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.