Devotional by Brian “Head” Welch

The former guitarist for the metal band Korn was born again a number of years back. He has now come out with a new devotional, Stronger: Forty Days of Metal and Spirituality.

It’s a 40-day devotional retelling the important moments in Brian’s life with 40 of his favorite verses.

Although I’m impressed that any Christian actually knows 40 verses, I fear that his devotions are more about him than the Savior, but I will admit I have not read it. My perusal of it struck me this way, however.

I do not detract from the man’s obvious change of life. Now the hard part comes, the “no more I but Christ” part.

The Law Converts

When we think of someone getting “converted,” we generally associate it with new birth, being made a new creation by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. That probably isn’t a wrong correlation, but it does have a different meaning.

Psalm 19 says “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul.” To
“convert the soul” means to transform the life, change the heart, or that your way of life completely shifts.

The law of the Lord can facilitate this change. Timothy knew the Scriptures, the law, and it was able to make him wise unto salvation. Timothy’s life changed.

We downplay the power of God’s Word way too much. We chalk up conversion to our decision-making abilities, our spiritual discipline, our taking part in sacraments and many other things.

The Word seems tacked on. Sort of like that fork your mother-in-law puts on the platter of sausages and cheese that no one uses because it’s so much simpler to use your fingers.

The law of God is no sausage fork, my friends. Oh no, it’s the sausage.

I will conclude before I break something tripping over my metaphor.

Patient Faithfulness Rarely Changes the World and That’s OK

“True Christian fortitude consists more in a gracious security and serenity of mind, in patient bearing, and patient waiting, than in daring enterprises, sword in hand.”

All to often we assume that faithful Christianity has to convert masses of people, be a best-selling author, pack stadiums with your riveting speeches, go to exotic locales to preach to head-hunters, or at least translate the New Testament into a new-found language.

In reality, most of these opportunities will escape us and, for most, are not our calling anyhow. Yet we often suffer from a debilitating ministry envy. Since we can’t change the world we decide to do nothing.

True Christian faith is a patient abiding life of Christlike influence. Start with the small stuff–reading the Bible, prayer, giving money, hospitality, helping the helpless–let God take care of the world.

Crystal Cathedral Declares Bankruptcy

Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral has declared bankruptcy with $50 million in debt.

Here is a 7 minute video of a Dateline feature on it. One of the people highlighted in the video is the family that rented out animals for the Easter and nativity plays at the Cathedral.

They are still waiting for $57,000 from the Cathedral. The family had to sell their house last year after the Cathedral stiffed them last Christmas.

One should not rejoice in the downfall of an enemy, however, an enemy of the Gospel going down does not bother me. But it’s hard to be happy knowing how many have been fooled.

Even so, come quickly.

The Sin of Worry

People like to worry. It’s sort of a bummer that Jesus so often tells us not to. This does not bode well for us.

Worry comes when things are out of our control. Usually we don’t worry about lifting a spoon to our mouths because we’re all over that one.

Jesus says that nothing is in our power, even the lifting of a spoon.

Should we worry about everything then? On the contrary:

“If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest?”

You can’t do anything on your own,so why worry about anything!?

I love the logic. I worry about the implications, though.

Playing Religion

Christianity has many faults and Christians are the fault for these faults. You can poke holes in Christianity and the Bible. You can find hypocrites, scoundrels and rebels within the doors of the Church.

That’s fine. Poke away. As long as you poke on yourself occasionally.

Eternity is a long time. Consider your place in it. Don’t play a game with your soul.

“Do you realize that most men play at religion as they play at games? Religion itself being of all games the one most universally played.

“The Church has its “fields” and its “rules” and its equipment for playing the game of pious words. It has its devotees, both laymen and professionals, who support the game with their money and encourage it with their presence, but who are no different in life or character from many who take no interest in religion at all.

“As an athlete uses a ball so do many of us use words: words spoken and words sung, words written and words uttered in prayer. We throw them swiftly across the field; we learn to handle them with dexterity and grace-and gain as our reward the applause of those who have enjoyed the game.

“In the games men play there are no moral roots. It is a pleasant activity which changes nothing and settles nothing, at last.

“Sadly, in the religious game of pious words, after the pleasant meeting no one is basically any different from what he had been before!”

– A.W. Tozer

Meet for the Master’s Use?

Here are nine characteristics of men who were instrumental in The Great Awakening. Do with it what you will.

