what-is-loveOver the past week evangelicalism has witnessed an intriguing exchange surrounding the LGBTQ issue. Briefly, it began when RNS posted an interview with Jen Hatmaker in which she affirmed the holiness of LGBT relationships, to which Rosaria Butterfield responded, to which RNS responded.

In reading these articles, and others like it, there seems to be a common confusion lining the discussion: What is love? What is unloving? What criteria determines if something is loving or not? Often the unloving penalty flag is (unlovingly) thrown into the mix of these conversations. It’s not possible to dissect all the issues. But briefly, it’s worth pushing pause and examining what we often label “loving” and “unloving.”

Individuals are correct when they insist on the priority of love. “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Gal. 5:14). All that God commands is summed up in love. But this demands a question: why should the God of the Bible serve as the standard for love, or anything for that matter? After all, while my unregenerate friend agrees that love is priority, he would take issue with the proposition that the God of the Bible is the standard and definer of love. On one hand, the answer involves a study of Bibliology; matters pertaining to the revelation, inspiration, inerrancy, and canonicity of the Bible. This article assumes these things. If needed, one might begin familiarizing themselves on those topics here and here.

With that premise, we can move forward. Consider for a moment what happens if I do not have an objective standard on what is and is not love. Love will be interpreted as whatever feels loving to me or a particular subculture. The problem is that without an objective definition external to myself, I really have no absolute framework for love.bible-06 Love becomes a matter of my perception. Which means love is determined by me, whose feet are planted in mid-air. In using my perceptions as love’s adjudicator, I am, in effect, saying, “I am the standard of love. In my being, I am the standard of love. In my thinking, feeling, and practice, I am absolute, pure love.” Thus, I have placed myself as the determiner and judge of what is and is not loving. In so doing, I assume the place of Absolute, which is to say, I am functionally operating as a self-appointed god. In that moment, I have nominated myself as the universe’s Sovereign and ascended to the throne for absolute adjudication. But, we, who are imperfect in love by nature and deed, dare not place ourselves in such a place.

I need to step off the throne. Practically, that will look like letting go of my perceptions, my feelings, and my opinions as the absolute determiner of what is loving. I need an objective standard. Even more, I need the standard from a source who has shown flawless love in word and deed. The only such source is the God of the Bible. “God is love…In this is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sin” (1 John 4:8, 10). The One who created knows more about love than the one created. Further, the One abused by his enemies in order to redeem and reconcile his enemies; that One is love. So, when this God speaks, as he has in the 66 books of Scripture, his definition of love is love. It is objective; absolute; pure. Thus, it alone is the standard against which ideas of love must be compared.

With that, it’s worth taking a look at some common myths pertaining to love and the lack thereof in evangelicalism (errors which I have committed).  Continue Reading…

As I saw her sitting there on her wheelchair sobbing…both our hearts were breaking.

people-holy-stepsHers because she was unable to walk up the Holy Steps to have her sins forgiven. She so desperately wanted to be able to spend less time in purgatory and she couldn’t bear the thought of being so close to the steps where Jesus had walked and unable to go up them like everybody else.

Mine because she had been duped into believing that this ritual of walking up the steps, and saying a few hundred hail Mary’s, would save her from her sin. Her tears were yet another example of the evil that is the Roman Catholic Church.

Of course, a sign not too far from her stated that those who could not crawl up the steps could stay right where they were and still receive pardon for their sin, but she wasn’t buying it.  She knew that she was missing out on something, and it was all because of her inability to perform works.

As I gazed around the room, I was overwhelmed by the dozens of people who were partaking in this practice of walking up these “holy steps”. According to Roman Catholic tradition, these were the steps that Jesus walked on in order to go up to Pilate. They even have spots on them which they claim is where Jesus’ blood dropped. Supposedly, Helena the mother of Constantine had them brought from Jerusalem to Rome in the fourth century.

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reformation-wall-in-genevaHave you ever wondered why people call themselves “Reformed”? The word “reformed” generally means “improved”—as in, desperate parents may send an incorrigible adolescent to a reformatory school to get them back in line; politicians promise economic reforms to undo the damage of their predecessors. In theological circles, the word is written with a capital, and acts as a self-designation for those who consider themselves to be direct doctrinal descendants of the progenitors of the Reformation, namely Martin Luther, Jean Calvin, et al.

For example, plain vanilla Baptists get upgraded to “Reformed Baptists” if they embrace not only the tenets of Baptists, but also the doctrines for which the Reformers risked life and limb.

