save sinners like you and me. Let’s examine a few Bible passages that explain this. (more…)

Three Christian Leadership Failures

September 22, 2014

Title: Three Christian Leadership Failures
Text: 1 Peter 3:15
Time: September 20th, 2014

 
We’ve seen an unprecedented decline in Christian values in our American culture over the last few years, and this is best illustrated in the rapid acceptance of the idea of “gay” marriage by the citizens of the U.S. In the midst of this moral freefall we might ask the question, “Where have the Christian leaders been during this unheard of moral drop?” Sadly, we must answer that they’ve been largely silent, sometimes purposefully so. For example, a few years ago after President Barack Obama – a leading advocate for cultural moral decline with his full support of so-called same-sex marriage – after he won re-election, he called upon an evangelical minister, one Louie Giglio, to pray the inaugural prayer; Giglio agreed to do it. But before the event, reporters learned that Giglio, being an evangelical preacher, had spoken against homosexuality in a sermon once that was recorded on audiotape. It became somewhat of a controversy, since Obama is in favor of gay rights and gay marriage and everything gay. It finally reached the point where Giglio decided to decline the invitation to pray at the President’s event after all, and therefore forfeited an opportunity to bear witness to the truth of God in the public square. Another example of Christian leadership failure over the last couple of years was World Vision president Richard Stearns, who led his Christian charitable organization to change its corporate policy to allow for employees in so-called same-sex relationships. This caused such an outcry within the evangelical Christian community that World Vision soon reversed the policy decision, reinstating its usual ban on immoral sexual relationships. And finally, there’s the example of evangelical Christian athlete Tim Tebow, who was scheduled to speak at a Baptist church in Texas, but who quickly declined and back out of the speaking engagement after news reports classified the church as “anti-gay” because the pastor had preached against the sin of homosexuality. All three of these men are leaders in the sense that other Christians look up to them, yet all three failed to bear witness to the truth of God as taught in the Bible as part of the Christian faith, because of pressure brought against them by the secular world. All three Christian leaders capitulated to the spirit of the age and cowardly backed away from fighting the good fight of faith. No wonder the Christian community is confused on how to deal with the rapidly declining general culture. No wonder that Christians everywhere are divided on basic moral issues such as abortion and homosexuality. If leaders can’t even find the courage to stand for the truth of God in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation, how can the average Christian be expected to stand? No. We need godly Christian leaders who know the truth and are willing to stand for it no matter what. Then, other Christians will stand strong as well when they see the example of the leaders. Let’s look at how not to lead, how not to be a Christian leader, in the hope that by seeing examples of failures we might strive for success. (more…)

Beware of Some Fundamentalist Churches 3

July 7, 2014

Title: Beware of Some Fundamentalist Churches 3
Text: Matthew 22:37-38, John 17:15-18, 1 Corinthians 12:4-7
Time: July 7th, 2014

 
In the last two messages I shared my experiences with pasturing a small, protestant evangelical Baptist church near a large independent fundamentalist mega-church. I mentioned that my brush with fundamentalism was highly educational and opened my eyes to a different form of Christianity than I had been accustomed. I grew up in a protestant main-line denominational church, converted to evangelical Christianity in my late teens, and went on to attend a Christian college and seminary in preparation for pastoral ministry. In the denominational church of my childhood, I experienced an emphasis on friendly tolerance and diversity of belief and behavior (a bit too much latitude I’d say, especially for behaviors and beliefs outside of biblical boundaries). In my experience with independent fundamentalism I encountered the very opposite – strict intolerance of any beliefs and behaviors that didn’t conform to the leader’s narrow vision of Christianity. Now to be fair, the fundamentalist mega-church in my area, the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana was more or less biblically Christian, except that it felt especially called to define and determine every detail of Christian belief and behavior. And it separated itself from every other type of Christian that didn’t believe and behave the same thing. For example, First Baptist church leaders taught separation – not separation from the sinful world, but separation from other Christians who didn’t believe and behave like they taught. And not only that, they separated even from Christians who did believe and behave like they taught, except who didn’t separate from other Christians the way they thought they should separate. Does that make sense? If it doesn’t, don’t worry, because it doesn’t make sense anyway. I’ve already listed a number of things to beware of when dealing with some of these types of independent fundamentalist churches, so I won’t go back over that ground. But today I’d like to mention three more broad, general themes that I find in a number of independent fundamentalist churches that we need to be aware of and avoid. They is, one, anti-intellectualism, or in other words, opposition to the mind, to thinking deeply about things, and a mistrust of learning and education. Two, there is an anti-culture attitude that shows itself in the tendency to be excessively counter-cultural. And third, there is an anti-charismatic attitude towards Christians who believe in the continued gifts of the Holy Spirit operating in the church today. I believe all three of these general tendencies are wrong and I want to point out why in this message today. Hopefully, we can equip ourselves to think biblically in these areas, and believe and act as authentic Christians. Let me explain further. (more…)

