I ALWAYS READ these kinds of news stories with a certain incredulity.
It’s kind of like watching old re-runs of The Twilight Zone.
All of those low-budget, black and white episodes make for interesting, even provocative, fiction, but they’re obviously neither true nor believable.
Well, the story which currently haunts my thinking isn’t fiction, but reality.
It seems the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. is on the verge of altering its stance on how it defines marriage.
Less than a year ago, the group voted in its General Assembly meeting in Detroit to officially embrace gay unions.
In order for the vote to become formally accepted, a majority of the denomination’s 172 presbyteries have to now vote in favor of this new provision.
Incredible as it may seem, Amendment 14-F has been thus far embraced by 79 of 116 regional assemblies.
That means that at the Presbyterians are just mere 7 votes away from adopting homosexual “marriage” and amending its Book of Order from being uniquely between a man and a woman to any two people—male or female.1
It is as if I am back in the 60’s watching late night, three channel, Twilight Zone stuff.
“This just can’t be true.
How can any church endorse blatant immorality?”
Back in my grammar school days, Rob and Laura Petrie (e.g., The Dick Van Dyke Show) couldn’t even sleep in the same bed on TV.
And now, only a generation or two later, one faction of the Presbyterian Church is working hard to accept and promote rank perversion.
When is Rod Sterling finally going to step out in front of the TV screen and tell me that this is just an elaborate, satirical hoax?
Dear readers, as we ponder the ramifications of what is happening within one religious group today, permit me to stimulate our hearts and minds even further:
By what AUTHORITY does any group get to vote on whether or not to accept what the Bible teaches on ANY issue, including and especially marriage?
There is not a single passage or principle in Scripture that delegates that right to any collective. Jesus has ALL authority, not man (Mat. 28:18; Phil. 2:10-11; Col. 3:17). We are to preach and carry out His will exclusively—and no religious group (including the church of our Lord) has the right to alter, amend, or legislate in the realm of doctrine or living (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6; 1 Pet. 4:11).
The Lord Himself cast the deciding vote on marriage “at the beginning” (Gen. 2:24; Mat. 19:4-5). His will is not, nor will it ever be, subject to change or man-made modification (Psm. 119:89; Isa. 40:6-8;1 Pet. 1:25).
The apostle Paul said “avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead more people into more ungodliness” (2 Tim. 2:16 ESV). Watch it—false teaching (babble) inevitably results in false practice (ungodliness). Friends, it is simply not possible to believe wrong and then live right before God. Doctrine and living are bound together (Phil. 1:9-11)! It is not “either or”, but “both and”.
Paul also spoke of some who “strayed” from the faith (2 Tim. 2:18). How does a group get from “one man and one woman” to either two men or two women? And the obvious answer is—because they stray, incrementally, piecemeal, a little bit at a time—and no one steps up to censure these obvious deviations from the revealed will of God.
But an even more difficult question also ought to prick our conscience, brethren. Many Presbyterians have remained deathly silent for far too long and now the denomination is about to rush headlong over the precipice of moral integrity and into the abyss of hedonistic relativism. How do we prevent the Lord’s church from doing the very same thing today? I increasingly hear of “gospel” preachers, who in their quest for numerical growth, say that they will not preach on subjects like marriage, divorce, and remarriage because doing so may “divide families.”2 Forgive me, but that kind of thinking smacks of cowardice at the least, and pragmatism (Col. 2:8) at the worst. Our liberal Presbyterian friends would be proud. Decades of silence from their pulpits have brought the denomination to where they may soon, in all good conscience, worship with and fellowship those who openly and unabashedly practice what God calls abomination (Eph. 5:11-13; Isa. 5:20).
I am of the conviction that if we are not extremely careful, we are not far behind the denominationalists. Think about it. How can we consistently condemn the open practice of homosexuality within the Presbyterian Church, but not also condemn the open practice of adultery within the Lord’s church? Think about it:
If we tried to convert a couple from San Francisco who practiced homosexuality, wouldn’t we insist that they repent of their sin first? If they legally kept an adopted child, would we say we can’t preach on homosexuality because a child is involved?
If we tried to convert a Tanzanian Maasai who practiced polygamy and had multiple children by two or more wives, would we not insist that he repent of his sin first? Would we baptize and then fellowship a man who openly practiced polygamy and refuse to teach him the biblical elements true repentance (Ezek. 18:2-23; Mat. 3:8; Luke 13:3; Acts 3:19; 17:30; 2 Pet. 3:9) because he had kids (cf. Ezra 10:10-11)? The “God would never split a family” doctrine is patently false.
