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I sing a song of the saints of God,
patient and brave and true,
who toiled and fought and lived and died
for the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
and one was a shepherdess on the green;
they were all of them saints of God, and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.

Polycarp was Bishop of Smyrna and a student of the apostle John.  A Christian from childhood, his death was the first recorded death in post-New Testament history.

He lived during the most formative era of the church, at the end of the age of the original apostles, when the church was making the critical transition to the second generation of believers. Tradition has it that he was personally discipled by the apostle John and that he was appointed as bishop of Smyrna (in modern Izmir in Turkey) by some of the original apostles.

In his later years, he tried to settle disputes about the date to celebrate Easter, and he confronted one of the church’s most troublesome heretics, the Gnostic Marcion, calling him “the first born of Satan,” when he ran into him in Rome. Polycarp was also responsible for converting many from Gnosticism. His only existing writing, a pastoral letter to the church at Philippi, shows he had little formal education, and was unpretentious, humble, and direct.

Such traits are especially evident in the account of his martyrdom, which was written within a year of his death. It is not clear exactly why he was suddenly, at age 86, subject to arrest, but when he heard Roman officials were intent on arresting him, he decided to wait for them at home. Panic-stricken friends pleaded with him to flee, so to calm them, he finally agreed to withdraw to a small estate outside of town. But while in prayer there, he received some sort of vision. Whatever he saw or heard, we don’t know. He simply reported to his friends that he now understood, “I must be burned alive.”

Roman soldiers eventually discovered Polycarp’s whereabouts and came to his door. When his friends urged him to run, Polycarp replied, “God’s will be done,” and he let the soldiers in.

He was escorted to the local proconsul, Statius Quadratus, who interrogated him in front of a crowd of curious onlookers. Polycarp seemed unfazed by the interrogation; he carried on a witty dialogue with Quadratus until Quadratus lost his temper and threatened Polycarp: he’d be thrown to wild beasts, he’d be burned at the stake, and so on. Polycarp just told Quadratus that while the proconsul’s fire lasts but a little while, the fires of judgment (“reserved for the ungodly,” he slyly added) cannot be quenched. Polycarp concluded, “But why do you delay? Come, do what you will.”

Soldiers then grabbed him to nail him to a stake, but Polycarp stopped them: “Leave me as I am. For he who grants me to endure the fire will enable me also to remain on the pyre unmoved, without the security you desire from nails.” He prayed aloud, the fire was lit, and his flesh was consumed. The chronicler of this martyrdom said it was “not as burning flesh but as bread baking or as gold and silver refined in a furnace.”

The account concluded by saying that Polycarp’s death was remembered by “everyone”—”he is even spoken of by the heathen in every place.”

[Most source material from christianhistory.net]

Your Elders recently received the following note:

There has been something on my heart for a while, and I haven’t been sure about the best way to address it- so I will submit it to you and trust that the Lord will lead you to handle it as it should be handled.

Today at work, an email went out that stirred me to write you. It was an email regarding appropriate dress for the workplace. We have a handful of ladies around the office who tend to dress rather inappropriately- and it can create a tough work environment sometimes. Ladies can feel embarrassed and undervalued in the presence of these women, and I would guess the men here at the office either find themselves uncomfortable or distracted. The email did not go into detail about why certain manners of dress are inappropriate- it was pretty obvious. Around the office, we need to treat each other with respect and professionalism.

Even more should the concept of respect apply within the fellowship of believers. I have worked with groups of young women in the past and made it a point to address the issue of modesty within them.  My teaching has focused on the practical – what to avoid – but also on the deeper issues of the heart behind why they should avoid it.  I occasionally had to pull a girl or two aside and remind them of how important it is to help our Brothers in Christ stay pure in a sexually saturated culture.

However, the dress issue has not been confined to the youth group; I have noticed a number of adult women in the Body who tend to dress inappropriately from time to time.

I believe that there are two possible motives in the hearts of the Sisters I’ve noticed dressing this way. One motive is that the outfit was selected for its fashion appeal and flattering design. The other, and I believe the more prominent motive, is that the wearer is an extremely busy woman, most likely a mother, and the blouse with the V-neckline was most easily accessible in the busy course of her morning.

