I Am a Great Sinner

imgresOriginally Published in the November 19, 2014 edition of The Chadron Record.

Most of us have heard the old hymn, “Amazing Grace”. This famous song was penned by a slave-trader turned pastor and abolitionist in England during the late 1700’s. His name was John Newton. When Newton was advanced in years – with his eyesight, health and memory fading – he famously declared, “I remember two things: That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great savior.”

Fellow pastor Scott Montgomery and I have teamed up to unpack this rich quote. Today we consider the first part – I am a great sinner. Next week, Scott will tell us why Christ is a great savior.

Jesus spent time with people who many in the religious establishment considered to be especially sinful. They were “tax collectors and sinners”. The religious leaders complained about this to Jesus’ disciples. Jesus’ response? Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. He wasn’t implying that the leaders were spiritually healthy – far from it! What he was saying was that he came to save people who are spiritually ill; and that means sinners.

So are we sinners? Most people consider themselves to be more or less good. And they usually think that because they know people who are worse. If God is grading on a curve, then I am doing okay. At least, far better than the guy who lives down the street who doesn’t even mow his lawn!

In Romans 1-3, the Apostle Paul rips apart all of our claims to goodness. Due to our rebellion against God, our rejection of the knowledge of God, our willful idolatry (cherishing things more than God), and the trampling of God’s law; all people are proven to be sinful. God doesn’t grade on a curve – he is a perfect and righteous judge. So at the end of the day, we are shown to be no better than the tax collectors and sinners that Jesus came to save, “for there is none righteous, no not one.” That covers everyone! Even you.

So I agree with Newton; I am a great sinner. That is the bad news. But that bad news leads us to the greatest news in the universe: Christ is a great savior. He saves sinners like us.

Stay tuned next week for part 2.


Why Freedom of Worship Just Won’t Do

Originally Published in the August 13, 2014 edition of The Chadron Record

Religious-freedom-part-fourFreedom of worship is the new freedom of religion. It’s the phrase of choice for many U.S. leaders (all the way to the White House) and media pundits. It might appear as mere semantics, but the two terms are not the same. In fact, the lingo cloaks a massive ideological shift when it comes to

Freedom of worship means that people are free to gather in the place of worship that they choose and to worship as they like in those venues. The government will not pass laws which govern the way people worship in their houses of worship; a Christian can be a Christian in church, and a Jew a Jew in the synagogue, and a Muslim a Muslim in a mosque. Or at home. Just keep it in those locations! Don’t bring your religious views with you into the public square.

This ideological shift from the Framers’ idea of religious freedom is present in Justice Ginsburg’s dissenting opinion in the recent Hobby Lobby case. Not only did Justice Ginsburg quite alarmingly dismiss the religious convictions of the Green and Hahn families (their beliefs are “too attenuated to rank as substantial.” – wow!), she also argued that religious liberty does not extend to the public square; to the policies that small business owners establish or the convictions which guide them.

Of course, they are free to have religious convictions – just keep it in church! That is not freedom of religion. The First Amendment guarantees that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof… Restricting the exercise of religion to a venue (your home, a synagogue, church, mosque, etc.) is, in fact, prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

The Constitution of the United States guarantees me the right to live as a Christian everywhere that I find myself (which is what it means to be a true Christian!). That means, in most circumstances, the government cannot force me to compromise my religious convictions.

(Note: the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 addresses the rare occasions when a compelling state interest should trump a religious conviction).

Freedom of worship is not a suitable replacement for freedom of religion. In fact, it’s a thinly veiled assault upon freedom of religion. And it simply won’t do.


Relfections at the One-Year Mark

Today marks one year since we moved to Chadron and I assumed the role of pastor at Ridgeview Bible Church. The sentimental side of me decided that I should write a few things about it. Actually, it’s more than that – my heart is overflowing with gratitude to God and it is only fitting to reflect out loud. To keep it brief, I will mention only three of the many things going through my heart and mind this morning.

First, Ridgeview is a wonderful church. This church loves Jesus, and there is a genuine spirit of love and humility toward one another and a strong sense of community. We noticed that right off (literally, the day we arrived). Many serve selflessly and give generously. There is also a strong leadership team, and it is growing stronger. I am so thankful for my fellow elders and it is has been a sweet thing seeing God form us into a team together. Also, it feels like you love your pastor, and that is grace upon grace to us (my family and to me) and adds greatly to the joy of serving you.

Second, Chadron is a great town. It truly is a small town, complete with that ever-elusive “small-town feel”. But it is a hip small town (and very seldom does one find ‘hip’ in the same sentence with ‘small town’). I love the dynamics – ranching community meets college town. The weather in Chadron is crazy (and that is coming from a guy who has lived in a few extreme climates), but the neighbors are nice.

