Fifteen Years Ago ….

Commenting on his own lack of ordination, and the futility of most modern ordination practices, Charles Haddon Spurgeon once rather famously said —

“Now, it was no doubt the custom to lay on hands at the ordination of Christian ministers by the apostles, and there was an excellent reason for it, for gifts were thereby conveyed to the ordained, and when we can find anybody who can thereby confer some spiritual gift upon us, we shall be glad to have their hands laid on our heads; but empty hands we care not for. Rites cease when their meaning ceases. If practiced any longer they gender to superstition, and are fit instruments of priestcraft. The upholding of the hands of the eldership, when they give their vote to elect a man to the pastorate, is a sensible proceeding, and is, I suspect, all the apostle means when he speaks of the presbytery; but empty hands it seems to me are fitly laid on empty heads, and to submit to an empty ceremony is the idlest of all idle waste of time.” (The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit. 1872. Vol. XVIII)

Hands on HeadAnd this is one of those places where Charles and I disagree.  Ordination was important in the New Testament and it’s important today.  It’s part of the process of setting particular people apart for the work of the ministry — for prayer, study in the word, teaching, and shepherding the flock of God.  (Acts 6:4, 1Peter 5:2, Titus 1:5-8)

Personally, I believe that ordination is simply the church’s reaction to what God has already ordained and made obvious.  When He separates someone and places them in to His service, He gives them the gifts that are necessary for the work.  When the church recognizes that God has gifted someone with the abilities necessary for the work, ordination takes place.

Anyway … why is this on my mind today, of all days?  Well, it’s Cinco de Mayo — May 5 — the anniversary of my ordination into the ministry.  It was fifteen years ago today that Elders David Morris and D.J. Ward laid hands on my head, prayed over me, and charged me with the work I have been doing ever since.  And every year, on this calendar date, I watch the video of my ordination and remember the words that were said over me.

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 2.03.57 PMI have always held the concept of ordination in high esteem, ever since my early Lutheran days.  So much so that I turned down earlier ordination opportunities, waiting until I was convinced that it was the proper time and that I was being ordained by men with whom I had full agreement.  And, by God’s good providence, He introduced me to just such men.

Cert of Ordination

The year after I was ordained we got our building and GCA became a public church.  June 5 will be our 14th anniversary.  As the time has ticked by, we’ve seen God’s provision at every turn.  And today we are as healthy a church as I have ever known.

So, today I pause, reflect, and thank God for His remarkable faithfulness.  I could not have orchestrated the events of the last fifteen years.  They’ve been marked by great heights and crushing lows.  But, He has carried me, without fail, through them all.  And not a day passes that I am not reminded of the responsibility that comes with the title “ordained elder.”  But I am equally reminded of the strength and unerring love of the God who marked me out for this work.

To God — and God alone — belongs the kingdom, and the power, and glory forever and ever.  Amen.

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Let the Redeemed of the Lord Say What Exactly?

Some verses from the Bible are so embedded in our collective conscience that they take on a meaning of their own — often quite different from the meaning the original author intended.  And sometimes the solution to properly understanding a text is as simple as looking closely at the context.

Such is the case with Psalm 107:2 –

“Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, Whom He has redeemed from the hand of the adversary”

This is a favorite verse of preachers who are looking to garner feedback from the congregation.  The assumption is that this verse is a complete thought that serves as a directive to the redeemed to say that they are indeed redeemed.  Are you redeemed?  Yes?  Well then, say so!

But the simple fact is that even the most basic exegesis and contextual interpretation leads to a completely different — and more important — conclusion.  Here’s what the text actually says —

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good,
            For His lovingkindness is everlasting.

Let the redeemed of the LORD say so,
            Whom He has redeemed from the hand of the adversary

 And gathered from the lands,
            From the east and from the west,
            From the north and from the south.

  They wandered in the wilderness in a desert region;
            They did not find a way to an inhabited city.

     They were hungry and thirsty;
            Their soul fainted within them.

     Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble;
            He delivered them out of their distresses.