1.  They are in earnest: “They lived and labored and preached like men on whose lips the immortality of thousands hung.”

2.  They are bent on success: “As warriors, they set their hearts on victory and fought with the believing anticipation of triumph, under the guidance of such a Captain as their head.”

3.  They are men of faith: “They knew that in due season they should reap, if they fainted not.”

4.  They are men of labor: “Their lives are the annals of incessant, unwearied toil of body and soul; time, strength, substance, health, all they were and possessed they freely offered to the Lord, keeping back nothing, grudging nothing.”

5.  They are men of patience: “Day after day they pursued what, to the eye of the world, appeared a thankless and fruitless round of toil.”

6.  They are men of boldness: “Timidity shuts many a door of usefulness and loses many a precious opportunity; it wins no friends, while it strengthens every enemy.  Nothing is lost by boldness, nor gained by fear.”

7.  They are men of prayer: “They were much alone with God, replenishing their own souls out of the living fountain, that out of them might flow to their people rivers of living water.”

8.  They are men of strong doctrine: “Their preaching seems to have been of the most masculine and fearless kind, falling on the audience with tremendous power.  It was not vehement, it was not fierce, it was not noisy; it was far too solemn to be such; it was massive, weighty, cutting, piercing, sharper than a two-edged sword.”

9.  They are men of deep spirituality: “No frivolity, no flippancy . . . . The world could not point to them as being but slightly dissimilar from itself.”

Biography: William Tyndale

Tyndale’s life is just remarkable. The man translated the Greek New Testament into English, plus some of the Hebrew Old Testament, all the while being chased all over the place by angry Catholic guys.

It’s just bizarre that they kept him in prison and yet let him keep translating the Bible. Don’t get that one. Eventually Tyndale was burned at the stake for translating the Scriptures. His goal was to allow a ploughman to know more of the Bible than a Catholic priest.

Since most of our translations (except the NIV) still rely heavily on Tyndale’s work, I’d say he accomplished his goal. I have read five biographies of Tyndale and the one by Bruce Fish is the one I’d highly recommend.

Love Is A Verb

Someone said this the other day, “Love is a verb.”

I gotta be honest, that makes me laugh! Cuz, see, when you say “Love is a verb” you’re using “love” as a noun!

That’s funny. It’s like calling John Calvin “strong-willed.” The levels of irony are amusing, but then again I’m just happy because it’s Thanksgiving and my kids get to eat a lot of food I didn’t pay for.

Biography: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I can’t even imagine being his mother trying to teach him how to spell his name. I read a biography by Eric Metaxas, which was a very good read, well done.

Bonhoeffer and I would not have been friends. He’s an academic that took things seriously. I’m not an academic and have problems following his thoughts.

I do admire his life. His participation in plots to kill Hitler is a questionable issue. I give him props for being settled in his mind and going for it, still don’t think it was right.

Bonhoeffer lived at a time that called for seriousness. His principled stand against an evil man who was actively trying to wipe out Jews troubled Bonhoeffer. There is no doubt that his times formed his theology.

This is one of the few biographies I would recommend wholeheartedly. Well written story about an interesting life.

John Wesley on Pastors

“Our preachers, many of them, are fallen.  They are not spiritual.  They are not alive to God.  They are soft, enervated, fearful of shame, toil, hardship.”

“Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen, such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven upon earth.”
–John Wesley

Biography: John Wesley

Before reading on Calvin, I read a biography of Wesley, which seemed fair, and I, above all else, am a fair guy. I picked up a biography by Stephen Tomkins, who is a writer for Ship of Fools, an amusing Christiany sight.

The book was fairly well-written and had me laugh out loud several times. Wesley himself was an interesting guy. He rode his horse 250,000 to preach, presumably not all on the same horse, although Methodist horses do ride well. (Little Methodist humor for ya there, only funny if you know the phrase “Methodists die well” and even then probably not that funny. I’ll move on.)

Wesley’s life was a tad troubling to me. He had weird relations with women, he couldn’t stand his wife and once told her he still loved her because she was so clean, which, I’ve heard worse reasons, but still, and his charismatic emotional quackeries that followed him is one of those things.

Wesley was tormented over sin. He managed to devise a theology that relieved the torment, sort of, as he maintained his perfect love perfectiony thing.

Comparing Calvin and Wesley doctrinally I agree more with Wesley. Both of them, however, had very odd lives. Wesley seems more human and down to earth, but his earthiness had its own set of issues.

