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Calvin’s Iron Bowels

And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. . . . For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need” (Acts 4.32, 34).

And now we must needs have more than iron bowels, seeing that we are no more moved with the reading of this history.  The faithful did at that day give abundantly even of that which was their own, but we are not only content at this day wickedly to suppress that which we have in our hands, but do also rob others.  They did simply and faithfully bring forth their own; we invent a thousand subtle shifts to draw all things unto us by hook or by crook.  They laid it down at the apostles’ feet, we fear not with sacrilegious boldness to convert that to our own use which was offered to God.  They sold in times past their possessions, there reigneth at this day an insatiable desire to buy.  Love made that common to the poor and needy which was proper to every man; such is the unnaturalness of some men now, that they cannot abide that the poor should dwell upon the earth, that they should have the use of water, air and heaven (Calvin, Commentaries, Baker: Vol XVIII, “Acts of the Apostles,” 192-93).

Five hundred years later, Calvin would regret our bowels have yet to be loosened.


Final Four Locks

Who cannot envision a Final Four ripe with rivalry?

It’s about time we get these two back together.  Long live the Metro Conference!  Think they could play this at the Coliseum?


Hugh Binning Quote

Hugh Binning (1627-1653) was a bright spot in the Scottish Reformation.  At 19, he occupied the chair of Philosophy at the College of Glasgow.  In 1650, he was ordained as minister in Govan, near Glasgow.  He’s probably most known for silencing Oliver Cromwell when he tried to bridge the gap between the Resolutioners (generally pro-King) and Protestors (generally anti-King).  Though he and Cromwell remained on opposing sides, Cromwell couldn’t help but acknowledge Binning’s irenic spirit and worthy scholarship.  Binning died from consumption (tuberculosis) at 26.

Binning wrote A Treatise on Christian Love, from which the following quote is taken:

“. . . charity must rule our external actions, and have the predominant hand in the use of all gifts, in the venting of all opinions.  Whatsoever knowledge and ability a man has, charity must employ it and use it; without this, duties and graces make a noise, but they are shallow and empty within.  Now he shows the sweet properties of [charity], and good effects of it: how universal an influence it has on all things, but especially, how necessary it is to keep the unity of the church. . . . It is a great weakness and meanness of spirit to be soon angry” (Banner, 2004: pp18-19).

If that was good enough to quiet Cromwell, it must be good enough for me.

An Open Reflection to Ray Newcomb and FBC Millington

I want to humbly add my thoughts to Ray Van Neste’s blessings on our home pastor’s retirement.  Tears flow far easier than words as I realize what grace God lavished on me through the ministry of A. Ray Newcomb (First Baptist Church, Millington, TN).  His reward will be great as his ministry ripples through heaven.  As I reflect I realize Bro. Ray never stopped being my pastor even though I stopped being his congregant.  So I offer the following in all gratitude to man who “spoke the word of God to [me]” (Heb 13.7).

1.  Like many, I was practically born (1973) and reborn (1995) under Bro. Ray’s ministry.  For 22 years, I heard the gospel proclaimed twice every Sunday, once every Wednesday and countless other times in various settings.   And, oh, how simple that gospel was!  I don’t remember any particular sermon but I remember the demand to repent and believe dominated every one of them.  Thanks to my parents and Bro. Ray I was so familiar with the gospel that I could share it long before I ever believed it.

So thank you, Bro. Ray, for keeping the gospel central and simple.

2.  Bro. Ray sowed the seeds of biblical authority in my life.  He was and is a Bible man.  Words like “inerrancy” and “infallible” were part of my vocabulary from an early age.  I’ll never forget his tattered red Scofield KJV Bible he opened every week.  In fact, he would announce the page number of his Bible assuming everyone should have one!  He frequently asked the congregation to hold up their Bible if they brought it.  I don’t remember any particular sermon but I remember my parents’ Bibles were always open on their laps.

He and I wouldn’t see eye-to-eye on everything these days, but it’s not because I hate his views.  It’s because he helped me love my Bible.  Strangely enough, that I would have convictions at all (much less different ones) is due in large part to the seeds sown by his ministry.

So thank you, Bro. Ray, for loving your Bible and investing its authority in me before I ever had a chance to question it (even if I don’t use a Scofield or KJV!).

3.  Bro. Ray loved “soul-winning.”  I’m not sure when that phrase was first used, but Bro. Ray might as well have coined it.  Our town was home to the world’s largest inland Naval school in the world.  Countless young sailors circulated through before it was converted into an administrative post.  As early as I can remember Bro. Ray would spend every Saturday on the sidewalk between the base and downtown.  With his lawn chair, umbrella, gospel tracts and that Scofield Bible he would evangelize sailors walking into town.  I confess my snobbery has become jealousy.  Would I would give for half the evangelistic zeal of Ray Newcomb!  I’m confident the kingdom will be far more crowded from his efforts than mine.

So thank you, Bro. Ray, for loving souls and being a shameless model of passionate evangelism, for doing “all things for the sake of the gospel” (1 Cor 9.23) “so that you may by all means save some”(1 Cor 9.22).

4.  Bro. Ray was my pastor.  My mother was a secretary at FBC for 32 years, about the last third under Bro. Ray’s leadership.  I spent hundreds of mornings at the church building roaming the halls, climbing the chapel steeple (shh!), snooping around classrooms, romping through the baptistery, raiding the kitchen and playing you-name-it.  When FBC built their gym I was practically a fixture during school breaks.  When Bro. Ray’s door was closed I knew not to bother him.  But when it opened he was always available.  I’m sure he and Mrs. Owens grew tired of a pesky kid (he jokingly called me “Joe Barry”) wandering in and out of his study, but he didn’t show it.

He buried my mom and help marry Amy and me.  I realize now that his fingerprints are all over my immediate family’s history.  And what precious fingerprints they are.  At any major event Bro. Ray was somewhere around.

