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Still Selling Indulgences in 2012

Below is an interesting article from the Associated Press about the “church tax” in Germany.  That’s right, “church tax”.  At first glance, I thought this was only about the Roman Catholic church, but I quickly discovered that Germany collects a tax from those who claim church affiliation and then redistributes that money to the churches/synagogues based on the affiliation of the tax payer.  Many have disavowed church membership to avoid paying this tax.  The article states that the Catholic church refuses to perform baptisms, etc. to those who don’t pay the tax.  I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the protestant churches have similar practices.  The practice of the government having financial control of money intended for a church has all kinds of possible negative ramifications (see the establishment clause  and the free exercise clause in the first amendment of the US constitution), but the one that comes to mind here is the similarity to the practice of selling indulgences.  While technically, these aren’t “indulgences” which was paying money to avoid penance or shorten the stint in purgatory (and which the Catholic church has reinstituted, by the way), the practice of withholding the ministry of the church from non-tax payers is essentially the same thing, if you believe the false teaching that somehow an institutional church has authority over your salvation.

No tax, no blessing: German church insists on levy

No sacraments without taxation: German churches exclude believers who won’t pay religious tax

BERLIN (AP) — The road to heaven is paved with more than good intentions for Germany’s 24 million Catholics. If they don’t pay their religious taxes, they will be denied sacraments, including weddings, baptisms and funerals.

A decree issued last week by the country’s bishops cast a spotlight on the longstanding practice in Germany and a handful of other European countries in which governments tax registered believers and then hand over the money to the religious institutions.

In Germany, the surcharge for Catholics, Protestants and Jews is a surcharge of up to nine percent on their income tax bills — or about €56 ($72) a month for a single person earning a pre-tax monthly salary of about €3,500 ($4,500).

For religious institutions, struggling to maintain their congregations in a secular society where the Protestant Reformation began 500 years ago, the tax revenues are vital.  (read the entire story here)

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.  Ecclesiastes 1:9 (ESV)

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7 (ESV)

Chris Rosebrough on Mark Driscoll’s Abuse of Power

Revised: a thoughtfull and timely word. Somehow, men like Driscoll believe that all others should be held accountable to biblical principals, but their cause or vision puts them on a level where they are above any authentic, biblical accountability, as long as they can use the excuse that they are following the vision that God gave them.

Politics and God’s Sovereignty: Standing Against Injustice

God’s church universal, as well as the church local, has the privilege and duty to glorify God as its primary mission.  While edification of the saints and evangelism of the lost are preeminent activities within our mission, we cannot forget that we are to make a difference socially as well.  Not the social gospel that simply seeks to meet the external needs, but the true Gospel that seeks to meet the external needs of the suffering as evidence of Godly compassion, all the while consistently communicating the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His propitiation by His atoning death as our substitute and His subsequent resurrection.  James makes it clear and Jesus leaves no room for doubt:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction,and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  James 2:15-16

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’  Matthew 25:40

God’s word instructs us to minister to the “least of these” as part of our mandate as salt and light in this distasteful and dark world.  For those of us living in the United States and those living under similar governmental systems that recognize basic human rights & dignity, we must also use the freedoms we have been provided to speak out against injustice against the weak, the poor, the suffering, the “least of these.”  The fact that we live under a governmental system where we have the freedom to take political action is part of God’s sovereign design.  If we have the freedom to pressure our government to act on behalf of those who cannot protect themselves from injustice, then it is our solemn duty to do so.

In that vain, I’ve re-posted a blog from The Gospel Coalition that brings to light the injustice occurring in Pakistan against one of “the least of these.”  Please resolve to write, email & call your government representatives to pressure them to take a stand and act against this evil.

By JOE CARTER, The Gospel Coalition

Mentally Disabled Christian Girl Faces Life Imprisonment for ‘Blasphemy’ 

The Story: In Pakistan, a twelve-year-old mentally disabled Christian girl is in jail on charges of blasphemy. If convicted, she could face life in prison.

