Urban Legends (IBTR #46)

It dawned on me that we sometimes have some serious urban legends in Christianity. My familiarity with Independent Baptist has made me aware of several in our ranks. When I looked the definition up to make sure my terminology was accurate, I laughed. Wikipedia defines urban legends as “a form of modern folklore consisting of stories that may or may not have been believed by their tellers to be true, and often possess horror implications that are believable to their audience.” The story is often “the Bible teaches …”, when of course it does not!

My thinking went this direction from a letter a fine Christian lady wrote me. She had been lambasted for an opinion that she could not believe that 1 Corinthians 7:1 (“Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.”) meant that a male could not hug a female who was merely a friend goodby.

This lady, obviously one who has become a Bible student, said that verse meant ” ‘to touch a woman’ is a euphemism for sexual intercourse”. It is very good to not fornicate, the verse is saying. Her exegesis was quite good as she shared her conclusions about the first seven verses.

The strange thing was how it came to mean that touching the opposite sex would always lead to instant fornication. That urban legend is so strongly believed by some and thundered out as if disaster was certain. Of course there is a touching that could lead to danger, but that does not mean every innocent touch is the same thing.

Urban legends can be easily fixed. Just check out the facts. It is amazing how simple it is.

In Bible matters, just check out what the Bible really says. Look at the appropriate passages in context and define the words carefully. Bible urban legends die a quick death in the hands of one careful with his or her Bible.

You feel pretty silly for believing an urban legend after you find out what it really was. For sure, don’t let that happen in God’s Word.

Find all articles in the series here.


Faulty Measurements And Misunderstood Results

Christians do it all the time. Pastors are the very worst. It can lead to great discouragement and pain. What am I talking about? Attempting to measure the results of our efforts for Christ when we know not how to measure, nor what success really is.

I guess in the end we worry more about the results of what we planned to do rather than being simple servants of Jesus Christ.
His plan, not fully even understood by us, is not enough for us. We live for what we might do for Him rather than what He might do through us. We carelessly blur the line till we are living for what we want to do and consider ourselves a failure when it doesn’t all work out as we planned. May I encourage both you and I to think about this from a different angle?

I read and reviewed a moving book about David Livingstone (link to review below). If you are like me, you count him as a hero and are inspired by his life for Christ. He was just a man. Perhaps he got a little sidetracked on exploring at the expense of his missionary efforts at times. He could be a little tough on those who worked under him in the harsh conditions of Africa and a few relationships were severed along the way. I am sure he was filled with regrets over the way he treated his wife and children. Still, he gave his life to the work he believed Christ gave him to do until that life was gone.

He clearly was led by God to see that exploring Africa would make a way for the Gospel. If the rivers could be mapped properly, missionaries could be brought in. He came to learn, quite accurately, that slavery would be a complete barrier to bringing the Gospel as no African would know the difference between a white slavetrader and a white missionary. So he went relentlessly.

In his later years he dealt with the discouragement of his results. One of his main expeditions was an embarrassing failure that haunted him his last years. Critics came out to agree with the worst thoughts his censuring mind could conjure up. The book I read showed these things really bothered him. His wife died just like her parents predicted she would if he took her to Africa. He mistakenly made finding the headwaters of the Nile his key exploration goal and he never found it. He exerted what influence he could in Africa and through letters to Europe to fight the slave trade. From his perspective, it was as ugly and bloody the day he died as ever.

He loved His Lord. On his last expedition he surely knew he was dying. He knew that meant his life would end with another failed exploration. Missions were not thriving in Africa and the slave trade marched on. I imagine he was a broken man, in body and spirit, as he knelt by his bed in prayer and then closed his eyes in death.

But Livingston was wrong. He measured his life by only what he could see. He forgot the very thing you and I so often do–what God is doing. As the book I read so magnificently showed, God was doing mighty things. He had no idea that the Lord was using his letters in Britain to kill the salve trade. He had no idea it would that the main slave market in Zanzibar would close within a month of his death. He had no idea that that army of missionaries that he dreamed of would in fact flood the African continent on the trail he blazed. He died thinking he was a failure and all lovers of Christian biography have David Livingstone volumes on their shelves. He was dead wrong.