As a new convert at 21 I endured that rebellious stage where everything I thought was right and everything the church did was wrong and irrelevant.  It was an idiotic phase of which I am not proud at all.  Bro. Ray patiently attempted to rein me in, but I refused to be reined in.  Although I was the pathetic, prideful rebel against his and the church’s authority he called me one day to apologize!  I had wronged him and yet he assumed the offense to himself.  That, my friends, is what pastors do.

So thank you, Bro. Ray, for walking prayerfully with my family through the thick and thin.  And thank you for being a bigger man by being a humble man.  Thank you for being my pastor.

5.  Bro. Ray was and is a “throwback” to an age of absolute moral integrity.  As far as I know he was never inappropriately alone with a woman.  He never suffered the slightest accusation of any impropriety.  He remains blameless in the community and a worthy example “with those outside” (1 Tim 3.7).

So thank you, Bro. Ray, for being an “old-fashioned” example so that guys like me can benefit.

6.  Bro. Ray has cranked out pastors.  A pastor’s ministry can be evaluated on a number of different fronts.  One of those is the effect he has on raising up pastors.  There are dozens and dozens of men in ministry because of Ray Newcomb.  Whether he had a direct or indirect influence on them, they were incubated under his authoritative ministry.  Many men now love serving Christ’s church and she is all the more strengthened for it.

So thank you, Bro. Ray, for presenting pastoral ministry as a “fine work” (1 Tim 3.1) and a worthy calling.

It helps to look down often to see on whose shoulders you stand.  When I do I find Bro. Ray’s loving hands holding my feet steady in faith.  “I thank my God in all my remembrance” of A. Ray Newcomb (Phil 1.3).

HT: Ray Van Neste

From the Mouths of Babes

On aisle four at Walmart Lidi asked, “Is Mary in heaven?”

“Mary who?”

“Jesus’ wife.”

“Oh, you mean Jesus’ mother.  Yeah, I think she’s in heaven.”

“Will we see her?”

“That depends on whether you will be in heaven or not.  How can you be sure you go to heaven to see Mary?”

“Repent and believe!”

“That’s right, sweetie, repent and believe.”

“I’m going to give her a big hug.”

As well you should, my princess, as well you should.  Somehow my tightly wound definitions of heaven don’t do justice to the  vision of heaven in a four-year-old’s mind.  Maybe Lidi will introduce me to Mary.


When we reached the produce section Lidi asked, “Is there church in heaven?”

“The church is the only people who live in heaven.”

“Is God’s church in heaven?”

“Yes it is.  That’s exactly right.”

And she doesn’t even know Heb 12.22-25!  Wait, do I?  Do I gather each week with my brothers and sisters as though we are taking our seats in Zion?

Today in History

In 2004, I thoroughly enjoyed a tour (free, by the way) of Dayton, Ohio’s Air Force Museum with a couple of other pastors.  The museum’s picturesque history of flight was fascinating and was brought back to mind today.

Today marks the 105th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ famous first flight (12/17/1903).  Near Kitty Hawk, NC their “contraption” flew 859 feet in 59 seconds at a top speed of 31mph.  The world has never been the same thanks to these two sons of a minister.

By 1905 the Wrights had “perfected” the technology such that the Wright Flyer 3 traveled 24 miles in 39 minutes.  Confident they had a product to market, the Wrights kept their “toy” under the radar for fear of premature exploitation and imitation.  They decided first to secure a patent and buyer before going public with their invention.

Having just invented the airplane, which would forever revolutionize how we view the world, what would they do with this technology?  Who would be their first contact?  The United States War Department!  After the USWD declined their repeated overtures, the Wrights contacted France, German and Russia thinking some nation might have reason to use a flying machine, not for public beneficence, but for war!  In 1909, the Wrights rolled out the first U.S. Military aircraft.

I cast no aspersions on the hearts of Wilbur and Orville Wright as I would’ve done the same thing.  I only consider this another evidence of the depravity of man.  We take what are unbelievable blessings of God and find a way to use them first for destruction and/or selfish gain.  The first passenger on the Wright Flyer 1 was Adam.

Tozer Closer

“The meek man cares not at all who is greater than he, for he has long ago decided that the esteem of the world is not worth the effort.  He develops toward himself a kindly sense of humor and learns to say, ‘Oh, so you have been overlooked? They have placed someone else before you?  They have whispered that you are pretty small stuff after all? And now you feel hurt because the world is saying about you the very things you have been saying about yourself?  Only yesterday you were telling God that you were nothing, a mere worm of the dust.  Where is your consistency? Come on, humble yourself and cease to care what men think'” (A.W. Tozer, Pursuit of God).

I am a pathetic whiner.

What Now?

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.  For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.  Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves to God.  Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king (1 Pt 2.13-17).

Churches will be atwitter tonight as Christians parse the election results.  Most will abide by the unspoken rules that allow for complaining without really complaining.  Everyone will know what we’re saying without saying it.  We’ll read between the lines, knowing we won’t say what we want to say because it’s “church.”  And we’ll baptize it all with a pious confession of faith that God is in control.

Christians are commanded to “honor the king” as a testimony that they love Jesus more than personal feelings or agendas.  Peter wrote that under the wicked shadow of Nero, to whom he probably lost his own life.  Yes, the gospel is so radical that if Nero lights the kindling under your leather-strapped feet then you die well, honoring him as a testimony that you hail from another world and he is no threat to your happiness.  You stress that you died to this world long before your flesh started burning.

So if 1 Pt 3.17 includes the likes of Nero, it certainly includes the newly elected President of the United States; who by all accounts (and perhaps contrary to evangelical opinion) is no Nero.  (Already I hear the snide, under-the-breath comments!)

For whatever it’s worth, I offer the following applications of 1 Pt 2.13-17 to our current situation (in no particular order):

(1) God commands us to honor President-elect Obama.  There will be many right exhortations that we must pray for him (1 Tim 2.1-2).  We must absolutely pray for him.  Not because he’s so bad, but because Jesus is so good and it pleases Him that we do.  However, we are not only to pray for him, but honor him.  In other words, we are not free to pray to God for him and then slander him before men.

