Plastic Christianity (Independent Baptist Truth Revolution #18)

Have you seen it? That perfect, unwavering smile? That we-have-it-all-together look? Look a little closer. Upon examination you might notice that something is not exactly right. It is not exactly pliable flesh you see, but molded plastic. What is passed off as real life is little more than a mask. The facade is what we want to be and desperately want others to think us to be. Of course this problem reaches every corner of Christianity as every one of us has some measure of duplicity in our hearts. But I address the Independent Baptist world here because in many cases we fail to seriously fight this charade. We may all be tempted to play the part, but we need not encourage it as acceptable Christian living.

In so acting we reduce the Christian life to merely an appearance where it is actually a most vital thing. Who we appear to be becomes the goal at the expense of who we are. Reputation trumps character to a fault. This derails the Christian life in more ways than you might imagine. It redefines my spiritual goals. Lost in the equation is my Lord watching me because I am so consumed with you watching me. Instead of seeking to please Him springing from a gratitude for the grace He has given me, I seek to please you springing from a fear of your condemning me. Finally, not only are my spiritual goals redefined, but my life itself.

This style of living is wrong from every conceivable vantage point. First, in my own heart it makes a hypocrite out of me. Nothing, it seems to me, as you read the Gospels receives more disdain from the lips of Christ than this. As I said before, we all have moments of indisputable hypocrisy, but this plastic Christianity engrains it as a way of life. What a misspent Christian life!

Then there is the guilt. Every look in the mirror reveals the facade to me even if no one else can see it. I know I am not what I pretend to be. I pass myself off as having it all together when I am falling apart on the inside. Since the mask has become me, I am helpless. I can’t call out for help for it would bring the house of cards collapsing around me. So I go on, forcing the smile, speaking the cliches, living a Christian life with as much misery as before I even knew Christ. This is so sad, and pointless, as it divorces me from the revealed truth of Christianity, which is a life of ongoing sanctification. We are actually told of the struggle in the Christian life (remember Romans 7?), and that we only propel forward by the merciful moldings of Christ in our lives.

If the wreck of my own life weren’t bad enough, there’s the damage I inflict on others. Other Christians see me and either a) see through me, or b) fall for it. If they see through me and notice several others like me, it leads them to a soul-damaging cynicism. In such a case the problem is me, not Christ nor the Christian life, but it can be challenging for others to sort it all out. If they fall for it, the results are even worse. They know they can’t live up to this perfectness I project and they fall into discouragement or even spiritual despair.

At times we form little colonies of plastic Christianity in our Independent Baptist world. I have talked to some who have left us and this is why they left. They wanted what was real and found they didn’t have it with us while they felt they did in other groups or individuals. Criticize all you like, but this is in some cases accurate and we should address it. People need us to be real!

This plastic environment is one where the spiritual soil is too arid to grow mature Christians. It makes paupers out of the King’s children. It is a field of dreams of what could have and should have been. Every foray into it that I have ever made has only hurt me. The least you and I can do is throw down the mask. Break the plastic and live in the fresh air of His grace.

Find all articles in the series here.

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Holman Bible Atlas

Are you looking for a genuinely helpful Bible Atlas? Be sure to consider the Holman Bible Atlas byThomas Brisco and published by B & H Publishing as part of its Holman Reference titles. It has many strengths to make it one of the top two or three options out there. Its professed audience is “for the interested lay person and beginning level student of the Bible in colleges and seminaries.” It has succeeded for that audience as well as for we pastors.

Its maps are prolific, visually appealing, and timely. You truly get maps where you most need them. 132 maps cover the Biblical text well and places and events are well labelled too. Variety shows up as a few have a 3D view as well. You might find a detail or two to squabble over (like omitting Perea’s important presence in Christ’s ministry), but overall you will find accuracy in this volume. In the primary characteristic of an atlas, this volume gets an “A”.

The pictures materially add value to the text. The author’s experience in archaeology shows in his often showing us ruins of famous sites. I particularly enjoyed those. Charts that really summarize and teach are used to good effect too.

One of the best features of this atlas is the text explaining the geography and how it impacted the Bible story discussed. For example, in the section on the time of David there is a fascinating description of Jerusalem, how it grew, and how its topography affected how it grew. Mr. Brisco, and the many others who contributed, show considerable learning and put it to good use. It actually makes for good reading.

