Saturday, December 30, 2006

Come Again???

From this AP article.

Fred Couples has delivered some of the most perplexing lines in golf, such as "I'm a lot older than I was 10 years ago," and "I'm playing as well as I've ever played, except for the years I played better."

Even though he is in the twilight of his career, golf's version of Yogi Berra hasn't lost his touch. Consider this comment from the Target World Challenge when asked about his career back problems, then try to figure out what he means.

"I wouldn't be playing great golf every week if my back didn't hurt," he said. "I wouldn't be able to play golf if my back really, really hurt, and I don't. So therefore, I try to play.

I guess it proves my point: If you talk enough, eventually you say something stupid. And you probably don't even know it until it shows up in some article.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

He Came to Divide

Little babies hold all the promise of life. With their entire future ahead of them, it is hard to imagine how they might affect the world that they live in. Will this little one be a great author? A teacher? Perhaps a great doctor or scientist? A preacher of the gospel? It is hard to answer those questions because the story has not yet been written.

Yet when Christ came as a little baby, His life story was already written, prophesied about in the Old Testament writings to the Jews, and anticipated for centuries. Thought the Jews looked forward to the coming King they were totally unprepared for what Jesus came to be. Being born of a virgin in a little manger of Bethlehem was hardly fitting for the one on whose shoulders the government would rest. A homeless traveling teacher was not exactly what the Prince of Peace was pictured as. But to top it off, his death as a common criminal was the final straw for even his most loyal followers. Indeed, what the Jews were looking for was not what they got. They wanted a King; they got a sacrifice—a sacrifice that drew a line in the sand of humanity.

The little baby did not come to unite the world in peace and harmony. As he said, he came to bring a sword that would divide even families. You see, this baby named Jesus came to be a dividing line between those who have eternal life and freedom from sin and those who spend eternity separated from God in hell. The line is drawn through faith in Christ alone for salvation.

Each person must come face to face with his need of Christ and cross the line to faith in Christ as the only Savior from sin. He calls for us to leave our own efforts to please God and trust in what He has already done for us.

At this Christmas season, we rejoice in the Christ of Christmas. He is the only hope for this fallen, broken world that we live in. He alone can give us life and freedom from sin if we will trust him.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Oh Yeah??? Who says???

Making judgments is not a clearly defined science. There is no “judgment table” that we can learn as we did the “multiplication tables” in elementary school (or 11th grade depending on your school district). There is no “Table of Judgments” with all the key information laid out like the “Table of Elements.”

No, making judgments is the result of careful learning and careful thinking. It is not an emotive process (“Well, bless God, I really feel that …”). It not a combative process (“Oh yeah??? Well listen to this …”). It is a reflective process: Reflect on what others have learned before, and reflect on how it applies to the situation at hand.

We learn to make judgments by learning and thinking. Before we do both, we have no right to make judgments.

Think of it this way. When your knee hurts, who do you go to? You probably go to your doctor, because you know he has some training in the field. You know he has interacted with the various information available on knee problems. He has seen the studies. He has probably even treated them before.

You probably do not go to your mechanic. He is well-trained for what he does. But what he does has nothing to do with knees (unless your broken tilt steering wheel is the cause of those big bruises on your knees).

When you go to your doctor to get information about your knee, you are not disrespecting your mechanic, or calling into question his abilities. You are not consigning him to hell for all eternity. You are not even saying he is a bad guy. You are simply recognizing that some people are better qualified to make judgments about certain issues than other people are.

Why is this true? It is mostly because of training. A doctor goes to medical school. He (or she) does an internship. He does his residency. He passes board examinations. And if he does not do all that, you will probably find another doctor. Why? Because you recognize the value of training in the process of making judgments.

You are also more inclined to trust your doctor’s thoughts because of his training. A while back, I had a horrible pain in my back. I could not figure it out. I put lotion on it. I sat in the hot tub at the YMCA at 5:30 a.m. I stretched. I took aspirin (lots of it). Nothing worked. So I gave up. I sprang for the $20 co-pay and I went to the doctor. Thirty seconds after lifting my shirt he says, “I think it’s shingles.” I was aghast. Surely, he should take some more time, shouldn’t he? At least a test or two? Nope. Just “I think it’s shingles.” And he was right.

What’s the point? We need to realize that some people are more qualified than others to make judgments about things. They have better training. They have better thought processes. And they know how to put the two together.

What about everybody else? Are we saying they do not have the Holy Spirit? Of course not. Are we saying they are unspiritual? Of course not. Are we saying that they should not be able to ask questions? Of course not. (I asked a lot about shingles. I made no assertions about it whatsoever.)

What are we saying? We are saying they should learn.

Here’s a grace we all need to develop: Learn when you are out of league. And stop talking and start learning.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Still Curious

Are people more willing to tolerate music they do not like for preaching they do like, or preaching they do not like for music they do like?

Thom Rainer’s book Surprising Insights from the Unchurched reports that music was an important factor for just 11% of the people they surveyed. I wonder if the survey takes into account alternative explanations.

In other words, if identical preaching existed in two different churches (one contemporary and one traditional), which would grow faster?

If I understand the survey correctly, and interpret it correctly, it would seem they should grow at a fairly even rate.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Just Curious ...

What would happen in a “contemporary church” if “traditional music” was used? Would we find that the non-traditional has become traditional? Would we find that certain people do indeed choose their church based on traditions?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Why Do I Do It?

After more than eight years of participating in internet forums on various topics, I ask myself, Why do I do it? I have been misunderstood, falsely accused, misrepresented, and jerked around more times than I care to admit or remember. (And I am sure I have done all those things to others on occasion, though not with intent). So why do I do it?

It’s simple. It’s a learning experience. One of my favorite methods of learning is interaction. I love the thinking out loud part of it, the formulation of a position and the defense of it in real time, or at least in cyber-time. I like to read, to listen to lectures, to write. But none more than interaction. Interacting with those who know more than you do is always better than the opposite, but not always possible.

I have learned more about what people believe and what I believe than I could have imagined. I have interacted with people from all theological stripes. I have learned to try to defend my beliefs, to try to see what is behind an argument, and to interact with substance rather than surface. Most of these things I have learned the hard way by continually beating my head against the cyber wall. And there is no doubt that some of it has been totally wasted time. There is no doubt that I have said some things, many things, that I wish I would have not said, or said differently. But the lessons have been invaluable. Here are a few:
  1. There is no idea too absurd for someone somewhere to believe.
  2. There is no standard of proof too low for someone somewhere to accept.
  3. No matter how explicitly you say something, someone will accuse you of meaning something else. No matter how clearly you state something, someone will accuse you of it anyway.
  4. No matter how careful you are with your words, someone will accuse you of saying something you did not say. When asked to show where you said it, they will simply ignore it, and refuse to retract the accusation.
  5. It will not be long until someone questions your intellectual integrity or insinuates that you do not have the educational qualifications to participate in a conversation with them.
  6. Someone will take it personally and it will turn ugly.
  7. Some people will refuse to answer simple questions.
  8. Some people are arrogant and will not be convinced no matter what.
  9. Some people are convinced they know what you believe better than you do. So they will tell you what you believe, and correct you all at the same time. When you tell them you believe something else, they will not listen.
  10. It is virtually impossible to communicate genuine attitudes online. Voice inflection, body language, eye contact does not play well.
Here are my general rules for participation in the blogosphere.
  1. Enjoy the conversation and the learning process. One of the greatest benefits of this kind of interaction for me is that it gets me outside of my own mind. It allows me to see into the minds of others, to know what they think, and more importantly, how they think. As a pastor, I believe a key part of my ministry and particularly my preparation for preaching is understanding how the people that I minister to process information.
  2. Think about methods of argumentation and the logic being used to support or attack a position.
  3. Realize that some people are impossible. There are some people who simply will not be convinced no matter how clear a particular matter may be made. Those with vested interests will defend themselves at all costs.
  4. Do not take things personally. If your personal satisfaction depends on the affirmations of “dude_from_kansas,” you need to get a life.
  5. Control your time on it. If you cannot live without checking in on the conversation, your priorities are probably wrong.
  6. Ask questions about what people believe. Couch your assertions about their beliefs in “seems to,” “appears,” or the like in order to communicate an openness to correction.
  7. Try to be as clear and concise as possible.
  8. Try to avoid assigning motives to people.
Blogs, internet forums, and the like can be a tremendous help or a tremendous waste of time. Use them with caution.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Dever with Welch

Ed Welch is, in my mind, one of the best thinkers and writers on Biblical Counseling today. He is involved with the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, and teaches in conjunction with Westminster Seminary. CCEF also produces the Journal of Biblical Counseling, which I have found interesting and helpful as well. Welch's books are well-written, and very helpful in thinking through the process of biblical change.

