Love Grown Cold

The Death of Romance
Some time ago a young lady from North Korea made her escape from that tyrannical regime. I recently watched her on Youtube talking about the oppressive conditions under which she was raised. The most intriguing thing she said was that never once in all her life had she ever heard a love story. That more than anything else showed how inhumane North Korean society really is. It is a society devoid of  natural affections.

Romance is definitely on the wane in our society too. It is difficult to find romantic movies such as “Youv’e Got Mail,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “While You Were Sleeping,” and “Princess Bride” anymore. Dark themes like crime and terror and apocalypse dominate the contemporary film industry. Many of the actors and actresses who starred in the more wholesome movies of years past cannot even get a role today.

Alienation of the Sexes
The latest trend arising from the movie industry is the “Me Too” Movement. It was spawned by multiple sexual allegations against one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. In the wake of this scandal, charges of sexual misconduct against other powerful and influential men have become widespread. This movement has begun to generate a basic distrust between men and women. Women suspect the motives of men with ability to influence their careers and men have become wary of women whose allure may hide ulterior motives.

It seems that the path of sexual liberation has led us all the way from the free love of the sixties to the beginnings of a collapse of the natural affections between the sexes in the 21st century.

Increase in Lawlessness
I was born in 1951. In my lifetime I have seen the beginning of the sexual revolution, the legalization of abortion, and the rise of the LGBT Movement. Pedophilia has become widespread, even among churches and mission societies. My own son was a victim of a missionary pedophile.

The Bible describes our times this way, “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.” (Mt 24:12).

Stagnating Populations
This trend has potentially dire consequences for the future of society. According to Forbes Magazine, “In 1995 only one country, Italy, had more people over 65 than under 15; today there are 30 and by 2020 that number will hit 35. Demographers estimate that global population growth will end this century.”1 Every married couple has to have at least 2.1 children on average to maintain a stable population. Germany has only 1.4. The rest of the European Union is following suit. America is barely maintaining its own.

This problem is exacerbated by the collapse of marriage. For thousands of years marriage was restricted to the biological family – one man and one woman with their natural offspring. But in recent years the definition of marriage has been widened to include homosexual and transgendered couples, people who cannot naturally produce a child on their own. These couples are depleting the pool of productive parents and adopting other people’s children to create their own ‘families.’ This trend only contributes to population stagnation.

A Worsening Trend
Just last week, the state of Alabama voted to completely do away with marriage licenses and marriage ceremonies rather than continue to fight an ever losing battle against homosexual marriage. Now to be officially recognized as a married couple in that state, all that is needed is a form signed before a probate judge. This will open the door to all kinds of marriage arrangements.

For instance, most people still oppose polygamy, incest, bestiality, and pedophilia, but there is now nothing to stop marriages based on these kinds of relationships (at least in Alabama). The result will be the normalization of such sexual perversion as we have never seen before. Families who want to preserve traditional values will come under increasing pressure to recognize and accommodate the sexual perversions officially recognized by their governments.  Children will be exposed to all manner of sexually deviant behavior in the media and in their school curricula. Resentment will grow among their parents. In fact, these trends have already been in place for years and tensions are growing. Even greater social unrest will be the inevitable outcome.

Final Judgment
Jesus said, From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near.  So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates.” Immorality is increasing at an ever accelerating pace in our day. The Bible says that God will not tolerate evil forever. One day Christ will return to earth to judge sin and restore righteousness. One day we will all give an account to God for the lives we have lived here on earth. On that day the Bible says the Lord Jesus will be, “revealed from heaven with his mighty angels  in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” (2 Thess 1:7-9) Do you know God? Do you obey the gospel of Jesus Christ? If not, now would be a good time to start.  

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What to Trust – The Bible or Science?

Are Science and Faith Really Incompatible?
In 2002 the Council for Secular Humanism produced a manifesto that declared, in part, “”We deplore supernatural terms to explain the universe.”1 They maintained that the realms of science and faith are mutually exclusive and that no physical phenomena can be explained by the activity of a Creator God.

According to this belief, the universe is the product of random chance, — a great cosmic accident. Such a universe would be completely unpredictable. Yet scientists’ observations of the universe depend on a very high degree of predictability.

For instance, we could not launch a satellite into space with any expectation of success if it weren’t for the laws of physics. If it weren’t for math, we could not build highways or erect buildings or manufacture trains, planes, or automobiles.  Musicians couldn’t produce any great musical masterpieces. Modern communications and entertainment and navigation and everything else that depends on computers would be impossible.

So what these people are saying, in effect, is that a universe filled with order and symmetry and a great degree of complexity and interdependence occurred by mindless chance.