Now if we won’t fellowship homosexuals who might have an adopted child, and we won’t fellowship the polygamist who has many children, how can we consistently fellowship the adulterer who also has children…?
We simply can’t excise passages such as Matthew 19 from our Bibles like King Jehoiakim who cut out the Word with a scribe’s knife (Jer. 36:23). We can’t teach that repentance is necessary for sins like stealing, but not for sins like living in adultery (2 Cor. 7:10; Col. 3:7).3 On the contrary, we have a divine mandate, because we love souls, to warn others of the perils associated with all sexual sin—and judge those who are doing so (John 7:24; cf. 1 Cor. 5; Rom. 16:17).
Here’s my point. Once we begin to compromise the truth in one realm, we inexorably compromise it in another and yet another—just like the Presbyterians—until we’re not only accepting sin, but endorsing it ourselves.
Let’s stand together, and let’s stand up for what the Bible teaches about sin and repentance—however difficult it may be. This is not The Twilight Zone.
CHRISTIANS ARE SOLDIERS (2 Tim. 2:4).
Battles inevitably produce casualties — lots of them, and casualties require medical (Mat. 9:12) attention.
The church — not the building, is a sort of front line M.A.S.H. unit — a divine trauma center.
Padded pews serve as medical stretchers for the injured.
Services house the wounded and hurting.
Assemblies offer temporary shelter and protection to traumatized infantrymen.
They suffer from the effects of divorce, sexual promiscuity, envy, addiction, hostility, stress, conflict, abandonment, lost love, guilt, hopelessness, infidelity, jealousy, selfishness, etc.
Wounded souls are usually not too difficult to spot in the ranks of the congregation.
You can often see hurt in the eyes.
You can hear it in broken voices.
Internal battle scars tend to surface in the countenance.
While these soldier’s bodies still function, their minds have ceased to do so.
Thinking is much too painful.
Memory is a plague.
Sleep is restless and fitful.
Blow after blow have taken their terrible toll.
Emotional stress-fractures are the tell-tale symptoms of the cumulative assaults on the spirit.
GIs called it “combat fatigue” or PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).
The biblical term is “weariness” (Gal. 6:9 NKJV).
Author and military historian John C. McManus wrote:
“Sometimes the wounds a man received were not physical but mental. For some the stress of combat became too much and they could no longer function. This condition, called shell shock in World War I, and combat fatigue or exhaustion in World War II, was fairly common among U.S. combat soldiers. Although there were those who thought of battle fatigue as cowardice, Gen. George Patton being the most notable of this group, it became obvious during the war that this was patently false. According to one study, it could safely be expected that close to 10 percent of the men in an infantry outfit would eventually become combat fatigue casualties…”1
“He is not a coward. The last thing in the world he wants hung on him is cowardice. He starts a personal war within himself, his conscience on one side and his instinct for self preservation on the other. His physical fatigue carries a lot of weight in the argument. The tug-of-war in his mind gets worse and worse. He starts trembling so bad [sic] he can’t hold his rifle. He doesn’t want to shake but he does, and that solves his problem. Involuntarily he becomes physically incapable. Properly treated he’ll be okay in a few days-when he’s had SOME HOT CHOW, A FEW NIGHTS OF SLEEP and A CHANCE TO GET HIS TROUBLE OFF HIS CHEST.”2
“This disabling condition usually strikes after a soldier has been subjected to long and severe shelling or enemy small arms fire. A soldier reaches the point of ‘I can’t take it anymore…’…This condition is just as much a combat wound as a piece of shell piercing the body…”3
From a spiritual perspective, when our comrades-in-arms suffer from combat fatigue, we need to be ready to administer aid.
But how can we help those who are experiencing such intense heartache and difficulty…?
1. See that they get plenty of hot chow. While a covered dish is always appreciated, the kind of food wounded Christian soldiers need most of all is that which endures. “He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness” (Psa. 107:9, cf.5). The eternal teachings of Jesus provide needed sustenance (John 6:27; Psa. 103:5; 2 Pet. 2:2) to the war-weary.
2. Encourage them to get sufficient rest and sleep. Time away from the battle front is imperative if soldiers are ever to recover and fight again. Even The Commander-In-Chief (of the spiritual army) Himself took an occasional “furlough” (Mark 6:31) from His engagements — “He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself…” (Mat. 14:13).
