Saturday, December 20, 2008

Merry Christmas 2008

Here’s a post to acknowledge my absence from the blog-o-sphere. I’ve been away since September with too much to do, and too little time to do it. My household is shrinking, too. My firstborn son, Nathan has married and moved into his own home. God has blessed Nathan and his wife, Colleen, with a honeymoon baby. My daughter, Naomi, and her husband Nathanael, are expecting their second child. It’s a great thing to be a grandparent. Enjoy the pictures. “So how is it being a bi-vocational pastor?” I’m asked by folks who know that I’m a homeschool dad who teaches public school students during the week, and preaches sermons to the saints on Sundays.

Allow me to recount my blessings. I’m delighted to have the freedom to live out my faith in a great community. I’m blessed to be able to disciple my children in the ways of the scriptures. I’m privileged to work with students who have an appetite for knowledge and truth. I’m thrilled to spread the vision of discipleship to unite church and home, and to transform the culture. Shucks, I’m having so much fun, perhaps I should be tri-vocational. I jest.

Good Times We’ve Had
Recently, we elders of Coram Deo Church preached our way through a series of topics that paralleled Focus on the Family’s The Truth Project. We came to more fully understand the marvelous imprint of our triune God upon all human institutions. Since we are made in His image, it is no surprise that the very nature of God is expressed in marriage and the family, in the church, in the state, in the sciences, in the arts, in the economy, in everything.

Good Works To Be Done
In these times of economic calamity and political scandal I am more convinced than ever that we need to seek the face of Almighty God, Him who first sought us. God is sovereign over every aspect of His creation. He is just and powerful, yet He cares for the lowly and the needy. He ordains the rise and fall of nations. And He welcomes humble, child-like faith.
If the American dream of autonomous individualism and materialistic consumption comes crumbling down around us, then perhaps we will take notice again of our Creator. Perhaps we will see the deception of a worldview that curses children and blesses debt. Perhaps we will craft an exit strategy from our reliance on the secular state as our savior. Perhaps we will lose our fondness for being comfortable, religious spectators. Maybe we'll start shining the Light of Christ to the world around us. It will not be without cost, just as Jesus promised.

A Son Is Given
Tomorrow I will preach a Christmas message entitled God With Us, God For Us, & God In Us. I am pleased to include a couple of young apologists from the Clarion Speech and Debate Club, Jachin Scott and Tait Deems, to help me make the case for salvation in Christ alone. It is young men like these who give me great hope for the future. May the Lord raise up more men in the church to boldly proclaim the gospel of peace and the salvation story of GRACE - God's Riches At Christ's Expense.

Soli Deo Gloria,

John Sleadd

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Our Worthy Religion

A statement analysis: It has been said that “Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship.”
I believe it is both.

Christianity is a relationship with our triune God, and it is a religion of beliefs and practices for all of life that flow from this relationship.

Christianity is a relationship with God, the Father, our Maker and Creator. We are to humble ourselves before His sovereign power, and obey everything He has commanded in His Word. We are to fear Him and revere Him. We are to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

Christianity is a relationship with Christ, the Son of God, our Savior and Redeemer. We are to rejoice in the work of Christ, whose sinless life and death on the cross satisfies the justice of God, and reconciles us to God. We are to place our trust in Christ alone to save us. We are to submit our lives to Him. He is our Lord.

Christianity is a relationship with the Holy Spirit, the third person in the trinity of God, who exalts Christ to the glory of God the Father. We are to yield to His sanctifying guidance. We are to pray in His power. We are to be filled and sanctified by His presence, which leads us to be more like Christ.

Christianity is a relationship with our neighbor. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves and give unselfish attention to their needs. The Command of Christ to love one another is expressed in the way we build each other up in the church and proclaim the gospel to the world.

Christianity is clearly a relationship. But it is also a religion, which can be defined as the practice of our faith, or the working out of our right relationship to God.

The Bible says that “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (Jas 1:27)”

It says that God chose us before the very foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before Him, that He predestined us to be adopted into His kingdom in Christ (Eph 1:4,5). It says that we are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which He prepared beforehand “ (Eph 2:10).

Christianity is a religion, in which we are saved by grace, and not by our good works. But it is a religion of faith that produces good works. The Bible says that “faith without works is dead”(Jas 2:17). Those who trust in Christ will most certainly bear the good fruit of their faith. Jesus said that “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8).

In conclusion, I believe Christianity is a relationship that produces a worthy religion. And this religion is worth proclaiming and worth defending.

As we walk by faith in the power of the Spirit, let us be a light to the world and pierce the darkness with the gospel.

To the glory of God

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

My Musical Confession

After my last post I thought it would be appropriate to retell the story of my conversion from atheism to faith.

I love to sing. My mother sang to me when I was a little crawler back in Kentucky. I sang nursery rhymes in kindergarten on the swings. I sang along with the radio when Michael Jackson was part of the Jackson Five. When I was ten, I sang Englebert Humperdinck songs in the basement to a broomstick microphone. When no one was around.

When I was in college at Western Washington University I decided to get serious about music. I had been a starving art student for a time, but my minimalist professors, who alternately painted brown Xs across white canvases and white Xs across brown canvases didn’t inspire me much. So I switched to studying music, about which I knew next to nothing, but thought was really cool.

Despite my thorough lack of musical knowledge and skill, I somehow got admitted into the music department and became a jazz studies major. Music gave me purpose, direction and drive. After a couple of years I learned to play guitar and sing well enough to join a dance band and play in night clubs. I sang Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, and top-forty tunes. I also sang Handel’s Messiah in the university choir.

The choir director was a cute, young graduate assistant named Arden Steves, who called herself a Christian. I sang at her from the back of the bass section. I was an atheist, an unbeliever. I agreed with Karl Marx, who said that religion was an opiate for the masses. I thought Christians were weak-minded people who used religion as an intoxicating crutch. I didn’t like their songs much, either. I’d rather sing the blues than Amazing Grace. I didn’t really know what grace was anyway.

One day, when I was feeling like a miserable existentialist, I asked Arden about her religious beliefs. She told me about her faith in God and her desire to live a life of purity. Her sincerity stunned me. We had music in common, yet we were worlds apart.

I started to consider the possibility that God might really exist. It was exciting. Yet, if He had been paying attention to my immoral behavior during the past decade, I was in serious trouble. I decided to stop partying, just in case, which cost me most of my friends.

I prayed one night for God to give me the desire to seek Him if He was really out there. I’m glad my roommates weren't listening, because I felt like an idiot, talking to the ceiling. Yet soon I was reading books by C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell and R.C. Sproul, which Arden recommended. I bought a Bible, and we read through the Book of John together. I went to church with her to “check things out.” I didn’t like the music much.

The more I read the Bible, the more convicted I felt about the sins of my youth. The idea of forgiveness in Christ sounded appealing. Still, I resisted conversion, because I wasn’t sure whether I was more attracted to Christ the Messiah or to His pretty little gospel messenger, Arden. We had been seeing a lot of each other as performers in the university’s production of Music Man, and had grown close enough to talk about hypothetical marriage, as if it was a thing apart from us that could be viewed objectively. I admired her sincerity of conviction, which included her refusal to marry a non-Christian. Since I was one of those, I gazed across a chasm, it seemed.

As things worked out, Arden flew out of town in August to take a teaching job, and I joined an international dance band (we played in Canada, just across the border, big whoop-dee-doo). We said we’d stay in touch.

With Arden gone, I wondered whether I might just blow the whole faith thing off and return to my former, existential party life. One weekend when I didn’t have any dance gigs, I decided to go to Arden’s church again. The brakes on my beater van were shot, and I could only stop by frantically pumping the brake pedal, so I had a good excuse to skip. Still, I felt I should go, to see if I was really serious about spiritual things independent of her. Five intersections with traffic signals stood between my rental house and the church. I prayed this goofy prayer: “God, if you want me to be at church today, I need green lights all the way there.”

Off I went, slow and steady through five green lights until I rolled safely into the church parking lot. Amazing. My skeptic’s mind told me it could have been dumb luck coincidence, but I had a sneaking suspicion that God had perfectly orchestrated the laws of physics, the flow of electricity, my choice of speed and time of departure, along with the choices of other drivers, to clear my path to that church and let me know He was in charge of such things. I remember thinking, “Nice, work, God.” “Hey, but can you do ten lights in a row?”

While I was at church I enjoyed myself a lot. With Arden not there I could stare at people when every head was supposed to be bowed and every eye was supposed to be closed, like an infidel spy. It didn’t seem like an opium den for the masses. I was impressed by the sincerity and joy of the people in the room. I don’t remember the sermon, but I know it gave me an appetite to hear more. It didn’t matter that I hit red lights on the way home and had to pump the brakes like I was trying to kick a hole through the floor board. I felt I had received a small blessing from God that day. I determined to go to church as often as I could. I would fix my brakes.