A Creation Filled With Purpose
But the Bible says the universe was Created by God with a very specific purpose in mind. It was to show Himself to mankind in all His limitless perfections and to reveal man’s duty toward Him as  his Creator and the source of every good gift. Psalm 19 says:

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.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.” (Ps 19:1-4)

The entire universe is a silent witness to the creative work of an all-wise, all-powerful  God. The Apostle Paul reiterates this thought when writing to the Romans in the New Testament, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Rm 1:19-20)

The Supremacy of Revelation Over Discovery
The Bible  tells us many things about nature that science has not been able to explain. One of the most interesting things was revealed over 4000 years ago but was unknown to scientists until only very recently. It has to do with one of the ancient patriarchs of the Jewish people named Jacob and his uncle Laban. Both were shepherds.

Jacob had agreed to work seven years for Laban in exchange for his younger daughter’s hand in marriage. But Laban tricked him by secretly substituting his elder daughter on Jacob’s wedding night and then requiring another seven years of labor for the privilege of marrying his younger daughter. Not only did Laban cheat Jacob in this regard, but he also kept changing the terms of his employment to his own advantage, despite the fact that Laban’s flocks had multiplied greatly under Jacob’s management. So Jacob devised a  plan to get the upper hand. He convinced his uncle to keep the best of the flock while he  would take only those sheep that were discolored.  Laban agreed, but then once again deceived Jacob by separating out the speckled sheep before Jacob could claim them.

 The book of Genesis describes how Jacob got even:

 “Then Jacob took fresh sticks of poplar and almond and plane trees, and peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the sticks.  He set the sticks that he had peeled in front of the flocks in the troughs, that is, the watering places, where the flocks came to drink. And since they bred when they came to drink,  the flocks bred in front of the sticks and so the flocks brought forth striped, speckled, and spotted.  And Jacob separated the lambs and set the faces of the flocks toward the striped and all the black in the flock of Laban. He put his own droves apart and did not put them with Laban’s flock.” (Genesis 30: 37-40 ESV)

This episode sounded foreign to our modern ears until just a few years ago when scientists discovered the phenomenon of “epigenetics.”  It was first observed back in 1944 when the Nazis cut off the food supply to the Netherlands. As a result of starvation, many babies were born with health problems like diabetes and heart disease. The odd thing was that these children passed the same characteristics on to their own children a generation later, despite the fact that they weren’t malnourished. Somehow these traits had become imprinted on their DNA.

Not until 2008 did molecular geneticists figure how such alien characteristics could be passed from one generation to the next. Apparently, starvation released certain chemicals that turn portions of the DNA on or off, causing permanent genetic changes that could be inherited. These chemicals are the free amino acids methionine and choline.

To test this hypothesis, scientists experimented with a certain breed of mouse. They discovered that these chemicals caused the fur of their offspring to appear speckled. The same effect could be observed in other animals with similar fur. Interestingly, these chemicals grow under the bark of poplar, almond, and plane trees, the very same trees from which Jacob took the branches that he peeled and put into the watering troughs.2 So either Jacob had somehow stumbled upon this phenomenon on his own, an unlikely prospect, or God had revealed it to him in some way.

Some So-Called Bible Myths
Before the discovery of epigenetics, many people discounted this Bible story as a myth just like the accounts of people living nearly 1000 years before a flood destroyed the entire earth. But there again a scientist who re-created conditions based on the biblical account of the pre-flood world was able to grow cotton plants that were 2 to 3.5 times larger than normal plants after just 35 days of growth. His model was based on the Hebrew description of creation in the Old Testament. Computer modeling suggested that the “waters above the earth” described in Genesis1:6-8 were actually  encapsulated by an ultra-thin crystalline film that was supported and sustained by the earth’s magnetic field. This film would not only have filtered out harmful radiation, but increased atmospheric pressure and CO2 to optimum levels that would have yielded much longer lifespans and enormous growth. The higher pressure would also have yielded optimal saturation rates of oxygen in the blood, promoting total retention of fetal brain cells and greatly enhancing intelligence. It also would have produced a magenta hue in the sky and an electromagnetic field that further enhanced growth.  This thin layer would have acted as a prism that revealed the full spectrum of starlight, causing a panoply of color at night and acting as a radio transmitter that picked up sound waves emitted by stars. This ‘star music’ would explain the Bible passage in Job that says:

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
when the morning stars sang together
    and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4,7)1

Given these near optimum conditions for life on earth, human beings would have lived longer, and been much stronger and more intelligent. This likely explains the very advanced level of knowledge of ancient peoples that modern science has attributed to alien visits from outer space.