     He led them also by a straight way,
            To go to an inhabited city.

     Let them give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness,
            And for His wonders to the sons of men!  (Psalm 107:1-8)

So, based on the context, what exactly are the redeemed instructed to say?  That the Lord is good and that His lovingkindness is everlasting.

And what’s the evidence that this is true? He gathered His own — His redeemed — from from all corners of the world, delivering them from the hand of their enemy.

In the historic context, this has to do with God delivering Israel out of Egypt.  For 40 years they wandered in the wilderness, hungry and thirsty.  They cried to the Lord and He delivered them.  He led them to the Promised Land and ultimately to Jerusalem, the place where He placed His name.

So what is the proper reaction?  They should thank the Lord for His lovingkindness and for His wonders to the sons of men.  (That phrase is repeated in verses 15, 21, and 31.)

The Psalm concludes with these words —

Who is wise? Let him give heed to these things,
            And consider the lovingkindnesses of the LORD. (Psalm 107:43)

From start to finish, the theme of this Psalm is God’s goodness and  lovingkindness.  That’s what the redeemed of the Lord are supposed to announce.  This Psalm is not advancing a form of self-assurance or confident boasting in our redemption.  It is meant to be a reminder of the various ways that God delivered Israel.  He is to be glorified for His goodness and His merciful work.  The emphasis is on Him, not on the redeemed.  The redeemed’s only participation in this whole historical account of God’s redemptive work is to admit to His goodness.

And THAT’s what the redeemed are to “say so.”

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A nice note of encouragement

The digital world never ceases to amaze me.  People I might otherwise never meet show up in my email and make my day.

IsraelologySo, a little background.  Arnold Fruchtenbaum is the author of a book that I found very helpful and encouraging.  The somewhat daunting title of his book is: Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology.  According to the Ariel Ministries website, “This study was created from Dr. Fruchtenbaum’s landmark research for his doctoral thesis.”

What makes it so special?  Well, twenty years ago I was working to understand Israel’s place in God’s economy.  Israel permeates the Bible and the vast majority of the sacred text either refers directly to, or is influenced by, God’s promises to His chosen people, Israel.  I was tracing the “seed” promises at that time.  David Morris was encouraging me to write a book called “Seedology.”  It was this time of study and wrestling that eventually led to writing the book “Is the Church Israel?

Dr. Fruchtenbaum’s book landed in my lap at a providential moment and sewed together pieces I was wrestling to reconcile.  To be blunt, this is an area of study that is often lacking in general theology and especially in Reformed Theology. Hence, the title of his book.

What I especially appreciated in reading Dr. Fruchtenbaum’s material and listening to some of his lectures is that he approaches the New Testament from a Jewish perspective — you know, the way Jesus’ original followers would have.  And that perspective is missing in far too much of 21st Century Gentile teaching and preaching.  So, all in all, a very helpful book.

Cut to: three months ago.

I was culling through email, as I do pretty much every day — answering questions, steering folk toward resources, thanking people for their encouraging words — when I saw a return address that said “Arnold Fruchtenbaum.”

My first thought: No way.

But, sure enough.  It was a short note from the good doctor saying how much he enjoyed my book.  You could have knocked me over with a feather.  He said some very kind things and asked it I had any plans to publish it.  I told him that the book was free on our website as a pdf download (which I suppose would be the only format he could have read) and that we were working on a Kindle version.

Then I decided to be bold, since he had opened the door, and asked for a quote I could use to promote the book on Amazon.  It took a few months.  He’s a busy guy.  But this past week I received a very nice email and a quote he said I could use.  Coolness.  Absolute coolness.

So, I thought I’d share it with you all.  It’s not everyday that I get this sort of shot in the arm from someone I respect so highly.  Here’s what Dr. Fruchtenbaum wrote:

IsTheChurchIsrael_KindleCover“At a time when Replacement Theology is growing, at a time when more and more churches are turning against Israel, at a time when churches are losing interest in Jewish evangelism, Jim McClarty’s work makes an important contribution towards making believers understand God’s plan and program for Israel and provides valuable biblical tools to prove the church is not Israel, nor has the church taken over Israel’s covenantal promises and that God still intends to fulfill any promise He has made to Israel.” Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum.  President/Founder of Ariel Ministries.

