Following the Party Line

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Are you a faithful follower of the Word of God or are you a supporter of the party line? In the first case, you’re a pursuer of Christ, and in the other you’re a partisan following the group. I suppose I’ve never met a Christian who didn’t believe he or she followed was the former rather than the latter. But the far-ranging views out there today proves more are a hanger-on of a particular religious group than they would like to admit.

Though my background is in the Baptist world, I’ve seen this plague many denominations and groups. To make the problem even worse, many groups splinter into several smaller groups with their own unique set of beliefs. While we might find the presence of sin in our world as the cause of this problem, we should still pull ourselves away from it and go ever back to the Bible.

This problem begins innocently enough. At some point, we try to draw our beliefs from the Bible. Because the Lord has designed that we live in the local church setting as a group, we will also at some point decide what we believe together. So far, so good. But something changes after a time. We fall into the lazy habit of just believing what the group does. We reason that since they sought the Bible in the beginning they can always be trusted to follow the Bible now. Then, another problem arises. New issues arise that we hadn’t thought of, or at least hadn’t thought of how to make an application of the Scriptures to it, and so we specify exactly what we mean to keep our original set of beliefs.

Again, the whole process is one of well-intentioned purposes, and yet we get off track. Our current set of beliefs have been revised several times since our original digging into God’s Word. We now are 2 to 3 steps away from the Bible while thinking we are still firmly in its boundaries.

I’m quite the inferior carpenter, but have been around the process enough to know one mistake we shouldn’t make. If we are going to need several boards of the exact same dimension, we should carefully measure out the first one and cut from it. When I was a boy, I can recall my Daddy taking a pencil and making a mark on the carefully measured board to distinguish it from the others. I can remember from way back then that he told me not to pick up the boards cut from the original to cut other boards. Though it technically should have been the same dimension, he told me it’s easy to get off more and more by that process. I believe this is what we have done in our Christianity.

As you may have noticed, groups tend to get defined by their unique differences rather than what they have in common. That perspective incurs great cost for Christianity. If the error was not bad enough, the Christian divisiveness is catastrophic. Because of our warped egos and general depravity, we fight for those differences, at times, even more than we do for the great trues that we hold in common, such as, the death, the burial, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As is often the case, we judge each other by the wrong board. We become quite bombastic, cry separation, and criticize our brothers or sisters in Christ relentlessly. In many cases, we are convinced that we are standing for the Word of God. Our motives likely began as a desire to faithfully follow the Bible, but now the results are far below the motives.

We would all do well to stop and ask ourselves when was the last time we checked the Bible for our deeply held beliefs. To be sure, we must carefully check those Bibles as our casual reading just regurgitates without thought was someone else decided we believe the long time ago. If you haven’t carefully verified the beliefs you loudly proclaim, then put yourself down in the category of one who spouts the party line. When you spout that party line, you are saying that where the belief came from doesn’t matter as long as the party says it is correct. Why does what scares us in politics not even phase us in our own Christianity?

If we allow ourselves to follow the party line, we are only sycophants carrying someone else’s opinions. Even worse, if we attack and criticize where they tell us to, we are their henchmen. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a mere follower of the party line when I have the opportunity to be a devoted follower of Jesus Christ.

Gospel Fluency by Jeff Vanderstelt

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Mr. Vanderstelt is on to something. We are not fluent with the Gospel. As he strives hard to point out, a lack of gospel fluency is far worse than a little broken English. The stakes are so much higher. Getting the directions wrong to a tourist site because of ineffective language is of so much less consequence than getting wrong the directions to God because we don’t know how to talk about the Gospel.

This book is written for broad appeal among Christians. In other words, the net is cast all the way to the edge where the newest Christian lives, and yet is still meant to reach longtime Christians on the other side. Though that means some pages might seem to be on an elementary level, all Christians can be challenged.

The book is in five main parts. The first part explains what gospel fluency is and how so much of our attempts to speak to others lacks the Gospel. In a nutshell, if we don’t give them Jesus, we don’t give them the Gospel. I loved how he explained that even as Christians we like to speak the gospel to ourselves and really deal often with unbelief. He says a few shocking things like: “I have met too many people who love their Bibles yet have no genuine relationship with Jesus Christ”.

