Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Worthy Books from 2008

Note: These are not necessarily books published in 2008, but rather books I read or reread in 2008, that stick in my memory as notable in some way. I regret that I did not keep as good a record of books read as I usually do, which is unfortunate since I read more books this year than I have in previous years.

These are presented in no particular order.

When Sinners Say I Do (Dave Harvey) - An excellent book on marriage, among the best that I have read. It is good for all couples, whether with problems or without. I have used it for premarital counseling as well.

The Complete Husband (Lou Priolo) - An excellent book for husbands,complete with practical steps to be a godly husband. Men, just don't let your wife see it. She will raise her expectations.

Depression (Ed Welch) - Welch deals with this topic is a sensitive way, but loaded up with Scripture. This is neither a "get over it" book, nor a "get the meds" book. It deals with a tough topic in a biblical way that neither minimizes it nor glorifies it. (Though I didn't read it this year, I am reminded of Welch's Addictions: Banquet in a Grave. It is the best book I have read on life-dominating sins.)

Seeker Small Groups (Gary Poole) - From Willow Creek Resources, this is not a book about how to "do church" so to speak. It is a book about how to engage unbelievers in spiritual conversation with the goal of seeing them converted. This methodology fits well in any kind of church. If you are going to do "seeker" ministry, this is the way to do it.

Kingdom of Priests (Eugene Merrill) - An excellent history of OT Israel from an excellent writer and scholar. It contains a breadth of extra-biblical data that helps to place the biblical record in its historical context, while holding unashamedly to a high view of Scripture.

Toward an Exegetical Theology (Walter C. Kaiser) - An older volume, both worth rereading in terms of the exegetical process for preaching.

Cracking OT Codes (Brent Sandy and Ronald Geise) - A book on interpreting the various OT genres. Excellent for those who want to give  more thought to how we should interpret the various literary genres in the OT Scriptures.

Turning the Tide (Nigel Cawthorne) - A recounting of the significant battles of World War II. It is a very fascinating overview, particularly of the Pacific Campaign. It is surprisingly poor in terms of publishing quality (numerous typos), but it is a good read. These types of books always provide me with a plethora of illustration ideas for preaching and teaching.

On Being a Pastor (Derek Prime and Alistair Begg) - I have picked this book up at the end of the year to reread it and am reminded again that it is an excellent book on the nuts and bolts of pastoral ministry.

Do I even need to say that inclusion in this list is not a blanket endorsement of the book itself, the author, the ministry of the author, anyone cited in the book, or all the theology of the book?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Things to Read (in your spare time)

Here's an interesting article on NFL quarterback Kurt Warner who is very outspoken about his faith, even to the point that teammates wouldn't come to his house because they didn't know if they would get preached at or not. It is an interesting read about the Christianity of someone in the spotlight. I have never been a big fan of people who use Jesus as a line in a post-game press conference, and I am not sure that the endzone is the best place to pray, but the article is worth a quick read.

Here's an article by Greg Gilbert at 9 Marks on the hot topic of the church and the cultural mandate. In the age of the emerging church, people from all across the spectrum of the EC have a renewed interest in social justice as a legitimate pursuit of the church as an institution (as opposed to the legitimate pursuit of the Christian as an individual).

IMO, there are two extremes that are both easy to reach. On the one hand it is easy to say that the church itself has no social or cultural responsibility. Just preach the gospel and don't worry about the culture. On the other hand, it is easy to say that the church must pursue the social transformation of the community that it is a part of, even to the point of making social and cultural transformation a part of the gospel itself (which led to the social gospel of the late 1800s and early 1900s, in which the message of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection for sin was replaced by a message of social justice). I think Gilbert gives some helpful insights to begin thinking about this topic.

Lastly, here is an excerpt from D. A. Carson on the nature of preaching. It is great for the pastor, and good for the church member. Dear church members, please be gentle with us pastors, and pray that  we might measure up to the great task of declaring the glory and truth of God from his word.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Walton on Jepthah's Daughter

OT Scholar John Walton weighs in on the always ticklish passage concerning Jepthah's vow and the subsequent sacrifice of his daughter (Judges 11:29-40). Of course, you are likely familiar with the tension--Did Jepthah actually offer her as a human sacrifice? Or did he merely commit her to temple service.

Walton says,

It can therefore be concluded that Jephthah is anticipating a human sacrifice. If his expectation is clear and the intended action is clear, the text leaves us no legitimate alternatives.

I admit to not being entirely convinced, but only because, like most of us, I object to human sacrifice. But Walton's case is pretty strong.

It brings to mind how often we let our own sensibilities weigh in on the interpretation of a passage. If something doesn't "fit" in our minds, we look for other alternatives, regardless of what the text says.

While God certainly does not expect us to check our common sense at the door of Bible study, he does expect us to recognize that the text is inspired and infallible, rather than our own sensibilities.

So if something in the Bible does not fit with my own thinking, I should first suspect my thinking.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Spoke More Than He Knows?

An op-ed piece in the NY Times by Frank  Rich quotes Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson on Rick Warren's inclusion in the inaugural ceremony of Barack Obama:

“I’m all for Rick Warren being at the table,” he told The Times, but “we’re talking about putting someone up front and center at what will be the most-watched inauguration in history, and asking his blessing on the nation. And the God that he’s praying to is not the God that I know.”

While I think Rick Warren is too often too much about Rick Warren and not enough about Jesus, and while I think this inaugural prayer may be unwise on many different levels, I am fairly confident that Rick Warren holds a biblical position on homosexuality.

And Robinson is right: The God that Warren is praying to is not the god that Robinson knows.

If Robinson knew God, he would be living differently.

In a time where issues of homosexuality are becoming increasingly visible, Christians must renew their commitment to biblical love for those made in the image of God. And that love means loving people enough not to let them continue in these destructive lifestyles. The intolerance of others such as Rich and Robinson towards Christianity must not be returned to them.

We must respond with gracious tact and a firm commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ that gives a real alternative lifestyle along with the hope of heaven.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Merry Christmas

This is a nice early Christmas present, even if it was a little hard to get out of the wrapping. But well worth it ...

Her name is Elyse Maelinda Rogier. She was born December 20 at 1:58 p.m., and was 7 pounds, 11 ounces.

Mom and baby are fine. Dad and Laran are surviving, but it's no fun without Mama around the house.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Practical Theology for Women - Wendy Horger Alsup

Several years ago my friend Wendy Alsup sent me a manuscript for a booklet she was using in a women's class she teaches at her church. I read it through, made some comments, sent it back to her, and forgot about it. This past summer Wendy emailed me that her booklet, now titled Practical Theology for Women, had been published by Crossway Books. She very graciously sent me a copy of the book, and I was delighted to read it again.

Simply put, I like this book. It is short, just 152 small-sized pages, but it is filled with good meat that will provide great fodder for discussion and growth, whether used personally or in a group.

The book is based on the idea that theology is not just for men; it is for women. As Wendy puts  it, "No matter where our husbands, fathers, or pastors may be in their spiritual journey, when we ladies grow in our understanding of God's character and attributes, it can only be a blessing for our homes, our marriages, and our churches" (p. 22).

The book contains fifteen chapters divided into three parts: 1) What is Theology? 2) Who Is Our God? and 3) Communicating with Our God. In these chapters Wendy lays out a solid theology of who God is and how we should relate to him. It is thoroughly saturated with Scripture that is applied to the milieu of daily life.

Wendy has written a book of basic theology. It is not deep.It doesn't delve into deep thorny issues of theology proper. At the same time, this is not a book that is lightweight or filled with fluff. Aside from the Preface, it is fairly light on stories and it won't make you laugh a lot. It will simply drive you to know God more, and to know him in a way that overflows into the practices of your life.

This book can be profitably enjoyed by people from all levels of spiritual maturity and theological knowledge, though it seems geared towards those with less knowledge and experience in the Word.

The downside of this book? Men might not read it because of its title. I would recommend buying your wife a copy and reading it for yourself.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Might Be Interesting

English Professor Alan Jacobs wrote an article in which he lamented the blogosphere as "the friend of information but the enemy of thought." He had some excellent stuff to say.

Now this same Alan Jacobs is launching his own blog called Text Patterns.

It might be interesting to read how a man who doesn't particularly like blogs keeps one.

I have added it to my blogreader just in case it is good. I can always hit delete in a year or two (which is about how long blogs stay on my blogreader after I have ceased to find them interesting ... but I never want to miss anything).