I realize that after death we may not have the reputation Livingstone had, but it likely will not be the dark conclusions we imagine either if we have truly given our lives to serve Him. Our Lord feels no obligation to reveal all He is doing on a schedule that will massage our egos. In Heaven we can connect all the dots, but now are the days of simple service. Avoid measuring eternal results with instruments calibrated for time. Give Livingstone credit. He may have played some of the mind games of measuring results, but he never stopped serving his Savior. Right up to that day deep in Africa when he went home to look upon his Savior’s face. Let us follow his example there.

Book review:
The Daring Heart of David Livingstone


The Daring Heart of David Livingstone by Jay Milbrandt

What do you really know about David Livingstone? Would you love a volume that in giving wonderful biographical narrative emphasized one of Livingstone’s greatest, yet seldom-discussed accomplishments? How about if the volume was gripping to the point it you did not want to put down? You should, then, check out the new release The Daring Heart of David Livingstone by Jay Milbrandt and published by Thomas Nelson.

The subtitle “Exile, African Slavery, and the Publicity Stunt That Saved Millions” clues you in his angle. I must confess that at first I was a little skeptical about that angle. Livingstone was a missionary, not a political crusader, right?

Fortunately, the book was not obsessed with its angle, but only developed it naturally as it went along. What you had instead was the famous story marvelously condensed and thrilling as ever. All the big events were there woven seamlessly into the story of the man and the author’s conclusions. Mr. Milbrandt can tell a story well.

The author showed Mr. Livingstone warts and all, yet you never lost your great respect for him. He had his struggles and he felt a failure on several occasions. Results were unpleasant actually at times too. Yet, Livingstone never failed to keep pressing on.

What the author demonstrated well was that Livingstone, though he died without knowing it, was one of the main reasons the slave trade in Africa stopped. He proved too that became ever more a goal for Livingstone. He was horrified at the tragic events he witnessed in the abuse, enslavement, and,even, slaughter of Africans.

The irony of so much of Livingstone’s goals being accomplished without him knowing it, and his lonely, humble life in Africa as he became a worldwide celebrity, is a most compelling story. In my view, it is a story of God at work in our world as well.

My only complaint is the missionary work of Livingstone was rarely discussed and portrayed as a minor thing. For the man who died praying by his bed in Africa, the evidence easily proves he was a servant of the Lord.

This book is a home run, and short enough for those readers who shy away from biographies that are a little too thick. You will enjoy this book!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.


Spiritual Profiling (IBTR #45)

How fast can you size up someone as a dedicated Christian or not? Can you do it with a mere glance? If so, you may have a problem that pervades all of Christianity. It really thrives in the Independent Baptist world too. We too often become expert spiritual profilers!

Strangely, the idea for this post came from a family discussion we had in the van driving along. My son remembered an episode a few years back where we once just saw some people and said they must be Christians. It was based on how they were dressed. Then we saw them do something and said that we must have been wrong. My son remembered that episode and thought how silly we were. He was right!

We never spoke to them, nor really knew anything about them, but felt qualified to label them as sincere Christians. Then in a knee-jerk reaction, a few moments later, we felt equally capable of labeling them the opposite on the flimsiest of evidence. We have probably been more guilty of what I write of here than anything else, though we have dabbled in many of them.

It happens so often. Our pride convinces us we can tell with a glance, though somewhere deep inside we know better.

People are outraged when the police profile. As it usually goes, those who get profiled get far more angry than those who have the look the profiler finds acceptable. I could see the sense of it in radical cases (someone with a quintessential jihadist look in an airport), but beyond that it is only an inaccurate exercise at best.

In spiritual matters profiling is doomed from the start. It arrives at its conclusions with the wrong criteria. It’s like trying to add without arithmetic! Two people could walk by and one be dressed far more conservatively than the other, but how could that one thing prove which one is truly the dedicated Christian? The less conservative one may have prayed sincerely or just witnessed to someone while the more conservative one may have just yelled at some helpless sales clerk. I am not saying that one could not dress in a truly immodest way, nor am I suggesting profiling in the other direction either.

No, I am suggesting that we stop profiling all together. Jesus actually spoke of it in other terms. He said, “Judge not lest ye be judged.” He was not saying that you could not call something sinful that was biblically defined as such, but that you must not size people up by outward appearances. You do not know someone’s heart, and the things we often use to try are all the wrong things!

How do you think spiritual profiling would have gone had you tried it with the Pharisee and the Publican? Probably not a good idea, is it?

Find all articles in the series here.