The second section is about the Gospel itself. In three chapters, he reminds us of what the Gospel is and how powerful it really is. Some of that is basic as many of his readers may not even have a fundamental understanding of the Gospel, but anyone will enjoy when he illustrates how wonderful it is. Part three covers the Gospel in me in three chapters. Don’t miss the chapter “Fruit to Root” as it had outstanding insights.

Parts four and five covered in six chapters attempts to take what we have learned and make it practical. His discussion of the importance of listening is a great reminder.

The book is easy to read. The only fault I found with it, and it is only a personal preference on my part, is that he illustrates too often with discussions that he had with people where he gave them great answers. While that strikes me as a little too self-promoting, we might remember that, in his defense, he might feel the need for us to know that he practices what he preaches.

The book is a success in the sense that it makes me remember that I need to put the Gospel so much more into my conversations with people. I pray the Lord will help me to do much better.

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.

The World’s Oldest Alphabet by Douglas Petrovich

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This book is one paradigm-shifting title. Douglas Petrovich is a diligent scholar who is considered an expert in “epigraphy, palaeography, lexicography, and comparative linguistics and literature”. The scholarly world has been in an ongoing debate for many years over what language has the world’s first alphabetic script. Mr. Petrovich has worked through the ancient specimens that we have with their proto-consonantal script and has proven conclusively that it is Hebrew. He has even translated these previously untranslated specimens. That the highly-respected scholar Eugene Merrill has studied his work and given it the highest recommendation proves its trustworthiness.

The beautiful thing about this new book is the boon this it is to those of us who believe in the complete veracity of the Bible. I don’t mean it’s a substitute for faith, but that it is another help to doubters. A quick Google search will show you that several major news organizations have already carried stories on Mr. Petrovich’s work. While many of us so appreciate this book, it will probably be something like a bomb going off in the scholarly world where so many do not believe the Bible they study. Going forward, all doubters should be sent to this book.

Though this book has all the necessary minute data to prove its thesis, non-specialists like me can still follow the argument. He well presents the history of what has been thought over the years and carefully outlines what he went through to reach his conclusions. He is not just pulling his conclusions out of the sky. No, he put an incredible amount of work into solving this long-standing puzzle.

The book itself is attractive and has the design of other fine Carta Jerusalem titles. The maps and illustrations are outstanding and really help you to follow what Mr. Petrovich is saying. This book will be discussed for many years and will likely reach the status of one of the most important volumes ever in its field. I highly recommend it.

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.

Transforming Discipleship by Greg Ogden (Revised)

Here’s a revised and expanded edition of an influential book on discipleship. Ogden is one of the most respected authors on the subject and he is passionate about the subject as well. He gives the reader a lot to chew on.

The book is in three main parts with the first one covering what has gone wrong with discipleship. He exposes the superficiality in Christians today as the proof of discipleship going awry. He says people worship “with a reviewer’s mentality.” He cites studies that show few Christians have a goal of being committed to Christ, but are more focused on the American Dream. He laments how the lifestyles of Christians and non-Christians are indistinguishable. He says, “It would appear that Christians have been almost as seduced by self-focus as the broader population.”  He surmises that we have been diverted from the main calling we have. We are consumed with programs that does not actually disciple people. We says people don’t have the right idea about church and churches don’t have it about discipleship.

The next part is where he traces discipleship in the New Testament. He goes, of course, through Christ’s ministry. Next, he tackles Paul and even admits that Paul doesn’t use the word “disciple.” He shows Paul speaks of parenting young believers and transforming lives. He draws it out with great detail.

The balance of the book is a detailed explanation of his particular method of discipleship. He emphasizes relationships and  not expecting quick results. It’s interesting, but strikes me as working better in some areas or with professional people. Still, it’s worth considering. In an added chapter, he unnecessarily pits preaching and discipleship and is too harsh on preaching. 

This book is necessary for our shelves in discipleship.


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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God and Tattoos by Allan Dayhoff

Have you ever read a book that was both provocative and somewhat outside your comfort zone, but still opened your eyes? This book by Allan Dayhoff was such a book for me. Tattoos to my mind were gross, ugly, and wrong. While I still am not a fan of tattoos at all, this book chided me for never considering what is going on in the souls of those with tattoos. Why are tattoos exploding in our day? More importantly, what should a Christian see in this trend of people writing on themselves? 