Exactly 499 years to the day (October 31, 1517) the Catholic priest, Martin Luther, nailed, to the door of the Wittenburg Castle Church, his list of 95 things the Catholic Church needed to reform/improve in order to be faithful to what the Bible teaches.

Reformed folk today come in various subspecies: some don’t hold to all five tenets of the Calvinist TULIP* scheme, others have shed the Reformers’ eschatology and ecclesiology, such as infant baptism. But all who brandish the prefix “Reformed” will share a profound commitment to the five slogans of the Reformation that functioned as the five-fold battle cry of essentials around which all Reformers united.

Ironically, these five mottos are commonly referred to by their Latin monikers. I say it’s ironic because the Reformers were committed to translating the Scriptures and theological writings out of the elitist Latin language and into any and every vernacular tongue imaginable. But the description of this commitment has come to us in Latin: Post tenebras lux,(after darkness light).

post-tenebras-lux

Any visitor to South Africa’s Kruger National Park wants to see the Big Five: lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo. Though there are countless species to keep career game wardens busy for a lifetime, nothing trumps the satisfaction of spotting the Big Five.

Here is a quick primer on the doctrinal biggies of the Reformation, the so-called “Five Solas.”

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Reformation Day - NerdsSo, I know I’ve posted this (and even re-posted this) before, but when Reformation Day comes around, these truths are what my heart and mind settle upon as I thank the Lord for what He accomplished through the Reformation.

499 years ago this upcoming Monday, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther famously nailed his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany, kick-starting the Protestant Reformation. Nearly 500 years later, God’s people reserve this day to celebrate the rescue of His Word from the shackles of Roman Catholic tyranny, corruption, and heresy. The glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in the sufficient Scriptures had been recovered, and it’s been doing its saving work ever since.

Romans 1:16–17 stands at the heart of the Reformation, especially because of how central it was in Luther’s conversion. Luther speaks of how he had hated the phrase, “the righteousness of God,” because he understood it to be speaking only of God’s standard of righteousness by which He would judge unrighteous sinners. But eventually, he says, “I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely by faith. Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open.”

Today, as we reflect upon and remember the grace of God that fell upon the world in the Protestant Reformation, I want to reflect upon the Gospel that made it happen—and particularly the concept of righteousness which was so central to the regeneration of the great reformer. And to do that I want to focus on another text that Paul penned, which gives us wonderful insight into the saving righteousness of God. In Philippians 3:9, Paul explains what it means to be found in Christ—namely, “not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (NKJV).

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“Good and Bad Ways to Think about Religion and Politics,” by Robert Benne, is a little book with a great title.

Benne is American, Lutheran, and discerning. He not only understands the role of religion in our country’s past, but the role of politics in our religious present. He also has a knack for answering the basic questions Christians ask about politics, and he does so in a clear and concise way.

In a world where political books are ubiquitous, it is notable that there are so few good books that thoughtfully analyze how politics and the church should intersect (MacArthur’s, Why Government Can’t Save You, is a favorite of mine, but also an exception that proves the rule; Grudem’s Politics is good, but unwieldy). It is naive to say that the church should say nothing about the political issues of the day, and it is outrageous to argue that the church should have political change as one of its missions. But is there a good argument for a thoughtful middle ground?   Continue Reading…

the-atheist-delusion-dvd_3d-1Ray Comfort recently released a new movie, “The Atheist Delusion” which is free on YouTube. The movie is an hour long and is a response to Richard Dawkins’ famous book The God Delusion.”

The movie’s description states:

Having to prove the existence of God to an atheist is like having to prove the existence of the sun, at noon on a clear day. Yet millions are embracing the foolishness of atheism. “The Atheist Delusion” pulls back the curtain and reveals what is going on in the mind of those who deny the obvious. It introduces you to a number of atheists who you will follow as they go where the evidence leads, find a roadblock, and enter into a place of honesty that is rarely seen on film.

The Atheist Delusion is a mix of interviews on college campuses, television clips, beautiful sceneries and more.  There is a great structure to the movie and it progresses nicely to a final goal. It is tremendously interesting and it really does a good job of keeping interest throughout. It would be a fantastic movie to watch with the family, the youth group, Bible study or even the entire church. There are several reasons why watching movies like these are great for believers, here are some that come to mind.

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As a warm-up to Reformation Day–next week Monday–I decided to re-run this post, which I wrote when Benedict XVI became the first pope ever to resign from his post.

