New Footwear For the Boys in India

This morning when you got dressed, did you think to thank God for your shoes?  Probably not.  We’re used to having adequate footwear, in various fashions, for all occasions: sports, casual wear, walking, formal dress, etc. But, when you have nothing on your feet, the gift of even the most casual form of footwear is cause for celebration and gratefulness.

The boys in India recently endured an outbreak of chicken pox. They were in need for some medicine to soothe the fevers and itching.  Bobby said the local villagers had been engaging in various rituals to their idols in the hope of staunching the outbreak. But, he assured the boys of God’s faithfulness.  So they prayed and waited on the Lord.

We normally send funds at the top of each month.  But, the need for medicine and other necessities occurred at the same moment that some of our listeners sent special gifts for the boys in India.  Providence works.

These most recent photos are wonderful.  Not only are the boys enjoying new sandals and a meal, their faces are full of joy despite enduring sickness and the sort of lack most of us have never encountered.  I like these guys … a lot.

Share

A Few Words About A Mighty Good Dog

Wallace was 18.  In dogs years that’s … well, really old.  And today he breathed his last.

He and his sister were dropped on us when they were very little pups.  The original idea was that we’d keep them long enough to find them a good home.  Turns out, my home was the good home they needed.Wallace

For the last 24 years there’s been at least one dog in my backyard.  Some were good, some were trouble.  But, Wallace was the best of them.  He had a sort of noble bearing about him.  Definitely the alpha dog.  And any other dogs knew it.  He was a loyal companion, a careful protector, and a friend to my children.  All in all, a mighty fine dog.

His decline started last year when his sister died.  By this morning he was stone deaf, his eyes were fading, he was riddled with cancer, he had a large, bulbous tumor under his tail and another growing on his neck.  Despite being Autumn, his poor circulation hampered his ability to begin growing his winter coat.  And he was miserable.  So today, Megan and I mustered the courage necessary to do the right thing.  We took him to PAWS and had him put to sleep.

And we cried.

Wallace last photo

This is the photo I took of Wallace, standing in the back of my CR-V today as we readied him for his final trip to the vet.  He looks gaunt, weak, bedraggled, not anything like the vibrant, energetic dog he once was.  But his eyes were steady as he looked out one last time on his yard.  Then he laid down.  And he didn’t get up again.

My quarter-century of dog ownership has come to an end. I think my dog days are finished. These days, I’m simplifying and cutting back.  But the yard sure looks empty.  In fact, for the first time in 24 years, this afternoon I opened the gate and left it open. It was like a memorial to the dogs who had come and gone.

I know everything that is born eventually dies.  And I know that 18 years is a good, long life for canines.  But, I’m sure going to miss him.

Goodbye, my old friend.  I’m paying you the highest compliment a dog can earn —

“You’re a good boy.”

 

 

Share

A partial recording from the 2012 SGBC

This past summer I had the good fortune of preaching at the 2012 Sovereign Grace Bible Conference in Chattanooga.  You can read more about the conference, see video, and listen to past message via this website:

sovereigngracebibleconference.org 

Unfortunately, due to a bit of digital corruption, the first fifteen minutes or so of the message were lost.  And the balance of it suffered from some rather severe audio limitations.  But, digital recording being what it is, I was able to add some EQ, compression, noise suppression, etc. and make it somewhat listenable.  So here is the last 3/4 of that message, which obviously just jumps in midway.  I was talking about Eternal Security and had discussed how my Arminian upbringing never allowed for any real sense of peace.  It was in that context that I brought up the book “I’m Okay, You’re Okay.”

By the way, I am in the final stages of editing our latest YouTube video, which is on the topic of Eternal Security and is drawn from my notes and prep work on this message.

Elder McClarty – 2012 SGBC partial recording

 

Share

Entertaining the Church

Mime

 

Hello Pastor Jim,

I pray that this email finds you and your ministry well.  I was recently asked if I would allow MIME ministry in the church. My sense is that this activity does nothing for the body of Christ and opens the door for all sort of other forms of entertainment. Would you explain your position on this ‘ministry’? Maybe I’m wrong in my assessment, but I just want to be right in what I expose to the people of the living God.  Thanks in advance.