Third, we have a lot of work to do together. As I said, this is a great church, but we still have growing to do. Here are a few ways in which I think we must continue to grow: 1) Our spiritual and theological roots must grow deeper in the Word of God, and 2) a stronger discipleship culture must spread among us (everyone being discipled, and everyone a disciple). 3) Our concern for, and methods to reach the lost must increase and 4) we have to do more to take advantage of our unique ministry position – doing more to reach and disciple students and also reach out more effectively to our Job Corps students. Chadron is a great town, but it is a town that, more than anything, needs the light of Christ. And we are bearers of the Light. We have a lot of shining still to do.

The one-year mark leaves me filled with gratitude, and with excitement for the future. I am very blessed. We are very blessed. The first year has been a very good year. And I look forward to the next 24 (if God grants that!).


Authentic Fire, by Michael Brown

IMG_6908-320x500I read this book in one sitting after reading “Strange Fire” by John MacArthur in two or three sittings (the review of that book is forthcoming). Even though, on balance, I am very critical of this book I do admit that Dr. Brown makes some valid points. He is right, for example, to point out the overly broad brush with which MacArthur painted (though, I do not think MacArthur was criminally broad – just a little too sweeping in some of his comments about modern charismatics).

Even so, Dr. Brown’s book is not a substantial response to Strange Fire (the conference or the book). Perhaps, it would have been more meaty had the author even tried to address the real arguments that MacArthur raised. But he doesn’t, with the exception of a few appeal-to-authority type arguments (e.g., “Dr. Schreiner, a top New Testament scholar, says…”)

In the end, the most devastating arguments MacArthur makes against the modern charismatic movement are not even addressed, and Brown would have been wise to do so if he wanted to truly be taken seriously. For example, MacArthur pointed out that prophecy and tongues have been redefined by the modern charismatic movement in a way that would be unrecognizable to the Apostles. Prophecy, as most modern charismatics define it, is a message from God that can be mixed with error and does not have binding authority. Do we see that in the New Testament? MacArthur demonstrated a clear biblical ‘no’ to that question and Brown ignored this in his response. And the gift of tongues is often defined (and practiced) as a private, untranslatable “language”, used to edify the church, demonstrate the filling of the Spirit or as a private Spirit-filled worship experience. Strange Fire made the case that tongues were never that in the New Testament – but were real foreign languages miraculously spoken by people who had never studied them (Acts 2). Again, Brown chose not to engage. Is that because his own positions are, in fact, biblically untenable?

As an aside, one of my favorite charismatic-reformed pastors is Matt Chandler, and he defines the sign gifts exactly this way in his most recent sermon at the Village Church. (Click here to listen to Chandler on the gifts). He is wrong on this, but he is wrong with considerable style.

While I think Dr. Brown is spot on with a few of his denunciations of MacArthur’s straw-men arguments and sweeping generalizations, this book is not a worthy response to Strange Fire because it fails to engage the more serious arguments. Instead, Brown dismisses them with a pithy quote from a scholar or with no argument at all – and, more importantly, with no exegesis at all, and that is ironic, since he claims that MacArthur handled the Word poorly.

Oh, and Sam Storms writes in his endorsement that “Authentic Fire” is “biblically-robust“. Really? Sam should probably fire the assistant who summarized the book to him.


The Most Intolerant Tolerance

Originally published in the June 4, 2014 edition of The Chadron Record.

Mass-ConfusionThere is no denying that America is in the throes of a revolution – only this time it is not merely political. It is a moral revolution, and its battle fields are state and federal legislatures, the courts, the media, social media and workplace water coolers around the country. The revolution is winning. Things that were considered wrong and immoral by a majority of Americans only a few years ago are now celebrated, even by politicians who once held that these things are wrong (they voted for them after voting against them).

Two major banners being flown in this revolution are homosexuality and same-sex marriage. I am on the wrong side of history on both of these issues. At least, that is what those on the left say. They say that about everyone who believes that homosexuality is a sin and that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.

If that were all that they said, that would be fine. We could still converse, argue our cases and, in the end, we could even agree to disagree. However, they say much more. Just ask Brendan Eich, the former CEO of the Mozilla Corporation. He was forced to resign recently because it became known that six years ago he financially supported California’s Proposition 8 campaign (Proposition 8 was a constitutional amendment that briefly banned same-sex marriage in the state until it was overturned by the state’s Supreme Court). Mr. Eich’s intolerant views were enough for some on the left to decide that they could no longer tolerate him.

Those who preach tolerance are often decidedly intolerant. They are intolerant of intolerance. And yes, I know that that sentence makes no sense. It is not possible to be intolerant of intolerance without being intolerant of yourself (and most of us have a hard enough time tolerating ourselves!). One wonders what sort of America those on the left envision. An America that is sublimely tolerant? That is how many say it. But one has to define terms; their idea of tolerance is tolerating everyone who thinks the same and refusing to tolerate those who disagree. Those on the winning side (sadly) of this moral revolution are the most intolerant lovers of tolerance that the world has seen in a very long time.

And if that doesn’t make sense to you, then you are, at the very least, sane.