Wednesday, December 30, 2009

In the Diner

It’s quiet today. Only a few people here.

I just had a long conversation (mostly listening) with someone who lives fairly close by who was talking about their car getting shot up a few weeks ago. Apparently the neighbors are part of a pretty big family with a lot of issues, to put it mildly. The neighbor’s house had the windows shot out. One boy was hit in the throat. He’s not yet 21. He might never get there. And there are still bullets in the car somewhere.

How do you minister to people who live like this? How do convey the message of hope in Jesus in the midst of people whose hope is pulling the trigger before the other guy does? How do you preach Jesus to people who think life’s problems can be solved with a .45?

I don’t have a lot of answers. The problem is real, even if it never gets to guns. The hopelessness that invades jobs, bank accounts, marriages and families, and life in general is all over.

No doubt many have just accepted that this is life the way it is. It is risk that they no longer think about. They just play the hand life dealt them, and they play with a decided lack of enthusiasm. It’s just the way it is. 

I, like most of my readers, live in a decent neighborhood. For me, these problems are usually at least a short drive or a medium walk away. For many of you, they are even farther away. I don’t know what it’s like to hear gunshots in the streets outside my window. I don’t know what it’s like to make sure my children don’t sleep on an outside wall, just in case.

But many do.

And I know that these are people that desperately need the message of Jesus. They don’t need the message of white middle-class lifestyle and Republican (or Democratic) politics. They don’t need messages about how more faith will help them escape poverty. They don’t need to hear about how Jesus can give them a better sex life. They don’t need exegetical lessons about minute details of Hebrew or Greek.

No, they need much more than these simplistic platitudes.

They need to see how the message of the Bible is the only thing that can explain everything in life, that can truly make sense of the world we live in.

They need to hear that Jesus is the only hope.

So we, in our preaching, we must be concerned about more than the text. Lest that sound like heresy to some, let me quickly add that we must not be concerned about less than the text.

Relevant preaching and teaching is not about slick marketing campaigns complete with billboards, slick invites, great videos. It is not about concordance preaching—doing a word search to find a verse that may address something we want to say. It’s not merely talking about Jesus.

Relevant preaching and teaching is about showing how the text itself is God speaking truth into our lives wherever we are. It must show how the revelation of God explains life—all of it, not just the good parts or the easy parts. And it must be understandable and applicable to the people who sit in front of us.

As I sit here, I am looking at a man about five tables away, engrossed in the Detroit Free Press. Why should he care what I have to say? Why should he care about Jesus’ teaching when he is reading about how close NW253 came to raining down on our neighborhood last week. And how will I show him how God, through the text, is speaking truth to him?

I am looking at a lady at another table. She is in her golden years. How does God speak to her through the text? Why should he care about the Bible when she is worried about whether or not her retirement income will last long enough for her money to outlive her?

I am thinking of a teenager with a gun in his belt. Why should he care about Jesus’ death when he is trying to avoid his own?

I am thinking of a marriage on the verge of divorce. Why should a husband and wife care about the love of God when they hate each other?

Why should anyone follow God when life is like it is?

We must show how God speaks to us through the text. The role of preaching is to make that happen.

Whether it’s the young man with a .45 looking for revenge, the worker with a newspaper looking for safety, or the retiree with a pension hoping to stay retired, God must be heard.

It must be loud and clear.

And we must be his voice.

And it’s not just the pastor’s job. It’s the job of every believer.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


I have a fondness for news stories that reveal the silly foolishness of politicians. Here’s a great example from the Detroit Free Press this morning:

Heritage Park's athletic fields are expected to receive new energy-efficient lights by mid-March, in a change that is projected to save $121,500 in energy costs over the next 25 years.

The $272,950 project, funded by federal stimulus dollars and timed to avoid disrupting the next playing season, involves removing lights that were installed more than 25 years ago on the two softball fields and replacing them with 60 luminaries mounted on 10 new athletic field poles.

Let me sum this up:

$272,950 will be spent to save $121,500 over the next twenty-five years. By my math (and help me out if I am adding this wrongly), in fifty years, the estimated cost savings will be $243,000.

Which means that in fifty years these lights still be just a shade under $30,000 of paying for themselves. 

And my guess is that the lights (and possibly the fields) will be long gone by then.

Instead of hyping the nonsensical cost savings (which aren’t cost savings at all) why don’t we just say, “The federal government is passing out free money like candy and we might as well get some for us.”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Jesus Creed is running a series of posts on the the topic of hell, based on Gregory MacDonald’s book, The Evangelical Universalist which defends “Christian Universalism.” MacDonald is arguing that one could be an evangelical and still be a universalist.

My first question is, Why would you need to be an evangelical and a univeralist? If everyone goes to heaven anyway, there is no need to be an evangelical on earth.

Jesus Creed defines MacDonald’s “Christian universalism” this way:

Christian universalism believes in all the classic evangelical and orthodox doctrines (Trinity, creation, sin, atonement, return of Christ, salvation through Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone) and also in hell. But, and here's the big but, one's eternal destiny is not fixed at death so that those in hell can repent and trust in Christ, and in the end all will make this decision without coercion.

Right away we notice that apparently hell is not one of “all the classic evangelical and orthodox doctrines.” It is an addition, an “also.” I think that would come as a surprise one to the host of evangelicals and orthodox people who preceded this modern tinkering with hell.

I won’t respond to each point, but let me make a couple of comments which actually predate this post and was the fodder for another post that may eventually appear.

One commenter suggests, “Jesus only talked about Hell to religious folk, and it seems today the issue only comes up when we talk about the fate of non-believers.”

Yet even a surface reading of the NT shows that the “religious folk” were “non-believers.” That was exactly Jesus’ point in passages like John 8. Pretending like they are two different groups is hardly a reasonable proposition.

But here are two more concrete observations. First, I have never seen anyone argue for universalism or the lack of eternal, conscious torment starting with the text and building on the text. In other words, the arguments against the biblical doctrine of hell as eternal conscious torment always begin with emotion. This is seen in the second post at Jesus Creed which talks of the problem of justice and the problem of joy.

These arguments, in effect, assert the authority of emotions (tainted by sin) and human depraved intellectual ability over the revelation of Scripture. It says, “We know the Bible says that hell is eternal conscious torment for unbelievers, but we don’t think that’s just and I am uncomfortable with that, so it can’t be true.”

This is exactly the reason why no less than John Stott became an annihilationist, which is the idea that unbelievers cease to exist.

Which brings me to my final point of this post. Why does the Bible have such strong warnings about not existing? If hell is simply annihilation, why do we need to preach the gospel to every creature? Why do we need to cut off our hand or our foot, or pluck out our eye in order to avoid non-existing?

People say, “Well existence is better than non-existence, and therefore heaven is better than annihilation.”

But friends, how would anyone know that? A non-existent person has no consciousness.

The warnings of Scripture and the gospel mandate to preach the gospel to every creature make clear that “Christian universalism” is not Christian at all. It is old heresy relabeled and reargued to salve someone’s conscience.

It does nothing to promote or honor the glory of God. And it certainly does not reconcile with the Scripture.

I haven’t devoted my life to telling people about the dangers of non-existence. I haven’t devoted my life to telling people it’s all okay because we will all be in heaven anyway. The Bible gives no room for such thought.

And neither should those who claim to believe it. 

Is it really asking too much to believe that a God of justice will do nothing wrong, and that therefore eternal conscious torment is not only real, it is also just.

And if you don’t think so, then the problem is with your sense of justice.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Word about Dress

For those who like to consider the issue of dressing up and how it expresses values, here’s some fodder for you.

Never let it be said that I shy away from the tough, thorny social issues of the day.

In the Diner

It was hard to find a parking place this morning. Good for business. Bad for people who don’t like to walk very far in the cold. I suppose I fit into both categories.

I am studying the life of John the Baptizer for Sunday’s message—along the lines of His Mission, His Message, His Martyrdom. I don’t normally alliterate my talks because it’s too hard and I think that sometimes it tends to manipulate the the story or passage based on words you want to use (or can think of) rather than preaching the story or passage itself. But this one came pretty easy.(That’s my homiletical digression.)

I look across the diner and see a bunch of people and think to myself, “What difference does John the Baptist make to them?” That is the question I must answer.

Billy Joel is on the radio. His “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” is serenading us.

This song is a reminiscence of sorts about a high school couple, Brenda(r) and Eddie, who was “the king and queen of the prom.” They got married, started their life together, and then came the problems they weren’t expecting.

Then “they got a divorce as a matter of course.”

This song tells the story of millions who got married to their high school sweetheart or some other “like no one else” thinking that life was going to be one long weekend date with a house and furniture rather than the backseat of a car.

When life settles in, they realize that things aren’t quite what they thought they were going to be.