Biblical Portriats of Creation by Kaiser and Little


Is the discussion of creationism now regulated to apologists only? Or is there still a place for expositors to open biblical texts and bring the discussion right off the pages of Scripture? Are such texts limited to Genesis 1-2? If you, as me, answer “no”, you will relish, then, this new volume by Walter Kaiser and Dorington Little and published by the Weaver Book Company.

Beyond two sermons from Genesis, the authors took us to Proverbs (3,8), Psalms (8, 19, 29, 33, 104, and 148), Job (my favorite of the sermons), Isaiah, Matthew and 2 Corinthians. The beauty is that the texts were not strained to draw out the story of creation, but it came out naturally in the course of solid exposition.

I love the passion in the sermons. They really are well done.

The name Walter Kaiser may ring a bell. He has been writing as a conservative scholar for many years. I have personally used several of his writings at times and believe him to be a thorough, trustworthy, and respected scholar. In this work, somehow, I saw more of the man. In addition to being a scholar, he appears to be a simple believer too. Mr. Doolittle is his pastor and Kaiser brought him into the project. His sermons are fine and it is enjoyable to see pastor and scholar working together.

I heartily recommend this book!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.


The L Word– Liberal (IBTR #43)

It is an old trick. When a label takes on a life of its own, threaten to attach the label to one not quite toeing the line to manipulate them to fall back in line. If they cross the line, destroy them with the label to instill fear in others. The unfortunate part of it is the utter dishonesty involved. It really isn’t about the rhetoric now attached to the label at all, but only an ugly control mechanism.

In the 1950s a version of this phenomenon went around that later was called McCarthyism. The label of that episode was “commie”. Were there communists working undercover in those days? Of course there were. Was what communists stood for a bad thing? Of course it was. The sad part was that many were found to be communists who were not at all. Maybe it was only that they had been kind to someone who was, or they held an opinion that some didn’t like, and the most formidable weapon around was that label. So it got thrown around.

All kinds of groups use these tactics. In our day, labels like “bigot”, “homophobe”, or “fundamentalist” can mean a lot of things to different people, and many are terrified of these labels.

Another such label, this time in Christian circles, is “liberal.” In the Independent Baptist world this label holds the most sway. In some unfortunate instances it has dramatically altered the ministry of those where the label stuck.

Are there situations where the designation “liberal” is both fair and accurate? Absolutely! For years it referred to a distinct theological position of denying the great, historic tenets of Christianity–things like the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the Inspiration of the Bible, or the Blood Atonement.

But the word “liberal” became a cheap label when it was thrown out, not for a disbelieving theological position, but a disagreement over standards or worship styles. You know, something like having a screen in the church and, presto, you are a liberal.

It is time we see through this labeling. This is not about the glory of God, or about honoring Christ, or even about Scriptural accuracy; no, this is about control. This is about holding the party line or paying the price. It is the politics of a Union Shop!

We ought to be concerned with labeling. There is sin in the dishonesty of it, as well as the destruction done unjustly to brothers and sisters in Christ. We ought not originate it, nor propagate it if others do so. We ought to counteract it by repudiating it when others employ this slimy tactic. There is no place in God’s work for cheap, misleading labels!

Find all articles in the series here.


Stepping Down For An Abuse of Power? (IBTR # 42)

Perhaps you heard the recent news that Mark Driscoll, well-known evangelical pastor of an influential megachurch, was stepping down from his pastorate, for at least a time, for “an abuse of power.” I know nothing personally about the situation, but it is clear that he was held to account by those in the circle he ran in. There was no charge of immorality, just that he was too harsh with those he ministered to.

Could Independent Baptists learn something here? We have lost a few to sexual sin or financial impropriety, but our cases of “abuse of power” are rarely held to account. Many in the Independent Baptist world seem to think those who ask for the abuse to stop are the criminals. Those who know better often enable others to propagate this warped thinking.

It is true that some church members charge pastors with abuse when it is actually the other way around. Still, there are some serious cases of abuse that should force a pastor to step aside.

I am personally aware of pastors verbally attacking someone from the pulpit, yelling at someone in the church hallway, churching someone for simply disagreeing, breaking confidences of especially personal problems, lying on a church member, starting a gossip campaign and destroying someone’s reputation. These things ought never be so for someone with the high calling of shepherding souls.

We have been known as a group for loving and respecting our pastors and that is a good thing, but that must be balanced with accountability for clearly unacceptable behavior. Good pastors will never be afraid of it. They will, in fact, relish the dignity of the office being upheld. Lord, help us learn from others.

