Monday, January 22, 2018

Can Someone Be Sure They Are Going to Heaven?

Jesus told his disciples, “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” (Luke 10:20, NASB)

My confidence that I am going to heaven when I die has sometimes been criticized by certain friends and acquaintances as being an unwarranted presumption. How can you know? How can you be so sure? Isn’t it a pretty egocentric, self-righteous attitude to consider your admission through the pearly gates a done deal?

Well, actually the presumption and the egocentricity would be to dare stand in judgment of the Christ, to dismiss as irrelevant foolishness His promise, to treat Jesus as someone who either cannot deliver on His word or, even worse, to act as if He is a cruel liar dangling before His followers something they will never receive.

The presupposition behind such questions, of course, is that a person needs to attain a certain level of holiness to qualify for heaven. Such people believe that they must make the grade with God by racking up enough religious points and, conversely, by avoiding sins altogether or at least being profoundly sorry for them afterwards.

But alas, on those grounds, no one will make the grade! In Romans 3, the apostle Paul explains that all people are “under sin.” Indeed, he says that we are slaves to sin. And our “slave wages,” the Bible goes on to say, is eternal separation from God…and everything else. Brother, that’s as bad news as you’re ever gonna’ hear.

But then onto this dark, tragic stage entered the gospel (literally, the good news) announcing that a way of escape, of deliverance, of salvation has come our way. And it’s not in us. It’s not something we can do to bribe God or to fool him or to placate his righteous standards. No, the salvation offered is through Jesus Christ Whose death and resurrection is an offer to pay our debt – freely, in full, and forever.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” (Romans 5:8-11, NASB)

“But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:22-23, NASB)

Salvation  -- complete and forever salvation -- is available to everyone but not through earning enough “religion credits” to impress God. That will never happen. Rather salvation is received by the simple act of believing in Jesus’s atoning death and resurrection in your behalf. And that is not presumption. That is not pride. Having your name written in the book of life that Jesus refers to in Luke 10 is not a matter of religious works or ascetic denial. It is only the humble acceptance of the gift offered by a gracious and trustworthy God.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Contemporary Church Music: Enjoy It? Endure It? Or Escape It?

To note Throwback Thursday, here is a Vital Signs Blog post (only slightly edited) from back in July of 2013.

* “I have always kept one end in view, namely, with all good will to conduct well-regulated church music to the honor of God.” (Johann Sebastian Bach)

*  “Oh my, no. The church must never sing its songs to the melodies of the world.” (Fanny Crosby)

* “‘What a way to learn great theology!’ That’s what comes to mind whenever I sing one of those old hymns. ‘And Can It Be’ is like putting the doctrine of salvation to music. ‘Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing’ is a melodic lesson in grace. No wonder good hymns make for strong faith!” (Joni Eareckson Tada)

Okay, I have a confession, though it's a confession which my friends will confirm has never been a secret. And I make it again today without apology.  I have for decades been frustrated (no, that's not quite strong enough, make it thoroughly turned off) by the music featured in modern evangelical churches.

Indeed, when the hymnals were tossed out and replaced by overhead projectors...when the thoughtful, intellectually stimulating songs of Christianity's heritage were exchanged for repetitive and inane choruses...when the volunteer choirs and song leaders were replaced by entertainment-oriented worship teams who were allowed to dictate to the congregation when to stand, sit, clap, hold up hands, etc...when the music's volume increased to the levels at which I used to play Steppenwolf when stoned...and when unbridled emotionalism not only trumped but even eclipsed the traditional religious virtues of rationality, orderliness and corporate fellowship, I checked out.

And I wasn't alone. Many others, especially men, headed towards the nearest exit too.  George Barna, in describing how profound a part church music now plays in contemporary religious life, said “This is the feel; this is the sound that constitutes who you are and what you’re about.”