I’m not sure exactly when I entered the kingdom of God, but I think He arranged it like he did the green lights to church, and left me wondering how it had happened. I kept reading and questioning, examining my presuppositions, and grappling with the concept of grace. At some point in the fall of my 25th year of life, I simply surrendered, and trusted what I read in the Bible, even though I didn’t always understand it. I began to sing to God in my heart. I was a sinner saved by the blood of Jesus. I wrote to Arden about it and she said she thought I was a Christian. I was okay with the label. I was one of them, one of Christ’s.

Soon, I made a public profession of faith at church that I had accepted Jesus as my Savior and Lord (Romans 10:9). For me there was no recited sinner’s prayer, no dramatic moment of decision, just a confession. God had done everything. I was a recipient of grace. Amazing. I quit the dance band, married Arden, and moved to Alaska.

I went back to school to become a teacher, but continued to be an active musician. Arden and I began having children. We sang in church choirs. I performed special music in church and in the community. I was a professional soloist for weddings, funerals, fund raisers, and private parties, which were much better than the lousy night club gigs I’d played back in my dance band days. As our five children grew up, we taught them to sing parts so that we could perform as a family choir. Then, when they were old enough to play instruments, we formed a family band called Homemade Jam. We have produced an a cappella Christmas CD, which was recorded in our home studio. Our oldest daughter has since married and moved away, but the remaining four children help me lead worship at Coram Deo Church in Grants Pass.

I plan on singing and making music as long as I can. I think the Bible commands it. “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!” (Psalm 98:4) My family has chosen Colossians 3:16 as our musical theme verse. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

I thank God for his wonderful redeeming work in my life. He, not music, has given me purpose, direction and drive. What a privilege it is to use music to glorify Him. I think the last psalm in the Bible (Psalm 150) says it well.

Praise the LORD!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
Praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
Praise him according to his excellent greatness!Praise him with trumpet sound;
Praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
Praise him with strings and pipe!Praise him with sounding cymbals;
Praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD!

How I Lost My Atheism

I was once an atheist, or so I believed. I denied the existence of God and assumed that I was the measure of all things. I reasoned that it was my brain that processed all the data I observed in life. I was the one who thought my thoughts.

I considered myself an existentialist, too. I figured that since my existence preceded my perceptions of reality, I was in charge of determining what was real. I believed in man’s free will, which I translated my free will. I ruled as king over reality. Rene Descartes’ supposition, “I think, therefore I am” helped established my lordship.

One day the thought occurred to me that I was not entirely in control of my thoughts. I suspected that outside forces were at work, influencing me from a distance. This was a challenge to my sovereignty of mind. I realized that I thought much like my father.

Dad was a high school biology teacher, a Darwinian evolutionist, and a skeptic of religious faith. He was an atheist. Me too, I believed. Like father, like son. Dad felt that religion was a crutch for the weak minded, the insecure and the old fashioned. He once said that love was not a moral commitment, but a chemically based, physiological response to the evolutionary impulse toward reproduction. When Dad cheated on Mom he was only exercising his evolutionary impulses, I guess.

My parent’s divorce was very painful to me, though at the time, in my teen years, I played the stoic. I wondered if grief was just a physiological response to the evolutionary impulse toward parent attachment. Perhaps marital infidelity and family disintegration were part of the evolutionary process of self-actualization. After all, divorce rates were escalating throughout the nation like it was the latest, coolest social trend. Maybe the idea of long term, monogamous marriage was an outdated religious construct, due for disposal during the new age of enlightenment and individualism.

At some point after moving out on my own I grew to realize that in addition to my father’s influence, the culture around me had determined much of what I thought. I was not truly master and author of my own thoughts. The same was true of Dad, of course. I realized he had picked up his ideas from the culture around him, as well. His practice of multiple marriages was in step with the rest of the nation. No-fault divorce laws were being passed in state after state. I began to connect the dots between the beliefs and behaviors that derive from an atheistic worldview. My worldview. I wasn’t sure I liked the implications.

A bit of history. According to Albert Mohler’s book, Atheism Remix, a massive cultural, intellectual and epistemological shift resulted from the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, and Sigmund Freud. Nietzsche declared that, “God is dead.” He believed that Christianity was the worst enemy of human enlightenment and progress. Marx despised religion as the “opiate of the masses” and an obstacle to the community of man’s economic prosperity. Darwin posited that naturalistic explanations of life’s origin negate God’s supernatural creation. Evolution rendered God and religion unnecessary. Freud elevated the unconscious over the conscious. He believed that religion was an illusion that would eventually pass away. These four men contributed hugely to the worldview of secular humanism, another name for atheism. Remove a supernatural Creator God from the picture and you are left with humans calling all the shots on earth according to their own desires.

Thanks to secular humanism, I was taught in college that primitive man had created gods to help him cope with threatening, natural phenomena, such as thunderstorms, droughts and earthquakes. Organized religion arose as an attempt to appease these fabricated deities with rituals and sacrifices. It was popular to agree with the French philosopher, Voltaire who said, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him,” as if religious sentiments were not credible, but nonetheless quaint, attractive and socially useful for ignorant folk who don’t know much about the modern god of science. The secularists of modernity thought that as mankind climbed the evolutionary ladder out of the pit of ignorance, it would gradually discard God as the explanatory, causal factor in civilization’s intellectual framework. They predicted that life would become increasingly rationalized, and that belief in God, and participation in organized religion, would dissipate into oblivion.

The secularists had the demise of religion all planned out, too. According to John Sommerville, secularization would follow this pattern: 1) of land use and property, 2) of time and recreation, 3) of language and common speech, 4) of technology and work, 5) of art and entertainment, 6) of political and military power, 7) of personhood and association, 8) of scholarship and science. Secularists were confident that humanity was destined to grow up and leave the childish things of theistic belief behind.

The secularist game plan works like a charm at most colleges in America today. Overwhelming majorities of Christian students lose their religious faith by the end of their freshman year while away at college. At college I learned to mock people with religious views. I didn’t know many Christians personally, but I was content to join the consensus in caricaturing and slandering them as intolerant bigots. At one point, though, I felt guilty for my ad hominem attacks. I thought my criticism should be more substantive. Therefore I decided to learn more about their beliefs so that I might refute them. Also, I wanted to know what was true. It was my undoing.

I assumed that most Christians had been indoctrinated with a religious belief system, to which they agreed uncritically. But what about me? Was I unbiased? Hadn’t I been indoctrinated by an atheist father, and by many years of secular instruction in government schools? Dissecting the Christian theistic position meant dissecting my own atheistic position as fair play. Had I chosen atheism after careful thought, or had I merely accepted it as it was spoon fed to me? As I continued in this vain, I was disturbed to realize that my schools had censored virtually all religious information, as if the separation between church and state was a concrete barrier, never to be breached. Religion was relegated to the private, personal sphere. It was prohibited or marginalized in public institutions of learning. Only secular information had been allowed into my cage for regular feeding. Was that right?

Troubling questions arose within my belief system. "What preceded the Big Bang?" I wondered. "Why does the fossil record that is supposed to prove macro-evolution lack any quantity of evidence of transitional species? Why is the theory of geologic gradualism favored despite abundant evidence of catastrophism? Why is supernatural phenomena rejected just because materialistic empiricism cannot test it? Why are secular scientists so afraid of following the evidence of cosmic design to a cosmic designer?"

I lost track of my atheism when I found it could not answer my questions. Like a stray cat, it wandered away to go beg someone else’s attention. Since I was heavily invested in having rejected theism, though, I passed time like an aimless satellite orbiting a planet, unable to land. But not for long. A Christian acquaintance became a friend and counselor of truth. She spoke about God as if He were real, like a wise uncle back east, but supernatural and divine and almighty and eternal. She asked me to consider believing in Him too.

I stalled.

One night I spoke a prayer at the ceiling in my rooming house: “God, if you exist, you need to give me the desire to look for you.”

I found that I enjoyed reading all the books my friend kept passing on to me on theology and faith. I read sections of the Bible, too, until I felt like I was a pretty fair-minded skeptic. I grew to like both her and the scriptures very much.