Pope Benedict XVIYou’ve got to admire Pope Benedict XVI for knowing how to quit while you’re ahead. As far as climbing the corporate ladder goes, getting the keys to the kingdom and the company Popemobile is a sign you’ve maxed out your promotability. An ironic flavor or the “Peter principle.”

The responsibility of being infallible is a burden no octogenarian should have to bear for long. When you’re getting on in years, and noticing an increased frequency in “senior moments” you don’t want to have to invoke St Anthony to help locate your misplaced keys.

As for the new kid on the block, weighing in at a spritely seventy-six years young (getting the white smoke green light two years sooner than his predecessor), Pope Francis the First ushers in a new era of pontificating. Personally, I think the name Jorge Mario Bergoglio is a cooler name than Francis (no offense pastor Chan), but having a 1 in your name certainly scores points for originality.

My concern whenever the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) perennially makes the news, is that Evangelicals get swept up in debates with their Catholic counterparts at the water cooler without really knowing what Catholics believe. Evangelicals assume that Joe Catholic at work knows and believes what the Pope teaches.

I grew up in a loving, fun, and staunchly Catholic home. When my Evangelical schoolmates lobbed half-baked assaults on my Mariology, purgatory, indulgences, and praying to St Christopher for a safe bus ride, they accomplished no more than convince me they were ignorant of my beliefs.

My Baptistic buddies learned, from their youth pastor no doubt, that Catholics believe in arcane ideas like the treasury of merit, that contraception is evil, and that Mary was born sinless and was assumed into heaven without ever tasting death. It was true that the Pope and other die-hards knew, understood, and believed in all those doctrines, but I could dismiss most of their attacks by honestly denying that I believed any of it. This curtailed their conversion attempts, and left me just as Catholic in my own mind as I would be if I actually did subscribe to the official teachings of the RCC.

I’m going to let you in on a dirty little secret a nun taught me in the 1st grade when I questioned transubstantiation (it turns out trace elements of Sola Scriptura were already stashed deep in my spiritual DNA from before the foundation of the world, according to Eph 1:4). Here it is…

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October 21, 2016

That’s the Gospel

by Mike Riccardi

Recently I had the privilege of presiding over my first “installation service” for a friend of mine, Alan, who served alongside me at Grace Church while he was in seminary. An installation service is basically where a new pastor is ceremoniously installed as the pastor of the church he’s been called to. It usually involves a personal and passionate call to the task of the ministry by another pastor whom the new pastor considers a mentor and/or friend. I was humbled and privileged to do that for the first time for a dear brother of mine. It was a wonderful time to be with him and his new church family, and I’m encouraged what the Lord is doing and will do through Bethany Community Fellowship in Sylvania, Ohio.

While I was there, Alan also asked me to do a series of seminars on evangelism as a weekend conference ahead of the installation service. I was delighted to do oblige, as it was a treat for me to discuss the motivation, message, and method of evangelism with the saints at Bethany. Toward the end the seminar in which I was teaching through the various points to cover in a Gospel presentation, I tried to encapsulate all I had said in the previous hour in a three-and-a-half minute summary, while also modeling for them what it looks like to succinctly proclaim the Gospel to someone. It turns out that the gang at Bethany turned it into a short video, which I share with you all today. My hope is that it serves as an example of how we can evangelize both with brevity and accuracy, and as an encouragement for you to speak the Gospel to those to whom the Lord brings you in your daily lives. Transcript below.

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I was in seminary, and had never been a pastor before. But I knew God was preparing me to become one, and my desire was to church plant. So I was overjoyed when a pastor asked me to join him in a new church close to where I lived. This was exactly what I wanted to do, and seemed like the perfect opportunity.

But I had no way of knowing that perhaps the most significant lesson I would learn through that experience would be from the pastor himself. After several years of ministry the church plant disbanded and the pastor left the ministry. He and I still kept in touch after the church shut down, but that communication dwindled over time. I found out he wasn’t going to church much anymore, and when I challenged him about that, he cut me out of his life.

I was shocked. We had been so close. We were together on the battlefield, partners in the gospel, slugging it out in that start-up church. What happened? How did this happen? Were there warning signs along the way? As I look back on that experience, I’ve pulled out three lessons for pastors—warnings you could call them—from a pastor leaving the ministry: Continue Reading…

converse_sole_stomp_01_white_by_megakorean-d632g4wIt’s never something we want to talk about. But, with it happening more than any of us would like, we must. And with a handful of passages addressing the issue, we must all the more. All Scripture is profitable. That even includes the sections covering apostasy.

It’s a big enough deal that God addresses it. And the way in which he does so is telling:

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