Beware of Some Fundamentalist Churches 2

July 7, 2014

Title: Beware of Some Fundamentalist Churches 2
Text: Acts 15:28-29, 1 Samuel 14:24, Mark 7:13
Time: July 6th, 2014

 
Last time I talked about my experience as a young pastor in South Chicago, Illinois living and ministering near the large First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana. For the two years I pastored the church in South Chicago I informally interacted with the Hammond church – I rubbed shoulders with its members, I attended a couple Pastor’s School conferences there, I attended a few Sunday night church services, I read a few of Pastor Jack Hyles’ books, and generally tried to learn as much as I could about anything that could help me in my church ministry. After I moved on from the small Chicago church after a couple of years I lost track of the First Baptist Church of Hammond as I focused on other things in my ministry. But during the two or three year period I was pastoring in Chicago I became somewhat familiar with this large fundamentalist mega-church, and even though I ultimately didn’t adopt its ministry style, I did appreciate a few things I saw there. I think the thing I liked most about First Baptist was its unashamed conviction for the fundamentals of the Christian faith. When Jack Hyles preached you knew he believed what he taught and it caused you to firm up your own convictions toward the faith. So the biggest thing I walked away from in connection with First Baptist Church was its strong conviction that stirred strong conviction in me towards Christian truth. The world constantly tears down Christianity, but it’s nice to go some place, or hear someone, with strong Christian convictions that isn’t afraid to say so! I appreciated that. Yes, this can lead to being overly dogmatic, but a lack of it can also lead to being wishy-washy also. Another thing I took away from my contact with First Baptist Church was the seriousness of church ministry. Hyles and the church leaders and volunteer workers were very dedicated and serious about evangelism and discipleship. This wasn’t fun and games; this was hard work, and they were willing to put in long hours and wear themselves out for the Lord’s work. That inspired me to do the same in my ministry. Yes, this can lead to excessive physical, mental and spiritual burnout, and that’s always a temptation. In fact, Jack Schaap, who followed Hyles as Pastor of First Baptist Church, who ran into legal trouble for having sexual contact with a minor, in his court case sited burnout as a contributing factor for his poor judgment in involving himself in sexual immorality. So for every positive characteristic I saw at First Baptist Church I could think of a negative opposite characteristic that could cause trouble. But I don’t want to give the impression that there aren’t positives to my experience with independent fundamentalist churches, there are. There are just negatives that people need to be warned about, to beware. Here are three more warnings. (more…)

Beware of Some Fundamdentalist Churches 1

July 7, 2014

Title: Beware of Some Fundamentalist Churches 1
Text: John 7:50-52, Acts 12:21-23, Romans 12:18
Time: July 5th, 2014