Response:

Hello Pastor,

Thanks for taking the time to write.  It’s always a great pleasure to hear from my preaching brethren.

Let me start by assuring you that you are not wrong in your assessment of entertainment-based activity in church. I contend that the encroachment of plays, mimes, clowns, jugglers, dance troops, etc. into church services has weakened our collective understanding of why we gather as a body in the first place.

The purpose of the church is twofold:

  1. The worship of God
  2. The edification of the saints.

So, what we have to ask ourselves is how something like mime can accomplish either task.  I conclude that it cannot.

As for point number 1:

I realize that most of these so-called “ministries” claim that they create or present a “worship experience.”  But, that’s logically impossible, since the attention of the congregation is focused on the performers, not on God   In order to truly worship God, you must be able to concentrate your thoughts on Him.  These days, the concept of worship has been replaced by the idea of “having an experience.”  But, any exciting circumstance can create an experience.  When a congregation is excited by a presentation of lights, music, smoke machines, special effects, etc. they leave thinking that they’ve “experienced” worship.  What they’ve actually had was an emotional reaction to sensory stimuli.  Their emotions were over-loaded (much like what happens to all of us when we watch television).

But, worship is active.  Worship engages our hearts, our minds, our intellect, and our emotions.  Worship is dependent on knowing whom we are worshiping and why we worship Him.  Watching someone perform is the exact opposite of engaging in worship.  Therefore, it is impossible for a performer to claim that his stage-act is a form of worship.

As for point number 2:

Entertaining the congregation is not the same as edifying the saints. Despite the fact that amusement has replaced education in most of our society, the church should be a place of edification where the saints are challenged to think, to consider the propositions of Scripture, and to consider the depth and breadth of God’s Word. And, as I like to point out, our English word “amuse” is simply the word for “think” — muse, with the alpha-negative before it — a-muse.  It literally means “without thinking.”  And there’s plenty of stuff happening in the modern evangelical church that fits that description.

I think what has happened historically within the church is that their ever-increasing budgets and huge overhead derailed their sense of purpose.  Raising money is now more important than teaching/preaching or worship.  Many, many churches live under the burden of keeping themselves afloat financially month-to-month, so they are forced to bring in every dollar they can lay claim to.  And now they are fighting for the disposable income that families spend on entertainment.  As a consequence, newer church buildings look more like Las Vegas theaters than they do places of worship.  The platform doubles as a stage for Broadway-style productions.  And that, sadly, is what people have come to expect.  So, the bar is raised ever-higher as churches compete to attract new attendees who will pay premium prices to belong to the hippest church in town.

Of course, all that is diametrically opposite to the purpose of the church.  While we are in the world, we are not to be of the world.  And nowhere in Scripture do any of the authors endorse or engage in entertainment as a form of spreading the good news.  To them, preaching the truth was of utmost importance.  And, there is simply no way to contend that the gospel can be preached by people in white face make-up saying absolutely nothing.  Plus, because no words are used in mime, the message is open to the interpretation of the individual audience member.  So, there is no way to assure that the congregation received any consistent telling of any gospel truth.

I recall a few years ago, one of the big entertainment churches here in Nashville advertised that they would be having a mime troupe appearing at their Easter Sunday service to mime the Easter story.  This event was the banner headline in the Tennessean newspaper.  “Two Rivers Baptist Church Welcomes Mime For Easter Sunday!”  That was when I knew the church had completely lost its focus.  After all, the Bible tells us that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:17).  So, on Easter Sunday, the most popular church-going Sunday of the year, the one day when the most visitors were likely to attend, one of Nashville’s largest churches had a guy on the platform who said nothing at all.  It was unbelievable.

Consequent to all this, we have huge church buildings in every city that are filled with Biblically-ignorant folk who actually think Christianity is about feeling good and being entertained.  The message of redemption from sin has all-but-disappeared and the need of a Savior has become secondary to simply feeling positively about yourself.