The author did what it never occurred to me to do: ask people why they have tattoos. He asked them what their particular tattoos meant and that opened up a massive flow of information from which some conclusions could be drawn.

He found that some are doing it because it is the “it” thing to do in our generation. In other words, for some it is merely a jump on the cultural trend bandwagon. I suspected this one, but sadly never thought about the other reasons involved. It’s in those other reasons that this book is eye opening. 

It seems as though people are needing empathy and to have meaning. In that they do not have those needs mets, Dayhoff explains that their souls are crying out these needs and writing them on their own skin. People are finding this new way to say who they are. Often, the story on their skins is one of deep pain. Other insights abound.

I met the author and while I could not do all his methods, I saw that he was sincere in sharing his faith. I must warn you too that in some cases he directly quotes his interviewees and that means some really bad language. That arose, no matter what we feel about it, from his approach to write a book that would teach Christians and could be used with non-Christians at the same time. 

It’s probably not a book for everyone, but I found it instructive and fascinating.

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.

Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures by Georges and Baker



This book is profound on many levels. For me personally, I can’t remember when I last read a book that made me feel like I didn’t know a thing about the subject before I read it as was the case here. It’s not that I hadn’t traveled or been in mission work in other cultures, but that I didn’t know specifically why those other cultures even seemed to think differently than my own. My culture, as is so well described in this volume, is based on guilt whereas many other cultures think more with an honor-shame mindset. Even more surprising, my Western culture is by far in the minority in our world.

The authors, Jayson Georges and Mark Baker, are well qualified to write on this subject and I particularly appreciated how they shared their own trial and error while serving in other parts of the world to gain some of their knowledge the hard way. 

Though they tackled three distinct areas–deep analysis of what the honor-shame culture is, a careful explanation of how it fits in with biblical theology, and how to take this understanding and practically minister to those who view the world through an honor-shame lens–they amazingly prove themselves adept in all three disciplines.

In the first area they really helped you get into the mind of someone who thinks in terms of honor-shame and see why it makes as much sense to them as our more legal outlook does to us. In the second, while there is a forgiveness/legal/guilt outlook in Scripture, there is clear honor/shame outlooks as well. We may have been overlooking key theology here. Finally, the practical side is amazing. The chapter on evangelism is worth the price of the whole book.

This book should be required reading for every missionary or persons working with different cultures. It might make the difference in effectiveness more than you realize. For that matter, every Christian should read it both for its theology and ministry training. This book is home run all the way!

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.

Unchanging Witness–A Book For Our Day

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This issue of homosexuality is the roaring issue on the doorstep of Christianity. That the world is embroiled in it is no surprise, but that some corners of Christendom are bowled over by it is.  The biggest shock of all is what is proclaimed to be biblical and historic in Christianity on the subject. That is why this new book by S. Donald Fortson III and Rollin G. Grams is so timely, helpful, and important.

The task these scholars tackle with such aplomb is showing that homosexuality has always been biblically and historically wrong  in our Christian faith. They show in one succinct chapter how the gay movement has proceeded since it embarked upon a political path in the 1960s. Then the next 6 chapters show what all parts of Christianity has believed on the subject since the beginning with plenty of direct historical quotation and analysis. They may provide more than you will feel you need, but you will appreciate their careful labor.

The balance of the book examines the biblical passages mentioning homosexuality. They spend time mentioning every argument presented by pro-homosexual scholars. You see these other scholars have been incredibly unscholarly, careless, and even dishonest. Some may not like all that scholarly interaction, but this is a case where it’s needed appreciated.

A person can say they think homosexuality is acceptable because they choose not to accept the truthfulness of Scripture, but one cannot logically or honestly say the Bible supports homosexuality. These authors have put any Christians who study this subject in a great debt by so ably providing that proof.

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.

To Trump Or Not To Trump, That Is The Question

 

Well, that is a tough question. I’ve thought about it for a long time. Never in my life have I seen people who are a lot like me so torn. I’m Christian and conservative and the greater portion of my friends are too. If I expand my sample to my Facebook acquaintances who are proportionally about 90% Christian and conservative as well, I find the exact situation. They run from Trump-Is-The-Answer to Never-Trump. Worse, they are mad at those other Christians who are opposite of them—I mean really upset.