A Different World
Clearly the world as God first created it must have been dramatically different from the one we live in today. According to the book of Genesis, that world was drastically altered by a global flood. Creationists tell us that the waters that “burst forth” from beneath the earth to precipitate that flood as described in Genesis 7:11 would have been under so much pressure that they would have created geysers that were 10 to 70 miles high.3 These geysers would have destroyed the film that encapsulated the earth, causing torrential downpours. The water that poured down upon the earth would have been subject to enormous lunar tides occurring twice daily,  piling up the huge sedimentary layers that now cover the globe and contain fossils of all the creatures destroyed by the deluge. Thermonuclear radiation created by super heated underground water would have melted the earth’s crust in some places while cracking it in others, creating the great Tectonic plates that cause today’s earthquakes. The result would have been the formation of giant mountain ranges and deep ocean basins that ultimately absorbed the water that had inundated the globe. Scientists tell us that there is enough water in the oceans to cover a flat world such as the pre-flood world to a depth of over 1.5 miles.

False Assumptions Lead to Wrong Conclusions
Scientists base all of their conclusions about origins on the assumption that the world they observe today has been undergoing slow but uniform change since the very beginning. They do not factor in the cataclysmic effects of a world wide flood. If they did, their conclusions about origins would be very different. This view of science is called uniformitarianism and it is described this way in the Bible, “scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “…ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation. For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished” (2 Peter 3:5-6).

Today we are faced with a constant barrage of contradictory information presented as scientific fact by evolutionists and their allies in the media and academia. To hold a different point of view can be very intimidating. Yet actual scientific findings continue to corroborate the Bible. Scientists’ try to explain away the inconsistencies in their theories rather than acknowledge the obvious truth of the Bible. We must always be aware that there are things God knows that scientists have yet to discover or may never know.

 

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Millennials – A Lost Generation

The Greatest Generation
Tom Brokaw, host of NBC Nightly News for many years, wrote a book extolling the virtues of the generation of Americans who survived the Great Depression and went on to fight in World War II. The Book, “The Greatest Generation” went on to become a best seller. It describes the selfless sacrifices of a generation of Americans who arguably suffered the greatest hardships of any generation of Americans and  went on to build America into the global power that it has become today.

Most of these great Americans have passed away, but there are a few who are still living. Some of them reside in the retirement community where I live. These are some of the most gracious people I have ever known. They all fly American flags outside their homes. They are unassuming, generous, and hospitable. They raised the Baby Boomer generation who benefited greatly from all the sacrifices they made.

The Me Generation
The Baby Boomer generation, unlike their parents, never had to experience the same kind of hardship, deprivation and daily struggle to survive. Not only did they live in a time of comparative peace and prosperity, but advances in modern medicine eradicated a host of infectious diseases. During their years, fast food became ubiquitous. Shopping centers sprang up across the country. Vast distribution networks made fresh fruits, vegetables and even seafood available from coast to coast year round. Radio gave way to TV and commercials began to raise peoples’ expectations with a deluge of enticing ads. This generation has come to be known as the “Me Generation.”

Having been exposed to a constant barrage of marketing year after year, Baby Boomers were not content to sacrifice and save up for major purchases like their parents did. The arrival of the credit card resolved that issue. Before the credit card, stores had what were called ‘lay away’ plans. If you didn’t have the money to pay for the item you wanted, you could save up and they would hold it until you had made payment in full. Credit cards, on the other hand, could be used to make purchases for just about anything without having to wait.

With more purchasing power than their parents’ ever knew, young Baby Boomers soon began to acquire things their parents never had. My folks did not buy a new car the entire time we were growing up. When I first got married, my new wife and I went out and bought one immediately (to my parents’ consternation).

By now America was a dominant superpower that faced no imminent threat.  So there was nothing that made it necessary for people to unite for the common defense. The universal draft was eliminated. People were free to pursue their own desires without having to think about the common defense or the needs of anyone else.

The Millennials
Having experienced an ever rising standard of living throughout their childhood years, Baby Boomers expected the same for their children. They indulged them in ways previous generations never could. On the contrary, the greatest generation needed the children’s contributions for the family to thrive. But Baby Boomers’ children grew up in cities and suburbs surrounded by comfort and convenience. And for the first time, children became a liability rather than an asset as parents provided every opportunity for them get ahead, spending hours chauffeuring them from one activity to another.

The parents of the Baby Boomers considered hardships and hazards an inevitable part of life. Their children never had bike helmets or car seats.  Most of them earned their own spending money. Many paid their own way through college. By the time the Millennial Generation rolled around, parents saw their role as protecting children from the hard parts of life. They paid for their children’s college, weddings, and maybe even grad school, a car, or a first home.

