Friday, July 31, 2009


The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. (Luke 18:11)

Any Pharisee blood in you, brother? sister?

I've got some. God calls it to my attention regularly. I am constantly in repentance for that, among my other sins. This life in Christ is very much about learning to be a repentant sinner.
Pharisee-ism is one of the great weaknesses of the professing church today. In the mind of many, the church is a place for the Perfect Ones. Those of us who have "arrived." The less-than-perfect are not welcome among us, lest they soil the pew cushions or track mud into the sanctuary.

May I remind those who think like that, Jesus said:

And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
(Luke 5:31-32)

His Church is made up of sinners......saved sinners to be sure. Church rolls are crowded today by the names of folks who've never been born again. (That's another sermon....) I want to address this to those who are indeed His, those born again from above, washed in the Blood, made new creations in Jesus Christ by the miracle of the New Birth.
Do you now rest in the assurance of your salvation and look down upon those who struggle with sin, those whose sins are more public than yours, those whose sins carry more social consequences than yours? Have you forgotten where you were when Jesus found you?

My ministry is conducted behind razor wire and electrified fences. To get to my meeting place, I am searched, x-rayed, and run through a metal detector. The men I deal with are state prison inmates who have been convicted of every imaginable crime against the State of Tennessee and its citizens: drug crimes, sex crimes, murder.....
Some of these men have been saved out of their life of sin by the grace of an amazing God. Their testimonies break my heart. I'd love to take them home with me, to take them to church with me, to show off these "trophies of Grace" which God has on display for all eternity.

I am a member of a Biblically sound local church--great preaching, wonderful missions outreach, sweet fellowship--but the sweetest fellowship of all for me is during the time I am with my brothers in those tiny little chapels, just a handful of us, sometimes only 3 or 4, sometimes 20 or so (we're not in the numbers game, for sure).
There's something wonderful about being with folks who KNOW they are sinners. These guys are not going around thinking: "Well, I'm not so bad....I'm a pretty good citizen, I pay my bills, etc" like the regular "free-world" church member. These guys KNOW. So, if they're saved, they know they've been saved out of something: SIN.

Too many times, you start talking to "church folks" and soon realize that sinners are "those people"......not them!'s someone else. "We're not like them!" I have wonderful brothers finish their sentences or get paroled, go back out into the world and can't find a church which will welcome them. "We don't want their kind...."

"God, I thank you that I am not like these men: convicted dope dealers, robbers, drunks, wife-beaters, rapists, killers......."

You fool!

You are just exactly like them. The only reason you are not doing time with them? God's grace! That restraining Grace with which God hedged you up and kept you from going any further down the road to destruction than you did go....(Hosea 2: 6,7)
God has described you perfectly in Romans 3:, me, and every man who has ever drawn a breath. If you are now God's child, it's because of what He did......not because of anything you did! Do not sit back in your pew and spew like a pharisee that you are "not like those people"....whatever your pet target might be: poor, ignorant, another social class, another race, another neighborhood, another ethnic background. Convicted criminals? They broke man's law. They paid the penalty for it.

You broke God's Law. There's nothing you can do to atone for that! Only God can redeem you from the certain, eternal death which that Law-breaking calls for.

He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, (Titus 3:5-6)

Let's repent of this pharisee-ism. We are, in and of ourselves, no better than the worst we can imagine. If you are a Christian, the good in you is there by the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit of God. We need to repent of this sinful pride which causes us to look down on any other men You think you are Somebody? You think you have Something? Hear the Word of the Lord:

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
(1 Corinthians 4:7)

Monday, July 27, 2009


What a state the "church" is in today.....led by so many "preachers" who are abysmally ignorant of the basic doctrines taught in the Word.

For the past couple weeks, I've been interacting with a group of pelagian-style heretics on Facebook. Over the weekend, one of them responded to a Spurgeon quote on another fellow's page, throwing out the usual straw-man stuff about all calvinists consigning to Hell those who die in infancy. As his presentation developed he made the expected denial of the doctrine of Original Sin then advanced to denying the Impeccability of Christ.

I made a couple responses to his "born innocent" comments then wrote him off, following the admonition in Titus 3:10. Others continued to respond as he went into his "Jesus could have sinned" statement but no one ever confronted him on either heresy (or either component of the same heresy, as you wish). This was on the Facebook page of a preacher who never raised his voice against the man's heresy at all. None of the others involved in the conversation ever even mentioned the issue of Christ's impeccability.

This made me wonder: Do they even know that this is an issue? Do they not recognize heresy when they hear it? Apparently not, because this thread dissolved into a "well, we must agree to disagree..." cop-out. Now, I will "agree to disagree" over instrumental music in church or over the use of a common cup for the Lord's Supper, but the idea of letting slide a major heresy is pretty lame! Will you also "agree to disagree" over the Deity of Christ? ...or the Virgin Birth?

