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.