This interview with Mark Dever of 9 Marks Ministries is worth the hour or so it will take to listen to it. It is a pretty fast moving interview, never spending enough time on answering the question. (And I like Dever, but sometimes he interrupts too much.)

Welch has written a number of books including Addictions: Banquet in a Grave, When People are Big and God is Small, and Blame It On the Brain?.

One comment from this interview really jumped out at me (though there is much to be gleaned from it). He talked of the rise of secular counseling after WWII in the late 40s, and called these counselors "secular priests." I thought that was a great description of how many people view counselors. They are priests who can somehow help to absolve them of their guilt, or help them to resolve their problems through some special insight.

I believe we as counselors need to be careful not to become a priest to people who need the Great High Priest. Our job is to point them to Him, and the hope that is found in Him alone.

Counseling is not a simple issue, but neither is it as complex as some people try to make it. Welch, and others as CCEF that I have read, seem to do a good job in sorting through the issues and helping to eradicate some of the nonsense.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

More from Walton

In a relatively free and open society, the best forms of tolerance those that are open to and tolerant of people, even when there are strong disagreements with their ideas. … Today, however, tolerance in many Western societies increasingly focuses on ideas, not on people” (Carson in Gagging of God, p. 19, cited by Walton, Genesis, NIVAC, p. 242).
This is a knife that cuts both ways. For some, criticism of an idea is tantamount to criticizing the person who holds the idea. This seems to assume that people are equal with ideas, and that if a person holds an idea, we must treat both person and idea with equal respect. It fails to recognize that some ideas are stupid, or at best silly. The person should be treated with respect, but the idea should be properly criticized, and soundly rejected when it is bad. Those listening in must not mistake criticism of an idea with criticism of a person.

For others, acceptance of a person means acceptance of their ideas. For instance, reaching out in friendship to a person who participates in homosexual behavior is seen as accepting the idea of homosexuality. Again, this is a fail to separate the person from their ideas. We should not hesitate to reach out to those who differ with us, but nor we should be mistaken as agreeing with a bad idea simply because we reach to someone who holds it.
The fact is that we can defend certain beliefs without defaming or castigating those who have come to different conclusions with integrity. Failing to exercise the grace that we should naturally extend to fellow Christians, we have adopted a Reformation zeal concerning issues that come nowhere near the significance of the battles fought by Calvin and Luther, while we comfortably make our beds amidst the cultural landmines that are exploding all around us (p. 245).
This could easily be mistaken as a call for reductionism, or ecumenism. It should be neither. The fact that not all doctrines of Scripture are equally clear or equally core does not mean that they are unimportant, but it increases the possibility that good men can differ with legitimacy and integrity. We should not treat battles over church polity, for instance, with the same zeal that we would a battle over justification. In fact, it is probably overstepping the boundaries to call church polity a legitimate battle in evangelicalism.

Nor is it a call (from me) to tolerate false doctrine and impious living. There is much of both that deserves biblical critique and confrontation, and biblical separation.

The reality is that it can become to easy to focus on the intramural battles of sectarian theology while ignoring the fact that the world is blowing up around us, often while we participate right along with it. This, therefore, is call to discernment. Pick the right battles, and fight with the proper tactics for the opponent at hand.


In discussing the effects of sin in this world (in somewhat of a strange exegesis of Genesis 3:14-19, NIVAC), John Walton makes the following astute observation:
It is difficult to discern the logic behind the way society thinks about issues like partial birth abortion. When a high school student who has hidden her pregnancy suddenly and prematurely delivers her child, and in a panic of confusion, discards it in a dumpster, criminal charges are pursued, and news programs are filled with compassionate stories of how the baby’s life was saved. Not a mile away in the dumpster of an abortion clinic one can find the fragments of a child the same age torn piece by piece from the womb of an equally confused high school student by the forceps of a certified physician. And the same news reporters who were horrified by the first student’s actions support the claims to the rights of the second student and her doctor to exercise choice.
Only in the darkened and ignorant mind of self-professed wise men can such a dichotomy make any sense. One wonders how such a cognitive dissonance can be maintained by people who fancy themselves intelligent. And we are reminded yet again that sin is irrational. It makes no sense.

For these who support abortion, why would it be problematic for a woman to dispose of her newborn baby in a trash can? Does not she have the choice to do that? Why is it okay to do it in a doctor’s clinic but not in a high school bathroom? What happened in the span of a hand (the difference between a partial birth and a full birth) that changed the substance of the issue?

The smarter man has gotten in technological advances and sociological engineering, the more we have seen just how darkened and ignorant his sinful mind really is. He has exchanged the glory of God for the glory of creatures, considering the comfort and ease of certain humans to be more important than the pleasures of God in his creation, and more important than the comfort and ease of other humans. And so to make some humans happy, we kill others, and call it freedom of choice. And then we become calloused to it.

How eloquent the words of God on this matter truly are.
So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. (Ephesians 4:17-19)

Professing to be wise, they became fools, (Romans 1:22)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

More on Michigan/Florida and the BCS

Some voters on why they picked Florida over Michigan, from the Detroit Free Press (if anyone cares):

For three days, college football fans in Michigan have sliced and diced the final Bowl Championship Series rankings. Why didn't the Wolverines get their rematch with Ohio State? Why didn't Lloyd Carr campaign for his Wolverines? Who says Florida is better? What if Jim Tressel had voted? What if Earle Bruce hadn't? What if this bloc switched? What if, what if, what if ...


The Free Press tried to reach the Florida backers, specifically to find the voters who flipped. And now, in their own words, some who said they did ...

And with that, I will try to return to thinking about things that actually matter.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Why the BCS Got It Right ... This Year

2006 Big Ten Standings (from ESPN)
Ohio State8-012-0
Penn State5-38-4
Michigan State1-74-8

In college football, you cannot be the best team in the country if you are not the best team in your conference.

To add fuel to the fire, Florida won one more game, and won when it counted (on Saturday). Michigan did not (three Saturdays ago in Columbus).

The players have no one to blame but themselves. They lost. If Michigan had taken care of their business then, there would be no dispute. But in college football, there are no do-overs when you lose the last game of the season. You go to the Rose Bowl. To blame this on the BCS, or the coaches, or Jim Tressel for not voting, or anything else is cheap whining. The players had a chance to win and decided not to. They did not have what it took on that day to win. So take the blame and own your loss. And go play in the Rose Bowl against USC, and hope to win. If you lose that one, all the complaining you are doing now will seem even less well-founded.

And if there was ever a game that Michigan should have won, it was against OSU this year. They had the added "win one for the Gipper ... or the Bo" as it was. But they did not get it done, and that's the end of it.

But if you like Michigan, consider the upside: At least 2006 will not be the first year you lost to OSU twice in one year.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

What Happened in the Garden? Part 1

The temptation in the Garden of Eden was a unique circumstance, but hardly a unique tactic. In fact, temptation works on us (and succeeds) today just as it did then. Consider this brief look at Satan’s tactic.

Satan turned freedom into a restriction. God said, “You may freely eat of all but one.” Satan said, “Did God really say, You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?” Temptation often begins by focusing on the restrictions of godly living rather than on the freedom of godly living. He ultimately gave the first pronouncement that God’s revelation is subject to human consideration. Today, this is as common as the air we breathe. One of man’s most common sins is to subject the revelation of God to his own mind, in the demonstration of his belief in human autonomy: that man possesses the ability to render judgment on God’s revelation.

Having planted a question about God's word, Satan overtly attacked God. At its heart, every temptation is ultimately an attack on God and God’s way of living. Satan’s attack on God in the garden took two common tactics. In fact, every temptation can probably be categorized under one or both of these tactics.

1. Satan denied the truth of God. Where God said, “You shall surely die,” Satan said, “you shall not die.” It was for Eve (and Adam standing silently by) an issue of truthfulness. They had a choice to make about who was telling them the truth.

Every temptation ultimately brings a choice about whether or not God is telling us the truth about sin and its consequences. When we believe God, we say “No” to temptation. When we say “Yes” to temptation, it is an indication that we really do not believe God. It might be a lack of belief about the seriousness of the particular sin (or whether it is even sin). It might be a lack of belief about the consequences of sin. We have chosen to believe that God is not telling us the truth. We have, in effect, called God a liar.