3. Urge them to get their troubles off their chest. Soldiers who have endured severe shelling need a sympathetic, listening ear. Fellow soldiers can listen and appreciate their comrades’ perspective (Pro. 17:17; 18:24; Jas. 5:16), and The Commander will also be attentive. “The Lord will hear when I call to Him…” (Psa. 4:3; 27:2; 130:2).
1 John C. McManus, “The World of the Combat Soldier,” The Deadly Brotherhood: The American Combat Soldier in WWII, 162
THINK ABOUT IT. Jesus was a Jew—and when He and His first-century Hebrew peers engaged in vocal worship (cf. Mat. 26:26-30), they used a songbook of sorts. Of course, there were obviously no spiralbound or hardbound songbooks to read from, and there were no electronic Paperless Hymnals to display on a screen like we use in the 21st century.
So what specific hymnal did the Jews employ? Was it some form of OT Christian Hymns III, or Praise for the LORD, or Great Songs of the OT Church, or OT Church Gospel Songs and Hymns? All kidding aside, the songbook of the Jews was—the Psalms (cf. 1 Chron. 16:8-36), written and collected from Moses to Ezra over a period of a thousand years, which were then committed to memory. The English title “Psalms” comes from the Greek word meaning “a sacred song or hymn—a Psalter,” while the Hebrew title, Tehillim, means “praises,” and every Psalm except the 88th contains some form of that fervent action. So when the Jews offered up the sacrifice of praise (cf. Psa. 27:6; Heb. 13:15), they didn’t simply quote the Psalms, they joyfully sang and shouted them, and THAT was the songbook our Lord used when He sang as well.
But this then begs yet another question. Since the Psalms served as the songbook of the Jews, who wrote and authored all of these psalters? Peter says, “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21b), and yet the Holy Spirit received His words from Jesus (cf. John 14:14-17; 16:13-15)!
Here’s ONE lesson I’m learning: Jesus sang from the songbook which He wrote Himself—and one of His favorite subjects was—are you ready for this(?), THANKSGIVING to His Father! Watch the repetitive refrain in the following Psalms:
“Therefore I will GIVE THANKS to You, O LORD, among the Gentiles, and sing praises to Your name” (Psa. 18:49).
“Sing praise to the LORD, you saints of His, and GIVE THANKS at the remembrance of His holy name” (Psa. 30:4).
“To the end that my glory my sing praise to You and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will GIVE THANKS to You forever” (Psa. 30:12).
“I will GIVE YOU THANKS in the great assembly; I will praise You among many people” (Psa. 35:18).
“Offer to God THANKSGIVING, and pay your vows to the Most High” (Psa. 50:14).
“I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify Him with THANKSGIVING” (Psa. 69:30).
“We GIVE THANKS to You, O God, we GIVE THANKS! For Your wondrous works declare that Your name is near” (Psa. 75:1).
“So we, Your people and sheep of Your pasture, will GIVE YOU THANKS forever; we will show forth Your praise to all generations” (Psa. 79:13).
“It is a good thing to GIVE THANKS unto the LORD, and to sing praises unto Thy name, O most High” (Psa. 92:1).
“Let us come before His presence with THANKSGIVING; let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms” (Psa. 95:2).
“Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous, and GIVE THANKS at the remembrance of His holy name” (Psa. 97:12).
“Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be THANKFUL to Him, and bless His name” (Psa. 100:4).
“Oh, GIVE THANKS to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever” (Psa. 106:1).
“Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the Gentiles, to GIVE THANKS to Your holy name, to triumph in Your praise” (Psa. 106:47).
“Oh, that men would GIVE THANKS TO THE lord FOR His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men” (Psa. 107:8, 15, 31)!
“Oh, GIVE THANKS to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever” (Psa. 118:1, 29).
“At midnight I will rise to GIVE THANKS to You, because of Your righteous judgments” (Psa. 119:62).
- Jesus sang.
- Jesus sang from the psalmbook which He had written.
- Jesus offered the praise of thanksgiving to His Father.
In a world where we are tempted to complain and fuss about the current state of affairs, I’m learning from Jesus that I need be more thankful, and one of the best ways to do that is by singing with a heart of zealous gratitude as He did (Heb. 2:12): “Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, GIVING THANKS always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:19-20).
Larry and Jane Hudson are dear friends from the Main Street church of Christ. Years ago they invited me to Sunday dinner following the AM worship assembly. This special couple was celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary at the time, and so they asked me to go along and commemorate the happy occasion.
Our destination? Owensboro, Kentucky and Moonlite Bar-B-Q.