I’ve added that endorsement to our Kindle page.  But, while we’re on the subject, allow me to remind you that we now have three books available on Amazon as Kindle downloads.  And you can get your copy of Is the Church Israel? via Amazon or via our website (under the “Read” link).

Thanks again to Dr. Fruchtenbaum for his kind words and for reaching out.

Arnold finished his email with this sign-off: “Yours for the salvation of Israel.”

I’m right there with you, brother.  I’m right there with you.

“Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.”  (Romans 10:1)

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Pneumatology at the 2015 Embracing the Truth Conference

Each Spring I look forward to the annual Embracing the Truth Conference that convenes at Hamilton Chapel Church in Gladeville, TN.  I have attended a good many conferences through the years, but this one consistently distinguishes itself by acts of kindness, generosity of spirit, and the sort of grace you always hope to encounter when entering a room full of Christians.  Plus, I count every speaker, pastor, lecturer, and preacher who attended a friend.  Good camaraderie, good food, good fellowship, lots of joy and laughter … you can’t ask for more than that.

I “lectured on steroids” for three mornings on the topic of Pneumatology – The Holy Spirit.  Here are the recordings of those messages and a link to a PDF of my notes (for those who want to follow along, see I often I wandered off, or would like to use them for their own studies and teaching).

Lecture 1: Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Lecture 2: Thursday, March 12, 2015

Lecture 3: Friday, March 13, 2015

Notes for Pneumatology at ETT 2015 

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Embracing the Truth Conference 2015

ETT Banner

It’s hard to believe, but conference season is almost upon us again.  In early March I’ll be attending the Embracing the Truth Conference here in Middle Tennessee.  I like conferences where I get to sleep in my own bed.  Here’s the info and details.  This is one of my favorite conferences and I hope everyone in the vicinity (and out of the vicinity) will make plans to join us.

 ETT 2015 Schedule of Speakers

ETT 2015 Itinerary 

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So, Just How Big IS the GCA Archive

1,154.

That’s the number of mp3’s currently residing in the GCA archives.  And since they average an hour apiece, that’s 1154 hours of free recorded teaching available via the GCA website.

When those figures were conveyed to me this afternoon, I responded, “Well, people are going to have one of two reactions.  Either they’ll think: ‘Gosh, that’s a pretty impressive library.’  Or, they’ll think:  ‘Man, that guy talks a lot.'”

It might be a bit of both.

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Contextualizing the Gospel to the Trendy Un-Churched

I’m just not a trendy guy.  I don’t like fashion trends, musical trends, or the latest trends in political correctness.  I especially don’t like church trends.  You know the type: whatever it takes to entertain the audience and bring them back.  PT Barnum had nothing on the current crop of trendy preachers.

I listen to sermons on a regular basis.  A friend asked that I watch some videos from a local preacher and offer some feedback.  He’s a young preacher (chronologically and experientially) and he’s leading a young, vibrant church, I was told.  Given the explosion of growth he was experiencing, I was curious to hear the sort of message he was propounding.

“Trendy” doesn’t start to describe it.  Because the congregation was filled with upwardly-mobile 20-somethings, the message was purposefully and specifically designed to appeal to their hipster sensibilities.  For instance, the apostles were referred to as “12 dudes” and Jesus was portrayed as a sort of life coach rather than the Lord of glory.  It was painful to watch.

A number of years ago, in an effort to draw a younger demographic, churches began offering an alternative form of church service, known as “contemporary worship.”  They traded their organs for electric guitars, skipped the robes in favor of blue jeans, and middle aged preachers spiked their hair and grew “soul patches” below their lower lip to show how hip and relevant they were.