2. Satan questioned the goodness of God. He told Eve, “God just does not want you to be like him.” He was accusing God of withholding from Eve (and Adam standing silently by) something that they needed to have their lives fulfilled. Satan was in effect telling Eve that God was trying to protect His turf, and prevent anyone else from being like God.

Every temptation ultimately illustrates our belief in the goodness of God. If we believe that God has given us everything we need to be everything he wants us to be, then we will say “No.” If we say “Yes,” it is because we believe that God has not given us something that it is our right to have, or something that we need to make our lives fulfilled.

We are long removed from the Garden, but sin still works the same. It deceives us into believing that God is lying, and that God is not good.

So guard yourself. Be wise in the face of temptation. Foresee the evil and avoid it. And believe God more than you believe yourself.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Two True Stories

We took the little buddy down to Tennessee for Thanksgiving to attend a family reunion for my wife’s family. Her father and mother are both in heaven now, but there was almost one hundred other aunts, uncles, and cousins there (with a great many missing). My wife’s father was one of eleven children that survived to adulthood (six did not). Which reminds me that they don’t make families like they used to.

[Bathroom story coming up] Anyway, I played golf with a couple of family members. Just before starting our round, I went to use the men’s room, and glanced through the open stall door. I saw a magazine on the floor. Guess the title: Southern Living. I am not making this up. The men’s room at the golf course had a Southern Living magazine for reading material. In all the golf I have played in my life, I have seen a lot of bathrooms in club houses. Never once have I seen a Southern Living in one of them.

(I am a southerner, so don’t think I am mocking southerners. I think my accent came back some while I was there. I have a day to get rid of it before I preach tomorrow.)

Second true story. We were driving home last night, just coming into Louisville from the south on I-65. I saw a big billboard off to the left. It read (I am not making this up either): Charlie’s Tattoos – Done While You Wait.

I wondered why you would need to advertise that. Are there people who actually think you can get a tattoo done without waiting? ("I want to drop my arm off for a tatt. I want one with a heart and the letters M-O-M in it. Can you have it done in an hour so I can pick it up on my way to dinner?")

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Happiest Man in College Football

The happiest man in college football has to be John Cooper. Why is he happy? Because LLLLLLoyd Car has managed to take his place as someone who can win everything but "The Big One." John Cooper was 2-10-1 against Michigan in thirteen years of coaching at OSU, including three times while OSU was ranked in the top 10, with two losses coming when they were second-ranked. It ultimately cost him his job. Now, Carr has returned the favor, losing six of the last seven "Big Ones" since Jim Tressel took over at OSU. In that time, OSU has a national championship, with a chance for two.

Many fans of NCAA football are clamoring for a playoff to determine the national championship, rather than the bowl system. Now, some of those same fans are clamoring for a rematch between OSU and UofM. But why? This was a tournament. The loser goes home and the winner plays for the whole enchilada. Why should Michigan get another chance to beat OSU? They had their chance and they lost. (And would probably lose again, making Carr the only Michigan coach to lose to OSU twice in one year.) You can't have it both ways. If you want a tournament playoff system, then you accept "one loss and you're out." You can't ask for a rematch. You lost. Go home. And get ready to lose your bowl game. Because that's what you have done for the last two years, and five of the last ten.

Some UofM critics have been grumbling that Carr cannot win big games because of his too conservative offense. Of course, if you tell Michigan they will score 39 points at OSU, they would probably like their chances. The downside is that they gave up 42. On Saturday, they got beat by a better team. Dare I say "clearly better."

Speaking of clearly better, it would be a stretch to say that Joey Harrington is "clearly better" than anyone. But here's the stat of the week: Joey Harrington has won more games this season than the Lions. Yes, you heard me right. The much hated Harrington, driven out of Detroit, has more wins the Lions do.

The difference? Harrington has played six games, and the Lions have played ten. Since Dante Culpepper went down with an injury in Miami, Harrington has started six games, and won the last three in a row.

Does anyone really think that Joey Harrington would have less than two wins as a Lion's quarterback? Jon Kitna is no better than Harrington was, and people had to know that when he came here. What was Kitna's qualification for the Detroit starting quarterback position? He had only one: He wasn't Joey.

Which leads me to this: Detroit Lions fans are ridiculous. They clamored for Joey to be gone, and they got it. They sit in armchairs and recliners with beers in their hand and complain. They complain about draft picks, play calls, offensive schemes, dropped passes, hurried throws. If I had a dime for everytime I heard some couch potato call in on the radio about Harrington's "happy feet," I would have ... well ... a lot of money. This is coming from guys who have no understanding of the game besides what they have picked up from the NFL's biggest buffoon ... John Madden.

Face it, whiners. If you knew as much as you think you know about football, you would be coaching somewhere on Sundays. But you are at home, watching the Lion's lose week after week. Have you no life?

The Lion's have a ton of problems. In fact, the best solution may be disbanding the team. There is plenty of blame to go around. Matt Millen is a frequent target, as are the Fords who own the team. But the biggest problem may be the fans who get down on their team before the season starts and never let up. Can you blame anyone for not wanting to play here?

The Lion's are a bad team. They lost to the Cardinals, who barely qualify as a team. The Cardinals are probably not even the best team in Arizona, and maybe not the best team in Glendale.

On the upside, the Lion's managed to stay in the running for the number one draft pick. Maybe they can pick an outside linebacker from some Division II school. Or perhaps they can trade their pick for Joey Harrington.

Would it really be worse?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Clearing the Mental Desk

On the election ... Pardon my commenting a week after the fact, but let's face it: the Republicans got what they deserved. When you pander to the "Religious Right" and then run up high debts, participate in corruption of all kinds, and then do nothing substantive to protect life, why should you get re-elected? You are no different than the Democrats in many ways. You did exactly what they would have done regarding abortion. You probably ran up a higher debt than they would have run up. And you got caught being corrupt. (Democrats are probably corrupt too, but apparently are better at hiding it ... so far.) You stopped being conservative long ago, unless you thought conservative had something to do with retaining power in Congree. So go figure out who you want to be ...

Here's the upside: Maybe we will return to gridlock. Because the only thing worse than doing nothing is doing the wrong thing. After a lot of years of "wrong things," this will give us a chance to do nothing for a while.

But here's the bright side: God is in control. The church is way too tied up in politics, and the hope for the world is not in politics and elections. It is in the pulpit, where Jesus is preached with great power. He cannot be preached as a political power, but as a life-changer. If our hope is in a Republican Congress, we have a very weak savior. It's better to go with Jesus on this one.

On people I don't like ... I went out for a run today, listening to a message, and ended up going way too far. (Note to self: Turn around sooner.) But it gave me lots of time to listen and think. I ended up thinking about people I don't like. Here are some of them. (If you think I am talking about you, I might be ... But read all the way to the end, just to make sure.)

People who take themselves way too seriously ... Lighten up. You are not that important and no one besides you cares that much about you. So learn to laugh.

People who don't have a sense of humor ... See immediately above.

People who act like they know more than they do ... Shut up and let someone else talk for a while. Or just enjoy the silence.

People who pretend to be very serious and use big words but make little or no sense ... You sound like cotton candy (Yes, I said that ... If I have to explain it, then you are one I am talking about.) Get over yourself. Your pontification is boring and stupid, not to mention silly. Stop it.

People who talk too much ... See "People who act like they know more than they do."

People who think everything is important ... It isn't. Learn to think.

People who think nothing is important ... Some things are. Learn to think.

People who can't express themselves clearly ... Shut up and listen to someone who can. Learn from them. And start back slowly.

People who obsess about other people's standards for living ... If you don't like the standards of an institution, church, or individual, then don't go there. But don't whine about them. It makes you look you don't have a life. God didn't die and leave you in charge, and he certainly didn't appoint you the rules guru.

Paranoid people ... No one is actually thinking about you, except to wonder why you think someone should be thinking about you. So get over yourself.

Which brings the question: Do I like myself? Not very often.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Why Would You?

Why would you, given the chance to preach God’s unchanging truth to people desperately in need of it, open your church to politicians to pander for votes? It is an unconscionable dereliction of duty for the pastor of a church to allow his church to become a political whistle stop.

But I suppose when politics is more important than truth (and make no mistake, there is little of the latter in the former), churches will do the unthinkable.