One dark and beautiful evening the two of us walked under the stars, she a Christian, I an unbelieving, infidel friend. I thought of the vastness of space, the smallness of man, my ultimate purpose in life. Things like that. Was creation a myth? Was the story of Adam and Eve a cute fairy tale for toddlers? Then a thought struck me: If God exists, couldn't He control the things He created? It was as if I’d resolved a tricky syllogism that now seemed amazingly simple. God is God. He can do whatever He wants. A woman from a rib? Why not? God is God. If He created all the elements, then He can rearrange them in any order He chooses. He can leave His signature on His work, too so that we know He is Lord. God is God.

That night I felt as if I had received a long-distance call from heaven. I heard nothing audible, but I imagined God speaking from His infinite expanse to answer my question: “I Am.”

That’s how I lost my atheism. Atheism was a worldview of futility and despair. It was a shipwreck from which I was glad to escape. God, in His great mercy and love called me into His kingdom. I could not deny Him. Do you also hear Him calling?

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge” Psalm 19:1-2

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” Psalm 8:3-4

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Spirit of Skillful Work

Has God given you a spirit of skill to be used in your work? What about your ministry? People today often regard work and ministry as separate categories, one secular, the other sacred. They often view them as competing interests. Some even think that ministry work is only done by, well, … ministers. Professional clergy, that is--those who have been called into ministry.

I want to challenge this view. I agree with Martin Luther’s doctrine of vocation, which views all good works, and all vocations (callings) as ordained by God for building up the church and transforming the world. I want to challenge the view that the clergy are the exclusive ministry workers, while the laity are passive spectators of ministry. I think the apostle Paul had more than this in mind when he wrote to the Christians in Colossae, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17) [my emphasis]. I'd like to convince you that, even though you may not be called into leadership as a pastor, or elder, your particular calling is vitally important to the health of the church and to the condition of society.

We often hear about spiritual gifts for the building up of the church. Scripture mentions such things as wisdom, knowledge, discerning of spirits, prophecy, speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, faith, working of miracles, healing, helps, administration, ministry, exhortation, giving, leading, showing mercy, and evangelism (1 Corinthians 12:1-30; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11). We often hear about the fruit of the Spirit, which includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). But seldom do we hear about the skills of craftsmanship, artistry and other works that God has ordained for glory and beauty. He has established His perfect purposes for such works, namely that we worship Him by our efforts, and that we care for our neighbor through the skillful work of our hands.

God seems to be in the business of equipping people with the skills to do good work. When Moses served as the general contractor for building the tabernacle, God told him to appoint “all the skillful, whom I have filled with a spirit of skill” to make garments for Aaron and the priests "for glory and beauty" (Exodus 28:2-3). God called Bezalel into service, saying, ”I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic design, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. ... I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded” (Exodus 31:3-6).

The doctrine of vocation is more than occupationalism, or the pursuit of a good job. For the Christian, skilled work should be viewed as an act of worship and a response to God’s calling. King David knew about God’s desire for quality work when he commanded skilled leaders to direct the Jewish big band and the choir for celebrations and for temple worship (1 Chronicles 15:16-28). God even gave one director, Heman, a whopping family of fourteen sons and three daughters, all skilled musicians, to help him make merry with music (1 Chronicles 25:4-6). King Solomon recognized God’s vocational calling when he wrote, “Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men” (Proverbs 22:29).

There are many examples in scripture of God-given skills and abilities.

Hunting (Genesis 25:27)
Music and singing (1 Samuel 16:16; 1 Chronicles 15:22; 2 Chronicles 34:12)
Stonecutting, masonry &, carpentry (1 Chronicles 22:15)
Metal work, fabrics & engraving (2 Chronicles 2:7)
Law (Ezra 7:6)
Weaponry and warfare (2 Chronilces 26:15; Jeremiah 46:9; 50:9)
Wisdom, knowledge, learning (Daniel 1:4)
Ship building and sailing (Ezekiel 27:8-9)
Lamentation (Amos 5:16)

This list in just a small sample of what God calls people to do skillfully. The vocational options are almost endless. Once we realize that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do our own good works (Ephesians 2:10), we can put our abilities to use in glorifying God and loving our neighbors through service.

What abilities has God given you? Are you a doctor? Then treat patients for God’s glory. Are you a plumber? Then fix pipes to serve your neighbor. Are you a baker? Then bake delicious bread unto the Lord. Are you an artist? Then make something beautiful that reflects the character of God. Are you a parent? Then raise godly, virtuous children. Do it all with skill. Don’t forget that faithfulness in little things is a prerequisite for greater responsibilities, and that a good servant is one who does the will of his master.

So use your abilities and callings as the Lord has enabled you. Let them operate in concert with your spiritual gifts and the fruit of the Spirit. Let every aspect of your life be a living sacrifice of service unto the Lord. You wouldn’t keep your lamp hidden under a basket, would you? Not when it can light the room and keep your guests from barking their shins on the furniture in the dark. Likewise, don’t keep your skills and abilities to yourself. Don't be bashful about them. Don't be stingy with them. Instead, use them to glorify God. He deserves the worship. Your neighbor deserves the benefits.

Matthew 5:16 “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Fourteen Things Every Young Disciple Of Christ Should Know

Back in February I launched Disciple Makers Basic Training at Coram Deo Church as a mid week study. It was designed to systematically guide young believers through important areas of discipleship prior to adulthood and marriage. The topics are basically a condensation of the things I have been trying to teach my own children. What follows are fourteen questions and answers, along with scripture readings, to direct disciples of Christ into productive, purposeful lives dedicated to the Lord.

I invite you to use them to disciple your children or another young believer. Discuss each question and read the scripture passages listed below. I pray that the Holy Spirit will illuminate God's Word in your heart and mind, and transform you into a disciple maker. If you find these questions helpful, or if you have suggestions for improvement, please email me at

1. Q: What is a disciple and why should we make them?
A: A disciple is a Christian who is fully devoted to Jesus Christ, living daily in His Word and by His Spirit, making other disciples. Our Lord commands us to make disciples, which includes instruction and training. Disciple-making requires a knowledge of the truth, as revealed in God’s Word. It includes a lifestyle of obedience as a faithful, fruitful servant of the Lord.
(Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 14:27; Luke 18:29-30; John 13:35; John 15:16; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 15:8)

2. Q: What is my main purpose in life?
A: A Christian’s main purpose in life is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Additionally, we have purposes determined by our gender and by our individual giftings and interests. We must remember that, as Christians, we belong to Christ, having been purchased by His blood, so that we are stewards of our lives and resources for His purposes. We are therefore His disciples and we are disciple makers. The Bible describes roles for men as providers, protectors and instructors of their children. Women are described as helpers, nurturers and instructors of children and younger women.
(Genesis 1:28; 2:18; Proverbs 1:8-9; 5:22-23; 22:15; 23:13-14; Malachi 2:15; Matthew 18:6; Ephesians 6:4; 1 Timothy 2:15; 5:8; Titus 2:3-5)

3. Q: Who has authority over me?
A: God has authority over all of us, and what He declares in His Scriptures is authoritative. The Bible says we are to submit to the agents of authority in each of the God-ordained, earthly institutions of family, church and state. We are to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” And when there is conflict between the demands of the state and the commands of Scripture, we are to obey God rather than men.
(Law: Exodus 20:1-17; Family: Deuteronomy 6:5-9; 1Colossians 3:16-21; Proverbs 22:7; Church: Ephesians 4:11-16; Hebrews 13:17; Hebrews 10:23-24; State: Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17)

4. Q: What good works am I to do?
A: All our efforts and resources are to be used in ways that glorify God, and should be in accordance to His Word. Our good works include trusting Christ alone for our salvation, and walking in holiness and obedience to all that the scriptures command. Simply put, we are to love God and love our neighbor. We are to be a disciple of Jesus and make disciples for Jesus. We should read the Bible, pray, live responsibly, and serve others, all in an attitude of gratefulness to God.
(Proverbs 21:5; 24:6; Proverbs 24;11; 31:8-9; Jeremiah 22:3; Micah 6:8; Matthew 5:15; 6:24; 22:27-40; 25:21; Mark 10:21; Ephesians 1:4; 2:10; Hebrews 10:24; James 1:27; 2:17, 22)

5. Q: What Is In The Bible?
A: God has given His Scriptures as the highest standard of truth and authority for all of life. The Bible teaches what man is to believe about God and what God requires of man. The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience. “The Bible evidences itself to be God's Word by the heavenliness of its doctrine, the unity of its parts, and its power to convert sinners and to edify saints. But only the Spirit of God can make us willing to agree and submit to the Bible as the Word of God.” (answer to question #5 of the The Baptist Catechism, 1689).
The Bible is comprised of the 39 Old Testament Books and 27 New Testaments Books. It can be divided into the following categories. Old Testament: (1) history of creation and God’s people, (2) Laws of God, (3) psalms and proverbs, (4) prophecies of God. New Testament: (5) gospels of Jesus, (6) acts of the apostles, (6) letters to churches and individuals, (7) revelation. The historic Christian belief is that the Holy Spirit, who inspired the writing of the books, also controlled their selection in Holy Bible. The final canon of Scripture is therefore the result of God’s sovereign intervening in the discernment of believers rather than by historical research.
For more details visit the following link.
(Matthew 4:4; 24:35; 1 Corinthians 2:6-7,13-16; Psalm 19:7-9; 119:18,129; Acts 10:43; 26:22; 18:28; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12; Romans 15:4; John 16:13,14; 1 John 2:20-27)