 
I happened to be surfing the Internet the other day and I stumbled upon an article about a fundamentalist Christian pastor who was tried, convicted and sentenced to twelve years in prison for sexual immorality. His name was Jack Schaap and he used to be a pastor at the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana. How do I know about Jack Schaap? Because as a young pastor in South Chicago, Illinois during the late 80’s I became aware of First Baptist Church of Hammond through their evangelism outreach program in South Chicago. Every Saturday the area would be saturated with First Baptist Church buses recruiting kids for Sunday school in Hammond, Indiana. Eventually I thought I’d better check out this church that was covering so much territory, even reaching up to Chicago and beyond. So I attended what is called Pastor’s School for three days at the church in Hammond. It was there I saw and heard the main pastor Jack Hyles and his assistant pastor Jack Schaap. As I watched and listened as they explained their ministry methods I was impressed with some of the things they were doing, but also bothered by some other things they were doing. I walked away with mixed feelings about First Baptist Church of Hammond. On the one hand there’s no question they were reaching a lot of people, especially children, with the gospel of Jesus Christ. And not only that, they were discipling these converts every week in Sunday. So it wasn’t they just prayed a prayer, baptized them and then left the converts alone. They followed up and really tried to train them in Christian living. On the other hand, the church came across as overly dogmatic on doctrine, excessively authoritarian in leadership, and unnecessarily divisive towards other Christians and churches in attitude. I concluded that Jack Hyles, Jack Schaap and the other leaders at the church were definitely doing many good things – things that I’d like to incorporate into my Christian ministry. But the way they were going about doing many of these good things wasn’t good – and I concluded that I definitely didn’t want to follow them in their methods. So as a young minister I didn’t go in the direction of independent fundamentalism, but rather moved in the direction of biblical evangelicalism. Looking back, I believe I made the right decision because as it turns out, both the main pastor Jack Hyles (he’s since died) and his assistant Jack Schaap were found guilty of sexual immorality (Schaap became the main pastor after Hyles death, but was removed and sent to jail for his sins). But it wasn’t just these pastors problems that led to their downfall, it was the whole church culture they built that really caused the problems. That’s why I offer a few warnings to people about independent fundamentalist churches. Not all or even most fundamentalist churches are dangerous, but some are, so that is why I’m warning people based on my observations and experience with First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana. Hopefully, my words can spare others the same problems some independent fundamentalist churches produce. (more…)

Did Paul Really Say That?

January 31, 2014

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Title: Did Paul Really Say That? — Resolving Difficult Bible Passages

 

Text: Matthew 28:12-20, 1 Corinthian 1:10-17, Mark 16:15-16

 

Time: October 26th, 2013

 

 

Have you ever had the experience of reading the Bible and all of a sudden a passage strikes you as odd, strange or even not right? A little while ago I was reading along in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 1:17, where the Apostle Paul says, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” I read it again, and thought to myself, “Didn’t Christ send the Apostles, Paul, and the rest of us to do both – preach the gospel and baptize?” So then why is the Apostle Paul saying specifically that Christ did not send him to baptize. Now remember, I’m a Baptist Pastor, so this is important. If Christ didn’t send the Apostle Paul to baptize, then maybe he didn’t send any of us to baptize. So it got me thinking, “What does Paul mean here in this passage as it relates to the rest of the Bible?” I knew instinctively that whatever Paul was saying it was in harmony with the rest of the Bible. I’ve been a Christian long enough to know that God’s Word doesn’t contradict itself. But I also knew that it’s easy for us to misunderstand it, or read and interpret it incorrectly, so I figured I’d get to the bottom of this with a little more effort on my part. Somehow the Apostle Paul here is not contradicting the Great Commission given by Jesus to his disciples in Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” What did Jesus mean when he gave the Great Commission? What did the Apostle Paul mean when he said he wasn’t sent to baptize? These were two things I wanted to get to the bottom of, because, like I said before, I’m a Baptist pastor, and if there anything us Baptists are known for it’s baptizing, so we’ve got to get this thing straightened out. Well, in the end, I did get it straightened out, as far as I’m concerned. It all comes down to context – and this is really important when reading and understanding the Bible. Every passage in the Bible has a context, or in other words, it’s surrounded by a certain situation. That specific situation must be taken into consideration or else we’ll be ripping passages out of context and making incorrect application, which will then be wrong and throw us out of balance in our Christian life. So this is a very practical lesson today, because it teaches us the importance of reading the Bible in context. Are you careful to consider the context of the Bible passage you are reading? Or do you just jump into any verse and quickly pull anything out of it you can? It’s very, very important to consider the context when reading the Bible. Let me explain further. (more…)

Why God Became a Child at Christmastime

December 30, 2013

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Title: Why God Became a Child at Christmastime