And they are totally unprepared for reality because they have been raised from birth with the idea that life is all about them. Pursue your dreams (most of which involved self-satisfaction). The whole world exists to make you happy and satisfied. And in that little apartment or big house they find that the person who used to make them happy now wants to be made happy above all else.

There is no teaching of self-sacrifice and self-denial. And life crashes rather quickly.

A divorce is the course for millions of couples.

Part of raising children and making disciples is to prepare people for the reality of life as a Christlike husband and a churchlike wife.

Premarital counseling can only do so much when parents have dropped the ball for twenty years already.

You see, being a godly husband or a godly wife doesn’t start with marriage preparations. It doesn’t even start with training to be a godly husband or a godly wife.

It starts with training to be a godly person in all areas of life, from toddler obedience and kindness to teenage humility and self-control.

You see, being a godly spouse is the natural extension of being a godly person. You won’t be one without the other.

Parents, we must start when our children are young, to prepare them for life by teaching them to be godly people, transformed by Jesus through the gospel, and living for something bigger than ourselves.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Here’s My Take – The Manhattan Declaration

Much has been said about the Manhattan Declaration (MD). For those who don’t know, MD is a declaration of “Christian conscience” about abortion, marriage, and religious liberty authored largely by Timothy George (Beeson Divinity School), Robert George (Princeton), and Chuck Colson.

As of this moment, there are 273842 signers, including some very prominent people. You can go elsewhere for a fuller analysis of it, such as John MacArthur, Alistair Begg, or Dave Doran, or R. C. Sproul.

Here’s the simple point, as I see it: the document uses the term “Christian” for people who believe very different things about the gospel of Jesus Christ that brings salvation. In other words, they use the term “Christian” for people who believe very different things about what a “Christian” is. 

Therefore, it is misleading and confusing at best. (That’s my attempt to be charitable). It is closer to a compromise on the very nature of the gospel, and the people who signed this should know it. There is no reason for people like Al Mohler (perhaps the most visible evangelical to sign) to even tacitly suggest that the signers of this document are all Christian in the historic, biblical-theological sense of the term. That is disappointing, to say the least. He knows better, and led a fight a Southern to cleanse of the school of people like this (who in some cases were probably closer to Christian orthodoxy than some of these signers).

If the document were designated as the concerns of “concerned citizens” or “religious leaders,” it would be an entirely different issue.

I probably still wouldn’t sign it because 1) no one knows me and no one would know that I even signed it, and 2) I think these types of things are generally a lot more about show than substance.

The Christian position on these issues of abortion, marriage, and religious liberty is well known. Calling it that “Manhattan Declaration” won’t increase the visibility of it, and certainly won’t cause people of power and influence to do anything differently.

Change won’t come because a quarter of a million people add their names on a document that most people don’t even know exists.

But for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of the souls of men and women all around the world, let us not create confusion by pretending that the word “Christian” can describe all those people.

It doesn’t. And it is dishonest to say that it does.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Christmas Gifts and Christian Values

Christmas is a time of giving … and getting. The older we get, it is likely that we become less concerned about getting. We probably enjoy giving, particularly to our children to see their joy.

But there are some cautions we must be aware of.

First, gift giving can feed idolatry. At the heart of Christmas lists can be greed, a desire for what we do not have. After Christmas, the inevitable if unspoken comparisons take place. The Bible says that greed is a form of idolatry (Colossians 3:5). A sign in the national park says, “Don’t feed the bears.” A sign at the toy store should say, “Don’t feed the idols.”

Second, gift giving can expose the recipient to danger. 1 Timothy 6 warns about the dangers that accrue from a love of money and a desire to get rich. It reminds us that this world is temporary (you can’t take it with you, v. 6), and that stuff brings temptation and snare which plunge men into ruin and destruction. It causes people to wander from the faith and pierce themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6:7-11). So don’t think of that gift as the next best and greatest thing. Think of it as a bomb, waiting to go off and drive the recipient away from the faith.

Third, gift giving can attach the recipient to a dying world. The more stuff we have, and the nicer stuff we have, the more attached we are to it. Most of us aren’t attached to the paper wrapping and the bows. We want that gone. Many people help others lay up treasures on earth, and as a result strengthen the ties to earth. As Jesus said, “Where your treasure it, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). That is why he says, “Lay up your treasure in heaven … not on earth.”

Fourth, gift giving can decrease sacrifice for missions. When Jesus called us, he called us to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him (Luke 9:23). He calls us to leave things from his sake and the gospel’s sake (Mark 10:30). It is hard to preach sacrifice to people who judge Christmas by the pile of stuff under the tree. It is hard to preach sacrifice to people who do not want to leave their stuff.

Gift giving is not bad. It is not sinful. God both gives good gifts and commands us to give them.

But we should be aware of their dangers. We must work to cultivate a heart of contentment and satisfaction and a life of commitment and sacrifice.

So in this season of gift giving, be loving and generous. And be cautious. Do not doom your loved ones to idolatrous and dangerous attachment that may decrease their sacrifice for the gospel.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Machen on Education

In discussing the fight for Christianity against liberalism (which Machen rightly considered two different religions), Machen closes with four points of action, the last of which is the “renewal of Christian education.”

He says,

In countless cases, Christianity is rejected simply because men have not the slightest notion of what Christianity is. An outstanding fact of recent Church history is the appalling growth of ignorance in the Church. Various causes, no doubt, can be assigned for this lamentable development. The development is due partly to the general decline of education—at least so far as literature and history are concerned. The schools of the present day are being ruined by the absurd that education should follow the line of least resistance, and that something can be “drawn out” of the mind before anything in put in. They are also being ruined by an exaggerated emphasis on methodology at the expense of content and on what is materially useful at the expense of the high spiritual heritage of mankind (Christianity and Liberalism, p. 176).

Machen sparks two thoughts centered primarily on pastoral training.

First, Christian education, even of pastors, seems woefully deficient. A man believes he is called of God to pastor and believes that the call alone makes him qualified. So he gets to work at the task of pastoring. But he has never taken time to learn first. It is a tragedy foisted on an unsuspecting church. And all are the worse for it. Such a man may believe he is called, and he may well be. But zeal is no substitute for knowledge. Nothing can be drawn out until something has been put in.

Before you pull out the line that the disciples were uneducated men, remember that they spent three years with Jesus day after day.

Second, a man who learns primarily methodology will soon find himself past his “use by” date. Methods are constantly changing. The methodology you learn in seminary today will be out of date before the next class graduates. A sound biblical theology will never be out of date. A man who goes to seminary and learns theology and languages will find himself well ground to learn methodology later.

A seminary filled with methodology will train a man to pastor for ten years or so. A seminary filled with theology and the languages will train a man to pastor for a lifetime.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Keller on First Pastorates

Tim Keller has some good thoughts that echo some of my own experience, namely, the value of actually doing things rather than having someone tell you about doing them. He suggests that pastoral wisdom and experience are often better gained as the solo pastor of a small church than a staff member at a large church.

You can't teach a younger pastor much about things they aren't actually doing. And in a large church they aren't a) bearing the burden of being the main leader, b) leading a board of elders, c) fund-raising and bearing the final responsibility of having enough money to do ministry, d) and doing the gamut of counseling, shepherding, teaching, preaching. In a smaller church as a solo pastor you and only you visit the elderly, do all the weddings and funerals, sit by the bedside of every dying parishioner, do all the marriage counseling, suspend and excommunicate, work with musicians, craft and lead worship, speak at every men's retreat, women's retreat, and youth retreat, write all the Bible studies and often Sunday School curriculum, train all the small group leaders, speak at the nursing home, work with your diaconate as they try to help families out of poverty, evangelize and welcome new visitors to the church, train volunteers to do some (but not all) of all of the above tasks, and deal with the once-a-month relational or financial crisis in the church.  No amount of mentoring can teach you what you learn from doing all those things.

While, as Keller says, there is no “one right way” his thoughts are certainly insightful. Having been the solo pastor of a small church for almost eleven years, I have learned by doing. It hasn’t always been pretty, and I have often longed for a mentor, but by God’s grace I have been able to do things that many others have only watched or listened to someone else tell about.

And it isn’t the same.

So if you are a seminary student or graduate considering the pastorate, don’t despise small things.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Lloyd-Jones on Evangelicals and Lifestyles

In describing evangelicals in his book What Is An Evangelical?, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says,

Evangelicals pay great attention to the way in which people live. They are strict in their behaviour. This used to be one of the most prominent characteristics of evangelicalism. I remember in my first contacts with the student movement, the people of the SCM and others used to describe those who belonged to the evangelical unions, the evangelicals, in these terms, Ah, they’re the people who don’t go to cinemas, they don’t drink, and they don’t smoke. I do not think they say that about them now. There has been a great change, but I am one of those who believe that there was a great deal to be said for the old position. The evangelical is careful about his life, careful to maintain good works, to live a life above reproach, not to be a hindrance or an obstacle to a weaker brother. The great ethic, the emphasis on holiness of the New Testament, is something which true evangelicals have always set great store by. They were called Puritans for that reason; hey were called Methodists because they were methodical and careful. They did not merely content themselves with an intellectual belief. No, their whole life had to be governed by their doctrine. ‘Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure’ (1 John 3:3). This emphasis on holiness in personal life and in church life is a great characteristic of evangelicalism (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, What Is An Evangelical?, pp. 58-59).

