Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: A Review

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor's Journey Into Christian Faith by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

Published by Crown & Covenant Publications (  154 pages, including a six page "Bibliography and Resources".  Available from the publisher for $12.00.   

When a friend recommended that I read this book, I wasn't terribly interested until I found out that the author was a former professor of English at Syracuse University who converted to Christianity.  When I found out that she is also married to a pastor who had done church planting with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, the combination was enough to compel me to spend the twelve bucks and give it a go.  You see, I am a Baptist church planter in Syracuse, NY who has had the privilege of evangelizing students at SU.  If there's ever an "unlikely convert", it would be any professor from SU.

When I got the book I discovered that Butterfield was not only a professor at SU, but that she was also prominent in their feminist Women's Studies program and a lesbian. What I discovered in reading this book is that my attitude has a lot to do with the reason why my ministry amongst the liberal is so ineffective and not the perceived cultural strength of their worldview. More on this later.

A Reservation

I am reformed in my theology; perhaps not as reformed as Butterfield would like, but I do hold to the doctrines of grace.  Our understandings on conversion and the gospel are very much the same.  What is different is the unique perspective the author brings to the table having come out of not only the LGBT community, but having come out of academia.  Academia is a setting I know only a little bit about because of my work doing open-air preaching on college campuses over the last seven years.  I know the attitudes towards the gospel on campuses that range from small community colleges to Ivy League campuses.

Some of her writing betrays the fact that the author is either still holding on to some postmodern presuppositions or is infusing a forced relevance into her book to buy credibility with postmodern readers.  In the first chapter, "Conversion and the Gospel of Peace", she goes on a bit of a rant.  She complains that Christians lost the cultural battle with the universities and aren't relevant to the culture based on a flawed line of reasoning: "Here's what I think happened: since all major U.S. universities had Christian roots, too many Christians thought that they could rest in Christian tradition, not Christian relevance.  Too often the church does not know how to interface with university culture because it comes to the table only ready to moralize and not dialogue.  There is a core difference between sharing the gospel with the lost and imposing a specific moral standard on the unconverted" (7, emphasis mine).

Butterfield's husband is a pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church.  It is to the Presbyterians that we owe a huge debt for their understanding on the moral law of God as expressed in the Ten Commandments.  The Westminster Catechism, which Butterfield cites later in the book, is clear on the use of the Commandments.  The reason why Christians "impose a specific moral standard on the unconverted" is because GOD imposes that standard on all men.  As Butterfield's own testimony bears out, conversion doesn't happen through a dialogue which pretends that there are no moral standards.  Dialogue is valuable but it must be based on truth and part of that truth will be an appeal to the God who the atheists know is there (Romans 1:18-20) and to the moral law which has the power to bring sinners to the Cross (Galatians 3:24).

Have Christians assumed too much when it comes to the universities?  Sort of.  Like much else in our culture, we surrendered the universities in favor of a monastic existence.  It wasn't a passive act of resting in tradition.  It was an active, conscious decision largely influenced by theology which is reclusive rather than aggressive. However the answer to the dilemma is not to pretend that we don't have the answers or that Christ is not King of the university.  We do not need to negotiate the truth with unbelievers.  We need to proclaim it in Biblically saturated conversations, in the power of the Holy Spirit in a context of love.  That's how conversion works.  In the university setting at this point in history the people who deny what they know to be true have all of the power, as is evidenced in Butterfield's own post-conversion story.  You can own the ontological high ground but in universities it does not matter.  Those who hate the truth run the university.  And, as the twisted version of the Golden Rule goes, "He who has the gold makes the rules." 


I am willing to overlook the author's minor shortcoming when it comes to this area because otherwise the book is so solid theologically, so well written, and because it exposes so many sins within the modern understanding of Christianity.  It exposes some of my own sins--my own lack of love, my own lack of effort. 

One of those flaws is how we view conversion.  Butterfield is right when she points out that Christians have distorted the concept of conversion.  She writes, "This word--conversion--is simply too tame and too refined to capture the train wreck that I experienced in coming face-to-face with the Living God (page x).  Everything she writes in this book about conversion has this radical, all encompassing aspect to it.  She rejects easy believism, she denounces Rick Warren's seeker sensitive drivel in no uncertain terms and she emphasizes that God chose her; she did not choose God.  How could it be any other way?  In fact, it IS no other way with anyone.  A feminist, lesbian tenured professor at a liberal institution of higher learning is not any more of a sinner or any more depraved than anyone else.  Romans 3:10-18 doesn't describe the worst case scenario; it describes ALL of us. 

If you're trying to see a liberal feminist converted and you are approaching her based on the myth of her free will, read these words carefully.  "I didn't choose Christ.  Nobody chooses Christ.  Christ chooses you or you're dead.  After Christ chooses you, you respond because you must.  Period.  It's not a pretty story" (81).

When conversion does come to the totally depraved it changes everything.  The author's conversion led to the loss of a secure, tenured position.  She lost respect in her community.  She lost friends.  She gained a church she is committed to.  She gained a husband and children.  She gained Christ and all that He is.  She says, "I sometimes wonder, when I hear other Christians pray for the salvation of the 'lost', if they realize that this comprehensive chaos is the desired end of such prayers" (page 27).  Later, closing the wonderful chapter on "Repentance and the Sin of Sodom, she says, "This was my conversion in a nutshell: I lost everything but the dog" (63).


Consider the other flaw in modern American Christianity: how we love our enemies.  In short, we don't.  In fact, we're not even that sure about those who have converted if they have a pre-conversion background which isn't squeaky clean.  Some of this book is hard to read because the author has experienced the hatred of professing believers both before she was saved AND afterwards. By the way, other parts are hard to read because the author is going to expose you to truths you might not have considered before. 

Example number one: while counseling a lesbian who was a member of a Bible believing church, the counselee said, "Rosaria, if people in my church really believed that gay people could be transformed by Christ, they wouldn't talk about us or pray about us in the hateful way they do" (25).   Read that sentence a couple of times, think about your church, think about your own contribution to this, and ask yourself if you really do believe that homosexuals can be converted.  If a homosexual overheard those prayers or those conversations, would they feel loved? 

Example number two:  when Butterfield moved to the campus of Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA, the hub of the Reformed Presbyterians, the Scripture signs posted on the front lawns of believer's homes gave her pause.  She asked, "Perhaps I or one of my drag queen friends would be welcome to have a cup of coffee at one of these Bible-loving houses, resting our cups between sips on vinyl tablecloths in country kitchens.  Perhaps we would be talked with as people made in God's image.  But perhaps not" (67).  She follows this up with the poignant questions, "Do these Bible verses that sit as placards take up the same cultural space as the rainbow flag that once resided on my flag pole?  Are these 'Welcome' signs, or signs that read 'Insiders Only'?" (67-68).  Answer honestly: could you invite a drag queen and a lesbian into your home and genuinely love them while presenting the gospel?  Would you?  Would I?  How you answer this question determines, in part, how much you understand much of what Jesus taught on love and how much (or how little) you understand about your own depravity.  For my part, I don't like what I'm discovering about myself. 

Example number three:  years after her conversion her husband was going through the process of candidating at a RPC church and in the process one of the elder's wives read one of the drafts of one of the chapters in the book.  Here is her reaction with the author's commentary on it:

"A week later she came to talk.  She took a deep breath.  All the color drained from her face.  She looked like she had just witnessed a crime scene.  Manifesting disgust and horror, she told me that she wished that I hadn't shared this with her.  She quickly added, 'Oh, I'm fine with this information, but B (the other elder's wife) could never handle it.  Do you have to tell people about this?'  ThisRosaria's unmentionable past.  Rahab the Harlot.  Mary Magdalene.  We love these women between the pages of our Bible but we don't want to sit at the Lord's Table with them--with people like me--drinking from a common cup.  That's the real ringer: the common cup--that is, our common origin in depravity.  We are only righteous in Christ and in him alone.  But that's a hard pill to swallow, especially if you give yourself kudos for good choices" (138). 

Not surprisingly, Butterfield's husband did not get that position.  Surprisingly, the Church of Jesus Christ doesn't know much about Him. 

This is just a sampling of what you will be smacked upside the head with when you read this book.  It deserves a wide audience.  Because I believe that, and because I believe that this book could be used of God powerfully amongst postmoderns and Christians, I plan on buying this book by the case to hand out.  I hope you will buy one copy, read it, and act on what you discover. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Unborn Twins "Fighting" in the Womb

When scientists captured this cinematic MRI of a pair of twins in the womb jostling for position, the media has billed it as an example of babies "fighting" in the womb.

 Note to the media elite: when you campaign for a woman's right to murder her baby in the womb and call the unborn baby "tissue" on one hand and then turn around and claim that these babies are "fighting" in the womb, you have a logical contradiction. You see, tissue doesn't fight.  

