Saturday, December 31, 2011

It’s That Time of Year Again

Yes, all over the blog world, it’s that time of year when bloggers all over have been posting their “Best of 2011” posts. They are linking to their most read,  most commented, most favorite, and on-and-on.

It reminds me of my own ”best of” post from just about a year ago. I thought it was a pretty obvious parody of a widespread practice, a practice that I have no problem with. But I thought I would have a bit of fun with it last year.

However, shortly after that post appeared, word got back to me about a certain pastor who labeled my post “childlish [sic] and unpastoral behavior” towards a particular person. It was called an “ungentlemanly approach to discussion [that] is beyond the perview [sic] of Christian practice” and an “abandon[ment] Christian principles of argumentation.” On top of that it was called “vicious and childish.”

Pretty strong words for a parody piece.

Here’s the funny thing: My post wasn’t even directed towards a particular person, but to a common practice of a number of people.

Here’s the bad thing: Not one of these comments was directed to me. It could have been cleared up in sixty-second phone call, or a short one-paragraph email. I could have directed this pastor towards any one of a couple of dozen blogs with a “best of” post of some sort that would have shown what I was talking about.

But I never had that chance.

You see, rather than emailing me or picking up the phone and calling me to find out what it was about, or even just ignoring it, this pastor jumped to conclusions and then made these fairly harsh comments about me to others.

My suspicion (based on some others things that were said) is that he had first listened to gossip by someone else, and rather than shutting it down and telling the other person that he would have no part of it, he listened to it and believed it. In the words of Proverbs, “he answered the matter before he heard it.”

On the one hand, it didn’t bother me all that much because I knew the truth about it, and I think many others did as well. Plus he doesn’t answer to me, nor I to him. So I kind of laughed about it.

On the other hand, I don’t like this kind of misunderstanding and I certainly don’t like the kind of personal comments that were made.

So when I got word about what this pastor had said, I picked up the phone and called the guy to try to straighten it out person-to-person. It was an easy fix. Or at least it should have been.

Would it surprise you to know that this guy refused to talk to me and never returned my call?

I would like to say I was surprised, but I wasn’t. I am not much of an idealist anymore. I have been around long enough to know how these things turn out. I know how often people find it easy to throw around attacks without basis, and then refuse to deal with things straight up, person to person. They are unwilling to even consider that they, or the people they have believed, may have been wrong. It’s the MO of far too many people.

The blogosphere has made this attack culture both easier and harder at the same time. It’s easier because you can spread the word faster and wider. And it’s harder because people can see the truth for themselves, and there are always going to be people who know more than you do, particularly about their own words.

So why do I write about it now?

Because I am reminded of the bad way that people tend to handle things, people who should know better. I started to say “handle problems,” but it wasn’t even a problem. It was a silly parody post that led to personal attacks behind someone’s back for no reason other than ignorance. He just didn’t know the truth and didn’t bother to find it out. He immediately thought the worst.

As we close one calendar in favor of another, let us all resolve to pursue a better way.

Don’t jump to conclusions, particularly bad ones, especially when you don’t even know the person you are talking about.

Remember that there are some things you might have missed.

Remember that hearing one side of the story is always dangerous because it is frequently biased.

Remember that you might be wrong, or might be being mislead by someone else.

And having remembered this, temper your response.

To be honest, I haven’t lost any sleep over it because it wasn’t that big of a deal to me. I think of it now only because of the plethora of “best posts of 2011” that are peppering the blogosphere.

And the memory makes me chuckle a bit.

I know I have made my fair share of blunders and sins in the blogosphere. I write as one who has been grieved over some things I have said, or the way I have said them, and when I have, I have tried to own them and deal with them righteously.  

I have no personal axe to grind with this man. I don’t know this pastor personally, and I rejoice in the apparent fruit of his ministry.

But I wish he would have found out what it was about before trashing me to other people.

Let’s all learn to desire the truth before we speak. And to hold our tongues when we don’t know.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Brooks' Three Rules for Pastoring

"These three rules seem to have in them the practical sum of the whole matter. I beg you to remember them and apply them with all the wisdom that God gives you. First. Have as few congregations as you can. Second. Know your congregation as thoroughly as you can. Third. Know your congregation so largely and deeply that in knowing it you shall know humanity."

Cited in Rummage, Planning Your Preaching, 175.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Rummage on Expository Preaching

"Some pastors who preach through books make the mistake of loading their messages with irrelevant details about the background of the passage or the technicalities of the biblical language. This turns the sermon into a dry commentary on the text rather than a living and dynamic explanation and application of the Scripture. Such preaching is monotonous and hard to get used to. In fact, no pastor should force his congregation to become accustomed to such boring preaching."

Stephen Rummage, Planning Your Preaching, p. 78

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On Changing the Name of a Church - Part 3

See previous articles: Part 1, Part 2

Another reason why a church might change their name is to try to remove perceived barriers to the gospel. This is most often the idea behind the dropping of denominational labels. There is a belief that denominational labels are a barrier to people who do not self-identify with that denomination. Thus, the label becomes a stumblingblock other than the gospel.

Is this true? Well, it’s undeniably true in some cases. These are anecdotal cases to be sure, but true nonetheless. But is it true in all cases? Who knows.

What makes it difficult to study this issue meaningfully is the fact that there are no two identical churches in identical communities, one with a denominational label and one without. There is no church that both has the label and does not have the label. Even if the churches are substantially similar, they have different pastors, different members, different gifting among the members, different guests, different locations, etc. And even if everything was the same except the name, that won’t tell you anything about your church and location. So any studies are always comparing non-identical things.

The best way to study the big picture is probably to ask questions of a lot of people in a lot of different places, even though responses to denominational labels probably differ from place to place. Ed Stetzer’s has done that and found that the name is at least a factor for SBC churches, particularly for younger people. How big a factor? Again, it is hard to tell. More importantly all of Ed’s questions won’t tell you anything specific about your ministry context. And in order to minister in your community, you need to know your community.

And you need to know yourself and your motivations. Why are you doing this? Of course, people around you will be quick to chime in and tell you why you are doing it, and you need to think carefully about it.

For some critics, dropping a denominational label is an automatic sign of compromise and deception, of hiding who you really are in order to attract more people.

For some proponents, dropping a denominational label is a no-brainer. In fact, someone (who works for a major Baptist organization) in identifying me as a “fundamentalist” said, “Do you still have Baptist in your name?” When I answered affirmatively, he said, “Well there’s that,” with “that” meaning the label Baptist was a sign of being a fundamentalist.

Now, make no mistake. I am a Baptist by conviction. I am a Baptist because Jesus said to be one (and remember, he only blessed babies; he didn’t baptize them).

Okay, so that’s (only) a bit tongue in cheek. But I am a firmly committed Baptist. And I don’t lower my voice when I say that. And our church name is still Grace Baptist Church. And I am Baptist enough to believe that a local congregation has the sole authority to determine what name their church goes by.

But the reality is that there are a lot of people who see a label on a group or building, and they have no idea what the label means, but they know it’s not them because if they were one of those they would know it. This is common in our Baptist churches. People see the name “Lutheran” on a church, and they have no idea what Lutherans believe or do, but they know they aren’t a Lutheran. The chance of getting them into a Lutheran church is slim-to-none, so long as the label is on the building. Is that good or bad?

Others see the label and they do know what it means, at least in their minds. So “Baptist” means Fred Phelps to them. Or “Baptist” means the churches who have pedophiles, or buses blowing horns outside their window on Sunday morning at 8:00 a.m. when they are trying to sleep. Or “Baptist” means their grandmother’s church that was whacky to them. And they want nothing to do with any of that.