I think the Doctor is onto something here.

Today, it seems like the biggest battle cry of evangelicalism is freedom—freedom to partake of or participate in whatever I want, no matter what. I know that is a bit of an oversimplification, but I am fairly sure there is a lot more preaching in evangelicalism on freedom than there is on holiness.

Why? Perhaps fear of being called a legalist. Perhaps a desire to stoop to immaturity.

We have perhaps too often allowed the lowest common denominator to dictate preaching.

Perhaps we are too unaware of the subtle influence of worldliness.

Perhaps we need to return to the days when the “emphasis on holiness in personal life and in church life is a great characteristic of evangelicalism.”

Friday, November 27, 2009


Why should we be thankful?

Well, simply put, because God said to be: In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:23).

There it is. Give thanks in everything because that is God’s will for you.

Allow me to dig deeper with three points of clarification:

First, giving thanks in everything shows submission rather than rebellion. To submit to God’s will in everything means that we thank him for it rather than rebel against it. This moment, whatever it holds, is God’s sovereign plan for my growth. It is one of the days that was ordained for me that God knew about before there was even one of them (Psa 139:16). So I submit with thankfulness, knowing that it could be worse, even if it were better.

Second, giving thanks in everything show humility rather than arrogance. To be humble in my present experience of God’s will for my life means that I will be thankful for it. Arrogant people don’t give thanks because they think they deserve whatever they received. They have an attitude of entitlement, rather than an attitude of humility. The discipline of gratitude flows easily from a humble heart. It is a particular display of humility to give thanks in things we don’t understand, because then we acknowledge God’s greatness in controlling all events, not just the “good ones.”

Third, giving thanks in everything show dependence rather than sufficiency. To be dependent on God means to receive with thanksgiving whatever he gives me knowing that if he did not give it to me, I would not have it. Paul said to the Corinthians, What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1 Cor 4:7). There is nothing in our lives that we have apart from God. Even the breath you just took is the gift of God to you. You are dependent on him, whether you like it or not. 

I should be thankful to God in all things because whatever I have is better than what I deserve. Even the “bad things” in life are a part of God’s loving and gracious control of his universe. Not even one hair of my head falls to the ground without his knowledge.

So live a life of submissive, humble dependence on God, taking each moment as an opportunity to fulfill his will for you by giving thanks no matter the circumstances.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Good Article on Church Growth

For those with growing churches, who anticipate space problems, here is a good article worth consideration.

It ultimately concludes that planting churches is better than multiple services, bigger facilities, or satellite churches.

Read it for a good explanation of why.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cold Showers and Life

I have concluded that cold showers have a lot in common with life as it is supposed to be lived.

There are some things in life, like cold showers, that you just don’t want to start.

Putting them off won’t make them any easier. It will just waste time.

But once you start, they are not nearly as bad as you thought they would be.

They do what they are supposed to do.

And it certainly reminds you not to hang around too long in some things.

So do it … and get on with your life. Brace yourself and go.

(And if it’s colder than you thought it was, don’t blame me. You’re the one without hot water.)

The Resurrection

What would life be like if Jesus were a real person, who lived an admirable life, with powerful and effective teaching, who did good things for people wherever he went, who died a noble death of innocence, yet did not rise from the grave?

Some would have us believe that this life of Jesus brings great hope and inspiration for living. Even though his body remains in the grave, long since decomposed, his life and teaching provide the basis for a fulfilling life on earth.

Is this so?

We need only ask his closest followers, those who knew him best, who watched his admirable life, who learned from his powerful and effective teaching, who both observed and received the good things that he did for people wherever he went, who knew first hand of his innocence in death.

What did they do after this death?

They did not spring forward, driven to pass on this wonderful teaching. They did not go out to live it.

They mourned in sadness, in disappointment. They were not motivated to conquer evil by the memory of his life. They regressed to the old ways of life, bemoaning their fate now that their hope was gone.

In contrast to modern liberalism and its descendants, the mere life and death of Jesus was not a powerful motivation to live well and do good. Why? Because they who walked closest with Jesus knew the futility of it all apart from his resurrection.

Such powerful motivation and ministry that pervades the early church comes only from his resurrection.

These close followers of Jesus mourned his death and then quit. Such is the effect of a lifeless Christ, a resurrectionless Christianity.

Only a risen Christ can explain the phenomenon known for 1900 years as Christianity. Only a living Christ can provide the hope to live right, do good to all men, and be free from the power and damnation of sin.

A dead Christ is damning. A risen Christ life-giving.

Liberalism is not liberation. It is bondage—bondage to a doomed life of hopelessness, a life built on a charade.

Only the risen Lord can free from the nonsense which is theological liberalism.

And Christianity has nothing in common with it.

HT: Machen, Christianity and Liberalism

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Everyone Has a Theology

Theology, simply put, is a set of beliefs about God.

Everyone believes something about God.

Therefore, everyone has a theology.

It may be well informed. It may be poorly informed. It may be true. It may be false. Whatever the case, belief about God is universal. Even atheists believe something about God.

This is to say that no one is “without faith.” Sometimes we might hear people say, “I don’t believe anything,” or “I have no beliefs about God.”

However, such a statement is not true. Someone who says, “I don’t believe God exists” is saying, “I believe God does not exist,” (an atheist) or at the very least, “I believe that the existence of God is unproved” (an agnostic). It is simply an alternative belief.*

In evangelism, one of the steps is to find out what people believe about God.

Someone might say, “I don’t believe in God.”

We can respond with something like, “Did you know that God disagrees with you?” Of course, it is hard to imagine how that will help the conversation.

We can turn the atheist response on its head with, “Really? How can you be so irrational and superstitious as to deny there is a God?” This is an approach that actually has some merit, since there is nothing quite so irrational as denying the existence of the one true and living God. The truth is that while some might verbally deny the existence of God, most do not want to live in the kind of world that results from this denial.

We can respond with, “Interesting. Tell me what kind of God you don’t believe in. I might not believe in him either.” This is perhaps the most helpful response since it puts the ball in his court to explain his thinking. Oftentimes, when people are forced to listen to themselves talk, they find out very quickly just how incoherent they are.

It is also very helpful because it gives us the opportunity to do something most of us don’t like, but is often the most helpful tool for evangelism that is not found in the Bible. It is called “listening.” In other words, ask him to describe the kind of God he doesn’t believe in, and then shut up and listen. Resist the urge to show off your advanced knowledge. Resist the urge to interrupt his silly, nonsensical statements. Just listen for a while.

Listen carefully for the kind of God he has in his mind. Don’t make up your response until you have understood his or her objections. In other words, don’t fell compelled (at this point) to answer questions he or she isn’t asking.

When he quits talking, ask more questions to verify what he actually believes.

Then, use God’s revelation of himself to show how his beliefs are based on shifting quicksand, irrationality, inconsistency, and hopelessness.

And point him to Jesus as the revelation of God—the true theology.


*I have found Tim Keller very helpful on the idea of alternative beliefs. See his The Reason for God, which is an (almost presuppositional) apologetic for the Christian faith.

Friday, November 13, 2009

On Advertising w/ a Bonus Health Care Rant

I recently heard a radio ad for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. They bragged that they never turn anyone away. They insure everyone.

What they didn’t say? They have to.

In the state of Michigan, BCBSM is the insurer of last resort. Other companies can deny you coverage. BCBSM cannot.

Is it dishonest? Well, no.

But it is misleading because it takes an obligation and pretends like it is a voluntary commitment to health care.

And while I am here, I recently changed my plan and found out that my employer “cannot pay for my premium or reimburse me in anyway.”

I asked the phone jockey, “With what shall I pay it? I have no money that doesn’t come from my employer.” She didn’t know what to say. And with good reason. There is nothing to say.

You see, here’s the deal: If my employer no longer pays for my health insurance, my paycheck goes up by the amount of that premium and I pay for it.

Who is affected? Only me. My employer pays me the same amount in my salary package; BCBSM gets the same amount of money.

The only difference is that now my health insurance premium is taxable income.

To top it off, BCBSM says, “Your employer cannot pay for it or reimburse you in anyway for it. But we don’t care what arrangements you make with your employer.”

In other words, do what you want with reporting your salary, just make sure you write a personal check for your premium.

Ah, if only my conscience were seared. I could get away with it. But it’s not. At least not in that area.

I could set up an HRA which is pretax money. But it’s employer funded.