The hope for people is not found in Lansing, or Washington. It is not found in the ballot box. It is found in the Word of God. Until we reclaim the pulpits from poor preaching and good politicians, we will never be a light in the darkness.

This past week, politics and church came together in an ugly way for Ted Haggard. It’s old news by now, and it is hard to imagine his as anything but an “October Surprise,” but it is a horrible blight on the church.

While it would be easy to pontificate about hypocrisy and the like, others have done plenty of that, and I do not want to think about it that much.

Mark Driscoll, love him or hate him (and there are reasons to do both), has written on this topic. It is worth reading. Some have taken issue with some of his comments (and feel free to do so), but grasp the reality of what he says. He concludes,
Indeed, this is a deeply rooted gospel issue. How can we proclaim that our God is a faithful Trinitarian community if we are not faithful to our marriage covenant and family? How can we say that the same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in us if we have no holiness in our life? How can we proclaim that we are new creations in Christ if we continually return to lap up the vomit of our old way of life? How can we preach that sin is to be repented of if we fail to model that ongoing repentance? How can we say that God is our highest treasure and greatest joy when we trade Him for sin that defiles our hands and defames His name?

I do not know the guilt or innocence of Haggard. But I do know that this is a sobering reminder to take heed of, lest we fall.
I am reminded of a verse from yesterday's text in 1 Corinthians 10:12: Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

McKnight on Emerging

To define a movement, we must let the movement have the first word. We might, in the end, reconceptualize it – which postmodernists say is inevitable – but we will should at least have the courtesy to let a movement say what it is (Scot McKnight, “What is the Emerging Church?”)
The emerging movement is attracting much attention in modern theology/ecclesiology/evangelicalism/Christianity. (These four are often vastly different.)

For those interested, Scot McKnight has two articles that are worth reading, if you would like to understand some of the genius of the emerging movement. He is one of them, and as he says, they should be allowed to define themselves. Scot does a good, though brief job of explicating some of the major components and concerns of those in the emerging movement.

As you might expect, he does object to Carson’s handling in his book. However, the more I have read about the emerging movement, the more I am in sympathy with McKnight’s critique of Carson at least in McKnight’s major complaint (that Carson painted with too broad a brush). I think Carson missed the boat too often. Though much of what he says is very good, Carson was too narrow in his evaluation.

For some, these articles will prove to be a nightmare, because much of what you have been saying about them will be seen to be false. However, there is plenty of fodder for critique in what McKnight says.

But as always, when we critique someone, we should critique what they actually believe, not what wish they believe or think they believe.

So, if you are interested, these will help you understand what the people in the emerging conversation say they believe.

Fad or Future
What Is The Emerging Church?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

It's That Time Again

It’s time to change the clocks.

Rumor has it that Daylight Saving Time originated with an old Indian chief who cut one end off his blanket and sewed it on the other to make it longer.

Turns out, it was apparently Ben Franklin who came up with the idea.

Interestingly enough, this article points out that it is singular (as in Daylight Saving Time, rather than the oft-(mis)stated Daylight Savings Time. (Memo to self: Get it right from now on.)

I always used to marvel that while it was inevitable that the Spring time change would cause someone to show up an hour late for church, the Fall time change never caused anyone to show up early.

I say I “used” to marvel. I don’t anymore. About three years ago, someone showed up about 8:15 for church. I said, “Wow, you’re here early.” Their quizzical look which stemmed from my amazement along with the empty building and parking lot told me they missed the time change.

So enjoy that extra hour of sleep. Or just go to bed an hour later. Maybe watch the Tigers and Cardinals … Oh wait, nevermind.

Is There Anything More Unsettling ...

… than watching Sean Casey run the bases? The guy is a good hitter to be sure. But please, Sean, spend some time in the offseason taking some running lessons. Your style could use some work. I don’t normally get embarrassed for guys who make obscene amounts of money playing a game, but I almost made an exception for Sean.

Speaking of embarrassing, you would think that a pitcher who can hit a catcher’s mitt at ninety plus miles an hour could manage to throw the ball to first or third base to a target considerably larger than said catcher’s mitt. Go figure …

If you are going to win, you gotta do the little things well, little things like … say … not throwing the ball into the dugout ... or the stands ... or the outfield? The Tiger’s throwing errors went further than some of the Cardinals’ hits. You would think a few million dollars would buy you a throw to third base. I guess they forgot that clause in the pitching contracts.

But being the last loser in the MLB is a great step in the right direction.

Speaking of last, if you are younger than 16, the last time anyone other than the Braves won the National League East was before you were born. Will the Braves streak of fourteen straight division titles ever be matched? The Yankees are now at nine straight AL East titles. The Yankees won 15 of 18 between ’47 and ’64, but the most was five at time, which they did twice.

And speaking of streaks, Joe Torre is the longest serving manager of the Yankees since Casey Stengel left in 1960. Torre’s streak almost ended this year, and I wouldn’t put it past Steinbrenner to end it before February. (The inimitable Billy Martin once said he could tell when Steinbrenner was lying because his lips moved.) But for now, Torre is safe, looking ahead to managing what has to be considered a under-achieving team with a payroll north of $200 million dollars. Now, if only Bud Selig’s streak as commissioner would end.

But look at the bright side: Less than four months until pitchers and catchers report. And then spring will be on its way once again, and the boys of summer will back at it.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Gospel and Parking Places

One blog that I read fairly regularly is a blog I read for several different reasons, one of which is to see what they will come up with next. It proclaims itself to be a discernment blog, trying to save the church from seeker-sensitive philosophies, emergent philosophies, and often I wonder if it is not about anything that does not cross their “T”s and dot their “I”s just as they do.

This morning I came across a statement that reminded me again that even “discernment bloggers” need discernment. Here is the statement:
One church growth guru suggested that churches pipe in "non-threatening" music in the "lobby". This way regular joes who hang out at sports bars won't feel like they're going to church. Another suggestion in that same book had to do with parking space angles. Apparently, angled parking is more seeker-friendly than non-angled parking. Then there was the bathroom thing. Reportedly, extremely nice restrooms are very important. Sizzling youth programs and facilities were big as was the childcare area which should, if at all possible, resemble Disneyland. Granger Community Church with its endless offerings of bread and circuses is a worst case scenario in man-centered church philosophy. Once you bow to man in the running of your church, you enter a ministry world where it takes ever greater money and entertainment savvy to create a "WOW!" It is a never ending treadmill that is powered by human ingenuity and cultural know-how that has nothing whatsoever to do with the Gospel of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives.
Sounds great, right? What a courageous stand for truth in an age of compromise!!

Except when did angled parking and nice restrooms become a compromise of the “Gospel of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit?”

If your church has indoor plumbing and potable water, it is a “nice restroom,” compared to the world’s standards. And parking places are not a big deal to people who walk to church, or who ride their mules or horses. And why should we not have angled parking? Why should we not have nice restrooms?

Which brings me to my point. When people complain about stupid irrelevancies, they undermine legitimate concerns that they may voice. When we include a scraped knee from a boy learning to ride a bike with a brain tumor, we have proven ourselves to be unthinking, or at least uncritical. They are simply not the same.

Do not misunderstand me. There are legitimate concerns with the emergent movement and the seeker-sensitive movement. But angled parking places and nice bathrooms are not among them.

The problem is that a blogger such as this appears not to know the difference. They seemingly do not realize that angled parking places and nice bathrooms do not belong in the same conversation with a compromised gospel or a “do anything to get them in” philosophy. They apparently do not even recognize that they do not think properly about issues like this. It is the opposite of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Perhaps we could say that in trying to save the baby, they also save the bathwater.

They have been confronted on this in the past, sometimes by arrogant and profane speech, but often by people who simply pointed out that they were mistaken, or misleading on some issues. They have made these kinds of statements before, and no doubt will make them again. And in so doing, they will show that they do not grasp what the gospel is actually about.

And perhaps what is the most glaring show of insular unthinking, they have closed their blog to comments. Now, they can pontificate all they want with no accountability, no openness to correction (not that it was ever there to begin with).

One of the greatest tragedies is people who do not think. But an even greater tragedy is Christians who do not think Christianly. It happens from both sides. The conservative traditionalists are as much guilty of non-critical thinking as the emergent/seeker/liberal/whatever.