What were considered privileges for the Baby Boomer generation  soon became entitlements for their children.  This group of young people had never experienced any significant deprivation. Most had never missed a meal and had the luxury of being picky about what they ate. Many became obese from overeating or eating too much fast food. Most of them had never even been been exposed to measles or mumps as a child. Most had never met a  person crippled by polio. Many had never been told “No” by a parent or been corrected for misbehaving. Many parents tried to use reason to coax good behavior, allowing little ones to tie them into knots with their objections and frustrate them with public temper tantrums. Many parents even let little ones participate in family decision making, even though they did not have the maturity to make wise choices.

Cultural Complicity
Most Millennials were raised in the public schools by teachers who carefully protected their fragile sense of self esteem from any kind of negative feedback.

Other adults didn’t help either, encouraging over-familiarity by insisting that young people call them by their first name. Nor would they ever scold or reprimand other children for misbehavior lest they risk the wrath of an over-protective parent.

Now these Millennials have become young adults and Baby Boomers are reaping the consequences of their over-indulgence. They are discovering that their obsession with self esteem has led to a generation of young adults who will not tolerate disagreement. When they are offended, which doesn’t take much, they take to the streets in protest. They destroy property, slander their opponents on social media, and demand safe spaces where they don’t have to listen to contrary points of view.

Baby Boomers failure to demand a modicum of respect from their children has bred contempt for past generations as well, as shown by their zeal for  destroying monuments to national heroes whose politics or lifestyles they disapprove of. Many have completely rejected the values upon which our nation was built as indicated by a recent poll that shows almost half of millennials would rather live in a socialist society.

Insufferable Arrogance
Despite their contempt for capitalism, these same children expect their purchases to be delivered to their homes, and their meals to be prepared hot and ready to eat by their favorite take-out spot or grocery store. Many cannot cook and wouldn’t consider doing so even if they could. They have lost the the social graces that typified previous generations – hospitality, generosity and thankfulness. If they don’t like their in-laws, and many don’t, they cut them off and don’t let them ever visit their grand children. If a parent has the audacity to stand up to them, they may take them to court in an attempt to silence them.

They are also filled with a sense of insufferable arrogance. This is especially evident in the names they choose for their own children, names like “Valour,”  “Justice,” and “Honor,” and “Destiny”. Naming children in honor of a family patriarch is no longer fashionable. Every name has to be unique and make a statement. A friend recently overheard one delivery nurse say to another, “Doesn’t anyone ever just name their child “Jim”” anymore?

An Irreversible Trend
The Bible describes people in the last days like this, “But understand this, that in the last days… people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,  heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,” (2 Tim 3:1-4). This is an apt description of Millennials. It is a generation that has been given more than any previous generation and appreciates it less. It is dedicated first and foremost to self-gratification. It looks down upon its elders and their values.

Perhaps the Baby Boomer generation may one day realize that protecting their children from the hardships of life may also have prevented them from developing such character strengths as kindness, sympathy, compassion, generosity and the other graces that the greatest generation had in such abundant supply. Unfortunately, it is too late to reverse the trend now.

 

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Genuine Faith

 The Importance of Sound Theology
2 Timothy 2:15
says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” Believers interpret the Bible in many different ways. But God is a god of order and intended it to be understood in one way only. That became abundantly clear to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus who encountered Jesus shortly after His resurrection. Like most of the rest of Jesus followers in those days, they had an incorrect understanding of scripture. They thought the Messiah would be a powerful political leader who would come to set his people free from the tyranny of Rome and establish His own kingdom in its place. But Jesus had to take them back through the entire Old Testament to show them how they had misinterpreted God’s Word.

There are many different interpretations of end time events, for example. Some people say the Tribulation occurred in AD 70 when the Romans destroyed the Jewish Temple and the city of Jerusalem. Jesus said this particular event would indeed take place before His own generation would pass away. But He also made some other predictions about war and natural disasters and the gospel being preached over the entire world that have not yet been fulfilled 2000 years later. Jesus Himself warned in several parables that His own return would be delayed for a very long time. So, just like parts of divine revelation were shrouded in mystery in Jesus’ day, so that part of God’s plan that has not yet been fulfilled is still a mystery today. The one thing we do know for sure is that we are to be prepared for Christ to return at any moment.

That is why it is so important to have a sound theology when interpreting the Bible. I believe that theology is Reformed Theology. That was the understanding of the apostles, early church fathers, and sixteenth century Reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin. Let me briefly summarize Reformed Theology for you. This material is covered in an informal way in the book entitled An Unexpected Journey by Robert Godfrey, which I would highly recommend, if you have not read it yet. It is not a technical book, but a narrative account of the author’s own encounter with the Christian Reformed Church in his own home town as a youth and how it affected his outlook on the gospel, worship, and the life of the church.