And who can blame them. I don’t want anything to do with any of that either. (Which is a good reason to be a Baptist; I don’t have to have anything to do with it.)

What is keeping these people, humanly speaking, from hearing the gospel isn’t the cross or the call of Jesus. It’s the name on the sign that they associate with certain things. They are judging a church based on something that has nothing to do with you.

Is that what you want? I don’t.

I don’t want people who God has called us to reach to reject us simply because of a denominational label that they may not understand.

And that is part of the core issue in this consideration: Who are we trying to reach? I imagine that, for most people, denominational labels only mean something to people who are already “in.” They mean little to nothing to the unchurched.

That means if someone is a Baptist already, having “Baptist” in the name may be more attractive to them (though I confess it would not matter to me). Newcomers to the community may be looking for a particular type of church and will look no further than the label.

But we have to ask the question: Has God called us to reach people who already agree with us?

If they answer is no, then we need to ask what, humanly speaking, is keeping us from reaching the people God has called us to reach.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Religious Irony

On the night in which Jesus was arrested and tried, the Jews sent Jesus to Pilate, but refused to enter Pilate’s palace so as not to defile themselves before the Passover.

How strange that such religious ritual was persuasive to them.

They could kill the Son of God on the basis of lies and injustice without defiling themselves, even though their law forbade it. But God forbid they come to close to the Roman government. (John 18:28-38)

Are we scarcely much different?

Are we persuaded that our own religious rituals buy us indulgences against greater blasphemies?

Thursday, December 08, 2011

This and That

Here’s an article on music. He probably says more than he intends to. But it is interesting. And while I am on this topic, I recently  watched a bit of a teaching session Bob Kauflin did on music. During this session Kauflin plays a number of samples to illustrate his teaching. At one point, he plays a song in a particular style to make a point. His point? That the style he was playing at that moment didn’t match the words or message of the song at that point, and it should be played a different way. And I thought to myself, that’s what the “conservatives” say … that certain styles of music or presentation do not match certain messages in the lyrics and are therefore inappropriate vehicles for the song. It seems to cede the point that music is not neutral.

Challies writes on book reviews. The whole article isn’t that interesting (unless you were wondering why he doesn’t do as many books reviews anymore). What is interesting are his comments about “sheer repetition.” I tend to agree. Christian publishing seems like a huge market.

Last week, for the first time in who knows how long, I wrote out a sermon outline by hand. What a joke that was. It was very hard since I couldn’t go back and add something in, and I am not sure I can actually read it because the lack of handwriting means I can’t write legibly. 

And it leads me to this question: Would we have nearly the number of books if we didn’t have computers? If people still had to write out manuscripts by hand, would the Christian publishing industry be where it is today?

I don’t know. But I do know that a lot of book titles I see seem to be very similar. They seem almost too easy to produce.

Here’s an offering from megachurch pastor Steven Furtick. It reminds me of a couple of things, one of which is that not everyone is gifted to rap, and if you don’t have it, you should get someone in your church to frequently remind you that you don’t have it so you don’t do stuff like this. It also reminds me that those who criticize haters are doing the very thing they don’t like. For people like Furtick here (and elsewhere), they don’t want to be criticized, but they don’t mind criticizing others. The good news is that Furtick says, “I feel completely confident as I move forward. And you should too.” Well, that’s good. So if I feel completely confident in criticizing Furtick, is that okay?

Furtick is evidence that we live in an age of narcissism and boundarylessness, and the only sin is actually employing your mind to think about issues of the day, and perhaps even to disagree with someone who is “successful.”

And speaking of criticism, here’s an article criticizing criticizers. Again, it’s ironic to be sure. Apparently criticizing someone who denies inerrancy in some way is a bigger sin than actually denying inerrancy in some way. The fellow in question I don’t know and have never heard of. But it appears the main argument is that this guy wrote a good book and tells people about Jesus so we can’t say anything about his views on inerrancy. I think that’s a dangerous position to take. So I am criticizing the criticizer who criticizes criticizers.

In general, I think we need to be very cautious with criticism. Just this week, I have read some almost absurd criticism, the type that makes you think someone is playing a joke on you. But I doubt it.

We need to remember that each of us stand and fall before the Lord. But we also need to remember that one of the gifts of the body of Christ is the kind of fellowship that should step in with confrontation and correction when we go off the rails. 

I think inerrancy is pretty big. In fact, even ETS who doesn’t even require you to be an evangelical (strangely enough) requires you to believe in inerrancy.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

A Word about Women

In Galatians 4, Paul uses two women to talk about two covenants, and he qualifies it by saying “This is allegorically speaking” (Galatians 4:24). This passage is sometimes used to show how the NT uses the OT non-literally.* It is therefore used to give license to the modern interpreter to also use the NT non-literally.

Have you ever thought about why Paul said, “This is allegorically speaking”?

Might it be because had he not qualified it, no one would have caught it?

Had Paul’s method been as standard as some would have us believe, there would be no need to say it. But because Paul was doing something out of the ordinary, he said it in order to keep the readers from treating the text literally, just like they were accustomed to doing.

So far from a license to use the OT non-literally, it is actually a reminder not to use it non-literally.


*“Literal” means normal, as opposed to literalistic. Literal recognizes the use of figures of speech, but recognizes them as figures of speech.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Watch Your Head

Two “when pigs fly” news stories today:

BJU Board Approves Pursuit of Application Process for Regional Accreditation

BJU to Participate in Intercollegiate Athletics

IMO, these are good things.

Except for the added air traffic.

It could get messy so watch your head … and your step.

Around the Horn - Football Edition

A list of the fifty worst NFL coaches highlighted Josh McDaniels, a name that Bronco fans will recognize (though no one else will because he was coaching Denver). As an interesting side note, the list revealed that somehow there are four coaches worse than Rod Marinelli, something even Rod Marinelli was probably surprised by.

But most notably, this writer says that “Tebow could easily wind up the biggest bust of the 2010 draft.”


Cuz’ Tebow did it again yesterday. Pretty amazing. The Broncos are now 6-1 under Tebow, having been beaten only by the Detroit Lions.

Speaking being beaten by the Detroit Lions, the Lions managed to even beat themselves last night. What a joke. They were flags flying like it was July 4th, and there were a few fireworks. I kept looking for the barbeque grill. And the flags were (almost) all well deserved. The only thing missing from that game was a “running into the punter” foul.

But fortunately for the University of Michigan, that call got made on Saturday night when MSU got the short end of the stick. Typically, when a player is blocked into the punter that call isn’t made, and that player was clearly blocked into the punter, who might get an Oscar nomination this year for that dive. But other than that, it was a great game.

While I have no love lost (or gained) for anything in Big 10 football, simply because I just don’t care, I think MSU was robbed there. But if Kirk Cousins had made a throw or two on the previous possession, that call is no issue, which is usually the case. If you take care of business for 59 minutes, one minute won’t hurt you.

And since MSU lost, the BCS has done its magic once again. Typically, I think the top of the BCS usually does a pretty good job at getting the two best teams. I don’t know if they did this year. I think Oklahoma State has a good case, especially after the hurtin’ they laid on Oklahoma Saturday.

The egregious part of the BCS was the selection of Michigan for a BCS bowl. What a joke. Michigan did not even win their division. They are at least the third best team in their own conference, and have two losses only because they didn’t play Wisconsin and they didn’t play well enough to get into the conference championship.

In fact, Michigan only beat one ranked team all year (#17 Nebraska). Michigan barely beat ND, scoring 28 in the fourth quarter, and scoring with two seconds left to win 35-31. MIchigan also barely beat a very bad Ohio State team, giving up 34 points. How they ended up in the BCS is almost criminal, except it doesn’t really matter. The Sugar Bowl passed over four higher ranked BCS teams to get to Michigan.

