Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Tornado of 1946

This tornado season reminds me of one occasion in the long history of Grace Baptist Church which dates back to 1904.

Here is an interesting account of the tornado of 46 that destroyed our building. It was told by Orville H. Williams who served here from 1941-1957. In our archives we have some pictures of the damage.

The story is told that the whole building was leveled except the pulpit and the pulpit Bible which was opened to Isaiah 53.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Wierd Names, Inc.

I was in Toronto last week for a few days, with my wife pushing me around town in a wheelchair because of my (at that point unknown) herniated disk. It was a great vacation all except for the back and leg pain, the six hours in the Toronto General Hospital Emergency Room, and the relative discomfort of a wheelchair with a son on my lap.

I saw this store across the street, and wish I could have gotten a better picture, but this one should be sufficient to say, "Think before you name your store."

Note: I was informed by a friendly knowledgeable person Iwho apparently is a Canadian as well) that the Brick stores are among Canada's largest and most successful type stores. The name still sounds funny to me.

While I am posting a few pics, my son must be in practice to be a stocktrader.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The writing of many books is endless

I was thinking today about books. I like books. I like they way they look on my shelf (which is why I hate e-books). I like the way the feel in my hands. I even like to read them sometimes, though I do not read nearly enough.

But I was thinking about why there are so many books. Allow me to offer a few suggestions, without in anyway pretending to offer an exegesis on the verse that produced the title of this thread.

So here were go:

1. Things need to be said. Some of the great classics have survived not because they were they only books written, but because they contained some things that needed (and need) to be said (and heard). The classics however did not say it all. There is still more to be said and heard. Thus, the writing of books continues.

2. Things need to be resaid. Classics are great. But they are, by nature, dated in their language, illustrations, sentence structure, etc. There are often verbose and redundant (and they have too many words that same the thing over again). So a good rewriting, or a new book on an old theme is a good thing.

3. New things need to be said. While theology is unchanging, the world is not. Old themes can be addressed to new ideas or applications. Furthermore, God's biblical wisdom did not end with the old dead guys. There are many today who are their equal or superior in that they stand on their shoulders.

4. Some people have too high an opinion of their own stupids, many of which are stupid ideas that should have died a private death in the mind.

5. Some books are good chapters, or good articles. And should stop there. Of course, it's hard to make a living doing that, which bring me to the next point.

6. People need to make money. Let's face it ... book writing is lucractive, particularly if you are good, or if people like to read you (two entirely different things in many cases).

Many books don't really say anything. They just take up space. Skip them. When I buy books, I buy on reviews, recommendations, current interests, summaries, tables of contents, and randomly chosen flips.

I don't feel compelled to read old dead guys. I do read some of them. I rarely (even less now) feel compelled to read complete books, particularly if they don't seem to be going any where or don't address a particular pressing need. Devotional books are the exception usually, although I pick those carefully. In most books. I read selections that seem interesting or applicable to a present course of study, and then put the book away for later.

As an example, last week in preparation for some evangelistic Bible studies I read several chapters on asking good questions to generate discussions. I found it very help. I wonder how helpful the first part and last part of the book are. I will find out one day.

So here's my advice: Choose your books wisely (based both on author and topic), and read to enjoy. Make it a pleasure and a passion, not a chore.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Here's a Site I Like

I may have mentioned this blog before, but seeing this today reminded me of how much I like it (and how much I don't like it because it reminds me of one of my areas of greatness weaknesses).
In 2005, a psychiatrist at King’s College in London administered IQ tests to three groups: the first did nothing but perform the IQ test, the second was distracted by e-mail and ringing phones and the third was stoned on marijuana. Not surprisingly, the first group did better than the other two by an average of 10 points. The e-mailers, on the other hand, did worse than the stoners by an average of 6 points.
I think the moral may be "Do drugs, not email ... at least if you want to be productive." Of course some smart aleck will come along and tell me I have distorted the data ... but whatever ...

