Thursday, September 27, 2012

Life's Toughest Question by Jim McClarty

 Here is a good post on answering Life's toughest question.  And deciding what that question is.  This is from Jim McClarty at

Life's Toughest Question
Q -
How would you go about structuring a message titled: answering life's toughest questions?
Jim -
I have a brief answer. Woody Allen said in one of his films (they all run together at some point) that humans spend their time creating trouble and dilemmas in their life so that they won't have to face the really big issue, which is that we are all going to die. There's a lot of truth in that. I would add that we create dilemmas that are actually within our power to control or solve in order to fool ourselves into believing that we are the masters of our destinies and that we actually will have some control over our ultimate fate.
But, the real issue remains - we are all going to die.
I've heard a whole rash of sermons on the radio lately [they seem to run in cycles. I think the radio guys all listen to each other and when somebody comes up with an idea or series that sounds intriguing the rest of them jump on the bandwagon so as not to lose their audience...but, I digress) that have to do with Life's Tough Questions, and similar titles. And, of course, they all run through the litany of human troubles, especially those that are "big press" items, like abortion, race relations, marriage, crime, drinking, etc.
To be honest, those messages don't do much for me. I listen to them to try and get the pulse of "the church as entertainment" movement. But, they are always little more than popular questions with semi-Biblical, or pseudo-Biblical, answers. Abortion? Hate the sin; love the sinner. Race relations? Love your brother as yourself. Marriage? Husbands, love you wives as Christ loved the church. Crime? Thou shalt not steal. Drinking? Be not drunk with wine.
You get the picture. Basic answers to complex questions. It's sort of like Nancy Reagan's answer to the drug problem - Just Say No. Well, if the drug problem in America were so simple it could be solved with a slogan, we'd have licked it a long time ago.
Nevertheless, these questions are hardly anything new. These are problems that are typical of the human condition in any age. Sinners do sinful things. The sinful things that sinner do will always be a problem for the church. Well, at least they used to be a problem, until the contemporary church decided to embrace them as opportunities to be more "seeker sensitive."
My point?
The supposed "hard questions" of life aren't really that hard. They may be complex, but they are ultimately manageable. That gives us frail humans some sense that we can, by own effort, solve some of our own problems. And, most of what I hear called "the hard problems" are really quite basic, according to Scripture.
Human actions fall into two categories: right and wrong. Most reasonably educated people, or at very least people indwelt by the Spirit of God, have some sense of what's acceptable and what's not in God's eyes. Only sociopaths don't understand that killing people is at very least "anti-social." We may act as if we don't recognize any authority but ourselves, but deep down we all fear that there might actually be a God, He might actually be watching, and we may in fact be held accountable for our actions. But, we don't have to think about that if we fill our time and thoughts with problems we might actually be able to solve with a little brain-power and effort. We'll just push that "God" thing to the side.
So, are there answers to our social problems and ills? Sure.
Abortion? Don't do it. Children are a gift from God. Murder is wrong. There, that wasn't too tough. Race relations? Esteem every man as better than yourself and remember that the purest races are mixed breeds. In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile. He has made of the two "one new man." So, act like it. I could go on, but you get my drift. God actually has provided answers to our "toughest" questions. We just don't like His answers. Murder? Don't kill. Crime? Don't covet; it leads to stealing. Sexual immorality? Don't fornicate. Don't commit adultery. Those are the answers.
The simple reality is that God has laid down His standard and He expects His standard to be upheld. Now, will it be? Nope. Sinners to sinful things. Will it be upheld in Church? It should be, but that's why grace is so necessary. We all have come short of the glory of God.
So, are life's toughest questions that same list of social ills that's repeated ad nauseum in these sermons? No, absolutely not. Life's toughest questions are the ones nobody asking, because they are afraid of the answer. So, to avoid the answer, they don't ask the questions. It's easier to deal with questions we can answer in a thirty-minute, radio-friendly sermon.