Here’s another one: If BCBSM catches my employer paying for it, they can cancel my policy. But if I reapply, they supposedly cannot turn me away because they are the insurer of last resort.

With all the fuss about health care,  you would think Congress would pass a two line bill that says, “All individual health premiums can be paid with pretax money.”

Now that would be a health care bill that would actually benefit someone.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Berlin Wall – Twenty Years Later

Here are some interesting pictures of the Berlin Wall. There are a few that you can click on that will transition from an old picture to a new picture.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Valley of Decision

Decision-making is one of my specialties (as those who know me will surely testify … won’t they?)

Well, here’s the issue: I have BibleWorks 5 and Logos 3 (Gold edition).

Should I upgrade to BibleWorks 8 or Logos 4?

Friday, October 30, 2009

What is a Fundamental?

Any discussion of fundamentalism should include a discussion of fundamentals.

What is a fundamentalist? Someone who holds to the fundamentals.

What is a fundamental? Well, you know, of course. What they have always been. What we always believed.

But we never get around to actually defining what a fundamental is.

For many fundamentalists, fundamentals are more about names and ministries than about actual doctrine. If we can throw a label on it, we can keep the boxes pretty neat, and then the faith will be firmly defended. Or so we think.

For some fundamentalists, the fundamentals are the five things that were identified a century ago. They claim that everyone who affirms those five things is a fundamentalist. But honestly, that’s pretty reductionistic, historically revisionistic, and philosophically simplistic. I don’t think fundamentalism was every only about those five things.

So what is a fundamental for me? Here’s my take:

A fundamental is a doctrine without which the Christian faith is denied or severely weakened.

I describe it as a “load-bearing doctrine,” similar to a load-bearing wall in a house. A house can survive without a door or a window. It might be pretty uncomfortable and a little bit weird, but the house won’t fall in. And you will likely not want to live very long in a house without windows and doors. On the other hand, if you take out that wall that runs the width of your house in order to create an “open floor plan,” you have created serious damage which may not be immediately apparent but will certainly manifest itself in time.

In Christianity, if you remove a “load bearing doctrine” you will create severe problems in the house of Christianity. The absence of certain windows or doors may make your Christianity look a bit strange compared to the norm of the Bible, and it may cause it to be pretty ineffective as a means of proclaiming God’s glory to the nations, but it will still be Christianity.

For example, inerrancy is a fundamental because while a denial of inerrancy does not necessarily destroy the Christian faith, it does severely weaken it. Ecclesiastical separation (of at least some sort) is a fundamental because without it the Christian faith is possibly denied, and at least severely weakened.

However, the use of particular Bible versions is not a fundamental because the use of particular versions does not deny or severely weaken the Christian faith. Arminianism or Calvinism is not a fundamental because the affirmation of one and denial of the other does not deny or severely weaken the Christian faith, provided that one affirms salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

As a fundamentalist, we need to recognize that not everything is a fundamental. That doesn’t mean that non-fundamentals are unimportant, or that we should be indifferent about them. But denial or doubt of certain perspectives on some doctrinal matters is not going to deny or severely weaken the  Christian faith.

Never has, never will.

So let’s be a bit more judicious about what a fundamental is (from both sides), and let’s not pretend that being a fundamentalist is all there is to being an obedient Christian. While faithful Christianity is certainly not less than the fundamentals, it does include more.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

In the Diner

All is well since I am here.

At least that’s what one guy said when I came in. He apparently doesn’t know me well enough. But I promised to guard the door from my normal seat right next to it. But I warned them I don’t pay much attention.

I inquired about the Phillies-Yankees score since I hadn’t seen it this morning.

Kenny shouted out, “You got your laptop there. Look it up.”

I replied, “Too bad this isn’t an internet cafe, or I could.”

[By the way, all these “In the Diner” posts are actually written here, but not posted from here. Hopefully, that didn’t ruin your day. Since I don’t have internet access here, I post them when I get somewhere that I do have access.]

But it really isn’t too bad that there is no access here. In fact, technology silence is actually a good thing. Many have written on this before, and offered some good thoughts.

For my dollar, I am concerned about the level of connectivity in our world. I see people in church checking their cell phones for text messages and emails (and even sending them … and I am pretty sure they are not tweeting my message). I see teens who can’t bear to be separated from their phones. I routinely see people TWD (texting while driving). I recently drove behind a guy weaving all over the road. I pulled up beside him at a stop light (since I didn’t dare try to pass him). He was texting away. I hear of people sending several thousand text messages a month. I have never sent one. I don’t even know how. I don’t know what I would say if I did.

I think all this connectivity is not a good thing.

I don’t even have a regular cell phone plan. I have a pre-paid plan. If you have my number, you are one of the few, and if I answer your calls, you are one of the fewer.

Why? Because I have two phones and two answering machines. If you need me, leave a message and I will call you back. I don’t feel compelled to let you interrupt my dinner, my drive, my golf game, or my peace and quiet (what little I have).

Don’t fret … I talk on my cell phone all I want. And it still costs me less than $10 a month on most months.

I like Mark Driscoll’s line (I said his “line” … so back off). When someone says, “I don’t have your cell phone number,” he says something like, “You’re right.”

I have spent less time on the internet lately. I still read my blog list in the morning (BTW, my Google Reader is messed up and I can’t fix it … anyone have any help for me???). I still check the news, read a few sites here and there, check my existing plane reservations to make sure that I haven’t lost my seat assignments and that no better seats have opened up. But I estimate I have cut my connectivity by probably half. And truth be told, I could probably go half again and not miss anything of substance.

Let’s face it: Most of us could stand to spend more time in Face-to-Face relationships and less in Facebook relationships. If we don’t know what Matt Drudge posted in the last ten minutes, we will survive.

And whatever is going on at your favorite discussion site isn’t going to change your life.

You gotta change it. So shut the browser. Turn off the phone. And live for a change.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Calvinists and Evangelism

Bill Hybels’ recent message at Willow Creek on Calvinism and Arminianism, referenced here, contains the charge that Calvinists* don’t evangelize. I saw a recent statement by a man who apparently thinks God left him in charge of finding everything wrong that said that Calvinists evangelize in spite of Calvinism and not because of it. Both of these statements contain some major errors.

First, as Hybels says (and virtually everyone recognizes), there is a good biblical case to be made for what is known as Calvinism. This being the case, the biblical commands to evangelize must fit with Calvinism. Which is to say, that the Bible commands Calvinists to evangelize. Therefore, Calvinists must evangelize because of their commitment to Scripture.

A case can be made that Calvinism is the only reason evangelism even works. According to 2 Corinthians 4:1-6, if God is not opening the eyes of the blind, no one will see the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ. Were the doctrines known as Calvinism untrue, evangelism would be utterly fruitless since no matter how bright the light is (or how clear the gospel presentation is), a blind man will not be able to see. Only God can open the eyes of the blind.

Second, this charge about non-evangelistic Calvinism shows an ignorance of history—whether intentional or not. Calvinists were staunchly behind the modern missions movement. Men such as William Carey, Adoniram Judson, and Andrew Fuller were avowed Calvinists. Calvinists were behind much of the early church planting movement in America. Today, there is a resurgence of church planting by Calvinists and Calvinistic groups (Acts 29, Redeemer Presbyterian Church).

Why? Because nothing in Calvinism demands a lack of evangelism. It rather encourages evangelism by assuring the Calvinist that he is not laboring alone, but that God is working for us and in us to bring about his glory by the salvation of people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation (Revelation 5:9).

Calvinism encourages the evangelist by reminding him that while he should be as clear as he could be, it’s not the “next sentence” that he utters that will make the difference between heaven and hell. It allows us to be faithful to the gospel, and all its hardness, and know that God is at work. So we can evangelize and walk away from the unbeliever, knowing that he is not continuing in unbelief because we didn’t use a better illustration, or because we forgot to use this verse or that verse, or because we didn’t continue for five more minutes.

So what’s the point? Simply this: Disagree with Calvinism if you are convinced by Scripture that you must, but recognize that Calvinists are evangelistic, and that is true both in terms of obedience and in terms of history.

And if you are a Calvinist who does not evangelize, repent immediately and start.

I have said before, and it bears repeating here, that lack of evangelism is not a matter of Calvinism vs. Arminianism (or “biblicism”). It is matter of obedience. People of all persuasions on this matter fail to evangelize.

When people do not evangelize, they are disobedient.


So repent, and evangelize, whether you are Arminian or Calvinist (or “biblicist”).


*When I speak of Calvinists or Calvinism, I am referring to a set of beliefs about soteriology. I am not referring to any thing else that is sometimes connected with Calvinism, such as John Calvin, infant baptism, reformed ecclesiology, or reformed eschatology. Nor am I not referring to people who follow John Calvin. While some may use “Calvinism” referring to all or any of these, I do not.

Calvinism and Arminianism for Seekers

Who says Willow Creek is all fluff and cotton candy?