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Great Lie of American Consumerism

Commenting on the recent Black Friday death of a Walmart worker, Leonard Pitts, Jr. says this:

We say children are a priority, but when did people ever press against the door for parents' night at school? We say education is a priority, but when did people ever bang against the windows of the library? We say faith is a priority, but when did people ever surge into a temple of worship as eagerly as they do a temple of commerce?

No, sale prices on iPods, that's our true priority. Jdimytai Damour died because too many of us have bought, heart and soul, into the great lie of American consumerism: Acquiring stuff will make you whole.

...

Hey, you may be a total loser, may not have a friend, may not have an education, may not have a job, may not have a clue, but it will all be OK as soon as you get that new Canon digital camera, especially if you get it for 50% off.

The truth is that Christians whose hope should be other worldly as just as likely to be caught in the "stuff" idolatry as the next guy.

We should be different. But we're not.

It is to our shame.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Mark Dever on Evangelism

I played golf with Mark Dever today (to cop a line from my friend Chris Anderson) while he talked about evangelism.

This message on "Evangelism for the Pastor or Preacher" is worth the time to listen to. In it, he addresses the priority of evangelism in both personal life and preaching.

He makes some interesting observations including the fact that many pastors are woefully disconnected from evangelism. Many view the pastorate as an opportunity for a Christian desk job and they lose their passion for the lost.

He suggests the pastorate should be almost a begrudging work (my words, not his) since it takes one away from regular contact with the lost. He does not mean that negatively necessarily, but he makes a comment to the affect that it is something a man should do for the sake of the kingdom, not in order to get out of evangelism.

He also has some good suggestions about evangelistic preaching, reminding us that an evangelistic message is not one with a "come-forward" invitation, or a sweaty preacher that yells. An evangelistic message is not even one devoted solely to seeing people come to Christ. An evangelistic message is determined by the presence of the gospel.

I recommend you listen to it sometime.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Antonin Scalia on Seminary

OK, so he really wasn't talking about seminary (which makes me a faint-hearted originalist like Scalia I suppose).

But in a speech to the Federalist Society he was asked a question on how law schools could teach lawyers to be better advocates. Scalia admitted he was probably old-fashioned on this, but he believed a law school should teach students a body of knowledge and a process of analysis. The rest, he said, could be picked up in any courtroom. Law school is a professional school, not a trade school, Scalia said.

This sparked my mind to think about seminary. Many treat seminary like a trade school, where you go to learn how to be a pastor. So they load it up with all kinds of practical ministry classes.

I think seminary ought to teach a body of knowledge and a process of analysis. The rest can be picked up by hanging around a church and a good pastor.

If you go to seminary and learn methods of ministry, you will soon be outdated. The body of Christian knowledge and sound principles of analysis will serve you well through changing times.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

More Thoughts Sparked by Scalia

And speaking of Scalia, he sparked another thought.

If one believes in a living constitution (as most liberals seem to), then why is stare decisis (e.g., abiding by precedent) such a big deal? What if life changed between the previous ruling and this one? Should not the constitution change as well?

It comes to my mind because judicial nomination hearings always involve lengthy pontifications on whether or not a nominee believes in stare decisis. Of course, that is code for "Will you overturn Roe?"

Ironically, these questions of course come from the same group who didn't mind ignoring stare decisis when it was Plessy vs. Ferguson that was overturned, and rightly so.

So if stare decisis was not important in granting equal status to a certain class of American citizens, then why is it important in denying equal status to another certain class of American citizens?

If the court can overturn precedent to grant equal status to Black Americans, why cannot it overturn precedent to grant equal status to unborn Americans?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tony Jones on Homosexuality

Jones says,

In any case, I now believe that GLBTQ can live lives in accord with biblical Christianity (at least as much as any of us can!) and that their monogamy can and should be sanctioned and blessed by church and state.

The article is a good reminder of reasons why it is important not to do theology by experience but by the Word. People without a firm commitment to Scripture will soon find themselves foundering in the abyss of a decadent culture looking for approval.

As Christians committed to the gospel, we must recognize our call to love all people, regardless of sexual orientation. And we must love them enough to tell them the good news of the gospel, that they no longer have to live in rebellion against God.

My guess is that homosexuality (whether in secret practice, pornography, or fantasy) is probably more pervasive than most people would think.

But love demands that we reject the soul-damning conclusion that Jones reaches. We cannot love others while condoning their sin. Love doesn't let image bearers of God continue unwarned.

We, as believers, should reject all anger, crudeness, personal attacks, namecalling, and the like. But we must not stand by and pretend that homosexuality is okay.

It's not just culture that is at stake. It is eternity.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

McKnight on Christians in a Non-Christian Environment

The entire sweep of the Bible teaches that Christians in non-Christian environments are not to be worried so much about changing their environments as they are to remain faithful in whatever kind of environment they find themselves. In fact, the New Testament is unified on this point: Christian teaching concerns Christian theology and behavior, not social institutions and how they might be changed (McKnight, 1 Peter [NIVAC], p. 118).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

In the Diner

I was sitting in the diner this morning studying when a man came in who I see all the time in here, and who I met years ago. We spent the better part of an hour talking about life and ministry.

He told me about growing up selling drugs on the west side, next door to a dear lady in our church. He said one day he was on his way to sell drugs when a older man stopped him to talk about hell and Jesus.

Today, he is a Christian of about ten years, teaching in his church.

I am sure it took a lot of boldness for that man to address this younger man on the street.

It reminds me that we never know which conversation may be God's means of calling someone to himself.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Amazing

I am probably a simple guy, but Jelly Bellies are amazing to me. How can you pack all that authentic taste into a jellybean?

Of course, there is a bit of cognitive dissonance in things like chewing root beer, or swallowing bubblegum.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Good Article on Church Planting

From Why Some Missionaries Don't Plant Churches:

To put it bluntly, churches and mission agencies send out many missionaries who are not equipped or qualified to plant churches. They may be good, godly men, but they are not gifted for the work of planting churches. They have not been discipled in a church planting atmosphere, and they come from churches that have never planted another church. They have never proven themselves in effective ministry before leaving for a foreign field. They have insufficient training and experience in organizing a church in their own culture, much less a foreign culture with added complexity and complications. They have little idea of the challenges of learning a language and adjusting to life in conditions they never imagined. They are with mission agencies that control rather than coach in order to reproduce clones of North American churches.

I have been greatly and increasingly concerned in recent years about the way in which my general circle of churches goes about ministerial training and assessment. Perhaps one day I will enlarge on that in an article, but simply put, I am not sure that we (broadly speaking) get people in places where their gifts can be most effectively used. We accept, as Steve mentions in the article, this mystical "call of God" as a trump card.

I think more rigorous evaluation and a commitment to discipleship and mentorship would be a better way to go. I think seminary training to the Master of Divinity level is a non-negotiable for the most part. But that is not enough. A person can graduate from seminary and not be able to preach, or relate to people, or organize and administrate. He can have a great desire to see churches planted, but not have the gifts to carry it out.

It's great that in the church of God, he has gifted us all differently. People without the gifts to plant a church are still invaluable in the church. But they are a disaster in church planting. So rather than send out to fail, let's make better efforts to assess what they are gifted for, and then mentor them for that.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Prodigal Son - Who Are You?

You are apt to see yourself as the prodigal who has sinned against the grace of God. You have taken the good gifts of God and wasted them on riotous living. You have spent your fortune on the cheap pleasures of self-serving greed and lust. You demanded satisfaction and you used God's gifts to you to achieve it immorally and unethically. And you know it. In the past, this condition has hit you squarely between the eyes. You have reaped the consequences of what you have sown. You have seen the pain and damage you have caused to those around you. You were in the pig-pen and came crawling for grace.

But now have you returned to the old ways. The sins are different, but your state is the same. The problem is that are not yet in the pig-pen, eating the slop. You are, as of yet, unwilling to see just how ugly things are. You are unwilling to come to the Father in humility and repentance. You are not yet desperate. You still think you know more than you do. You think that you are the exception to God's way of living, that you can do it and get away with it, that the end won't be as bad as God promised it would be.

You like to think of your sin as primarily in the past. Yet you are presently miserable, though you have begun to mask it by certain choices. As of now, you are unwilling to obey and come home to a loving and gracious Father because you know what it will cost you, and you would rather live in disobedience than pay that price.