Everybody in this neck of the woods knows about Moonlite. Think casual dining. Think family feel. Think all-you-can-eat BBQ buffet. Underline the word “all.” Hungry guests stand in line with a plate and then help themselves to a smorgasbord of tasty, home-style dishes.
Buffet. Choose what you want. Skip what you don’t want. Go back as many times as you wish. This is gastronomical heaven. I loaded my plate with country favorites—mashed potatoes, pulled pork and green beans, but then skipped the macaroni and cheese, gravy and rolls.
I left the restaurant full as the proverbial tick. Okay, maybe not full—I stopped just one bite shy of gluttony.
The meal was great; the Christian company was even better.
It occurs to me that many preachers treat the Word like a trip to Moonlite. They fill their theological dinnerware with perennial favorites. They “eat” what their doctrinal belly desires (Philippians 3:19), but then pass over those food items that their denomination deems unpalatable. For instance, some heap their plate with faith, but then consciously omit what the Scriptures teach about baptism. They select some of God’s Word, but not the sum of God’s Word. They claim to be “Bible-believing,” but then do a “Moonlite” on those passages that teach the necessity of immersion.
Does the New Testament require baptism? You say, “No.” Look again:
According to Matthew 28:19-20, baptism is involved in my becoming a disciple of Christ.
According to Mark 16:15-16, baptism is something I must engage if I want to be saved.
According to Acts 2:37-38, baptism is something I must undergo in order to be forgiven of my sins.
According to Acts 8:12-13, 38, baptism is something to which I must submit, even if it means changing my religion.
According to Acts 10:48, baptism is something I must obey because it has been commanded.
According to Acts 16:14-15, 33, baptism is something I will yield to—immediately—in order to be faithful to the Lord.
According to Acts 22:16, baptism is something I must do if I desire my past sins to be taken away (cf. Acts 9:6).
According to Romans 6:3-7, baptism is that which makes a difference (slave of sin vs. slave of righteousness) in my life.
According to 1 Corinthians 12:13, baptism is the means by which I enter the body or church (cf. Ephesians 1:22-23).
According to Galatians 3:26-27, baptism is the way that I become a child of God.
According to 1 Peter 3:21, baptism saves.
Do you have your Bible handy? Read through Jeremiah 36. Jeremiah prophesied during the closing days of the southern kingdom of Judah. On one occasion, the prophet received a divine message from God and then had the words written on a scroll (vv. 1-3). This inspired document was later read to king Jehoiakim by Jehudi (vs. 21). When Jehudi read that the kingdom-nation would be overthrown by the Babylonian empire, Jehoiakim decided he couldn’t “stomach” anymore. The arrogant ruler took a scribe’s penknife, cut up the scroll, and then cast it into the fire until it was consumed (vs. 22-24).
Jehoiakim would have liked Moonlite. Eat what you want. Skip what you don’t want. Mashed potatoes “Yes,” dinner rolls “No.” Authoritarian rule, “Yes,” servile bondage “No.” Faith “Yes,” baptism “No.”
Dear reader, the Bible is not a self-serve restaurant. We can’t pick out the parts that we like and then reject or cut out the portions that don’t strike our fancy. We must declare and consume (Jeremiah 15:16) the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27; cf. 2 Timothy 4:2-4), including those passages that teach the necessity of baptism.
Is your preacher offering some of God’s Word, or the sum of God’s Word? “The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever” (Psalm 119:160).
I MAKE NO secret of it.
My favorite meal consists of fried potatoes, fried cornbread and home-cooked pinto beans.
Oh yeah, and a slice or two of white onion.
Having become something of a connoisseur of pintos over the years, I’ve made a significant discovery – beans cooked quickly aren’t fit to eat.
Good beans have to soak overnight in salt water, then be boiled, then be left to simmer slowly in a pot on the stove.
We’re talking hours.
That’s why I’m unwilling to eat store bought, canned beans.
Canned bean aren’t worth the aluminum can and paper label that encases them.
Now that I think about it, that’s pretty much what they taste like – aluminum and paper.
Food processing factories leave out the most important ingredient in good beans.
You can’t hurry a good pot of pinto beans.
Gospel sermons are a lot like good beans because they require time.
They need several hours of mental industry and preparation.
A preacher can’t cook up a lesson late Saturday night before he goes to bed any more than you can microwave a bag of beans.
If a congregation expects a regular diet of well-balanced spiritual meals (John 6:27), then the preacher has to devote large blocks of time to his studies each week.
Sound, Bible-based sermons have to soak, then be boiled, and be allowed to simmer slowly in the recesses of his heart and mind.
Passages have to be explored.