In either case, we ladies must be challenged about this. We must remember that if we are doing our job as a church, we are going to be surrounded by people who are at different stages in their walk with the Lord. A father of four may think nothing of the V-neckline. But the odds are that someone at the church will find himself struggling against it or lead into lust by it. This battle is everywhere for our men and boys. The Body of Christ should be a respite from this fight, not another battle ground.

Are we women were too busy or too concerned with our appearance to come along side our fathers, brothers and sons to help provide a safe place for them to relax and just enjoy the fellowship of believers? Maybe we just haven’t thought of it that way. Maybe it’s time to start.

What a blessed woman!  Her note reflects grace, practicality, and a deep love for her brothers and sisters.  About 9 minutes after receiving her note via email, another arrived from Focus on the Family.  The introduction is as follows:

American girls are increasingly being fed a steady diet of products and images that pressure them to be sexy. From clothing to cartoons, choreography to commercials, the emphasis on sexuality undercuts parents’ efforts to instill purity in their daughters.

The article goes on to describe the fashion trends that our daughters find themselves surrounded by these days and encourages parents in ways to keep their daughters safe.  If you would like to read the rest of the article, the link is here: Sexy Too Soon.

This morning I checked out the new Resurgence web site and saw that they posted (on Thursday) a great article titled Why What You Wear Matters.  Check it out – it’s good, short, practical read.

It is certainly coincidental that all these crossed my path around the same time.  Can I share just a little more?

On Tuesday I had to fire a man (“Frank”) at work.  In short, we determined that Frank was posting his former boss’ phone number on various bathroom walls and (most despicably) on a wall in a “viewing booth” in an adult bookstore.  She was receiving lewd calls at all hours of the day/night.  It got really bad when her 11-year-old daughter was propositioned by one caller.

When I confronted Frank, he lied about his involvement, saying he does not go to adult bookstores.  And why would we not believe him?  Frank is an associate pastor at his church, after all.  He is well known as being a kind, prayerful, and compassionate man.  Sadly, when confronted with irrefutable proof, Frank admitted that he frequents the bookstore where his former boss’ number was posted.

In the note that we received, the writer said, “A father of four may thing nothing of the V neckline.”  That is my only point of disagreement with her.  Yes, a particular father of 4 might not, but I believe most men have eyes like magnets that easily find & lock on to an attractive, sexy woman.  Even in church.  Maybe especially at church.  A godly woman exudes something attractive that is not physical, but draws men in nonetheless.

You may consider this semi-confessional.  I do not find myself leering at women in church (often), but I would rather be completely honest than create a false image that causes others to suspect me impossible of sins such as Frank’s.  Frank is in bondage, and he didn’t get there by asking brothers to pray for him.  I struggle here.  I suspect most of us do.

At work, where the struggle is strongest, and where we have many attractive women who know they are attractive, and use their appearance to manipulate men, I have written on my whiteboard a very short statement: “he does not know that it will cost him his life.” You will recognize it as part of Proverbs 7:23.  I was looking at it yesterday, not long after a woman left my office; a woman whose shirt buttons strained to contain her…(yes, I noticed)

I will not repeat the oft-stated point that men are visual creatures.  Got it.  Agreed.  But something in our culture is changing.  A lot of recent research is finding that women are becoming trapped in addiction to pornography.  It might not surprise you that upwards of 70% of men are looking at porn online, but are you shocked that research shows that around a third of those visiting pornographic web sites are women?

The implication here is simply this: women can do us a favor by covering up.  But guys, we gotta help our sisters too.  I’m not actually sure here what women would find sexy in a guy…it’s apparently not the same thing we see in them.  But ask your wife if you look appropriate for church.  My wife tells me to button one more button from time to time.  If you are not married, ask a trusted female friend with a male friend present.