Actually, you are more like the older brother. You are self-righteous, even though you know you have done wrong. You think what they did is so much worse. You can't imagine that anyone would forgive and restore them. You have an elevated sense of your own knowledge. You are upset that someone would think they are sorry. You are angry that someone would "kill the fatted calf" and choose to love and restore.

You are justified in your own mind. You are convinced that prodigals must prove themselves before they are worthy of your acceptance. But, given your self-righteousness and bitterness, there is nothing that they can do to prove themselves to you. You think that if you do not see exactly what you want to see that you are not required to respond biblically.

When someone else celebrates repentance and confession, even in small steps, your anger and bitterness increases. Rather than celebrate, you withdraw even more.

You should be like the father, anxiously desiring to be gracious. You should be watching anxiously for return and restoration. You should have long ago granted it, even as imperfect as the return may have been. Interestingly, the prodigal never had the chance to explain or make his request. The simple act of returning was enough to unleash the grace and love of the father.

You should be ready to kill the fatted-calf in celebration. It is not your job to punish or to withhold favor. It is time to party. Make it a big one filled with grace and love just as you received from your heavenly Father.

Who are you going to be?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Worth Your Time

This message by Al Mohler on "How Not to Raise a Pagan" is worth your time. It was preached at Southeastern Baptist Seminary.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Alternate Beliefs

Stardust over at God is for Suckers avers that atheism is a lack of belief. He says, "How many times do we have to tell these fools that atheism simply means lack of belief in the existence of any god, gods,goddesses? … Atheism is saying gods do not exist and requires no faith in anything."

Yet does Stardust actually have no faith at all? When we think about what Stardust is saying, we see that he is really articulating a belief. His belief is that no gods exist. He cannot prove that no gods exist, but he has chosen to believe it.

When he says "Atheism is saying," he is saying "Atheism believes."

The truth is that everyone believes something. You see, lack of belief is simply an alternate belief system. To say, “I do not believe in the existence of a god” is to say “I believe that no gods exist.” (That is, properly speaking, a statement of faith or religion, not a statement of scientific conclusion.)

You see, every belief can be turned from a negative statement of “I don’t believe” to a positive statement of “I believe.” So it is impossible to believe nothing.

Perhaps in evangelism, when encountering people with divergent beliefs (or lack of beliefs), it will be helpful for us to clarify their statements by saying, "So what you really believe is ..."

That will help us clarify both for us and for them what their alternate belief really is.

I urge you not to do in a smart-aleck, antagonistic kind of way. Do it in a way that manifests a sincere desire to represent their thoughts accurately. By exposing alternate beliefs as true beliefs, we can then address the foundation of belief.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Door-to-Door

Ed Stetzer re-posts some interesting data about door-to-door outreach.

Door-to-door used to be the almost universal strategy of outreach by conservative Baptist churches (and probably many other types as well). It usually involved an attempt to evangelize (what Mark Driscoll calls "Shotgun Weddings to Jesus" in his book Radical Reformission).

In the last ten years, I have knocked on every door in this community at least four times, and some doors more. We have tried everything from simple invitations to church, to religious surveys, to asking people what they think about church and what kind of church they would attend, to outright evangelism.

In that time, I can recall only one person that came from door-to-door invitations, and he came only two or three times. That may be a testimony to my ineptness at cold-calling, though I have spent many an evening sitting on someone's front porch just "chewing the fat" about life and getting know them. As a result of knocking on doors, I know a lot of people and they know me, but it hasn't been effective in church growth.

In some communities and perhaps with some personalities, door-to-door is still somewhat of an effective way of outreach. Stetzer has some interesting numbers on who is open to invitations, but no numbers (so far as I have seen) on how many actually show up from door-to-door. That would be interesting to me.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Who Is the Big Winner? (Another Election Post)

1. The media for shamelessly accepting over 1/2 billion dollars in advertising.

2. The fuel companies who gleefully filled up jumbo jets and motorcades for gas guzzling campaigns while the people traveling in such style complain about America's dependence on the very thing that was fueling their planes. Somehow that probably makes the complaints about windfall profits go down a little easier for the oil companies, knowing that the ones complaining about the windfall profits have no problem increasing those profits so long as it helps them achieve personal ends.

3. Special interests who will find a single-party government of big-spenders, in conjunction with a minority party of big-spenders, more than willing to dole out tax-payer money for all manner of triviality. This too will make the complaining about special interests by the big-spenders go down easier (not that lobbyists were ever concerned about that to begin with since their general attitude is "Complain all you want, just keep the checks coming).

On the Vote

No, this is not about the election. It is about the vote.

There is no doubt that, in this election, as in every other there has been voter fraud. Only an omniscient God knows how much (although according to some he just found out yesterday). It is likely that instances of voter fraud number in the multiplied millions.

How do we address it? I have a few ideas.

1. Eliminate early voting and absentee voting. The law sets the day of the election as the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Therefore, require voting to take place on the day that the law sets (or change the law). Early voting, absentee voting is an invitation to voter fraud. I know places where in local elections, people are paid to collect absentee votes. They take the absentee ballot to the person, get them to sign it, and then fill it in for themselves. And it is public knowledge that it takes place. It has swung many elections. So the first step to addressing voter fraud is to have the election when the law says to have it. Extend the vote to twenty-four hours if necessary.

2. Require picture ID and positive confirmation. People have four years to get ready for this. It's not like yesterday snuck up on anyone. If they don't have picture ID that matches their voter registration, they don't vote. Period. Yesterday, I showed up to vote, signed my name on a piece of paper, gave them my address and birthdate, and was given a ballot. The person sitting in front of me had no idea who I was. All I needed to vote again was the name, address, and birthdate of someone else. In a past election, I walked up to the table with my driver's license and voter registration card out and was told to put it away.

3. Nationalize the voting process for national elections. Make the voting process the same all over, and make it governed by the same rules. There is no reason to have local-run or state-run elections for national office. Yes, it will cost money, but Congress has never balked at spending money. Yesterday (in a flashback to college), I voted by "machine gradeable" ballots. I colored in little ovals for the candidates of my choice. When I ran my ballot through the reader, it showed that I was the 159th voter in my precinct. But I have no idea who the machine read my vote for. Some people were voting by punching chads, and some by touching screens (I don't trust those either). Let's make it all the same.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

It's Election Day

So I feel compelled to comment:

1. I am against everyone voting. Quite frankly there are some people who simply should not vote ... not because their politics differ from mine, but because they are ignorant. They don't know anything. They go into the booth and pull a lever because it says "D" or "R" beside it. They make a choice based on a  thirty-second commercial by one side or the other. The "highest voter turnout" in history won't be good. There are some people who should stay home.

2. I am against abortion. Unfortunately neither major candidate is solidly against abortion. One is quasi-pro-life, the best that I can tell, and the other is solidly pro-abortion, even after birth. What kind of choice is that?

3. In a nation of 300,000,000 people, these candidates are the best we can come up with?

4. The economy will recover no matter who is in office.

5. SCOTUS is the most important issue in this race. There are likely to be at least two and perhaps four nominations in the next term. If this is a two-term president, it is hard to imagine there won't be at least four and possibly five. That means the power to shape the court for a generation. Who do you want to give that to?

6. When all is said and done, God will still be God, and will still be in absolute control. The church won't die because of this election. The gospel will not suddenly stop working. (Some would say it stop working long ago but perhaps that is only because people quit preaching it and started preaching politics and feel-goodism.) But nonetheless, this should be a reminder to us all that our hope as Christians is not in government, at least not until Jesus sets up his government (in which case we won't have to worry about voter fraud). For now, we live as aliens in the world, with our hope and our treasure in the next world.

7. My prediction: It will be closer than most people think.

8. Tonight I will go to sleep and not worry about it. I will wake up tomorrow and try to find someone to talk to about Jesus.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What Were They Thinking?

I was watching the Phillies-Rays last night in that debacle that lacked only an ark to save the living beings who were forced to be in it (not the fans who could have left at anytime).

MLB, not known for being the brightest organization on the planet, almost had a royal fiasco ... worse than it already is.

Playing in a wretched, miserable, cold downpour, the umpires incredibly allowed the game to continue past the middle of the fifth inning at which time the game becomes an official game.

Yes, that's right, sports fans. The World Series deciding game could have ended on a rain delay in the middle of the night.

As I watched the last of the fourth and the top of the fifth, I kept saying to myself and to all who would listen (happened to be my tolerant wife who doesn't understand why I watch games when I don't care who wins) that the umpires have to call this before the middle of the fifth.