I’m a great microcosm of this newly divided group. I say newly divided because we have over the years, for the most part, been on the same page about presidential elections. Sure, we liked our options better some election cycles than others, but we have usually landed in the same place. Though we have been both bewildered and upset with Republican leadership multiple times, we have overwhelmingly voted for the Republican nominee since Ronald Reagan. I mean several of us were skeptical that John McCain shared our values, but we compared him to Barrack Obama and felt totally at peace with the lesser-of-two-evils argument. But that argument isn’t cutting it for all of us this time around.

When I say I’m a great microcosm of this group, I mean I have both thought about voting for Mr. Trump and not voting for him. Like others in this group, I’ve NEVER thought of voting for Mrs. Clinton. Still, I’ve never thought Mr. Trump was the answer, I’m positive that he shares neither my Christian nor my conservative values, and he lacks the temperament to be a leader. So while I’ve never for a moment thought he’s just what our country needs, I was at one point deciding to vote for him. At other points I had decided I would not.

Why would someone who has been a Christian as long as I have suddenly vacillate so much? Why would someone who has been so sure of the right answer in every presidential election of his lifetime be all over the place this time? Even worse, why would someone who is a pastor, however unreasonable this expectation may be, not have the explanation this election cycle? In my defense, I am not alone.

The problem with deciding is not one of a lack of intelligent arguments. Both sides have given great fodder for thought. Here’s the best, from my point of view, from each side:

Vote for Trump

  1. The Supreme Court.

Most believe that we have a better chance of molding the Supreme Court a more conservative direction with Trump. Not that the Supreme Court has done either Christianity or conservatism much good in my lifetime, it is still important since there will likely be a few vacancies in this term. We know that Mrs. Clinton will nominate people who continue the moral collapse of our nation. With Mr. Trump, there is at least a chance. I fear he will fail us here, perhaps by nominating his liberal sister, but it is still a shot with none on the other side.

  1. The Lord Doesn’t Advance His Work Through Government, So Vote for the One Least Antagonistic to Christian Work No Matter His Or Her Morals.

That makes a lot of sense. The Lord works in spite of government and almost oblivious to it. Think how little Jesus had to say about Rome. He never did any political crusades. When I first heard that argument from a pastor in Ohio it really got my wife and I thinking.

  1. Mr. Trump Has Never Said Anything Against Parental Rights.

I’ve not actually heard this one, but it concerns this father of six homeschooling children very much. Mrs. Clinton and her it-takes-a-village-to-raise-a-child attitude strongly feels that the state owns the children. She has believed it her whole career. Even Mr. Obama hasn’t attacked on this front. Perhaps he wanted to and ran out of time, but Mrs. Clinton will likely make an attempt even if Congress, I believe, will keep her in check on this one.

On the other hand:

Don’t Vote for Trump

  1. In a Choice Between Two Evils Choose Neither

When I first heard this from some pastor friends in Ohio, it really got me thinking again. I already alluded to how we have been comfortable in previous elections with the lesser-of-two-evils argument, but perhaps there was a clear lesser of two evils. Can we argue that there must always be a lesser of two evils that we must pick? What if our choices were Hitler and Stalin? Would the theory hold? Some of us have sensed a Hitleresque attitude in Mr. Trump with his trust-me-I-will-fix-it attitude with no details but himself. On the other hand, Mrs. Clinton could be the Stalin with her far-left ideas. (I realize there’s a little exaggeration here, but you get the idea).

  1. Christians Will Lose Their Moral Authority In Supporting Mr. Trump.

A missionary friend shared an article that is far better than what I could say (here). He reminded us how all of us lambasted President Bill Clinton for his lies and affairs in office. We all said then that he lost his moral authority to be President. Now we support Trump? When the next President that we don’t like does greatly immoral things, how can we say anything after Mr. Trump has bragged on his adulteries in this election? This may end up being the most important issue of all as it actually undermines Christianity itself and its voice in our generation.

  1. As Long As We Stay In A Two-Party System, We Need To Force The Republican Party To Get Back On Track.

We are blowing an easy layup this election. Mrs. Clinton is one of the most beatable candidates the Democrats have ever put up with her email scandal and various other gross illegalities. The Republicans need to know that we are true to our principles and not their party. They had better put up a candidate whose principles we can support. In other words, the decades ahead are more important than one 4-year term.

So What Are We To Do?