In Mt 15.4, Jesus reiterates the Mosaic command to “honor your father and mother” (cf. Eph 6.2).  To speak evil of one’s parents merited capital punishment, according to Moses.  Therefore, honoring someone at least means speaking well of them.  I don’t think we honor our parents in exactly the same ways as President Obama.  For example, we should take care of our parents in their waning years (1 Tim 5.4), not the President.

Paul commands us to honor widows (1 Tim 5.3).  He means more than just praying for them. He means show them honor with verbal and tangible expressions that we value and esteem them (1 Tim 5.10).

As hard as it will be for many Christians, we must honor President Obama with expressions that we value his God-given authority.  This will test how much we really want to obey Scripture.  If we can’t find it in ourselves to honor the President then it is a problem with us, not him.

(2) God does not command to us honor the position of President, but the President himself.  With hermeneutical wizardry we convince ourselves that we can honor the position but not the man.  Peter does not say “honor the position of king” but “honor the king.”  It’s far easier to honor parenthood than many parents.  It’s far easier to honor widowhood than many widows.  But the gospel makes a radical demand of faith, testing our love for neighbor, and so we are to honor President Obama, not merely the presidential office.  This is God’s will.

Where the President restrains evil and rewards good, we are to express our honor and thanks for God’s means of grace.  Whether he deserved to be honored or not is not our decision to make.  You and I deserve none of God’s favor and yet he lavishes it on us.

(3)  There is more to honoring President Obama than appreciating the fact that he’s black.  If all you can appreciate about this election is that a black man was elected, then you have much more praying to do for yourself than President Obama.

(4) The democratic ideal of the freedom of dissent does not necessitate dishonorable dissent.  Peter appeals to our sense of freedom, but not such that we feel free to disobey God by dishonoring President Obama.  There are to be no better United States citizens than those who claim Christ.  We may be free to oppose and disagree with government policies, but always in humble submission to their final authority.  The paradox of Christian faith is that we are free to be slaves because we are true sons.

(5) Honoring President Obama doesn’t mean absolute obedience or approval.  Note Peter’s instruction: we fear God, but honor President Obama.  We don’t fear the President.  We only fear God.  But we do honor the President.

It’s no secret that he’s radically pro-choice.  Honoring him doesn’t mean abandoning a pro-life position.  I don’t think he will, but if President Obama ever orders you to have, give or participate in an abortion then you refuse and go to jail (cf. Exod 15.1-21).  I don’t think he will, but if he signs legislation that censors preaching then you refuse and go to jail (cf. Acts 4.19-20). But we go to jail respectfully, pay our taxes on the way, and in the words of Luther do so “without horns or teeth.”  While there we do not spew hateful obscenities, but sing the songs of Zion.  We rejoice that Jesus is King and He’ll make it right soon.  There’s no glory in suffering abuse for being a jerk, but there is in suffering as a Christian (1 Pt 4.14-16).

It’s no mark of spiritual maturity that we vehemently, dishonorably and hatefully oppose a president’s abortion rights.  It is a profound mark of spiritual maturity when we can honor him despite our vehement opposition.  Well, when we act like Jesus did (1 Pt 2.21-25).  Such shows our confidence in, commitment to and longing for another kingdom where “everything will live where the River goes” (Ezek 47.9).  It shows we entrust our souls and cause “to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pt 2.23).

(6) Honoring President Obama doesn’t make you a liberal.  Our gospel and politics have become so entwined that any favor shown President Obama will be preceived as liberalism.  So we join in the offhand insults, baseless accusations, and dishonorable remarks.  We fear being branded a political liberal.  Dear brothers and sisters, we fear only God.  Resist the strong current and obey Jesus.  If you’re branded then wear it with a smile on your face and song in your heart.  Your reward awaits you (Mt 5.11-12).

(7) Our children are watching and listening.  This isn’t explicit in 1 Pt 2.13-17, but an implication from it.  We must instill in our children respect for God-given authorities over us (parents, elders, pastors, teachers, kings, policemen, etc.).  If they hear us constantly disparaging President Obama then they will think it’s okay for them to do so.  If they hear us grumbling about the police officer who rightly stopped us because we weren’t wearing our seatbelts, then they’ll think it’s okay for them to do so.

They’ll complain about their teachers, being convinced they’re are picking on them.  After all, that’s what Mom and Dad do.  They’ll disregard admonitions from elders because Mom and Dad do.  They’ll thumb their nose at the church’s authority because that’s what Mom and Dad do.

We complain that “kids these days” have no respect for authority.  That says far more about us than them.  We must be careful to communicate that God’s word is far more important than personal offenses.

So especially when around your children, use titles when referring to authorities.  Don’t flippantly call the President “Barack” or “Obama.”  Refer to him as “President Obama” to communicate a sense of honor and respect.  The same holds true for Pastor Smith, Officer Johnson, Judge Williams, Doctor Matthews, Mr. and Mrs. Jones, etc.  Jesus (his name) came also came with a title (Christ or Messiah), so titles matter when teaching children respect for authority.


Christians will be tested in the coming days (and years!).  Temptation will rise up in checkout lines, at coffee shops, by the watercooler, and before the Lord’s Table.  Many will be offering explicit and implicit derrogatory, dishonorable commentary.  Will we be faithful to King Jesus?  Will we be thankful that no president is a threat to our eternal happiness?  Let’s live faithfully, die well and so silence the ignorance of foolish men.

Desiring a Better Country

“There is within the human heart a tough, fibrous root of fallen life whose nature is to possess, always to possess.  It covets things with a deep and fierce passion.  The pronouns my and mine look innocent enough in print, but their constant and universal use is significant.  They express the real nature of the old Adamic man better than a thousand volumes of theology could do.  They are verbal symptoms of our deep disease.  The roots of our hearts have grown down into things, and we dare not pull up one rootlet lest we die.  Things have become necessary to us, a development never originally intended.  God’s gifts now take the place of God, and the whole course of nature is upset by the monstrous substitution” (A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, Christian Pub.: 1993, p22).