I also can't help but think of Genesis when Jacob and Esau are described as wrestling in the womb.  Of course, we've been told by liberal "enlightened" Bible scholars that this is not possible.  I wonder what they say now?   Don't expect much of a response.  They have a tendency to go as silent as the grave when science or archaeology jumps up and bites them in the butt.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Keeping Christ in Christmas As An Evangelist

**First published in The Evangelist, December 2010

It would seem that the mission to keep the Lord Jesus Christ the center of the upcoming Christmas season should not be a big deal. After all, we are all about Jesus Christ: we walk with Him, love Him, serve Him and preach Him. If anyone should be able to focus on the Lord this time of year it ought to be us. Right?

But let’s be honest for a moment: we are flesh. We are weak. As I was reminded recently, our biggest problem is not the “world out there” that is in opposition to all that Christmas means. Our biggest problem is not corporate America that bans Christ from the word “Christmas” or the local town council that bans nativity scenes from the town square. Our biggest problem is us. My biggest problem is me. I sin.

 I spend too much money on Christmas presents. I spend more time reading Dickens’ A Christmas Carol rather than Gospel accounts of the Lord’s birth. I get pulled into the fuzzy emotionalism, the sentimentality, and the nostalgia that this culture (aka “the world”) sugar coats this holy-day with. Christmas becomes, for me, too much about It’s a Wonderful Life and too little about the advent of God made flesh as He began His victory march to Good Friday, Resurrection Sunday and His return. Christmas becomes about big elaborate feasts with family rather than the Lord’s table (after all, what are we celebrating this time of year if it is not the fact symbolized by the bread: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us?). If you are like me, we put our theology on the shelf this time of year and end up looking more like Joel Osteen living our best lives now rather than the Lord who calls us to come and die.

 How do we keep Christ in Christmas as evangelists? Not by protesting the actions of a post-modern world that does post-modern things. Not by succumbing to a materialistic world that is driven by marketing. We can only do it if we purposefully covenant to meditate on the theological meaning of the incarnation of Jesus Christ and then do something about those meditations. In other words, apply that meditation to your evangelism.


Meditation is a dangerous word in our culture. New Age practices like TM, yoga, and centering are what most people think of when they read the word “meditation”. In short, the world says meditation is the act of emptying your mind, either as a stress reliever or as a channel to discovering some new, previously undiscovered truth. The Biblical conception of meditation is far different: in fact, it is the opposite. Biblical meditation focuses on filling the mind with the revealed truth of the Word of God.

The Puritans had a unique way of doing this. Joel Beeke writes of this in his excellent work, Puritan Reformed Spirituality (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2004) in a chapter entitled “The Puritan Practice of Meditation”. He cites Thomas Watson who said, “A Christian without meditation is like a soldier without arms, or a workman without tools. Without meditation the truths of God will not stay with us; the heart is hard, and the memory slippery, and without meditation all is lost” (79). How did they meditate? When they read the Scriptures, they asked questions of the text and (much to the chagrin of the Emergent Church) they answered them.

The memory is slippery. My slippery memory is what gets me into trouble this time of year. I am more apt to remember Christmases past with loved ones than the advent of the One who first loved me that I might love Him. This is where meditation comes in.

 You don’t have to be a theologian to do this; you might just be the average family. The other day my family was working on the church memory verse for the month. We were having some trouble memorizing it: “Great indeed we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16).

 I realized that my kids did not understand the text, so we meditated on the text. We asked it some questions and looked to the Bible for the answers. Why is Jesus called the “mystery of godliness”? What does the word “mystery” mean? When was Jesus manifested in the flesh? How was He vindicated by the Spirit? When was He seen by angels? Who proclaimed (or proclaims) Him among the nations? What does the word “world” mean, and not mean, in this context? How was Jesus taken up in glory? What does glory mean?

 I’m not going to give you the answers to these questions, but we had a precious twenty minutes in the van talking about the Scriptures and the depth of this verse. After that, we all had an easier time of memorizing the verse. Why? We understood it and could follow the flow of the Spirit of God’s statement on Jesus. By the way, memorization should not be the rote repetition of words but it is meditation on the text.

 Christmas Meditations 

 When was the last Christmas season you spent asking questions of the texts that speak of Christ’s birth with your family? They have become such a part of our culture that the Charlie Brown Christmas Special includes part of Luke 2, quoted by Linus during the Christmas play! When I was pastoring, I used to dread Christmas because everyone was so familiar with the Gospel accounts. I would rather preach texts that people were not familiar with or that people did not “expect” me to preach.

Please let me encourage you to do this. Spend some time slowly going over Matthew 1:18-2:23 and Luke 2:1-38 and ask many questions of the text. Use a study Bible and chase down the cross references; the Thompson Chain Reference Bible is especially helpful for this. Pray that the Lord would reveal Himself in a deeper way as you meditate on the Word of God.

But don’t limit yourself to the typical Christmas passages. Have you ever considered that John 1:1-18 is a “Christmas” passage? It is the doctrine of the incarnation; it is the theological side of what we celebrate this time of year. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Why is Jesus called “the Word”? What is His glory? How did the apostles see it? Will we ever see His manifest glory? How was it revealed at Christ’s birth? What is grace? Truth? How is His glory “full” of these two things?

We all want to guard our children against the heresies of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons. One important way to do that is to take advantage of Christmas time in order to teach them that Jesus’ existence did not begin in the manger. He is eternal God, the eternal Son, the Second Person of the Trinity. Meditate on the passages that deal with Jesus’ pre-existence. Passages such as Hebrews 1 and Colossians 1 are important texts to ask questions of.

Consider meditating on the Messianic prophecies; specifically, the prophecies that foretell the Lord’s birth. Passages such as Isaiah 7:14 and Micah 5:2. Use your study Bible to see where the various details given in the Gospels of the Lord’s birth were prophesied and ask questions of those texts. It is equally important to look up the fulfillments to these texts in the New Testament to see how the Holy Spirit led the authors to view these texts as prophecies of the Lord Jesus Christ.

A word of encouragement to the overwhelmed: you don’t have to do all of this in one season. Perhaps this year you will focus on Luke 2 and Hebrews 1 and next year you will focus on John 1 and some of the Messianic prophecies. Split the verses up over the month of December. Spend some time preparing before you sit with your family so the time is guided and doesn’t ramble.

This is just an outline of a few ideas on what to meditate on this Christmas. Fill your mind with these Scriptures and lead your family to do the same. This practice is a protection against the materialism and pluralism of our culture.

Christmas Classics 

We all love great writing, great acting, and great music. Every year the major networks and cable stations replay the classic Christmas movies, some of them do marathon replayings of different movies. “You’ll shoot your eye out!” is a pop culture cliché because of the popularity of The Christmas Story (which ironically has nothing to do with Christmas). Most of us could name more than a dozen favorite Christmas classics.

 When it comes to meditation, reading books by human authors in no way compares to reading the Word of God. But as Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves should think so little of what He has revealed to others.”

But do you know the real Christmas classics? Most Christians are not familiar with Wilbur Smith’s three volume (reprinted as one volume) work Great Sermons on the Birth, Death and Resurrection of Christ. In the original edition, the first volume was dedicated to nothing but sermons on the Birth of Christ. Here you will find sermons by Charles Spurgeon, Alexander Whyte, Martin Luther, G. Campbell Morgan and others. There is real food for the soul here and will provide the street evangelist and open-air preacher with ideas for springboards in street preaching. Reading like this is a sure guard against sounding like every other street preacher.

 The same author wrote an interesting chapter in a book called Chats from a Minister’s Library called “Five Famous Poetic Interpretations of Our Lord’s Nativity”. Most of these many will be unfamiliar with, but this is our own loss. I am going to reproduce this article on my personal blog at since this book is out of print and hard to find. This kind of reading is different than sermon reading because now we enter into the realm of Christian literature. True literature, as opposed to the piles of slickly marketed Christian fiction in most Christian bookstores today.

While we are talking about books, may I ask you what is the greatest work on Jesus Christ you have ever read? Many of us have feet of shelf space devoted to the writings of Ray Comfort and other evangelistic trainers. But when was the last time you read something truly great on the person and work of Jesus? Sadly, most pastors are not even aware of some of the best books on the life of Christ and their Christology sections are notable by their absence. If I can recommend one to you, which has much material on the birth of our Lord, it is The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim. Edersheim was a brilliant Messianic Jewish believer of the late 19th century. This is a scholarly work, but is readable by those who are not used to reading theological works. Edersheim provides amazing background information from the Jewish traditional writings which help us understand much of what Jesus addressed in His teachings and sheds light on many of the actions of our Lord recorded in the Gospels. A study of his chapters on the birth of our Lord will give you a deep understanding of the issues from a Jewish Christian perspective.

Have you ever listened to Handel’s Messiah? This year, instead of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” why not get a copy of this and listen to it? There is a popular Youtube video circulating right now that shows the Philadelphia Opera Company singing the Hallelujah chorus in Macy’s to a pipe organ accompaniment. Most Christians who have seen this video have wept (including me) to see the deity of Christ proclaimed so beautifully and boldly in public. Listen to this and worship Christ in addition to your meditations from the Scriptures.