There is little to criticize here. You can question the chronology here or there, or wonder why if there is such a dandy map for the Eighth Century Prophets, why aren’t there other maps for the other prophets. Or you might wonder why there are no page numbers. Since the atlas is in chronological order, however, the loss is not great for Bible students.

This is a top-flight Bible Atlas. The most recent printing has a much improved cover too. You will not regret adding this volume to your study library.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

For a review of other Bible Atlases read here.

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A Godward Heart by John Piper

This book is different than the typical Piper books that I have read. It has the same thought-provoking qualities, but not a united theme. Piper will make you think; you may agree or disagree, but you will think. In this case it is 50 meditations on a variety of subjects. They are an eclectic bunch, but that just means you can sit and read whenever you like or where you like. Some chapters will move you more than others, and it will likely be different for each of us. He has a few books of this type, but this one is the first I have read.

Consider these topics. Several are meditations on interesting Scriptures like Psalm 105:4, Galatians 4:18, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, John 1:7, and Matthew 10:16. He tackles tough life questions like “if God wills disease, why should we try to eradicate it?” Or imagine this question: does anyone standing by the Lake of Fire jump in? He has several on home issues including marriage and children. He has entries on our personal Christian life like fighting covetousness and making resolutions.

Some of the more unusual topics include an article on what he learned from a book by Chesterton, the meaning of clothing, Lincoln learning of divine providence, and most interesting to me, “The Sorrows of Fathers and Sons~Thoughts from the lives of C.S. Lewis and Robert Louis Stevenson.”

The volume is an attractive, hardback volume small enough to easily transport and keep handy. You will find quality devotional reading here.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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The Emptiness of Performance-Based Christianity (Independent Baptist Truth Revolution #16)

Have you felt the pressure? Have you tried so hard only to feel a failure? Do many sermons fail to encourage you? Do those same sermons in fact discourage and even deflate you? Where they propose to guide you and you want the guidance, do you feel taken to the cliff and pushed off? I mean you who are desiring to serve the Lord and dearly love Jesus Christ, how is it for you? Though in no way exclusive to us, the performance approach runs rampant through the Independent Baptist world.

What I mean by a performance approach is that approach to the Christian life where performing at a high level is the evidence that I have arrived as a believer. I talk the part, I look the part, and sadly, I play the part. It tends to revolve around high levels of Christian service, documentable adherence to a series of (outward) rules, and a nagging wonderment of whether I have performed at a high enough level after all. Some pastors push this on people while many laden themselves with this load too heavy to bear.

Despite its widespread acceptance, it is incompatible as a model to live the Christian life. It actually robs us of all the peace and joy the Christian life was designed to give us. Come to think if it, that is the proof that the performance-based approach is wrong. It steals the very things it promises to give.

This approach is causing two hideous problems. First, it is crushing many of us. It causes many to leave church lower than they went. It makes many so upset they can barely read the Bible or think of the Lord. Beyond the idea that this approach is the evidence of a successful Christian life, it morfs naturally into what makes the Lord love and accept me. If I am delivering at a high rate He is happy and enjoys my company; if I don’t, He is not happy and I better be scared. The disaster is that I can not deliver. There is too much wrong with me.

People caught up in this approach, then, are faced with one of two choices. They can either allow their pride to convince themselves that they really are living up to this ideal, almost perfect, Christian life, which of course they are not. This choice will usually birth a Pharisee. The other option is to see the truth for what it is and then fall into despair. At least this one is more honest, but it is miserable! You might make the facade quite lovely, but you are dying inside because it is much different than that facade.

The other problem is that it becomes a vehicle for pastoral abuse. I can’t get the Lord’s approval with this approach, I might be able to get a pastor’s approval. The facade might satisfy him. So I go get my approval where I can. What we end up with is a breeding ground for pastoral abuse. If I need someone’s approval to sustain me, I am in that person’s grip.

Can you see why you ought to throw performance-based Christianity on the trash heap of history? It does not work! Can you see why? Something is missing. Actually Someone is missing. His name is Jesus Christ. It is a bizarre idea and foreign to biblical truth that we were helpless and needed Him the day we got saved, but today we can make our own way. Hey, I was a wreck the day He saved me, but in my daily life I am still a mess and need Him moment by moment. He saved my soul, but my life still stumbles and bumbles along failing at the worst of times.

If I am progressing in my Christian life and doing the things I should as well as in my Christian service, it is because of Him.

You would be surprised how much better it is living in the light of the certain knowledge that He loves me than grasping to earn His love with currency I do not have, nor can ever produce.