I personally think the "hacks" sometimes are more time consuming than not having them. But there is something to be said for a well managed life. I am simply not the one to say it since I know nothing about it.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Grudem, Piper, and Baptism

By now, you may know that Grudem revised his section on baptism in his systematic theology. You can read about it here. John Piper has responded to it here. Piper's comments are what intrique me because I think Grudem's change is for the better, at least as I read it. Piper does not.

Discussions about baptism seem to me to revolve essentially around the nature of baptism (what it is and does) rather than around its necessity. Both paedobaptists and credobaptists believe in the necessity of baptism. They do not agree on the nature of it.

Piper raised quite a stir a while back over his attempt to lead Bethlehem Baptist Church to accept paedobaptists into the congregation. His reasoning, summarized, was "Why should the local church be more restrictive than the universal church?" It is a noble sounding concern. But isn't that exactly what church discipline does? It most assuredly makes the local church more restrictive than the universal church. Other things do as well. So I find this concern less than compelling as a basis for the argument to begin with. Having read Piper's latest attempt, I am no more convinced than I was previously.

Several of Piper's comments grab my attention:
Evidently, Wayne is not so sure any more that we should make the effort to overcome the divisions among evangelicals for the sake of welcoming true brothers and sisters as members in the local church.
Is this really accurate? It seems like this is more than what Grudem said. I imagine he would like to overcome division by having everyone come to the credobaptist view. I certainly would. I am not a fan of having unbaptized believers out there. But the solution, it seems to me, is not to admit unbaptized believers to the congregation, no matter how sincere they may be, but to call them diligently through biblical teaching to be baptized biblically.

Piper continues,
I would say to them: “Brothers, I think you are not baptized. But you believe on biblical grounds as you see them, with as much humility and openness to truth as God has given you, that you are baptized. Your understanding of baptism does not imply that Christ’s command may be neglected or that infant sprinkling is regenerating. You give good evidence of being born again and that you embrace Christ as your Savior and Lord and Treasure, and you manifest an authentic intention, on the basis of that faith, to follow Jesus as Lord and obey his teachings. Therefore, since there is good evidence that you are members of the Body of Christ, you may be members of this local expression of that body. But understand this: I will spend the rest of my ministry trying to persuade you that you and your children should follow through on the full obedience to Jesus and be baptized. In admitting you, I do not give up on my view of baptism. That is the whole point. We are finding a way to work on this disagreement from inside the body of Christ in its local expression.”
Here, Piper seems to take a rather postmodern view of truth (that isn't really all that postmodern). He essentially grants that validity of belief is judged by sincerity of belief. The fact that Sproul, Duncan, or whoever believe something with "humility and openness" is irrelevant. If you believe the wrong thing, it matters not how much humility you have.

Notice how Piper says that they believe "the truth as God has given [them]." Really? Is the truth God gave to paedobaptists different than he gave to credobaptists? I don't think so. I am not aware of some other revelation out there, and I don't think Piper or Grudem are either (in spite of their sympathies with charismata).

The fact is that truth is not personal; it is universal. And if someone believes differently than someone else, they are not both right, no matter how sincere they may be.

Piper concludes,
Turning the tables, I would say that when a person looks a true and precious brother in the eye and says, “You may not join this church,” he is doing one of two things: Seriously diminishing our spiritual union in Christ, or seriously minimizing the importance of church membership. Very few, it seems to me, have really come to terms with the seriousness of excluding believers from membership in the local church. It is preemptive excommunication.
I think the opposite. To say you may not join this church is to say that we value God's view more than yours. We love you and want you to come to God's view on this matter. For some who would object to the "arrogance" of saying we hold God's view, why else would we hold it? Would you really hold something that was not God's view? If you were convinced that God viewed it another way, wouldn't you change? I would.