Of course what I am about to offer is an oversimplification, but the basic tenet of Reformed Theology is that we contribute absolutely nothing to our own salvation. It is entirely the work of a sovereign God who sets His love upon us while we are still spiritually dead and unable to do anything to effect our own salvation. He gives us spiritual life through His Holy Spirit, enabling us to repent of our sins and come to Him in faith. But even that act of faith is a gift from God, not a product of our own choice as most professing Christians believe.(Eph 2:8b) He then removes our sins, putting them on Christ,  and clothes us with Christ’s own righteousness instead. He does this by uniting us with Christ in His death and resurrection through the Holy Spirit when we repent of our sins. If we are truly born again, we are also united with Christ in His sufferings. So although we share in all the eternal blessings in Christ such as justification, sanctification, adoption, and a sinless resurrection body, we also share in Christ’s sufferings on this earth if we genuinely belong to Him.

Being One With Christ
The fact that we are one with Christ means that we have new life in Christ through the Holy Spirit who indwells us and gives us the power to glorify God by manifesting such fruit of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, meekness, faithfulness and self-control. These are all evidences of genuine conversion and without them there is no real faith. That is why it is not inappropriate to assume that apart from a changed life, there is no real conversion. This is the difference between what most professing Christians believe and what genuine Christians believe. Most Christians have been taught that becoming a believer is simply a matter of “accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” But they often do this through a simple four step prayer, not by committing their lives to the Lordship of Christ through faithful obedience to the Word of God. In fact, there is no simple formula for belief anywhere in the Bible. Salvation always comes through the preaching of the word of  God. But for many modern day church goers, the four step plan of salvation has supplanted genuine faith in Christ characterized by a life of faithful obedience to the word of God.

Being Humble
Since everything we receive including even the faith that we exercise when we come to Christ are all gifts from God, there is absolutely no room for pride in the Christian life. In fact, pride is the one sin God hates more than any other, and for good reason. After all, only He knows the depth of our depravity and the priceless cost of our redemption through the blood of His own Son. So for us to presume we can merit His approval when He has paid so dearly to redeem us is absolutely abhorrent to Him. That is why Jesus rejected the righteousness of the Pharisees and commended the faith of the Publican who beat on his chest saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” (Lk 18:13) It is also why He blessed the poor in spirit (humble) (Mt 5:3) and those who mourn (express heartfelt sorrow for their sin) (Mt 5:4). It is also the reason why David said, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Ps 51:17).

Being Twice Born
Just the idea that my salvation was God’s choice and not my own has transformed my relationship with Christ. It brings tremendous humility to know that in my natural state I am totally depraved and unable to do anything to win God’s favor. The idea that He reached out to me on His own initiative when I was dead in my sins, unresponsive to Him and incapable of even exercising faith on my own behalf and gave me new life makes me forever grateful for His mercy and love. You see, I was hopelessly lost without Him!! Every prayer I pray now begins with thanks for His great salvation. It also makes me realize that many people who profess faith in Christ and attend church regularly have never really been born again because they think they chose Christ by “accepting Him as their Savior,” when in fact they never even felt a shred of remorse for their sins. Remorse and repentance are two elements of genuine conversion that are found in every gospel account of salvation. Yet these same people typically go to church but have no interest in following Christ when it means giving up something precious to them.

Hallmarks of Genuine Faith
I would say the hallmarks of a genuine faith are strict adherence to the Word of God in practice, prayer, praise, and worship, and spending time in close fellowship with other believers. These are the features of the Reformed faith that characterize the worship of our own church, Bethel Presbyterian Church in Wheaton, IL. I would encourage you to listen to one of the sermons by our pastor, Craig Troxel at bethelopc.org/ministries.  Then consider visiting a reformed church in your area or our church if you live in the Chicago area. We would welcome you with open arms.

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Don’t Get Too Comfortable

As I write this, Hurricane Harvey has just dumped more rainfall on Houston, Texas than any other storm in history – over 52″. That represents over a trillion gallons of water — enough to supply Niagra Falls for eleven days.