Bill Hybels, in the weekend services at Willow Creek on October 17-18, took on Ephesians 1 and the issues of Calvinism and Arminianism. This is an interesting topic for a seeker-driven church, but hard to avoid if you are going to preach from Ephesians 1. In fact, Willow is doing a series on Ephesians, and I imagine they concluded it would look pretty funny to skip chapter 1.

So what does he say? Here’s a quick summary, without direct transcriptions, though some are pretty close.

Hybels’ explanations are pretty simplistic (which is okay, particularly for his audience), though I don’t think they are as clear as they could be on either side. It is likely that many on both sides would disagree with the characterization he gives. For this reason (among others), I would not recommend this talk to those who do not know much about the issues. I think it is not clear enough to be helpful.

At one point, he sounds very much like he is arguing for corporate election (that we are chosen by being part of a group that is chosen), but he seems to stop short of actually affirming this.

He ultimately concludes that there is some “both/and” using the example of a business recruiting employers. A startup might put out a general call for applicants, and accept those, but when they see that particular positions of need that aren’t being met through the process, they do some direct recruiting to recruit individuals to fill those positions. He uses the example of Paul on the Damascus road for this.

He says that he has never seen anyone kept out of the kingdom because they weren’t elect. “Honest seekers who want to join the family of God end up in the family of God.” Of course, virtually every Calvinist would agree with this, as well as Arminians (or the “biblicists”). In other words, no one except the most radical hardcore Calvinists would disagree. What he does not interact with is why “honest seekers” are “honest seekers.”

He ends with his personal testimony of being chosen mid-step while walking across a camp in Wisconsin. This is key part of his conclusion that God does choose people. Here, he explicitly speaks of cooperating with the work of God in our lives, which is often called “synergism” (as opposed to monergism).

He ultimately concludes that when we look back we can see the work of God around us. However, he stops short of being clear that the work of God is also going on within us.

My conclusion on this message: Hybels has an intentional ambiguity on the details. He says, “I worship as a Calvinist. I spread my faith out in the world as an Arminian. … It’s my job to do what Jesus did. … Leave the results up to God” (quotes are very close, drawn from a paragraph near the end).

I am not sure what it means to evangelize like an Arminian, unless it means assuring people that their eternal destiny is entirely up to them. I have never quite understood how an Arminian evangelizes different than a Calvinist. Regardless of your position on this matter, the gospel is the same and all must repent and believe for salvation.

I think Hybels’ spent too little time in the text itself though he clearly referenced many biblical passages and ideas.

I personally am not troubled by his position, though it’s not mine. While I affirm one of the options, I do not get bent out of shape when people disagree with me.

I challenged again by Hybels’ heartbeat to reach people. I appreciate his passion to see people come to know God through Jesus.

(I remind you that while I don’t have a full disclaimer here, I am troubled by many things that Hybels’ does in order to try to see people come to know God through Jesus.)

As an added bonus, you can view Willow Creek’s Membership Study Guide.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

FYI – Malachi’s Messages

The book of Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament. It is not only last in order. It is also perhaps the last book written in time though sections of Nehemiah may have been written after Malachi. There is a lot of discussion about the exact timing of Malachi, but most place it between 450-433 B.C.

Malachi’s outline is fairly easy to see. It is made up of six messages, or “disputations”—confrontational speeches that attempt to convince another party of the speaker’s position. In this, Malachi is attempting to convince the descendants of the people who returned from Babylonian captivity that they are engaging in the same type of rebellion that led to the captivity to begin with. Therefore, they must repent and turn back to God and await the coming of the Day of the Lord.

Each disputation, or message, has an assertion made by God, a objection posed by a question, and a response demonstrating the truth of the assertion. Two of the disputations have two assertions and questions (#2 and 5). The following chart shows the outline of the book.












1:6a, 7a

1:6b, 7b














3:6–7b, 8a

3:7c, 8b







Next time you read Malachi, look for the messages (and realize that they cross chapter boundaries). It will help to make sense of the message.

A later post will talk about the messages themselves.


(The chart is taken from Dr. Robert V. McCabe.)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Struggling is Good

My daughter has been crying a lot lately. She has been sick for a week, with a temperature approaching 104. She is finally getting better.

It reminds me of the early days of my son’s life. I found out that I am a worrier. I used to go in and check on him several times a night to make sure he was okay … still breathing … not on his stomach … you know, all those things. With Elyse, I haven’t been nearly so worried. Which itself worries me. I am either much more trusting or calloused perhaps.

But I am reminded of what I used to say about my son: “When he's crying, he's not dead.” (Seriously, I actually thought that.)

Strange? Perhaps, but comforting to me.

So what’s the point?

I don’t mind people who struggle spiritually. Their "crying" doesn't bother me. It tells me their not dead spiritually.

Yes, it’s a little obnoxious sometimes, because they take a lot of my time, time that I would like to spend on me.

And yes, sometimes, it gets a bit old.

And inconvenient.

But when they’re struggling, they’re not dead.

As I often say, It’s not the people who struggle that I worry about. It is the people who don’t struggle.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Why Ask for Prayer?

Paul asked people to pray for him.

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak (Colossians 4:2-4).


Two reasons:

  1. Paul believed that prayer works.
  2. Paul believed that more prayer works.

What can we learn?

  1. We should pray.
  2. We should pray for others.
  3. We should ask others to pray for us.


  1. Because prayer works.
  2. Because more prayer works.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

What J.H. Jowett and I Have In Common

The difficulty of delivering a message is in inverse proportion to the size of the audience. To face the individual soul with the Word of God … is one of the heaviest commissions given to our charge. Where there are ten men who can face a crowd, there is only one who can face the individual. Gentlemen, it seemed as though I could preach a sermon and never meet a devil. But as soon as I began to take my sermon to the individual, the streets were thick with devils” (J.H. Jowett, The Preacher, His Life and Work, cited in Mastering Pastoral Care, p. 20).

I find it much easier to preach to a large group of people than to speak to people one on one about their souls.

I can easily be direct, confrontational, bold, and energetic in front of a crowd, but I am a chicken across the table from a person.

I am glad to know I am not the only one with this experience.



Biggest Game of the Year

Life and baseball are two good things. And they have a lot in common.

The Tigers and Twins played a one game playoff last night for the American League Central Division pennant, and the right to lose to the Yankees in the American League Division Series.

Some called it the biggest game of the season. One and done. Move on or go home.

But the truth is that there were 76 other “big games” this year for the Tigers (and the Twins). If Detroit had won April 6th or 7th or 9th or any one of those 76 games, they are preparing for the Yankees today rather than cleaning out the lockers.

The Twins finished the regular season with sixteen wins and four losses in their last twenty. That is an incredible winning percentage. But truth be told, they had to pour it on at the end because of the first five months of the season. If they had gone 12-10 in April instead of 11-11, Tuesday never happens.

All they needed was one more win in 162 tries.

Which reminds me of just how much baseball is like life.

People roll through life with moderate effort, here and there excelling and here and there loafing. They are spiritually anemic, often going through the motions outwardly, but not inwardly fighting. They coast.

Then some big crisis happens and they want to “get serious.” The wife leaves and the husband suddenly wants to deal with his aloofness or his jealousy or his anger. A drunken violent rage occurs and suddenly they are serious about their alcohol problem. A daughter becomes pregnant or a son fathers a child with the girl next door, and suddenly its time to get serious about raising kids.

It’s the “biggest game.”

So they come to the pastor, and they want to know how to fix it.

But the reality is that this “game” is necessary only because of their previous actions. They have spent ten or twenty years developing a pattern of life, and suddenly they want overnight change. They have been batting .185 at home and suddenly they want to bat .340.

Here’s new: Ain’t happening.

You didn’t get here overnight, and you won’t get out of it overnight.

And you can’t fix it by doing what you have always done.

It takes time. It will be hard. And it might not work. Your wife might not come back home. Your daughter will not suddenly be “unpregnant.” Your DUI will not magically disappear. Your children will not suddenly snuggle up to you at night.

So don’t wait for game 163 to decide it’s a “big game.”

By all means, if you have to play Tuesday, play hard. Win.

But better to start in April and realize every game is the big one.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Things You Can Read Quickly and Still Benefit From

Jeremy Berg on application in preaching:

I am concerned about those who approach the text with their own issues and preoccupations already in mind and ask the Word to magically speak to those issues. I am irritated with an attitude (usually well-meaning and unintentional, by the way) that sounds like: "That's a nice story Jesus, but can you please address my problem with __________?"  Or, after reading Paul's monumental Letter to the Romans saying, "Wow, Paul, that was some deep stuff!  Can we talk about me now?"  And a thousand other variations.

The hidden dark side of this posture toward God's Word is that it reveals a deep-seated self-absorption that keeps us at the center of our universe and insists that God and His Word orbit our needs and serve our interests. Do you see a problem with this posture toward God and the text?