When you argue against something, argue against the real issues. Do not compromise the gospel of Christ by including angled parking places in the equation.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Not Making This Up

I was in one our institutions of public education today, helping to gather children for a release time Bible class that is hosted at our church monthly. I ran into a fellow that has attended the church here some, and had a good conversation. Then I turned to look at a plaque on the wall.

It had about six or seven annual awards (which meant that it wasn't a new plaque). And it was titled:

Green Piece Environmental Patrons.

I did a double take, and then a triple. I racked my brain to see if I perhaps I was missing something. But to the best of my knowledge (and Google's as well), I am not. The organization in mind is surely Green Peace.

But how can you expect educators to recognize homonyms??

Friday, October 20, 2006

Jesus Died For What?

My recent posts on sin and worldview remains on my mind. Someone (who, if I am correct, is very dear to me even though I missed the call last week, and a birthday in September … which is pretty common, isn’t it???? Did I tell you I saw an old mutual friend this summer after thirteen years??) commented that Jesus did not die for a worldview, but for sin.

While I understand the point being made, I wonder if that does not actually underline the whole reason that sparks my thinking on this matter.

It seems to me that we are so prone to focus on the actions of sin that we often fail to address what causes those actions. Because of that, we miss the real problem.

It is far easier to deal with actions than with the underlying worldviews that justify those actions. After all, actions are quantifiable. They are easy to see, and we can offer the time-tested advice, “Stop it.” We can resort to measuring spiritual growth by whether or not we see the action. We can resort to daily accountability: “Did you do it?”

Addressing worldviews is far different. It is much harder because worldviews are sneaky. The reason we hold them in the first place is because they make sense to us. They justify the way that we desire to live. They comfort us. And because they make sense to us, it is much harder to change them.

So a drug addict exchanges his drug habit for a church habit. He is growing spiritually right? If we take an action-oriented view of sin, we conclude “Yes.” And we point to him in our congregation as a great example of God’s transforming grace. But if we have not explored and addressed the worldview that allowed him to think drugs were okay, we have not actually addressed the problem. Perhaps all we have done is exchange the satisfaction of an old way of life (drugs) for the satisfaction of a new way of life (religion). Perhaps the underlying worldview has never changed.

We must understand that all sin springs from a similar worldview. It is a worldview that causes us to think our minds are qualified to assess the rightness or wrongness of a particular action or thought. So the drug addiction of a drug user springs from the same worldview as the self addiction of a narcissist. The sin starts in the mind, and expresses itself in the actions.

All of that to say this: Worldviews are as much as a sin issue as actions are. Jesus died for our unbiblical worldview, just as much as for the actions and thoughts that spring from it.

Real change will come when we bring the way that we think (our worldview) into conformity with Christ as revealed to us in Scripture.

We need to view sin and life in the big picture. Everything we do is ultimately a statement of theology, from the arguments that we have (and the way that we have them), to the very deepest hidden compartments that we hope no one sees. It extends from the public life in the assembly of believers to the private life in the solitude of the mind. Everything in our lives is ultimately saying something about what we believe about God.

So we cannot relegate it simply to the realm of actions. They are simply the expressions of the way that we view life.

The first necessity is regeneration. Regeneration is the implantation of spiritual life into the spiritually dead. It is ultimately a work of God on the mind, by which the formerly rejected truth of God is made attractive and sensible to the mind formerly darkened by sin, ignorant, and hardened (Eph 4:17-19).

Sanctification must continue with the work of God on the mind, by which we daily renew our minds by the truth of God as found in Scripture (cf. Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:22-24).

If we separate the way we think from the problems of sin, we will find it difficult to find real change. We will take a hard job and make it virtually impossible. We will teach others to live a life of joyless conformation, rather than joyful transformation.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Sin and Worldviews - Part 2

Recently, I posted on the issue that worldview plays in choices to sin. Several people responded, (and I appreciate each of you thinking through the matter). Allow me to further my thoughts on this.

First, let us define a worldview. A worldview is the framework through which we interpret and participate in the world around us. It is a set of values or principles, driven by a combination of internal factors (personality and sin) and external factors (family, education, friends, media, etc.). At the heart of every worldview is a theology—a set of beliefs about God, whether true or false, that ultimately determines the worldview that we hold.

Also related to worldview is our nature. “Nature,” used theologically, refers to the complex of attributes that makes up a person. Everybody has a sin nature. That sin nature dominates the worldview for unbelievers. With salvation comes a new nature that competes with the old nature for a place in the worldview. Believers can still at times live under the influence of a sinful worldview.

So a worldview, as I use it here, is the set of values and principles driven by our understanding of God that provides justification for our thoughts and actions.

It can be seen in completing the sentence, “I did that because …,” or in completing the sentence, “All I wanted was …” Ultimately, the completion of those sentences (or similar ones) is a statement of theology, a statement of worldview, a statement of the values and principles that drive a person to do what they do.

Second, let us examine the origin of sin. James 1:14 teaches us that sin begins with a desire in the heart. That desire leads us to engage a particular action or thought. But how is that sinful act or thought justified? It is justified by the set of values and principles driven by our understanding of God. Every sin is ultimately an act of faith or belief. If we believed something different about God, we would act differently.

The sinful action cannot be separated from the sinful heart. While some want to make a distinction between the heart and the mind, I cannot, as of now, find a biblical reason to do such. The heart is the mind, the thoughts; and that is the worldview. The actions we see ultimately come out of a worldview (set of values and principles driven by our understanding of God).

Now, here is my contention. If we only address the actions, we never address the root cause, the worldview. In order to bring about real and lasting change, we must be renewed in the spirit of our mind (Eph 4:23). Transformation comes by the renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2). If we hope to lead people to biblical change, we must start at the root level—their view of God and the world they live in, otherwise known as the worldview.

Asserting that the worldview is the ultimate cause does not undermine the problem of sin. It underlines the root causes behind sinful actions.

Addressing sin without addressing worldview is like weeding the garden with a lawnmower. It makes it look better, but doesn’t solve the issue that caused the problem to begin with.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

So You Thought You Knew About Love

Warning: Some technical language and Greek words. I could explain them all better, but you likely would not read that much, and you can get the book and read it all for yourself.

Many pastors and teachers have, at some time in their teaching, ridden fairly hard on the horse of distinguishing between the Greek words for love used in the New Testament. I must admit that at earlier times in my life I too have ridden that horse a little too hard. Yet in recent years, my study of Scripture has led me to conclude that such an approach should be almost abandoned. However, I have never sat down to formalize my reasons for that.

Due to the work of D. A. Carson, I do not have to. In his second article on “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God” in Bibliotheca Sacra (Vol 156, May-June 99, pp. 132-134, which later became The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God), Carson lays out seven reasons for not tying God’s love exclusively to the agapao word group. I have summarized them here to five main ideas.

1. “Careful diachronic work” has shown that “homonymic clashes” (basically, words that sound the same) led to the rise of alternative words, such as “phileo” in place of “kuneo” (to kiss) because “kuneo” sounded a lot like “kuno” (and in some forms such as the aorist were identical). While “kissing” and “impregnating” gave opportunity for many “salacious puns,” kuneo became almost obsolete in favor of phileo. And so Judas betrayed Jesus with a “phileo.” Or to put it simply, there is a linguistic explanation for the rise of certain words, rather than a theological one.

2. The Septuagint does not consistently use the agapao word group for the higher love. In 2 Samuel 13, both phileo and agapao are used to describe Amnon’s attitude towards his half-sister, Tamar, whom he raped.

3. The Father’s love for the Son is described as both agapao (John 3:35) and phileo (John 5:20), with no apparent distinction in meaning. “Surely,” Carson says, “it is not that God is more emotional in the second instance than in the first.” In addition, Demas in 2 Timothy 4:10, loved the present world (agapao), something seemingly incongruent is agapao always means a “willed self-denial for the sake of the other.”

4. The fact that phileo can mean “to kiss,” does not require that it always means “to kiss.” Semantic overhang, or what is called illegitimate totality transfer (importing the entire semantic domain onto an individual usage) is, well, illegitimate. Words must be defined in context, and they only have one meaning in a given context. They do not mean two or three things, and they do not mean everything in the definition. So while a lexicon might give two or more meanings for a given word, in a particular context, we must select one meaning to apply. The use of the English word “love” provides a good example of the wide ranges involved in the Greek words. “Love” can mean “sexual intercourse, platonic love, emotional love, the love of God, and more.” The context must speak to the specific connotation.