World history has proven that the most materially blessed nations eventually become the most idolatrous nations.  Eight century BC marked the glory days of ancient Israel.  Property values were at an all-time high, wardrobes increased, bumper crops blossomed and Chardonnay was always on tap.  Yet:

“[Israel] does not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the new wine and the oil, and lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal” (Hos 2.8). 

“Woe to those who are at ease in Zion and those who feel secure in the mountain of Samaria . . . Those who recline on beds of ivory and sprawl on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall, who improvise to the sound of the harp . . . who drink wine from sacrificial bowls while they anoint thmselves with the finest oils, yet they have not grieved over the ruin of Joseph” (Amos 6.1, 4-6).

“For I will make Samaria a heap of ruins in the open country, planting places for a vineyard.  I will pour her stones down into the valley and will lay bare her foundations.  All of her idols will be smashed, all of her earnings will be burned with fire and all of her images I will make desolate, for she collected them from a harlot’s earnings, and to the earnings of a harlot they will return” (Mic 1.7).

In no way do I suggest America is the new Israel or the chosen people of God.  I do suggest that America is no better than ancient Israel because Americans are no better than Adam.  Old covenant, national Israel proved to be Adam’s sons in that, despite having every advantage of grace, they resorted to worshiping stuff rather than God.  We learn that nations eventually become what they are because its citizens are idolaters.

Perhaps America has had unique advantages of grace.  God has “shed his grace on thee.”  But despite every intention otherwise we’ve resorted to worshiping life (as long as its sexy and viable), liberty (as long as there are no strings attached) and the pursuit of happiness (as long it’s makes me feel good) rather than the God of eternal life, eternal liberty and eternal happiness.  And we will soon go the way of very other “blessed” nation in history.

What is God’s answer to all the national failures?  Will any people he’s blessed rightly remain faithful to and thankful for him?  Enter the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The church is God’s chosen people and favored nation (1 Pt 2.9). Jesus died for her and her alone (Eph 5.25), not mildly biblistic republics, pious monarchs or virtuous movements.  We often confuse kingdom language with that of American patriotism so far that it’s hard to see a distinction between the two.

Mighty kingdoms will come and go.  They always do.  Hell will swallow up every earthly kingdom, but will not leave a scratch on the church (Mt 16.18).  Whatever wounds hell inflicts on us here quickly fade forever into the eternal scars on the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.

That’s the radical power of Jesus’s death and resurrection; and it’s the radical extent to which God must go to save us from idolatry.  Jesus received authority through no electoral college, no campaign, no pedigree, but through humble obedience to the Father’s will (Jn 17.4-5).  The Father gave him all authority to give life, liberty and happiness to anyone he pleases (Mt 28.18: Jn 5.22; 17.2).  And that authority is not confined by national borders but extends to the farthest reaches of the earth (Ps 2.8; 24.1; Rev 4.9-10).

It’s not the church’s role to return America to the world’s premier “Christian nation.”  The church must return the church to that distinction!  The church is sent throughout the “amber waves of grain” and “purple mountain majesties” as search-and-rescue soldiers (Jn 17.18).  We’re ambassadors from another Kingdom scouring this land with a message to anyone who will listen.  We preach the ultimate fruitlessness of “the fruited plain.”  We warn about the imminent destruction of all we hold secure and the the way of escape from it.

Like Abraham, we sojourn through this life on our way to a better country.  Not one built by better politicians with sound monetary policy.  We seek a heavenly one, a city with foundations whose architect and builder is God (Heb 11.10, 16).  Amid all the rubble of worthless stock certificates, border fences, terrorist threats, failed policies and unemployment lines stands the church of the Lord Jesus.  Armed with the message from her Living Hope (1 Pt 1.3), she stands firm pointing always to he King we can trust and kingdom that will last.  She will not be moved.

Our citizenship is in heaven and we’re awaiting our true Savior from heaven (Phil 3.20-21).  Are we more anxious about election day or the day of the Lord?  Are we more eager for the next president to get our economy back on track or for the Risen Lord to finally kill idolatry in us?  Do I preach the America’s prosperity gospel or Jesus’ poverty gospel?  Do we urge others to save their lives while there’s time, or lose them because time has already run out?

Paul instructed Christians to “use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor 7.31).  So don’t vote as though your life depended on it.  Pledge allegiance to Christ because your life really does.

Do We Look that Stupid?

We break from our regularly scheduled pastoral musings for an economics lesson.  I have no agenda except to vent my frustration of being considered an idiot by our political elite.  “They” have made our electoral process a circus and forced us to buy tickets to it.  I’m afraid the accountant I’d long buried in my soul has resurrected this election season.  I can’t take it anymore!  I hereby remove my clerical collar and don my little green banker’s hat for this post.

The two main candidates throw around statistics and numbers that are irrelevant to the average voter.  They speak in macro-economical terms so as to distract from the micro-economical affects.  For example, one candidate blames the other for proposing $4 billion in tax breaks for “Big Oil.”  Whether that’s actually true or not doesn’t matter.  It just sounds scary and assumes we won’t investigate further.  In the end, it’s simple rhetorical sensationalizing.

One candidate blames the other for voting a certain way so many times in Congress.  This is disingenuous.  For example, assume you had to vote to deny pedophiles from teaching elementary school.  But proposed in the same legislation was government-sponsored free interstate abortion services.  You would vote yes to deny teaching opportunities to pedophiles, but no to the free abortion services.  No matter which way you vote you’ll be accused of supporting either pedophile teachers or free abortions.  Obviously, not every piece of legislation is that dramatic but it is reflective of the manipulative affect of earmarks and pork barrel projects.  So when one candidate accuses the other being for or against certain things, we must know the details of the legislation.  We’re not that stupid.