Rick Thomas on the love cup:

Another term, which is more biblical, for these perceived “needs” is called worship. Worship is the biblical term for our longings and it is what is happening at the causal core or heart level of all people. We are motivated by what we worship. Truly, we are born worshippers. The question we never ask in counseling is, “Are you worshipping?” We were made by our Creator to worship, that is a given. The question we should always ask is, “What are you worshipping?”

Saturday, October 03, 2009

The Bible Teaches …

Discussions about origins of the universe and life are fairly frequent, and often filled with some very … well, interesting statements.

Consider this one from a professor of Old Testament:

…the Bible teaches us that there was a time when the beast became human and that time was when God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).

So what does Genesis 2:7 say?

Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

I’ll admit to not being a Hebrew expert, though I read Hebrew almost every day (I am in 1 Kings right now). However, I am pretty familiar with the opening chapters of Genesis, and I am pretty sure that Genesis 2:7 says nothing about a beast becoming human, unless the “dust of the ground” is some Hebrew idiom for “beast” (an argument that I have never seen anyone try to make, though perhaps I am looking for it in the wrong place).

Which leads me to wonder, “Why does an Old Testament professor who can read Hebrew far better than I can, and whose Hebrew vocabulary is no doubt far larger than mine, say something like this?”

It cannot be because of rigorous exegesis of the text. The text simply does not say that in any way, shape, or form.

It has to be because of a desire for concordism—that current “science” says something and that must be the controlling factor in exegesis. You see, “concordism” is the idea that the Bible accounts and the prevailing scientific opinion must agree. That idea is severely handicapped on a number of fronts which I will not address here though a new book Coming to Grips with Genesis is a solid contribution to this field.

Dr. Mariottini’s first comment is by a “professional postgraduate biologist” and “a follower of Jesus.” He believes that the conflict is not between the Bible and science but between the Bible and creationism.

Yet this too is a deeply flawed statement, loaded down by the weight of presuppositions that would causes even the stoutest ship to sink. It simply reveals what seems a bit of naiveté about the nature of the “facts” and the issues that are really at stake. It simply cannot bear the weight being attached to it.

I realize that he is making only a brief statement in a comment section. But there is no reason to set the Bible and science at odds with each other, not even in a brief blog comment, and there is no reason to pretend as if creationism is not also science. That is a naked attempt to gain ground by defining creationism out of legitimacy. If one presents evidence from science that supports creationism, it is immediately ruled out as “non-scientific.”

However, it fails to note at the most basic level that creationism is as scientifically valid as evolutionism, which is to say that both involve a boatload of presuppositions that have no observable basis.

The question, at one level, is simply one of rationality—Will we engage in irrational suppositions and arguments in order to defend a view of origins that  likely no one would believe were there an option other than believing the Bible as it stands?

Are they truly irrational? Well, I do not use that word here perjoratively. But the word “rational” deals with reason, clarity, and coherence. And simply put, arguments for evolution are certainly not arguments driven by sound reason; they are not clear; they do not cohere. They keep changing (a supposed mark of honesty—which has the disturbing implication of previous inaccuracy which is stunninlgy untroubling to its proponents. In other words they must say, “Yeah, we were wrong last time, but trust us this time. No really, trust us … This time we are for real.”).

These arguments do not correspond to anything reasonable or logical. They do not correspond to anything we see in the current world.

In other words, in an argument that essentially depends on uniformitarianism—that things have always been the same (in opposition to catastrophism—that major cataclysmic events have had major impacts on the universe)—in an argument that depends on uniformitarianism, they must depend on the fact that the universe is not uniformitarian—that things do not happen now like they used to.

This is a point that is given far too little weight by those who subscribe to some form of evolution—whether atheistic or theistic (that God guided the process).

So what must we do?

Well, the big question is this: Why make the Bible say something it doesn’t?

Genesis 2:7 does not say that “beast became human.” It instead communicates a direct act of God by which dust was turned into man. If the evolutionary argument is that a sandbox became a human, we could see some exegetical legitimacy to that based on Genesis 2:7. But “science” doesn’t say that, and therefore, it doesn’t gain any ground in the discussion.

Far better for us to simply believe that man is the direct, special creation of God and is endowed with His image that sets man apart from the rest of creation. Man was not the next step in the evolutionary process, but the crowning pinnacle of God’s glorious creation, made specially to resemble, reflect, and represent God through His image.

So when we say that the Bible teaches something, we need to look at the text to see what it actually says. This is not an argument for naive literalism, but rather to assume that our readers are not naive.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Measure Success in Years

I was sitting in my office today when I heard a noise at the door. I looked out see a man standing there. In fact, he looked like he was getting ready to leave. So I opened the door and introduced myself.

What followed was a fascinating and encouraging conversation that seemed to go on for almost an hour (though I didn’t look) and could have continued all day for all I cared.

This man had been raised in River Rouge as a Jew by adoptive parents who agreed (in accordance with the laws) to raise him as a Jew. He was invited as a young teenager to some Bible studies on the OT, and then was invited to stay for some Bible studies on the NT. He was converted to Christ.

Pastor O. H. Williams then befriended the parents and on New Years Eve of 1951 (if I recall correctly), the son and both parents were baptized as a profession of their faith in the Messiah—Jesus Christ.

Today, this man is a faithful member of his church in Massachusetts, and was recently elected as an elder. He quizzed me to see if we were still solid in doctrine and faithful in the gospel. We talked at length about the church and its more recent history, about people and community, and about the gospel around the world, particularly in Asia where this man had worked in international business for much of his adult life.

He was back for his wife’s high school reunion and wanted to stop by to look at the building.

In the process, he encouraged this pastor to remember to measure success in  years—not days, not weeks, not even months.

So thanks, Mr. Brownson, for your time today and for your life all these years.

And thanks Reverend Williams, for your sixteen years of faithful ministry that still bears fruit more fifty years later.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sign Me Up

I received an advertisement for a Christian college today. It had a lot of pictures in it, along with some words here and there.

What particularly caught my attention was the page of benefits that included (and I quote): Sunbathing for women students. (Italics in the original … or at least in the copy of the original that I received. I am not sure if the other stack of advertisements has this line in it or not.)

So what’s my point?

Nothing other than that I find it interesting that an advertised benefit of a Christian liberal arts college is “Sunbathing for women students.”

I suppose that might be a deal-breaker for some. (“I would go to that other school but I can’t lay out in the sun there.”)

Weird …

Now, lest you misunderstand, I am not opposed to women laying out to get a tan. All other things equal, I like a little color. I do wonder about the possibilities for the men however. Is there no sunbathing for men?

And I do wonder why that is listed as a benefit. Perhaps they have done the marketing studies that show sunbathing for women students is high on the list of criteria for Christian women looking for higher education.

Weird, that’s all.

Drunkenness, Prayer, and the Man of God

I was recently listening to V. Phillips Long lecturing on Old Testament history. In discussing Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel, he noted how interesting it was that Eli, the man of God, could not tell the difference between a heavy heart crying out to God and drunkenness, and his presumption was drunkenness.

What does that say about the state of the nation of Israel, the atmosphere at the feasts, and the spiritual discernment and leadership of Eli?

I am not sure since the Bible does not tell us, but it sure does not look good.

Apparently, drunkenness at the feast was a fairly common occurrence for Eli to presume that Hannah was drunk. And Eli seems to be a pretty poor excuse for a priest, at least at some levels. He failed to hear and recognize the voice of God, which was infrequent in those days (1 Sam 3:1ff.). He failed to lead his sons either as a priest over them or as a father (1 Sam 2).

What to make of Eli’s confusion between prayer and drunkenness? Not sure, but it sparks some thinking for me.

Who is a Faithful Fundamental Man?

A recent article on a fundamentalist mailing list says,

If a man finds fault with faithful fundamental men and claims that they go too far in regard to biblical separation, he is in the shadow of new evangelicalism. The ruse may take the form of a declaration that the men being criticized are too narrow and that the fault-finder is the true Champion of The Cause. Any man who thinks a holy purity in position for the Gospel should be balanced against a pragmatic viewpoint is leading his people down the path to compromise.

Similarly, beware of the man who breaks fellowship with sound separatist brethren on the supposed basis of "other issues." He may claim, "We stand in the same place doctrinally, but our disagreements are on other non-doctrinal or secondary issues." If I were you, I would press the man for specific, clear details of exactly what issues are at stake. Cut into him here and you may find him bleeding the green ooze of new evangelicalism.

It would be nice to “press [this] man for specific, clear details of exactly what issues are at stake.” It would be interesting to know how this man defines “faithful fundamental men.” It may well be that that is a synonym for “people who draw the lines exactly where I do.” This man gives no biblical arguments. In fact, his whole article contains exactly two biblical references, neither of which have to do with separation.

This, friends, is troubling.