Please chuck performance-based Christianity for the real deal of Christ-based Christianity today. Then watch the peace and joy come flooding back in.

Find all articles in the series here.

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Epic Grace: Chronicles Of A Recovering Idiot by Kurt Bubna

This book is different. It reaches its destination by a distinct path. Instead of the theological pathway, Mr. Bubna travels the curvy lanes of his own life. While that often doesn’t work, in this case since the subject is grace and he is blatantly transparent, it works. We see the depths of what God’s grace can pull us up from.

This book succeeds from two directions. First, you may not have been as big an idiot (his term) as he has, but the Lord’s grace has truly been epic. It overcame and reversed so much in his case–marital mistakes, financial mistakes, career mistakes, and a host of big, clear sins. You read and think, wow, God’s grace was big enough to handle it. Second, in that you and I have quite a bit of idiocy too if we are honest in our tabulations, we see His grace is big enough for us as well! Every believer urgently needs to see that glorious truth!

He went beyond his idiocy as well. Life handed him some other blows. Hard times, a Dad who failed him, his parent’s divorce, sexual abuse, health crisis for loved ones, and finally for himself all crossed his plate. He even traced grace from little dumb decisions that really weren’t sin, but were really dumb. You know, he is right– grace is epic.

I might not agree with every word he said, but the book is helpful. He writes in an engaging style and I found myself wanting to read on and so read the book pretty quickly. God’s grace is all it is said to be and more!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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Sounding The Depths by Michael Milton

“When Jesus prays for His people” reads the subtitle of this volume published by EP Books that in six sermons covers the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus in John 17. In that some call that Scripture the Holy of Holies of the New Testament, it is valuable to have some additional help especially for it. Mr. Milton is a seasoned pastor who likely preached these sermons to his own people first.

These sermons don’t wrestle with every phrase as some expository sermons might, but are strong in application. It is not of the depth of say, Lloyd-Jones, but its less than 100 pages might be ideal in many situations. Its emphasis of Jesus deep love for us makes for good devotional reading as well.

He says, “God has allowed you to listen to the words of this prayer. He prays for those who will believe through the testimony of those first disciples.” That is compelling!

I personally thought the last three sermons were even better than the first three. He draws out well how fantastic it is that Jesus prays for us. No matter how bad things are, He prays for us! Then, he traces the humility Jesus showed and the lessons we can gain from it. He says, “In the world of self-actualizing, success-driven athletes and business people, we must return to the Ross. No true greatness, nothing of eternal value can come out of the strength of man. We must rely on the strength of God, and this call for humility.” Sounds right to me.

He ends showing that if Jesus is loving and prays for us, we should trust Him. That is a great application to carry away from John 17.

This volume is short, but solid. For either study or devotions it could be beneficial.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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Join Me In This Revolution! (Independent Baptist Truth Revolution #15)

What is needed from you? I have been pleasantly surprised by the size of the readership of this blog series and I have been overjoyed by the many positive responses we have received. It proves something. The problems of the Independent Baptist world come in great part from a very vocal fringe element. Frankly, we have given them too large a voice. The saddest part is that we have allowed ourselves to be defined by them in the eyes of many. And it is quite embarrassing.

We should not have allowed them to do so. We did, it was a mistake, but it is now history. On the other hand, we are not held hostage to that history. We must seize the present and change the future. I want to not only convince you it can be done, but enlist you in the battle to change it. You can make a difference.

We need to be vocal. I plead that we back up our words with a Christlike spirit, which will, in many cases, one-up the other side. To do otherwise is to be afflicted with the same problems we seek to change. We can support the right things. We can talk up the preaching of God’s Word over the opinions of men. We can live and speak balance. We can champion soul liberty. We can stand against abuse in our churches in all its ugly forms. We can encourage those who follow these things even at great cost. We can seek to influence those in our own sphere as well as the larger sphere of social media.

Perhaps you say that you don’t have a way with words. Anyone can speak encouragement. As for social media, you can always share quotes or articles. One thing that has expanded the reach of this blog series has been the folks who simply shared it. There are other blogs, some probably better, and they can be shared too. You don’t have to agree with every article on a blog to share it. Ignore the ones you don’t like and share those that match how you feel. That is soul liberty in action. And if you can get up your nerve, take a stab at writing a few sentences of your own. Write from your heart and it will be good. Your influence will go farther than you think.