[Tim Challies…shoots…scores! Enjoy!   -Steve]

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly saying, hooray for our side
It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
– From “For What It’s Worth” by Stephen Stills

Every so often I’ve contemplated what a Saturday Night Live type of variety program might look like if the topic was “Christendom.” There’s definitely enough material. One of the recurring skits would involve some Christians from the 1400’s about to be burned at the stake. They would be visited by contemporary Christians who would thank them for their sacrifice and tell them how such a great sacrifice gained later Christians ________. You could fill in the blank with all sorts of things. “Your sacrifice has helped give us a world in which our children can learn theology from talking vegetables. Your suffering will all seem worth it when a handsome Texan with a great smile can renovate a sports stadium and broadcast feel-good, gospel-free theology to all the world. Thank you for your noble sacrifice, brother.” Tyndale might have been willing to face the stake for the sake of the Bible, but would he have faced it for a Bible-zine for girls that looks and reads like Cosmo?

I’m a writer, not a comedian, so perhaps it’s not that funny. But the point is that real people died real deaths to pass to us a heritage of the gospel. They were serious, dead serious, and weren’t in the business of printing silly bumper stickers. We evangelicals have long done a remarkable job of trivializing that heritage. Maybe this is what happens when the danger of persecution passes and we enjoy a time of safety, a time of freedom. Or maybe this is what happens when we lose sight of the seriousness of the gospel and the countless sacrifices that made it available to us, when we begin to replace theology with something else, something less.

 A friend of mine became the Senior Pastor of his church in 2003, when everyone and their grandmother was writing and talking about how to make church relevant and more attractive to postmoderns. My friend had read Rick Warren and Bill Hybels but found them unsatisfying. Then in the spring of 2004 he had the opportunity to attend a 9Marks conference. He had not heard of Mark Dever and knew nothing of 9Marks but it was close to home and it seemed to him like such an event might be helpful to his ministry. It ended up being far more than that. It was life-changing.

The 9Marks conference, as it has done with so many other pastors, drew him back to the heart of what the Bible says about church, ministry and the gospel. And as a new Senior Pastor (with 23 years already behind him as an associate in the same church), it gave him a clear and renewed sense of direction for the conduct of his ministry. It pulled him out of anything-works-pragmatism and steered him toward a gospel-centered, gospel-focused, gospel-infused ministry.

Through 9Marks he was introduced to the world of what has now come to be known as the Young, Restless and Reformed (or the New Calvinism depending on who you ask). He had been a Calvinist for most of his ministry, but he had found most Calvinists he met tended toward the grumpy, the provincial. This new movement joined people like him to a Presbyterian crowd and even a Charismatic crowd. It built something that was unique, at least in our day and something that was really and objectively delightful—a people united around theology, not methodology. The church rediscovered theology that in so many circles had long since lay dormant.

His story is not at all unusual; it’s representative, perhaps, of the stories of thousands of other pastors who have revolutionized their understanding of the church, of its function and message and importance. And for every older pastor who has joyfully adapted his ministry, many more young pastors have grown into just this kind of ministry through mentors or through seminaries. All indications are that the movement continues to grow, to gain strength, to gain a prominent voice in the church even if not far beyond. And I am genuinely thrilled to see theology supplanting pragmatism at the center of the church.

So maybe this is a good time to ask, what’s next? Will we remain faithful to the gospel and look for more ways to be faithful to it? Or will we get, well, goofy?

Back to the martyr’s skit. What will we bring these guys? What will we have to show Huss and Tyndale and Cranmer and so many others like them? No doubt there will be good things to bring to the places of their sacrifice—evidence that the gospel they worked for and in some cases died for was alive and well and being passed on to another generation. Much of the theology they mined from the Bible is alive today in the Young, Restless and Reformed. But I fear that along with the good, and maybe eventually overwhelming much of the good, we’d bring our clutter, our junk, our nonsense, our bobble-heads. And there is an increasingly large pile of it waiting to be sorted through.

A friend recently told me “Slap the word Reformed on anything and I’ll buy it.” He was joking, thankfully, but he makes a point. We baptize products, people, musical styles, ministries, stores with the word Reformed to initiate them into our camp, to say that they are now part of the in-crowd. Slap the label Reformed on it and we suddenly do develop a new interest in it.

We have our Reformed celebrities. When John MacArthur speaks there is an immediate dissection of his words to see if he is tacitly critiquing someone or something. Mark Dever calls paedobaptism a sin and the headlines blare. When John Piper sneezes, the blogosphere is abuzz. Taken in isolation these may not mean very much at all. Taken together they start to sound like a Reformed edition of People magazine. Are we about the gospel here? Or are we about the people, the leaders, the voices? Want to hear some gossip about why a famous pastor took a sabbatical? Check the back pages of Reformed People.