The Background: Although details about the incident remain unclear, the girl, Rimsha Masih, is claimed to have burned a Koran for cooking fuel. The child is said to have confessed, but she is believed to have Down Syndromeand is not aware of her actions. (read more)

Politics and God’s Sovereignty: Dishonorable Disclosure

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a firm believer in God’s sovereignty, not only in my personal life, but in all the affairs of men including the politicians and rulers that lead nations.  I often see those who also hold a high view of God’s sovereignty using it as an excuse not to engage in the political arena in any manner whatsoever.  I would argue that, on the contrary, it is our Christian duty to participate at least to the degree that we take advantage of the freedom that God’s sovereignty has granted us within the governmental system that He has established to rule over us.  For me, living in the USA, not only does this mean that I should be informed and exercise my right to vote, but that I should also exercise my right to freedom of speech in order to inform others of ideologies, policies and actions of those who are or who would desire to be in authority over us when those ideologies or actions threaten the freedom that God has so graciously provided.  I believe that this is consistent with God’s sovereignty because it is God who has given me a political system that allows this freedom.  This is why I posted the video below, which I believe is a must watch for anyone who appreciates living in the USA and is thankful for the freedom that God has granted.  You can also go to the website here: Special Ops OPSEC.

A Story of Depravity & Redemption

When I came across this story by Tony Anderson on the Resurgence blog, I was both sickened and encouraged: sickened by the exploitation that so many Christian men help fund and encouraged at how God works, even in the darkest circumstances.

ARE YOU READY FOR AN EYE-OPENING, GUT-WRENCHING FILM?

by Tony Anderson

THE ROOT OF TRAFFICKING

We all have responsibility to the victims of this injustice, and we’re thrilled that 85% of the money that comes into our doors goes right back out to some of the best organizations in the world that rescue, rehabilitate, and reintegrate the women & children that live in this hell.

But who’s going after the victimizers? Really…who’s made it their ambition to kill this thing at the root? If we rescued every victim today, we’d wake up to a demand for 100+ million new slaves tomorrow. If a victim’s care is the only weapon in this battle, it’ll continue to do a cyclically miserable job of winning.

If we rescued every victim today, we’d wake up to a demand for 100+ million new slaves tomorrow.

We’ve got to go after the heart of the issue, and that is the hearts of men. Men perpetuate the demand in sex slavery. Men in our cities, backyards, and churches can fuel the global sex trade with their “private” sexual decisions, which often create massive global impact. (read the complete story here)

Indelible Grace

Indelible Grace’s First Album

Six or seven years ago, I was desperately searching for meaningful, theologically sound, contemporary music.  I had come to the point where I didn’t even listen to “Christian” music anymore because the vast majority of it seemed to:

a) fail to glorify or even mention Jesus by name

b) integrate worldly philosophies

c) be man-centered rather than God-centered

d) be shallow & repetetive

Thankfully, a friend introduced me to Indelible Grace Music (www.igracemusic.com).  Here is what Indelible Grace says about how they came to be:

Indelible Grace Music grew out of ministering to college students, primarily through Reformed University Fellowship (RUF). We saw many touched by the gospel, and gripped by the rich theology and great poetry of the hymns of the Church. As these students began to taste more of the depth of the gospel and the richness of the hymn tradition, many began to join the music of their culture with the words of our forefathers (and mothers!), and a movement was born.
But actually, this is not really a “new” movement at all! Up until the beginning of the 20th century, it was common for people to compose new music for each generation for many of the hymns that they loved. There is no rule that says each hymn can only have one musical setting, and in fact, hymnals are designed for you to be able to mix and match words and music — that’s why they have a metrical index. But unfortunately, we lost this tradition and got stuck in a more modern traditionalism of associating one particular tune with one particular hymn. I am reminded of an incident a few years ago at the national meeting of our own denomination after a worship group had played a new version of Wesley’s “And Can It Be” (the one that is on our 1st CD by the way.) Many were upset by the new music and one gentleman stood and protested the new music saying that Wesley had written this hymn to majestic music and that he must be turning over in his grave. At this point, the organist for the convention rose and told the man (correctly) that the critic had probably never heard the music Wesley wrote the hymn to (if he even did write it to music when he composed it), and that the tune the man thought was the original was actually a bar tune!
Our goal is not change for change’s sake, but to rekindle a love of hymns and to invite many who would never associate rich passion with hymns to actually read the words. We believe that we are impoverished if we cut off our ties with the saints of the past, and that we fail to be faithful to God in our own moment of history if we don’t attempt to praise Him in forms that are authentic to who we are.