Increase in Natural Disasters
In the 49 years from 1935 to 1983 there were 11 hurricanes that killed 2,279 people and caused $9 billion in damages. In the seventeen years from 1992 to 2008 there were another eleven hurricanes that killed 6,808 people and caused $918.7 billion in damages. In other words, there were as many hurricanes in the seventeen years from 1992 to 2008 as there were in the 49 years from 1935 to 1983. These hurricanes killed three times as many people and caused ten times as much damage. Admittedly, some of the increase can be attributed to increased population and economic development, but there is no doubt that in recent years there has been a remarkable increase in the number of natural disasters and the amount of damage they have done. (1)

Increase in Moral Depravity
At the same time there has been a marked rise in moral depravity in America. At the time our nation was founded, all thirteen colonies had anti-sodomy laws. Benjamin Franklin described the young nation this way, “Atheism is unknown there, infidelity rare and secret; so that persons may live to a great age in that country without having their piety shocked by meeting with either an atheist or an infidel.” (2) What Franklin means by ‘infidel’ is an unbeliever. ‘Infidelity’ means unbelief. Imagine living a lifetime without ever meeting an unbeliever or an atheist! Today unbelievers control academia, the media, and the arts, and atheists run the science departments of our universities. Christians, on the other hand, have become an increasingly small and marginalized minority.

Back in the 1960s when I was a youth, all my friends came from two parent families. Then came the sexual revolution and free love. The divorce rate soared. Then the feminist movement liberated women from traditional female roles. Abortions became commonplace.  As homes broke apart, crime rates rose.  Then came the gay rights movement and gay marriage.  Gay adoption forever changed the American family. With the advance of medical technology came the ability to surgically change sex and the transgender movement. Gender dysphoria followed and, with the stroke of a President’s pen, men gained free access to women’s bathrooms. It took society a number of years to become conditioned to most of these changes, but the push to allow men into women’s bathrooms took place in just one day.

Things have become so confused now that there is a special term for people who accept their own biological sex—’cisgender.’ Abnormal has become the new normal. Immorality has become the new morality. One California elementary school even punished a kindergarten girl for not using the appropriate pronoun for her mis-gendered classmate.

The Reprobate Mind
Here is how the Bible describes this condition, “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” (Rom 1:26-28). When the Bible says that God  gives a people up, it means that he consigns them to judgement. Theologians call this condition the ‘reprobate mind.’ It is a mind that set on defiance of God. Romans goes on to characterize this mindset, “They are filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” (Rom 1:29-31). There is no more possibility of redemption for the reprobate because they have finally rejected the truth. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom 1:18).

The generation that was swept away by the flood was a reprobate generation. Listen to how God describes them, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen 6:5) God determined that he would allow this generation only 120 years before wiping it out, “Then the Lord said, My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” (Gen 6:3).

The ancient city of Sodom was also reprobate. It was known for its homosexuality. In fact sodomy, the term that describes the homosexual act, comes from the name of that city. God promised Abraham He would spare the city for the sake of just ten righteous men, but He couldn’t even find that many. So He sent His angels to destroy it. Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven. And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.” (Gen 19:24-25). Today this area is covered by the dead sea. Its water is so briny that nothing can grow in the surrounding soil.

America is now exhibiting all the signs of a reprobate nation. We have spurned the truth. The LGBT movement went mainstream long ago. The gay lifestyle is celebrated in gay pride parades. Lies and distortion fill our media. Some of our heads of government are guilty of sexual harassment, rape, and pedophilia. One of them heaped praise on the prophet Mohamed and the “Holy Koran” but called Jesus a cynic. Our justice system punishes good and rewards evil. Take for example the case of Daniel Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress. He outed Planned Parenthood for trafficking in aborted baby parts.  But the courts did not go after Planned Parenthood. They prosecuted Daleiden instead!

Two Reactions to Harvey
People responded to Hurricane Harvey in two ways. One young woman said, “If this doesn’t humble you, nothing will.” President Trump said, “The people of Houston are tough and they will rebuild bigger and better.” The first response shows a sense of fear and awe for the God who controls the power and fury of nature.  Psalms 29:3-4 says, “The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The second response shows an unwarranted sense of bravado, for man cannot harness the power of a hurricane. Scientists tell us that the power of a category 4 hurricane is five times the total annual energy output of the entire world! Hurricane Harvey destroyed millions of man-hours of labor in a matter of just a few days. The cost to repair the damage is conservatively estimated at over $100 billion dollars. Just five years ago Hurricane Sandy caused another $50 billion in damage. Twelve years ago Hurricane Katrina caused $175 billion. That is a total of $325 billion dollars of damage over just twelve years, a cost of $1000 to every man, woman and child in America. And there will undoubtedly be other devastating hurricanes to follow. Man may try to rebuild bigger and better, but the forces of nature cannot be tamed.