Did MSU deserve that spot? Perhaps not, but hardly anyone thinks Michigan deserved it, probably not even Michigan fans who are not typically known for clear thinking anyway. They are among the biggest homer whiners in the country. I think even the die hard Michigan fans would find it hard to keep a straight face while arguing that Michigan deserved that bowl bid.  Certainly no one around them would keep a straight face listening to them try.

No, Michigan got the bid based on the old bowl rules, namely, “Which team will bring a lot of fans and a lot of money?”

Hey folks, you can’t have it both ways. If you want the BCS to have meaning, then stand against this kind of stuff. The presidents aren’t listening, but hey, talk anyway. If you want this kind of stuff, then go back to the old way.

Michigan fans were all upset when they didn’t get a rematch against OSU in 2006, even though they lost what amounted to a tournament game the week before when they knew what was at stake. They hated the BCS then. I doubt we will hear that kind of whining from them this though.

It’s hard for one football team to get robbed twice in the same weekend, but MSU did. They got punished for for being blocked into the kicker, and then they got punished for making, and barely losing, their conference championship game.

Should we have a tournament in college football? I still say no. Let’s go back to the old way. Let bowls do what they want.

And end college football on January 1.

All for now … And keep those Doritos close by during bowl season, because we all need some exercise while watching football.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Books on Proverbs

I just finished a short series of messages on the book of Proverbs entitled “Solomon Says.” It was a topical series designed around exploring the wisdom that Solomon gives. It included titles like “Solomon Says Listen to Me,” or “Solomon Says Get Busy” (work), or “Solomon Says Drink Your Own Water” (marriage and sexuality), or “Solomon Says Watch Your Mouth” (the tongue), or “Solomon Says Get a Grip” (emotions), or “Solomon Says Be Careful” (money).

In this series, I came across a couple of new books, and reviewed some old ones.

Anthony Selvaggio’s A Proverbs Driven Life is an excellent book I ordered on a whim because it was on sale. It is good not just for preaching or teaching, but also for general reading. Anyone would profit from this book. I recommend it.

John Crotts’  Craftsmen: Christ-Centered Proverbs for Men also had some helpful sections in it. This, like Selvaggio, is organized topically, though a few less topics than Selvaggio.

H. Wayne House and Kenneth Durham’s Living Wisely in a Foolish World is a good resource, though it is a bit more dense than these other two, and IMO, not as easy to read.

I continue to think that Peter Steveson’s A Commentary on Proverbs is one of the best verse-by-verse treatments of Proverbs. The downside is that it uses the KJV as its primary text cited at the top of each page, but the upside is that it seems that it actually closely tracks the NASB in its explanation. Unlike some other commentaries (e.g., Hubbard, Communicator’s Commentary), it deals with each verse sequentially, so if you want to know what Proverbs 18:13 means, you can find it easily.  It is more helpful than Kidner (TNTC), IMO.

A final book for this list is Donald Orthner’s Wellsprings of Life. It is essentially a topical outline of Proverbs, assembling various proverbs under their topics. It is not sequential, but topical. It is helpful in that it helps to find verses on a topic that might not be found by a concordance search.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Around the Horn

At first base, the Gospel Coalition has a good article today about Calvinism and the gospel. I warn you, however, don’t read it. It was ruin all your arguments against Calvinism.

I am convinced that most people reject Calvinism, not because of overwhelming biblical arguments, but because (1) they listen to what the opponents of Calvinism say about Calvinism (they are usually wrong), and (2) they watch how Calvinists live (which isn’t all that different than how Arminians non-Calvinists live. We both tend towards disobedience.). Neither is a particularly good way to learn about Calvinism. If someone asks me how they should learn about Calvinism and the gospel, I say just read the Bible. It has all you need to know.
At second base, speaking of Calvinism vs. Arminianism, one of the common refrains from people is “I am neither.” A couple of interesting articles by admitted Arminian Roger Olson dispels that notion. He says,
I wish the Baptist Arminians would quit running from the word.  Frank Page claims he’s neither a Calvinist nor an Arminian.  I heard that all the time among Baptists in the South especially.  And the only reason for it is a wrong impression of what it means to be Arminian.  As I have demonstrated in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, one can be fully and authentically Arminian and believe in inamissable grace (so-called “eternal security”).
Here’s an self-professed Arminian saying, “You believe what I do.” So quit running from the label. It won’t change what you are.
Rounding third base, Todd Rhoades posts this letter on church discipline. He calls it a nightmare and says it is a tad bit off edge, though he doesn’t say why. Perhaps it is because, as the first commenter says, this church is saying that the man is not a Christian. I wouldn’t say a person isn’t a Christian. I would say, and have said, that a person has no reason to have assurance that he or she is one so long as they continue in this pattern of unrepentant sin. After all, isn’t that what church discipline is? Church discipline is saying that a person is not acting like a Christian and in fact, those whom he covenanted with have no valid reason to consider him as a Christian. Men with more heft than me, like Mark Dever and Dave Doran, have said essentially the same thing. Perhaps it is a wording thing. The church is for people who carry the marks of Christianity to at least some degree in their lives. No one expects you to be perfect. As I often say, I have no problem with people who struggle. It’s the people who don’t struggle that I worry about.
The home run today is the new 9 Marks E Journal on Church Revitalization. I am interested in this since I have lived this life for about thirteen years. As I told someone recently, thirteen years ago I had no real direction or idea about what I was getting into. I didn’t know people who had done it. I wasn’t familiar with books or e-journals on it. I am not even sure I recognized how great the problem was. I sure didn’t know what to do. I had the “Field of Dreams” approach to church. If you preach it, they will come. They didn’t. So I have learned a lot on the fly, and perhaps some day I will write my own thoughts about it here at Stuff Out Loud. But for now I will read this with interest.
And today, a curtain call for John Acuff at Stuff Christians Like who reminds us that “you don’t need a plane ticket to be distant from your family.”

Friday, October 28, 2011

Around the Horn

You aren’t supposed to laugh at pregnant women, but this is pretty funny. (HT:  Challies).

Stetzer is on to something here. “Issue Christians” are rarely able to be taught, and are usually bad for a church that that is not an issue church. It’s possible for sincere and faithful Christians to differ on some issues (some, not all). It is usually impossible to work together. You don’t have to be ugly. Just help them find the door.

Here’s a good site for those who want to know what’s in books, but don’t have the time to read them. Of course, it’s only good if these books are ones you want to know about. But it might trigger your interest to read one of them. I have found some of them helpful.

And in honor of the Detroit Tigers, we are going to end with a triple, because they couldn’t seem to get people from third to home against the Rangers. And that’s all they needed. It reminds us of one of the fundamental truths of life that we would all do well to keep in the front of our minds: Leaving people on third is a good way to go home before the World Series.

But I am going to get out of the gate early for next year, and predict that the Tigers will win between 50 and 120 games, and finish somewhere in their division.

And when it happens, you can remember you heard it here first.

All for now …

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Thoughts On the Death of a Friend

When the phone rings at 7:30 am on a Sunday morning, it is supposed to be someone calling to tell me they won’t be at church to make coffee, or to teach their class, or to play an instrument. Those things I can fix. It’ll be inconvenient, but I can deal with those.

That phone call is not supposed to be the brother of one of my best friends telling me bad news. That I can’t fix.

I was totally unprepared. Stunned. Speechless. It never crossed my mind until the moment I heard the words.

“Passed away.” 

It seems so innocuous when you say it that way.

But it’s not. It’s death. It’s final. And it seems so premature.

Forty-two years old. Yes, sick, for a decade. Violently sick at times. But only forty-two.