Find all articles in the series here


Fake It Till You Make It (IBTR #41)

Have you ever been given this advice–fake it till you make it? Or have the words been unspoken, though the pressure just as real? On some level this problem runs rampant throughout Christianty, but my up close and personal experience, including my own forays into it, have been in the Independent Baptist world.

You do know what I am talking about, don’t you? This necessity that I appear to have it ALL together? To be human must not be admitted. The admission that my sanctification is not complete must never happen.

We have been led to believe that all good Christians have continually awesome Bible reading, an incredible prayer life, no personal struggles with any particular sin, and unbroken victory and joy. Then we are asked to believe that all the Christians around us (at least in the key group) are those type of good Christians. Finally we are told that for God to be happy with us we must be in that group. Since the first evidence that this is not true in us will mean our expulsion from the group, we figure we simply must fake it and hope we can spiritually catch up later.

The disaster of this approach is shown in the severity of the consequence–you don’t make it. You grow ever more the mere husk of a vibrant Christian. And ever more the fake! Appearances require all we have and there is nothing left for real growth.

The problem is that this approach is the very anthesis of Christianity. You have never had, and never will have, what it takes to make yourself a trophy Christian. If you could please God and man, why did you need Jesus the Savior in the first place? Your connection to real Christianity happened the very moment you realized you could never make it. Faking it now is a denial of Christ Himself. He never liked fake. It was when you were real about yourself that He got involved.

So you must be real. You must feel free to admit that what you want to be is not quite what you are. God’s workings on you are still very much in progress. Here is another secret. If you are real, Christ is there to help you go forward. You will actually get closer to what you want to be. Faking would never bring that to pass.

One more warning–don’t let the fakes make a fake out of you. They are not what they say. The feelings of inferiority that they pour on you are a farce. They hold up an insincere benchmark. And if you could ever get exactly what they have, you would have absolutely nothing. I started out there and so see no reason to fake my way to the same place. So the real advice is–cast yourself on Christ and make it when you make it. Leave the faking to the fakes.

Find all articles in the series here.


Illustrated Life of Paul by Charles Quarles

Outside of Christ, who’s life is most critical in the big picture of the New Testament? I imagine we would all answer the Apostle Paul. In that case, we will need a composite description of his life. For that need enter this fine volume by Mr. Quarles and published by B & H Pubplishing.

There are several famous, yet thick scholarly volumes on the life of Paul, such as those by Conybeare and Howson, Farrar, Bruce, and Pohill, but perhaps this accessible volume will better serve most Bible students. It will definitely help to connect the Book of Acts with the Epistles of Paul in a most helpful way.

The work is biographical and chronological and pleasantly fits in each Epistle to events of Paul’s life. That really brings the text alive! We know something of Paul’s hardships but seeing what he faced where it happened is even better. You will read what scourging for Jewish people was like as well as Roman flogging. His details on life in a Roman prison were more horrifying than I ever thought.

The first chapters on Paul’s earlier days filled in many blanks for me. Explaining the routes, either sea or land, that Paul traveled made sense of many biblical statements. All in all, there is much helpful information and Mr. Quarles writes well.

The only suggestion I would offer is a comprehensive chart relating his
life and the Epistles.

The visual aspect of the book is icing on the cake. The pictures are outstanding as are the maps that may look familiar if you have the well-done Holman Atlas of the Bible. This is a valuable resource!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.


The Quick-Start Guide To The Whole Bible by Marty and Seevers

Have you ever looked for a book to give newer Christians, or those who are struggling with understanding in Bible reading, help with grasping the Bible? You might want to check out this volume by Drs. William H. Boyd and Boyd Seevers and published by Bethany House.

Their stated aim is illuminating the big picture in each of the 66 books of the Bible. Most of the books of the Bible get 3-6 pages to help you get oriented before you begin reading. Key books, like the Gospels, get a little extra coverage. The volume covers setting, summary, and significance for each book. Setting and summary are helpful while significance by necessity is selective.

Space constraints mean they are selective in what they share. Some aspect you feel should be discussed might be missing, but the most critical ones are mentioned usually.

I do not feel this is a volume pastors or experienced Bible students will consult as much as some others, but for its real audience–beginners in Bible study–it is quite valuable. As a pastor, I would gladly recommend this book to those who come for help in getting more out of personal Bible reading.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.



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