So we’ve gone from Scriptural meditations as a family to the realm of classic sermons, literature and in-depth Bible study. You have been able to train your mind to reject the tinsel and trappings of what corporate America wants you to think Christmas is to what it truly is: Jesus Christ. Now, as an evangelist, especially as an open-air preacher, you actually have something to say.

You see, too many of us go out onto the streets with stock sermons in tow, or nothing in particular to say. We go out and follow a presentation or we might read a text and then revert right back to our presentation. Do you think this is how George Whitefield or John Wesley prepared their open-air messages? Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” If you have nothing in your heart but countless ten minute Youtube clips from a favorite open-air preacher, you are going to sound like a countless ten minute Youtube clip from your favorite open-air preacher, complete with their inflections, mannerisms, and methods. Break out of that box.

 Christmas Application 

Now that your heart is full, what do you do as an evangelist this Christmas season? Since your heart is full of the great truths of the incarnation, preach those truths! Read John 1:1-18 in the open-air. Explain it. Go to the cross and preach the Cross as well as the manger. Preach Luke 2:11 and explain what Jesus came to save us from. Use the Christmas carols as a springboard and launch into the glories of Jesus Christ from your meditation and study.

Preach from a heart that is warmed to the truths of the incarnation and the Person of Jesus Christ and your preaching will be warm with the presence of the Holy Spirit. One of His works is to exalt the Person of Jesus. Do you want your preaching to be anointed? We all do. Then exalt Jesus this Christmas out of the overflow of your heart and watch the Spirit of God attend your preaching with Christ-exalting power (John 16:12-15).

Genius: The Movie

The latest creative outreach from Ray Comfort is coming December 8th.  Ray is a master at putting together high quality evangelistic tools that make people think and challenge the culture.  I hope that our ministry can play a small role in distributing these DVD's locally. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

President Obama & Persecution Complexes


Since President Obama won re-election as our nation's president, the chatter on Facebook has been somewhat amusing.  In response to that chatter, I posted the following status update:

"All of this talk about Christian persecution coming under four more years of Obama is amusing. The only Christians who get persecuted are those who: 1) share the gospel when the government says not to (check the Book of Acts) or 2) stand against evil when the majority are toeing the line (see the Book of Daniel). If you haven't already been doing these things when you had the freedom to do it,
what in the world makes you think you will do it when you don't have those freedoms? The government WILL NOT CARE if you keep the gospel inside of your church walls and only vote against evil. Every oppressive government has allowed churches to meet just as long as they keep their mouths shut (Nazi Germany, Soviet Union, China even has state controlled churches). If persecution is coming, don't worry, you won't see any of it just so long as your Christianity is limited to your church attendance."
I've been somewhat pleased to see this get reposted on Facebook.  I hope it goes fully viral and people think seriously about these statements because they reflect a reality that few in church leadership are willing to admit.  What we do in the church building is not impacting society because the church membership is not taking what they know outside of the four walls.  If they do, it is thickly masked under the guise of friendship evangelism which involves no real gospel proclamation in most cases (not all).   As long as this is the case, we cannot expect any persecution.  

The Cause

Many prominent evangelical leaders hold to a type of theology which emphasizes the "not yet" aspect of the Kingdom of God while ignoring the many Scriptures which say that Jesus Christ has always been King and His clear teaching that the Kingdom arrived in manifestation when He arrived.  They ignore the massive amount of Biblical data regarding the Sovereignty of God over ALL nations, not just Israel.  They minimize the work of the Kingdom to be a sort of theological "show and tell" where believers gather mainly to gain information in a semi-gnostic exercise where the things of the soul are good and everything in the physical realm is evil.  

As long as this thinking is prominent in evangelical churches, the idea of pending persecution is a sort of sadistic fantasy for those who hold it.  If you believe what the Bible says, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever" (Revelation 11:15) it will impact how you view the issues of our day.  Even more, it will deeply concern you that anyone rebels against King Jesus and it won't be enough to complain about it on Facebook or vote once every couple of years.    

An Example

For example, consider the issue of abortion.  

Many would say, "Well, yes, I am against abortion.  I think it is murder.  But what else can we expect from this world?  We know that when Jesus comes back that He will set all things right and until then, things will only get worse.  In fact, the worse it gets, the better off we are since it means that Jesus will come back sooner.  We're told to expect this so we should not be surprised.  Maranatha!  Come quickly!  In the meantime, I will vote pro-life."

The believer who holds to what the Bible says about the Kingdom would say, "Yes, I am against abortion.  It is murder.  This is rebellion against the Law of God.  Abortion must end.  It's not enough to be pro-life.  I must go intervene for the lives of the unborn and live out the Kingdom on this earth as one of the subjects of His Kingdom.  I must work to end abortion because that is my responsibility as a servant in His Kingdom.  While I do, the gospel goes with me and is proclaimed to every mother, father, and politician I meet in the process."  

Of course, there are those who hold to bad thinking who advocate for the unborn.  I don't mean to say that they don't exist.  But in most cases, they are not the product of their theology.  They are an exception and not a rule.
Since Kingdoms that are in force have laws, a Biblical understanding is logically consistent since the only Biblical ethic against the evil of abortion comes from the Old Testament.  There is no specific New Testament Scripture which speaks against abortion.  Yet many will say that we are under the New Covenant and not the Old, as if the Old Testament is suddenly irrelevant.  Nevertheless, it is the New Covenant which, referring to the Old Testament, says "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable..." (2 Tim. 3:16).  Therefore, it is right to fight to end abortion based on the Word of God. 

If you take all of this seriously, a sanctity of life Sunday isn't going to cut it.  Voting for pro-life presidents, congressmen, senators, and having Republican-appointed pro-life Supreme Court justices won't cut it (ever notice how having the majority in these positions has never overturned Roe v. Wade?).  The only thing that will pass muster will be a living out of true religion which advocates for the fatherless (the baby in the womb) and the widow (the mother at the clinic who doesn't have a man to provide for her) as outlined in James 1:27.  


Now you need to know this.  If you advocate for the unborn, here are some real outcomes.  These are outcomes that have been experienced by me or friends I have done abortion clinic ministry with. 
--Your name could end up on a "no fly" terrorist list.  
--You could be physically assaulted.  
--You could be hit by a car outside of a clinic.
--You could be falsely accused of sexual assault.  
--You could be questioned by the FBI because the abortionist has made a false charge stating that you plan on blowing up the clinic.  
--Your family could be threatened by the abortionist if you take them to the clinic to intervene (an abortionist in Fort Worth swerved his car at my family as we stood outside).  
--You could go to jail.
--You could be cited for criminal trespass if you mistakenly stray onto an inch of the clinic's property while protesting.  
--You most certainly will be cussed out, threatened, have the police called on you, called a terrorist, and more.
None of these things will happen if you are voting for pro-life candidates while reading the Left Behind series.  
What's my point?  This is what persecution looks like.   "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tim. 3:12)
The same thing is true in street evangelism, by the way.  My experiences there have included:
--Watching a dear friend be arrested while passing out tracts and falsely accused of public drunkenness. 
--Getting spit on by a drug addict.
--Getting punched in the side of the head.
--Ticketed for using an amplifier in spite of complying with the law.
--Threatened with arrest.
--Having my property destroyed by hecklers.
--"Christians" opposing the preaching of the gospel.
--Being drowned out by bag pipers.
--Being drowned out by gay pride activists.
--Watching gospel tracts get confiscated as "contraband" by the Secret Service and then testifying against them in Federal Court.


What else have I seen?

--Teenagers in tears repenting of their sins.
--Mothers coming out of clinics beaming with joy because they have chosen to have their babies.
--Praying with a repentant man in front of the hotel where he was planning his adultery.
--Seeing college students repent at a parade. 
--Seeing another college student repent and get grounded in a local church.
--Seeing Muslims listen closely to the gospel.
--Having dinner with a gay pride activist and sharing the gospel, beginning a relationship that has lasted a few years.
--The opportunity to preach the gospel to a gathering of Mormons at an LDS Training Institute and pursuing the friendship that brought that about.

Is it worth the first two lists to get the third?  I think so.  I think any reasonable person could see these as worthy outcomes.  But there is a price to pay and frankly, I don't think too many are willing.  Too often we are content to become miniature Bible scholars who love our knowledge and our comfort more than we love the Lord or people.
By the way, I would have seen NONE of these things if I limited my thinking about the Kingdom of God to four walls on a Sunday. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Vote with Your Feet

The question has been brought up, and will be analyzed over the next four years and beyond, who is to blame for the re-election of President Obama? 

Well, the short answer is God.  He is Sovereign and He sets up kings and takes them down.  Read the Book of Daniel for an in-depth commentary on this truth.  This ought to cause us to tremble; God has given us one of the most inept presidents in history for a second term.  He supports homosexual marriage and the murder of every baby in the womb that Planned Parenthood can get their hands on.  The judgment of God continues to roll down on this nation. 