Surely I had misunderstood. After all, the tearful, breaking voice on the other end was hard to understand and my mind was in another world, getting ready to sing and preach, to lead worship for our local  body of Christ. Perhaps it was a dream that I would wake up from. Perhaps a clarifying phone call would come soon.

As Sunday wore on, the comments piled up on Facebook and the phone remained silent, and it became clear there was no misunderstanding to be clarified, no dream from which to be awakened. There were no more phone calls.

It was death.

People I know don’t die at forty-two. Those stories are someone else’s. You read about them in a newspaper. And when you read of a forty-two year old husband and father dying, it is sad; it is sobering.

When it is your friend, there are no words for it. There’s just a dull fog. There’s numbness. There are tears that come of their own accord.

I am forty-two. We hurt sometimes. But we don’t die. Not yet.

We are in the prime of life. We are stable. We have lives. We have houses. We have families. We have careers. We have a future.

Now, all we have are memories. And there are a lot of them, to be sure.

Years ago, it was sports, band, classes, girls. (Not necessarily in that order, mind you, and that should ease the minds of both the girls and the teachers.)

We used to play tennis until midnight. We played golf until we couldn’t walk anymore or at least until we couldn’t see anymore. We shot hoops on the rim over the garage door. We played duets at church. We double dated. We worked at camp together. We ministered in church together.

What memories.

They are filled with laughter and joy. Sometimes tears and frustrations. Now and then, sorrow and pain. We walked through some dark days back then. But far more good than bad.

More recently, separated by seven hundred miles, we were reduced to phone conversations. But they were regular, though not as often as I would have liked in retrospect. I just thought we had more time.

We talked about family, church, school, theology, people, ministry, houses, cars, kids, discipline. Then more theology, preaching, church philosophy, pastoral leadership, youth group, teenagers. Then more theology. And round and round we went.

You name it, we talked about it.

Right up until that last Tuesday night. Just five days before Sunday.

When we hung up after more than an hour and a half, I had no idea it would be the last time.

It wasn’t supposed to be. We had more to say to each other. We had more problems to solve. We had more messages to prepare and run by each other. We had more stories to tell about the kids.

We also had Wednesday morning that we had to get up for, and it was late, so we said, “Goodbye.”

We said, “Talk to you later.”

We should have said, “If the Lord wills, we will talk later.”

You see, sometimes God has plans he hasn’t vetted with us. And those plans always seem to win over ours.

And this was one of those times.

Our hearts cry out, “Why?” With millions of people in this world with no care for God, who have abandoned their spouses and children, why my friend? Why do they have good health? Why do they live on? Why do they prosper? They hate the Giver of all good things, and yet the Giver gives them another day.

Why would one who loves God have their life cut off at forty-two? Why would one who loves God have to bury their spouse at forty-two? Is there no worse person in this world? Is there no better candidate for early death?

There are no answers.

Not in this life anyway.

The preacher, Solomon himself, with all his wisdom couldn’t find an answer. He said all this is vanity. It’s puzzling. It makes no sense. So walk carefully. (Ecclesiastes 7:15).

The one thing that softens the impact of answerless questions is the unchanging and sovereign love of God for his people. He who did not spare his own son but delivered him over for us all, how will he not with him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32).

Yes, freely give all things, even when it seems he is taking them away. Yes, freely give all things, even when the pain seems unbearable.

Surely He will not abandon us now. He already gave His Son for us. What greater commitment do we need?

Oh yes, there is also the promise that our God is in the heavens doing whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3). And this, as much as it troubles us, was pleasing to God or He wouldn’t have done it.

Yes, yes, He is the one who did it. And I think my friend would agree with me. Especially now.

While that is unsettling for some, if I thought for one minute that God was up in heaven earnestly desiring to hold back the powers of death from His child, my friend, but ultimately unable to, I would never preach again. I would have nothing good to say about a God who is so loving as to not want people to die a physical death, but so impotent as to be unable to stop it. What assurance can such impotence give of a future resurrection and hope? That would be a God unworthy of the very lives we wish to preserve. That would be the doctor who was in the ER that night. He meant well. Tried hard. Did all he could do. But fell short.

Worthy of thanks and gratitude, to be sure. But worthy of worship that bows down and offers a life? Surely not.

Last Sunday, God, for reasons sufficient to himself in his providence and wisdom, declared the life journey of my friend to be completed.

He decided it was time to free my friend from the shackles of this broken world, and the chains of his broken body.

And so, last Sunday, God called him. He said, “Come. It’s time. You’ve had enough.”

And he was gone.

And that, dear reader, is grace to my friend. And it is, in some measure, grace to those who suffered with him, who cried when he hurt, who now rejoice that his broken body no longer toys with his daily comfort and even his very existence. He is in heaven, and his broken body is destined for glory.

The good news is that when we hear for ourselves the voice of God saying, “Come. It’s time,” and we join my friend in eternity, the answers won’t matter anymore. The questions will not even be thought of.

Jesus will shine far too brightly for such concerns that weigh so heavily now. And the suffering and sorrow and tears and pain and death so prevalent in this age will have passed away. God will wipe every tear from our eyes. All things will be made new (Revelation 21:4-5). And with clear, unclouded vision, we will see the Savior who makes this life worthwhile. And we will join my friend and the rest of the redeemed in singing,  “Worthy is the Lamb.”

And that brings a smile in the dark. It brings an end to hopelessness.

But for now, in the second full week of October, 2011, we are brutally reminded that life can be short, its end unexpected.

We are reminded of the brokenness of life in a world filled with sin.

We are reminded that there are no guarantees of tomorrow.

And we are reminded, as Pastor Mann so clearly stated yesterday, that while relationships in life are important, the only relationship that really matters is the one that you have, or don’t have, with Jesus Christ.

Being a good man, as my friend was, is great as far as it goes. It just doesn’t go far enough.

Being friends with a good man, as many of us were privileged to be, is a true blessing in this life. It makes life easier to live and to enjoy. But it will not fix our deepest problems.

Only Jesus can do that, and Jesus did that when he died and rose again.

My friend had that relationship with Christ. He believed Jesus, and so he followed Jesus. That relationship changed his life so greatly, and it challenged me constantly.

It reminds me that the gospel of Jesus Christ that has changed us now calls for continual transformation.

My friend was the willing and continual recipient of that transformation. And it showed.

On Thursday night, hundreds lined the hallway at the funeral home, snaked back and forth, and then stretched out the door while they waited to see the family. They had been affected by that transformation.

Yesterday, more than five hundred gathered at Lebanon Baptist Church because they knew my friend and were the benefactors of God’s grace through his transformation.

And so we said goodbye.

We carried his body to a sloping hillside. Pastor Mann read Scripture. He prayed. And then the crowd dispersed.

I waited at the cemetery, with just a few others, watching until the red dirt thudded onto the casket with the dull sound of earthly finality.

And then I drove away in silence.

Heaven is a little bit closer today, and a little sweeter. Earth is a little more foreign, and and a little more empty.

I miss you already, old friend. Except you weren’t old.

I loved you, though far too little. And I thank you for loving me. We walked through a lot of life together—good days and bad. And one day we will walk in the sunshine of glory together because of Jesus.

I know others love you and miss you more than I do, and with good reason. They shared a home and a life with you. And my heart hurts for them. They are my friends too.

My heart hurts for a grieving wife, widowed way too early.

My heart hurts for two young children, who will grow up with only a heavenly Father. In His grace, surely He will be enough for them. He said He would be.

My heart hurts for parents and a grandmother, for in-laws. They are supposed to be on the other side of the casket at family funerals with their grown children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren greeting friends and loved ones on their behalf. Parents aren’t supposed to bury children. But sometimes, that’s what happens in a broken world.