Now, one of the main candidates has promised to raise taxes on the top 5% of corporate earners in order to provide relief for 95% of Americans.  (Please know that I didn’t vote for his main opponent, either.)  Those are abstract numbers that have no meaning to voters.  It’s just rhetorical flair.  He claims those making less than $250,000 will see no increase in taxes.  We’re not that stupid.  Economics 101 is enough to explain why this plan is a smoke screen to garner votes.  Corporations don’t pay taxes . . . people do!  Let’s break this down into simple numbers we can understand; follow the simple logic:

Assume I manufacture and sell widgets.  It costs me $.50 to make one widget that I then sell you for $1.  I’ve made a $.50 profit on which I pay 10% in taxes, or $.05.  I’ve netted after taxes $.45.

Now, assume Congress raises the tax rate to 20%.  It now costs me more to manufacture and sell my widget.  Do you think I’m going to eat that cost out of the goodness of my heart?  Of course not!  I’m going to sell my widget for $1.12.  Why?  The taxes on my suppliers has gone up so it now it costs them more and they pass that cost on to me.  It now costs me $.55 to make a widget.  So I sell you a widget for $1.12 which makes for a profit of $.57.  I must now pay 20% taxes, netting after taxes $.45.  So, has the corporation really paid more taxes?  No!  They’ve still taken home the same amount.  The consumer has paid for it via higher prices.

This 95 percentile who drooled over a government check must now pay (in my scenario) 12% more in goods and services.  The government has forced me to raise my prices rather than the market.  Essentially, by tax hikes the government creates price floors (companies won’t sell goods at a loss) that ultimately hurt the consumer.  Higher taxes on “the rich” actually becomes an oppressive tax on the poor.

So, should this candidate get elected and he’s able to follow through on his promise then expect the following logical results:

1.  Inflation.  Higher corporate taxes inevitably means goods and services will cost more.  Companies will simply pass along their higher costs to the consumer.

2.  The more expensive goods and services get the more consumers will cut down and avoid paying the higher prices.  They stop buying as much.  If they stop buying as much then companies stop making as much (they are for-profit organizations!).  When companies stop making as much then they lay folks off and stop hiring.  People without jobs don’t buy as much and the downward cycle spirals further downward.

3.  If I plan to make more than $250,000 next year and suffer a promised tax hike then there is no motivation for producing more goods and services.  It will cost me more to make an extra $1,000 than if I’d not made it at all.  For example, if I make $249,999 I pay no taxes.  If I make $250,001 I pay 10% in taxes.  I will pocket more money by making less of it.  So I cut back on my production.

4.  If my capital gains rate is going up next year then I will pocket less money in 2009 than in 2008 by selling any appreciated property (stocks, real estate, etc.).  Knowing this higher rate may last 4 or 8 years, I will sell at a time that nets me more money.  If the tax-raising candidate is elected November 4 then expect a massive sell-off before January.  That will drive the economy further downward.  Then capital activity will drastically decrease in the next 4 to 8 years.  In fact, the stock market’s current roller coaster ride is evidence that folks are trying to make last-minute money while the capital gains rates are lower.

This is not a partisan issue.  It’s a simple economic one.  Lower taxes motivates companies to make more money which leads to more capital investments, which means hiring more people, which means creating more consumers (not co-dependent borrowers!).  The market’s “invisible hand” will determine how much is made by controlling whether they price themselves out of the market or not.  The more money companies make the more taxes they collectively pay, and consumers pay lower competitive prices.  That’s spreading the wealth.

Frankly, neither main candidate offers the necessary, radically market-driven strategy that would really help.  And there are more important reasons to vote for any particular candidate. But don’t be duped by economic banalities.  If you vote, do so with eyes wide open and hands on your wallet.

Pastoral Accountability

Over the last couple of months at our church we’ve been examining the biblical, historical and practical defense for having a plurality of elders (pastors) in a local church.  Trusting God to convince and convict us rightly, we hope to commit ourselves to biblical church polity over the next year.

Among some of the practical benefits of a plurality of elders I submitted that it best provides accountability and support for the elders themselves.  Perhaps the following thoughts might benefit others seeking to lead their church in this same direction.  In what areas does a plurality of elders best provide accountability?

1.  Moral/Ethical Accountability.  Aside from the biblical evidence, the rash of moral failures among pastors should be enough to rethink our polity.  Too many sole pastors slip into grave moral sin without the church’s knowledge or accountability.  Even churches with multiple staff members seem to function as though the “senior pastor” is above scrutiny.

Most churches who suffer the moral failure of their pastors admit they never saw it coming.  It’s not because the pastor was all the sudden taken in, but that he hid the decaying process of sin behind fancy titles and cosmetic maturity.

I don’t suggest that a plurality of elders guarantees that no pastor will ever fall into grievous moral sin, but it does provide greater protection against it.  Having elders who are equal in authority and responsibility are more able to ask the hard questions, something church members rarely feel the freedom to do. In fact, most church members don’t even ask the hard questions of one another, much less their pastor!

For example, how do you know if your pastor is looking at pornography or not?  If your pastor is to have a good reputation with outsiders (1 Tim 3.7) then how do you know if he’s a good neighbor or not?  How do you know how well he treats his wife behind closed doors?  How do you know if greed has taken root in his heart or not?

I know from experience that pastors need no help to sin.  Having a plurality of elders helps the pastors from sin that severely damages Christ’s name and bride.  The elders are to reflect what they hope the church at large becomes: a community submitted to one another under the lordship of Christ.

2.  Ministerial Accountability.  Elders who rule well are those who work hard in the word and teaching (1 Tim 5.17).  Sole pastors and/or senior pastors with little accountability find it easy to be lazy in the word.  Believe me, I know the temptation of tailoring my study to the expectations of the congregation.  If they’re not expecting much, then I’ll meet those expectations every time.  “Google” some illustrations, lift a few quotes, alliterate a few lines and hit the golf course.  Two years later you’ve digressed in biblical passion and theological pursuit.