So, I’ve taken a firm stand against “showbiz church.”  There is no room for performing in church.  The focus and center of attention must remain on God and His Christ.  Everywhere else in the world we have people vying to be celebrities.  The church is the last place where that sort of activity ought to go on.  I don’t even like it when the man in the pulpit starts performing.  And most of these traveling entertainment troupes want to sell their CD’s or DVD’s in the foyer of the church after the performance in order to raise more money.  I can only imagine what Jesus would say.  He chased out the money changers and the church invited them back in.  According to 2 Peter 2, one of the evidences that a man is a false prophet is that he will “make merchandise” of the church.  That practice now runs rampant and the biblically-ignorant congregations gladly throw their money at the very people who are leading them astray.  It’s a mess.

I don’t mean to sound harsh, but I sometimes wonder what goes on in the minds and hearts of pastors who chase after every new trend in the modern church.  At what point did they decide that the gospel of Jesus Christ was not sufficient to attract and maintain a congregation of believers?  What made them think that plays, dancers, puppets, surround-sound, mimes, clowns, stick-ministry, and all that other silly stuff would improve the simple and profound message of the gospel?  And, to my way of thinking, people who will not attend church unless they get worldly entertainment are not truly seeking Christ.  They’re seeking those things that satisfy their flesh.

It comes down to this:

“How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach, except they be sent? even as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that bring glad tidings of good things!”  (Rom. 10:14-15)

If people are not being told about Christ and the necessity of His work then they will never call on Him.  No matter how professionally a mime does his work, he can never replace the necessity of preaching.  And if a mime cannot adequately and clearly convey the message of the gospel (which he can’t), then what is he doing in front of a church congregation?  Let him sell his wares out in the marketplace of entertainment.  Let the church preach the Word.

And I agree with you that opening the door a little can let in all sorts of diverse programs that are very hard to extricate once the congregation has become accustomed to them.  A little leaven, as we know, leavens the whole lump.  I would rather fight the unpopular fight of maintaining Christian integrity.

My words to you would be the same as Paul’s to Timothy:

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.  (2Tim. 4:1-5)

Yours for His sake,

Jim Mc.

Share

A Wonderful Plan

I heard it again just yesterday.  Yet another pulpiteer begging people to “choose Jesus” because “God has a wonderful plan for your life.”  Then, of course, it’s up to the individual sinner to make that wonderful plan operational through their choice, determination, or willingness to let God do what He’d like to do for them. It’s theological mumbo-jumbo.  It’s sub-biblical pabulum. It’s banal and insipid. It’s tripe where substance ought to be. Should I go on?

You would never have been able to convince the First Century church or any of the apostles that God had such wonderful plans for them.  Their lives were full of trouble and sacrifice.  Genuine Christianity recognizes that this world is not our home and we’re strangers and pilgrims on this planet.

The Apostle Peter knew this well, and wrote:

“For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.  For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.”  (1 Peter 2:20-21)

And, of course, Paul wrote:

“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.” (Phil. 1:29-30).

My point is, the apostolic writers never say that God has a “wonderful plan for your life” and they never used such language as part of the gospel call. Rather, they expected hardship in this life, knowing that the world that hates Christ will equally hate those who belong to Him.  That being the case, the plan and purpose that God has for His children revolves around their eternal destiny much more than around their goals and comforts in this life.

Nevertheless, we can have confidence that our activity in the world is in the hands of the One who works everything after the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11).  And, it will all work out for His glory and our greatest good.  As Paul wrote:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Some of the men who followed Jesus after He fed the 5,000 asked Him what they should do so that they could make sure they were working the way God wanted:

 Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:28-29)

In the end, our lives are not about working correctly: following the right rules, getting the best job, joining the biggest church, making the most of our money, etc.  The real work of God is to believe in Christ.  Once that’s in place, everything else supports that primary purpose in life.  It’s typical of us flesh-and-blood folk to think we’re in control.  If life has taught me anything, it’s that I’m certainly not.  The bad things that happened I never saw coming.  And the good things happened despite me.  So, I know I’m not driving this bus.

Read Jesus’ words concerning how we should live:

  “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?  And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?  And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’  For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Mat. 6:25-34)

It’s hard to trust that completely.  But, the longer I live, the more faithful God appears.  The key is to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.”  The rest will fall in line.