Text: Matthew 1:20, 21; 2:13-14

Time: December 4th, 2013

We’re into the Christmas season 2013, and it’s time again to think about the Nativity or birth of Jesus Christ. If you’ve been a Christian for a while then you’ve heard many messages about it, thought some about it, and pretty much covered all the different angles of it in some way through the years. But what’s great about the Christian faith is that you never run out of ways to appreciate the Lord through reading and studying the Bible. It always produces something fresh and new if we come at it with eyes of faith. It’s the same this year as well. I’ll be reading a familiar Christmas passage, but hopefully you’ll learn something new, and more important, you’ll be inspired anew. Today, I’d like to talk about the reason why God the Son, Second Person of the Holy Trinity, became man – or more accurately at Christmas, why he became a child. I could talk about the life of Jesus, but I don’t have time for that today. I’ll just talk about his early stage of life. First, the Christmas account describes the conception of Jesus. Second, the Nativity story talks about the birth of Jesus. And finally, third, it speaks of the childhood of Jesus. So then, why did Jesus go through childhood? Why did the Messiah come as a child, when clearly, he could have come as a fully-formed adult in order to die on the cross for our sins? Was the early stage of Jesus’ life necessary? Was the virgin conception of Mary necessary? Did the birth of Jesus in the manger of Bethlehem have to take place? Was the drama of Jesus, Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod required in order for the salvation of the world? When we look at the life of Jesus, when we think about how he won our salvation, the cross – his atoning sacrifice for our sins – seems the absolute essential part. But was all the other necessary, especially the early stage, the conception, the birth and infancy? At Christmas we celebrate and remember the early stage of the life of Christ, but are we emphasizing something that really isn’t essential? In truth, I believe, it was essential, not in the same way as his death on the cross, but in a different way. It cemented his total and absolute identification with humanity.  Now why is identifying with the human race so important? Because on the cross, the man Jesus died for us humans. But in order to die for us as our sacrifice, in our place, he has to be one with humanity. In other words, he had to be fully human, not one-half human, not partially human, but totally, 100% human in order for the substitutionary death to have its beneficial effect for us. If he wasn’t fully human, if he wasn’t a total and absolute substitute for our humanity, he couldn’t be our atoning sacrifice. So it was essential that Christ be everything we are, including being conceived, born and growing up as a child. It’s part of the incarnation. But let me explain further, and hopefully we’ll be able to appreciate Christmas more in the process. I’ll examine a few New Testament passages related to Christ identifying with us in life. (more…)

Challenges Facing the Catholic Church #3

October 29, 2013

 

Title: Challenges Facing the Catholic Church #3

Text: Jeremiah 1:7-8, 9-10, 17

Time: October 8th, 2013

Well it’s been months since the new Catholic Pope Francis took office, but already he’s making the news almost every day with some comment, speech, interview or pronouncement. Earlier this year I gave two messages outlining challenges the Roman Catholic church faces. As a Protestant Christian and not a member of the Church of Rome, I’m still interested in the fate of Christianity’s largest branch of over one billion members. That’s why I try to keep up on everything happening in respect to the new pope, and the reaction of the church and the world to his activity. To be honest, I’m a bit puzzled by Pope Francis’s perspective because it’s definitely different from the last two popes – John Paul II and Benedict XVI. He seems to be saying to the church and the world that while he’s a loyal and faithful son of the Catholic church, he’s also going to approach the challenges facing the church from a different perspective. For example, he’s given interviews where he’s said that Catholics don’t always have to talk about abortion, gay marriage and divorce. Now that’s understandable since Christianity is so much more than opposition to these things. But it’s also odd because as Christians we’re supposed to be the “light of the world” and the “salt of the world” as Jesus Christ taught his disciples. So in other words, we’re supposed to be prophetic and speak truth to the world whether it’s popular or not. But what the present pope seems to be saying is that while he continues to hold firm to catholic teachings on these issues, he isn’t interested in talking a whole lot about them in public. As a Protestant Christian, and especially as an evangelical Christian in the United States, I’ve heard and seen this angle taken by church leaders before – by the mega-church pastors and denominational leaders. They too claim to hold faithfully to the spiritual and moral teachings of the Bible, yet they too share a distaste for speaking publicly on these controversial issues. For example, mega-church pastor Rick Warren is a member of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention and holds to all the points of the Baptist Faith and Message statement of faith; yet he also tries to avoid taking any public and highly visible stand on the more controversial issues of the day in order to avoid being unpopular or causing offense. Other mega-church pastors and denominational leaders take the same approach. It seems that Pope Francis is following this same game plan in speaking with the press about issues. Now I have to say I’m not a big fan of this strategy in Christianity because it squanders opportunities we’re given as Christians to bear witness to the truth before a watching world. It also smacks of cowardice and the absence of one’s courage of conviction. Rather than dodge controversial spiritual and moral questions, why not answer them frankly? This is a more faithful and consistent biblical approach. Let me explain what I mean in three areas. (more…)