You can’t always devise the correctness of a man’s doctrine by his life, but it does have a connection somewhere. It’s nice that Wesley didn’t kill anyone for disagreeing with him. I thought that was a point in his favor.


Small Church Bitterness

I’m pastor of a church that is slightly smaller than 2,000 people. Like 1,950 people slightly smaller. We’re not a megachurch, which means that I am required to be bitter about megachurches.

Actually, I’m rather ambivalent about megachurches. But I’m supposed to be bitter. So, in an effort to fulfill my duties, I will point you to this article showing how megachurches (churches with at least 2,000) are doing just fine during the recession.

81 percent of megachurches have increased attendance in 2010
67 percent increased their budgets
64 percent of megachurches gave their staffs a pay increase
4 percent cut salaries in 2010
71 percent of megachurch leaders said the economy was having “no impact” or a “slightly negative” impact on the church.

Here is my dutiful small church pastor bitter comment–Good for you. Have fun sipping coffee and eating doughnuts while other pastors can’t afford health insurance. God is well-pleased.

Biography: John Calvin

The reason for my talking about John Calvin lately is that I was reading a biography of him. Williston Walker wrote this one and emphasized Calvin’s organizing role in the Reformation.

He makes a point of saying that Calvin was not very original, he copied Augustine, Bucer and Luther. Where Calvin shone was in his ability to organize and summarize the new Protestant Faith.

Walker gives Calvin the benefit of the doubt on everything, which is his prerogative, and it was by no means a hagiography. It cracked me up that he often referred to Calvin as being “strong-willed.” That’s funny.

Of all the Church History biographies I’ve read, and I’ve read quite a few in my years, Calvin is probably the most deplorable character I’ve ever read about, outside of most of the popes. However, there were many in Calvin’s day who addressed him as “The Protestant Pope.”

This was not a nice guy. I have little respect for anything he did. I will give him props for his Institutes. I don’t agree with them entirely, but it was a fine piece of writing. Outside of that, I have little use for the guy.

Bible Contradictions

I’m speaking out of Ezekiel 18 in the morning. It’s a passage about how the coming judgment on Jerusalem is the fault of the people who currently live in it, it is not their father’s sins that they are being punished for.

Ezekiel 18 famously says, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” The father is not punished for the iniquity of the son, nor is the son punished for the iniquity of the father.

It’s said quite clearly and consistently all the way through the chapter. Here’s the kicker: that aint true! Several examples

1) Exodus 20:5 says that God will visit the iniquity of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.

2) Joshua 7 talks about Achan who stole from Ai and gets sucked into the ground along with his sons and daughters.

3) David and Bathsheba’s son is killed as punishment for David’s sin.

4) Elders who have rebellious kids should not be elders.

Then we have Romans 5 and the sin of Adam, “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners,” and “judgment came upon all men to condemnation.”

I love the fact that the Bible has contradictions. It lets you know who studies the book and who just plays around with it. People who play with the Bible

1) usually don’t know or realize the many contradictions that exist.

2) when they are aware of them, they use impossibly ridiculous loopholage to get around them.

The Bible contradicts itself many times over, embrace that fact. Then get to work studying it to find out what the point is. Always remember context. Context is everything. Get to work!

Believe On The Lord Jesus Christ

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” This verse (Acts 16:31) is quoted frequently to let people know “how easy” it is to be saved. Let me share some pet peeves about its usage.

1) It is said to a prison guard who has just seen his prison collapse, considering killing himself, and yet all the prisoners still sitting there. The guy was in severe emotional turmoil.

2) Rarely ever is the whole verse quoted, “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” How come we don’t make promises of people’s families all being saved? Why leave that bit out?

3) Even more rarely do I hear the next phrase quoted, “And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.” It wasn’t just believe that there was a Jesus, it’s believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and here’s what the Word of the Lord says about Him. When they believed the Word of the Lord, they were saved.

4) The prison keeper is risking his life by having his prisoners in his house to talk to them about the word of the Lord! The guy is taking some severe risks right off the bat with his faith. This is no simple mental assent type of faith!

I do believe that people are saved by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. And I believe it means just what it says in this passage–we believe all that the word of the Lord says about Him and we take risks in our faith for it. Faith is a real thing.

Calvin On Heretics

We admit that those who have fallen into idolatry and lead others astray ought to be killed.”

“We easily grant that heretics who have been ordered to leave the territory of the prince, but refuse to comply, can suffer capital punishment.”