Todd Friel has come up with a pretty good diagram of what the problem really is.  It's just a crying shame that he didn't come up with this BEFORE the election.  If he had thought it through perhaps he would not have voted pragmatically for Mitt Romney (and encouraged his viewers to do the same).  Romney does not and cannot know the difference between good and evil since his worldview is patently false and he doesn't follow it anyway.

Yes, you heard it here.  Romney is not even a good Mormon in spite of the fact that the visitors center in Palmyra, NY for the Hill Cumorah quotes his wife in one of their displays.  A good Mormon would be pretty clear and consistent in his opposition over abortion in the one arena where it counts in politics: his record.  He would also be pretty clear in his opposition of homosexuality, which he is not.  This betrays the utter lack of principle that Romney has on the moral issues.  Nevertheless evangelicals, being the most gullible voting block in the history of the world, believe the cliched promises offered at election time rather than holding people accountable for their record.

Let me ask you a question.  I never saw a voting guide in this election based on Romney's record.  I wonder why?  

The Republican Party is completely clueless, which is why I left it in 2008.  They have not put up a seriously principled candidate since Ronald Reagan.  There is a war going on within the party between moderates (a la Romney) and social conservatives.  Unless the elites in the party make some kind of public statement involving sackcloth and ashes you can expect more of the same in 2016. 

In the next couple of years the Republican leadership will evaluate their strategy for 2016.  I wonder how they will determine who to put up?  There is only one thing that political strategists look at: statistics.  In other words, how did the party VOTE.  Those of you who voted for the "lesser of two evils" have almost guaranteed a similar moral dilemma in the next presidential election because the leadership has already seen that you are WILLING TO COMPROMISE YOUR PRINCIPLES IF THE ALTERNATIVE IS LIBERAL ENOUGH. They do not care about the conflicted consciences of conscientious Christians within the party.  They discovered what makes you tick in this election: panic and pragmatism. 

As an evangelical "conservative" bear in mind that you voted for a candidate who:

  • Invested (and thereby made money) in Stericycle, the company which services abortion clinics with the disposal of "medical waste" (baby corpses) across the nation.
  • Consistently upheld the "right to choose" in Massachusetts.  
  • Viewed the abortion issue as a non-presidential issue; he said it was a Supreme Court issue and thereby hoped to appeal to voters based on that.  
  • Has said vocally in 1994 and in August of 2012 that homosexuals should be admitted to the Boy Scouts
  • Came up with socialized health care in Massachusetts, providing a model for President Obama's version
Listen, we all make mistakes.  The problem is I'm not seeing anyone own up to them.  Repentance is the word of the day for evangelicals.  Repentance.   Repent for your compromised principles and for voting in a way that did not glorify God. 

Do you want to reform the Republican party?  You don't think that you have the power to do anything?  Do you want them to sit up and take notice?   Leave the party.  Vote with your feet.  Re-register as something else.  Now there is a statistic that will help the elites "get it." 

Two words: Constitution Party.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Rock the Vote: Vote Biblically

In recent weeks I have heard all kinds of bad advice from evangelicals about how to vote on November 6th.

 "Vote for the lesser of two evils." I guess we should be thankful that Stalin and Hitler aren't running for office.

 "We are not voting for a pastor. We are voting for a president." I agree. We are not voting for a pastor. We are voting for a deacon. According to Romans 13:4, we are voting for a diakonos, a "minister".

 "Don't throw away your vote on a third party candidate." Abraham Lincoln was a third party candidate. Did those who voted for him waste their vote?

 Do you really want to "rock the vote"? Then vote Biblically. On Sunday I preached this sermon called Rock the Vote: Vote Biblically. Please take the 35 minutes or so it takes to give this a listen. It's important. If we are to glorify God in how we eat and drink (1 Corinthians 10:31), shouldn't we glorify God with our vote?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Paul Washer on Biblical Street Preaching

Please note what Paul Washer says about the requirements for a street preacher as well as the need for compassion and level headedness. The time for everyone with an attitude and minimalistic training to give it a go in the open-air is over. Let's hold the street preacher to the same standard as the pulpit.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Central NY "Saints" Canonized

The news that two Central New York Roman Catholics from history will be canonized as saints this weekend is being met today with excitement by many Roman Catholics in the area, including a couple hundred who have traveled to Rome to participate in the big doings.

The news is met by me with one word, three syllables: "Whoop-de-doo!"

 Mother Marianne is a Syracuse native who went to Hawaii and set up a leper colony in Kalaupapa. She served there from 1883 until 1918. Kateri Tekawitha was a Mohawk Indian convert to Catholicism in the 17th century and lived near present day Albany, NY. Her claim to fame is that she took a vow of chastity and lived as a virgin until her death at the age of 24.

 I don't mean to make light of Mother Marianne's sacrificial service, or Tekawita's virginity, but service to lepers and purity is not the issue here. The issue is what the Roman Catholics claim when they declare someone to be a saint. By the way, what's the big deal about someone actually doing what is commanded of all believers? How bad has it gotten that someone who remains sexually pure needs to get rewarded? Doesn't that fall under what Jesus talked about: being an unprofitable servant doing only what He has commanded?

In order to be a saint in the Roman Catholic Church, one must have some miracle attached to their lives, either during their lifetime or later. In both of these cases, the miracles are attributed a long time after they actually walked this earth. One Central New Yorker claims to have been healed from a pancreatic ailment by praying to Mother Marianne in 2005. A kid from Washington State claims to have been healed of a flesh eating disease because of praying to Tekawitha in 2006.

 I don't question the validity of their healing. I do question the source. You can pray to dead people all day long and it is a waste of time. God hears prayers. Nowhere in the Bible are we commanded or is it even suggested that we should pray to dead believers. However, the Scriptures are full of admonitions to pray to God. We are encouraged to "pour out our hearts" to Him in Psalm 62:8.

Were these people healed? Very possibly. The source of their healing was not a superstitious prayer to a dead person, but God. He causes the blessing of rain to fall on the just and the unjust. Because God is merciful, He allowed these people to be healed. Until they repent of falsely crediting their healings to dead people and start crediting them to God, they are guilty of idolatry and will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

Question: when I have an invitation from the very God who created this universe with spoken words, why would I waste my time going to dead saints? Just set aside the question of how do we know that these people had anything whatsoever to do with these healings for a moment. How these things are "verified" by the Vatican can also be set aside. According to the Bible, who answers prayer? Dead believers or God? 1 John 5:14-15 makes it clear that it is God who answers prayer. He hears us when we pray according to His will and He answers.

The issue of Tekawitha's post-death appearances is another issue which fails the test of Scriptural support. She is reported to have appeared to three people and told them that they were to tell others that she was on her way to Heaven. Let's assume for a moment that she was not trusting in the doctrines of salvation that the Roman Catholic Church taught (not likely considering her beatification and canonization), especially in the 17th century, and that her faith was actually Biblical. If so, why would she need to tell others she was headed to Heaven? Jesus told the story of the rich man and Lazarus and it is recorded that the rich man's brothers would not repent even if one rose from the dead to plead with them. Did Tekawitha know something Jesus didn't? Considering that the Apostle Paul said that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, then why would she be "on her way". The truly saved believer is ushered at the moment of his or her death into the presence of Jesus Himself. There is no need for a GPS or to pack for a journey.

The Roman Catholic Church is not Christian by any reasonable definition of the term. It is a pagan institution, incorporating elements of pagan idolatry in their worship and denying the source of truth that all true Christians embrace: the Bible.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Vote Biblically

Here is an excellent resource from Go, Stand, Speak on the issue of how to vote Biblically.  There is precious little that has been written or produced on this important topic.  As we approach this election, we must consider what the Bible has to say and honor the Lord by submitting to it, regardless what we may have heard about this issue in the past. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Spirit, Our Ministries and Hearts Out of Control

What role does the Holy Spirit and His guidance play in the dreams we have for our ministries?  Certainly the Word of God should guide how we do ministry and make our plans.  However, considering the fact that we have an incredible ability to find Scriptures which justify just about anything and everything we do, we must ask ourselves the question, "What of the leading of the Holy Spirit?"  What if we exegete the text properly, but we apply the text out of a sinful motivation which originates in our hearts? 

I am throwing this out there for discussion and the consideration of readers of this blog: it's possible and in some cases, likely, that what we claim we are doing for the Lord we are really only doing for ourselves.  Motive is a slippery thing to nail down.  I am beginning to believe that motive ought to be the first thing we self examine whenever we embark on new ministry.  It is also something we ought to examine throughout the entire course of our ministries.  It's possible to start well, but finish poorly. 

All of this comes to mind as I am studying the nature of what the Bible calls the "heart."  The heart, Biblically speaking, is the center of our intellect, emotions and will.  The Bible doesn't have much good to say about the heart, in spite of every Disney movie you have ever seen with the inevitable ballad about the human spirit and its invincibility and the endless encouragements to just "follow your heart", "be true to your heart", etc., etc., ad nauseum.  Follow that advice and you will end up in the psych ward. 