6. Q: How can I grow closer To God?
A: We grow closer to God by loving Him and obeying His commands. If we abide in Christ, we will be nourished by His Word, we will be energized and comforted in our times of prayer, and we will be satisfied in our service to others. All of life can be viewed as an act of worship when done in the name of Christ. The following Christian disciplines are helpful for growing closer to God. (1) Internal: meditation, prayer, fasting, study; (2) External: simplicity, submission, stewardship, service, solitude, evangelism; (3) Corporate: confession, worship, guidance, celebration.
(1 John 5:1-5; 1 Samuel 12:23; 1 Chronicles 7:14; 23:30; Psalm 37:4; 111:2; 119:16, 24,35,47; Proverbs 3:9; Matthew 6:1-34; Romans 12:1; Colossians 4:2; James 5:16)

7. Q: How can I stay pure and focused?
A: Knowing and meditating on the Word of God enables us to avoid sin. Consistent devotional habits of study and prayer allow the Holy Spirit to guide us and stimulate our consciences toward the righteousness of Christ. Our submission to godly authority in our lives (parents, church elders, wise adults and friends) and our commitment to remain in fellowship with other church members, help us to walk faithfully and fruitfully in Christ.
(Psalm 19:7-14; 101:1-7; 119:11; Proverbs 22:11; 2 Corinthians 6:6; 1Timothy 4:12; 5:2; Philippians 3:13-14; 2 Timothy 2:1-7; Hebrews 10:19-27; 12:1; 1 John 1:9; 1 Peter 1:14-16, 22-24, 3:1-16)

8. Q: How can I resolve conflict?
A: Obedience to God’s Word, respect for one’s parents, love for one’s neighbor, along with the character traits of humility, patience, forgiveness and accountability in relationships are the keys to resolving conflicts. Every interpersonal conflict is an opportunity to exercise Christian grace. Having been forgiven much, we must practice the art of forgiving others, which our Lord commands. For more details visit the following the Peacemaker Ministry link. (Exodus 1-31; Exodus 20:1-17; Numbers 5:6-7;Matthew 5:24;6:14; 18:15-35; Luke 7:1-4; Romans 8:6; 14:19; 1 Corinthians 7:10-15; Galatians 5:22; Colossians 3:12-17; Hebrews 12:14; James 5:16; 1 Peter 3:8-15)

9. How do I share the gospel?
A: The gospel is the good news that condemned sinners are saved from God’s holy wrath by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. A right understanding of the God’s redemptive plan includes the following. It is a good news, bad news, good news proposition.

Good News: Man was created in the image of God, and he was good in his original state.

Bad news: Adam’s disobedience in the garden brought sin to all mankind perpetually. Now man is spiritually dead. He is naturally predisposed to reject God. He fully deserves God's just wrath: death and punishment in hell. Only the shedding of blood can atone for sin.

Good News: God shows His love for us, in that even though we deserve to be condemned and punished, God sacrificed His own Son, Jesus, to suffer and die in our place. The person and sacrifice of Jesus was so perfect that all the sinners who God chooses to save are fully justified (declared just) by Christ’s death on the cross. God saves us by His sovereign grace (an unconditional gift), through faith, and not by our good works. Instead of perishing in hell, we are given new life and a new nature. Therefore, all who repent of their sin, and trust Jesus as Lord, will be saved. We cannot lose our salvation, because Christ has promised that none who are His can be snatched from Him. We are adopted into God’s Kingdom and we will dwell with Him in eternity. That's good news!

The gospel should be proclaimed with joy, sincerity and diplomacy. Christians are commanded to speak the truth in love. We do not need to persuade anyone to accept the gospel. Only those people who are effectually called by God’s Spirit can and will confess Christ as Lord. Our job is to testify to the truth, proclaiming the gospel far and wide to any who will listen. We are commanded to make disciples of those who believe, baptizing them (public profession of their new spiritual life and saving trust) and teaching them all the commands of scripture.
(Genesis 1:26-31; Genesis 3:1-24; Mark 1:15; 16:16; John 3:16-18; Acts 4:12; Romans 3:23; 6:23; 5:8; 10:9; Ephesians 2:8-9; 1Peter 3:15)

10. Q: What is a Biblical worldview?
A: Biblical Christianity is the worldview of belief and trust in a sovereign, personal, triune God who made us and who saves us. A Biblical worldview includes the belief and trust in the Bible as the inerrant and infallible Word of God. It includes the doctrinal understanding that Jesus saves sinners by grace, through faith, from God’s wrath, for good works, for God’s glory. The Biblical worldview assumes God’s sovereignty over all things, including truth, philosophy, anthropology, theology, science, history, sociology, spirituality, government, work, art, and entertainment. Since God is omniscient (all knowing), omnipotent (all powerful), omnipresent (everywhere at all times), as well as loving and just, He perfectly superintends all things for His own purposes. In contrast, all other worldviews are necessarily false.
(Genesis 1:1; Exodus 20:1-6; Proverbs 14:12; John 1:1-5, 14; Psalm 19; Romans 1:18-23; 5:8; 8:28-30; 11:36; John 3:16-21; Colossians 1:12-20; 2:8-10)

11. Q: How can I help transform the culture around me?
A: Culture can be described as the sum total of human knowledge, beliefs, and values operating in the world. Culture includes such things as language, religion, ethics, art, science, technology, and social customs. Christians are not to conform to the non-Christian culture in the world, but to be transformed by God’s Word and Spirit, and to serve as ambassadors of truth to the fallen world. It can be said that every Christian has the potential to change the world. As Christian apologist Greg Koukl puts it, ambassadors must have (1) an accurately informed mind (Biblical knowledge and worldview), (2) an artful method (ability to listen, reason, and debate), and (3) an attractive manner (character of humility and grace, ability to speak the truth in love). Another way to put it is that ambassadors should be skilled in (1) Doctrine - knowing what we believe and why, (2) Direction - guiding and steering our social interactions and conversations, and (3) Delivery – being able to communicate with clarity, humility and sincerity to speak the truth in love.
(Proverbs 15:1; 22:29; 26:4-5; Matthew 7:12; Romans 12:18; 2 Corinthians 5:20; Colossians 4:5-6; 2 Timothy 4:2; 1 Peter 3:15)

12. Q: What career and ministry should I pursue?
A: It is good to choose a career and ministry that are consistent with one’s spiritual gifts, heart’s desires, abilities, personality, and experience (SHAPE). It is wise to choose a career and ministry that allows you to properly manage your family, disciple your children, and participate in the activities of a local church. Be prepared to complete the necessary education and training. A good way to explore a vocation is to talk to people who are currently working in a field in which you have interest, and to seek out apprenticeship opportunities. Particular vocations need not necessarily be a lifetime commitment. It is possible, sometimes easy, to change careers.
(Exodus 20:10; Proverbs 12:14; 14:23; 18:9; 21:25; 22:29; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; 15:58; 1 Thessalonians 4:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12; 1 Timothy 5:10, 2 Timothy 3:16-17)

13. Q: How should I handle money?
A: We are to be good stewards of the material and financial resources the Lord allows us to use. In handling money, it is good to tithe faithfully, budget carefully, save consistently, spend prudently, invest wisely and share generously. It is good to live as simply as possible, avoid debt and appreciate the things that money enables us to enjoy.
(Deuteronomy 14:26; Psalm 112:3; Proverbs 11:28; 22:1,7; 27:24; 30:8; Ecclesiastes 5:10,13,14; Matthew 6:24; 2 Corinthians 9:6-7; 1 Timothy 6:10; Hebrews 13:5)

14. Q: How should I prepare for marriage?
A: Marriage is a lifelong covenantal commitment between one man, one woman and the Lord. It is designed by God to produce a lasting, monogamous relationship of sexual intimacy and fidelity for procreation and child raising. When a young man and woman have attained the spiritual maturity, the training, the life skills, and the responsibilities necessary for marriage, a courtship for the purpose of marriage, may ensue. The more a young couple understands the biblical roles of headship and submission in the home, and parenting responsibilities, the better. Believers are not permitted to be unequally yoked to unbelievers in marriage. It is wise for young men to gain experience and earning ability in their vocation prior to marriage. It is wise for young women to gain experience in child training and household management within their parent’s home before they marry.
(Genesis 2:24; Numbers 30:3-16; Proverbs 31:10- 31; Malachi 2:15; Matthew 19:5; Romans 7:2; 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, 9,28, 38; 2 Corinthians 6:14; Ephesians 5:31; Philippians 4:8; 1 Timothy 4:1-5; Hebrews 13:4)

Monday, June 30, 2008

Beliefs Buffet

Personal spirituality is in. Biblical doctrine is out. Such is the case in America today as individualism continues to define the religious landscape in our “one nation under God.” A recent article in USA Today proclaims, “Religion today in the USA is a salad bar where people heap on upbeat beliefs they like and often leave the veggies — like strict doctrines — behind.” Americans now treat religion as a buffet line, from which they can pick and choose particular beliefs based on personal preferences.