So, I wrote to the preacher on whose page this took place asking him specifically if he was aware of the heresies involved or was he ignorant of them. His response was a non-response "Sorry if I offended you...." This seems to be a modern-day catch all which must mean: I am really offended that you asked that so I am going to apologize and put an end to the discussion. Even allowing the possibility of my tone, being one of combined outrage and incredulity, might stretch to him seeing me as an offended party, the question still hangs there unanswered: Do you or do you not understand the doctrines involved here and their importance?

So, this guy is out there preaching but unable to answer questions from those who will ask about original sin or the idea of whether Jesus could have sinned but set a great example for us, etc. I suspect the nation's pulpits are filled with similar examples of ignorance, and not just ignorance but a willing ignorance, one which shows no interest in learning, in study, in pursuing the details of the Truth revealed in God's Word.

Are we not commanded to "study to show ourselves approved of God......WORKmen who need not be ashamed....because we can RIGHTLY divide the Word"...??? I have deliberately avoided detailed discussion here of the details on these doctrines....because I wonder about you--do you understand them? Do you have a clue what I am talking about? Do you realize the importance?

If not, here are a couple links which will introduce you to the issues:

This McCormick essay contains an interesting footnote: "One scholar (Bartmann) has pointed out that the ancient heretics, however divergent they were in Christology, did not attack or question the Impeccability of Christ."

Even those ancient heretics did not question what these modern day heretics assail in their efforts ultimately to discredit Christ's Deity.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

ON MINISTRY (Part 2--The Point)

I wrote that lengthy, detailed article about Carolyn's surgery and hospital stay for two reasons: to get myself in motion writing and to provide some background for this, the main point, if anyone is interested in detailed background. Feel free to skip

What I want to write about is suffering, and caring for those who are suffering, those who are helpless, and what I have learned about those things during the past 3 weeks. This was my wife's 12th major surgery so in some ways it wasn't exactly a new experience for me (or her!). In a more important way, however, it is a remarkable experience, a life-changing lesson. My greatest fear in attempting this is that I shall fail to communicate verbally something that is so purely experiential.

As we anticipated this surgery and all that comes with it (anticipated most of the stuff, anyway), I had this intellectual grasp of what I would be doing. I've done it before. You have a helpless patient, a pain-racked patient, and it's someone you love dearly. Things need to be done--things which despite long years of intimacy are still discomforting to the one who cannot care for herself as usual. I'm not going into specifics--y'all know the kinda stuff, not limited to holding a basin for someone to vomit into, or washing their face afterward, but stuff like that.

So, I've done that before and I don't mind doing it. I don't. And she knows, as much as humanly possible, that I don't find such things repulsive or disgusting. I love her; I'd do anything to help her when she's suffering. But this time it's different. God has taken me in hand, put His arm across my shoulders, and drawn me a bit closer, let me see a bit more of His grace through His son.

As I sat through those worst hours there in the hospital, doing my little routine with the basin and the wet cloths on her forehead and so forth.....sometimes I sat and waited for the next call to service and realized that I wasn't being a dutiful husband, suffering through these menial chores with a stiff upper lip, deserving of so much appreciation for my dedication. What I was is this: Blessed. I experienced something which previously I had only read about: the joy of serving another person, the blessing which God bestows upon His children as they learn something about "ministry"

I want to say it out loud: I love caring for her. It's a joy to care for her in whatever way I can. I'm so grateful to God for taking me past that selfish state of "being noble" and suffering dutifully. Jesus said He came not to be ministered to, but to minister. Have we ever twisted that word into something grotesque! Most "ministers" haven't the foggiest concept of ministering.

We all know the story of the "Last Supper" from the Gospel accounts. As the apostles arrived, Jesus garbed Himself as a servant and washed their feet. And we hear a lot of sanctimonious preaching about how we need to do likewise, and some denominations take that literally and have services during which folks wash one another's feet. What do you suppose they are thinking when they do that?

What do you think Jesus was thinking as He did that? "I'm gonna do this to teach these guys how to be humble" If you think that, you are making Him out to be disingenuous at best. This was a cultural practice, a courtesy extended by hosts to their arriving guests. The household servants washed the guests' feet because they were dirty! Jesus Christ came as the Servant of Jehovah. This was His heart on display; He loved those apostles. He wasn't thinking "Yuck, I've got to do this just to make the point"

If we love the brethren, we will serve them with the same heart....not begrudingly (well hidden, of course) but joyfully. It was Christ's great joy to serve His children. It will be so in all eternity as well.