I’ve got nothing against Edwards t-shirts or Luther bobble-heads or Calvin rally towels. Put it all together, though, throw it all into a box or lay it all out in a bookstore table, and it starts to come into focus. We’re always in danger of becoming a parody of ourselves, a deformed version of the very movements we have come out of. We could so easily become as much about the stuff as the theology, as much about the swag as the doctrine. If it happened to them it could happen to us, right?

I love the word Reformed; it has a long and noble heritage. And yet somehow it seems that Reformed has transitioned from a kind of theological short-hand, a useful way of describing a lot of theology in just one word, and has instead become an identity, a flag which I run up a flagpole as a means of self-identification. Reformed used to be a terse and convenient short-hand to express “I believe in the doctrines of grace, I believe in God’s total sovereignty, I adhere to certain creeds and confessions, and so on.” In one word we could summarize an entire theological position. Today, though, I fear that it is associated far more with names and personalities than theology. Reformed means “I listen to this pastor, I read these books, I go to these conferences.” But my theology may be vastly different from the Reformed guy beside me. It is an identity, not a theology, a connection to a group, not a belief. It’s a pass card, credentials allowing admittance into a community, an experience. And as such it generates swag, it generates junk, it generates all of that stuff like talking vegetables, Bible superheroes and Bible-zines.

We will need to work hard to prevent Reformed from becoming a mere fad. Fads come and fads go and usually they go on for just a bit too long. By the time they disappear we are glad to see them go since they’ve long since outlived their usefulness or their enjoyment. Rickrolling was funny for three days but lasted for six months; WWJD made a few people think over the course of a few weeks but stuck around for years. But both were fads and both eventually died an inevitable death. No one shed a tear for either one. We need to be all about the gospel lest we become yet another passing fad, a puff of smoke in the wind.

Up the street a little way sits a small Baptist Church that must subscribe to a newsletter for the world’s worst church sign slogans—things like like “Become an Organ Donor—Give Your Heart to Jesus.” Quality stuff. I drive by there often and, while fighting to keep my car from running it down “by accident,” I wonder if anyone takes them seriously. How could they? It’s a sharp display of the way the Gospel can be trivialized. “Prayer—Wireless Access to God with No Roaming Fee.”

I know that kind of nonsense has been going on for decades. But are we next? Could this Reformed movement become a parody of itself? I hope and pray that it’s not but I can’t deny that it’s beginning to show some hints that it could become that way. Sure it’s fun and inspiring even, but am I the only one who is starting to feel that if we aren’t careful we will just become “a thousand people in the street, singing songs and carrying signs, mostly saying, Hooray for our side.” I think it’s time that we paused to consider whether we’re all about the gospel, all about what the Bible commands us to believe, or if we’re increasingly becoming about who we are. The difference between the two is immeasurable.

It certainly wouldn’t hurt us to stop, hey, what’s that sound, and everybody look what’s going down.

by Ray Dillon

Most of the United States and, perhaps, the western world stands amazed at the actions of a US citizen with an MBA degree who sets out to bomb Times Square in order to create panic, destruction, as well as death.  Many ask why someone would travel multiple times to Pakistan to study the art and craft of bomb making.  He had a family, a good job, and the potential for “making it” in this country.

So we start looking for reasons.  A foreclosed house is given as the inciting incident.  However, there are millions who have had their houses taken back by the bank but, to my knowledge, none of them went on a shooting spree or constructed a bomb to set off in a major city.  Another possibility that is put forward is the deceptive recruiting power of Islamic radicals.  Yet, no one can give an idea of why a bright American citizen would fall prey to these “phantom” recruiters.

Most recently, there has been a recognition that the cause of the 9/11 tragedy, Fort Hood shootings, the “underwear bomber”, and now the Times Square bomber is that we are in a religious war.  There are still many who believe that taking on radical acts of violence are due to poverty or a lack of knowledge of the West (if they knew us they would love us).  These views are being discounted in large part because of recent events.  The radicals in London who bombed the subway system were from middle and upper-middle class English families, for example.  Osama Bin Laden and some of his closest leaders were educated in the west.  They know people here and in other western countries and still hate us and what we stand for.  Further, this doesn’t explain the bombings in Indonesia by Islamist radical groups.