Ecclesiastes 9:3 says that the hearts of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts while they live.  God wiped out the entire planet (minus one family) because, "every imagination of the thoughts of his [mankind's] heart was only evil continually." (Genesis 6:5).  After the flood, God declared of man that, "...the imagination of his heart is only evil from his youth" (Genesis 8:21).  Of the few things it is said that God hates, one of them is "...a heart that deviseth wicked imaginations" (Proverbs 6:18).  It's all summed up with Jeremiah 17:9 which says, "...the heart is deceitful above all things; who can know it?".  A rhetorical question with an obvious answer: NO ONE. So you still want to "follow your heart"? 

Because of all of this unreliability and unpredictability of the human heart, the Scriptures warn, "...keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23). 

With all of this in mind, consider this quote on human nature and ministry from T. Austin Sparks. 

"A forceful, dominating, assertive soul, not under the government of the Holy Spirit, is a terrible menace to the interests of God.  Decisions will be made, courses adopted, objectives secured, positions occupied, in the name of devotion to God.which will be Towers of Babel, Pyramids of Egypt, Ishmaels of Abram (not Abraham).  There will be a good deal of remorse bound up with these achievements eventually, and a wish that they had never been.  The result will be something false, and many may be involved in the tragedy."  (What is Man?  89)

Sparks' words here are loaded, especially if you have ever been guilty of creating one of these Towers of Babel in the guise of ministry.  The truth of what he's saying is undeniable if you've ever witnessed one of these tragedies.  The ultimate safeguard is the filling of the Holy Spirit.  When we are led by Him and not our ambitions, we are safe.  When we use spiritual things to accomplish our fleshly ends, we are in grave danger.  And, as Sparks says, "many may be involved in the tragedy."  People will be hurt.

There is not a ministry style invented which is not susceptible.  Whether you are talking about the local church or a parachurch ministry, leaders who are not under the leadership of the Spirit of God are a "menace to the interests of God."  Why?  If you are not being led by the Spirit, you are being led by your heart and that never turns out for the glory of God or the good of His people.

This is why we must not become overly enamored with our own "good ideas."  The conference circuit is full of men who have come up with good ideas with thin proof-texts that have "worked."  Christians line up to buy their books and DVD's.  Many aspire to come up with some profitable good idea so that others will buy their product.  American Christianity and marketing are virtually synonymous right now.  It is as if the Spirit of God cannot lead the average American pastor through the Word of God unless we have some evangelical pope or Magisterium to tell us what we really ought to be doing.  Our God given resources are not enough.  It's easier to buy someones program than it is to get leading from the Holy Spirit.  

The early church in Acts waited for the Spirit of God to move before they moved.  We move and hope the Spirit of God will catch up to us and bless our plans, as if He owes us something.  We do need to keep our hearts will all diligence and part of that keeping is yielding to the Spirit of God. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Pastors, Evangelism and Politics

Gary DeMar has written an excellent blog responding to a recent sermon by Dr. John MacArthur.  I applaud both DeMar's article and MacArthur's sermon.  Please give the sermon a listen here and then read Demar's response here.

If pastors do not wake up and begin speaking to the moral issues that their people are voting on this fall, they should not be surprised when the culture makes Biblical Christianity illegal in this nation.  The silence of the pulpit and the moral confusion in the pew may be an indicator of God's judgment.

You can watch Dr. MacArthur's sermon below.  

Friday, September 28, 2012

Pharisaical Evangelism

It's pretty easy to throw around the "Pharisee" label within Christendom and apply it to people we don't like.  Where it is more difficult is when it comes to applying it to ourselves.  I've been a Pharisaical evangelist.  They say that confession is good for the soul.  We'll see. 

The self righteousness of the Pharisees is legendary for anyone who has read the Gospels.  Jesus had some memorable run-ins with them throughout the Gospels.  He had some memorable words for them in Matthew 23.  My personal favorite: white washed tombs full of dead mens bones.  Outwardly beautiful, inwardly full of corruption.  It's just a great word picture. 

There are many marks of Pharisaism and this essay is not intended to cover all of them.  However, I do want to cover a couple of them as they can apply to street evangelists.  At least they have applied to me.  Maybe they apply to you too and we can repent together. 

I found myself up late at night earlier this week and got to listen to an excellent sermon on Pharisaism.  I am preparing to preach Mark 7:1-13 (which I will refer to later) which is one of those run-ins between Jesus and the Pharisees, so a sermon on this topic could be helpful and give me some material for my own sermon.  Little did I know it would give me some material for my own repentance.

Luke 18:10-14

One way you can know that you are in danger of Pharisaical thinking comes to us when we, like a Pharisee, see some other believer who does not meet our own high (and often unBiblical) expectations and think something like, "Thank You, God, that You did not make me like other men.  I am not Emergent, Word of Faith, easy believism, doctrinally oblivious or even like that well meaning but non-evangelizing fellow church member over there.  I share the gospel with everyone I know and spend my vacations at big outreaches.  That guy hasn't shared the gospel with anyone in his life!" 

Meanwhile your fellow church member who serves in ways you don't know about because he does not have a blog or a website telling the world about it is praying, "Oh, Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner." 

Let's ask ourselves the question:  who do you think is going to go back to his house right before God?   Check out Luke 18:10-14 and decide for yourself. 

Too many times I have thought of my fellow believers as complacent, lukewarm, pew-warming and loving it.  I have thought of myself more highly than I should have simply because I spend a few hours per week standing on street corners preaching or engaging people in one-to-ones.

Don't get me wrong.  Evangelism is good and we should do it.  By all means, let's do evangelism.  But let's not use this as the standard by which we judge others or ourselves by.  I've done it.  It's nothing but some of the worst sort of pride which says that my work in evangelism is more important than teaching a fifth grade boys class or cleaning the church.  I don't see a whole lot of blogs about cleaning churches or whole communities of people who clean churches posting videos of their work on Youtube.  I wonder why that is?  Could it be that these people aren't doing it to build a reputation or a ministry, but are doing it simply for the love of the Lord?  

Mark 7:1-13

In Mark 7, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees when He says, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition" (Mk. 7:9).   Jesus is attacking the "tradition of the elders" taught in Jewish writings like the Halakha and the Aggadah.  Later in the passage He brings up the teaching from the Mishna that stated that money declared "Corban" (devoted to the Temple) could be withheld from one's parents even if they were in need.  Consequently, the fifth commandment could be ignored with the sanction of the tradition of the elders.  In essence, their tradition trumped the very Word of God. 

"Traditions of the Evangelists"

It gets one thinking, doesn't it?  I mean, extra-Biblical traditions that we hold that in essence, trump God's Word as evangelists.  Examples?

  • If someone shares the gospel but does not use the "good person test" we think they've compromised or haven't shared the gospel at all. 
  • If someone doesn't show up each week for our outreaches we think they have backslidden or wonder if they were false converts.  
  • If our pastor has never come out for one of our outreaches we secretly (or not so secretly) suspect that he is lukewarm. 
  • If our church friends glaze over every time we come into the room as a defense mechanism against our starry-eyed, rapid-fire account of Friday night's encounter with a drunken mob of satan worshippers we judge them as not supportive of evangelism.  Maybe they are not.  Or maybe they have heard so many stories from us that all sound the same, only with a different cast of characters and that all end with the good person test.  Even more, perhaps they don't understand how anyone would actually choose to spend their time arguing presuppositional apologetics with drunken satanists.  Believe it or not, those stories don't exactly inspire newbies to come join you.  There's a reason why I was referred to in one evangelism conference by a dear friend as the church's "commando evangelist." 
  • If someone asks you about follow-up or discipleship, we think that they don't "get it."  In the meantime they think, "I wonder why he doesn't care enough about people to spend time with them?"  
  • If someone gets a little nervous with the idea of street preaching, they are a false convert. 
As a result, we come up with an extra-Biblical tradition which says:

  • You MUST always share the good person test if you are doing evangelism.  Preferably with a New Zealand accent.
  • You MUST do a formal outreach at least once a week.  
  • A good church MUST have a cheer leading squad for the evangelism team and the pastor's role on the evangelism team MUST resemble that of coach, general manager, starting quarterback and water boy.  
  • If you disciple the people you minister to on the streets you are not trusting the Lord in the spirit of Philippians 1:6.  
  • Street preaching is a spiritual discipline like praying, going to church or reading the Bible.  
In short, we have fine ways of rejecting the Word of God for our traditions.  The good news is we're described in the Bible!  The bad news is we're Pharisees. 

Now, I am sorely tempted to try to explain how the things in the above lists are not commanded in the Bible.  Also, how, in fact, some of the things are commanded in the Bible.  The fact that this would need to be explained in some circles illustrates just how little of the Bible we actually read and how many sermons by a strange little Kiwi we have memorized.  So I am not going to do it.  I don't need to.  It's self evident. 

Self righteousness, even in a good (wonderful, magnificent, worthy) cause is ugly.  Some of this can be chalked up to zeal without knowledge.  If that's so in your life, go get some knowledge to go with your zeal.  I think something like four parts knowledge to one part zeal is the right mixture.  And then go back on the street with passion and preach Christ and Him crucified.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hardness of Heart

Theological Dilemma

 Perhaps one of the biggest dilemmas theologically is understanding who hardens the heart of an unbeliever.  There is evidence that the unbeliever is responsible.  In Exodus, three times it states that Pharoah was responsible for hardening his heart in response to the plagues that God sent (Ex. 7:22; 8:15; 9:35). 