So, what are the tough questions?
Let's start at the top: Is there a God and will He really judge me for my actions?
The answer, of course, is: Yes, there is a God. And yes, everywhere that He presents Himself in Scripture He represents Himself as a jealous God, who will judge in righteousness and who is willing to condemn people eternally.
Life's toughest questions #2: Is it true that all men are sinners, born dead in trespasses and sins and there's not one thing we can do to satisfy the holiness, or appease the wrath, of God?
Answer: That's right. You're born dead in sin. It doesn't matter whether you think you're a sinner or whether you have verifiable evidence that you're better than, say, Hitler. The standard of righteousness is not other people, the standard is the Holiness of God. And, whether it's Hitler or Mother Teresa, all we like sheep have gone astray and turned, everyone of us, to our own way. No human being that is tried on the basis of his or her personal works and individual level of sanctification will be allowed into Heaven. We are all guilty, and our best works of righteousness are nothing more than filthy, bloody rags.
Life's toughest question #3: Is it true that God is absolutely holy and that people have to attain a standard of holiness commensurate with God's in order to avoid eternal damnation?
Answer: Yep, that's the deal. The standard is impossibly high. Don't attempt to lower the standard in order to convince yourself that you can attain it. I mean, if real holiness could be achieved by how you dress, or wear your hair, or what church you attend, then we could certainly live up to that. But, those are manmade standards designed to convince egocentric people that they actually are impressing God with their actions.
Nevertheless, the true standard, according to Jesus, had to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees (who were actively attempting to achieve salvation through the actions of the Law). In other words, neither the Pharisees nor the disciples had yet to achieve a righteous standard sufficient to obligate God to save them. No one gets in by their personal merit. The standard remains and the standard does not bend. God does not grade on a curve. Only absolute, eternal, spotless holiness will achieve eternal salvation.
Life's toughest question #4: Oh my Heavens!!! What if those first three questions and answers are right????!!!! What will I do???!!!! I mean, if God is absolutely holy and I am absolutely depraved, then I am absolutely hopeless!!! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
And that, my friend, is life's toughest question. God is holy. I'm dead in sins. The gulf between us is insurmountable. What will I do?
That's the question no one seems to ask anymore. They want to make sinners look good, or bring God down to our level. Either way, they are creating a false answer to a seemingly impossible question. God's standard does not bend and dead men do not make themselves alive. We are in desperate trouble.
Life's one toughest question: What will I do about eternity?
Answer: Christ. There is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. That's the answer. Christ did not live and die in order to give us a simpler, calmer, more blessed life here on earth. He did not agonize on the cross in order to supply us with endless health and comfortable shoes. He did not endure separation from His Father, causing Him to cry out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" in order for us to make Him our bellhop and let Him know when we need something from Him.
The answer to life's toughest question is that only faith in Christ's finished work will result in salvation, the only thing you absolutely, positively must have when you leave this world. And, as I said, we're all going to leave. You can suffer through life's other miseries and do it with great aplomb or with wailing and gnashing of teeth, but if you don't know the answer to that one question, you will be cast off from God's presence for the rest of forever. Get that one question right, and Christ's own righteousness will be imputed to your account, and you will live gloriously through eternity, accepted in the beloved, and securely wrapped in the powerful, unchanging love of the Father.
Spend the rest of your life debating the minutiae of the human experience and you may never have to address that question.
So, if I were constructing a message with that title, that's the approach I would take. I know that life has bumps and troubles. But, that's life. The big questions are those that lead to eternal life or damnation, and those questions are far too frequently ignored in favor of the minor, more immediate dilemmas that are within our grasp.
Grace and peace, philos.
Jim Mc.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