Alas, no one was listening (except my tolerant wife who has no authority to call a rain delay).

Rumor has it that Selig wasn't going to let the World Series be decided on a rain delay, but one wonders what rule in the rulebook he was going to appeal to for that. Last I checked, you don't just get to make them up as you go along (unless it is the All-Star game and it is tied). Apparently, an "indefinite rain delay" was going to be the explanation.

The simple solution was to call the game before that became a possibility. Or to never have let it start to begin with.

MLB isn't known for simplicity. Or smarts.

And by the way, B. J. Upton's steal in the top of the sixth was amazing. The last time I saw a jump that big, Bush 41 was celebrating a birthday. If Upton hadn't been slowed down by the mud, he may have made it to third with that jump.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Noah's Ark and Shifting Ice

Empires of the Plain (by Lesley Adkins) chronicles the life of Henry Rawlinson, who served with the East India Company in the 1800s, primarily in the Middle East. There he became fascinated with ancient cuneiform and devoted a significant amount of time to learning it in its various forms. He became one of the leading experts on the "lost languages of Persia and Babylon" (from blurb).The book is interesting though a bit slow at times.

On to the point, Adkins notes that Rawlinson believed in the biblical story of Noah's Ark and was intending to climb Mount Ararat, but never was able to do it (not for lack of ability but for lack of opportunity).

Interestingly, Adkins says this about Noah's Ark:

From the mid-nineteenth century there have been over forty claims of spotting the ark on Mount Ararat, at times seen embedded in ice or submerged in a lake, since when about 140 expeditions have attempted to find the ark. Ancient wood can survive for thousands of years in very dry or in waterlogged conditions, but Mount Ararat is a large and inhospitable dormant volcano, although no known eruptions have occurred in historical times. There is no evidence of marine deposits from a flood, and the volcano has probably erupted within the last 10,000 years, since any Biblical flood. The ice cap, hundreds of feet thick, is thought to be the most likely hiding place for the ark, and yet the movement of the glaciers would pulverize a wooden vessel (p. 39).

The search for Noah's Ark has always been considered somewhat of a holy grail by some creationists, the secret key to evangelism and proving the Bible true. But Adkins is probably right. Any wooden vessel would likely have been destroyed by the millennia of shifting ice, but the record of Scripture stands untarnished. We would do better, it seems to me, to hang our hopes on the power of the available Word rather than the apologetic of a unavailable boat.

I am reminded of the words of Abraham to the Rich Man: "They have Moses and the Prophets; Let them hear them ... If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead [or finds Noah's Ark]" (Luke 16:31).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Low-Self Esteem Isn't

I tend to think it is actually high self-esteem. Someone is given to thinking that they deserve more than whatever their current status in life has given them (through the providence of God). Their exalted view of self says that they deserve more than what they currently have.

It seems low self-esteem is one of the most common diagnoses of psychological and social problems in modern society. It is why teenage girls (and even older women) are sexually immoral. It is why people do drugs and get into fights. It is why children misbehave in school. And the list goes on and on. But if we look closer at these situations, I think we will find that most of these people are acting out of unrealized wants, whether for affection they think they deserve, or respect they think they are not getting, or good feelings that they think they don't have, or escape from reality that they think they can't do without.

I think most often that low self-esteem people are the primary objects of their own thought. They think about themselves all the time, mourning their current situation in life. They want the attention of others. They moan about the sorry state of their lives, about the fact that no one likes them, etc. They are, in effect, very prideful. They think everyone else should think as much about them as they do about themselves.

Sometimes, "low self-esteem" people become the most manipulative people because of their desire for the acceptance of others to feed their own self-obsession. As a result, they will attempt to make others feel bad for not treating them like they believe they deserve to be treated.

The question for those with low self-esteem isn't "Why do you think poorly of yourself?" The question is "Why do you think about yourself at all?"

The solution to low self-esteem is not "Think better about yourself." It is rather "Stop thinking about yourself."

The words of Paul and the life of Christ speak to this very issue:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves ... Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:3, 5-8).

In other words, the gospel itself is the answer to low self-esteem: Empty yourself like Jesus did.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Food for Thought

I won't tell you where* I culled this quote from, because I do not want to incur the wrath of fundamentalist blogdom and give opportunity for people to use the alphabet in ways it was not intended to be used,** but I think it is worthy of thought.

Simply, until you fear God and weigh him most heavily in your life, you will remain an undisciplined fool.

This has application to more than the specific topic to which it is addressed.***

*DISCLAIMER: With respect to the person who said this, I do not subscribe to, support, endorse, recommend, speak highly of, think well of, reference positively, refuse to criticize, [pause for a breath], enjoy the crassness of, think he is above confrontation, think he is good for the church at large, think he is the Messiah of the modern age, or anything else you can think of to include here. If you think I should not have quoted it here, or linked to it, GET OVER IT.

[Even God used Balaam's ass, of which I was reminded this morning by Al Mohler (in his talk from GodBlogCon last year) that you can't say that in postmodern culture anymore because people automatically think the same thing you just thought. And don't accuse me of being crass. People used the word long before I did, and I used it the way that the KJV did.]

And no, with respect to Al Mohler, I do not subscribe to, support, endorse, recommend, speak highly of, think well of, reference positively, refuse to criticize, [pause for a breath], enjoy the crassness of, think he is above confrontation, think he is good for the church at large, think he is the Messiah of the modern age, or anything else you can think of to include here. If you think I should not have quoted it here, or linked to it, GET OVER IT.

**If you don't get the reference, consider yourself lucky. Do not, however, consider your present luck as an endorsement of going to a casino to see if you can capitalize on it. With respect to casino gambling, I do not subscribe to, support, endorse, recommend, speak highly of, think well of, reference positively, refuse to criticize, [pause for a breath], enjoy the crassness of, think it is above confrontation, think it is good for the church at large, think it is the Messiah of the modern age, or anything else you can think of to include here. If you think I should not have talked about the casino here here, GET OVER IT.

And if you don't agree with my demented sense of humor, get over that too.

***Forget the disclaimers and meditate on the fear of God.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

On Preaching

From Bonar's biography of McCheyne:

There is a wide difference between preaching doctrine and preaching Christ (p. 72).

I wonder how many pastors are guilty of having very doctrinal messages that don't have much of Christ in them?

I struggle with this to some degree because I am convinced that not every passage is about Christ, contrary to some of our well meaning friends.

I am reminded of what my systematic theology professor used to say in quoting someone else about allegorizing and spiritualizing the OT: I am pretty sure some of those nails in the tabernacle were there just to hold the place together.

By that he meant that we don't need see some significance in everything. Some things are just things; they are not other things.

But we, as pastors, would do well to preach Christ more fervently and more faithfully.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

What It Doesn't Say

Working in the book of Nehemiah this morning reminds me of an all to familiar teaching or preaching tactic ... that of concentrating on what the text doesn't say.

This comes to mind because Nehemiah 4:1-3 records the mocking opposition of Sanballat and Tobiah against the Jews who were rebuilding the wall. Then vv. 4-5 record Nehemiah's prayer to God.

I heard a preacher once emphasizing the fact that Nehemiah did not respond to Sanballat and Tobiah, but instead turned directly to God in prayer. Therefore we should not respond to our enemies but turn directly to God.

The problem is that the text doesn't say that.

In preaching and teaching, we must realize that the text does not tell us everything that happened. Historical narrative is a selective process, where the author chooses to relate only those things which somehow help his point.

Did Nehemiah speak to Sanballat and Tobiah? I suspect he probably did. But I would not preach that he didn't. Because the text doesn't say that.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Ministry in the OT and NT

Recently, in studying and teaching through the life of Saul, I noticed the similarity of these two verses. The first is from Samuel's farewell address in 1 Samuel 12. The second is from the apostles' instructions to the church to choose deacons to carry out the work of ministry.

Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way (1 Samuel 12:23).

But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4).

In both cases we see a commitment to prayer and a commitment to the ministry of teaching the truth.

All spiritual leaders, whether pastors or dads or Bible study teachers or whatever other relationship one might be in would do well to grasp the necessity of prayer and the teaching of the word.

To do less is to "sin against the Lord."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Food for Thought

Even as believers should learn to look for reasons behind their faith, skeptics must learn to look for a type of faith hidden within their reasoning. All doubts, however skeptical and cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternative beliefs (Tim Keller, The Reason for God, p. xvii).