However, the same book reports that God is the One who hardened Pharoah's heart (Ex. 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1; 14:4, 8, 17).  In fact, the preponderance of the evidence indicates that in Exodus, God is credited with hardening Pharoah's heart far more than Pharoah himself.  Of the three references cited for Pharoah hardening his own heart, only one of them (Ex. 8:15) states clearly that Pharoah did "harden his heart".  The other two references may be only stating the fact of Pharoah's hardened heart and who did the hardening in those references is left open (Ex. 7:22; 9:35).  Since both of those references occur in places where it was already stated that God had done the hardening (cf. Ex. 7:3; Ex. 9:12) it could easily be argued that God is the One who hardens hearts.

The New Testament witness to this truth is overwhelming.  Romans 9:17-18 uses the example of Pharoah as a statement of how God works in salvation and concludes, "Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will, He hardeneth."  John 12:40 states, "He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them."  In context, this is referring to the Jewish people who witnessed Jesus' miracles (Jn. 12:37).  This is an uncomfortable and radical concept: God hardened the heart of the Jewish people that they would not understand and not be converted.

The word "hardened" in John 12:40 is the word "peporomene".  It only appears five times in the New Testament (Mk. 6:52; 8:17; Jn. 12:40; Rom. 11:7 and 2 Cor. 3:14).  In Romans 11:7 Paul says that, "...the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded."  The word "blinded" is the word "peporomene" meaning "hardened."  In 2 Cor. 3:14, Paul teaches us again about the hardness of the Jewish people when he says, "But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ."  Again, the word translated "blinded" is our word "hardened."

In the Book of Mark the word is used of the disciples in Mark 6:52 and 8:17.  This further complicates the whole issue because most of our references in Exodus and all of the rest of the New Testament references referred to here would seem to support the Calvinistic understanding of the Sovereignty of God in salvation.  As a Calvinist I have no problem with God hardening the hearts of unbelievers.  But in two of the five references to peporomene in the New Testament, it is referring to disciples.  So who hardened the hearts of the disciples?  In Mark, both references have to do with miracles that Jesus performed.  Rather than driving them to a deeper understanding of Jesus, the Scriptures show that they hardened even the hearts of the disciples!

So what do we do with all of this?  In my own understanding of hardening the heart, I have usually filed this under the Sovereignty of God and the Scriptures support this.  Yet the Scriptures also allow for the responsibility of man.  Jesus holds the disciples accountable for their hardness (Mk. 8:17).  And Pharoah clearly did harden his own heart in Exodus 8:15.

An Illustration

Hardening of heart is saying as much about the nature of man as it is the Sovereignty of God.  Man's nature, being totally depraved (Rom. 3:10-18), outside of divine intervention, always tends towards hardness of heart.  Always.  It is our default setting apart from God. 

The best illustration of how this works comes from the 17th century in the writings of the Puritan Stephen Charnock.  He uses the illustration of a wax candle.  The nature of the wax is hard.  When the candle is lit or heat is applied to the body of the candle, what happens?  It melts.  But what happens when you blow out the candle or remove the heat?  It almost instantly hardens.  Our hearts are like that wax.  When God brings the heat of the Spirit of God and the Word of God, our hearts melt.  When He does not and He leaves us to ourselves, our hearts become hard because that's what we are on our own.  We are hardened by our sin and our sin nature and God holds us accountable for being what we are: rebels against His Kingdom and the laws of it.

So how does God harden the heart?  Simply by withholding the "heat" and leaving the sinner or the believer to himself.  He gives no revelation of Himself or His Word to them.  As we have already seen, He does this of His own free will. If you do not think He does, be careful.  You may be calling God a liar considering John 12:40 and Romans 9:18.

The Elderly Unbeliever

Have you ever wondered why it is that some of the most difficult people to share the gospel with are unbelieving elderly people?  Logic would suggest that those who are the oldest amongst us should be the most open to speak of spiritual things since their own mortality is staring them in the face.  Yet that is not what happens.  I have found that I would rather talk to a rock then most elderly unbelievers because the rock is softer to spiritual truths.  I have had too many elderly women cuss me out when preaching the gospel to believe that they are soft in their old age.  I have also done too many Bible studies in nursing homes.  In most cases those that come are believers.  Common sense would say that the Bible studies should be packed out, but the bingo games are always better attended.  What is happening there?  As they are left in their spiritual death, the hardness of their hearts gets worse and worse.  They are no "worse off" than any hardened sinner. But the elderly are no better off spiritually than any other hardened sinner.  Candles with the hardest wax will melt when God brings the heat.


1.  When it comes to our evangelism, our job is not to convince candles to become soft by trying to change the nature of the wax or by appealing to the wax to become soft.  Our job is to "bring the heat" of the truth of the person of Jesus Christ and the Word of God attended by the Spirit of God.  Regeneration happens when this heat brings new life to dead souls (1 Peter 1:23-25).  It's not our reasoning or the appeal of our sales pitch that saves.

2.  When it comes to our theology, we must always remember that the balance of the Sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man is always present in the Word.  Whenever we lean too far in either direction, we move into error.  Many modern Christian leaders are so afraid of Calvinism that they will hone in on Exodus 8:15 while ignoring Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1; 14:4, 8, 17; Rom. 9:17-18; Jn. 12:40; Rom. 11:7; 2 Cor. 3:14 and so on.  This is not only intellectually dishonest, it borders on dereliction of duty considering our call to teach the whole counsel of God.  By the same token, when we focus in on these latter Scriptures and ignore the former as Calvinists, then we are guilty of the same thing.  Let's be honest with the Scriptures and admit that man is held accountable for his own hardness. Let's preach as if man is accountable for his sin, because his sin will damn him on Judgment Day (Rev. 21:8). 

3.  Here's the scary thing.  The disciples were hardened.  They SAW Jesus feed the 5,000, they SAW Him walk on water, raise the dead, and cast out Legion.  They heard His teaching.  Yet they didn't "get it."

It is possible for believers to be hardened in heart.  We can be all too familiar with the Lord and His work.  We can be exposed to it on an almost daily basis and be left in our hardness.  Unless the Lord opens our eyes we will be as blind as any Pharisee.  Unless He softens our hearts we will be as hardened as any rebel.  We must pray that we are always teachable and that the Lord will always bring the heat to us.

4.  If you find that you are hard to spiritual truth, cry out to God.  The book is not closed on your life yet.  Whether the Lord will be gracious to you in your sin or not may remain to be seen in your own life.  Cry out to Him.  Ask Him to break your heart.  And keep crying out to Him until He does.  Eternity is in the balance.  "Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness: when your fathers tempted Me, proved Me, and saw My work."  (Psalm 95:8-9)

Friday, September 14, 2012

When Someone is NOT Called to Full Time Evangelism Ministry

Over the last eight or nine years I often got phone calls from street evangelists asking how I was so blessed to get into full time evangelism?  The question presupposes that there is some kind of secret formula that if mixed together in the right order produces an evangelism ministry.  That's nonsense.  At least if we're talking about God-ordained ministry.  I know that just about anyone can create a ministry today whether or not they are really called of God.  All you need is a credit card, a computer and an internet connection.  Don't forget a digital camera or recorder.  If you can post pics and media of yourself on Youtube preaching in the open-air, voila, you have a ministry.  But the question is, "Are you called"? 

It's difficult to answer this question because some have a very subjective view of a call from God.  However, the call is nowhere near as subjective as some would like to think.  To answer the question positively, you know you are called when your local church recognizes and affirms the call.  I'm not referring to your pastor simply giving you the thumbs up in private conversation but when the church leadership publicly sends you out to do ministry, as we see in Acts 13:1-3 with the Apostle Paul.  If your church is sending you out, it suggests the idea that the church knows that they are doing it.  Could I approach the average, active member of your church and ask them, "Has your church sent out XYZ as an evangelist?" and have them answer in the affirmative?  If not, no matter what your pastor says, you haven't been sent by the church.  You may have been approved by the pastor to do what every Christian is called to do--share the gospel--but your call has not been recognized by the church. 

It is probably easier to identify one who is NOT called to full time evangelism ministry by the common mistakes that people have made over the years who have tried to go into it when they were not called. 

You Are NOT Called If....

1.  You are NOT called as an evangelist at all, full time or not, if your primary work is not building your local church. 

The office of evangelist (notice I did not say "gift") is given to the local church (Eph. 4:11).  Their purpose is for, "...the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:12).  How long does the evangelist labor in the local church for this purpose?  The answer is in the next verse.  "Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13).  This will take longer than a whirlwind visit of a few days (or even a couple of weeks) in a locality under the guise of traveling about ministering to the universal church.  The universal church is not in view here.  Paul is referring to offices in the local church.  We don't have a pope we can go to in order to get appointed to the office of evangelist.  We go to our local churches for that and we labor in them in order to fulfill this office because the saints THERE need to be built up into "perfect" (or complete) men of God. 