According to recent surveys a whopping 92% of Americans say they believe in God, and 58% say they pray every day. Yet they appear to be uncertain about our their beliefs. Sixty-eight percent believe “there’s more than one true way to interpret the teachings of my religion.” Fifty-seven percent of Protestants believe there are “many ways to get to God.” Fifty percent say “homosexuality is a way of life that should be accepted by society.” Fifty-six percent think they should either ‘adjust to new circumstances” or “adopt modern beliefs and practices,“ into their religious beliefs. Relativism is clearly alive and well.

I’m not surprised. What else can we expect when multiculturalism and relativism is the preferred worldview promoted by the government schools and the media, which are major shapers of values and beliefs in America today. In contrast, the teachings of the Bible seem intolerant and exclusive. Folks today have little appetite for Jesus’ claim that “no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Nor do they agree with Jesus when He said that “many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). Americans prefer a “Santa Claus in the Sky” god, who lets everybody into his heaven, instead of a righteous God, who casts sinners into hell.

What’s a pastor to do in times like these? Why preach about the depravity of man and the cross of Christ, when people want their ears tickled about self-esteem and life enhancement? Why offend listeners with the righteous requirements of God when you can tell the customers what they want to hear? It’s good for attendance. It’s good for the weekly offerings.

I praise God for such times. When the gospel of Christ is viewed as foolishness by the world, it is all the more glorious when its transformational power is set loose to redeem sinners. The gospel was never intended to be popular and sell well in the culture. Christ, the Cornerstone, is an offensive stumbling block (1 Peter 2:8). The words of the Apostle Paul to his disciple, Timothy, are a great encouragement to me:

“I 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, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:2-5).

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Multigenerational Household

In many cultures grandparents live in the same household as their children and grandchildren. Not so much in America. Why not? Is it because we need ample doses of personal space? Is it because greedy advertisers have taught us to reject our parents’ values to induce us to buy their latest stuff? Heaven forbid that we dress like mom or dad, or listen to their music. And once we reject their values, it’s easy to reject their company. Maybe that’s one of the reasons we put them in nursing homes when they get old, where they can watch yesteryear’s reruns. Maybe that’s why our own children might do the same thing to us in their time.

But something seems wrong with this picture. When I consider what the Bible says about multigenerational relationships (the discipleship of children and honoring of parents), I get the feeling many Americans have missed the point of family by a fat, country mile.

In the not-too-distant past, households were places of industry and productive work. Family farms were scattered all over the landscape, and people ran businesses out of their homes. Children were trained at home with their parent’s values, and they learned to contribute their share of the work on the family estate. Babies were born into the home and grandparents lived there until they died. The household was a cradle-to-grave enterprise.

With the advent of industrialization, men began to leave their homes to join the urban work force. Thus was born the apartment building, the subdivision and the single-family home. Dads went off to industrial factories and children went off to industrial schools, Eventually moms went off to work, too. Homes became like hotels, places to eat, do homework, watch TV, and snooze.

But things are starting to change. Thanks to the internet, UPS and FedEx, more and more people are using their homes as places of education and business again. Many parents are deciding to teach their own children there. No need to bus the children off to an institution. The same books that can be read at school can be ordered on line and delivered to the family's front door. The family's home computer can access the same web sites as those in the school’s computer lab. At home the children can receive individualized instruction and enjoy enriching curricula that is tailored to their particular interests, and is in accord with their parent’s values. Clubs, sports leagues and church groups are all available to enrich the social life of the family.

A number of young entrepreneurs have discovered that they can do the same work from a computer at home as they would from one at a work station in a downtown office cubicle. Many of them are thinking outside the box, and integrating their work with the functions of their household. They are finding that when family members work in their business, instead of outside employees, it is easier to have a harmonious work environment. There are also significant tax advantages to a family business, which translates into greater profitability.

Some people are bucking the nursing home trends as well. They are making room in the house for grandma and gramps. And the benefits are substantial. The costs of running two separate households are reduced to one. Energy consumption is lowered. Expenses on utilities, meals, child care and education can be consolidated. The retirement income of the grandparents can be used to help remodel the home for their privacy and comfort. Everybody wins.

Is there a down side to the multi-generational, multi-family household? Yep. Everyone must get along, which is tough for a bunch of imperfect people bumping into each other in a common kitchen, or waiting for the bathroom. And there’s always the potential for lazy adult kids to sponge off their parents, or for control freak parents to rule over their children like serf-lords. The good news is that where sin abounds, God’s grace can abound all the more.

Keep an eye out for developments in the multi-generational household. It might just be that our ever-rising gas prices and general economic downturn will be the incentive for many Christians to return to a more biblical way of “doing family” together.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Pastor Rick Warren’s P.E.A.C.E. Plan

I thank God for Pastor Rick Warren’s vision and organizational skills. His latest efforts to unite church leaders in the world to do good works through the P.E.A.C.E. Coalition is highly commendable. As an antidote to what Warren sees as the five “global giants” on the planet (1) spiritual emptiness, (2) self-centered leadership, (3) poverty, (4) pandemic disease and (5) illiteracy, he offers the following goals by way of the acronym P.E.A.C.E.

Promote reconciliation
Equip servant leaders
Assist the poor
Care for the sick
Educate the next generation.

“First and foremost, the P.E.A.C.E. Plan is about reclaiming the primacy of the local church's role in global missions,” says Warren, whose Saddleback Church has invested $3 million in producing software and training modules to implement the plan.

“At a wedding the bride is the main character, the centre, the star of the show - everyone else is supporting cast, but the glory goes to the bride," says Warren. "The P.E.A.C.E. Plan is built on the same principle. The Bride of Christ - of which the church is its local expression around the world - deserves the focus, the credit and the glory for faithfully serving their communities year after year."

Actually the Bride Groom, Christ Jesus, is the star of the show. I don’t mean to be a hair splitter, but the distinction between who receives the glory seems important. As soon as we shift our focus from His glorious work on the cross, and His justifying, sanctifying, mediation for His elect, we set ourselves up to be the measure of righteousness on earth based on our good works. The principle that right doctrine precedes right deeds, is as important as it ever was. Christ is the head, the church is His body.

Our striving to solve the problems of the world is noble and necessary. After all, the Bible declares that faith without works is dead. And we are called to let our light shine before others, so that they may see our good works. Yet all things are to be done to the glory of the Father, not to the church (see Matthew 5:16).

Perhaps I’m overreacting to Warren’s illustration, which might simply need some fine tuning. I hope so.

I pray that the Lord will use the P.E.A.C.E. Plan to glorify the PRINCE of PEACE in the world and to proclaim His GOSPEL.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The TULIPs of Preaching

Here are five principles to help rookie pastors like myself blossum in their preaching.

T = True to the Text
The foremost purpose of preaching is to faithfully declare what God has said in His Word. My desire as a pastor and teacher is to faithfully exposit the scriptures. My aim is to understand God’s inerrant, infallible Word in its historical, grammatical, and doctrinal context. Since scripture interprets scripture, I must examine any text in light of the full counsel of God. I must be familiar with the entire canon of scripture, Old and New Testaments, and appreciate God’s sovereignty over the transmission of His Word through diverse, human prophets and scribes over time. It has been said that any text without a context is a pretext. Scripture must not be made to conform to our current cultural dispositions. We must conform to the scriptures. To depart from the text is transgression, whether by detraction or embellishment. Preach it true to the text.

U = Useful
God’s Word is intended to transform, bless, and direct the lives of believers. The Scriptures are intended to accomplish God’s purposes for those who read it and hear it. The Bible is meant to be obeyed and practiced. It is essential for godliness. Pastors do well to present the usefulness and applicability of scripture to transform the way we think and behave, and to equip the body of Christ for the works of ministry. Preach it useful.

