Parable of the SUV

January 21, 2016

He put another parable before them, saying, “A certain ‘mainline’ Christian denomination may be compared to an SUV. This SUV was large, and held many passengers. It was a vehicle that had been on the market for many years and the world was quite familiar with it.

For perhaps as many as 30 or more years, this make and model of SUV had an increasing tendency to swerve very sharply to the left when it was driven. In fact, it almost seemed as if the SUV would move to the left while it was parked. It was possible for drivers to steer this SUV straight down the road, but only with a great deal of difficulty. And sometimes, no amount of effort would keep it from drifting to the left.

This SUV’s tendency to swerve to the left was well known by most people. Drivers and passengers alike knew about this tendency, as did other drivers on the road. Some of the drivers of these SUVs hoped, some even prayed, that the SUVs would stop swerving to the left, but none of their efforts met with success. Interestingly, some drivers and passengers actually liked this characteristic of the SUVs and never wanted another kind of vehicle. They appreciated this left-swerving tendency.

Importantly, this tendency for the SUV to swerve sharply to the left was well known by the executives of the auto maker. Some of the executives were actually quite pleased that the SUV had this performance characteristic and encouraged the engineers to keep and even enhance this design feature. Some executives seemed mostly ambivalent about the matter. They did not say anything one way or the other about it. Finally, there were other executives, who, while they were very much aware of this characteristic, did nothing to correct it even though they had the authority to do so.

It so happened that one of these left-swerving SUVs was driving down the road. This particular SUV was being driven and occupied by people who really preferred that the SUV not pull hard to the left. Not surprisingly, the SUV went off of the highway to the left, and rolled over in the center median of the highway. By the grace of God, all of the occupants were able, without assistance, to exit the SUV. Miraculously none of the them were injured physically. Yes, they were shaken up, some were trembling from the experience, but by and large they were reflective about what just happened and importantly why.

They huddled together in the median a short distance from the overturned SUV and prayed with grateful hearts for God’s gracious protection of them. Almost the instant that they said their ‘Amen’, the SUV burst into flames and it burned until their was nothing left but a smoldering shell of twisted steel. Curiously, several other SUVs of the same model passed by on the roadway immediately after the accident, their drivers struggling to keep their vehicles from also going off into the center median, many of them alternately driving back and forth between the left shoulder and the main lanes of the road.

The driver of that burned-out SUV soon had a new vehicle. This time, one that was able to be driven without the dangerous tendency to swerve to the left. And all of the driver’s passengers were quite relieved.”

 


The relative certainty of “certainty.”

September 14, 2008

Over the course of the last couple of weeks, the western Gulf of Mexico has experienced two hurricanes, Gustav, which struck Louisiana, and Ike that hit the northern Texas coast this weekend. 

State and federal officials communicated with some certainty, that both storms would be tremendous events, with significant threats to human life and property.  Mandatory evacuation orders were issued and many residents left their homes.  In the case of Hurricane Ike, residents of Galveston were told that unless they left the island, they faced “certain death.”  Fortunately, that was not the case, and neither Gustav nor Ike proved to be as intense as originally expected.

As I reflect on the predictions of Hurricane Ike, the statement “certain death” is the one that keeps surfacing, particularly the way in which it was expressed with such certainty.  In retrospect, there was no absolute certainty, to their certainty, as the casualties from the storm are not reflective of that prediction.  So, has certainty become relative?  Is it possible that we can only be “relatively” and not “absolutely” certain about future events? 

I recall learning as a kid from my Dad that the only two things in life that are certain, are death and taxes.  Experience would suggest that it is hard to argue with that.  But faith suggests to me that there is at least one other thing that is absolutely certain.  And that is, the course to eternal life runs through Jesus Christ, and ONLY through Jesus Christ. 

John 14: 6 says:
“I [Jesus] am the way, and the truth and the life.  NO ONE (emphasis mine) comes to the father except through me [Jesus].”

Dogmatic?  Yeah.  Exclusive?  You bet.  Ambiguous?.  Hard to see how!

Before he was disgraced by his moral failure a couple of years ago, I watched Ted Haggard, former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, being interviewed on one of the major television networks.  Sadly, when he was asked if he thought Jesus Christ was the only way to God, he expressed sort of an equivocated certainty.  His answer was something to the effect of “maybe there are other ways to get to God, but he was at least confident in this one,” (that being through Jesus Christ, and he quoted John 14: 6).  But his “certainty” was relative, otherwise, why offer up the possibility of there being other ways?  He was revealing a certain lack of faith by being only relatively certain of Jesus’ own claim that NO ONE comes to the father except through Him.

In the fullness of faith, I want my witness to be the certainty of Christ’s claim of exclusivity.  And about that, I am absolutely certain.


It’s Over!