It’s extremely hard for sole pastors to challenge themselves to better scholarship and exegetical skills.  Who will care that I read a new treatment of the atonement?  What does it matter if I work out a view on divorce and remarriage?  Of what benefit is it that I understand how the Puritans viewed the end times?

How many congregants know what their pastor is reading?  Is he reading Cosmopolitan and Reader’s Digest or refreshing his Greek?  Is he learning anything new or still swimming in the same waters as he was three years ago?  If he is then it won’t be long before that end of the pool gets crowded and stagnant.

A plurality of elders helps keep the pastoral leadership sharp and disciplined.  The elders help one another clarify positions and sharpen their counsel.  Elders keep the shepherds constantly looking for new fields on which to feast.  Hopefully, the flock will grow hungry after eating all the grass.  Unless they’re led to a new pasture they’ll shrivel up and fall prey to hungrier wolves.  Elders keep each shepherd in robust shape and challenge one other toward greater ministry fitness.

3.  Spiritual/Devotional Accountability.  The pastor is also a church member and responsible for spiritual growth/maturity just like every other church member.  Yet, most sole pastors seem to exist in a paradoxical dimension where he leads a people of whom he’s not really a part.  Always the shepherd, never a sheep.

Alexander Strauch writes, “It was never our Lord’s will for the local church to be controlled by one individual.  The concept of the pastor as the lonely, trained professional – the sacred person over the church who can never really become part of the congregation – is utterly unscriptural” (Biblical Eldership, 43).

In my experience the sole pastor and/or senior pastor with little accountability never feels really a part of the church.  He rarely feels free to confess sin or ignorance.  He’s always “up there” leading the flock “down there.”  He dries up devotionally.  He resents the fact that he never gets to eat the meal he prepares.

A plurality of elders helps pastor the pastors.  They help and encourage devotional growth and practial gospel living.  Elders make sure the shepherds are taking time to eat themselves.  They help strengthen the pastors’ feeble knees and faint hearts.  The elders provide each other the encouragement that any believer needs to flourish in gospel progress.

What do I do if there’s little to no way my church will consider a plurality of elders?  I’m glad you asked because such is the case with most typical churches.  I answer that question from both sides of the desk.

If you are a pastor, but cannot see a move toward a plurality of elders in the near future then: (1) Invest in particular men in the church.  Don’t organize some huge, overblown men’s ministry event to encourage a faux accountability.  Just meet with men and develop a culture of brotherhood and mutual responsibility.  Model the kind of accountability you expect.  Ask men to stay on top of you.

(2) Be open about sin and struggles.  I speak hypocritically here, but I want to do better.  Let the air out of your own balloon and others will welcome you back to earth.  Ask certain men to pray for specific areas in your own life.

(3) As you gauge maturity among certain men then talk about ministry with them.  Get their input on church vision/direction or particular ministry ideas.  They’ll love it and the church will begin appreciating the benefit of having more than one guy calling the shots.  It might even sow the seeds for teaching on elders.

(Disclaimer:  The above will probably take years, not months.)

If you are a church member, but cannot see a move toward a plurality of elders in the near future then: (1) Challenge your pastor toward better scholarship.  Trust me, he’ll love it and will try to rope you into reading boring theology books with him.  Ask him what he’s reading lately.  Keep an eye out for new (solid) books on the market and ask if he’s read them.  You may even buy him an interesting book and ask him to review it for you.

(2) Feel free to pop in his study from time to time.  Don’t make it a regular habit to show up unannounced (he may have scheduled appointments), but every so often it helps to keep him in check.  He’ll think twice about putzing around on websites he shouldn’t knowing you may just stick your head in.

(3) Ask him specifics on what he’s preparing for sermons.  Ask him for ways you can prepare to hear them.  Make sure he’s working hard at preaching and teaching.

(4) Let him know you pray for him often.  Ask him how you can pray for him specifically.  He’ll dance around the issues for a while, but when he knows you’re sincere he’ll trust you with more.

(5) Bring real life issues to him for counsel.  Left to himself your pastor will hermetically seal himself in an ivory tower.  Chances are he sees little reason to challenge himself to clear biblical positions on practical, “street level” issues.  Bring him a newspaper article about stem cell research and ask him how the gospel speaks to it.  Ask him what you should tell your neighbor whose live-in boyfriend abuses her.  Make him apply the gospel for you he so easily preaches to you.

(Disclaimer: If he doesn’t like all this meddling then you have a far worse problem than whether your church has elders or not.  You may have a pastor who shouldn’t be.)

Much more important people have written much more important insights on all this.  I pray you’ll consider these thoughts and quickly move on to them.

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Tag In the Back

No earthly father loves like thee,
No mother half so mild
Bears and forbears, as thou hast done
With me, thy sinful child.
(Frederick Faber, 1848)

My soon-to-be three-year-old son is learning how to dress himself.  He’s doing so consistently well now with only an occasional “tag in the back” sermon.  I do confess, however, that I’ve been less than patient in this process (read: sinfully exasperating).

How many times do I have to lay out his shirt and shorts such that all he has to do is put his head or feet in them?  He doesn’t have to turn them right side-out, flip them around, or turn them over.  After ten minutes of demeaning exasperation I would huff and snort, stomp in his room, jerk away his twisted up shirt and lay it out again for the umpteenth time.  He knew he needed help but was scared to ask because of what I would say.  Eventually, and since there are only so many holes that his head fits, he would get it right and joyfully exclaim, “I did it, Dad! See, tag in the back!”

“Yeah, Son, but only after an unacceptable fit and unnecessary help. Next time figure it out.”  I know.  What a jerk.

Believe it or not, the worst thing about my attitude was not angry impatience, as bad as it was (or is!).  The worst thing is that my son didn’t get a clear picture of God and his gospel.  Perhaps that is because I’ve not contemplated enough how God really responds to those who can’t clothe themselves rightly.

I wonder if some of us view the cross as an expression of God’s frustration with us, rather than the expression of his love.  God gave us opportunity after opportunity, grace after grace, example after example.  He laid out his expectations as I laid out my son’s clothes.  All we had to do was obey what was right in front of us.