New Posts - Questions and Answers from Jim McClarty

 This post is a reprint from questions and answers from Pastor Jim McClarty.  We enjoy his expositional preaching and firm biblical stance.  We hope you enjoy the posts.  His website is

Music In Church
Q -
I recently read a message on Acts 2:42 that commented, "Only the activities outlined in Acts 2:42 are valid for things to do in church. Teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer." While this is the "fingerprint" of the church, whether meeting in a home, barn, or 10,000 sq. ft. building, how does singing fit into what Paul was writing? Most churches seem to split the service with about 40% worship, 40% teaching, and then 80% announcements.
So, help me out here: singing. How much emphasis should we put on it in church?
Jim -
You'll pardon me if I question your math skills. :)
I do not actually agree with the comment above, inasmuch as I do not think that only those activities mentioned in Acts 2:42 qualify as genuine, valid church activities. Certainly, those activities are important and must be included in any healthy church life, but to limit a church's functions and actions to those four is a bit shortsighted. For instance, we know that Paul taught churches to take up collections and offerings. That's not mentioned in Acts 2:42, but it's a valid church activity. Or, how about the very next verse, Acts 2:43? Luke wrote that miracles, signs and wonders were done by the apostles within the church. The rest of that chapter recounts how the saints had all things in common and sold their property, laying the money at the feet of the apostles. Surely, these were valid church activities.
And, as you point out, singing has always been a part of worship. When Jesus finished His last supper with the apostles, they sung a hymn and left for the Mount of Olives (Mat. 26:30). Of course, their method of singing may have been quite different than our modern concept of music. It may have been more like recitation. But, it was still a group activity, designed for worship and to enhance the sense of community.
Also, Paul taught the Ephesians that they should be "filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord." (Eph. 5:18-19)
He told the Colossians, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs." (Col. 3:16)
Singing was common in the Corinthian Church, including singing "in the Spirit" or in a tongue. Paul said, "What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also; I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also." (1Cor. 14:15)
Hebrews 2:12 reads, "I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee."
James adds, "Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing psalms." (Jam. 5:13)
And, of course, in the book of Revelation, the 144,000 sing a "new song" (Rev. 5:8), and the redeemed saints sing the song of Moses and song of the Lamb (Rev. 15:3).
So, it appears inescapable that singing has a long heritage and rightful place within the Church. Singing has always been a vital and useful part of church activity as a facility for praise, thanksgiving, and worship.
Now, I said all that to say this -
I am bothered by the emphasis on music in the modern church. Music and singing have never saved anyone. People are not saved through waving their arms, singing repetitive choruses or having a warm feeling when the choir sings. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:17).
"For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." (1 Cor. 1:21)
To my way of thinking, music programs have become the spiritual bane of the modern "entertainment" church. People love to be entertained and there are billions of entertainment dollars passed around each year. So, the church has begun competing for those dollars. But, in the process, the church has forgotten its purpose and the only genuine method of salvation. That's not a popular position, I realize. But, popularity has never been my goal.
Today, in most modern churches - and their "contemporary" services - preaching takes a far back seat to music, drama, dance, puppets, sticks, clowns, and mime (!!!). And, they have the nerve - the raw audacity, the repugnant presumption - to call these things "ministries." Is there anything more confusing than the notion that we can spread the Word by pantomime? What silliness has overtaken the once-glorious church of the living God.
What do all those activities have in common? They are all "performances." They all require people to get in front of the congregation and "perform." But, "ministry" and "performance" are 180 degrees removed from each other. In the New Testament, the word "minister" is the Greek "diakonos." The most common meaning of that word is "servant" or "attendant." The verb form of the word, "diakoneo," means "to serve, to wait upon." So, anything that is labeled "a ministry" must, by definition, wait upon others in a servile condition. That is quite the opposite of performing, clowning, juggling, and the like.
I simply cannot imagine that Paul would ever truncate his preaching in favor of a little one-act drama. Or, would Paul sit still while a church paraded out clowns and magic to spread the gospel? I don't think so. And, it would not be because of ancient superstitions or fear of conjurers. It would be because the salvation of people is too important to play with. And, there is only one prescribed method of spreading the saving message. If we are going to be serious about God and His Word, then we must question these trends.