August 17, 2008
Todd Bentley

Todd Bentley

 

Two months ago, I wrote a post on the so-called revival that was taking place in Florida, called the Lakeland Outpouring.  This revival was being conducted under the leadership of Todd Bentley. 

Early last week, the organizers of the Lakeland Outpouring announced that Bentley was going to step down because he and his wife were separating.  Then last Friday, the Board of Directors of Bentley’s “Fresh Fire Ministries” acknowledged that Bentley had “entered into an unhealthy relationship on an emotional level with a female member of his staff.”  The future of the Lakeland Outpouring is obviously in question, although Bentley has commissioned his interns to continue the revival.

Bentley, and the spectacle in Florida, have come under fire from both the church and the secular media.  And the scrutiny was well deserved, as Bentley even claimed to have raised people from the dead during the revival.  ABC’s Nightline did a special investigation of it.  To their credit, ABC’s analysis was fair, and surprisingly, they did not mock people of faith, instead asking good objective questions seeking proof of the healings Bentley claimed to have been a part of.  No objective clinical evidence was ever provided.

Being a cessasionist (that is, someone who believes that the miraculous sign gifts of the Spirit ended with the death of the original apostles), and consequently suspicious of most of what takes place in these sorts of charismatic gatherings, I am far from objective enough to offer a post mortum on the Lakeland Outpouring.  But J. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma Magazine, IS just such a guy.  His thoughtful editorial can be read here.  As one who has deep sympathies for charismatic expression, Grady’s comments speak volumes for what was going on in Lakeland and about which many on the outside had their suspicions. 

And as it turns out, we were right.


God is sovereign.

August 4, 2008

Those three words, stated in exactly that form, or some variation thereof, is an expression I hear used by most Christians that I have contact with.  But it is apparent to me from the other ways they describe God, particularly with regard to the the manner in which He deals with man and the events that occur around us, that there is a wide range of meaning applied to that word “sovereign.”

Parchment and Pen blog is one of my absolute favorite sites in cyberspace.  In fact, I’ll go ahead and rank it my number one, ahead of even Mohler, Challies, and Taylor in terms of it being consistently informative and educational.  It is a team blog, but C. Michael Patton is its chief contributor.  Patton is brilliant.  And distinct from someone like John Piper, I think I could actually have a conversation with Michael and come out with my head still screwed onto my shoulders.  Of course my opinion of him and his blog have absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I find myself landing very close to him on many of his topics, which in turn serves to make ME look brilliant as well.  But in fairness, it should be noted that there are some matters on which we differ, which means of course that he’s wrong.  JUST KIDDING!

But back to the subject at hand.  Michael wrote a post last week on the subject of God’s sovereignty.  By his own admission the article was not intended to be exhaustive in terms of fleshing out this huge and important doctrine.  But it does set forth what he regards as the 4 primary views of divine sovereignty. 

See Michael’s post on sovereignty and let me know where you land on the continuum he lays out.  Even though not exhaustive, I thought it was really helpful to see it expressed this way. 

So as to save you any tensions and anxiety, I don’t think this is an all-or-nothing proposition, wherein you have to pick one of the four categories.  If you should find yourself somewhere in between, I think that’s probably okay.  Of course I say that because I find myself most comfortably situated between two of them.

By the way, did I mention that I was just kidding about Michael being wrong on those matters we disagree on?  Okay, good.


This gives the intent of the expression a whole new significance.

July 19, 2008

A few years ago, The Coca-Cola Company declared that its operating strategies would be to “think globally, but act locally.”  The concept was probably not invented by Coke, and there are other organizations and causes that have co-opted the same philosophy.  By that expression, they meant that the products of The Coca-Cola Company will stand for refreshment, affordability, high quality, fun, etc., on a world-wide basis.  Likewise, the company itself will insist on high standards of business ethics and professionalism in every market in which it operates.  But, the company also acknowledged that individual markets have unique an particular requirements.  And to be a valued supplier, The Coca-Cola Company needed to be both aware of, and responsive to those requirements.  It makes sense.  But it bears mentioning that “thinking locally” never granted permission to a local manager or executive to do ANYTHING counter to or harmful to the global image or positioning of the company or its brands.  Violators pay with their careers, as senior corporate executives are totally committed to preserving and protecting the good name and reputation of the company and its products.

The United Methodist Church is facing a serious threat to its authority.  “Thinking globally,” United Methodist Church law, forbids its ministers from performing ceremonies that celebrate the union of same-sex couples.  This has been a contentious subject for a number of years, but so far, a part of the “global operating strategy” of the United Methodist Church is to uphold the belief that homosexual practice is not compatible with Christian teaching. 