We know that there are three levels of errors, and 1. we grant that some should be pardoned, 2. while for others a moderate censure is sufficient, and 3. that only notorious impiety should suffer capital punishment. 

“But in the event that religion is being torn away from its foundations, that abominable blasphemies are being brought forth against God, that souls are being carried off to destruction by unrighteous and destructive dogma, and finally when open rebellion against the only God and against true doctrine is being attempted, it is necessary to descend to that very last of remedies [kill ’em], lest the deadly poison creep farther.”

–All quotes from Calvin’s charming book entitled, Refutation of the Errors of Servetus. Servetus is one of the guys Calvin had burned at the stake for desagreeing with Calvin’s doctrine.

The Decline of Marriage

Time Magazine has an article on the decline of marriage. It’s just not something people do anymore.

“marriage, whatever its social, spiritual or symbolic appeal, is in purely practical terms just not as necessary as it used to be. Neither men nor women need to be married to have sex or companionship or professional success or respect or even children.”

Allow me to point to Scripture and show, yet again, the power of Scriptural prophecy. We’re getting there.

“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith. . . Forbidding to marry”

Weary Worship

Routine gets boring.

The Bible sets up routines that have not changed in over 2,000 years. Church services are supposed to read Scripture, preach and teach the Word, prayer, Lord’s Supper, baptisms, elder-led edification, and that’s about it.

After 2,000 years this gets boring. Going to church becomes wearying. Almost feels like the life is being sucked out of you.

Our culture, meanwhile, is changing constantly. Things come and go, and these things all seem thrilling. Hey, I’ve got an idea! Why not take the thrilling new things of culture and dump them into our weary churches?

Getting weary with what God commanded is not a good thing. Israel had the same conclusion about the worship God told them to do. “Ye said also, Behold, what a weariness is it! and ye have snuffed at it, saith the LORD of hosts.”

God does not tell them to change the worship, instead He says, “I am a great King, saith the LORD of hosts, and my name is dreadful among the heathen.”

If you find your churches worship to be weary, it might just be because you do not know whom you are worshipping.

Preach What It Says

When I was in seminary I had to meet with a counselor who interviewed me to determine what sort of denominational affiliation I would be most compatible for.

One of the questions he asked me was “Are you Calvinist or Arminian?” I answered, “Uh, not sure what that means.” He gave me a brief explanation of each and I answered, “Uh, a little bit of both.”

Although I know more about the labels today, I still would answer, “Uh, a little bit of both.” 

Calvinism has error in it, which is why Arminius set up an opposing doctrine. However, since his doctrine was a reaction against a man’s teaching, Arminius’ doctrine is also flawed.

One of the severe dangers of teaching Scripture is that we teach against what others teach rather than teaching for what the Bible says. Error is usually met with opposite error.

Occasionally it is good to line up opposing beliefs, to preach against an established doctrine, just to let people know where you stand. But to make anti-doctrine your theme will only cause more doctrinal extremes resulting in more error.

Teach what it says, not against what others say it says.

Calvin’s Skeletons

Am reading a biography of John Calvin by Williston Walker. It is more a hagiography, since the author clearly adores Calvin. However, even in this favorable treatment there are these pesky facts.

Calvin’s Consistory [board of guys set to examine residents of Geneva] examined and disciplined people for dancing, for possessing a copy of The Golden Legend, a barber to tonsuring a priest, for declaring the pope to be a good man, making a noise during a sermon, laughing during preaching, criticizing Geneva for putting men to death on account of differences in religion, and singing a song defamatory of Calvin.

“The sum total of persons punished and the breadth of the incidents of punishment, were doubtless very considerably augmented under his [Calvin’s] influence. Between 1542-1546, fifty-eight persons were condemned to death and seventy-six to banishment.”

Mr. Walker tells us this isn’t that big of a deal because of the times Calvin lived in. Plus, 34 of those executions happened in one year when they got scared about witchcraft. So, apparently that makes it better.

Calvin was once criticized and he took it as a “personal affront, it was a denial of his authority as an interpreter of the Word of God, and therefore an insult to ‘the honor of Christ,’ whose servant Calvin felt himself to be. We have here an illustration of that identification of his own cause with that of God, which was the source of much of Calvin’s strength, and also of much of his severity.”

Calvin viewed himself as god of Geneva, what he said is what God said. The author several times mentions that Calvin is “strong-willed,” which is humorous to me, but it also shows clearly his view of God’s will and how it is enacted.