The fact is that many who are considered “faithful fundamental men” aren’t. And many who aren’t considered “faithful fundamental men” are.

For too many, the “shadow of new evangelicalism” has little to do with theology and the Bible. It has to do who has the pedigree, “the card” as someone recently expressed it.

This is all too typical, unfortunately.

The guy makes a good point here and there, but then throws in this kind of stuff to try to paint some lines and pretend like he is bold for the truth.

The truth is that he may merely be a schismatic.

In the Diner

Things are quiet these days.

The long days of summer are shortening. The leaves have already started to change in a few trees. Before long the sweaters and coats will come out. The snow will fly. And then before we can blink, 2010 will be here.

The radio is on belting out “I would do anything for love.”

What a statement about the nature of humanity … We are looking for love and will pay any price to get it.

Unfortunately, very few people know what love is. Love is, for most, about feeling and falling (in love).

And people will sell their souls (and much less) to get it.

Sometimes a husband or wife will say, “I will do anything to get him (or her) to love me.” That is always a sign of idolatry. “Love” is more important than obedience. Obedience can be traded for “love.”

But love is not worth anything. Doing anything for love will get you problems every time.

I am reminded of John 4:10:  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Into this simple statement John packs a boatload of truth about the nature of love. We know love by looking at what God did. And he didn’t do “anything” for love. In fact, there are some things he refused to do—like overlooking sin, compromising his own holy character, allowing sin to go unpunished.

He rather took the initiative to confront sin, and to bear the cost of sin himself.

So next time you think about love, think about Jesus on the cross. That is real love.

But be warned: It may not feel good.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Doing the Math

The Wall Street Journal has an article on finance and children, that begins with the Duggar family (soon to be nineteen children) and ends with some numbers.

Two interesting things, first on numbers, second on language.

First, the numbers. The article states that “By 1998, the median two-earner family paid 40.9%.” (I can’t imagine it is much less today.) The article also says that full-time day care averages $14,591. It then gives the following illustration:

If a parent making $45,000 a year stays home with a child until the child begins school, and then returns to work part time until the child graduates from high school, she is forgoing more than $800,000 in lost wages (counting normal inflation and raises).

But let’s do the math. 40% in taxes on $45,000 is $18,000. So right off the bat, the second wage earner (usually the mom) makes $27,000. She pays $14,591 for full-time day care in order to have that job (though it doesn’t specify whether that is for one child or multiple). Now, her income is $12,409.

That means that she makes $238/week, or $5.96/hour. That’s not even minimum wage.

And that doesn’t count the cost of getting to work (which at $2.50 a gallon could add up), and all the other incidental costs of being employed (lunches, Starbucks on the way in, etc.). Plus there is the emotional toll of workplace stress, traffic jams, regular house duties, juggling schedules, etc.

Plus she gives up the time to interact with and teach her children.

Is that worth $5.96 an hour?

I wouldn’t think so. So folks, before the wife takes a job, do the math. Figure out if it is worth it.

Second, on language. The article states,

In 1800 the American fertility rate—that is, the number of children born to an average woman in her lifetime—was 7.04 for whites and 7.90 for blacks. (The first census was taken in 1790, and the numbers for the races were tabulated separately.) Over the years, the fertility rate trended inexorably downward. Today the average American woman has only 2.09 children, just a hair beneath the replacement rate of 2.1.

The statistics are given for “an average woman.” I  would think it hard (not the mention controversial) to determine just what constitutes an “average woman.” What kind of standards do you use for that? And what about the women who are not average. What is their birth rate?

I would think it much easier to determine an average number of children born to a woman.

And I would imagine that is what they meant. My question is, Where’s the editor (either to recommend explaining what “an average woman” is or to get the modifier in the right place in the sentence)?

Thinking About Assumptions

I just walked over to Sunoco to get some gas for the church lawnmower. It is only about a block to the gas station, so rather than go home and get the car to drive, I just walked across the park, across the four lanes of Jefferson Ave, and a got $4.00 worth of gas.

As I walked, I wondered how many people driving by looked at me and thought, “Stupid dork ran out of gas and now has to walk to get some.”

I am sure that is what I would think.

And they would be thinking wrong. In fact, the gas can still had gas in it … just not enough to fill the lawnmower. And the car had plenty, but walking is good exercise, cheaper than driving, and quicker since the car wasn’t here.

But it makes me wonder how many times we see someone doing something and jump to unfounded conclusions.

We see a man quote another man on his blog, and assume he is giving a blanket endorsement or promoting some belief or practice.

We see a man speak at a certain place and assume that the host is endorsing everything that the speaker affirms, or that the speaker endorses everything that the host affirms.

So they shoot off an email or a blogpost. And they end up distorting and misleading people based on assumptions that aren’t true. In some cases, they are just plain dishonest, saying things that are demonstrably untrue.

Granted, jumping to conclusions is quick and easy, and it looks good on a blog to take such a good stand for separatism and truth.

On the other hand, taking time to actually listen carefully is harder, and won't always satisfy people.

But the truth is this: When you say something that is untrue, it is still untrue, even if you really believe it. You are bearing false witness, even if you think are right. And that is shameful.

Before you jump to conclusions about person, take time to figure out what they believe and teach. Read what they write; listen to what they say; look at the pattern of their life. And be honest about it. Some people in the blogosphere are, quite frankly, dishonest about what other people believe.

The last few days have confirmed that for me again. Some people have no integrity. They are not beyond gossip, false accusations made out of ignorance, personal attacks, and false statements. They are, in the biblical sense, brawlers who stir up trouble for the sake of stirring up trouble, and they do so by making false accusations and misleading statements. They are divisive but not for the truth.

They are beyond listening to people who know what they are talking about because of pride and arrogance.

They think they are right and no amount of actual fact will dissuade them.

It’s sad but true.

It’s kind of like selling used cars. Some people will say anything to push a car out the door. And some people will believe the salesmen because they don’t know any better, and are too lazy to go find out the truth. And then they are stuck with a lemon.

In a day when talk is cheap, make sure you get your money’s worth. If you are going to listen to someone, make sure they know what they are talking about. Don’t assume it.

Friday, September 18, 2009

How Could You Not See This Coming?

Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church is in a tiff.

The newly called pastor, Tullian Tchividjian, is being challenged by a small but vocal group who think that he is not carrying on the ministry in the way that they think he should. He, of course, is defending himself and his ministry, and doing so publicly. (I wonder about the value of addressing internal church politics in a regional newspaper, but I will save that for another day.)

Of course Dr. James Kennedy was a strong leader for so many years at Coral Ridge, so there was bound to be struggles for the next guy.

But early last year, when I saw that Tchividjian was the guy likely to be called, I thought it was a bad idea. Tchividjian and Kennedy seemed so totally different, it seemed inevitable that the normal transitional problems would be magnified, perhaps beyond workability.

For years, Coral Ridge has had a contemporary service though I think the message by Kennedy was piped in on the screen. (I could be wrong about Kennedy’s message. I don’t remember for sure.) But there was always a place for the traditionalists to go where traditional music would be played and, more importantly, Kennedy would wear a robe, preach in a certain style, and address certain topics. Tchividjian is changing that. The robe is gone and so are the politics. And that transition is not going down smoothly for everyone.

Now, this week, Coral Ridge is having a congregational meeting to address the issue publicly. It will be interesting to see what happens. My suspicion is that that Tchividjian has enough support to stay, and that the others will be driven out. But a watching world (literally, since this news is all over) is seeing how a church handles problems. And to me, it doesn’t look pretty.

This is not to comment on whether Kennedy or Tchividjian is right or wrong.

It is simply to wonder out loud how the people at Coral Ridge did not see this coming.

Perhaps they did. Who knows.

But it serves as a caution to churches. If you want a new pastor to change directions, it will take some time and cause some problems. There will be disgruntled people, and they might try to cause problems.

Pastor candidates better be up front about where they are going. They should not hide their views and intentions and hope to change it later.

And pulpit committees should make clear what their intentions are. Do not throw a new guy under the bus for making changes you wanted but failed to make clear to the congregation, and obtain their consent.

People on both sides, but particularly the new pastor, must exercise extreme care and wisdom.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Doctrine of the Bible

In an ironic twist, the doctrine of the Bible frequently comes under attack by those who claim to love it most. Dave Doran addresses one particular manifestation of this in this recent article. I am sure the publication in question awaits me at my office when I get there tomorrow. I can hardly wait.

Now this topic of Bible versions is one that I don’t address here at my blog often because 1) I think it is mostly nonsense … a house of cards and cotton candy, and 2) I don’t want the comments about it from what are probably well-meaning people who have been misinformed about the issue. (Notice I didn’t say I don’t want comments from people who disagree, although I will not let my comment section become your personal vendetta.)

Doran rightly says that one cannot embrace the doctrine of “hardcore” King James Version Onlyism with “without doing damage to the biblical doctrine of inspiration.”