Unfortunately, the United Methodist Church has, within its ranks, a number of ministers who have taken the “act locally” concept a bit too far.  The Los Angeles Times reported last Thursday, that United Methodist ministers in California, (where the state’s supreme court recently ruled in favor of permitting gay marriage) are performing, or are planning to perform same-sex marriages.  These ministers will be performing ceremonies in direct violation of the church law of the denomination they have freely chosen to be ordained and governed by ecclesiastically.  It is my hope that the bishops of the United Methodist Church, its “senior executives,” will be as thoroughly commited to the clear teaching of scripture, as the top management of The Coca-Cola Company is with respect to the principles and image of their company. 

If a denomination is to remain relevant, it must have global standards by which it conducts its global ministry.  And while ministry clearly is a local activity, in fact it really is an individual person-to-person activity, it is not an unreasonable expectation on the part of any church that its ministers support the laws and teaching of that church.  Ministers who are not faithful to the laws of their church must be disciplined in a serious and credible way.  Given the seriousness of this matter, that is individuals doing violence to the very church laws that they pledge to uphold, expulsion seems like the appropriate response.  It seems to me that this is no small matter.  The name and reputation of the United Methodist Church really does hang in the balance. 

The world will be watching.  The Lord is watching.


“There but for the grace of God…”

July 11, 2008

John Bradford (1510-1555) was gifted intellectually, with skills at law and finance and later became involved with the English Reformation.  He was imprisoned by Mary Tudor who was a Catholic, for a trumped up charge of stirring up a mob.  When one day he saw another prisoner being led to his execution, Bradford is credited with having said, “There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.”  The expression has often been used since simply as “there but for the grace of God, go I.”  And as we see calamity around us, I think we can all say the same for ourselves. 

I confess that I have enjoyed witnessing the dissension within the democrat party this week as the Rev. Jesse Jackson was caught making an “inappropriate” comment at the conclusion of an interview on Fox News Channel.  In it he makes a crude reference to what he would like to do to Obama for his apparent abandonment of his far left (I’ll call it Marxist) predispositions and support for black people, now that he is making a strategically calculated shift to the center, to rhetorically court moderates and independents.  Jackson has since apologized for the comment.  However, I would contend that he was apologizing for the comment being exposed and the embarrassment it has caused, as I am inclined to believe that the sentiment underlying the comment runs much deeper.

                 

So while I can say without reservation that I wish more of the same faux pas and miscalculations for the democrats in the weeks and months ahead, I do feel genuine empathy for Jackson.  James, the brother of Jesus, correctly understood that:

“with it (the tongue) we bless our Lord and Father and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.  My brothers, these things ought not be so.” (James 3: 9,10) 

Surely Jackson is guilty of this contradiction.  And while James surely meant it to be a lesson for all mankind, it seems an even more serious lapse when the tongue belongs to a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

While I am not an ordained minister, I do have the privilege of teaching from God’s word, and I am equally guilty of this sinful contradiction that scritpure says “ought not be so.”  While I have relatively little appreciation for Jesse Jackson’s politics or some of the outrageous tactics he uses in support of his social causes, I do sympathizse with the embarrassment and shame from the conviction he is (hopefully) feeling from the Holy Spirit.  There but for the grace of God, goes Chuck Thomas.


Happy 4th! And Happy 232nd Birthday, America!

July 4, 2008

Albert Mohler is the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.  I have an deep admiration for him, and I am not even a Baptist.  First of all, simply stated, he is brilliant.  Theologically, he articulates doctrine in an informed and persuasive manner.  And, he has courageously advanced the cause of Reformed Theology at Southern and restored the theological educational of his denomination to its doctrinal roots in the Reformation of 1517.

Intellectually, he is a giant.  But today, I feel as if mortals have now earned the right to tread along side, rather than some distance behind.  At his blog* this morning and on a recorded commentary at Townhall.com, he notes that today, July 4, 2008, marks the 238th birthday of our nation, “at least the way we count it” he says. 

What struck me was that number “238.”  Just didn’t seem right in some way.  And at first I thought I was losing my mind.  You see, my wife and I became engaged to be married on July 4, 1976, the bi-centennial celebration of our country.  That was 32 years ago.  And we have now been married for 31 years.  So, somehow the number “238” seemed off.

I confess to having received a public-school education.  And my undergraduate degree is in business and not history or mathematics.  Furthermore, as I dwell in my mid-50’s, I recognize a difference in mental acuity when compared to my 20’s, 30’s and even 40’s.  Yet, with age comes wisdom, and even though I lack the academic credentials, the mathematical difference between 2008 and 1776 seems like some number other than 238….something more like 232.

I am not taking any particular pride in pointing out the error of Dr. Mohler.  Instead, I am revelling in this moment when I feel as if I am breathing the same air that he does.  And this proves once again for those of us who have such high regard for Dr. Mohler, sola scriptura…scripture alone in the final and only infallible authority!  I am sure he would not disagree.

*At some point during the day, the administrator of Dr. Mohler’s blog made the correction to the number of years, changing it from 238 to 232 and footnoted the correction at the bottom of that post.  So the link above directs to the updated/corrected post.