5. 1 Corinthians 13 “cannot be reduced to will altruism.” The fact that a person might “give their body to be burned” or “give all that they have to feed the poor” does not necessarily show love. A person may do such an act of “willed self-denial for the sake of others” without love.

All of that to say this: Be careful when you harp on the meaning of original language words in Scripture (particularly if you use Strong’s or Vine’s to build your case). You might be riding a horse that turns up too weak to finish the ride.

Your Worst Problem Is Not Your Sin

Your worst problem is not your sin. The worst problem is the worldview you have adopted that allows you to think your sinful choice was an appropriate response to the situation at hand.

We too often focus on the acts of sin, which are bad, disgraceful, shameful, and without excuse. But those wicked acts do not exist in a vacuum. They are the product of a worldview that we have adopted.

Addressing the acts alone is like weeding the garden with a lawn mower. It may make it look a little better, but it will not solve the problem.

If we will solve the sin problems of life, we must address them at the root level of our worldview.

Friday, September 29, 2006

How Do You Get That Title?

I just got a flyer advertising a conference to be held at "One of America's Most Exciting Churches." I was disappointed. I thought we were in the running for it, but apparently we missed out by a hair. I am not sure I have the strength to go on now. The worst thing that they did not even notify me that we were not "One of America's Most Exciting Churches."

Seriously folks, who decided that this church was "One of America's Most Exciting Churches"? What kind of arrogance does it take to proclaim yourself "One of America's Most Exciting Churches"? I might be able to understand declaring yourself to be one of the most exciting churches on your block. I might even grasp the idea of declaring yourself to be one of the most exciting churches in your neighborhood? Declaring yourself to be one of the most exciting churches in your city is a big stretch. And going statewide is absurd. But national? Please. Tell me you did not take the time to study all the churches in America so you could declare yourself to be among the most exciting. And please tell me you did not just declare yourself that without actually knowing it to be true.

But more importantly, why does it matter? Is the church about excitement?

Hey, I have an idea. Maybe the answer to weak churchianity is coming up with tiers of excitement in churches. Then you could have first tier churches and second tier churches, and so on.

Perhaps we could even have a National Excitement Award for the top of the top tier churches. Perhaps a Adrenaline Rush Award for the church that managed to jump the most tiers in one years. Perhaps we should add in a Biggest Compromiser Award for the churches that fall the most tiers in one year. Hey, how about a T.O. Award, for the church that creates the most excitement while denying that you actually tried to kill yourself by taking sleeping pills. That way you can get national press for Jesus, and get Bill Parcells upset at answering "I don't know" to the same question fifty different times. The possibilities are endless. And we could have an Excitement Conference to pass the awards out. Maybe someone would even bring "the chair" to see who could fill it. Maybe a "pack the chair" contest to see how many bus kids you can get in "the chair." My mind is racing ... Remind me to drink decaffeinated coffee.

The irony is that the conference is the "National Old Paths Bible Conference." Do you really think the "old paths" were about excitement? Somehow, I have a hard time seeing the church in the New Testament in this light.

Perhaps rather than having tiers of churches, we should have tears for churches.

Monday, September 25, 2006


Consumers demand options, but this poses a problem. Formation into the likeness of Christ is not accomplished by always getting what we want. In ages past, choice was not heralded as a Christian's right. In fact, relinquishing our choices by submitting to a spiritual mentor or community was prerequisite to growth in Christ. Believers were guided through formative and corrective disciplines—most being activities we would never choose if left to our desires. But surrendering control ensured we received what we needed to mature in Christ, not simply what we wanted.

In consumer Christianity, however, church leaders function as religious baristas, supplying spiritual goods for people to choose from based on their preferences. Our concern becomes not whether people are growing, but whether they are satisfied. An unhappy member, like an unhappy customer, will find satisfaction elsewhere. As one pastor enthusiastically said, "The problem with blended services is that half the people are happy half the time. With a video venue, you can say, 'If you don't like this service style, try another one!'"

From iChurch: All We Like Sheep in Christianity Today. This is an article with some interesting insights.

Ironically, CT has a poll on the topic of why people choose a particular church.

Even more ironic is the location of the poll: Humor>Fun and Games.

Which is probably true for many. Church finding has become a game of finding fun.

The results are interesting.

52% say doctrine and philosophy are most important.
16% say pastor and preaching.
11% say it just feels right.
7% say worship style.

I wonder if this poll (and others like it) consider other issues. For example, how many of that 52% would find another church if their contemporary worship became traditional? How many of the 16% would dislike the pastor and preaching if the band was exchanged for an organ?

Do we really believe that Saddleback would be 25,000 people with a piano, organ, and choir? Even with Warren preaching in shorts and hawaiian shirts? Would Willow Creek be 15,000 people with a string orchestra and traditional hymns?

This poll, incidentally, is similar to one Thom Rainer has in his book Surprising Insights from the Unchurched. I think a major difference is that Rainer's book allowed people to choose more than one option, while this poll allows only one.

So while I find the poll interesting, I also find it virtually useless. Which leads me to wonder why I have spent time thinking about it?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Looking for that Special Goodbye??

Looking for that special way to say good bye to a friend or loved one? Frustrated by funeral homes with the myriads of choices? Bothered by walking through the casket room trying to pick the final resting place?

Skip it. Have them with you forever thanks to Lifegem. You can take your loved one to your favorite jeweler and have them wrapped around your finger forever.

Monday, September 18, 2006

And That Too???

This morning I was reading an article on C. S. Lewis that was attempting to show that Lewis was not a Christian. I am not a big Lewis fan. My experience with Lewis started with four or five of the Chronicles of Narnia when I was in Junior High (which I did not understand to be any kind of allegory, much less spiritual), Mere Christianity (which I found less than interesting), and The Great Divorce (which I found to be just wierd). I guess my imagination is not well-enough developed or something.

There are certainly some questions about Lewis' orthodoxy. To call him a Christian is more than I am willing to do, but I admittedly am no expert on it.

Back to the article. The author, after detailing a number of the his concerns with Lewis, closes with this bombshell: "C.S. Lewis, who never stopped smoking his tobacco-filled pipes, had earlier been an actual witch, illuminist, and member of the coven known as the Thelemic Order of the Golden Dawn."

"Never stopped smoking his tobacco-filled pipes"???

First, what other kind of "filling" is there for pipes? Perhaps I am naive since I am not up on pipe-smoking. I tried to call Pastor Spurgeon this morning to ask him, but his secretary said he was out and she didn't know when he would be back. But I assume that "smoking pipes" would include filling them with tobacco.

Second, if what the author says about Lewis is true, his pipe-smoking and former associations with the occult are the least of his worries.

Which leads me to wonder: Why do people include absolutely non-contributive information in an article like this? This seems an attempt by the author to lay a fall back position. In case you do not agree with him about Lewis' theology, you can certainly condemn for his "smoking his tobacco-filled pipes." And then we get him either way.

Which leads me to conclude: Write better articles, and omit the ad hominem attacks. I am not a smoker. I find it pretty disgusting. I am not a fan of Lewis. I find him pretty boring. But most of all, I am not a fan of this kind of writing that tacks on an irrelevant piece of information in an attempt to shore up an article. I find it pretty weak.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

At the Diner

I was having my usual three eggs over easy with white toast and coffee this morning, while reading, listening, and learning. In fact, I don't even order anymore. When I come in, Donna brings my coffee and water and puts my order in. That's the price of predictability I suppose.

I finished a book entitled a.k.a. Lost,by Jim Henderson (The link is to the newly revised and retitled edition). I quoted from it a couple of weeks ago. It is a fairly short book (152 pages), filled mostly with observations about ordinary evangelism. It is an interesting read, with some good insights (and some bad ones). The forward by Brian McLaren will give a little insight as to where the author and book are coming from. But it still contains some useful challenges. If you can get it cheap, it might be worth an hour or so to read. Or perhaps someone will loan it to you (like they did to me).

Perhaps more than any thought in the book, the general impression I come away with is that we need to spend more time listening ... actually listening. Ask people questions and then see what they say. Avoid pat answers and cliches. Avoid arm twisting and manipulation. Be real. Avoid, at least at the outset, questions designed to get a particular response.

Too often our typical approach to evangelism is preset, molded to fit a particular situation. And our evangelistic approach is to manipulate the conversation so we can get situated to insert our preformed discussions. Lack of flexibility and creativity actually harm the process. Listening to people rather than forcefeeding Jesus to them will help build trust and a relationship in which Jesus naturally comes into focus.