Through marriage God fills the earth with (mostly unwitting) witnesses to the relationship between him and his covenant people. This is one of the main reasons that divorce and remarriage are so serious. They tell a lie about God's relationship to his people. God never divorced his wife and married another. There were separations and much pain, but he always took her back (John Piper, What Jesus Demands from the World, p. 303).

When we suffer what seems like endless pain, it is hard to believe that God loves us, but Jesus' suffering proves that it can be true ... The cross is the only evidence that can fully persuade you that God is, at all times, good and generous. There is no arguing with someone who is willing to make this ultimate sacrifice (Ed Welch, Depression: A Stubborn Darkness, p. 51).

He who did not spare his own Son, but delivered him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

$3 Worth of God

For some reason, this has stuck with me for more than twenty years since the first time I read it. I think it's the way a lot of people look at their relationship with God.

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough of him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God please (Wilbur Rees, cited in Swindoll, Improving Your Serve, p. 29).

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Self-Help? Who'd a Thunk it?

The New York Times Arts page recently had an article about Tyndale House Publishers that called Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life a "runaway self-help hit."

Perhaps they understand more than many evangelicals do.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Piper on Baptism and Church Membership

John Piper and Bethlehem Baptist Church are once again taking up the issue of believer's baptism and church membership, questioning whether the door of the local church should be more narrow than the door of the universal body of Christ.

They addressed this not too long ago but dropped the issue when they received some pushback. Now, they are bringing it up again, with no recommendation to the body and no time frame.

At the heart of the issue is Piper's belief that believer's baptism should not be made a requirement for church membership.

In the first of three messages on the topic, Piper argues that his view is based on the fact that he takes membership so seriously. Essentially he says, we take membership in the local church so seriously that we need to open the membership to people who have not been scripturally baptized because their conscience is satisfied with their pedobaptism. (I say "scripturally baptized" because I understand that Piper thinks believer's immersion is scriptural baptism; I am not using that term prejudicially here.)

While there was much in the message worthy of interaction, I will simply pose two questions that come to my mind:

1. Are we really taking membership more seriously when we lower the standards for it?

2. What other matters of conscience will people be able to disagree on and still be members? The historicity of the gospels? The resurrection of Jesus? The Exodus? I think we could make the case that the objective* case for believer's baptism is more clear than an objective case for the historicity of any of the others, and I doubt that anyone doubts the others in "bad conscience." All of those things (and many more) have explanations that do not require historicity, but it seems difficult to deny the command and pattern of baptism in the NT as being believers baptism?

Or what if they disagree "in good conscience" on the necessity of baptism at all?

__________

*By "objective" I mean provable. The scriptural teaching on believer's baptism are clear, it seems to me. The others are presented as fact, but the use of myth in ancient literature is well-established and someone "in good conscience" (as Piper seems to use the idea) could say that these are merely myths designed to teach a bigger story.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Ed Welch on Medications

I was recently relistening to Mark Dever's 9 Marks interview with Ed Welch. I highly recommend Ed Welch's materials, having found great benefit in them.

In this interview, Dever was questioning Welch on the use of anti-depressants and other psychotropic drugs. He had some interesting comments.

Welch observed that in previous days when the use of drugs was first coming on the scene it was common for believers to question the propriety of such drugs. These days, by the time believers come to pastors for help, they are already on these drugs. Welch says he does not address the use of drugs, but rather focuses on the issues of heart.

Here is a transcribed quote from around the forty-minute mark (transcribed fairly closely, though if you have listened to Dever's interviews [which I greatly enjoy] you know of his penchant to participate in both sides of the interview). At this point, Dever has just questioned whether drugs can mask the real issues. Welch says,

If there are issues of the heart, the person won’t be able to mask them. Physical treatment will affect physical symptoms. So medication can’t give you hope. It can’t give you more love for God for your neighbor but it may have you feel a little bit different. You might feel perhaps cognitively a bit more clearer if you take medication, at its best.

As Welch says, we have something more important to talk about than the use of drugs because the drugs will not remove the heart issues. At the end of the day, a sinner on drugs is still a sinner, and that sin must be dealt with.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Plug-N-Play

Yesterday morning, as I was reviewing my message, I was thinking about theology. To be honest, it wasn't one that lended itself well to "hit 'em where they live" preaching. It was a message from Haggai 2:20-23 on ultimate victory of God and the future establishment of his kingdom.

I was reminded that theology is not always plug-n-play. Some of us will remember the days of computers where you bought a video card, or a serial port, or game port to add into the expansion slots on your computer. In those days, you had to set jumper settings, and fiddle with the switches, and keep experimenting until you found something that worked. And you had to do it all in DOS. Today we have plug-n-play. You just put it in and it works.

Theology for living is more like the former than the latter. Week after week, the preaching and teaching might not be plug-n-play, but overtime you are building a theology for life.

That means that the messages about the ultimate victory of God at some unknown date in the future are just as important as the messages about loving your spouse in the present. And while this message might not have taught people how to be a kinder, gentler neighbor, it should teach them how to live for the next world in which all of the enemies of God die.

Let's not make theology too easy with easy preaching that speaks only to the present. Let's call people to assemble a livable theology through week after week of solid doctrinal exposition of the Word.

Friday, August 29, 2008

On Miracles and Creation

Is it interesting to you that people who fully affirm the existence of miracles in the face of no scientific supporting evidence deny the possibility of a direct, recent creation that actually has scientific evidence in support of it?

These would say, "We must deny young earth creationism because all the science points away from it." Yet they do not say, "We must deny the resurrection because all the science points away from it."

That seems like selective hermeneutics to me. Somehow we are less embarrassed to believe a dead man rose from the dead than we are to believe that God created the world in six day relatively recently.

The truth is that there is far more scientific evidence for a recent creation than there is for a resurrection.

Perhaps some people should rethink their belief in the supernatural and the implications of that for their belief in the text of Scripture.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Weird Article

This is a weird article about the Olympics. "Why?" you ask. Because it is about a Chinese girl named "He." The pronoun/name becomes rather confusing at first glance. Consider this paragraph:
If the age reported by Xinhua was correct, that would have meant He was too young to be on the Chinese team that beat the United States on Wednesday and clinched China's first women's team Olympic gold in gymnastics. He is also a favorite for gold in Monday's uneven bars final.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Abortion and the Defense of Life

I heard a pastor recently talking about abortion and saying, "We had a civil war over a far less serious matter." I think there is some merit to the underlying principle, but what do we do about it?

If I saw my neighbor getting ready to kill her three-month old, I would step in to protect the life of the little one, and I wouldn't stop with just trying to talk her down. I would physically try to stop her.

If I saw a young lady on her way to abort her baby who was three months along, I would probably talk to her and try to talk her out of it if I knew her, but should I physically stop her to prevent her from killing her baby?

Here's the rub: If we do step in to protect the life of the three-month old and do not step in to protect the life of the three-month pregnancy, aren't we essentially admitting that there is a difference between a first trimester pregnancy and a three-month old?

Is a recognized legal right to kill someone a good reason not to step in and take action?

It reminds me that sin has no easy answers, particularly when it is sanctioned by the government.

Afraid of Fear

I am. I am afraid of fear, mostly because I fear what fear might encourage me to do.

I chose the word "encourage" there very carefully. Often people talk in terms of obligation: "Fear made me do it." Well, no, it didn't. Fear might have encouraged you to do it. But fear does not make us do anything.

Fear can be both positive and negative. There is a good kind of fear as in "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (Prov 1:7). God uses fear to motivate us to salvation and to godly living. How else can we explain the frequent references to judgment and hell? In fact, passages like Hebrews 4:1 command us to fear: "Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it."

But there is also a bad kind of fear, as in "The fear of man brings a snare" (Prov 29:25). This kind of fear (usually coupled with a lust for approval) can cause us to do things or not do things because we fear the reaction of those around us.

In personal counseling (meaning not only when I counsel someone else on a personal basis, but also when I counsel my own person), I like to ask, "What are you afraid of?" I believe when we get an honest answer to the question, we are approaching the root sins that drive the sins that we see.

So what's the answer to fear? Consider this:

'Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.' (Isaiah 41:10)

But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! (Isaiah 43:1)

'As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!' (Haggai 2:5)

Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, "I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU," 6 so that we confidently say, "THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID. WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME?" (Hebrews 13:5-6).