L = Loving and Logical
Preaching must be sincere and understandable. As a shepherd, it is prudent for me to consider the condition and maturity of my flock as I attempt to lead and teach them. I must be loving, patient and as clear as possible in my instruction. The outcome of my teaching should be greater understanding, rather than confusion. I have found it useful to state the objective of my messages and give a roadmap of direction for moving through my sermon content. The logical flow of the main proposition, broken into key points, and supported by details and illustrations, helps the learner to follow along without getting lost. It is a comfort to the young wigglers in my congregation (and their parents) to know when the end of a message is in sight. Preach it loving and logical.

I = Interesting & Inspiring
I wish all my messages were inspiring. Realistically, I strive to make them interesting. A judicious blend of faithful, theological exposition and interesting illustrations helps to keep the congregation awake and engaged. Candor, humor and self-disclosure are useful in proper measure. Both laughter and seriousness are good for the soul. I find that using relevant, personal illustrations, deepens my relationship with my listeners and helps them track with me as I develop a message. I happen to have a background in graphic art so I can’t resist using photos, graphs, diagrams and lists to emphasize points. Power Point slides should not be the tail that wags the dog. Still it's good to recall that a picture is worth a thousand words. Preach it interesting and inspiring. Or try to.

P = Passionate
Preaching is more than conveying information. It is imparting God’s very Word to the hearts and minds of the hearers. Energy and passion is appropriate when one is sharing the good news of the gospel or the hazards of sin. If you don’t care about what you’re preaching, others won’t either. While the pulpit is not a theatrical stage for dramatic performances, sermons need not be delivered like emotionless lectures. Preachers should preach as if lives depended on it. They surely do. Preach it passionate.

I’m not the first person to use the TULIP acronym for preaching tips. Steve Brown (speaker for KeyLife, a prof at Reformed Seminary, and a Preaching Magazine senior consulting editor), has used it to suggest that preaching be ...


Friday, May 23, 2008

Demographic Winter

Another letter to the editor of the local newspaper.

Dear Editor,

Did you know we’re in the autumn of a demographic winter? I didn’t, until I watched a recent documentary by The Heritage Foundation. The sociologists, demographers and economists in the film present research data on depopulation trends around the globe. According to their findings, the overpopulation predictions of the past have given rise to an anti-child mentality in the world. The implications are chilling.

As one sociologist puts it, the population explosion of the recent past was “not because people started reproducing like rabbits. It was because they stopped dropping like flies. It was a health explosion.”

Ironically, the advances in medicine and technology that led to larger and healthier populations, have produced declining birth rates. Contraception and abortion are readily available worldwide, and children are commonly viewed as an economic liability rather than an asset. Birth rates have now fallen below replacement levels in many of the world’s nations, and the ratio of young people to the elderly is slowly being inverted. In time there will be too few workers to support the dependent elderly among them. The long term solvency of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in the United States are in jeopardy due to such trends.

The researchers have found a curious exception to the case. People of faith still value children, and they are raising them. The Bible declares that “children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Psalm 127:3). May God bless America with children. It could be a short winter, followed by a beautiful spring.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Cost Of Family Break Down

One of my ministry goals is to engage the culture with Biblical truth. Writing letters to the editor of the local newspaper is a way to inform, exhort, and rebuke the community audience.

My latest piece:

What is family breakdown costing American taxpayers? According to a recent study by The Institute for American Values and the Georgia Family Council, it is a minimum of $112 billion a year. The principle causes of these astronomical expenses are high divorce rates and an increase in the number of out-of-wedlock births. Today 36.9 percent of all children and 69.9 percent of black children are born out of wedlock.

America is not alone in its woes. Great Britain is also reeling from family fragmentation. Justice Sir Paul Coleridge, a senior Family Division judge in England, has pronounced “The collapse of the family unit is a threat to the nation as bad as terrorism, crime, drugs or global warming. The government must put the family at the top of its agenda, alongside the economy and the war on terror.”

Clearly we have an expensive problem that needs fixing, both at home and abroad. The solution, I believe, requires much more than government attention. Family breakdown is a moral problem. We need spiritual revival and reformation. An ancient prophet has said that God would one day “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6). May that day soon dawn.

One of the reasons Coram Deo Church has chosen to be family-integrated is to counter the ongoing trends of family-fragmentation. We believe strong families are a blessing to our community and to the nation.


Pastor John Sleadd

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

American Stealth Revival

For well over two decades a quiet revolution has been occurring across the American landscape. My friend, Pastor Gregg Harris of Household of Faith Community Church, has called it a stealth revival.

In virtually every state of the union a growing number of Christian families have been opting out of the secular school system and educating their children at home. They do so for a variety of reasons, but the main appeal of home education is the superior results. The benefits include individualized instruction, flexible scheduling, integration of curriculum with daily life, family bonding, and the freedom to pursue areas of special interest. For many, there is also the desire to bring all of life under the Lordship of Jesus Christ in accord with a thoroughly Biblical worldview.

Home education is a picture of academic entrepreneurialism, with mom and dad choosing the curriculum and determining how and when it will be mastered by the kiddos. All over the nation students finish their morning chores and slip into their scholastic routines on the couch or at the kitchen table. No institutional desks. No lining up for lunch. No hallway passes. No social cliques. No bullies or drug dealers.

On average, the cost of parents teaching their own children at home is one-tenth the cost of sending them to a public school. With such dazzling results, why don’t more Christian families teach their own kids at home? The answer in three words: It’s a sacrifice.
Mom works long hours without pay. The kids may not get to play on a sports team or be part of a music ensemble.

Modern Day Puritans
I think homeschoolers are modern day Puritans. The English Puritans were not the witch-burning, black-hatted legalists as caricatured in the public school history books. This is revisionist history for sure. While they were certainly not perfect, the Puritans’ commitment to family, faith and righteous self-government led them to establish the colonies (Jamestown and Plymouth) that would birth our Constitutional Republic. They loved God. They loved freedom. They were devoted to raising hard-working children with a vision of multigenerational, providential dominion. Like today’s homeschoolers. Puritan leader, John Winthrop, called the Massachusetts Bay Colony a “city on a hill,” an example of Christian charity and community for all the world to see.

Christian homeschoolers are making waves by training up God-fearing children who are anchored in the faith, and who are eager to transform the world around them. They are independent minded. They love liberty. They are pro-faith, pro-family, and pro-life. Many intend to have gobs of kids, and homeschool them in the tradition of their own upbringing.

Homeschool families are several million strong and growing. They are entrepreneurial. And they are politically active. It is likely that from their number the next generation of gifted churchmen and statesmen will emerge.

An ancient psalmist was onto something when he wrote, “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments! His offspring will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed” (Psalm 112:1-2).

Monday, May 5, 2008

Election and Evangelism

Does Predestination Mean We Don’t Need To Evangelize?
No, it just guarantees the outcome.

Forgive me if this blog raises your blood pressure. It’s just that I’ve heard the misconception that election eliminates the need for evangelism often enough that I wanted to take a shot at explaining why that's not the case. Here goes.

First of all, God is sovereign. That means He runs the whole show. He knows everything, and He can do anything He wants. He created everything, and He controls it all. From the stoutest galaxy down to the scrawniest subatomic particle, God is in charge. He numbers the stars, and He knows how many hairs you have (or used to have) on your head. He dictates the rise and fall of nations, and He knows our thoughts before we can speak them. He comfortably manages everything that happens in the universe, including our salvation from the wrath that we deserve, thanks to the big fat sin problem we inherited from Adam.

Secondly, God is good. That means that when He does whatever He wants, it is good. Our salvation doesn’t depend on our good works. God saves us by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8), according to His will. For those who are called according to His purpose, all things work for good (Romans 8:28).

Thirdly, God predestines His elect. That means that God decides who He will save, according to His own good pleasure. Shucks, He even chooses them before they exist (Ephesians 1:4). Figure that one out. He has His good reasons, probably just because He can. Remember, He's totally in control. Those who He predestines, He calls, and those who He calls, He justifies, and those who He justifies, He glorifies (Romans 8:28). When people get agitated over predestination and election, I remind them that God is good, and He does what He wants. They can read Romans Chapter 9, and then take their dill pickle expressions directly to God.

Fourthly, God commands us to evangelize. That means we are to spread the gospel and make disciples everywhere, in obedience to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 15:16). It’s not our job to persuade anyone into God’s kingdom, as if our methods close the deal. That's for brush salesmen, not evangelists. It is God’s Spirit who effectually calls sinners to saving faith. Yet, God includes us in the evangelism loop, even though He decides in advance who He will save. We don’t know who these people are, but since He has predestined them to be saved, our efforts to preach the gospel are guaranteed to be fruitful.