As with all books, exercise due caution and discernment. And don't blame me for the bad stuff. I am only recommending the good stuff in it.

While I was reading, the normal morning conversation was going on in the background. There were complaints about the local school system (a.k.a total failure central). One lady complained that a particular child she knew was now on her second four day suspension of the year. (I quickly did the math. School has only been in session for eight days.) Her basic complaint was that the school was being too hard on children. My thought was that the parents have not been hard enough on children. Here's how you know I was never suspended from school: I am still alive.

The other general topic of conversation was actually more interesting to me. It was about men and women. Of course, the women were talking about the men. One lady commented that men were only good for two things: sex and paying the bills. Another lady complained that her husband just went to work (about half the time, she surmised), and then came home and did nothing ... didn't carry out the trash, clean up the kitchen, do the housework, or anything else. She had to get him up for work, and even lay out his clothes on the bed. Another lady said, "You know why he won't do those things? Because you always do it."

The men, of course, were talking about women. One single man (his wife died a few years ago) is always talking about finding a woman. Today, he said he wanted a woman who would stay home and not talk. A few minutes later he said he wanted a woman who would go to work and not say anything. One lady pointed out that he said he wanted a woman who would both stay home and work. He said he didn't care as long as she didn't talk.

Another man commented that he heard someone once say that if you treat a woman like (insert common four letter expletive for body waste), she will come back for me; if you treat her like a queen, she will leave you. He is probably right, to at least some degree, especially on the first.

What this long summary reminds me of is this: We live in a broken world. Sinfulness has killed our relationships. The marriage relationship, designed by God to be the closest human relationship, is probably the relationship most affected by sin. Men look at women wrongly; women return the favor. Until we begin to regain a basic civil recognition that both men and women are in the image of God, while also recognizing the depths of sin that affects our relationships, we will never recognize that the only real hope for marriages is redemption found only in Christ. That is why Ephesians 5 says marriage is a redemption issue. Love your wives like Christ loved the church and gave himself for her. Submit to your husbands like the church submits to Christ. Only when we have experienced redemption in Christ can we truly recognized what it means to have a good marriage. And even then it will be hard. Until then, we are simply shoring up a shaky house with toothpicks. If you use enough, and walk very softly, you can keep it from falling in. But you can never make it stronger.

Most marriages seem to consist of two people who use each other until they find something better. They should consist of two people who serve each other because they found Jesus, or rather Jesus found them.

Until we learn to ask the question, we will always have bad marriages, or at least marriages that aren't what they should be. What is the question? "How can I serve you?" Or "How can I help you?" Or "How can I make your life better?" Learn it ... ask it ... act on it.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Pilgrim, Women Preachers, and Big Churches

Last week, the New York Times had an article lamenting the glass ceiling for women pastors. Putting aside, for the moment, the biblical issue at hand (which could hardly be more clear), consider the lament of one woman pastor that many of her fellow seminary graduates who were male had already been promoted to positions as pastors of larger churches while she had not been. All she wanted to do, according to the article, was pastor a large church in her hometown. It was presumed (without much argumentation or support of course) that the reason she had been "held back" was because she was a woman.

Which brought to my mind an issue that I have considered many times. Why the pursuit of a bigger church that you did not build? If one desires to pastor a bigger church, why does he not go out and do the work of an evangelist to build the church? Why should one man (or woman) benefit from the labors of another man?

I mean no ill-intent to those who have left a smaller ministry for a larger one. I would simpy encourage us all to examine our hearts. If we desire to leave because it is a small ministry, and desire to go to another because it is a larger ministry, something may be amiss. I have no doubt that God at times calls men to leave one congregation for another. However, I wonder how often size is a factor? How many times have we seen a man leave a bigger congregation for a smaller one? Not often (though it does happen).

As pastors, we need to check our egos at the door, and be satisfied to grow where we are planted.

How does the Pilgrim fit in? I have recently been reading Pilgrim's Progress (one of those books that everyone talks about and few have actually read ... So I am changing that for myself). Last night, my mind was drawn back to the NYT article by the scene that occurs just after Faithful has been put to death, and Pilgrim has moved on to the town of Fair-speech. There is an intriguing exchange between some very Piperesque figures (because they have hyphenated names) concerning the use of religion for personal gain.

Mr. Money-love lays out a scenario which is stunningly believable, just as it is stunningly troubling.
And first, to speak to your question as it concerneth a minister himself: suppose a minister, a worthy man, possessed but of a very small benefice, and has in his eye a greater, more fat and plump by far; he has also now an opportunity of getting it, yet so as by being more studious, by preaching more frequently and zealously, and, because the temper of the people requires it, by altering of some of his principles; for my part, I see no reason why a man may not do this, provided he has a call, aye, and more a great deal besides, and yet be an honest man. For why?

1. His desire of a greater benefice is lawful, (this cannot be contradicted,) since it is set before him by Providence; so then he may get it if he can, making no question for conscience’ sake.

2. Besides, his desire after that benefice makes him more studious, a more zealous preacher, etc., and so makes him a better man, yea, makes him better improve his parts, which is according to the mind of God.

3. Now, as for his complying with the temper of his people, by deserting, to serve them, some of his principles, this argueth, 1. That he is of a self-denying temper. 2. Of a sweet and winning deportment. And, 3. So more fit for the ministerial function.

4. I conclude, then, that a minister that changes a small for a great, should not, for so doing, be judged as covetous; but rather, since he is improved in his parts and industry thereby, be counted as one that pursues his call, and the opportunity put into his hand to do good.
This answer was "highly applauded by them all." Can you not hear these reasons put forth by some today? I was particularly caught by the third reason, almost laughing aloud at how magnanimous it makes compromise sound.

Christian, however, had a different response.

Even a babe in religion may answer ten thousand such questions. For if it be unlawful to follow Christ for loaves, as it is, John 6:26; how much more abominable is it to make of him and religion a stalking-horse to get and enjoy the world! Nor do we find any other than heathens, hypocrites, devils, and wizards, that are of this opinion.

1. Heathens: for when Hamor and Shechem had a mind to the daughter and cattle of Jacob, and saw that there was no way for them to come at them but by being circumcised, they said to their companions, If every male of us be circumcised, as they are circumcised, shall not their cattle, and their substance, and every beast of theirs be ours? Their daughters and their cattle were that which they sought to obtain, and their religion the stalking-horse they made use of to come at them. Read the whole story, Gen. 34:20-24.

2. The hypocritical Pharisees were also of this religion: long prayers were their pretence, but to get widows’ houses was their intent; and greater damnation was from God their judgment. Luke 20:46,47.

3. Judas the devil was also of this religion: he was religious for the bag, that he might be possessed of what was put therein; but he was lost, cast away, and the very son of perdition.

4. Simon the wizard was of this religion too; for he would have had the Holy Ghost, that he might have got money therewith: and his sentence from Peter’s mouth was according. Acts 8:19-22.

5. Neither will it go out of my mind, but that that man who takes up religion for the world, will throw away religion for the world; for so surely as Judas designed the world in becoming religious, so surely did he also sell religion and his Master for the same. To answer the question, therefore, affirmatively, as I perceive you have done, and to accept of, as authentic, such answer, is heathenish, hypocritical, and devilish; and your reward will be according to your works.

At this answer, "they stood staring one upon another, but had not the wherewith to answer Christian."

Men, let us guard our hearts against an ungodly desire to be big for the sake of bigness, or the sake of prestige or money that it might bring. Let us never use our Christianity or pastoral position as a platform from which to pursue gain.

At the same time, let us guard against becoming comfortable, lazy, or apathetic, satisfied with so little effort in the service of our Christ and His church. The fact that a church is not growing might not be because we are fundamentalists and "people just won't accept the truth." It might because we are lazy, unfocused, unintentional, satisfied to just survive.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Outline on Bibliology

Here is a decent outline on Bibliology from Gerry Brashears. It could use some tweaking, but if you need something to get started, or something to expand/revise/improve/clarify your own notes, this might be helpful.

It lacks explanation of some points, since it is not a content outline. It would be interesting to see how he explains some of his points, but nevertheless, there are some helpful things here.

Quotes for Thought

From a 9 Marks page on the reading list on Walter Brueggemann:
When asked in an interview if Scripture was his authority, Brueggemann replied, "it's the chief authority to me as long as one can qualify that to say that it is the chief authority when imaginatively construed in a certain interpretive trajectory."
Interesting qualification, which being interpreted, seems to be: It is authoritative as long as my "interpretive trajectory" is more authoritative. Which is to say, It is authoritative so long as I can make it say what I want it to say. Which is to say, It isn't authoritative at all.