So what’s the reason for all this mayhem, it is a belief in the teachings of Mohammed and in the clerics who take his words and use them to foster their own agendas.  One must remember that in the Koran there is never a mention of assurance of salvation and eternal bliss except in one case:  becoming involved in jihad.  Jihad means struggle and a holy jihad is a struggle with infidels (those who are not intensely following the rigorous faith of Islam).  Good works, prayer, giving, and attending Islamic tradition are a way to eternal bliss but they are never fully certain or have assurance of salvation. Holy Jihad does provide that assurance.

Therefore, those mentioned before are certain of their salvation because of their actions against those who stand against “puritanical” Islam, even if their efforts were not completely successful.

So why should the Christian fully understand where they are coming from.  This is not to suggest that Christians condone their actions.  The acts are abhorrent.  But radical (here I mean fundamental or going back to the root) Christians should understand faith in someone, a deep commitment to the writings or words of that person, and performing acts that the world will not understand.  Radical Christians have a deep faith in the work of Jesus known as the Christ.  The world recognizes Jesus as a philosopher, a prophet, as well as a Jewish carpenter turned radical and killed for his beliefs.  The world does not understand radical Christian faith any more than it understands radical Islamic faith.  The radical Christian has a deep reverence for Scripture and looks to it for faith and practice as God’s word.  The radical Christian believes that Scripture is inerrant and, while it is poetic and apocryphal at times, it is truth in its entirety.  The world often has a view of Scripture as a group of “holy” writings but is no more the word of God than a Fanny Farmer cookbook.

The radical Islamist has an even higher view of the Koran than the Christian.  There are Islamists in the world who have memorized the entire Koran but cannot read a word of it.  Desecrating one page of the Koran can result in death.  The world cannot understand this idea.

The radical Christian is sometimes called by God through Scripture or by internal promptings to do out-of-the-ordinary things:  give money in excess of their normal pattern, go to remote parts of the world to speak of their faith, or give their lives to serve people.  Radical Christians who have good jobs, homes, families, and MBA degrees sometimes do extraordinary things for, at least according to the world, peculiar reasons.

Christians have been doing unusual, out-of-the-ordinary, even seemingly weird things for centuries.  They don’t seem too strange to those who understand. Christians do these things, because we are in a holy war.  The enemy is defeated but the battles still go on and Christians are called to enter in to the fray.

So, while the world doesn’t understand the mindset of shoe bombers, underwear bombers, van bombers, and others of like mind, the Christian should understand.  Faith is only as good as the object of our faith.  Our object is Jesus and his finished work.  Because of that faith, we sometimes are called to do radical things.  Jesus called us to be ministers of reconciliation.  The pursuit of that call is something the world cannot understand.

I’ve been so far behind, I think I saw my future self passing me on the way home!  Here’s a great post from Michael Patton over at the Parchment & Pen blog.  (Michael seems to be going through a rough patch lately.  Send up a prayer or two for him if you think about it.)

Not too long ago I wrote a blog post about 14 examples of the type of apologetics (defending the faith) that Christians should not use. Due to an enthusiastically sent email I received today, I have a 15th example. And I am not happy about it.

I know how it is. We believe what we profess and we are quick to accept anything and everything that confirms some aspect of our faith. I am the same way. However, what we believe is too important for us to be uncritical, even about those claims that seem to support what we believe.

These pictures below represent supposed archaeological finds of giants in Greece. The person who sent these to me (and lots of other people after being forwarded many times) believes this to be proof of the giants that lived in the days of David (Goliath and his bothers; the Nephilim, etc.). The title of the email was “Nephilim – Giants in Greece.” The last words on the email were these: “And in the final analysis…….. The Bible does tell the truth and with precise accuracy….. No doubt about that!!!!”

I must admit that my critical admonition here is only going one way. I have not checked to see if this is true. I simply know it is not.

The enthusiastic, “No doubt about that” from the sender scares me for many reasons.

1. I am frightened by the lack of critical spirit this represents among Christians who blindly accept any bit of “evidence” that seems to support the faith. This is not the way God wants us to use our minds, even if the uncritical conclusions support his truth. We simply can’t do this folks.