Calvin’s role in Geneva is one of those things. One of those things Calvinists sugar-coat and belittle. Sort of like Lutherans hemming and hawing about Luther’s anti-semitic book.

All of these things are taken care of by not labeling ourselves after guys.

Saved By Christ’s Righteousness?

John MacArthur in The Glory of Heaven, page 73 says, “We know from Paul’s treatise on justification in Romans 4 that God saves believers by imputing to them the merit of Christ’s righteousness.”

I ask you, what verse in Romans 4 says we are given the meritorious righteousness of Christ in order to save us?

The only verse in Romans 4 that mentions Jesus Christ is verse 24 with its conclusion in verse 25. These verses say nothing about Christ’s merit saving us, what is said is that he “was raised again for our justification.”

More on this subject.

Justification by Faith Not Merit, Not Even Christ’s Merit

The Council of Trent (Catholic doctrine) says this about Justification:

“God justifies the impious by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; and when, understanding themselves to be sinners, they, by turning themselves, from the fear of divine justice whereby they are profitably agitated, to consider the mercy of God, are raised unto hope, confiding that God will be propitious to them for Christ’s sake; and they begin to love Him as the fountain of all justice; and are therefore moved against sins by a certain hatred and detestation, to wit, by that penitence which must be performed before baptism: lastly, when they purpose to receive baptism, to begin a new life, and to keep the commandments of God.”

In essence, the way I understand it, is that Catholic theology says a man is justified by Christ, and is granted the Holy Spirit who works grace in the believer to complete his justification. This often leads a blending of justification and sanctification. If the Catholic doesn’t get all his acts of grace done before his death, he can finish the work in purgatory.

Reformation theology threw a fit over this, but then they went into another extreme direction, which misses out on Scripture as well. Reformation theology says that our justification is merited by works, but not our works, the works of Christ.

John Calvin says, “By his obedience, however, Christ truly acquired and merited grace for us with his Father. Many passages of Scripture surely and firmly attest this. l take it to be commonplace that if Christ made satisfaction for sins, if he paid the penalty owed by us, if he appeased God by his obedience… then he acquired salvation for us by his righteousness, which is tantamount to deserving it…Hence it is absurd to set Christ’s merit against God’s mercy.”  (Institutes, 2.17.1, 3)

Therefore, justification is entirely out of our hands, God justifies people and those people might not even be aware of it. People receive irresistable grace, they get saved by God’s decree not by anything they did, but by God’s election and Christ’s merit on their behalf.

Both seem to miss the truth of justification as put forth in Scripture. No man is justified by deeds of the law, not even if it was Jesus Christ’s deeds of the law. Salvation is not merited by Christ or us.

Salvation is a free gift (gifts are not merited) of God’s grace made available to us through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the shedding of His blood and His subsequent resurrection. We benefit from this by faith.

Here’s what Paul says: “Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.” “Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.”

We are not justified by the meritorious works of Christ, we are not justified by works, we are justified by Grace, God’s merciful sacrifice of His Son on our behalf, which we benefit from through faith.

Jesus Stays Boring

I often hear this sentiment:

“It is our differences that make us unique and special. Imagine how boring it would be if everyone were the same.”

According to this wisdom–change is exciting; stuff that stays the same is boring. Which leads me to Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.”

Jesus stays the same and thus comes across as boring to many. The Church then has to be “culturally relevant,” which is just fancy wordage for “more exciting in more differenter ways.”

We’re embarrassed by our boring God. Perhaps our celebration of change and things being different has corrupted our notion of God.

If not, hey, just be glad that you’re more different than I am and how my stupidity adds to the excitement of your life. Amen.

Fast and Loose Company

Fast Company magazine has put out a chart detailing all the inconsistencies in the Bible. You can view the chart here and also view the comments, which are interesting and/or entertaining as well. (It will show you an advertisement before you get to see the chart.)

The folks over at The Resurgence have responded to the chart here.

My response would go like this: that’s fine. The Bible does have some contradictions in it, some should not bother us, some should. Those that should bother us should drive us deeper into the Word to figure out what’s up.

At the same time, even if all contradictions have perfectly clear explanations (and I don’t think they all do), the main issue is one of faith. A man who has no ears to hear will not hear.

I used to subscribe to Fast Company for a couple of years, then it’s underlying biases, stereotypes and prejudices drove away any enjoyment I got out of the magazine.

There is a right to free speech; there is also a right to not have to listen to free speech I don’t like.

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