The answer to fear is God's presence with us, the God who redeemed us, called us by his name, upholds us by his righteous right hand, and keeps his promises of his presence with us. When we confidently believe that God is with us, regardless of what we might see around us, we will live of a life of godly fear.

I am afraid of fear, and I am afraid not to fear. I think it is a great way to live.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Food for Thought

From Truth is Still Truth on Depression:

The Lord's recipe for getting out of this depression is to reverse what put him into it.

The the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up?... (Genesis 4:6-7a NASB)

God was in effect telling Cain, "Your attitude responds to your actions. Don't try to change your feelings (which is the thrust of much modern Psychology) but rather modify your actions - your feelings will follow.

From Out or Ur on multi-site video venues:

Many advocates of video venues say there simply aren’t enough church planters and talented teachers to go around. And my response is that in a video venue world, there never will be. Pursued as a large scale strategy, video venues will inevitably lead to fewer and fewer gifted and experienced lay and vocational preachers. The gift of preaching— already suffering from over-professionalization—will become ever more the work of the celebrity.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Motyer on Pain

Human intuition says, "If this is God's world, and he is good, surely things should not be so." Some even proceed to use the adversities of life as an argument against the existence of God. The intuition is correct, the deduction is false. For if there is no good God, no one would feel pain and suffering to be a problem. If the world is simply chance, then pain, too, is one of the changes and chances of life and our intuition would tell us so. If the world belongs to humankind, then suffering is one aspect of our mismanagement and we should say, "It stands to reason." Pain is a problem only if our intuition is correct that the world is directly in the hands of a good, loving, all-wise, all-powerful God.

J. Alec Motyer, "Haggai," in The Minor Prophets, ed. Thomas F. McComiskey (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), pp. 978-79.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Thought on Proverbs

Hear, my son, your father's instruction
And do not forsake your mother's teaching (Proverbs 1:8).

Proverbs is directed to sons. It is full of wise counsel about life.But there is an underlying assumption, namely, that fathers and mothers are godly and wise ... that they have instruction worth listening to.

Unfortunately we live in a world where fathers, even in our churches, are too often grossly ill-equipped to give their sons any kind of counsel that would turn them from naive into wise.

May God help us fathers to have enough godly wisdom to pass down to our sons, and to pass on to other fathers so that they may pass them on to their sons.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Golf Grips the Easy Way

Tonight I did something I haven't done in about five years ... I replaced my golf grips. I had always done it the old fashioned way before, where you use solvent and pour it into the grip, and then pour it on the shaft and rush to shove the grip on the shaft before the solvent evaporates.

But ...

I was searching for golf grips online last week and saw a new technique that involves an air compressor. I thought it looked fun and easy. So I picked up some new grips, and tried it out.

This was a breeze. The first one took about ten minutes (and I blew out the side of the grip with too much air pressure). The second one took about five. By the end, it was taking me less than a minute to put a grip on. The hardest part was getting it started because the grip end is slightly smaller than the shaft and you have stretch it around the shaft. You can read about it here and you can see it here. And it is as easy as it looks.

So next time you do your golf grips (and you should do them at least once a year if you play much ... and if you don't play, you should repent and start playing), use the air compressor. You will wonder why you ever did it any other way.

PS -- I was thinking tonight after I cut all my old grips off that I could probably have taken them off with an air compressor in the same way that I put them on. Just put the nozzle to the end, put a little air in it and pull it off. This site says you can. I should have tried it .

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Types of Churches

Churches can be divided into all kinds of different categories, but I am thinking of two in particular: Community churches and Metropolitan churches.

I define a community church as one that is made up largely of people in a particular community. It is not a place where people will drive thirty minutes to get to, and it does not have much visibility outside its particular community. It will have fewer ministries and a more family atmosphere. It will (or at least should) more closely reflect the makeup of its immediate surrounding neighborhood. It would be perhaps the equivalent of the Mom & Pop drugstore or hardware store. Often people will go because it is the closest, or because they have some particular ties there.

A metropolitan church, on the other hand,  is a church that draws from a number of surrounding communities. It is typically a larger church, and people might drive as much as an hour to get there. It will typically  have more diversified ministries, and people will not know a great number of people in the church. It is more like a "big-box store" though I intend no prejudice with that designation. People will drive past other smaller churches closer to their homes in order to go to a metropolitan church, and they will have various reasons for doing so.

Of course, I imagine that these distinctions will be less noticeable in a rural context, and more noticeable in an urban context.

I wonder if these categories are helpful (or need to be refined) and if one would pastor these kinds of churches differently.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

In the Diner

I am sitting here this morning trying to write a paper. The coffee is its normal bland self (but even bad coffee is good coffee ... if I drank caffeinated coffee I would probably be considered an addict, but alas, I drink mostly decaf).

But I digress ...

What prompted my writing was a reference from someone in the back to "the short bus." This has long been a not thinly veiled reference to those who are mentally handicapped. In fact, just in the last few days I was listening to a sermon (and I can't remember which one) where the preacher made a reference to people who didn't easily see his point as those who "rode the short bus."

Perhaps I am getting old and sappy, but I wonder why such a reference is necessary? I have no problem with sarcasm (although some would say I do since I use it all the time). I don't even have a problem with making a point through some sharp repartee.

But I do not understand the necessity of doing it at the expense of those made in the image of God who suffer the effects of sin in a way that the rest of us do not. 

The Bible commands us to "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear" (Ephesians 4:29). Somehow, references to "the short bus" do not strike me as those which "build up" and "give grace."

I would imagine that it has to hurt the parents and family of those who are mentally handicapped, and it certainly demeans them in the eyes of the hearers. It turns a serious life situation into a punchline that is cutting and biting.

Surely we can do better.

And speaking of doing better, I saw that Mark Driscoll is due to give an address at the Bethlehem Pastor's Conference on the use of the tongue. Now I (as most of you probably know) used to like Driscoll. I say "used to" because I haven't listened to him much lately, although perhaps that's because what I have heard recently has not captivated me like his previous expositional preaching did. (No, I don't feel like explaining why I liked it in this post.) It seems he has gotten away from preaching through books and done more topical stuff lately. And let me add the obvious qualification that I have some grave reservations about much of what he did/does in a lot of ways. And I like a lot of what he does. But I have to wonder if Driscoll is the best candidate to give an address on the use of the tongue. Though I will look forward to hearing what he has to say, I have to say, "Surely we can do better."

Friday, July 11, 2008

Why Not Ask the Spirit to Pay?

From this story:

KNOXVILLE — A man says he was so consumed by the spirit of God that he fell and hit his head while at a Knoxville church.

Now he wants Lakewind Church to pay $2.5 million for medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering he says he's endured from his injuries.

...

The Sevier County man says he was asking God to have "a real experience" while praying at church.

Apparently, this man is selective in what he believes the Spirit can do. Perhaps verifiable works of the Spirit (like $2.5 million materializing out of thin air) are not nearly as trusting worthy as falling down on the floor.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Taking It Personal

Do you find it easy to take the sins of others personally? I do.

When someone continues in sin after I have exhorted and pled with them for repentance and reconciliation to God and others, I find it easy to be discouraged and downhearted.

I suppose my pride is too easily enflamed. After all, given my eloquence and clarity, how could someone possibly not respond with whole-hearted repentance? And if they did not intend to follow my advice, when did they come to me to begin with?

In these times, we must recall the words of the Lord to Samuel, when Israel wanted a king. Samuel took it personally. But God stepped in to remind him (and us):

... they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them (1 Samuel 8:7).

When we give biblical counsel and people continue to sin, it is not us that they are rejecting. It is God. So we must not take it personally.

We must rather be patient. God may not be working at the same speed we are. It may take time for the Word to take root ... "time" meaning "weeks" or "months" or "years."

And we must check our pride at the door. We cannot carry it in to personal relationships, particularly counseling/discipleship encounters.

You see, one of the problems with people coming to us for answers is that we begin to think we have them. What an ego boost that is.

But how foolish to think that a mind not steeped in the Scriptures can address the problems of the human heart. When our heart is steeped in self-affirmation, someone's repentance will do our hearts good, and their rejection will bring hurt.

Don't misunderstand. We should hurt when people reject God's word. But we must hurt because they reject God's word, not because they reject us. 