Issues Facing the Catholic Church 2

March 18, 2013

Title: Issues Facing the Catholic Church 2

Text: 1 Corinthians 12:25-26; Romans 14:13, 16, 19, 22; Matthew 5:31-32; Exodus 20:13

Time: March 15th, 2013

 

 

Well Roman Catholics have elected a new pope, Francis, to lead and guide them into the future, at least for a few more years. He’s older, 76, so we don’t know how long he’ll be leading them, but if his health holds up it might for a long time. Benedict XVI, if you remember, stepped down as pope for health reasons and also because he’s 86 years old without much energy to do the job. We’ll see if in ten years Francis follows Benedict XVI’s precedent and retires also.  But we certainly with Catholics well in the future with their new pope. A few weeks ago I spoke on the contemporary issues facing the Roman Catholic church, and today I’d like to follow up that teaching with a continuation of some other issues, three more, that they face going forward. Why worry about Catholics? Why bother to follow or analyze what’s happening in other branches of Christianity, say, Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox? Why not just mind our own business as Protestants? Because like I mentioned last time, there’s 1 Corinthians 12:25-26, which says, “So that there should be no divisions in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” We should care about what’s happening in the different branches of the Christian church. We should wish our brothers and sisters in the Catholic and Orthodox churches well. The great spiritual divide today is not between Protestants and Catholics, but between all Christians and the forces of godless secularism. Militant Islam is also posing a threat to global Christianity as well. So Christians have enough opposition without perpetuating age old grudges between the different major branches of the church. Yes, there are real theological differences, and we shouldn’t sweep them under the rug; they should be faced with openness and honesty on both sides. But, as the old saying goes, “We’d better stick together, or we’ll probably hang separately.” Secularism is seeking to destroy all of Christianity, and that’s why Christians of all strips need to stick together in these days. And besides, the attacks by secularism upon Catholics can soon turn to attacks on Protestants, because it’s not any one branch of Christianity that secularists dislike; it’s all branches, all forms of the Christian faith. So when we examine issues facing the Catholic church we’re really trying to help all of Christianity, because, like the verse says, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” So let’s look at three more issues facing the Catholic church today. (more…)

Issues Facing the Catholic Church 1

March 18, 2013

Title: Issues Facing the Catholic Church 1

Text: Matthew 19:11-12, 1 Timothy 2:12, Romans 1:26-27

Time: March 5th, 2013

 

 

By now I’m sure you’ve all heard that the Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI has resigned or retired or abdicated – or whatever you call it. He’s left the office. Now the Catholic cardinals are meeting in Rome to select a new Pope. It’s on all the television news broadcasts, it’s on radio, and it’s in the newspapers every day. It’s a worldwide event. Now you are probably asking yourself, “I’m a Protestant Christian, why am I concerned about what happens in Rome among Catholics?” Well, while I’m a Protestant and not a Roman Catholic, I do care deeply about the body of Christ and what happens generally speaking in the Christian world. I do consider Roman Catholics Christians — at least all those who have found salvation in Jesus Christ through faith alone, not placing confidence in their own good works to save them. There are plenty of Catholics who do believe in salvation by faith alone, just as there are many Protestants who do so also. Unfortunately, there are also many Catholics who are erroneously trusting in their own self-righteousness to save them, just as there are sadly many Protestants who believe this also. But we should all care greatly what happens to our brothers and sisters in other branches of Christianity, in other denominations and other churches. What does the Bible say? “So that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it,” 1 Corinthians 12:25-26.  Today, the Roman Catholic church is suffering terribly, partly because of being treated unfairly by the media and press; and partly because of its own fault in failing to address its own problems. For example, while the Catholic leaders are in Rome picking a new pope, the world press is focusing on the priestly sex scandal rocking the church. It seems that news reports can’t cover anything concerning Catholics without also linking everything to the sex scandal. While the scandal is deplorable and needs to be dealt with, why must Catholics have it thrown in their face every time the church is mentioned? That’s not fair. So this is unfair treatment, and we should pray that it ceases for them. But on the other hand, Catholic leadership is partly to blame, which is obviously clear also. So some of the trouble in the Catholic church is brought upon it from outside, but some of it is brought about by the church itself. Today, I’d like to address three questions that the Catholic church is facing at this time, and try to answer them from a biblical Protestant perspective. These are all issues that concern all Christians. (more…)