Friday, November 24, 2006

Following the crowd


Seeing these goldfish following each other makes me think about when we should follow the crowd, and when we shouldn't. If nobody followed the crowd, society would not work. The idea that we should rebel against everything that's popular is not Christian. It's anti-social. On the other hand, if we follow the crowd--even the Christian crowd--without question, we're sure to end up doing something evil.

Lord, enable me to be happy to follow the crowd, but only when there's nothing wrong with the direction the crowd is going.

You must not follow a crowd in wrongdoing.
--Exodus 23:2, HCSB

Self-Made Man?

I didn't make myself.
I didn't give myself new life.
    The Lord made me
    And redeemed me
    And gave me life.

I don't sustain myself.
I won't revive myself.
    The Lord upholds me
    And renews me
    And will raise me.

I'm not saved by formulas.
I'm not saved by programs.
    The Lord began it.
    The Lord continues it.
    The Lord will see it through.


--© 2006, Jim Swindle
Non-profit reproduction of up to 100 copies along with this notice IS permitted.


For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
--Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving may be my favorite holiday. I loved the Thanksgiving eve worship services at Emmanuel Church in Burbank, California, in the early 1990's. We'd have prayer and scripture and hymns and maybe a few choruses, of course, but for me the highlight was when people were given a chance to come to the front and tell what they were thankful for that year. I remember the year one man told that a year earlier, he had been on the waiting list for a heart transplant, and that now he had improved so that he no longer needed to be on the list.

I don't have anything that dramatic to be thankful for this year, but each year I try to make out my Thanksgiving list. It's not at all like a Christmas wish list. Instead, it's a list of the things I'm particularly thankful for that year. What's on your list this year?

I believe the poet George Herbert said something more or less like this: Lord, Thou hast given us so much! Give us one thing more--a grateful heart. Amen.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thoughts on Cultures

Most people aren't really fully aware of culture. They see their own kind of people as normal and see everyone else as odd or evil. They are unaware that there are differences between other cultures. They may mix up Chinese, Indians, and Venezuelans.

On the other hand, an awareness of cultural differences is very important for anyone who wants to communicate with people of other cultures. Certain Christians (missionaries) are specially called and equipped for communicating cross-culturally. This is extremely important, because except in people who are convinced segregationists, culture is a far greater barrier between people than is genetics. For example, a black man who thinks like a white man may find to his surprise that his white co-workers tend to think of him as white. A white man who thinks like hispanics may find that his hispanic friends think of him as hispanic. If we're to communicate the message of Jesus Christ to people of every culture, it helps if we are aware of cultural differences and sensitive to them.

As Christians, our mission is not to convert others to our own culture. It is to make disciples of Christ in or from every culture. Every culture has its good and bad points. This does not mean all cultures are equally valid. Yet even the best culture will be blind to its faults, and even the worst will usually see and value some bits of truth. If your culture is different from mine, probably we could each learn some valuable lessons from each other.

As people become disciples of Christ and grow in him, they begin to transform the culture around them. It becomes, literally, a better culture. If enough people of a certain ethnicity become true Christians, their grandchildren will tend to think of being Christian as an intrinsic part of that ethnic group's culture. For example, there was a major revival among Scandinavian immigrants in America in the late 1800's. This revival did not have as much impact in Scandinavia. By the middle of the 20th century, Americans of Swedish descent tended to think of evangelical Christianity as an essential part of Swedish culture.

This cultural identification with Christianity can be wonderful, but it contains a danger: People may think they are Christians just because they are a part of that culture.

To summarize, cultural differences are real, and people of different cultures can learn from each other. Yet, as Christians, our primary mission is to make disciples of Jesus, not to improve cultures nor to make more people of our culture. If the Lord enables us to make disciples of Jesus, those disciples will have an impact on their cultures. They will be salt and light to those around them.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

What Kind of Christian Am I?

I’m sometimes discouraged by all of the labels we put onto the various kinds of Christians. Those labels can be useful, but they usually don’t tell the whole story. I find it hard to categorize myself.

I’m orthodox. I believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. I believe in salvation through Jesus. I believe in the Bible. I believe in the (so-called) Apostles’ Creed.

I’m evangelical. I believe God has spoken to us through Jesus and has offered us eternal life through trusting in Jesus and in his death and resurrection. I believe we need to proclaim that message throughout the world.

I’m charismatic. I believe spiritual gifts such as healings and prophecies and speaking in tongues didn’t all cease in the 100’s AD. (I also believe that much of the modern charismatic/Pentecostal movement is off-base, chasing after experiences and measuring all things by experiences.)

I’m catholic. I believe I’m a part of the Lord’s universal church, not just a part of my local church. (I’m not a Roman Catholic.)

I’m reformed. I believe the true gospel is a message of God’s grace, of Jesus Christ, and of faith in him. I believe in the depravity of people, in the Lord’s gracious choice of people to be saved, in the Lord’s death for his own (but also, in some way, for all), in the Lord’s power to draw us to himself, and that those who are really the Lord’s children will ultimately follow and know him.

I’m dispensational. I believe in interpreting the Bible literally. I believe the Lord has not abandoned the nation of Israel. I believe the Lord has dealt with people in different ways in different ages, but that people in all ages have been saved only through trusting in what he graciously provides.

I’m Lutheran, sort of. I believe that in the Lord’s Supper, the Lord is truly and mysteriously present with us, even while the bread and wine are also still bread and wine.

I’m Baptist also. I believe the best method of baptism is dipping (immersion). I see little point in baptizing those who do not yet believe.