Furthermore, I don't think such a statement minimizes the importance of church membership. I think it highlights it. Remember, as Baptists, we hold to a regenerated church membership because that is the pattern of the NT from Acts right on through. Those who "received the word were baptized and were added to the church" (Acts 2:41). Church membership is based on a credible profession of faith. In this day and age of "walk the aisle" to get saved, we have gotten away from the NT teaching that the confession of Christ as Savior was not the pastor reading a decision card from the pulpit. It was the person submitting himself to baptism in the presence of others. In other words, baptism is the public sign of faith.

I would suggest that while one might say all the right things about salvation (and might truly be saved, such as Sproul or Duncan), they have not biblically confessed Christ until they have been immersed following their profession of faith. To draw on Piper's first comment above, the NT way to know true brothers and sisters in Christ is at least partially through their baptism.

To minimize the nature of baptism by admitting paedobaptists seems to be saying that we don't think God's way of identifying believers (baptism) is a good way. I don't think Piper would say that, but I don't know how he would avoid it.

Preemptive excommunication? Sure. Why should we admit someone who we believe to be an openly disobedient brother to the fellowship of the church? I see no reason simply because I think baptism is not an option; it is necessity. One who does not have it may be saved, but they are not obedient in that area.

Baptism and church membership are important. We must not minimize either be pretending it does not matter what we believe about it.

As a credobaptist, I can have good and sweet fellowship in the gospel with a paedobaptist (and in some ways better fellowship than with many credobaptists who sometimes forget the "credo" part in their haste to get their weekly baptism numbers off to the news rags). But such fellowship must be limited in the context of the local church because the differences are important.

I do not feel compelled to make the local church as big as the universal church. I think doctrine matters, and I think unity at a local church level requires a high level of agreement on these major doctrines. I do feel compelled to uphold the NT teaching about public confession of faith.

Find Refuge in God

The Psalms are replete with teaching about finding refuge in God. But it is often hard to apply it, particularly if you are concerned about accurate understanding of the text. In a great many of those passages, there are historical contexts (such as David being chased through the wilderness) that brought about the writing that we do not face today. And I doubt that David's talk of finding refuge in God was authorially intended to address our bad hair days (if you have hair). God protected David in physical ways that everyone around could see and experience with him. He does not always do that for us. All of this is not to say that we cannot profitably use those passages. It is only to caution us about "davidizing" our lives with experiences or struggles that were not in view when David wrote.

However, David, like us, also faced emotional and spiritual struggles, arising both from those around him as well as from his own sinfulness. Many of our struggles are of that nature, such as the fight with sin that would destroy us, or the struggle with discouragement and dissatisfaction.

In the vein, Psalm 31 is a psalm most of us can identify with. In it, David is struggling physically and emotionally with the consequences of his iniquity (v. 10). His adversaries here are not likely Saul and his men, Absalom, or Shimei. His sinfulness has caused problems and brought shame and embarrassment to him.

But even in sin, the grace of God comes to David and to us, to remind us to find refuge in God, even when our bed is of our own making.

The difficult thing for some is to understand exactly what it means for us to find our refuge in God. It is easy to understand "refuge" when you are walking down the street and a sudden storm blows up. It is not always easy to know what taking refuge in God will look like in the midst of spiritual struggle, particularly in the guilt of sinfulness.

With that in mind, I offer here are a few reflections about taking refuge in God. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

1. Those who take refuge in God will always seek immediate forgiveness through confession.

A number of years ago I had a young man sitting in my office to whom I was presenting the plan of salvation. He understood it, and repeated it back to me. I asked him if he would like to trust Christ for salvation. He said, "Yes, but I better wait. I had a beer a little while ago." (Ironic how to him, a twenty year old unbeliever with no church background, there was something incompatible with beer and salvation.) We might smile or laugh at such a response, but how many times in our own lives do we postpone a request for forgiveness because we "just sinned" and we feel bad asking God for forgiveness that quickly. This is particularly poignant when we have knowingly or intentionally sinned. To take refuge in God means to seek forgiveness now and take refuge in his promise of grace.