Birth Pangs
Jesus warned His disciples that the last days before His return to earth would be filled with natural disasters, war and famines, “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (Mt 24:7). This list does not include hurricanes, but it is not a comprehensive list. Just like a woman’s birth pains increase in frequency as the moment of birth draws near, so these disasters will multiply in a cascading effect as the day of Christ’s return approaches.

Isaiah describes the coming judgment this way, “The earth is utterly broken, the earth is split apart, the earth is violently shaken. The earth staggers like a drunken man; it sways like a hut; its transgression lies heavy upon it, and it falls, and will not rise again” (Is 224:19-20). The destruction wrought by Hurricane Harvey will pale in comparison to the devastation that is yet to come. The book of Revelation says that Babylon the Great, a metaphor for this world system, will be wiped out in just one hour, “Alas, alas, for the great city that was clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste” (Rev 18:10).  All of man’s efforts will ultimately end in futility.

Take Heart
We live in troubled times. For those without Christ, things will only get much worse. But to the believer Jesus says, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Lk 21:28). We can take great encouragement from the fact that these things were predicted long ago. We know what the final outcome will be. Christ will return to establish his kingdom on earth, a kingdom that will never perish.

As for those of you who have not yet repented of your sins and believed in Christ, don’t get too comfortable. The present storm may have passed but there are many more to come. Now is the time to set your sights on heaven before things start getting a lot worse here on earth.

 

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Worship That Pleases God

Recently we learned that the pastor of the church we used to attend was forced to resign over a personal indiscretion. The church hired this man years ago despite concerns that his preaching was very weak. In fact, several people felt so strongly about his lack of preaching skills that they left the church when he was hired.

For years he was able to manage the situation by relying heavily on the help of his wife, a much better Bible expositor. However, she came down with cancer and after years of chemotherapy, finally passed away. When left to his own resources, this pastor outsourced his preaching and teaching responsibilities. As a result, teaching and preaching became a sort of free-for-all as people with varying degrees of Bible knowledge and a variety of theological positions took to the pulpit to expound their views.

None of this bothered the leaders or membership enough to call for change until the pastor secretly married a woman with five illegitimate children. Only then did the elders call for the man to give an account of his actions. It was at that point that he chose to resign.

When Preaching Isn’t Paramount
This is an example of what happens when the faithful preaching of God’s word is not made the centerpiece of worship. It is through preaching that believers are sanctified as they study the word together under the direction of a man who has given himself diligently to the study of God’s Word (2 Tim 2:15). As people learn more about Christ, they become more Christ-like in their character and their love for one another grows (Rom 8:29). Because preaching was neglected in this church, there were divisions. Because it is a church of Chinese immigrants, there are people from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China. They get along if they don’t talk politics. But let someone suggest that Taiwan is not a part of mainland China and the mainland Chinese will say, “We could snuff you out in an instant.” Such attitudes show how the lack of sound preaching can inhibit growth in grace.

People will not abide sound doctrine if they don’t hear the word of God preached on a regular basis. The interim pastor of the the other congregation that comprises this church was a very good reformed preacher who spent long hours in sermon preparation. But most of the congregation, including the leadership, had never even heard of reformed theology. Only a few members of the congregation embraced his teaching. The others were adamantly opposed to it. When his period of service was up,  his small group of followers moved to a nearby Orthodox Presbyterian Church where they were able to continue to receive sound biblical preaching and teaching, even though it was in English. For them the doctrine was more important than the language, culture and friendships.

The Fad Driven Church
Much of the evangelical church has abandoned orthodox biblical preaching in favor of modern marketing methods. In an article titled “Expository Preaching—–The Antidote to Anemic Worship,” Albert Mohler says, “Pastors these days are carefully indoctrinated with the notion that they must regard their people as consumers. Religion is carefully packaged to appeal to the consumers’ demands.”(1) This trend began with Peter Wagner and the “Church Growth Movement,” and was popularized by Rick Warren of Saddleback Community Church in his best selling books, “The Purpose Driven Life” and “The  Purpose Driven Church.” It was given added impetus by Bill Hybels who built the Willow Creek megachurch on a marketing model. Albert Mohler describes Hybels’ ministry this way,

As any good marketer would, Hybels deliberately surveys his people with questionnaires in order to determine what they worry about, what their needs are, what’s important to them. . . . Then he schedules what subjects he will preach on in the coming year, and circulates the schedule to those on his team responsible for music and drama in the services.”(2)

George Barna, a pollster who makes his living surveying church trends, says, “The audience, not the message, is sovereign…our message has to be adapted to the needs of the audience.(3)

Adapting the message to the needs of the audience has led to  many church fads, among them the seeker sensitive movement, the ecumenical movement, the emergent church, Blue Like Jazz, The Shack, the Left Behind series, Forty Days of Purpose, the Prosperity Gospel, and  the Word of Faith movement. The Christian publishing industry drives these fads in its constant quest to sell books. Churches snap up these books for their Sunday School classes and small group Bible studies. I attended one local megachurch that based its entire teaching curriculum on the latest best seller in Christian bookstores.