May God give us genuine compassion on people in sin. May God protect us from the disgust that views them in their sin, and rather cultivate in us a love that views them as people whom Jesus died to reconcile.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Faith and Life for Pastors

It is easy to pastors to look at other pastors with envy, usually when the other pastor's church is growing (and sometimes when the other church is at least not declining). But reading 1 Peter 5 this morning reminded me of Peter's charge to elders:

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory (1 Peter 5:1-4).

It reminds me that we should share the faith of other pastors (if their faith is admirable). But to share their life is not ours to decide. The reward for faithful pastors comes "when the Chief Shepherd appears."

It is likely that little meaningful reward will come before then. We might have the joy of seeing people saved by God's grace, seeing families restored, seeing the chains of addiction broken, or some such little joys along the way.

But let us resist the temptation to get caught up in the comparison of life. Let us be content to be faithful (though judiciously unsatisfied), and look for the reward at the appearing of the Chief Shepherd.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

More on Faith and Life

I have been reflecting more on my last post about faith and life and the imitation of the faith of others. My mind recalled Hebrews 11:32-40 about those "of whom the world was not worthy." Consider these vastly different outcomes.

...by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.

If we were to imitate the "result of their conduct," is there anyone who would not try to imitate the first half of these verses? We all like lives of faith when by it we can do these great things. We want the "result of our conduct" to be great victories.

But by imitating their faith, we recognize that in the sovereign providence of God, our "great things" may be to die in a cave or be sawn in two, or some such "result of our conduct."

By imitating faith, we allow for either result with an attitude of grateful rejoicing. By imitating the outcome of their life, we might only allow for one, and then judge the goodness and rightness of faith by whether or not we received what we wanted.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Faith and Life

I was reading in Hebrews this morning and was reminded of this verse:

Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7).

In calling believers to a life of holiness and obedience, it should strike us that he calls on us to imitate not the life of those who have gone on before, but having seen their life to imitate their faith.

Perhaps too often we call on people to imitate obedience. "If you do what he does (or did), then you will be a good Christian and please God."

Should we not change our focus? Perhaps it would be better and more biblical to say, "See what he did? Now go believe like he believes."

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Looking for Safety or Confirmation?

In an abundance of counselors there is safety (Proverbs 11:14).

It is a common and wise practice to seek the advice of knowledgeable people about particular courses of action, particularly as the stakes of a particular decision increase.

However, I think there is an all too frequent tendency for some to ask too many people, and people of the wrong type.

There are people that I call "opinion shoppers." They are not seeking for safety in counsel; they are looking for confirmation of what they have already decided. They are simply looking for a "footnote"* for their life—someone that they can point to as agreeing with their predetermined course of action.

I think this happens with two types of people (and perhaps more, but these two come to mind).

The first type is people who are genuinely sensitive to the Lord and his Word, and who lack sufficient clarity about a course of action. They are paralyzed by fear, a paralysis of analysis. They usually have a direction in which they are leaning, and they keep asking in hopes that someone they respect as godly and wise will confirm that course of action for them. Sometimes they are genuinely confused, swaying back and forth between two opinions. Often, they are seeking to avoid responsibility for their decision by amassing a group of people who will agree with each other.

The second type is people who are genuinely sensitive to themselves and their own ideas. They have decided what to do, but their desire for approval and their fear of man leads them to seek the opinions of others in hopes of self-defense and a clearing of their conscience so that they can pursue what they want to do anyway. They are confused only by the fact that there are some who disagree with them. They will discount the views of any who do not tell them what they want to hear.

I remember a conversation one time where a man, going through a particular struggle of life, came to me to inquire about assurance of salvation. I asked him what was going on in his heart that led him to seek assurance (and such seeking was well-justified, I might add). He said that he had decided what he wanted to do, but he wanted to make sure he was right with God before he did it. His course of action was, in my judgment, a sinful one. He needed repentance (and perhaps salvation as well). He was opinion shopping, and using salvation as currency with which to do it.

I typically do not like to waste my time with opinion shoppers. So I often try to discern either by listening closely or outright asking them who else they have talked to about this. That's not because I think my opinion is the only one that matters, but because I want to try to understand where they are coming from and what they really want.

So, in the abundance of counselors there is safety. But remember that no one else will answer for your decisions, and "he told me it was okay" will not sound good at the judgment.

_________________________

*Footnotes are often used to strengthen a position or conclusion by citing other respected and well-known sources that also hold the same view. It is an acceptable form of "name-dropping."

Calvin and Golf

I have been playing in a Tuesday night golf league as a substitute. I have always resisted golf leagues because the pace of play is abominable and the golf is usually worse. This one has been better. And the dinner that follows is excellent. Last night was steak and sauteed shrimp, along with a host of other things. But I digress.

So I am eating my steak when I a man across the table asks me what I do for a living. I said, "I am a pastor." This guy comes back with, "I have been reading John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion."

A few minutes of conversation ensued in which another man at the table asked, "Isn't Calvinism the religion where the more prosperous you are on earth, the higher a place you have in heaven?"

The first man responded that he did not know what that was, but knew it wasn't Calvinism, since Calvinism had five principles (of which he proceeded to slaughter several).

I explained briefly the "five principles" of Calvinism which generated a bit more discussion.

I asked the gentleman why he was reading Calvin. He said he had a BA in Chemistry and a law degree, and figured out he better find something out about religion so he decided to start with Calvin. He said the Bible was confusing to him as a primary document because it was hard to put together, and was hoping Calvin would make some sense out of it. 

Perhaps eternity will tell if Calvin made sense to this man. Hopefully I made a little in the brief discussion.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Is Jesus a Genie?

If you follow Jesus only because he makes life easy now, it will look to the world as though you really love what they love, and Jesus just happens to provide it for you. But if you suffer with Jesus in the pathway of love because he is your supreme treasure, then it will be apparent to the world that your heart is set on a different fortune than theirs. This is why Jesus demands that we deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him.

John Piper, What Jesus Demands From the World, p. 71.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Switch-Pitcher in Action

This is interesting. It is a video of a minor league pitcher who can pitch with either arm facing off against a switch-hitter. They both switch back and forth several times. Eventually, they settle it.

What's the rule? There is some confusion it seems. The rules allow both to switch sides once, but it apparently does not say who has to choose first.

Personally, I think the pitcher should choose first and then the batter. Of course, I also think they should limit the armor that batters wear (no arm guards or shin guards), and limit the amount of time between pitches. And I think they should return to the strike zone in the rule book.

It is unfortunate that MLB is not calling me.

The kind of stuff in this video makes a joke out of the grand old game. The umps seemed totally confused about what to do, and in the end, it seems that the batter just gave up and batted from the right side.

He looked pretty bad on the last pitch too ...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

God Is Blessing

"God is really blessing our ministry."

What does that mean? Well, when pastors get together, it usually means that numbers are increasing, baptisms are taking place, and the church is relatively problem-free.

Why is it that no one ever says "God is blessing" when attendance is going down faster than the Lions' Super Bowl hopes in September and problems are increasing faster than the price of a barrel of oil?

My recent ruminations on the goodness of affliction has reminded me that blessings sometimes look like something else. In the end, the greatest blessing must be the increased knowledge of God and will, regardless of the circumstances that God uses to bring that knowledge into our life.

So while I reject the Bob Knight theory of bad things, I am reminded that afflictions are blessings because they remind us of our hopelessness and helplessness alongside of God's great grace.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Is Suffering Good?

Someone recently asked me, "Why does God do this to me?" He was inquiring into God's design in a current state of suffering in his life. He followed it up quickly with, "I can't worship a God who does this."

My first thought was, "You don't have any choice ... He is the only God there is except for you, and you haven't done so well for yourself." But I trusted my pastoral instinct and refrained.

Instead I challenged him to give it some thought biblically as to what God is up to. I told him I could not give him any easy answers. He needed to struggle through this with the goal of seeing God.

Today I was reminded of this conversation by seeing John Piper's little article about "How God Teaches the Deep Things of His Word."

In it, he is discussing Psalm 119:65-72, and his comments on v. 71 are instructive. The verse says:

It is good for me that I was afflicted,
so that I might learn your statutes.

Piper says,

How can he call affliction good? It’s because in his value-scheme, penetrating insight into God’s word is more valuable that thousands of gold and silver pieces.

Suffering should drive us to learn the Word. It too often drives us elsewhere.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

TBNN Strikes Again

Today I'm rededicating my life to Golf.

Why?