My heart hurts for a church family, along with these loved ones, who will miss the daily conduit of God’s grace that was my friend.

But my heart finds joy in the great promise of God that one day all things will be made new. We will be freed from this broken world and made inhabitants of a new heaven and new earth where righteousness dwells, and where death has met its final match. And this because Jesus lived, died, and rose again.

Until then, let us walk faithfully, if only ploddingly, in the footsteps of our Jesus, our Savior, and in the shadow of those who, like my friend, have gone on before.

Let us trust, as my friend did, that Jesus has done everything to make us acceptable to God, just as Jesus did for my friend.

Let us, along with my friend, embrace the gospel of Jesus, with all that it entails, and live for the next world because this one will be over.

And it may be sooner than expected.

Monday, October 10, 2011

It Is Not Death to Die

It is not death to die
To leave this weary road
And join the saints who dwell on high
Who’ve found their home with God
It is not death to close
The eyes long dimmed by tears
And wake in joy before Your throne
Delivered from our fears

O Jesus, conquering the grave
Your precious blood has power to save
Those who trust in You
Will in Your mercy find
That it is not death to die

It is not death to fling
Aside this earthly dust
And rise with strong and noble wing
To live among the just
It is not death to hear
The key unlock the door
That sets us free from mortal years
To praise You evermore.


Sunday, October 09, 2011

Some Thoughts on Life

Life is a gift from God, but for some, it ends way too soon, at least from our perspective.

Forty-two is too young.

Sunday morning is too sudden.

The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD (Job 1:21).

Blessed be the name of the Lord, even in tears and grief.

Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth (Proverbs 27:1).

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

A Word Worth Hearing

There is an Athenian love of novelty abroad, and a morbid distaste for anything old and regular and in the beaten path of our forefathers. Thousands will crowd to hear a new voice and a new doctrine without considering for a moment whether what they hear is true. There is an incessant craving after any teaching which is sensational and exciting and rousing to the feelings. There is an unhealthy appetite for a sort of spasmodic and hysterical Christianity. The religious life of many is little better than spiritual dram–drinking, and the “meek and quiet spirit” which St. Peter commends is clean forgotten (1 Pet. 3:4). Crowds and crying and hot rooms and high–flown singing and an incessant rousing of the emotions are the only things which many care for. Inability to distinguish differences in doctrine is spreading far and wide, and so long as the preacher is “clever” and “earnest,” hundreds seem to think it must be all right, and call you dreadfully “narrow and uncharitable” if you hint that he is unsound!*

This is a good word for this day, when people are amused and aroused by circus performers, standup comics, and musical shows masquerading as church.

It’s a good word where numbers and passion are the indicators of leaders that we should honor and esteem.

It’s a good word where creativity is a key part of church philosophy of ministry, where arts and media teams seem among the most important feature of preparation for the weekend services of a church.

It’s a good reminder that manufactured success is not lasting success.

It’s as good a word today as it was more than a century ago when J. C. Ryle wrote it in Holiness.

So, to channel the words of Paul, be careful how you build the church. It doesn’t belong to you. (1 Corinthians 3:10-17)

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Random Thoughts on the Elephant Room

I watched some of the first Elephant Room and found it intriguing. I think it is a good idea. Getting people together to explain their own view and then challenge and be challenged on it is a good thing.

I think the selection of people for the first one was way too monolithic. It was, for the most, megachurch pastors who agreed by and large about church and ministry. There was no real challenge on some of the core issues about theology and ministry philosophy. Mixing in Trueman, Horton, MacArthur, or someone like that would be interesting.

I think this is one type of forum where I think some latitude on associations should be granted since the whole point is challenge and confrontation. These men are invited to create tension and controversy, and to challenge each other. More of that is needed, not less. So if the participants speak up against Jakes to his face, that is a good thing, not a bad thing.

To the point of controversy, MacDonald made a big mistake inviting Jakes as a “Christian leader” (or as anything else for that matter). MacDonald made a worse mistake by defending it. He should withdraw the invitation immediately, and clearly affirm that denial (or at best obfuscation) of the Trinity by a Christian leader is a compromise of the gospel.

This isn’t a matter of unintentional confusion by Jakes. Driscoll is right that the ear is more forgiving than the eye; we all say things that are wrong or ill-considered at the time. But Jakes does not fit into that category. He has a publicly available doctrinal statement that is heretical. It appears that he has been given numerous opportunities to clarify his views and he hasn’t. If you are going to have a conference of Christian leaders, then the bottom line should at least be set at being a “Christian” leader. In

Driscoll says this is close-handed matter of Christian orthodoxy. He is right. He also says we should let Jakes speak for himself. Hasn’t he? What else does he need to say?

But on to a bigger point. Driscoll is pretty smart. And doesn’t mind confrontation. He revels in it and creates it. So why not confront MacDonald on this?

Mark, if this is a matter of orthodoxy (as you say), and if Jakes has denied it (and you make a good case that he has), then your friend MacDonald has just affirmed a heretic as a Christian leader. Why give your friend a free pass? Perhaps you have challenged James privately, and I hope you have; but you publicly backed him when you could have at least said nothing publicly and challenged him privately to withdraw the invitation. I am not saying you should rip him publicly. But public affirmation?

Lest you think this is just the musings of a rabid fundamentalist, many have publicly commented and expressed their disatisfaction with MacDonald’s choice. Thabiti Anyabwile raises not just the question of separation regarding Jakes, but the question of secondary separation concerning MacDonald. It is a valid consideration and interesting coming from a member of the Gospel Coalition (TGC) council.

TGC is now in a tough spot. One of its council members is apparently affirming either that a fundamental doctrine (the Trinity) is not necessary to be a Christian, or that he can’t understand how and why Jake’s explanations are inadequate. Either problem is serious.

So what will the Gospel Coalition do? MacDonald is not someone who merely signed up and attended the conference. This is a plenary speaker and a council member. I hope there is some private challenge and strong urging to MacDonald to withdraw this invitation. If that is refused, I hope there will be a call for MacDonald to step down.

This is the question raised by many, including Iain Murray in the Unresolved Controversy. As Mark Minnick puts it, what are you going to do when someone reaches outside the box? MacDonald has reached outside the box. Now what will his friends do? Driscoll gave him a pass. Others have criticized, both privately and publicly. What next?

For the others invited, this is a one-time gathering intended to be confrontational. If Dever, Driscoll, Graham, and others are willing to confront Jakes and pin him down, then I have no problem with them going. But they better speak up.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Some Thoughts on Pastoral Theology

John Piper has an article in Christianity Today on racism, his personal story, and the gospel. The line that catches my attention most is this one, near the end:

I am not a good example of an urban pastor. Because of the way I believe God calls me to use my time, I don't have significant relationships with most of my neighbors. Nor does our church reflect the diversity of this neighborhood.

There is diversity, but nothing like the statistics above. Probably I could have been far more effective in immediate urban impact in this neighborhood if I had not written books or carried on a wider speaking ministry. Some thank me for this ministry, and others think I have made a mistake. Again, you may see why I cherish and cling to the gospel of Jesus.

The reason this line sticks out at me is because of the pastoral theology built into it. I think many seminarians would like to pattern their ministry after Piper’s.

I think they are misguided.

Even if Piper was right to do what he did in his ministry (and I am not questioning that), most seminarians and pastors are not gifted that way. The sooner we realize that, the freer we will be to be and do what God has called and gifted us to do.

The better path to pastoral ministry is the one Piper didn’t take—the one that builds significant relationships with people, does the work of an evangelist, and knows and love those who live in your neighborhood.