God has deeply blessed me through all the wonderful songs that have come out of Indelible Grace and their wonderful albums.  In fact, I’m sure my family is probably tired of listening to Matthew Smith belt out “Come Ye Sinners” or Sandra McCracken’s beautiful effort on “And Can It Be”, not because the music isn’t great, but because I can’t stop listening to their music and that’s all my family hears when I’m driving.  I thank God continually for Kevin Twitt and RUF at Belmont University and the vision that God gave Kevin to start IGM.  I’m quite thrilled to learn that they will soon be releasing Indelible Grace 6.  You can get a taste of IG6 and hear their vision for this latest release here:


If you’re interested in hearing more of their music, you can hear samples at the web site (http://www.igracemusic.com/music/index.htm) and purchase their CD’s or you can also purchase most of their music on iTunes.  Praise our Lord for this exceptional ministry!

John Piper on the Olympics

1 Corinthians 9:23–27

And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partaker of it. Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.

When Paul wrote these words to the Corinthian Christians, he assumed that they all knew about the games. The Olympic Games took place in Greece every four years without interruption from 776 BC until they were suppressed by the Emperor Theodosius in AD 393 (read more here)

5 Myths About Reformed Theology – Michael Horton

There are a lot of misconceptions about Reformed theology. I tackle these at length in For Calvinism. Here I’ve been asked to address a few of these in a nutshell. (read more here)

The Book of Mary: Diary of An Addict – Book Review

By An Addict Named Mary

Edited by Anthony Zurlo

A Book Review

I recently ran across an eBook publisher called Cruciform Press.  This is how they describe their vision:

“Cruciform Press was created in answer to a single question:

What would a book-publishing company for gospel-centered Christians look like if it began with the realities of 21st century technology?

Our answer?

It would focus on Content, Simplicity, Reliability, Trust, Convenience, Voice, and Community.”

I’ve found their books to be excellent, quick reads that challenge me on many levels, including my ideas about the lost and their lifestyles and how to reach them with the Gospel (plus, they’re inexpensive, $3 or $4 each, which is the icing on the cake because it appeals to my tightwad tendencies).  The first of these books that caught my attention was The Book of Mary: Diary of An Addict, edited by Anthony Zurlo.   This book seemed to be a huge deviation from your typical, ivory tower, theological treatise, which is exactly what I was looking for when it caught my eye.  When I saw the title, my initial reaction was that this was going to be a book about a drug addict or alcoholic who detailed her struggles and ultimate recovery from addiction.  What I discovered when reading the excerpt on the web site was that this was a very different book than anything I had ever read.  As soon as I realized this book was an actual diary purchased as part of a box of odds & ends at an estate sale, and that there wasn’t the expected ending, I decided that this was something that I needed to read.

The diary was written over a period of 6 years, by a woman named Marry who lived in the northeastern U.S. (New York/New Jersey?)  The entries in the diary are unedited except for the removal of explicit descriptions of sexual encounters with the various men that used her, and the removal of extreme language.  Here is what the editor states on page 6:

  • Names and initials in the journal have been changed, except for Mary’s first name.
  • Profanity and vulgarity have been replaced with ____, although some rough language remains.
  • Accounts of sexual encounters have been omitted, with the omissions noted. 