2. Those who take refuge in God will always obey him.

It does not matter what pious platitudes come from your mouth. If you are not obeying God, then you are not taking refuge in him. You are seeking to solve your problems and find satisfaction your own way. Refuge in God is diametrically opposed to disobedience. Always. Sin is the attempt to take refuge in our own ingenuity to solve our current problems. Obedience it to take refuge in the eternal and omniscient wisdom of God to solve our problems.

3. Those who take refuge in God will refuse sinful reactions and manipulation.

In the face of mistreatment or difficulty, we often resort to wrong responses because it comes so naturally to us. (That's why it is called the natural man.) These wrong responses are part of the disobedience through which we seek refuge in our own ability to handle the current problem. When we take refuge in God, we might not enjoy how others are treating us, but we will not resort to wrong responses. We will let God settle the debts. This does not mean that we will not practice biblical confrontation in grace and love. But it does mean we will not seek vengeance or retaliation. We will let God be the avenger.

4. Those who seek God will have joy in the midst of pain.

We will understand that "our times are in his hand" (Psa 31:15). We will understand that this day has exactly what God intended it to have, and therefore while we may not be happy, and we may not be comfortable, we will be joyful knowing that we can trust the lovingkindness of our Father.

5. Those who seek God will have confidence in the midst of struggle.

As with the previous, we will understand that this struggle is exactly what God intended for me today, and I will face it with confidence that God's sovereignty rules over all, including the seemingly incidental or accidental encounters of my life.

Oh that I could learn to take refuge in God consistently. How sweet a life it must be.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Better Than God?

What is at the root of dissatisfaction with our current state in life?

To answer this question, we must first state that there are two kinds of dissatisfaction. There is a holy dissatisfaction, where we look at the state of our lives in the light of God's character as revealed in his word and declare our present state to be unacceptable because it does not measure up to God's word. This is a good dissatisfaction because it grows out of a desire to know God, to rest in God, and to be what God has commanded and demanded that we be. This holy dissatisfaction is salved only by the blood of Christ, shed for our tragic rebellion, and the power of the Spirit that renews us and draws us to practical holiness.

The second kind of dissatisfaction is a rebellious dissatisfaction, where we look at the state our lives in light of God's sovereign providence and declare that our present state unacceptable because it does not measure to our preconceived notions of what a good and just God should be doing. We are ultimately saying that if we were God, we would be doing it differently. We are ultimately questioning the love or sovereignty (or both) of God.

This dissatisfaction refuses to acknowledge that a loving God has sovereignly and providentially brought our lives to the exact place that he wants them at this time. If he had wanted it to be different, he would have made it so. In talking to dissatisfied people, I usually ask at one point or another, "Do you believe God makes mistakes?" and "Do you believe God could change this situation if he wanted to?" The answers usually given as "no" and "yes." At this point, it is a struggle between what we know we should believe (that he doesn't make mistakes and that he could change this if he wanted) and what we want to believe (that our current state is not right).

Ultimately, such a state of dissatisfaction must be labeled as rebellion against God and his plan for this day. This type of dissatisfaction is remedied only by the blood of Christ, shed for our tragic disbelief, and a submission to God as he as revealed himself in Scripture.

Glad submission in this second dissatisfaction does not preclude the seeking of remedy. We should be cautious about short-circuiting the process that God has brought into our lives through extreme manipulation and even outright sin.

We must let God sit on the throne and be his faithful subjects, submissive to what he has for us this day, and willing to let God be God without our help and advice.

If your dissatisfaction is with your personal holiness, repent and find his deep and abiding grace along with the power of the Spirit to walk in newness of life.

If your dissatisfaction is with God's providence, repent and find his deep and abiding grace sufficient for this present hour of struggle or suffering.