Carl Trueman has a related post, related at least in my mind. He quotes an letter or email sent to him this week, and concludes with this:

These people need to realise that, in the current context, if you come preaching a message which doesn't draw attention to yourself, doesn't make your name a brand, doesn't pull in huge crowds and doesn't bring in the big money, there's only one thing that they will do to you.

They will crucify you.

This continues the theme of my previous post, namely, that most of us are just going to be ordinary pastors. And that’s okay.

We aren’t going to build megachurches after starting with two stray dogs and a dead cat. Our congregations will not double every six months. Our entire church budget will probably be less than a congressman’s salary. And most years we will fall short of that congressman’s salary

And that’s okay.

We are going to work hard, preach faithfully though probably not very eloquently, and get to know the people in our church and our neighborhood. We are going to cry with them with they grieve and rejoice with them when they dance. We will welcome their babies, marry their children, and bury their parents. We will weep over their marriage troubles and pray over their major surgeries. We will be able to scan the congregation on Sunday morning and see who’s missing. And we will do all this because we know them.

And that’s okay.

We won’t be invited around the world to speak to large crowds. No one will ask us to sign their Bibles afterward. We won’t have our own section in the bookstore. We will never even get published.

And that’s okay.

We will carry out the charge given to a man hardly anyone has ever heard of. In fact, if I didn’t give the man’s name, you probably wouldn’t even be able to tell us who he was.

This man was told:

"Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it." (Colossians 4:17).

And if we do that, it will be okay.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Thabiti and Me on Multi-Site

“Thabiti, what arguments for multi-site have you found persuasive?”  My articulate response: “Uh, none.”

Thabiti Anyabwile enlarges on the reasons why he is unconvinced about multi-site churches here.

I agree with him for the most part, which no doubt means nothing to him. And very little to you. But I thought I would say it anyway.

This article highlights my concerns with the celebrity culture and maybe even ego (as the poster mocks) in the modern day church world. There seems, among the multi-site model, the idea that a church in X city cannot grow by means of a local pastor-teacher. We need to transmit the Big Guy in to teach and leave the little stuff to someone local who can’t preach all that well, but can pray with the sick and take up an offering.

And the Big Guy has to agree to it, which is where the go comes in. He is convinced that no one in that city can do the job as well as he can.

One megachurch pastor spoke of one of their campus pastors who was a campus pastor because he could only speak to about 350 people. After that, he couldn’t do it. (I am not sure why.) So they made him a campus pastor and piped the Big Guy in on DVD.

The reality is that multi-site works in a lot of cases. As one guy said, “People follow communicators.” Which is why spinning off a congregation usually doesn’t diminish the attendance at the Big Guy’s site.

But is it a good idea? I am less than unconvinced. I think the dangers and issues I raised a while back when I wrote on the modern day bus ministry still exist. In the old days, bus ministry brought the people to the pastor. The modern form of bus ministry takes the pastor the people via means of video.

For all of us ordinary guys out here, there can be a tendency to get discouraged, to wonder how we can measure up, to wonder why God isn’t blessing us like that, to wonder if we got a second-hand video camera if we might be able to have more influence. To wonder if we are doomed to either DVDing someone else or surviving with mediocrity. We might even wonder if we should at least imitate a multi-site guy to get better results.

At these times, if you are not firmly committed to your calling, to the garden in which God has you planted, and to the belief that God is the one calling shots, these temptations can become overwhelming.

In these days, we need a fresh dose of being An Ordinary Pastor. It is okay to be ordinary.

Don’t worry about celebrity pastors and multi-site churches. These you will always have among you, to borrow a line from one Guy.

Let us be faithful, passionate, involved in the lives of our people, teaching and preaching the word to the ones we have without undue concern over the ones we don’t have. Let us pray and be diligent, even if we never get a conference invite. Let us labor week after week, year after year, and let God do his work in his church.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

On Changing the Name of a Church - Part 2

Following up on part 1 of this series, let me address a second reason why a church might consider changing a name, namely, to distance yourselves from problems of the past without going so far as to actually reconstitute.

Every church (or organization) is has a history, and most histories of any length are probably going to have some unsavory moments in them. Some of these issues, depending on their visibility, can cause a church to develop a reputation that is not good for the gospel in a community.

It may be their history of financial dealings. It may be a string (or single occurrence) of unethical or illegal behaviors by high profile leaders or members. It may have to do with the stance on community relations or racial relationships. It may have to do with a previous pastor’s ministry emphasis. And the possibilities go on.

Sometimes, these things can be dealt with by public statements and restitution where possible. And as much as possible they should be.

But on occasion, these things have so badly damaged the testimony of the church in the community that renaming the church may be a very wise thing to do.

Renaming your church can provide a fresh start and some distance from the past. It can say, “We are a new old,” or “We are an old new.” It can change away from the focus from “The church where the youth pastor molested a girl” or “The church where the pastor stole $100,000 and left the creditors unpaid.”

However, this must not be used as a way to avoid legal or moral obligations. Neither should it be done while retaining the people or policies that were either cause or contributor to the problem. In other words, this is not an “easy way out.”

Changing a name for this reason is, in my opinion, more controversial that closing a church and restarting it. It runs several risks.

First, it runs the risk of simply being wrong on the issues. Some pastors lead churches to apologize for things that weren’t necessarily wrong. Just because someone differs on philosophy of ministry does not mean that they have compromised the gospel or hurt the church.

Second, it runs the risk of attacking faithful believers by implicitly (or explicitly) accusing them of something that they didn’t do, or that wasn’t wrong for them to do. It can become an attack on the heritage of godliness that has preceded a particular ministry at a church.

Third, it runs the risk of shaming the gospel and the church by becoming just another church that finds fault with everyone who doesn’t do things their way. It can become the pastor pursuing his pet issues without respect for the larger body of Christ.

Fourth, it runs the risk of further damaging the church’s testimony in a community because it can appear to be a rather transparent way to avoid problems, like putting lipstick on a pig.

So tread carefully here, and consider whether some other tack may be more effective for the gospel.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Name Change – Interruption

In the midst of my series on name changes, let me highlight two recent articles by Ed Stetzer on the consideration of changing the name of the SBC (with actual numbers about how people view the name of the SBC) and the name change of Campus Crusade to Cru (with a link to the page where CRU describes its motives and process for its name change).

Consideration of labels, particularly denominational labels, is the subject of the third part of my series, so I wait to talk more about it.

Reading Cru’s explanation should remind us all to take a step back before blasting some group for a name change.

On Changing the Name of a Church - Part 1

These days it is somewhat common for churches to change their names. Particularly common, it seems, is the dropping of denominational labels. Even presently, the Southern Baptist Convention is considering a name change for itself.

Is this good or bad? Well, it depends on who you listen to. And why you do it.

I think there are good reasons to change names, and bad reasons to change names. In this series of posts, I want to discuss some of the reasons why a church should, or should not, consider changing its name, beginning with reasons why a church should consider changing its name.

Leading off, and perhaps the most obvious, I think name changing is a good idea when you are restarting a church. It creates a new identity. Studies have shown that a church’s greatest period of growth is in the first five years. There is a “try it out” attitude that people have. It’s not “old hat” anymore. A church that is being restarted is probably a church that has been around for some time, and been in decline for a variety of reasons. Adopting a new name creates some freshness, even if the building and people are the same.

One of the things I found here was that there were (and still are) a large number of people in our community who are familiar with Grace because their grandma and grandpa or mom and dad went here, and they went here as kids. It is old hat to them. They know what it is (or at least what they think it is), and they are not coming back to try it again.

Changing a name removes that barrier. No one can say they grew up in a church that was started last week, or last month, even if it is a restart.