Book Summary

Mary is a pitifully sad, unmarried, 30 year old mother who lives in a large northeastern city with the father of her child and his dysfunctional parents.  She is addicted to multiple drugs, including meth, cocaine & heroin.  From the very first entry the reader sees that Mary is miserable and searching for anything in this world that will bring her temporal happiness.  She tries to reconnect with her extended family, drug detox, multiple sexual encounters, education, honest employment and even multiple religious philosophies.  In the end, Mary always turns back to the escape that drug addiction provides for her, all the while blaming everyone and everything in her life for her miserable existence.  Along with the drug addiction, Mary resorts to all the detrimental behavior one would expect to finance her escapism, with all of the expected consequences.  There is no Hollywood/fairy-tale happy ending with Richard Gere arriving in a limousine to take her off to a life of love, luxury and respectability.   The diary ends with a hopeless, undated entry, sometime after the spring of 1993.  The editor provides a conclusion by telling what happened to Mary, but I’ll let you read the book to learn her fate.

The Good News

Anthony Zurlo interrupts Mary’s entries at three different points in the diary to provide comment.  When I say interrupt, I’m not using the term negatively.  On the contrary, these interruptions are not only pertinent, they are also a welcome relief from the blunt reality of Mary’s hopeless existence.  The first editorial section is titled The Truth We Don’t Want to Hear, and is an excellent analysis of the mindset of the addict.  Instead of the expected psychobabble explanation that I would expect from a book like this (abusive childhood, addicted parents, broken home, ADHD, poor self esteem, and my personal favorite: bipolar, etc., etc., ad nauseum), the editor turns the table on the reader and makes the claim that Mary’s life isn’t a sad, deviant lifestyle, but actually is rather normal.    The immediate reaction to this claim is one of skepticism, but Anthony Zurlo links the lifestyle of the drug addict to the “normal” lifestyle in an effectively disturbing way.  His goal isn’t to make the reader feel really good that he’s not like that sad, drug addict named Mary.  His goal is to shock the reader into an introspective mode before reading the rest of the diary.  He accomplishes this very effectively and then abruptly goes back to the diary, leaving the reader hanging with no hope and no answers; only questions.

The second editorial section is titled Why the World Is Like It Is.  This is another opportunity for the author to attempt to integrate worldly philosophies into Biblical Christianity, but again Anthony Zurlo chooses the path less taken.  Instead, he again points the mirror right back at the reader and makes sure that the reader understands that Mary’s hopelessness as evidenced by her entries, is also the reader’s hopelessness.  He then effectively illustrates our futility with a fictional story and lays the blame for all of the corruption in the world right at the feet of the reader.  It’s not someone else’s fault, it’s not someone else who is responsible, it’s you, reader!  The reader is left hanging again as the diary entries resume.

Finally, in the last editorial section titled The Hope Set Before Us, Mr. Zurlo offers us true hope.  Not hope in therapy, a loving family, a good education, a good job or even a good church.  Mr. Zurlo provides real hope, a hope that is powerful, a hope that is eternal, a hope that is sure, a hope that brings about real change.  Yes, I’m talking about the Gospel, but not the easy-believism or mental assent that pervades the majority of what passes for evangelicalism today.  There is no moralism, no behavior modification and no talk about building up one’s self esteem because, after all, we’re all made in the image of God and God doesn’t make any junk.  He doesn’t try to convince us that if we could just have one or two small successes in our life, everything’s going to work out OK because we’ll have more confidence, look better and fit in.  Thankfully, Anthony Zurlo is faithful to communicate the true Gospel, the Gospel that is solely dependent on God’s work, on God’s grace and on God’s sovereignty.  This isn’t an anemic Gospel that may or may not result in a changed life, or one that leaves out the critical element of repentance.  This isn’t a Gospel that is dependent on the believer for positive results.  Anthony doesn’t remember Ephesians 2: 8-9 but forget verse 10.  He doesn’t forget the rock solid promise of Philipians 1:6.  No, praise the Lord, this is the true Gospel, the ever powerful Gospel, the work that is begun by God and is kept by God and is finished by God.  Mr. Zurlo is faithful to offer a real hope, an eternal hope, a powerful hope, to the praise and glory of the risen King!