The flitting from one fad to another has set the church adrift. Rick Warren acknowledges this when he says,

At Saddleback Church we’ve . . . tried to recognize the waves God was sending our way, and we’ve learned to catch them. We’ve learned to use the right equipment to ride those waves, and we’ve learned the importance of balance. We’ve also learned to get off dying waves whenever we sensed God wanted to do something new. The amazing thing is this: The more skilled we become in riding waves of growth, the more God sends!”(4)

Ephesians 4:14 says, “So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes.(5)

Mt 24:35 says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.“(6)

God’s word never changes. God doesn’t send waves. He condemns wave riding! Fads add nothing to one’s knowledge of God. They are all about the profit motive. Selling lots of books. Building a big church. Having lots of programs. Hiring lots of staff and being able to provide them all with a comfortable living. 

The blessings of scripture are ample enough that Paul can say, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (9). There is enough of the wisdom and knowledge of God to occupy our minds and hearts forever without seeking thrills by resorting to fads. It just requires diligence and hard work to mine all the treasures of scripture.

What True Worship Looks Like
The Book of Church Order of the Orthodox Presbyterian church says, “The preaching of the Word, the power of God unto salvation, is indispensable in the public worship of God. It is therefore a matter of supreme importance that the minister preach only the Word of God, not the wisdom of man, and that he handle the Word of God correctly, always setting forth Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith.” (10). It goes on to say that the text should not be used as a point of departure, but that each passage of scripture should be carefully expounded, using other portions of scripture to explain the text in as clear and simple a manner as possible. The OPC restricts the pulpit ministry only to those whom the leadership deems sound in doctrine and practice.

There are examples of how this is done in the Bible. One is in the book of 2 Chronicles and another is in the book of Nehemiah. In 2 Chronicles 34, King Josiah of Judah commissions the restoration of the temple after years of neglect by his predecessors. In the process of reconstruction, Hilkiah, the high priest, discovers the Book of the Law written by Moses. He brings it to the king who has him read it aloud. When Josiah hears the word of God, he realizes the gravity of Judah’s disobedience and asks the high priest to intercede with God on behalf of the people. The message that comes back is, “Behold, I will bring disaster upon this place and upon its inhabitants, all the curses that are written in the book that was read before the king of Judah” (11).  Josiah gathered all the people and read the entire Book of the Law to them, pledging himself to obedience and making the people do the same. After that he destroyed all the idols and removed all the pagan altars from the land. Because the king had expressed genuine remorse, God promised to postpone judgment until after his death.

Some years later Nehemiah led a group of Jews back from exile to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. One of the very first things he did was to assemble the people for the reading of the same Book of the Law that Josiah had read. A tall platform was erected for Ezra the scribe so that all the people would have to look up as he read. Beside him stood the priests. Ezra began by blessing the Lord and the people responded by lifting up their hands and then bowing with their faces to the ground in worship. Ezra was assisted in the reading by other priests who were stationed among the people. Together they read the word and then interpreted it for the people. The people responded by weeping in repentance for their disobedience. But Nehemiah encouraged them to rejoice because they understood the words and responded in the right way. Notice here the actions of the worship leader and the attitude of the worshipers. The leader began by blessing the Lord and the people responded by humbly receiving the message and repenting of their sins.

The Book of Church Order  affirms this pattern. Just as the worshipers in Ezra’s day lifted their hands in response to the blessing of God and then bowed in worship, so members are encouraged to, “actively… embrace the blessing of the Lord in the salutation and benediction.(12) And in the same way the Israelites responded by respectfully listening and receiving the Word of God, so members are urged to “to confess together with all the people the faith of the church; to heed the Word of truth as the sermon is preached and to appropriate it to their lives as God, through his servant, proclaims and applies it.”(13) The Book of Church Order also specifically calls for a prayer of repentance when the Old Testament Law is read, “It is fitting that a prayer of confession of sin precede or follow any reading of the law of God to the congregation.” And just as the Old Testament priests carefully explained the word of God to the people, so the pastor is urged to, “take pains to expound the chosen text, bringing in other texts as applicable, carefully explaining the meaning, and diligently applying the particular text for the salvation and edification of his hearers.(14)

So the two essential components to worship that pleases God is faithful exposition of the word of God on the part of the worship leader and humble submission to the preaching of the word by the congregation resulting in repentance and obedience.

 

 

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