I’m independent in that I believe that while I’m to submit to my pastors and elders, I’m even more responsible to the Lord. Thus, I sometimes come to conclusions that don’t fit most people’s theological grids. (I struggle with how to reconcile submission to my pastors and submission to what I believe is truth they are missing. I realize that my own understanding is not immune from error.)

I’m liberal. I believe there are true Christians in a wide variety of churches, and I believe the Lord is pleased by worship in many different cultures, so long as it’s worship in Spirit and in truth.

I’m conservative. I believe the scriptures, as originally written, were without error. I believe that the Lord has preserved them sufficiently and remarkably, so that in them we find a trustworthy revelation of him and of the way to life.

I’m fundamental. I believe in the virgin birth, the resurrection, the miracles of Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the return of Jesus Christ. I believe there are such things as heresy and apostasy. I believe it is not good to place ourselves under the authority of people who are heretics or apostates. Such people should be judged by the church; they will be judged by the Lord.

I’m high-church. I love worshiping with an organ and grand old hymns. I enjoy poetry and liturgy.

I’m low-church. I love informal worship with fresh choruses and spontaneity and uplifted hands.

So, what kind of Christian am I? I guess I’ll let others decide. The most important thing isn’t which category I fit in, nor whether it’s logically consistent to believe everything I believe, nor whether all of what I believe is correct. The important thing is whether I’m really a Christian by faith, and whether I’m obeying the Lord and growing in him and loving him and serving him and serving others in his name.

I hope you'll agree, though I realize that you may not. If you disagree, pray for me and then tell me why you disagree. I'm also praying for you, whoever you are, as I write this.

Now, a final note: I don't believe I need to convince you to agree with me in all of what I've written here. Eternal life and salvation are available to you through Jesus; the Lord's wrath is on all who reject him. You don't need to come to me. Come to him.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Re-clothed

Lord, you found me filthy,
Singed and seared with sin.
Then you stripped me naked,
Washed me out and in.
You put clean clothes on me,
Vestments of your grace,
With the right to access
Your own holy place.

..."Remove the filthy garments from him." And to him he said, "Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments."
--Zechariah 3:4


--© 2006, Jim Swindle
Non-profit reproduction of up to 100 copies along with this notice IS permitted.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Three Poems

STABILITY

The Life in the LORD
Is a stable life;
A life based on trust
In the LORD, our rock.

The storms may blow hard
Until hope's near gone;
The waves may all crash,
And the earth may roll,

But hope will not die,
For it's promise-based
And steady as Zion,
The mountain of God.

Those who trust in the LORD are as Mount Zion,
which can't be moved, but remains forever.
--Psalm 125:1




SLIPPERY PREACHER


"Come," says the preacher,"through this world-broad gate
That leads to more success, to pleasure here and now."
The preacher smiles and tells great stories of success
That he has won.
The crowds all come
And eat the shallow food
And mostly miss the narrow path that leads to life.
They never know they've found the wolf
While God's great Shepherd has a very narrow gate.

"Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it."
--Jesus, in Matthew 7:13, 14




ENTERING THE ASSEMBLY OF CHRIST'S PEOPLE


By your mercy, by your grace
I am in this holy place.
All my evil, all my sin
Died with You, who rose again.


...who himself bore our sins in his body on the tree...
1 Peter 2:24


--© 2006, Jim Swindle
Non-profit reproduction of up to 100 copies along with this notice IS permitted.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Lakewood

I recently was visiting with a leader of Lakewood Church. It's the largest church in the USA. The man seems to be a sincere Christian, delighted with what the Lord has done in and through his church. He was reading a book by John MacArthur, Jr. I disturbed the man by saying that if the gospel in John MacArthur's book is true, the gospel of his pastor is false.

I'm not saying that the man with whom I was speaking is not a Christian. I think he's probably a real Christian. Lakewood's statement of belief is basically sound, and it's excellent that at the end of every sermon, the pastor invites people to trust Jesus. Still, the rest of what's taught doesn't always match the Bible. I'm very troubled by some of what I see in the teachings from Lakewood. (Scroll down, if needed, to see a table.)























Lakewood EmphasesBiblical Emphases
Material blessingsSpiritual blessings
This lifeThe life to come
Overcoming your past negativityOvercoming Satan and sin
Contentment as a means to more physical blessingsContentment as a means to not interrupting fellowship with God
The power of positive thoughtThe power of the Holy Spirit
Changing myselfGod changing me
My effortGod's grace
My gloryGod's glory
Pursuing earthly richesNot laying up treasures on earth


I pray for their pastor. I wish him well. Yet I'm troubled.

Friday, November 03, 2006

When Pastors Fail

Yet another well-known pastor has stepped down because of an accusation of scandalous, sinful behavior. We don't yet know how much of what was said about him is true.

When a pastor fails, those who had trusted him are tempted to think that God has failed; that all the blessings they thought they received from that pastor were a sham. Instead, I'd encourage those disappointed people to think of all of the people who were blessed by Judas Iscariot. Judas went out with the other apostles, healing the sick, casting out demons, and preaching the good news of the kingdom. Judas himself was a fraud, but the blessings he gave were real.

The Lord can pour out genuine blessings even through faulty or phony vessels.

Prayer: Lord, have mercy on the many people who have been wounded by the failures of their pastors. Comfort the families of those pastors. Deal with the failed pastors with your firm truth and shocking grace. Help us to set our faith on you and on your son Jesus Christ, not on any other man or organization. As your word says, "Let the Lord be true, though every man be found a liar."