Relevant.  That became the buzzword.  The church needed to make Jesus more relevant.  And that meant jettisoning the traditions of the church and embracing every movement, trend, novelty and “purpose driven” book/DVD/study guide that came down the pike.  The church became a marketplace for comedians, performance art, pop stars, and purveyors of psycho-babble.  And along the way, the gospel — the plain and simple recitation of the elements of Biblical truth and doctrine — fell by the wayside.

Yet, there was no sense of worry.  No panic.  After all, the seats were being filled and the coffers were growing fat.  In a word, it was “working.”  And the new buzzword became “contextualizing.”  For instance, when Mark Driscoll grew Mars Hill Church to megachurch status wearing Mickey Mouse shirts and biker chains, he said that he was “contextualizing” the message to the audience he was addressing.  Because it “worked,” others followed the model.  And a trend was born.

Driscoll claimed that his young, Seattle urbanite congregation was mostly “un-churched.”  That’s why he had to make church “relevant” to them.  And that brings us to the local guy I mentioned earlier.

He also claimed that his congregation was “un-churched.”  Hence, the various amusements and entertainments that accompanied his message. That’s why his message was sprinkled with language and story-telling conventions that weren’t found in the text, but which made the Bible more “approachable,” said he.

As I listened to him talk, I couldn’t avoid the impression that he thought the Bible, as written, was insufficient.  It had to be made more relevant to the listening audience.  It had to be “contextualized.”  It had to be accompanied by entertainment.  In short, it had to be improved.

Why?  Because the people to whom he was speaking were “un-churched.”

I’m a Bible guy.  I actually believe that the Word of God is sufficient to accomplish whatever God intends for it to accomplish.

"So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;  It will not return to Me empty,  without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it." (Isaiah 55:11)

It does not need to be watered down or made more relevant in order for the Almighty to do what He intends to do.  As Charles Spurgeon rather famously said, “The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself.”

But here’s my point (and I do have one) — the Bible knows nothing of “un-churched” people.  I contend that the folk the trendy preachers are appealing to are not un-churched, they are un-saved.  And dumbing-down the Bible in order to make it relevant to the unsaved is utterly contrary to every Biblical example I can think of.  No prophet took that approach.  In fact, they so feared and revered God that they would always and only say whatever God instructed them to say.

But Balaam replied to Balak, “Did I not tell you, ‘Whatever the LORD speaks, that I must do’?” (Numbers 23:26)

Neither Jesus nor any of the apostles ever sugar-coated the message of judgment and salvation in order to appease the unbelievers. And, to my way of thinking, failing to preach the whole counsel of God, the way God Himself presented it, is a dereliction of duty.  It is a sure demonstration that the church has forgotten its purpose and calling.  The church exists for the proper care and feeding of the sheep, not for entertaining goats.

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)

One last thing: Paul repeatedly called for unity in the church.  Genuine Christian unity is the result of sound doctrine.  Teaching the Bible is the only way to create unity within a congregation. If everyone believes differently, unity is impossible.  When the preacher demonstrates a low view of Scripture, or when he teaches by example that the Bible is flexible or is merely an outline on which we can hang our own opinions, that attitude will be reflected by the congregation.  And confusion ensues. Sound doctrine leads to healthy, grown-up Christianity.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-5)

Altering the gospel in order to make it more appealing to the unsaved is a fool’s errand. This is serious work we’re engaged in, not to be taken lightly.  And a proper reverence for God’s word is critical to the task.

Then again, I’m a less-than-trendy Bible guy who pastors a local non-mega congregation.

But, I’m happy to be that way.

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Of Birds, Evolution, and Faith

I was watching a nature show on TV when they turned their attention to the black heron, a medium-sized African bird who is keen on fishing.  They showed video of the heron draping its wings forward, cape-like around its body, casting a shadow over the shallow bank of a pond.  Small fish gathered in the shadowy water, allowing the heron easier access to lunch.

The commentator said, “The heron has evolved this behavior and ability to create an umbrella with its wings in order to catch fish more effectively.”  Black heron

And that got me thinking.  We are told repeatedly that animal behavior is the result of evolution.  But, we should pause when we hear such things and ask ourselves whether that’s even logical.