But my redemption, my ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church, my responsibilities to be salt and light in a dying world -- these are much more important and much more involved than just church music.  I'm afraid that contemporary worship music does provides “the feel” for so many Christians in the West. But I resent (and steadfastly oppose) the naive notion that “the sound constitutes who I am and what I'm about.”

But where were those evangelicals to go, the ones who didn't care for the loud music, the maudlin (often mindless) choruses, the coercive worship leaders, the dramatic emphasis on emotional experience?

Well, many of them turned to liturgical churches, places where they hoped to find order, contemplation, beauty, tradition, and a principled and relevant agenda for social action, especially about such biblical priorities as the sanctity of life. Others looked around until they discovered those few evangelical churches that hadn't given in (at least, not completely) to the new wave.  But way too many evangelicals just dropped out of church altogether.

Of course, the larger percentage of evangelicals (men and women) who were initially uncomfortable with the new music and the new attitudes learned to adapt. "Everyone else seems to be enjoying it. I guess I'd better get with the program too." In so doing, their church experience (and usually their religious lifestyle) changed. More emotional, more introspective. And less oriented to theology and mission.

Many of you will want to write and tell me that your church is an exception. Good. I'll be glad to hear it. Others will say, “Right on, brother. So come on over and join us in Rome...or Constantinople...or Geneva.” Still others will simply dismiss my criticism out of hand, seeing it as just another peccadillo from an aging curmudgeon who won't accept the social realities of the 21st Century. Fair enough, there's certainly some truth in that. After all, I was defiantly counter-culture in 1969 only to find out the next year (the year of my conversion to Christianity) that my counter-culture life was only beginning. And, of course, over 30 years in the trenches of pro-life activism have not made me any fonder of modernity, be it in art, film, literature, politics, fashion...or church music.

So curmudgeon though I may be, you may still find these observations (and opinions) of some value to consider. I hope so.

By the way, here’s another couple of articles about this matter that you might find of interest. “Contemporary Music: The Cultural Medium and the Christian Message: What kind of Christians do contemporary services produce?” by D. H. Williams in Christianity Today and “Why I’ve Stopped Singing in Your Church” by Bill Blankschaen at Faith Walkers and “The heresy of worshiptainment” by Mike Livingstone.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Oh, the Times! (Part 2)

Checking in with Important News & Commentary: New Year’s Edition (Part Two)

* “Bill Clinton once lost the nuclear codes for months, and a 'comedy of errors' kept anyone from finding out” (Christopher Woody, Business Insider)

* “New Report: Planned Parenthood Abortion Business Makes More Money Than Ever Before” (Steven Ertelt,

* “Planned Parenthood aborted 321,384 babies last year, got $543 million from taxpayers” (Claire Chretien, LifeSiteNews)

* “2017: Chicago Homicides Outnumber U.S. Military Casualties 18 to 1” (Michael W. Chapman, CNS News)

* “The Dumbing Down of Scholastic Achievement” (Former sheriff David Clarke, Town Hall)

* “How Have Trump’s Pro-Life Promises Held Up?” (Alexandra DeSanctis, National Review)

* “Why the Supreme Court Shouldn’t Bow to Government Agencies” (Elizabeth Slattery, Daily Signal)

* “Suppression of Good News Is the Media's Dirtiest Tactic. Here's What They Missed Last Year” (Steve Sheldon, Town Hall)

* “Franklin Graham Says Americans Need to ‘Wake Up to the Evil of Abortion’” (Micaiah Bilger,

What's Really Up with the Phrase, "Separation of Church & State?"

From the Nebraska Family Alliance comes this brief but profound video clip.

We're talking about “Separation of Church and State.”

Most people believe that this five word phrase is in the U.S. Constitution. And even those who understand it isn’t, still refer to it as a type of “constitutional commitment,” as Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor did recently in the Trinity Lutheran v. Comer case.

Because of this phrase's incredible impact on our country, it's important to know where it came from, how it's been distorted, and its proper understanding.