Therefore, if you think that an evangelist is primarily someone who travels and doesn't spend much time in their local churches doing evangelism or teaching the body how to evangelize, you have it all wrong.  Somehow in the last few years the "ultimate" in street evangelism ministry has become having the financial wherewithal to hit the road and travel.  I am not sure how this happened in the present day Way of the Master street evangelism world, but it was not common even here up until 2008 or 2009.  There were some who did it, but some of the first to do so (in 2005\2006) were heretical and none of them were accountable to a local church.  Praise the Lord that now there are many doctrinally sound street evangelists who travel.  However, I think they are misguided when they believe that what they are doing fulfills the office of evangelist according to Ephesians 4:11, although I think that most do know this and wrestle with it. 

I am not saying it's wrong to travel and share the gospel.  It seems like whenever I write an article intended to correct abuses I have to point out the obvious, so call me "Captain Obvious" here.  I am saying--and please hear this--that it's wrong to make that the primary goal of an evangelism ministry. 

2.  You are NOT called to be a full time evangelist if you have to go into debt to do it.  

Some people have pretty good lines of credit and have several credit cards that they can max out.  In the past, they have called it "stepping out by faith" and they charge their airfare, gas, food, tracts, and whatnot on their cards in order to do their ministry with the idea that eventually the Body of Christ will recognize either their 1) essential service or 2) the excellence of the products that they are producing for the Body. 

Street evangelists are not recognized in churches as performing essential services because in many cases, they are only doing what all believers are called to do: evangelize.  Because many street evangelists are not intentional in building local churches wherever they go to minister, churches don't get excited about supporting them financially, because, again, all they are doing is what all Christians are called to do.  The only difference in their minds is that the street evangelists are asking to be paid to do it.  In some cases, they are right. 

My friends who do this, please hear me: you would have a far better chance at being supported by the local church if you followed the Biblical model and served IN your local church.  If you could focus on equipping people there, your church would be far more likely to get behind you if they saw the fruit of a truly Biblical evangelism ministry.  The interest rates on your credit card are so ridiculous that by the time the Christians around the world see how vital your ministry is, you will be in five or six figure debt. 

A word on selling evangelism product to make a living: few can do this well.  In order to pull that off, you need to spend most of your time making product, not evangelizing.  And product has overhead costs, so you had better be a pretty good businessman in order to make enough money to both cover your overhead AND make enough to live on.   And, you had better have a good piece of change to invest in start-up costs. 

3.  You are NOT called to be a full time evangelist if you are afraid to work to support yourself. 

It is extremely rare, and in our present economy even more so, to have a rich donor to back you to do ministry.  I was extremely blessed to have a couple of rich donors support our ministries from 2005 until 2010.  In both cases, we did not seek them out, they sought us out (a pretty good sign that you're called to full time evangelism when the Lord drops that in your lap).  Because of a few ministries that were well funded, those who were newly trained came to believe that this is the "ultimate" in street evangelism ("Imagine getting PAID to do this!"). 

Since October 2008 those days are over.  In this economy, unless you have a good retirement you are living on or have your own financial resources, you may be able to get donors, but not enough to live full time on.  If your church is behind you and all other factors being equal, go for it, but recognize that you will need to do something to support yourself and your family.  The best thing is to find a home based business you are passionate about. 

Our Lord Jesus made wooden utensils and furniture as a Jewish first century carpenter.  The Apostle Paul made tents.  Peter was a fisherman and returned to that line of work after he was called (Jn. 21).  I think Ray Comfort had a surf shop. 

The first church manual we have in church history is the Didache.  They had a term in that manual to describe men who traveled about preaching as guests in the homes of believers who did not pay their own way.  That term was "false teacher."  Much of that manual dealt with how to handle the many traveling preachers of that day and it would shock most traveling evangelists today.  The early church fathers recognized the danger inherent in traveling ministry. The days of the apostles are over.  The church now oversees and guides missions and evangelism. 

Here's an excerpt.  This is section XII, and in the context of section XI, has to do with traveling preachers.  A "true prophet" in section XIII is "one who settles among you."  

1.  Let everyone who "comes in the Name of the Lord" be received; but when you have tested him you shall know him, for you shall have understanding of true and false.
2. If he who comes is a traveller, help him as much as you can, but he shall not remain with you more than two days, or, if need be, three.
3. And if he wishes to settle among you and has a craft, let him work for his bread.
4. But if he has no craft provide for him according to your understanding, so that no man shall live among you in idleness because he is a Christian.
5. But if he will not do so, he is making traffic of Christ; beware of such.

Am I saying all traveling evangelists are false prophets?  I don't believe that.  However, the early church's concerns over the abuses ought to be enough to slow down those who would seek this kind of ministry and think seriously about the Scriptures.  

4.  You are NOT called to full time evangelism ministry, or ANY ministry if you are not absolutely committed to work at studying the Word and praying (Acts 6:4).   

Notice I did not say "committed to reading the Word and praying".  Studying is a lot different.  Heretical street preachers often read the Word.  Called street preachers study it.  If you cannot devote serious time to study of God's Word, how do you dare to go preach it?  You are going to be judged more strictly than other Christians when you take the role of teacher on yourself (Jas. 3:1). 

Much street preaching today involves the same men saying the same things across a route that includes the same places.  Those places are usually populated with local street preachers who likewise say the same things each week.  They repeat what they have said before, repeat what they have heard others say on Youtube, but it's not often that they come with a message from their study that they got from the Lord. 

Often, these things are said without any evidence of power because there has been no serious prayer.  Sending up a quick group prayer before hitting the streets is not what I am talking about.  Oh, how much we need to pray.  We don't have many good examples in the churches of this and even fewer in street evangelism circles.  I am not claiming to be one of them.  But I am growing in this area and am calling others to do the same. 

5.  You are NOT called to full time evangelism ministry, or ANY ministry, if your home-life is a shambles. 

I know too many street preachers whose families are a wreck.  If your passion for evangelism exceeds your passion for your wife, children or parents, you may want to ask yourself why you care more about people you don't know than your own flesh and blood.  The list of those who have had spouses leave them because of evangelism is way too long.  If your relationship with your local church is functioning as it should then you have probably been warned by other believers about this.  Listen to them.  Do yourself and everyone you preach to a favor and get off of the streets. 

6.  You are NOT called to full time evangelism ministry, or ANY ministry, if you do not love people.  

I am NOT talking about the kind of love we street preachers like to think of ourselves: "I love them enough to tell them the truth!".  Of course, we should love people enough to tell them the truth.  But if that is as far as our love extends to people, I think we need to ask if we really love them.  Don't believe me?  Try your philosophy of love on your family sometime.  If all you do is tell them the truth whether they want to hear it or not in your family, you will be hated.  And not for righteousness' sake.  You will be hated because they have a sneaking suspicion that you don't care for them as a person, because people who genuinely care about others do things like spend time with them.  They are not just a pair of lips on a pair of legs.  If I tell my kids the truth about their inadequacies constantly but don't spend time with them, I become a father who provokes his children to wrath.  Yet somehow we have this idea that if we are known as the town street preacher who loves people but doesn't care about trying to connect with those we preach to with real face time we have done our duty and "loved them enough to tell them the truth."  Do you know what your audience thinks about your professed love?  I can't write it here because it would be an expletive I'd have to delete of the manure variety.  People who care about other people do more than talk.  They don't stop talking, but they do MORE than talk.  Do you try? 

When we get more excited about the confrontations we have, our run-ins with the police, and our crowd size than we do about the people we connect with, there's a problem.  I don't read a lot of updates about people meeting with people they've met on the streets, bringing them to church, or having a Bible study with them.  Why is that?  We're not trying.  And why is that we are not trying?  

This is where it gets sticky, but let's face facts and we'll all be better off.  1) Our ministries are more about us than about the Lord or people.  "I don't have time to spend with people but I do have time to yell at them for a couple of hours."  If we can tell people what WE have done, where WE have gone, and the witty things WE say, it becomes pretty clear we are Christian narcissists.  Self absorbed.  It's all about us.  What's the difference between that kind of narcissism and the vanity we see in this culture?  It's only different because it is Christianized.  2)  Street preaching has long had a tendency to attract introverts.  I've never seen a ministry so populated with introverts as I have in street evangelism.  It's not true all of the time, but think about it.  How many street preachers do you know who are NOT introverts socially?  I write this as something of an introvert myself.  Ray Comfort is not one of them; if there is ever someone who loves people it's Ray.  It's ironic that so many that follow his ministry don't know how to have a conversation with people about anything other than evangelism or the gospel (which always sounds strangely like the good person test).  