Greek and Hebrew languages have to be researched.
Commentator insights have to be considered.
Relevant illustrations have to be chosen.
Thoughts have to be organized.
Immediate and remote contexts have to be deliberated.
Ancient cultures have to be brought to bear.
And I haven’t even mentioned prayer yet!
Brethren who sometimes maintain that their preacher spends too much time in his study fail to appreciate the true nature of his work.
A preacher is first and foremost of all a thinker.
He has to chew on and digest the Word himself before he can bring it to the table of the Lord (cf. Ezek. 3:1ff) on Sunday.
Paul told Timothy, “Give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine…meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them…take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Tim. 4:13b, 15a, 16).
Are you hungry for real food (1 Pet. 2:2)?
Do you want to be nourished spiritually (1 Tim. 4:6).
Is your diet prompting growth and maturity in the inner man (Heb. 5:12-14)?
Canned beans aren’t fit to eat.
Neither are canned sermons.
Encourage your preacher in his studies.
Insist that he be a diligent student.
Make sure that he has sufficient time behind his desk, with his Bible, books, and computer.
When he’s able to cook for long periods of time, then you’re able to eat well.
“Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart…” (Jer. 15:16).
I HAVE A vivid recollection of that day.
My wife came in the room, turned on the TV set and then spoke in shaken tones. She said, “They’ve flown a jet-liner into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York…” For the next several hours I sat transfixed before the television and watched in horror as the events of 911 unfolded.
Eighteen years after that dreadful day, some Americans, like myself, look back on September 11 with intense emotion. We recall those gaping wounds in the sides of the towers. We remember those ill-fated flights and how they were intentionally slammed into the very icons of our nation. We remember those thick plumes of noxious smoke as they bellowed out of the top of those lofty skyscrapers and into our collective conscience. We remember our own anxiety and ponder what must have raced through the hearts of fellow-citizens as they contemplated the end of their earthly existence and the brevity of human life. We remember the internal shock of watching the first, and then the second tower plummet to the ground. We remember those feelings of helplessness and despair as lower Manhattan was engulfed in ash and debris.
But may I suggest, dear reader, that there is a far more terrible tragedy that warrants our joint remembrance.
Every first day of the week (Acts 20:7), we need to call to memory (1 Cor. 11:23-26) those horrific events which transpired nearly 2,000 years ago:
- We need to remember the murderous plot against the innocent Son (Mt. 26:3-4; Heb. 4:15; 7:26).
- We need to remember the Lord’s internal struggle as He pondered His impending death (Mt. 26:37-39).
- We need to remember His betrayal at the hands of one of His own disciples (Mt. 26:47-50).
- We need to remember the ill-informed attempt to thwart His crucifixion (Mt. 26:51-54).
- We need to remember the disciples’ cowardice and how they fled for their lives when He needed them the most (Mt. 26:56).
- We need to remember the howls of the angry mob as they shouted, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” (Mk. 15:13-14).
- We need to remember the incredible injustice of both the Jewish and Roman courts (Mt. 26:57ff).
- We need to remember Pilate’s timidity before that blood-thirsty crowd (Mt. 27:24-26; Lk. 23:13-25).
- We need to remember the brutal flogging (i.e., “little death”) at the hands of the Roman lictors (Jn. 19:1).
- We need to remember Peter’s lying about his association with Jesus (Mt. 26:69-75).
- We need to remember the slanderous mockery of the soldiers, priests, and thieves (Mt. 27:27ff; 39-44).
- We need to remember the Lord’s humiliation as He was stripped of His clothing and numbered with lawless, ungodly men (Isa. 53:12; Mt. 27:28; Heb. 12:2).
- We need to remember that ruthless blow to His head (Mt. 27:30). We need to remember the heavy burden of the cross that was thrust upon His weary shoulders (Mt. 27:32).
- We need to remember those cruel nails that pierced His hands and feet and how that He was suspended between holy God and sinful man (Jn. 3:14; 12:34).
- We need to remember the bitter taste of sour wine mingled with gall (Mt. 27:34).
- We need to remember His desperate cry to His own Father (Mt. 27:46).
- We need to remember the frightful earthquake that shook the earth the moment the Savior died (Mt. 27:54).
- Perhaps most importantly, we need to remember that our own sins made this barbaric occasion necessary (1 Pet. 2:24; Isa. 53).
“Lest I forget Gethsemane, lest I forget Thine agony, lest I forget Thy love for me, lead me to Calvary.”
“Do this in remembrance of Me…” (1 Cor. 11:24, 25).