I’ve seen Christians I respect on both sides. I’ve seen pastors I admire on both sides. I’ve seen missionaries who really love the Lord passionately on both sides. I suspect those who read this article are made up of some on both sides.

Ted Cruz got it right—vote your conscience. I’ll only add that we carefully seek the Lord. I’ve made an emphasis in my ministry for soul liberty and this is a great place for it. It’s time we realize that those who love the Lord are greatly divided here and both sides have good arguments, so the attacks on each other should stop. We should stop accusing those who support Mr. Trump with being immoral. We should also stop threatening those who cannot with supporting Mrs. Clinton.

To Trump or not to Trump? Just take the Lord into the voting booth with you and pray that He will make something good out of our disastrous choices.

 

 

 

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Introduction to World Christian History by Derek Cooper

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This book serves as a short introduction to Christian history and actually covers that territory in 250 pages. It’s other unique feature is the extent it goes to prove that Christianity has a global rather than a western history.

The volume was successful in proving what we often forget–Christianity has had peak periods all over the world. I personally wasn’t aware how some areas, like, for example, the Far East, had periods of flourishing in Christianity. The history is presented in broad sweeps, but you could easily get the big picture and know where to pursue other studies.

Reading a broad introduction also made it easy to notice trends. I was amazed how getting close to any government often spelled a sudden destruction of Christianity. There was proof given too of how European countries that once were highly Christian are now  mostly secular.

The downside of the book is that it makes no distinction of anything ever called Christian. It passes no judgment except where western excesses were presented, or so it seemed to me. In an effort to make a global case, it was too threadbare in presenting American Christianity.

Still, it is a great book for a broad perspective and a global emphasis.

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.

The Fourth of July and the Church

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A subject that I had not giving a lot of thought to is the appropriateness of celebrating America’s Independence in a worship service of the local church. Perhaps it is so common I had never had occasion to consider it, but a thoughtful article by Thomas Kidd on The Gospel Coalition (article here) gave me pause to consider it.

He carefully traced the history of the churches of Early America having a celebration on the Fourth of July unless it fell on Sunday, but not in the regular worship services until later years. Kidd felt it blurred some important lines and made suggestions on how to handle the situation. You can read the article yourself to form your own opinions.

After some thought, I believe the issue is what it actually means to you. Do you love America right or wrong? By love I mean that she retains superiority no matter what? Is God indebted to our nation? Do you love your God far more than your nation? When conflict arises, who is to blame–the Lord or the good old USA?

When I spoke of America to our congregation and when sang the patriotic hymns, I specifically meant:

1. I love the country the Lord allowed me to be born in.

I suspect people from other countries would feel the same way about their homeland. I’m not claiming superiority, just that the land of your nativity naturally will always be a warm spot in your heart– a spot that a Christian will be thankful for.

2. I love the Christian heritage of my country.

I love it so much that I praise my God for it and the blessings that we still derive from it to this day. We were once a truly Christian nation and the precious possession of freedom sprang directly from it. As we lose these freedoms and run from our Godly heritage, I, of course, lament the losses, but I praise the Lord even more. I feel like the hearts of our congregation was united on that point. I have to believe the Lord would be pleased that our thanksgiving on that matter would be directed back to Him.

On the other hand, our love of country and patriotism does not blind our eyes to its sins. To balance our perspective, we further believe:

1I hate the sin that is destroying my country.

Without hesitation, we proclaim where our country is fighting God and heading to judgment. When an issue comes up, we never cover it for our nation. The Lord is right and our nation is wrong. Period.

2. I feel compelled to pray for my country.

God is just and our country has no free pass on its wickedness. That means we prayed for our country–Lord forgive our sins, Lord turn our nation back, Lord send revival. As I prayed, I believe the people had the appropriate attitude of heart. At other points of the service, I noticed men leading in prayer returning to that same theme.

We are blessed too that our patriotic hymns turn us back to the Lord acknowledging His help and mercy in our lives. I see no conflict in singing those songs to the glory of my God.

We had a patriotic element in our service, but the last song we sang was wholly about worshiping the Lord. Our sermon was totally about yielding to God in our personal lives because He and His Word are the ultimate authority.

All in all, I am in favor of an appropriate patriotic element in our July 4th services as long as everything is in its place–our Lord is supreme and our nation is not. God bless America!