The downside of changing the name of a church is history. When I started at Grace, we had ninety-five years of history. Now we have almost one hundred and ten years of history. You can’t get that overnight. Theirs is something significant about saying “We have been in this community more than a hundred years.”

Each situation is different, and requires different considerations. Restarting a church (disband and reconstitute) can give new life into an old congregation. And changing the name probably is a wise thing to do in that case.

A church may try to rebuild without restarting. But even in this, a name change may be a good thing, even if the name is similar.

As a side note, restarting a church can also give good and faithful people an gracious exit ramp if they are simply attending church out of a sense of history rather than a sense of mission. Many old-timers feel a sense of commitment to a church, not to a mission, and not to a community. Providing them with a grace-filled way to exit that honors their commitment without guilting them is a valid consideration in some cases.

More to come …

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Word About Fatherhood

A few months ago a postcard came to my house addressed to someone I have never heard of and who has never lived here at least in the last fifty or more years. There is no indication of who might have written it. No return address. No personally identifiable information.

The front of it is covered with Snoopy graduation stickers.

The back of it reads:

Just reaching out again. I know I told you about his graduation but since we didn’t see or hear from you for his b-day, I wanted to remind you its this Friday July 10th at 4 pm at his school. He keeps asking about his daddy. It’s been over a year since he saw you so please try to make it. He would love it.

I wanted to cry when I first read it.

I still want to cry.

It is a sad reminder that way too many children are growing up without a dad to hug them, tuck them in bed at night, and wake them up in the morning. Every night. Every morning.

And it is a challenge to remember that we, the church, should take seriously the chance we have to impact these young lives. The men in their lives up until now have let them down.

Where we have opportunity, let us do good to them for Jesus’ sake and for their own sake.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Around the Horn

Here are some interesting pictures from 9/11. The scale of size is hard to grasp for me. But the pictures and fascinating and sobering.

Dave Doran has some good thoughts on ministry here. I think one of the downsides of the the CEO/business model of ministry is that it can lead to an in-depth organizational chart that looks great on the wall with its line and boxes, but it sends the message that ministry is a place on the chart. Furthermore, in small church ministry (and perhaps in large church), there is no practical way to get an org chart that big if I wanted one.  Even more important, a place on the org chart in the church probably (usually) removes people from real ministry outside the church in terms of reaching friends and neighbors with the gospel. Simple church has a lot of appeal. Quit creating positions on the org chart in the name of “ministry.” Encourage people to find someone and serve them.

Kevin Bauder comes strong with this list of characteristics of hyper-fundamentalism. The book they are found in should be interesting. Andy Naselli links to some online discussions of it. Of particular interest to me were the comments at John Stackhouse’s blog. Like most comment sections on blogs, they reveal an awful lot.

Speaking of blog comments, check out this article and see what people say about it. Pretty interesting to get a little window into the minds of some, or perhaps a window into the little minds of some.

A bonus base for the pennant race. The Detroit Tigers have reeled off ten straight wins for the first time since 1968. And you know what happened in the fall of 1968 right? That’s right, I was born. Is this an omen of more good things to come?

Monday, September 05, 2011

Broken Justice

A story hit the Detroit Free Press recently about a man wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for three years for a sexual assault.* Apparently, this man committed this sexual assault while he was dictating medical records on the dictaphone. Very talented he is.

Or at least the jury thought so. They convicted him on the word of an accuser and her boyfriend, in the face of physical evidence that he was actually doing something else at the time they swore he was assaulting her. They sent him away for more than a decade, leaving a wife and children behind.

Turns out this particular piece of evidence about dictating during the time frame was presented at trial, and the problems with the timeline were shown.

The jury, however, was unable to figure the time line out. So they simply disregarded it. How thoughtful of them.

Now this piece of evidence doesn’t mean that he was innocent. He may have been guilty and the accuser was simply wrong on the timeline. But the fact is that a key piece of evidence was simply disregarded by people who are supposed to be seeking the truth.

On top of that there was a letter from a priest, seeking justice for the accuser by imprisoning the accused. Turns out it was forged.

But why was the priest writing a letter? Why wasn’t he showing up in person and taking the oath? Why didn’t the prosecutor subpoena the man and compel him to testify? Why didn’t the judge compel the man to come and testify?

Later, the accuser’s boyfriend had a twinge of conscience for lying on the witness stand and fessed up. The prosecutor wired him and now has the evidence that the accuser was laying on the stand.

The accused and convicted man spent three years in prison before being released after pleading to a lesser charge.

Now the prosecutor is trying to determine whether or not to charge the woman with perjury.

Really? Still trying to decide? What is the missing piece of evidence that will push you over the edge on this one?

And this is only one story of many. Others are detailed by The Innocence Project.

This should remind us all of the weakness of a jury trial. Simply put, a jury trial is a horrible way to get at truth. It is made up of a two sides, each presenting only arguments that favor their position. They have a vested interest in hiding certain things. Neither side is dispassionately interested in the truth. The defense attorney wants his client to go home. The prosecuting attorney has already staked his claim that this man is guilty and he has to see it right on through. And losing sex crime convictions is never a good way to get re-elected next time around.

A jury trial is overseen by a judge whose sole purpose is to make sure that the evidence is presented properly. He has no role in making sure that proper evidence is presented, or that proper consideration is given to the evidence. He can’t interject when attorneys or witnesses say stupid things, or make bad arguments.

It is based on the judgment of twelve people who, most likely, have better things to do than sit in the courtroom. While we would like to appeal to their noble side and think they would do their best, most people are very ill-equipped for the type of thinking that is necessary to process trial evidence. On top of that, in most cases they are not allowed to question the witness themselves. So they can’t even satisfy their own minds about questions. They can only judge on information that is presented.

If I were being tried (and for those who are linguistically challenged, I am not guilty of anything since “if” is a hypothetical, not an indicative), I don’t think I would want a jury trial. I know too many people. I know what they are like. I know the level of critical thinking in our society. And I can’t imagine the horror of trusting my life to a group of randomly selected people from Wayne County, or any other county.

This jury was utterly inadequate for the task. The prosecutor was utterly incompetent, and probably downright dishonest; knowing the timeline discrepancy, this should never have come to trial; it is hard to imagine any honest person could have ignored that. The judge should be impeached for allowing this. He is there for a reason, and he failed in the basic reason of controlling the trial to make sure it was a fair trial. The moment that the timeline was questioned and physical evidenced presented, if the prosecutor did not immediately back away from that line of reasoning, he should have intervened and declared a mistrial. A man’s freedom and family was on the line, and he stood by when he knew better. That is dereliction of duty.  It is unfortunately made by a man with no consequences. The judge, the prosecutor, and the jury will never have to face any consequences for this. And that makes it a lot easier to be cavalier with the facts and the truth. After all, it’s only someone else’s life.

Some suggest that you only want a jury trial if your case depends on emotion. If your case depends on facts, you want a bench trial. Why? Because judges are better with facts and reasoning. Juries are better with emotions.

If I were guilty, I wouldn’t want a bench trial. Judges are too smart; they are usually highly educated; they are quite often attorneys who have been through law school. They are more likely to be committed to the law, and less likely to be deceived by personalities on the witness stand. I would rather take my chances that there is at least one person on the jury that can be persuaded.

If I were innocent, there’s no way I would want to trust twelve random people from my community. Or your community. Because it’s not about the community. It’s about the nature of people.

In the final analysis, we should always remember that jury actions are forensic in nature. They are the conclusions of a group of people who make a legal determination, not necessarily a factual one.


*This article comments only on what was reported in the Free Press. It does not take into account the totality of evidence, since I have read no trial transcripts. However, the facts as presented in this article were enough to cause the prosecutor to free the man.