But we bungled it and made a mess of his law.  We turned it inside-out and upside-down.  And after generations of seeing us fumble through life, God rolled his eyes, huffed and stomped into history to do what we obviously couldn’t do ourselves.  Now we live under God’s constant scour, trying our damnedest to get it right so that we don’t suffer his scorn again.  We don’t want to hear God say again, “Figure it out, for crying out loud, I’ve done all I need to do for you!”  At least that’s what my son must think.

Dear friends, the cross was not God’s frustrating attempt to bail us out.  It was the highest expression of his love.  God didn’t resent saving us; he loved saving us! Why is that so hard for me to receive?

“For in this way [the true meaning of Gk. houtos] God loved the world: he gave the only begotten Son, in order that all those believing in him would not perish but would have eternal life” (Jn 3.16).  The motivation for giving Jesus up for merciless execution was his love for us, not his exasperation with us.

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15.13).

“God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5.8).

If there is no greater expression of love than laying one’s life down so that a friend can live (Jn 15.13),  and God demonstrated his love toward us by laying Christ’s life down for us (Rom 5.8), then God has my definition showered on us the universe’s greatest love.  “How great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God” (1 Jn 3.1a).

God didn’t stomp into history all red-faced with clinched jaw.  He came in meekness and humility, gladly sitting on the floor with those who’d gotten themselves all twisted up in sin.  He sympathized with our weaknesses (Heb 4.15) and loved clothing us rightly.  It was worth the last drop of Jesus’ blood to make sure we enjoy God’s eternal and eager help.  And Jesus made sure we will never fear asking for God’s help because God loves helping his dependent children (Jn 16.26-27; Heb 4.16).

I highly recommend the interview C.J. Mahaney recently conducted with Sinclair Ferguson.  I don’t remember exactly where in the interview, but at some point Ferguson said something that still makes me shiver.  He said (and I paraphrase) that in reading the NT we’re almost lead to believe that God loves the church more than Jesus.  Now he and we know that’s not quite true theologically, but that God crushed his Son and not us certainly leads us closer to the sort of love under which we live.  He’d rather give up his Son than give up his church!  How great a love, indeed.

I have a one-year-old daughter with a growing wardrobe.  I pray be more faithful when we lay out her clothes.  When she gets them all twisted up, I hope she’ll gladly ask my help.  And I pray I’ll gladly say, “Sweetie, I’m glad you asked my help. You recognize that you cannot do this yourself.  So you trust Daddy to help you get it right.  That’s the way God deals with his children, too.  Daddy needs help all the time, too.  And because of Jesus God is never again angry at his sinful children who trust him. He loves to help me so I love to help you.  So where’s that tag?”

Thank God for Potential Depression?

Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone.  Now, therefore, our God, we thank You, and praise Your glorious name. . . . For we are sojourners before You, and tenants, as all our fathers were; our days on earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope” (1 Chron 29.12-13, 15).

It’s been easy to join in the despair lately.  Fear mongering is a clever marketing tool so it’s hard to discern the truth about our economic future.  Whatever the case, it looks like we’ll be adjusting to lower standards of living, harder work and creative frugality.  My family for one could certainly stand to do so anyway.

As sons of Adam we all suffer from itchy pointer fingers and bloated egos.  You take the blame for failure as long as I take the credit (no pun intended) for success.  I deserve the favor you owe me, but I don’t owe what you favor.  I’m entitled to it, but you must earn it.

As sons of God we benefit from God’s “rescue package.”  He’s not dealt with the symptoms of a depressing economy, but it’s cause.  Our excessively addictive credit is merely our greed on layaway.    The dam of greed is bursting and our government can plug a few holes at best.  The plugs may hold for a time, but the floodwaters will inevitably crumble what we thought was eternally secure.  God is dismembering America’s Dagon.

But God has transformed the heart of his people so that greed no longer rules them.  We know that it’s God’s hand that makes great and strengthens, not some shady legislation.  We know that if we lose everything in this life we’ve lost nothing.  If we lose our shirts, then we give our shoes away, too.  We are sojourners and tenants.  Our earthly economy is a mirage, a shadow, a hopeless vapor.  God’s economy is never threatened by oil prices or foreign currencies.  A global economic initiative is useless.  We need the global gospel to kill greed in our hearts.

The Church is God’s favored nation who reflects hope and confidence in a future kingdom.  As the waves of despair lap further into our country, the Church must stand tall in faith.  She remains standing when all earthly empires fall.  She’s ready with the good news when all political rhetoric fails.  She has the answer when we run out of questions.  The Church has what everyone needs.  Will she be found faithful?

Will the Church realize that her attractiveness is not in technology and gadgetry?  Will she realize thatstarving souls don’t care what the bakery looks like as long as it has bread?  Will she realize that multi-million dollar digs do not impress the dying?  Will she realize that her good news is not casual atmospheres and flowing lattes, but that there is eternally-flowing life beyond this pathetic world?  Will she realize that the effective church is not where everyone looks like a Gap model, but where everyone wears towels around their waists?  Will she realize sharing the Light of the world is far more important than choreographing the lights on her stage?

Perhaps the American Church needs a good dose of depression to topple her idols and simplify her ministry.  I know I need a good dose of it in my heart and home.

Let’s Play Ten Questions

Don Whitney wrote a great book entitled Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health.  I’ve used it often devotionally and in small group settings.  In Practical Religion, J.C. Ryle had “ten questions” of his own over a century earlier than Whitney.  I thought I’d provide them here for contemplation.  In the first chapter, entitled “Self-Inquiry,” Ryle suggested these ten questions to examine the validity of one’s Christian faith.

(1) Do we ever think about our souls at all? It’s shocking how scarcely Christians talk about Christ and the blessing of serving him.  Ryle wrote, “They simply never think about God, unless frightened for a few minutes by sickness, death in their families, or an accident.  Barring such interruptions, they appear to ignore religion altogether, and hold on their way cool and undisturbed, as if there were nothing worth thinking of except this world.”