Join me in this revolution. Silence is not golden…it is criminal. We are enabling these folks if we don’t say: “stop”. Every little voice (you and me) joined together can stop the big bullies. Their influence can be muted, their reign of terror stopped!

Think of the American Revolution as an example of the kind of Independent Baptist Truth Revolution we need. We need spiritual patriots! We need to proclaim that we will not be held in bondage. Our American Patriot forbears were not afraid of the labels hurled at them. They were called traitors; we may be called compromisers or liberals. Our ideals of what we believe are too great for that to be a real threat. Seize your spiritual liberties!

Remember the admonition in 1 Peter 3:15,
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts:and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:
They need your answer.

We need to band together. I want to make one thing clear- I don’t seek to be the George Washington of this revolution. I am not even qualified. I just want to be a fellow soldier with you. I want to be a Patrick Henry who says, “Give me liberty, or give me death.”
That Christ be our authority, that His Word be magnified over the demands of men, that our consciences be clear with Him, is that important to me. I pray it is to you!

Find all posts in the series here.

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(Another) Transition For The Reagan Family

The day has come. It has been a full year of transition to bring us to where I am glad to say we are today. This morning the people of Concord Baptist Church in Leesville, South Carolina voted me as their next pastor. Alicia and the children are as excited as I am!

I feel like stealing the old microphone from Gene Autry and singing:

Back in the saddle again
Back where a friend is still a friend…

Well, most of the words don’t match beyond the first line, and I look bad on horseback in sequins with a guitar in my hands, but this fella missed the saddle for sure. Pastoring…the call of God for me throbs with life in me and is reenergized by the process the Lord has brought me through to this day. Giddy is an accurate description for me at this moment.

I think back to when the Lord led me to resign First Baptist in West Union, Ohio, where we spent just shy of 10 happy years with a people we truly loved. I remember telling Alicia of God’s leading, then some others close to us. I remember the gut wrenching service where I had to tell those dear people how the Lord had led and the tears we all shed. It is such a blessing to know that my friend Jamin Boyer carries on the work there.

Then there were these 8 months of trusting the Lord. I remember moving to Tennessee and not even knowing how I would make a living until the Lord opened the next door. I remember the money being tight more that it ever had before. I worked at a pallet shop that Alicia’s Uncle Rick Carpenter owned. It took a while to work up to the physical labor. There were many splinters, an episode of shooting myself with a staple gun, another of shooting myself with a nail-gun, and even a night in the hospital from carbon monoxide poisoning.

But there is a better way to look at it. I worked with Christians. I worked a lot of hours with either Rick, or Mark Keisling, who is a hard worker that I could hardly keep up with though he has a few years on me, and we all had many pleasant conversations about spiritual things. Going forward, I will remember more carefully that I preach to people some of which may be driving home quite tired from a day’s hard labor. It is a different kind of labor than that that exhausts a pastor, but it is just as real.

There is too the encouragement of the Lord delivering us in times that called for faith. We seemed so often to just make it. I would get a call to preach somewhere when the checkbook and the stack of bills looked like such bitter enemies. The muscle of faith got stretched and strengthened, though His deliverance was a lot prettier than our faith.

Then there was the rest, the recharging, the encouragement. Faith Baptist Tabernacle, it’s pastor and people, took us on as a special project to love and encourage and did a fantastic job. We will be forever grateful. We had come through the experience of Alicia’s paralysis with no break in ministry. It took a few years, facing it in waves, to deal with all the many adjustments that entails. Only now do I see how badly our entire family needed this break. The Lord so knows the path we should go!

We are, as they say, tanned, rested, and ready. The Lord is sending us to a great place. My family and I absolutely love the people at Concord Baptist. They are a loving congregation. I will have very big shoes to fill as my predecessor, Pastor Dunbar, has had a wonderful 45-year pastorate there. We look to the Lord to help us. Alicia and I want to thank everyone who prayed for us during this time. We thank Him for His leadings and His plan!

SPECIAL THANKS: Some close friends who especially prayed, my parents who gave us a place to live during this time and have really prayed for us, Dr. Joel Spencer who helped in such a great way as Interim Pastor, several churches that Dr. Spencer lined up to pray, the pulpit committee of Concord Baptist who put such heart in this process, the dear people of Concord Baptist who encouraged us and prayed for God’s will, and our Lord Who leads us and condescends to let us be part of His work.