In conclusion, we should be zealous to preach the gospel and make disciples. God has promised that His Word that goes out will not return to Him empty, but will accomplish His purpose (Isaiah 55:11). Our message of hope will be like a monsoon rain falling on a parched field, bringing new life and growth.

In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul writes, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news! (Romans 10:14-15).

Hey, God's elect, why not take a few bold steps with those fabulous feet of yours and spread the good news that Jesus saves sinners? As you do, pray for the Lord to send out more laborers into His harvest.

Ship Shape Salvation

Biblical Ignorance
The Bible says that “my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). This is certainly true today, when a meager 9% of those who call themselves “born again Christians” actually hold a Biblical worldview.
According to commentator, Chuck Colson, Christians don’t really know what they believe. It seems that sentimental slogans have replaced doctrinal knowledge. Many church-goers can recite bumper sticker sound bites like, “Let go and let God,” or “God said it, I believe it, that settles it,” but they can’t accurately explain what salvation is, or what justification means.

In ancient Israel, the priests failed to declare God’s scriptures to the people. They were sell-outs, idolaters, and religious adulterers. Thus, God judged and punished the entire nation. Such folk are active in the church today. They have blended materialism, individualism and multiculturalism into spiritual smoothies for consumers to slurp up. Their Sunday sermons depict Jesus as an inspiring example of a purpose driven life. A role model for overcoming obstacles. A ticket to the good life. They may sing “Jesus take the wheel,” but they’re still holding on for control and they want to operate the brakes and the accelerator.

Truth be told, many of us want Jesus on our own terms. Often, when we say “God has a wonderful plan for my life,” we really mean, “I have a wonderful plan for God in my life.” This is a man-centered view of faith. Some have called it therapeutic, moralistic deism, as if a distant god wants us to be our best, but lets us work out the details. We treat Jesus like a personal trainer. He might coach us, but it’s up to us to do the workouts. And once we master the program, we think we’ve outgrown the coach. Jesus becomes optional. The scriptures, however, present a thoroughly God-centered worldview. It’s really not about us.

The Good Ship Faith
Picture yourself floating out in the middle of the ocean. You are dead. A bloated carcass tossed by the waves, oblivious to your condition. Then God, by His sovereign mercy, brings you to life. You realize your predicament. You are lost and alone. Struggling. Perishing. The waves will soon swallow you up.

Now picture a ship on the horizon sailing directly toward you. You cry out to be saved. The Good Ship Faith arrives, its fluttering ensign a crimson cross. A sailor throws out a lifeline and commands you to grasp it. You hold fast and are hoisted aboard. You are soon dried and clothed and cared for.

In time you are instructed in the ways of sailing. The Good Ship Faith, under the orders of her Commander In Chief, Jesus, is commissioned to patrol the oceans, engage enemies of the Kingdom, and rescue those adrift in the ocean. You are adopted as a member of the crew and equipped for duty. You are grateful for your salvation, and you are eager to serve in the ship’s ongoing mission. You delight to recount the story of your rescue: You were dead, but were brought to life. You were saved by orders of Christ. Now you throw life lines to those who are perishing.

As a teaching Elder at Coram Deo Church I have used this illustration to emphasize the theological fact that salvation in Christ is ...
By Grace
Through Faith
From God’s Wrath
For good Works
For God’s Glory

By Grace – Grace refers to God’s divine and unconditional favor, freely given. We are spiritually dead, unable to seek or choose God. Yet He chooses to save us, not according to our deeds, but according to His own sovereign purposes. He gives us new life, enabling us to recognize our sin nature and our perilous condition. Our regeneration is therefore an entirely supernatural act of God’s Spirit. We are passive. God is active.

Through Faith – Faith is not a desire, or wishful thought. It is the exercise of trust in someone or something. Faith enables us to repent (turn from trusting ourselves) and to trust Christ to save us. God has ordained that faith comes by hearing, and hearing the word of Christ. Our regenerated hearts and minds respond to the gospel, which is a summons to take the life line, to receive salvation. Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit we will remain spiritually dead. We cannot and will not respond to the gospel and trust Christ. The gospel is foolishness to us. To our peril, we choose to trust ourselves rather than Christ, like a drowning man refusing to be saved because he rejects the rescuer.

From God’s Wrath - We should tremble with fear as guilty sinners before a just and holy God. God has decreed that the penalty of sin is death. He has established hell as a place of eternal torment. Fortunately, God demonstrates His great love for us by allowing His Son’s crucifixion to fully satisfy His righteous requirements for punishing sin. Jesus received God’s wrath in our place. Those who refuse Christ as Savior bear the full weight of their guilt and will be cast into hell.

For Good Works - Our salvation is more than being spared from punishment. We are justified (legal requirements fully satisfied) and adopted into God’s household of faith. We are converted and transformed into Christ’s likeness by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who gives us gifts for righteousness in service to God and for the building up of His church. Good works are the result and the evidence of saving faith in us. The absence of good works is evidence that we are spiritually dead and do not have the Holy Spirit living in us.

For God’s Glory - God receives the glory for our salvation. It can be said that we contribute nothing to our salvation, but respond to it with joy and praise. We have not earned or deserved what we have received. We are chosen, justified, sanctified and glorified--all for God’s glory. While we certainly participate with the Holy Spirit in our sanctifying walk, we ultimately persevere in our faith by God’s superintending power and grace.

The solution to Biblical ignorance is to gain Biblical knowledge and wisdom. The Lord gave us His Word to bless us and direct us. By the power of His Spirit, the Scriptures illuminate and transform our minds, enabling us to be holy and blameless before Him (Ephesians 1:4). May you delight in God's Word, and obey it as you sail through this life and into the next on the Good Ship Faith.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Pagan Christianity? A Book Review

by Pastor John Sleadd

I recently read Pagan Christianity?, by Frank Viola and George Barna, which explores the roots of our church practices. The authors claim that, according to credible historic research, the majority of what takes place in today’s institutional church can be linked to Roman and Greek pagan traditions. They assert the following, and more.

That Emperor Constantine transformed Christianity into a state religion and instituted sacred sites, sacred rituals and sacred officers to unify and control his empire.

That church buildings evolved from pagan religious shrines

That preachers evolved from Greek sophists, who were gifted, yet often unscrupulous, orators

That pulpits evolved from Greek stagecraft used for entertainment

That salaried pastors evolved from pensioned, Roman government officials

That church music practices evolved from Roman pagan customs of pomp and formality

I confess that I found Pagan Christianity? a fascinating read. In it Viola and Barna criticize the authoritarian, high church system of clergy, costumes, customs and cathedrals. They say this system puts a few men in charge of lifeless congregations. They are equally critical of the pop culture, consumer system, which keeps the religious customers entertained in auditoriums with celebrity speakers, professional praise bands, and youth ministers who widen the generation gap. A return to the old ways is needed, they say. Out with professionalism and institutionalism. In with relationships and organic community. Back to the habits of the early church at the ground level, where believers met in equality and simplicity.

Viola and Barna are sincerely concerned for the health of the Lord’s church. I found many, perhaps most of their arguments to be persuasive. Their historic evidence was compelling. I would therefore recommend this book to anyone who is interested in church history and practice. I would, however, offer a few words of caution.

Viola and Barna seem to disregard legitimate authority and hierarchy in the body of Christ. They advocate an “every-member functioning” model of church meeting, and they rightly condemn the practice of professional clergymen dominating over a passive laity. Yet, in their disdain for abusive authoritarianism in the church, I believe they have overreacted and thrown the baby out with the bath water. Allow me to explain.

I believe the authors have ignored the hierarchy that exists within the Trinity and in God’s ordained institutions of family, church and state. In the Trinity, the Holy Spirit plays a supporting role to the Son, and the Son plays a submissive role to the Father, yet they are one and they are equally God. In the family the husband is the head of the wife, and the wife is commanded to submit to her husband, yet they are part of a one-flesh union (Ephesians 5:22-23). Together, they have authority over their children, who are commanded to honor and obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1). In the church the Elders are given the authority and responsibility to rule (1 Timothy 5:17), and church members are commanded to obey and submit to them (Hebrews 13:17). Yet the Elders are told to govern with gentleness and humility, predominantly through the power of example (1 Peter 5:2-3). In the state, we see evidence of hierarchy as well. The ancient Hebrew republic had a hierarchy of military commanders and judges to lead the Jewish nation. Furthermore, a hierarchical chain of command is an essential part of our United States constitutional republic today. It can be said that hierarchical authority is both biblical and essential for right conduct in human interactions.