From a Christianity Today interview with Mark Moring of the band Jars of Clay:
I am my own worst pop music station, constantly telling myself what I want to hear—and coming up with creative ways to do it.
Great line about the self-focused "what I wanna hear" nature of pop music. And don't argue ... You know that pop music stations make their money because they play what people want to hear ... in more ways than one. (I am not saying that giving people what they want is necessarily bad, but we should know that it exists, and recognize the inherent dangers in it, particularly in the moral realm.)

From a.k.a Lost by Jim Henderson:
When the congregation I was leading resigned from force-feed evangelism a few years back, we also decided to rename the people we wanted to connect with. We realized that calling people who are outside the faith "the lost" sets up an us/them dichotomy, artificially separating "the found" from those who are hopeless in their "lostness." It also conveys a class system, setting up the assumed superiority of "the found" in contrast to the sad plight of "the lost."
Ignoring the issue of what we call the unsaved (which really does not matter to me much), what is with the infatuation of some with erasing the lines between the "in" and the "out"? Is not one of the most theologically significant descriptions of the believer one of "in" ... as in "in Christ"? Does not that imply that some are "out"? I have seen many similar kinds of statements of late, particularly among emergents. I do not get it. Let's not pretend that the differences are minimal. There are "ins" and "outs" when it comes to Jesus, doctrine, and church.

Lastly, from a.k.a Lost by Jim Henderson, citing Brian McLaren (original source not cited):
Missing people aren't bad; they're just not where they're supposed to be.
In all too typical fashion, McLaren undersells the sin problem. Missing people (the term Henderson chose instead of "lost") are bad. That's why they need Jesus. Jesus himself said he came to call sinners to repentance. He did not come for people who "aren't that bad." And as I say, if you think you "aren't that bad," you are not ready for Jesus. You're not hopeless yet.

Monday, August 28, 2006

A High View of Scripture

One of the blogs I check in on from time to time is what some have called a "watch blog." It is essentially a blog dedicated to (sometimes harsh and ungracious) critique of the author's (or group of authors in this case) particular pet issues. Which is certainly fine. It is their blog, and they can put whatever they want on it. It disturbs me that this blog (as with some others of similar nature) are too often loose with the truth. The reality is that they do not need to be. There is enough fodder for critique without making stuff up or misrepresenting what one actually believes.

In a recent post, this blogger posted a passage from an OT prophet on the sin of social injustice in Israel under the Law as a warning to the emergents.

But a warning about what? The passage deals with one of the emergents pet peeves ... social injustice, and condemns it. The passage would actually be one that would support a pursuit of social injustice if we were to ignore the fact that it was addressed to those in Israel. To post it as a warning to those in emergent theology is hardly helpful, it seems to me.

Which leads me to my point: We expect the emergents and liberals to have a low view of Scripture that allows them to misuse Scripture by applying it in ways that it was not intended to be applied. We should not tolerate it from those who claim to have a high view of Scripture.

Misusing Scripture, even in a good cause, is a low view of Scripture.

We must make sure that we say only what God would say from a particular passage. To do less is to use God's name in vain, to use his words to say something he did not and would not say from it.

The fundamental rule in preaching and teaching is this: Would God say this from this passage? If not, then we should not say it.

Notice, it is not enough to ask "Would God say this?" We must ask if he would say it "from this passage."

Let us exalt Scripture by using each individual for what it was intended to be used for. Do not use it to further our own ideas, no matter how good or biblical those ideas are. If you want to say something the passage does not say, then find another passage. Or just say it without Scripture.

PS - I posted a comment on the blog noting the misuse of this passage. It was not allowed to be posted by the moderator. Apparently, some are willing to critique harshly, but are not willing to be challenged about their own views. It's a nice life I suppose

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Book and An Interview on Preaching

Today I was in a large bargain bookstore, where they have table after table of books about everything you can imagine. Sometimes, you can find some good buys on theology books. Today, my lone purchase for myself was Exploring the Worship Spectrum for $5.99. I bought a couple of books for the little guy. I am trying to get him started early. I love reading to him while he slobbers all over my arm. ("Honey, can you bring a book and a towel? It's reading time with Laran.")

However, another book caught my eye, and sparked a thought in my mind. It was entitled something along the lines of "Praying in the Harvest: How to Pray for the Lost." It made me wonder how many people think of prayer as a formula, as if there is a particular way to pray for the lost that will get more results than praying some other way. I wonder how many people doubt the efficacy of their prayer because they wonder if they said the right thing, or said it in the right way. I believe God answers prayer according to his will, not according to our eloquence. When we pray in Jesus's name, praying for things that Jesus would not hesitate to attach his own name to, God hears our prayers and answers them according to his will. I didn't read the book so I do not know what it says. But the title sparked my thinking. Perhaps it sparks yours as well.

Secondly, I came across an interview about preaching with Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Some of you will like Mark and others will not. Personally I enjoy listening to him, as much for what I disagree with as what I agree with. I am challenged by him in many areas, perhaps mostly in his boldness in speech (though perhaps sometimes a bit overly bold so as to be crass) and his ability to communicate and hold people's attention. He is not afraid to lay his proverbial all on the altar when it comes to preaching. He is not afraid to swing the Bible like a big club to confront sin and sinners. He calls himself a hard core Bible thumper.

I think this interview on preaching is worth reading. Like just about everything Mark says, there is some good and some bad. I offer no whole-hearted endorsement of Driscoll, though I have greatly benefitted from his preaching and his writing. Particularly note the amount of preparation time he puts in. And hang heavy on the last point.

Monday, August 14, 2006

I'm From the Gov'mint and I'm Here to Help

Back in January I sent an email to our senators from Michigan encouraging them to vote for the confirmation of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. Yes, I know, I might as well have tried to jump over the Empire State Building, but hey, it was a boring evening and I thought I would exercise my rights to send useless emails to my federal representatives.

Well, lo and behold, I opened up my inbox this weekend to receive an email from none other than the senator now running for re-election. I was delighted for her timely response to a current issue. Apparently, in the words of the esteemed senator, she "look[s] forward to the confirmation process and to learning more about Judge Alito's judicial philosophy." She promises, "As this process moves forward, I will keep your views in mind should Judge Alito's nomination come before the full Senate for a vote."

Lest I think that this was some kind of email problem, the email was dated August 7, 2006. I actually had to look it up to see just how long ago it was that Alito was confirmed (over the vote of our Michigan Senate delegation). It was February 1.

All I can say is, "Good thing the building was not on fire."

On another topic, I have taken a little haitus from blogging for a few weeks here. Life has been hopping along for some reason. I cannot quite figure out where my life has gone to, but I am sure the little guy has something to do with that, as have a couple of other pressing matters. I look forward to returning to writing. My mind (and thought sheet) is full of ideas that I want to write about, as well as finishing some things I previously started. So for both of you that read my blog, you can look forward to some grist for the mill.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

What Would You Say?

Today, I was having breakfast at the diner while reading Alex Hadidian's excellent book entitled Successful Discipling.

The waitress, whom I know fairly well from a couple of contexts, was serving other customers and in the course of conversation apparently allowed some profanity to slip out. She said, "I'm sorry, Larry." Then to the guys sitting out the counter, she said, "I shouldn't say stuff like that with the preacher sitting behind you." (When they don't call me "Larry" (my preference), they call me "Pastor" or "the preacher.") She apologized to me, even though I honestly have no idea what she said since I was paying attention to my reading.

She then made the comment, "That's why I don't go to church. God is going to come down on me anyway, and I don't want him to do it while I am in church."

What would you say in response, with three or four men sitting at the counter?


I must admit, this is one of those areas where I struggle. I love talking theology and life, and I am usually pretty comfortable once the conversation gets started. But there are times like this where I draw a complete blank about what to say.

The strange thing is that she owed me no apology. First, I had no idea what she said. Second, it was not offensive to me. I expect unbelievers to act like unbelievers. I have no problem with the world acting as the world. The problem is when believers act like the world.

However, this experience ties in well with some Hadidian says in his book (several times) about the power of example: We best learn how to do by watching others do it. Being around someone who is boldly evangelistic would help us to learn how to turn conversations to the gospel.

So what would you have said in reply to this woman, during breakfast hour at the diner, with three or four men sitting around drinking coffee?