2. I am also afraid of a faith built upon such tabloid evidences. Whether it is the Bible code, the Shroud of Turin, the lost day of Joshua, crying statues of Mary, or Noah’s Ark sightings, these type of things usually don’t last. If your faith is built on them, it won’t last either.

Could it be that we find evidences that confirm our faith? Certainly. We do all the time. It is not the finding of evidences that concerns me, but the uncritical method with which these evidences are evaluated by many well-meaning Christians. I am sure that some Sunday School teacher is going to use these pictures in a PowerPoint presentation this Sunday to show how Christianity is true.

Want to set people up to leave the faith later? This is the first step.

3. Finally, this gives our critics great ammunition. I know that critics will always find their reasons for rejecting our beliefs no matter what, but let’s make sure we do our part to help them reject and criticize for the right reasons. Let them take on our best apologetics, not these side shows.

In short, if you are reading this and your conversion is strongly supported by any tabloid support for Christianity such as this, please, please, please, rethink your faith. I would rather have you not believe having looked at good evidences for Christianity, than to have a believe built upon this type of manipulated sensationalism. More than likely, most (if not all) of these types of things are going to fall apart.

Most Christians are not too critical when it comes to this type of thing. They think that they are supposed to believe it. And I know that this does not only go for Christians. Atheists, Mormons, Muslims, and any other faith-based belief system is going to have those who uncritically use “evidence” that is, in the long run, counter-productive. But I am not talking to them right now. They can use all the pancake apologetics they want. But we (Christians) simply don’t need to. We have enough evidence for our faith to keep up from resorting to such things.

How would you encourage a Christian to resist sin while knowing that God will ultimately work it for their good?

That’s really a good question.

Very practically, the devil and our own sin can incline us to use the sovereignty of God to justify complicity in sin. And it’s at this point that we need to have a strong commitment to the authority of the Bible and the authority of God telling us how to live with the truth that he has revealed to us.

So many of us learn a fact, like “God is sovereign” or “God loves me” or “God hates sin,” and we start spinning implications out of our brain, some of which aren’t biblical!

They look rational. They look like they should be believed. “Well, if God is sovereign, then he is responsible for evil. Therefore we can’t be responsible. Therefore let us sin that grace may abound,” blah blah blah, and it’s all unbiblical!

If we’re going to latch on to big truths like the sovereignty of God, we’ve got to latch on to them the way God ordains for us to latch on to them. We’ve got to latch on to them biblically. That is, we have to see them in connection with all the other biblical truths.

Among those biblical truths is Paul contemplating the thought in Romans 3 and 6, “Shall we sin that grace may abound?” He just said in Romans 5:21 that where sin abounded, grace much more abounded. And here goes somebody with their logic: “Cool! I’ll just make grace abound everywhere! I’ll just click on as much pornography as I can, and commit as much fornication as I can, and steal as much as I can, and be as greedy as I can. Praise God’s grace!”

And Paul answers that in chapter 3 that those people deserve to be accursed. And he says in chapter 6, “Shall we sin that grace may abound? God forbid! For how can you who died still live in it?”

Now there’s a truth as important as the truth of God’s sovereignty.

Christian, you’re dead. You’ve got to come to terms with what that means. You can’t just say, “Well God is sovereign, therefore all my sins are his doing. Therefore I can sin.” No! Be biblical. Think God’s thoughts. This is complex. Don’t depend on your own brain. Depend on God’s brain. And God says, “Dead people don’t sin” (Romans 6:3).

So you need to figure out what it means to be dead. And put to death what is earthly in you. “If we live according to the flesh, we will die. If we, by the Spirit, put to death the deeds of the body, we will live.” That’s a truth as big as the truth of God’s sovereignty. You can’t throw that out and just go do your own logical thing.

So my answer is, Be biblical. We’re working here with infinite realities that our brains are not capable of managing on our own. You can’t learn one truth from God and then manage it with your brain. You have to constantly submit every thought that you have about God to other thoughts about God so that God manages your brain. Otherwise you will take a truth and distort it in some sinful way.

This is really big. Bottom line: be thoroughly biblical. Test everything by the Bible.