There are other troubling issues that bubble up from the pages of Pagan Christianity? The authors assume that all church members have equal privileges to share, to lead, and to teach, during each meeting, but this is in conflict with what the scriptures teach about the distribution of spiritual gifts and about church leadership. In their criticism of church liturgical practices, they imply that spontaneous sharing is more biblical than preplanned worship services that are directed by select individuals. This begs the question why the Holy Spirit cannot work through preplanning just as well as spontaneity, and through the specialization of gifts as well as through every member. Such things reveal a personal bias that taints an otherwise timely call to reformation of church practice.

I agree with Viola and Barna that every member of the Body of Christ should be fully functioning and contributing. But we must steer clear of the tendency to democratize the church into an egalitarian social construct. My prayer is that the Lord would continue to bless and refine His church, according to His perfect will and purpose. I recommend you read Pagan Christianity? for yourself and enjoy interacting with it as I did.

Friday, March 21, 2008

He Is Risen. He Saves.

Much hangs on the truth of Christ’s resurrection. No resurrection, no victory over sin and death. No resurrection, no certainty that God’s Word is true. No resurrection, no Lord Jesus mediating from the throne room of the Father on behalf of sinners. Like me.

The apostle Paul wrote that if Christ has not been raised from the dead, then our faith is futile and we are still in our sins. If we hope in Christ only in this life only, then we are to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).

Fortunately, Christ has been raised from the dead. The resurrection is an historical fact. The empty tomb was solid evidence of His resurrection in the days and years following Christ’s public execution. Jesus’ appearance to a multitude of eyewitnesses in the weeks after his certified death are irrefutable. The conspiracy theories of body snatching, or mass hallucinations are flimsy concoctions of fiction, which have no credibility in light of the data.

Death could not keep Jesus in the grave. The Lord of creation, who has made all things and sustains all things, demonstrated His sovereignty over death itself. He was summoned to life. He lives. He reigns. And this is good news for us.

Jesus’ resurrection confirms His power to save us. He summons His elect into new life by the regenerative power of His Spirit. Thus, one can be born again.

The Bible says that all have sinned and offended God (Romans. 3:23). It says that we suppress the evidence of God and deny His authority over creation. It describes mankind as law breakers and rebels.

The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). God cannot tolerate sin and His holy character requires that sin be punished. He has created hell, a place of unquenchable fire, and eternal suffering reserved for those who hate Him and reject Jesus, His Son.

But here’s the good news: The Bible says that God shows His great love for us, in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

We are saved by God’s grace, not by our own works (Ephesians 2:8). We cannot say we have earned salvation. It is a gift.

We have a place in heaven. God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16). If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).

Jesus came to save His people. Are you one of them? Have you trusted Jesus?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Infamy of Rousseau's Selfish Socialism

I decided to write my third letter to the editor of our local newspaper. After the last letter, I received four public commendations and two criticisms. One writer said that I should go back to my pulpit and get a life.

I expect to be attacked in print. I write to inform and provoke. I also hope to stimulate Christians to rise up and challenge the culture. Here's my latest contribution to the cultural conversation.

Jean Jacques Rousseau was an eighteenth-century, French philosopher with a penchant for siring and abandoning children. Five of them. Rousseau was a dead-beat dad with a disdain for paternal duty. He championed the cause of self-love and personal entitlement.

Rousseau denounced civilization, social conventions, and traditional values. He believed the state was the perfect agent to liberate the individual from such oppressive relationships as marriage, family, church and work. He claimed that each citizen would then be completely independent of all his fellow men, and absolutely dependent on the state.

As an Enlightenment thinker, he postulated theories of socialism and nationalism, which inspired Robespierre in the French Revolution, as well as Marx, Lenin, Mussolini, Hitler, Mao and even Pol Pot. Curious, isn’t it, how the seeds of radical individualism and entitlement can produce a crop of totalitarianism.

Unfortunately, Rousseau’s theories are alive and well in America today. Perhaps that’s why we have no-fault divorce, same-sex unions, and abortion on demand, all supported by our government. Maybe that’s why a U.S. court ruled that parents have no exclusive right to teach their children about sex education, but must permit the state to teach them the legitimacy of homosexuality. Maybe that’s why a California court recently declared that home education is illegal unless the parents have a state-issued teaching license.

Statesman Edmund Burke reportedly said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Men of conscience, I adjure you to take action. Pray, speak, write.

Pastor John Sleadd
Coram Deo Church

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Return to the City of My Second Birth

On Thursday, February 28, 2008 I drove up to Bellingham Washington for a quick, nostalgic visit. I was in the north part of Seattle with some extra time on my hands, when on a lark I decided to zip up to my college alma mater, Western Washington University, for a blast from the past.

A quarter century earlier I had been an art and music student there at the beautiful campus perched above Bellingham Bay. It was at WWU that I brushed wild colors across stretched canvases in the art studio to the smell of oil paints and mineral spirits. It was there that I spent endless hours shut up in windowless practice rooms as a music student fingering scales and jazz riffs on my guitar. It was in this town that I played and sang in smoky night clubs filled with the rank smell of cheap beer. It was there that I watched the movie Elephant Man and was embarrassed by the overwhelming sense of pity that made me sob in front of my friends as if I had just seen my own pathetic spiritual condition exposed in front of a shocked audience.

It was there, twenty-five years ago, that I first suspected a sovereign God existed behind the canopy of stars, who might call me to account for who I was and what I thought and what I did. I was a Kentucky boy, the casualty of a broken home, who had wound up in the Pacific Northwest to chase after his life's purpose at a university. It was in Bellingham that I was yanked out of my atheistic existentialism and summoned into the Kingdom of God like a hapless islander who gets swept out of his village by the surge of a tsunami, then deposited back into a pile of debris that was his former life. There wasn't much worth salvaging, so I began a new life, trusting in Christ.

I had lived in Bellingham for six years. I had rented various apartments, dated various girls, been indoctrinated by various professors, and partied with various acquaintances. The kingdom of God had sent most of my friends packing. At the name of Jesus, they had grown suspicious and distant, like I was the Elephant Man, the freak of faith. Eventually we parted company, which left me with time on my own to soak up the words of C.S. Lewis, R.C. Sproul and Josh MacDowell, to name a few, who wrote about a God who redeems sinners. Like me.

I read the Bible, too, starting the with John's gospel, which introduced me to Christ, the Light of the World, the Bread of Life, the Resurrection and the Life.

Back in the present, I walked across campus observing students bustling from class to class. They seemed driven by academic purpose, yet adrift in the relativistic culture of higher education with no sense of God’s superintending presence.

I began to pray. I asked God to call His elect out of the darkness as He had called me back in 1983. I prayed for dozens, perhaps a hundred individuals, asking the Lord to pour out His Spirit on the students. I circled back across the campus and aimed at every soul that came in sight, praying that God would redeem sinners and transform them into future husbands and wives and parents of faith, who would bring Him glory.

I entered the music building, where I had sung in the university choir as a cynical atheist, and I sang a hymn aloud in the elevator. I went into the Viking Union student center and asked the Lord to give me the opportunity to witness to at least four people on campus before I left. In my folder I had four spiritual survey sheets that I had developed for sharing the gospel.

For the next two hours I sipped Starbuck’s coffee and interviewed four students. I asked a dozen different questions. I explained the problem of sin and the good news of salvation in Christ alone. I left each of them with this thought to ponder: “Is it possible that God is calling you to believe in Jesus to save you from punishment? “ Two answered “yes,” one answered “no,” and one answered “not sure.” One young man said he thought that if God was calling him, He would probably do it by sending him a dream, or a vision, or something unusual. I asked him if it were possible that God might send a stranger from out of town (me) as a divine appointment to talk to him about faith. He might still be thinking about that.

After I had interviewed the students, I asked them about their majors, their interests, their goals in life. They, in turn, asked me why I was out interviewing people. I got to share my testimony of how I had been a student at WWU twenty-five years ago when God called me out of darkness and into light. He had chosen me for His own, even though I had mocked believers and claimed Christianity was a crutch for the weak-minded. God had allowed me to marry a wonderful Christian woman and start a Christian family. Now, as a father of five children and the pastor of a great church, it was a privilege to return to WWU to speak with others about God's amazing grace. I gave each of them a business card with my email address, along with a reference to Ephesians 1:4.

Now that I’m back at home in Grants Pass, Oregon, my trip to Bellingham seems like a dream. It was a wonderful little side trip from my commitments in Seattle. Since I may not be back for another twenty-five years, I will relish the dose of nostalgia. And I will pray: Lord, send your tsunami again into the city of my second birth.