(2) Do we ever do anything about our souls? In other words, are we consistently seeking to improve our souls by God’s means of grace?  Ryle wrote, “They are always meaning, and intending, and purposing, and resolving, and wishing, and telling us they ‘know’ what is right, and ‘hope’ to be found right at last, but they never attain to any action” [emphasis his].

(3) Are we trying to satisfy our consciences with a mere formal religion? How easy this is in America, where we aspire to a civil religion that adheres simultaneously to every god and no god.  Ryle wrote, “Means of grace and forms of religion are useful in their way, and God seldom does anything for His church without them.  But let us beware of making shipwreck on the very lighthouse which helps to show the channel into the harbour.”

(4) Have we received the forgiveness of our sins? Our greatest need is not therapy for our “issues,” but forgiveness from our sins.  Our greatest enemy is not abuse from an absent father or wicked mother.  Our greatest enemy is God who, if not reconciled with us, will pour out eternal wrath on sinners like us.  Ryle wrote, “In short, all of us must confess that we are more or less ‘sinners,’ and, as sinners, are guilty before God; and, as guilty, we must be forgiven, or lost and condemned for ever at the last day.”

(5) Do we know anything by experience of conversion to God? No one merges into Christian traffic unnoticed.  We must be converted from darkness to light, from sinner to saint, from death to life.  Ryle wrote, “Call it what you please–new birth, regeneration, renewal, new creation, quickening, repentance–the thing must be had if we are to be saved: and if we have the thing it will be seen.”

(6) Do we know anything of practical Christian holiness? Read Ephesians 4.25-32.  Has the liar become truthful? Has the angry man become a lover? Has the thief become generous? Does the salty talker now season his words with grace? Has the embittered become kind and tender-hearted? Has the vengeful become a forgiver?  Ryle wrote, “Genuine Scriptural holiness will make a man do his duty at home and by the fireside, and adorn his doctrine in the little trials of daily life.  It will exhibit itself in passive graces as well as in active.  It will make a man humble, kind, gentle, unselfish, good-tempered, considerate for others, loving, meek, and forgiving.”

(7) Do we know anything of enjoying the means of grace–the reading of the Bible, private prayer, public worship, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and the rest of the Lord’s day? How can we wonder about God’s inactivity in our souls when we’ve not availed ourselves of these graces?  Ryle wrote, “Tell me what a man does in the matter of Bible-reading and praying, in the matter of Sunday, public worship, and the Lord’s Supper, and I will soon tell you what he is, and on which road he is travelling.”

(8) Do we ever try to do any good in the world? Or is that the government’s job?  Ryle wrote, “A Christian who was content to go to heaven himself, and cared not what became of others, whether they lived happy and died in peace or not, would have been regarded as a kind of monster in primitive times, who had not the Spirit of Christ.”

(9) Do we know anything of living the life of habitual communion with Christ? It seems most professing Christians know little about the abundant life of abiding in Christ.  Ryle wrote, “Partly from ignorance, partly from laziness, partly from fear of man, partly from secret love of the world, partly from some unmortified besetting sin, they are content with a little faith, and a little hope, and a little peace, and a little measure of holiness.  And they live on all their lives in this condition–doubting, weak, halting, and bearing fruit only ‘thirty-fold’ to the very end of their days!”

(10) Do we know anything of being ready for Christ’s second coming? Oh, how we demand God provide now what he only provides in the next life!  Perhaps Christ’s second coming is seen as an intrusion on our ambitions and aspirations.  We might long for Christ’s return so that we can have our new body or so our enemies will finally get what they’ve got coming.  But that’s not what makes Christ’s appearing glorious.  We long for it because we can’t wait to be with the One who loved to make us children of God.  Ryle wrote, “Readiness for that appearing is nothing more than being a real, consistent Christian.”

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For wisdom is protection just as money is protection, but the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the lives of its possessors.  Consider the work of God, for who is able to straighten what He has bent?  In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other so that man will not discover anything that will be after him (Eccl 7.12-14).

Solomon certainly didn’t know anything about Lehman Brothers, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or Bear Stearns.  But he did know something about economics and God’s sovereignty over it.  These modern banks, brokerage houses and mortgage lenders are merely modern vehicles of ancient greed.  Therefore, Solomon’s wisdom is as relevant on Wall Street today as it was on the King’s Highway then.

The “preacher” (see Eccl 1.1) understood that wisdom and money both provide a sort of protection.  However, only wisdom provides true protection.  Only wisdom (knowledge) preserves the life of those who have it.  Of course, “life” cannot mean biological existence, but is the stuff of life: God-wrought happiness, joy, contentment. Lehman Brothers can go bankrupt, the dollar can shrivel up, interest rates can plummet, and those with godly wisdom remain “lively.”

But those who consider money as the ultimate protection against unhappiness suddenly find themselves fearful and paranoid.  Their life is being drained away and their hope spirals down with the market.  Savings accounts, 401(k)s, IRAs, stock options and pensions are powerless to preserve their life.

So why has Lehman Brothers failed after 158 years of business?  Why does AIG need an $85 billion handout after 83 years of business?  Solomon would tell us to “Consider the work of God.”  While pundits offer their plethora of reasons for the crumbling of our economic pillars, we need only consult Scripture.  God made them succeed and has now seen to their demise.

Why? So that man will not be so arrogant to think anything or anyone but Him controls the fates of men.  He is the eternal One and can wipe away 158 years of hard-earned money with the stroke of a pen.  Every empire and kingdom has fallen in all of history.  Every economy has failed.  But like those in Babel (Gen 11.1-9) or Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 4.30), we think we’ve created the system that is invincible.  And like those in Babel and Nebuchadnezzar we are finding God pull the Persian rug out from our bronze feet.

The apostle Peter wised up after his fireside debacle.  He learned that there is only one invincible kingdom and money is no good there:  Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about his calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you (2 Pt 1.11).  I’d say that’s a great rate of return.