Listen, people will get really bent out of shape over this point, but after observing this over eight years, I'll dare anyone to say anything different.  I've been to too many evangelism trainings, done too many outreaches, and taught too many people to open-air preach to say anything else.  The only thing the training gets them to do is to get past their introverted nature in order to present the gospel, but rarely does it go beyond that to invest in the lives of others.  I can train a parrot to open-air preach, but it doesn't change his nature.  He's still a parrot and will make his parrot droppings in the bird cage.  This is a fatal flaw in our training.  We can teach people how to become salesmen but we cannot teach people how to love in a crash course.  That's a fruit of the Spirit!  The fact that it's lacking is a woeful condemnation on our ministries.  And all we're left with is a pile of parrot manure to clean up at the end of the day. 

Now if you train someone who already loves people to do evangelism, you have a powerful combination.  I've seen it and those ministries are among the most fruitful.  I've also seen it with men who once had that love but have lost it.  Ministry without genuine care for individuals is a strange fire that's being offered on the altar.  People may commend your zeal, your passion for souls, and your sacrifice, but if it's self generated and not generated by the Spirit of God, what do you have? 

Strange Fire

I suspect that this might be the whole truth of the matter.  When we claim we have a calling from God that lacks the Biblical signs of a calling, we are offering the strange fire that Nadab and Abihu offered in Leviticus 10.  We make offerings that the Lord never asked us to make.  The Lord doesn't need a fake fire on His altar.  It's an insult to His holy character.  He doesn't need our uncalled for help.  Listen to what the Lord said, "Among those who are near Me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified" (Lev. 10:3).  For offering this strange fire, the Lord killed Nadab and Abihu and He commanded that they not be mourned. Good riddance. 

What is this rant?  It's a call to repentance.  We all love to talk about repentance as long as it is the wicked sinner's or atheist's repentance.  What about our repentance?  I'd love to see some street preachers repent.  Like Gideon's army, we need to see it trimmed down before the Lord will do anything.  Far more could be accomplished with a handful of men who are called to ministry than thousands who are not.  Do you want revival?  Do you want reform?  It must start with us.  How can we expect people on the streets to repent when we do not?   As Keith Green wrote, "My eyes are dry, my faith is old, my heart is hard and my prayers are cold.  But I know how it ought to be.  Alive to You and dead to me. Oh what can be done for an old heart like mine?  Soften it up with oil and wine.  The oil is You, Your Spirit of love.  Please wash me anew in the wine of Your blood." 

This is a good place to start.  If this is the genuine cry of your heart, perhaps the Lord will do something.  What He calls you to do may look a lot different than what you have been doing. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Church Planting and Spiritual Warfare

The Reality of the Warfare

When I began the process of applying with the SBC to plant a church in Syracuse, NY the topic of spiritual warfare came up.  I was told that spiritual warfare in church planting is intense and that our greatest need is a network of prayer warriors.  Other church planters told me of the intensity of the battle and the need for much prayer.  Darrin Patrick, pastor and author, spoke at a conference I attended and mentioned the spiritual warfare that they have seen in the Acts 29 movement.  Some of that warfare included the suicides of church planters and moral failures.  In spite of this good advice, I don't think I was ready for the scale of the battle.  Having been involved in full time street evangelism since 2005 and pastoral ministry since 1992, I thought I had seen it all.  We had been through some serious spiritual warfare as a family and I did not think it could be much worse.  I was a fool. 

In June of this year we were finishing up a busy season of outreach and equipping ministry in the church plant.  We had held back to back to back seminars on witnessing to Roman Catholics, atheists and a seminar on open-air preaching.  We even hosted a successful debate between an atheist and an apologist from Canada.  The church was growing numerically and spiritually and the gospel was going out in many formats.  We were doing evangelism at least three to four times per week at venues throughout the city.

At that time several things all happened at once.  My wisdom teeth became impacted and needed to be removed quickly.  During the seminar on open-air preaching I took Advil like it was candy and finally had two wisdom teeth and a molar pulled.  At the same time, my mother, who was diagnosed manic depressive 35 years ago, began a spell that ended with her being hospitalized in August.  The day she was hospitalized, we took my mother-in-law to her doctor in New York City to get an update on her stage three melanoma and discovered that she only has a few months to live.  (Praise God, as I am writing this my mother is being released from the hospital after five weeks of treatment.  However, my mother-in-law is getting much worse and will probably pass away within the next week or two.)  The same time we found these things out, a dear friend announced publicly that he was renouncing the faith and converting to Catholicism.   

Our son who has a severe wheat allergy has been reacting to something else; probably an earlier allergy that has been hiding and is now coming back.  He is awake at night covered in sores much like Job must have been; our son would probably gladly scrape his sores with broken pottery.  Before we moved here he had shown great improvement.  He's six years old and this trial in his life has matured him greatly.  But at times it is nearly intolerable.  The doctor says that it is like having a giant mosquito bite on your body and you can do nothing else but itch it.  He's come close to having several infections because of this.  It's getting under control as of today, but it has been a trial.

What is the Cause?

Why is church planting so intense?  I believe that satan comes against church planting more than other forms of ministry because the local church is the only organization that has Jesus Christ at the Head of it.  Jesus promised the church that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it!  Those words represent a distinct threat to the kingdom of darkness. 

It's more intense than parachurch ministry because the effort to plant a church results in more long term evangelism and Kingdom (of God) building than the individual efforts of believers who are not working to build the local church.   The church is built to duplicate itself whereas parachurch ministries usually die out after the first couple of generations of leadership pass away.  satan will come against godly parachurch ministries, but in my experience, the battle is not as intense.

Keep in mind that the devil is God's devil, as Martin Luther once said.  As Job graphically illustrates, God has him on a short leash.  If God allows his fiery darts to pass through our armor, it is for a reason.  It is for our growth.  Part of the battle is learning how to accept the warfare as a gift from God for our maturity.  I am still learning how to do this.  


The difficulties we have faced have combined at times to drive me to the edge of despair.  I feel the need for fellow elders who can help shoulder the load but we are not ready for that yet.  As a result, I have teetered on the precipice of depression.  By God's grace I have not fallen into it.  Several things have helped greatly and I share them here:

1.  The Word of God.  Expository preaching through the Book of Mark has renewed my confidence in: a) our gracious Lord who heals people with a word, with a touch, and in love.  b) The supremacy of Jesus over the storms (Mark 4).  He is God and He is reliable.  c) The importance of truth.  As I study the Word each week it is food for my soul.  The Word has been a source of comfort and I am reminded daily of absolute truth that does not change even though my circumstances change daily. 

2.  The Church.  The one highlight this summer has been the local church.  People have prayed for us in our trials.  The church is growing numerically and spiritually and it is this growth that has been the one bright spot in our lives.  We are preparing for our first baptism and we should have five or six who are being baptized, Lord willing.    Watching the people of God grow in deeper knowledge and application of His Word is such a joy. 

3.  Prayer.  We met one night last month for an all night prayer meeting. This will become a monthly practice.  We already meet frequently with those in the church who are stirred to pray, in addition to our weekly prayer meeting.  I find my times of prayer to be meaningful, but I have to make time for it to happen.  I am too willing to withdraw from God when I am wounded. 

4.  Family.  In July and August I did something it seems few pastors are willing to do: take a vacation.  I get two weeks of vacation and this year I took both.  I usually take all of the vacation I can get because I am not the head of the church.  Jesus is.  He can do a better job than I with His church.  The time with my family--climbing mountains, paddling canoes, fishing, eating ice cream, and swimming in the pool--is therapeutic.  Praying together and reading the Word and good books together have helped immensely.  My kids need it too.  They need to know that their dad loves them in the midst of the turmoil they are in. 

5.  Repentance.  Whenever trials come it is a time to look inward and see where I have fallen short.  I have to at least consider whether or not the trials are intended as discipline from my loving Heavenly Father.  The Word, prayer and local church involvement all force me to look inward and see where I need to repent.  A couple of weeks ago I made the decision to quit Facebook because it was more of a tool for vain self promotion than it was a ministry.  It was also a time waster.  This and other issues have been repented of and I am beginning to feel fresh power in preaching and living life.  We always need to repent.

6.  Accountability.  I am blessed to have a mentor that I speak with once a week on the phone.  Other close friends have called to check on me.  I am accountable to the North American Mission Board and my supervisor there has been a wonderful support.  We all need people to challenge us directly and indirectly.  I have gotten both from these sources in recent months.

7.  Exercise.  Being active helps so much.  This has been well documented in the field of psychology.  Physical exercise helps battle depression.  It also helps me spiritually because I do some of my best praying when I am walking or hiking.   The physical exertion helps work out stress.  When I skimp on exercise, I can feel the difference physically.  There is a physical aspect to depression. 

8.  The Lord Himself.  All of these things are tools that God uses to carry us through.  However, if they become ends in themselves and not tools underneath the over-arching, all encompassing Person of Jesus we miss the point.  Eternal life is to know Him!  Anything the Lord can do to draw us closer to Himself He will do.  Whether you want to call it spiritual warfare or circumstances in life or some combination thereof, call it what you want.  He will orchestrate our lives to draw us to Him.  It is a sign that we are truly His. 

I hope my experience can be a blessing to someone else.  Please pray for me as I struggle to learn these lessons well.