Lastly — we walk by faith, not by sight.  As we walk through this life we trust that God is leading, opening and closing appropriate doors to get us to our predetermined destiny with Him.  If God has loved us since before the foundation of the world and written our names in the Lamb’s book of life, He will not leave our lives (both temporal and eternal) to chance.  There is no way to be outside of the plan of a truly Sovereign God.

So maybe we should start a T-shirt and bumper sticker campaign that says, “God has a sovereign plan for your eternity.”  At least it would be biblical.  🙂

Share

Hazy Theology

A young man wrote:There were 3 hazy statements I heard last night from my pastor:

  1. God loves everyone in the world and the reason why people go to hell is because they freely choose to reject God’s universal love.
  2. Israel is supposed to represent the church.
  3. We are just mortal and limited human beings and we will never understand the question of predestination v. free will because we are not God.

How would you reply?

Response:

Well, let’s take these one-at-a-time.

1. God loves everyone in the world and the reason why people go to hell is because they freely choose to reject God’s universal love.

It’s important that when we make theological statements we are certain that our conclusions fit both the specific and overarching theology of Scripture. So, try to fit that first statement into this passage:

And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, ‘THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.’  Just as it is written, ‘JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.’  What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!  For He says to Moses, ‘I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.’  So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.”  (Rom. 9:10-16, capitalization in NASB text)

If God loved one twin baby and hated the other, although they had not yet been born and had not done anything good or bad, then how are we going to conclude that “God loves everyone” and that people go to hell because they “freely chose”?  Paul’s conclusion is that God loved and hated each twin “so that God’s purpose according to His choice (KJV: election) would stand.”

In other words, the Bible says the opposite of what your pastor said.

2. Israel is supposed to represent the church.

This is a widely-held, though Biblically-unsupportable, assumption. I’d ask: since Israel was a stiff-necked, hard-hearted group of rebels who resisted God and fell under His hand of judgment, resulting in their being scattered and “divorced,” exactly how does that represent the Church?

Well, it doesn’t.

Usually when someone makes a statement like this, it is an attempt to co-opt Israel’s promises while ignoring the various warnings and judgments that accompany those promises. In other words, the Church is to receive all of Israel’s positive attributes while avoiding the various punishments and curses, usually based on the argument that Christ became “a curse for us,” leaving nothing but Israel’s blessings for the Church to inherit. Importantly, though, no New Testament writer advances that thinking or develops that paradigm.

I dealt with this in my book “Is The Church Israel?”  You can find the book as a free pdf download on our website:

http://www.salvationbygrace.org/default.aspx?ct=sub/read

3.  We are just mortal and limited human beings and we will never understand the question of predestination v. free will because we are not God.

Pardon my sarcasm, but if that’s true then God pointlessly filled His book full of all that fancy talk about predestination just so we “mortal and limited human beings” could ignore it all.  What was He thinking?

In my experience, people who do not want to do the work and commit the time to study these things always try to excuse themselves by saying it’s too complicated and no one can understand it.  Then, of course, they also use that excuse to dismiss or ignore the people who actually have committed the time and done the work.

Or, to put it another way, just because one person cannot understand something, it does not follow that therefore no one can understand it. Far too often, we egocentric humans assume that our experience is the standard for all human experience.  But, God is selective and He enlightens people and gifts them with particular abilities and skills according to His own good pleasure.  So, rather than making sweeping, universal statements, your pastor should have been more careful and stated his opinion as simply that: an opinion.

The Bible does take the time to explain God’s sovereignty in salvation and it uses the language of predestination and election to do so.  Our job is to stand toe-to-toe with what the Scripture actually says and align our thinking to bring it into conformity with what God has clearly stated.  The failure to do so and excuse ourselves is not evidence of mortal limitations, it’s a demonstration of hubris.  It’s the assumption that we know better than the Bible and we prefer our opinions to God’s clear, didactic declarations.

But this is what passes for teaching and leadership in far too much of the modern, professing Evangelical church.   <<sigh>>

Blessings,

Jim Mc.

Share