Think with me …

What we’re being asked to believe is that an early ancestor of this bird was doing a bit of fishing and came to realize that fish preferred shadows to direct sunlight.  But there was very little he could do about it since his wings were built for flying rather than for shadow-casting.  Nevertheless, he held on to that bit of information and managed to share it with friends and progressive generations of herons after him.  As thousands of years passed, generation after generation of herons tried with all their might to bring their wings forward, block the sun, and attract their meal.  They were apparently not dissuaded by the fact that couldn’t do it and that this particular technique was of no immediate help to them. The plucky birds continued their attempts until, by mere force of will and determination, they changed their own genetic code.  Eventually, their wings grew wider and more flexible, allowing them to accomplish their long-awaited wing-wrapping behavior.  Amazing tenacity, you herons, you.

Now, before you’re put off by my approach, isn’t that exactly what the commentator meant by saying that the heron had “evolved this behavior and ability”?  Isn’t evolution something that happens gradually, over long stretches of time?  And isn’t all evolution driven by the need for food and the preservation of the species?  Well then, how did a bird who couldn’t do something know that it would be beneficial to do it?  And how did that knowledge change the genetic makeup of that particular type of bird?

Darwinian evolution tells us that behaviors and physical traits that do not benefit the survival of the species eventually fall away.  Survival of the fit, and all that.  The heron’s inability to cast a shadow with its wings would not have eventually produced the ability to do it.  It would have resulted in adaptation: the herons would have eaten something else or learned to fish with the abilities it had.  Either that, or die.

Where, I wondered, did those early herons get the idea that throwing a shadow on the water would be beneficial?  Careful observation?  Are birds really that logical?  And, if they couldn’t do anything about it, how were they capable of passing that information along, generation after generation for thousands of years, until one day one young heron was able to do it?  And since his newfound ability would have been a mutation, how was it passed along to all herons so that they could all benefit from this unique fishing experience?

Now, here’s my point.  When we say that we believe in a Creator, we are often chided and belittled for our naiveté.  Belief in such a Being is said to be based in faith, not in fact.  But, when we’re told about vision-casting, supremely logical, prescient, genetically self-altering birds …. that’s science.

In response, someone will counter, “Natural selection!”  But, natural selection is not a thing.  It’s not a force.  It’s a phrase.  If it IS a thing, if it IS driving all life forward and directing the herons to eventually learn how to fish better, then it’s a creative force akin to the God spoken of in the Bible.  “Natural selection” is really just the evolutionist’s version of a creator.

So, the evolutionist spins around in a quasi-scientific Catch-22.  Evolution cannot explain things like the eyeball.  Only a complex, working eyeball produces sight.  But we’re asked to believe that non-sighted animals somehow understood what sight was and that it would be beneficial in hunting and finding a mate.  So, the eyeball evolved, despite the fact that every early stage of development would not have produced any sight at all.  Nevertheless, “natural selection” kept developing eyeballs until one day sight occurred.  And the seeing animal was so excited, he managed to pass that ability along.

OR — eyes exist because God decided they would and He knew what He was doing.

I find that much easier to believe than the alternative.

Thank you, herons, for a valuable object lesson.

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Yep, you got me …

A friend sent me an article by Hank Hanegraaff … you know, the “Bible Answer Man.”  The article is a response to the Left Behind books and movie.  Hank is a preterist, so he and Tim LaHaye are at polar opposite eschatological extremes.  Anyway, in the article Hank offers a rather biased “definition” of dispensationalism, which he says results from a “strict literalism” when reading the Bible.  This is an accusation I hear regularly.  And I can’t help but be amused by it.  Inherent in the charge of “literalism” is the tacit admission that our view is the result of actually reading what the words on the page genuinely say.  So, I guess in order to support the other positions, you must ignore what the text says in favor of an interpretive scheme.

No thanks …. I’ll stick with the words on the page.  But, thanks for admitting it’s in there.

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