And, speaking of disturbing trends, when did the church become a platform for creating celebrities? God gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints and the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. (Eph. 4:11-12) I don't see "worship leaders" anywhere in that list. Or, "pop icons" - N'Sync-style "boy bands" that bump and grind while they sing quasi-Christian songs. And, I feel the same way about celebrity pastors. Any ministry that is named after the preacher is emphasizing the wrong leader. The preacher becomes a celebrity in his own right and his services become a cult of personality. It's show-biz at its worst.
I grew up in the church. I've seen it all. I've witnessed the "behind the scenes" wrangling for power and prestige that happens in multi-million dollar ministries. And, as the pastors and leaders struggle for power, notoriety and money, the saints end up "taking sides." I have known song leaders who see their position, as do many "youth ministers," as stepping-stones to the pulpit - their real goal. It's shameful. They seek to undermine the very men they agreed to assist. The saints are split and the sheep are scattered. Spiritual slaughter in the name of God...and fearsome, out-of-control egos.
You see, it was never a question of whether music was appropriate in the church. It was always a question of purpose. What is the purpose behind the music? Is it to glorify God and produce a shared sense of community, awe, or spiritual union? Or, is it produced for the purpose of glorifying the celebrities on the platform, who sell their CD's in the foyer after the service?
This is so basic that it absolutely frustrates me. Everything done within the church must be done for the purpose of God's worship and glorification, as well as the edification, spiritual well being and unification of the body. Anything done for any other reason is blasphemous. But, the church has forgotten words like "blasphemy." They have replaced it with words like "tolerance."
And another thing, as long as I'm ranting --- every church in our area, in an effort to be "different" and separate themselves from the crowd, now offers "contemporary" worship. So, in their rush to be "different" they are exactly like everybody else.
They all have guitars. Once upon a time, that was risky. They have drums. Very risky. They have electronic keyboards and bass guitars. They play with rhythm and pulse so the people can sway back and forth. Fine, fine, fine.
I like musical instruments and I think every instrument is fair game in worship, provided it is played by someone with a heart for service. For instance, a snare drum is an inanimate object. It cannot sin; it cannot perform acts of righteousness. Its relative appropriateness in church is determined by the person playing it. And, any drummer with a Christian heart for service is welcome to play in any church I pastor. It's the servant I'm looking for, not the snare drum.
But, this rush to be contemporary has ultimately proven it's own pointlessness. It's the same old thing, passed off as some new thing. You can visit any church in our area (as I have) and you'll find "same time, same place, same thing." But, the leaders are convinced that people will only come back if they continue to offer "new" things. And, you know, there's nothing new under the sun. Paul dealt with this same dilemma -
"Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)" (Acts 17:18-21)
Those people were so superstitious that, for fear of missing some god in their pantheon, they even had a monument to "the unknown god." The modern church is not far behind them. The current trend to ecumenism is welcoming every foreign god they can find. And, like the blind leading the blind, they all follow the deadly trend.
So, do you want to know what makes a church genuinely different?
Give up?
Preaching the true doctrine of God in Christ, salvation by grace, and God's sovereign control in all things. Declaring His absolute Holiness and His right to insist that people only approach Him via the means He establishes and approves. Teaching the utter sufficiency of Christ in all matters of salvation, including the completed, successful atonement. Assuring the saints of our security in His finished work. That is the lost message of the church. That is what makes a church different.
Where is that preachment? Where is the Word that produces faith? Where is the call to repentance and the food that nourishes hungry souls? Where are the men who actually understand that they are dealing with the ever-living, never-dying, eternal status of men, women and children? Where are the men who take God seriously? Where? I am so tired of the void that permeates the church. It makes me cry when I'm not ranting and raving and beating my fists against the wind.
Anyway, I just wanted to answer that question. It hit a nerve, as you may have discerned. ;-)
I love the Church. I love the Church of the Living, Resurrected Christ. I love the saints of God and the Word that guides people from life into life. I adore my Savior and I hurt to see him dragged through this muddy world. But, one day, my friend, He will return and set things right. And, there will be music. And, there will be singing like we've never heard. And, it will be glorious. And, I want to sing along.
Until then, I pray that God will send laborers into His work, always anticipating His appearance and the joy to come.
That will be a good day. (I am the master of understatement...)
Anticipating that event, I am, as ever, yours for His sake,

Legal Stuff:  The documents contained in this website are the property of Jim McClarty and Grace Christian Assembly.
Feel free to copy and distribute any portion of the documents posted here but, we do require that you keep the documents in their entirety and the copyright information with them and intact.  Your cooperation is greatly appreciated!  Thanks.