We're home now and Carolyn is regaining some mobility and can care more for herself but still needs help. I am still in service here. I still rejoice in it. I am beginning to feel that I've failed in my attempt to communicate this. May God make it clear to all who read this, despite my poor effort. Ministry is servant-hood. Poor, pitiful folks who think "being like Jesus" means being King......or some other big shot. The Christ whom the church is to emulate is that Humble Servant, joyfully washing the feet of the disciples.

ON MINISTRY (Part 1--Background)

You might want to read Part 2 first...this is the "deep background" for it and might not be worth reading at all...

This seems to be my toughest-ever writing assignment.......self-imposed as it is. Been thinking about it two weeks and just can't get here we go:

June 22 Carolyn had knee-replacement surgery. I spent 4 days and 3 nights at her bedside in hospital and have been her 24-hour per day "nurse" since her return to the house.

The Monday evening after the surgery, all day Tuesday, and Wednesday morning were rough! She came out of surgery about 2:30 Monday afternoon. Surgeon called me and reported that all went well and she would be in Recovery for a while. About 4:00, they let me go back into the Recovery Room and visit her. At that point she was in excruciating pain and the staff was baffled and in a well-controlled frenzy trying to figure out what the problem was. During the surgery she had had a spinal block (short lived but highly effective) plus an epidural anaesthetic (longer term). At the end of the surgical procedure the anaesthesia team did a block of one branch of the femoral nerve which was intended to control the pain as the spinal block wore off and when the epidural catheter was removed, ending that relief.

Bottom line is the femoral nerve block she had no anaesthetic benefit at that point only 90 minutes after the incision was closed. She was in agony and the staff was doing a major running analysis there at her bedside, so they ran me out, promising to call me back when they had overcome the problem.

At 5:30 they called me again, saying that Carolyn was fine and ready to go to her own room. We didn't get the information immediately but the short form of the story is that there are 3 branches to that femoral nerve and they either missed the first attempt (my guess) or it was necessary to do a second block on another branch (their spin). This is not intended to be critical....that stuff happens and I'm impressed at the concentration of brain power and intense effort the whole staff put into resolving the situation as quickly as possible.

An attendant rolled her bed down endless corridors and through a couple of elevator banks to another building which must be a quarter mile away. We ended up in the old Vanderbilt Hospital building, 6th floor, in a huge (by hospital standards) room. From her arrival there, Carolyn was pitifully nauseated off and on for the next 24 hours. She has always suffered from this post-surgery misery and though this was not the worst-ever, it was pretty bad at times. As time went on, we figured out is was a reaction to the high-powered pain killer they were giving her by IV (oxycontin). After 3 doses at 12-hour intervals, she told them...."Don't do that again; I'd rather hurt!" They switched her over to some oral stuff of lesser magnitude and the nausea was greatly abated.

Tuesday morning, they announced that her blood level was low and they were going to give her a transfusion. We were prepared in advance for this possibility and she had given a pint earlier which they had on she would be transfused with her own blood. This is about a six-hour procedure and would delay her physical therapy for just about the entire day. At this point it looked like we were losing a whole day in the scheduled process geared to her being sent home on Thursday.

Three hours into the transfusion, she was racked by more excruciating pain. Worse, she says, that the undiminished post-surgical pain when the nerve block failed. Once again, the staff was baffled! We had this tremendous charge nurse, a young woman originally from Colombia, and she was doing the transfusion.....but she fell victim to the same sort of thing which happened in the Recovery Room.....something outside the "way it ought to be" Severe back pain is a side effect of blood transfusion. They know that. isn't (according to The Book) supposed to happen when you are being given your own blood. The nurse was smart enough to see no other proximate cause and turned off the blood flow. Within minutes, the pain eased, and Carolyn went to sleep. Watchfully, the nurse turned the drip on again, and the transfusion was completed without further incident.

Wednesday was really the beginning of physical therapy, the progress in which is a determining factor in when and whether one goes home on schedule. It did not go well. Carolyn was still nauseated off and on, more or less a day behind, acting like someone whose surgery had been Tuesday not Monday. It was discouraging to hear talk of going to a Rehabilitation facility for 7-10 days rather than going home on Thursday as we had planned. At the same time I forced myself to face that possibility, I also resolved to do all I could to get her home.....and that "what" was to beseech God to do a work regarding her condition.

Thursday morning a new day dawned but I was so exhausted from the 3 days of stress and sleeplessness, I wasn't too cognizant of the change until mid-morning. Carolyn was simply "much improved" The physical therapist could hardly believe she was the same person who could barely do anything 18 hours earlier. Carolyn was up, taking steps with her walker, sitting in a chair, getting up, etc. By noon or one p.m. the charge nurse was saying things like: I think you'll be going home. When I, still a bit stupified, said "When?".......she floored me with "this afternoon"......and sure enough, at 3:05 Thursday, she was in the car and we were merging into the traffic outside the hospital driveway.