Conclusion

The Book of Mary: Diary of An Addict isn’t a light read, even though it’s a quick read.  If you’re looking for a book about theology or better behavior or how to keep your kid involved in the right activities so he doesn’t become like Mary, then this book isn’t the right choice.  If you’re looking for gospel-centered hope, then don’t delay and start reading now.

Orphans of Zambia and Family Legacy Missions International

Pure Religion

James 1:27

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (ESV)

250,000!

A few weeks ago, my small group from my church joined other believers to pack food.  I had no idea what to expect, nor did I have any idea what kind of food we would be packing, how it would work, or even who was going to be fed.  I did know it had something to do with the country of  Zambia.  We arrived in the mid-afternoon as part of the last shift of believers who had volunteered to pack food on this particular Saturday.  I was amazed at the portable, efficient assembly lines that had been set up in this church sanctuary as hundreds of believers took plastic bags, filled them with vitamin packs, soy protein, rice and dehydrated vegetables with the speed and efficiency that would make any manufacturing line supervisor proud.  Not only was this process efficient, we actually had a blast packing the food.  The laughter and friendly competitiveness of the groups was absolutely contagious.  We finished our shift in about 1&1/2 hours and the end result of that day’s work was 250,000 bags of food, not much larger than a king size bag of Doritos in a vending machine, packed and ready to ship to Zambia through Family Legacy Missions.  Each bag was enough food to sustain 6 people for one day.  I don’t know if I’ve ever been more excited about any work I’ve ever done than packing food that Saturday afternoon.

Ashamed

Yes, I was excited having been part of the effort to provide 250,000 meals, but I don’t know if I’ve ever been more ashamed as well.  You see, the food that we packed was barely even recognizable as anything that we would consider food in the United States.   It looked more like a bag of garden fertilizer than anything we would consider eating.  The Holy Spirit was assaulting my heart with conviction, not just because of how amazingly blessed I am, living in the U.S. with a ridiculous abundance of every imaginable kind of fresh food that we could ever desire that I simply take for granted.  I was weighed down heavily with conviction because of the ungrateful attitude which I so often displayed when the food in the pantry or the refrigerator wasn’t exactly to my liking.  I was weighed down with conviction because of the abundance of things that I own that had become so important to me, and yet I still wasn’t satisfied.  I was weighed down with conviction because of the lip service that I have given to helping widows and orphans in their distress, but hadn’t really even gotten my hands dirty to actually help the most vulnerable.  Yes I had given a little money occasionally and felt like I had done my part.  The Holy Spirit was telling me that I was lying to myself.

1 in 6

This food that we had packed was going to be used to feed orphans in the country of Zambia.  I’m sure you think that you understand the kind of suffering that takes place in countries like Zambia.  I thought I did, but I couldn’t have been more uninformed.  You see, there are 12 million people in Zambia.  Primarily because of extreme poverty and HIV/AIDS, half of those are under the age of 16.  86% of the people of Zambia live on less than $1 per day.  The most vulnerable of the poor of Zambia are the more than 1 million orphans, or 1/6th of the population under the age of 16.  They are starved, beaten, raped, and used as sex slaves, not just by abusive strangers, but also by their own extended families: aunts, uncles & step parents who are supposed to care for them.

The Graphic Truth

I’ve attached a link below to a video that says it all too effectively.  I’ve watched it numerous times and I still can’t watch it without weeping.  Family Legacy Missions not only takes care of the overwhelming physical needs of these children, but through the provision of food, shelter and safety, they share the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to these that are the most vulnerable, so that along with the redemption of their physical dignity, they are seeing the redemption of their souls!  Watch the video and pray how God can use you to practice pure religion.

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