Well, I feel that I need to rededicate my life to Golf because I’ve never really done anything with my original commitment.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m truly a golfer at heart. I know for certain that if I were to die today, I would be remembered as a golfer. There is a certificate that says so hanging over there on the wall.

_________________

Read the rest ... Pretty good stuff.

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Stanley Cup

There's something ironic about the ice hockey's championship being celebrated on a 90-degree day.

There's something funny about the mayor of the champion's city being booed at the victory parade.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Books that Will Be Read

In the publishing* and purchasing of many books, we would do well to remember this:

What a lot of big dull books have been written about "the Sources of the Gospels," the "Synoptic Problem," the "lesser historical value of the Fourth Gospel," and all the rest! Those books are learned no doubt—they probably have enough of learning in them to sink a ship. But everyone knows that a hundred years from now those books will not be read. They will all be forgotten. And everyone knows that a hundred years from now the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, will be read. They will not be forgotten. They were written nearly nineteen hundred years ago, yet they still hold their own. They are interesting, arresting, vital, as those other books are not.

C. R. Brown, former Dean, Yale Divinity School, in Fondren Lectures for 1936, published in The Master's Influence (Nashville: Cokesbury, 1936), 17-18, cited in Reading the Gospels Today, edited by Stanley F. Porter, p. 27.

I am trying not to fill my library with "one-time readers" or with fluff. I have the advantage of living near a decent theological library that allows me to read books on someone else's dime (Thanks to DBTS). But in the reading of books, we would do well to remember what will last, and what has been promised to have the life-changing power.

Of course, while I am here, Al Mohler has been giving out some books lists that have some interesting looking reads on them. This last list for fathers had a number of WWII and 20th century history books on it that look fascinating. If only I had time to read them. Perhaps after I am done with Porter and the twenty or so other books I have started.

*Publisher's Weekly says that 3000 books are published a day.

Riddlebarger on Dispensationalism

Kim Riddlebarger says,

The problem with the dispensational interpretation of the millennium has to do with how we are to understand the general flow of redemptive history.

I think herein lies one of the major issues of dispute. Amills, like Riddlebarger, largely depend on the unspoken "general flow of redemptive history" while dispensationalists rather rest on the words of the text. That's not to say that amillennialists deny the words of the text. It is to say that I do not believe that their system is driven by the words of the text. I think the words of the text too often become things that must be explained in light of a system. Of course, there is a tension there that we all must be aware of and cautious about.

Many of you will reject this out of hand, but you really should consider how much of your view is dependent on the text itself, and how much is dependent on what you have concluded about certain ideas.

I would change Riddlebarger's comment to say,

The problem with the amillennial interpretation of the millennium has to do with how we are to understand the words of the text.

Riddlebarger goes on to say,

For example, when Israel’s prophets speak of the restoration of Israel, the New Testament contends that this promise of restoration is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the true Israel.  When Israel’s prophets speak of the land of Canaan, the city of Jerusalem and the mountain of the Lord, the authors of the New Testament, in turn, point out that these themes are fulfilled in Christ and his church.

The problem is that the NT does no such thing clearly. This conclusion is not one driven by the text, but rather by conclusions about the text. Every NT use of the OT is explainable by a premillennial view of the kingdom. Yet there are many OT passages that cannot be explained by an amillennial view of the kingdom. The NT holds out these promises and so should we.

So what must we do? I think we should spend more time wrestling with the text itself.

Side note: Dispensationalists aren't the only ones to disagree with Riddlebarger on this. All premillennialists would. Surely he knows that, which makes me wonder why he doesn't address it that way.

Stetzer on Multi-Site Churches

Ed Stetzer, of the NAMB of the SBC, has an article on multi-site churches. Among other things, he says,

The multi-site argument goes something like this:

If I open a new coffee shop on your side of town, it may take years before people figure out I'm there. Even then, they may never check out my lattes because they already get their coffee at a place called Buckstops.

On the other hand, if Buckstops opens a new shop, almost immediately hundreds of people will become regulars. Why? They already know the Buckstops brand.

Many congregations are moving to a multi-site strategy for this exact reason: a church plant may take years to get a footing, but an extension site of an established church will grow immediately. Instead of starting with 20 attendees, they may start with hundreds. (When Andy Stanley started the Browns Bridge Campus of North Point, thousands showed up the first day!)

And then later ...

Perhaps my biggest concern is that the multi-site paradigm is that, without intentionality, it will limit reproduction. Let's face it-- it's easier to create another extension site than it is to create another Andy Stanley.

Worthy of thought ...

Monday, June 02, 2008

Piper on Separation

I sure respect that view, that if there is official denominational affirmation of biblical faith that one can have integrity in staying unless staying communicates endorsement and support through maybe too many inofficial ways that would compromise the testimony and I suppose the problem for many that you couldn’t say for sure when that happens.

John Piper on Separation from the Pastor’s Conference address on J. Gresham Machen (starting about 1:22.00).

I find this interesting since I think it tracks alongside of the concerns of (at least some) fundamentalists about the "inofficial ways" that "communicate endorsement and support" for people or views.

It seems to me that at least sometimes separation is about more than the gospel itself (or some other doctrine). It is also about the messages we send by association.

That needs some more thought and fleshing out by people smarter than me, but I think it is worth considering.

_______________________

 

PS - Sorry about my three almost identical posts this morning. Blogger was having problems. The last version is the fully redacted version. You can use it as a model for source and redaction criticism if you like.

Christianity has Finally Arrived

Christianity has finally made the cover of Billboard. Surely the the world will listen now. Now Jesus can really do his thing.

It is little wonder that the church has been so anemic for so long.

Fortunately, those days are over. Let the Kingdom begin. 

HT: Tim Challies

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Vote for Me

I am wondering if I can get some Michigan delegates to vote for me at the Democratic National Convention. From what I can tell, you apparently don't have to be on the ballot.

For those who don't follow Michigan Democratic politics, Obama and several others decided not to be on the Michigan primary ballot since Michigan was holding their primary too early. The DNC threatened Michigan that their delegates would not be seated if they held the early primary. Now there is a debate about what to do with the delegates.

Most of Michigan Democrats voted for Clinton, and none of whom voted for Obama because he wasn't on the ticket. But now, apparently Obama wants some of the delegates that he decided not to campaign for, but he only wants some of them. He does not think that all the delegates should be seated.

If you remember 2000 (and 2004), the Dems were crying loudly that every vote should be counted. Apparently they have changed their minds. Or perhaps they think the votes should be counted, they simply should not count in the election. I am sure Clinton will be gratified to know how many delegates she is not getting.

Of course many think the votes should be counted as half-votes (which rings a bell about the original wording of the constitution ... but even that considered certain people 2/3 of a person, rather than only 1/2).

So, since it doesn't matter if you are on the ballot, and since it apparently doesn't matter who actually received the most votes, why not me?

Of course, on the other hand, Michigan Democrats knew the rules, and were told that their votes would not count if they held an early primary. Perhaps they should just live with none of their delegates being seated ...

Which would have the same outcome as voting for me ... or Hillary.

Harmonizing Metaphors?

I was recently listening to a very well-known and respected pastor preaching on the foundation of the church, harmonizing Matthew 16:18, 1 Corinthians 3:11, and Ephesians 2:20. He argued that in all three cases, Jesus was the foundation of the church.

One of the passages clearly states it (1 Cor 3:11), one could be legitimately interpreted that way (Matthew 16:18, though I would be inclined against that view), and one seems a stretch (Ephesians 2:20, since there is a mention both a foundation of the apostles and prophets and a cornerstone which is Jesus, probably both appositional ... It seems unlikely that Jesus is both the foundation and the cornerstone in the context).

I wonder if we should not let metaphors stand on their own in their context without trying to line them up and harmonize them?

Sometimes a metaphor is used because it works in that passage, not because it works in another. And while metaphors may have similarity or identity in different context, they may not.

They are not doctrine or history that needs to be reconciled to examine a truth claim. They are a picture that helps to visually conceptualize an idea.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Am I In God's Place?

Joseph, being implored by his brothers for forgiveness after their father died, responds with a simple question: "Am I in God's place?" (Genesis 50:19)

John Walton, in the NIVAC, has a good reminder:

“It is one thing to recognize the sovereignty of God. It is another thing to keep oneself and one’s role in proper perspective … Joseph not only has a firm picture of who God is, but he has the equally important understanding of what he himself is not” (p. 722).

It is always wise to remember that the score is not ours to settle. We are not in God's place.