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The Cost Of Disloyalty (Independent Baptist Truth Revolution #14)

There is an ugly side to separation. While a Scriptural mandate for separation in particular instances exists, it becomes a club in the hands of those who misuse and abuse it. Some run separation over its boundary walls and flood the plains of Christian unity. In our Independent Baptist world ( and in some other places too), some get flogged and run away with clear instructions to never come back. Usually, they never do. In too many sad cases, they run away from Christianity altogether. Wouldn’t you hate to be the cause of such a crime? Some wear it like a badge!

Perhaps some are misguided. Perhaps they think they are doing God a favor. Perhaps they have no discernment and think all errors are equal, and of course, to them disagreement is error. They enjoy a legal system that treats a speeding violation and murder as worthy of quite different punishments while never thinking that denying the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and holding a looser standard on some issue are quite different too. To them no compromise means separating from every person who holds a different point of view at every juncture. They are vigilant to make sure everyone crosses every “t” and dots every “i”. Perhaps they just need help to see they have some T-crossing and I-dotting to do themselves in that they had better make sure they are practicing separation as the Lord has told us.

But there is an uglier side still and it is diabolical. Some use it to control the masses. It is, for them, a cattle-herding technique. Someone at the head of a prominent clique sends an edict down that Bro. So-and-so must be separated from. Not only must he be separated from, but we must tell our people and friends to do likewise. Mention it, talk about it, Facebook about it–it often becomes a greater push than we give to things like fighting abortion, etc.

Why do I say it is diabolical? Because if you trace it back, you find despite the feigned indignation for God’s glory, nothing more than a hideous case of politics. Someone wouldn’t stay in line, or some big dog felt threatened, or too many listen to the guy instead of them, or that we grow our kingdom by overthrowing other kingdoms; yes, just politics. Jesus’ name is thrown around, but what has He to do with any of it? Need I answer that question?

In these cases I am thinking of great “doctrinal” issues came up. Strangely, no one had ever thought of them before, but now they are one of the fundamentals of the faith! Are you seeing something wrong with this picture? Could it be that you and I have been used in a political game?

I think now of a few prominent cases that sent tremors through the entire Independent Baptist world. I can’t mention them because many would take the issue, run and pick a side, and probably throw in a quote by one of the aforementioned leaders. We would forget the issue that we are actually talking about. See what I mean about being herded cattle? That is exactly what some want us to do.

We can’t make anyone do anything, but we can:
1. Determine that we will see ourselves as individually accountable to God and will practice separation ONLY as God’s Word has specifically stated.
2. Determine we will allow no leader, no matter how respectable, to dictate our consciences for us. We have God’s Word and the leading of the Holy Spirit.
3. Dedicate ourselves to remember that we have a duty to every fellow believer that includes loving treatment.
4. Dedicate ourselves to never treating anyone as a pawn in a political game, nor being a party to others who do.

I would be remiss if I didn’t warn you that if you do right, you might find yourself on the wrong side of this separation. The cost of disloyalty to men can be high, but the cost of disloyalty to Christ might cost you more.

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Find all articles in the series here.

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Romans 1-7 For You by Timothy Keller

Here is a winner! This volume on the first half of Romans, and part of the new God’s Word For You series published by The Good Book Company, offers real help. Don’t let having only 200 pages fool you as the flow of thought in this portion of Scripture is traced with a deft hand. I felt issues were unraveled and explained in a particularly understandable way.

Mr. Keller carefully makes sure that we don’t confuse the Gospel with its masquerading saboteurs. May the Lord help us not to fall for the diabolical would-be gospels of either liberalism or license! I appreciate this volume’s consistency in dismantling equally these two errors. Arising from the ashes is the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ! For the record, that is what Romans 1 through 7 is actually discussing and so this commentary is right on track.

I am impressed too that this volume could help such a wide-ranging audience. Any layman or Bible student could greatly benefit while a pastor trying to unlock a passage for a sermon could as well. I personally love after reading in depth, exegetical commentaries to read some like this one for the grand sweep of the passage. You could hardly find one better than this one on that score. In my library of doubles stacked shelves, this is a front row volume!

This book works great as a reference tool, but was designed to be read straight through too. I read it that way and found it a devotional feast. Many volumes billed for such usage usually fail at one or the other, but where they failed this volume succeeds.

This series has great potential if the other volumes can hold this standard. Even here in Romans, we have to wait for a future volume to travel through the great battleground of Bible students in Romans 9-11. Still, I want to back up and get the two volumes already released in this series. I give this volume 5 stars plus!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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