Now it is important to note that Doran’s comments (and mine) are not directed at people who prefer the KJV, or who prefer the Majority Text or even the Textus Receptus (two different versions of the Greek text underlying the NT). They are not directed at people who think that some modern versions are poor translations, or translate from a poor text, or that some modern versions could do a better job of translating some passages of Scripture.

They are directed at people who claim for an English version what should only be claimed for the original—namely the inspiration of the Spirit. The claim that the Holy Spirit directly inspired the KJV, or that the KJV is word perfect (or letter perfect or even punctuation perfect as some claim) is outside the bounds of Christian orthodoxy. One who makes such a claim has, by definition, departed from the faith once for all handed down to the saints. They should be exposed as false teachers and separated from. They are not fundamentalists. They are not orthodox.

What we, as people of the Book, have to realize is that the danger from within is just as great as the danger from without. When one embraces a faulty doctrine of Scripture, it is no more worthy when it embraces one single English version than when it denies inerrancy. Faulty bibliology is faulty, no matter how well intended it is, no matter how deadly the error that it is intended to refute, and no matter how sincerely one believes it. You cannot enhance the authority of Scripture by destroying its authority.

Listen folks, the use of modern versions is not destroying Christianity. It’s not watering it down. So quit saying it is. I guarantee throughout history more bad messages have been preached from the KJV than from modern versions, if for no other reason because the KJV had a three hundred year headstart (and it is the version used by people who are King James Only who are notorious for bad preaching that has nothing to do with the text).

So let’s get serious about the Word and quit making up doctrines.

If you use the KJV, fine. I don’t care. Preach the KJV (which incidentally will keep you from preaching KJVOnlyism.)

If you think I am a heretic, or weak, or compromised because I use a modern version, fine. I do care, but it doesn’t bother me. I will sleep well tonight.

But please don’t destroy the faith of fellow believers by telling them that they can’t trust their Bible because it isn’t the KJV.

I have had the misfortune of sitting across the table from people whose faith was jeopardized when someone told them they couldn’t trust their Bible because it wasn’t the KJV. It is not a pretty sight. It made me mad.

And it reminds me, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). God help those who mislead his children about his word.

Or to quote someone else, “Keep your stinkin’ feet out of my drinking water.”

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Owen on Sin and Fire

It is vain for a man to have any expectation of rest from his lust but by its death … Some, in the tumultuating of their corruptions, seek for quietness by labouring to satisfy them, “making provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof,” as the apostle speaks, Rom xiii.14. This is to aslake* fire by wood and oil. As all the fuel in the world, all the fabric of the creation that is combustible, being cast into the fire, will not at all satisfy it, but increase it; so is it with satisfaction given to sin by sinning,—it doth but inflame and increase.

John Owen, The Nature and Power of Indwelling Sin.

*diminish, slacken, reduce.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Experience and The Message

It is hard to listen to some preachers today without being regaled with stories of their experiences—how they did this or that, saw one things or another, had a special word from God, or experienced his leading to a particular house on a particular day (even though they were going elsewhere). I even recall a book by Don Piper called 90 Minutes in Heaven, describing his alleged trip to heaven. Similar things have been written, and many of them have been told.

Contrast that with Paul who, in 2 Corinthians, is defending his apostleship against his critics. He finds it necessary in 2 Corinthians 12:1-6 to talk about one of his experiences in which he was transported into heaven itself. He reveals this only reluctantly and finds it unprofitable for his preaching, but necessary to defend his authority.

Paul is reticent to speak about such things because he does not believe that recounting one’s extraordinary mystical visions will do anything to build up the community. It only serves to build up the teller’s ego and therefore is perilous. It certainly offers no proof of apostleship. History is littered with the tales of frauds who have seduced and deluded followers by claiming to have some divine mission from some divine vision (D. E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, NAC, p. 509).

If only certain preachers today would follow this example. Stop talking about yourself and your experience. After all, God didn’t promise that the impressiveness of your personal experience would lead people to salvation. The power for salvation is in the gospel.

Next time you hear some preacher talk about some great experience he had as if he is the point of preaching, ask yourself, “Why doesn’t he just talk about Jesus?”

Friday, September 04, 2009

Believers and Unbelievers Together

Aaron Gardner writes about his experience of being associated with atheists at the Creation Museum, and the way that he perceived the interaction of believers with him.

There have rarely been times in my life that I have been ashamed of people that I call “brothers and sisters in Christ.”  This was one of them.  To be judged by people that share my beliefs because of the name tag I wore was appalling.

One of the problems with Christianity is the club mentality. “We” are “in” and “they” are “out.”

And “they” notice it very easily. “We” don’t.

“We” have all kinds of names for it. We call it “separation,” “protection,” “caution,” “love for God,” etc.

“They” call it “snobbery” and “typical.”

Then “we” go on about our lives and “they” go on about their lives.

And “we” and “they” both think everything is okay.

It’s not.

“We” must learn how to interact with “them” because that is what Jesus did.

“We” must learn how to treat “them” with respect and dignity because because that is how we will share the good news of hope in Jesus alone.


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Goal of Systematic Theology

The goal of a developed systematic theology is not to provide academic and
philosophical arguments and conclusions. Rather the goal is to provide people
with a coherent understanding of God and his creation so that they can develop a
consistent worldview that governs their thoughts and actions.

– Glenn Daman, Shepherding the Small Church (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2002), p. 82.

Systematic theology, in a nutshell, is the topical study of the major doctrines (teachings) of the Bible. For instance, the doctrine of God (called Theology Proper) attempts to assemble the complete biblical teaching about God.

Systematic theology is based on the idea that the Bible has a single system of truth, and that all verses about any given topic relate to all other verses without contradiction. It recognizes that no one verse contains the entire truth about any given topic, but that the total Scripture is needed to gain God's full revelation.

Systematic theology is divided in various ways. I usually divide it into these ten categories:

  1. Bibliology – The doctrine of the Bible
  2. Theology Proper – The doctrine of God
  3. Angelology – The doctrine of Angels and Demons including Satan
  4. Anthropology – The doctrine of Man
  5. Harmartiology – The doctrine of Sin
  6. Christology – The doctrine of Christ
  7. Pneumatology – The doctrine of the Holy Spirit
  8. Soteriology – The doctrine of Salvation
  9. Ecclesiology – The doctrine of the Church
  10. Eschatology – The doctrine of Last Things (the return of Christ and the end of the world)

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

“You Just Don’t Understand”

One of the common responses that a counselor hears, whether explicit or more subtle, is the response, “You just don’t understand.”

What they mean is that they believe there are circumstances that make their present course of action acceptable. If you could see things from their perspective, surely you would agree with them, they think.

We must remember that it is a belief, not necessarily a fact, and that it comes from their perspective, which is affected deeply by their personal involvement in the situation. In other words, it is not necessarily objective fact.

One of the responses we can use is simply to say, “Help me understand why you think your present course of action is pleasing to God and consistent with the gospel?” Or “What do I need to know to understand how your present course of action testifies that Jesus died for sin and rose again to give you a new way of life?”

There may be things we don’t understand. They may be rationalizing sinful attitudes and actions.

But we never know until we ask.

And until we ask, we may be answering questions that they are not asking. And that may help us feel better, but it won’t help them to see Jesus more clearly, and it certainly won’t help them to preach Jesus more clearly by the way that they live.

Monday, August 31, 2009

You Can't Make This Up

From the Detroit Free Press this morning:
A Michigan man faces sentencing for stabbing two people at a wake for a man who died from drinking poisonous moonshine.
Here's another story of a 16 year-old arrested for the shooting of a 13 year-old girl who was an innocent bystander in a gang-related shooting.

The callous disregard for life is astounding.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

In the Diner

“Larry, if I commit murder, will God still save me?”

I am not sure what brought the question on, and I am pretty sure it wasn’t serious.

Someone from the back yelled out “No.”

I said, “Yes, absolutely.” Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to follow up on it.

The answer I wanted to give was that murder is how God saved us and gave us hope and a reason not to murder. His son was murdered in order to give us eternal life. It wasn’t fair. He didn’t deserve it. But people who would not control their anger and rage and live in submission to God hung him on a cross and took his life.

But it was not like our murders today—pointless cruelty and disrespect of human life. It was murder with a purpose—to save people who have no other hope.

A few nights ago, I was watching the news. Two consecutive stories were about murder committed by people younger than 18, murdering people that they apparently had no prior relationship with. I wish those stories were only once in a while. Unfortunately, it seems they are almost every night.

The murder of Christ frees us from the necessity to exact revenge on our own. I don’t have to kill anyone, no matter how mad I am. Why? Because I know God will deal with it for me. I can leave it in his hands. That’s what it means to hide yourself in God.

But I can only do that because I trust that “He who did not spare his own Son but delivered him over for us all … [will] with him freely give us all things” (Romans 8:32).