Monday, August 29, 2011

School Year's Eve Reflections on Fatherhood

Today is the day I have been dreading all summer. It is our first School Year's Eve. My little buddy heads off to kindergarten tomorrow. I can't believe it. And I am hating life.

I love being a dad. I remember the day he was born. I remember just staring at him for hours. I was amazed. Terrified. Overwhelmed. Scared. Amazed. Fearful. Astounded. Petrified. Over and over, the same emotions just kept running laps through my little head. They still do, though a little less often. Now, there's a lot more laughter. And a different kind of fear and a different kind of care, hopefully more mature. And of course, there's a few tears now and then.

Back then, I couldn't hold him long enough. Until he started crying, and then I couldn't get rid of him fast enough. Daddy didn't do well with crying babies back then. Still doesn't.

But I still wanted to hold him, and never let him go. 

Of course, I know the big point of parenthood is to raise kids who can live without you—to grow 'em up and let 'em go. They are supposed to go, to branch out on their own—a few hours a day at first, then more and more, until they have a job, a place of their own (including a refrigerator that they put food in), and then they can repay you. Or at least not mooch off of you any longer. Hopefully by this time, they have a coherent worldview built on the foundation of loving God and loving others, of living the gospel and serving Jesus.

In the early days, though I loved him to death, I didn't enjoy him much. I didn't know how. So I was still living the old life. Then, one night while tickling him on the couch, I heard him laugh. And I loved it. My wife said he was doing it all the time; I was just never around to hear it.

Then we started playing. Just making faces and laughing at first. Then little stuffed animals, peek-a-boo (or peek-ooo as he called it), a stuffed baseball or football here and there, and a truck or two.

Then he learned to walk on Father's Day weekend in 2007 in Grandmamma's house in South Bend. I wish she had been there to see it.

After that, it all just kind of blurs together.

I remember the old days of watching other people's kids doing silly things, and being a bit embarrassed for them, both the parent and the kid. Today my kid does these silly, embarrassing things, and I just smile real big, sometimes laugh out loud, and say to myself, "He's just a kid. He'll get over it one day."

These days the playing is better. It's baseball in the backyard, sometimes soccer. We play golf together. Well, at least we go to the course together and hit balls at the chipping green.

He finally got brave enough to ride his bike this summer, and now he rides like a wild man. He almost ran into the curb tonight looking at me. He has already learned to skid his tires on the pavement, which I guess is better than running into the side of Uncle Jim's truck like he did a few weeks ago.

He learned to swim, and he worked up the courage to jump off the diving board, though that took momma pushing in him a few times.

We still tickle on the couch. I don't know how long that will last, but I will enjoy every minute of it.

Tonight, bed time will be early. And tomorrow we will drop him off at school and drive away.

And that big loud wailing you hear just after 8:00 a.m. tomorrow will probably be me, not my son.

So just smile real big, maybe laugh out loud, and say, "He's a new dad. He'll get over it ... one day"

And remember, this is what fatherhood is about—preparing your child to live without you, and teaching them to love Jesus while they do it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I Know What You Did Last Summer

Imagine the possibilities when you cross this with this.

Given the life (both past and present) of the average college student combined with ability to see things and the willingness to call them out, this should be a real barnburner.

The good thing is that, as he informs us, he doesn’t talk about it.

Except he did.

That’s why there’s both an audio file and a transcript.

Of course, I jest … a little.

On a serious note, and perhaps I will write more later, this “seeing things” is the reason why a solid doctrine of biblical authority is so important. And it’s why I think cessationism is the only consistent position.

Once the door is open to visions, impressions, prophecies, words of knowledge, or the like, there is little reason to stop.

Now some do stop, to be sure, but as I say, there is little reason to stop. Saying “It doesn’t pass the smell test,” puts way too much authority in your olfactory senses.

In general, I am opposed to demonstrating absurdity by being absurd. I don’t think it either wise or fair to run to the extremes to argue against a position. And it would be hard to say this example by Driscoll is anything other than extreme.

But I don’t really want to talk about Driscoll here (though someone who engages with him regularly told me recently that he thinks Driscoll is more humble and teachable now than he was five years ago).

But for those who are continuationists, how would you refute Driscoll on this one? Or do you agree with him?

I suppose you could say you are “open but cautious.” Driscoll certainly wasn’t cautious here. And your caution would cause you to stop short of this. But what biblical basis would you invoke for such caution?

I also wonder about the import of 2 Timothy 3:16-17. If everything necessary to make us adequate for every good work is found in the inspired writings, then what purpose do these visions serve? Or the impressions?

If I understand 2 Timothy 3:16-17 properly, it means that Driscoll was equipped for the good work of counseling these people by the Scriptures. The visions were unnecessary. And I think that is significant.

Furthermore, by his own admission, they are sometimes wrong. I am going to go out on a limb and say that a wrong vision will undermine your credibility as a counselor. Imagine trying to counsel a husband you have just accused of adultery based on the TV screen in your head when he knows you aren’t telling the truth.

In fact, I think this issue of “being equipped for every good work” is an undervalued piece of the discussion about cessationism and continuationism, at least in the stuff I have read. I think we cannot have a full-orbed and robust theology of revelation if you don’t reckon with these verses and their impact on ongoing revelation.

If we define “every good work” as being every thing God has called us to be and do, then we need only the Scriptures and the wisdom found in them as applied to life.

That doesn’t preclude the use of common grace wisdom in application. Nor does it preclude the involvement of the arts and sciences in daily living.

But I think more serious consideration needs to be given to 2 Timothy 3:16-17. If the inspired Scripture equips us for every good work, then it is hard to see what role these other types of sign gifts play for us.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

A Word for Preachers

My friend Marty links to Al Mohler’s interview with recently departed John Stott, and concludes with this:

Remember these words brothers. A Bible, a pen, and a note pad make a man powerful for the duties and challenges of our task. Even if the pen and the note pad are replaced by a screen and a keyboard, there is no substitute for

  • time brooding over a text
  • in submission to the authority of the text
  • under the guidance of the One who inspired the text
  • for the glory of the One to whom the text points.

PS - The interview with Stott is worth reading.

Friday, August 05, 2011

In the Mailbag

In cleaning off my desk, I came across a mailer for the 2nd Annual Youth Conference entitled “Smash the Trash.” It was hosted by “One of America’s Most Exciting Churches” (for yet another year, we must not have made the list).

The Holy Roller was there.

I had never heard of it.

Fortunately they had a picture.

The Holy Roller is a monster truck.

And then we wonder why kids leave the church when they get out of the youth group.

It’s because the Holy Roller can’t fit in the auditorium for Sunday morning worship.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Praying for a Car Race

NASCAR still opens its left turn festivals with prayer. Perhaps that’s good, though I have my doubts.

A recent prayer by a pastor has strengthened those doubts, though perhaps the problem is not so much with praying for a race as it is with pastors who have no spiritual discernment and reverence.

In the midst of this prayer, he thanked God for his “smokin’ hot wife.” He then claimed he was trying to be like Paul (the apostle, not the driver … That’s a bit confusing though because I didn’t think Paul had a wife.)

Perhaps the most disturbing thing is that some people think it was acceptable. And some even think it was good.

One hapless commentator said this was “a prayer that at worse [sic] praised a man's wife for being sexy.”


This person even thinks this is a positive for the church.


This is a guy who uses a public prayer to hold up his wife as some sort of sex symbol, and that's a positive for the church?

Now I don’t want to be a crank. I really don’t.

But "smokin hot" is an advertisement for a strip club, or July in Detroit, not a church. This is a blight and embarrassment to God and the gospel. And I am a man, but I would think this would be an embarrassment to his wife.

In the Bible, and in civil society, women are honored for their character and virtue, not their "smokin' hotness." (See here and here for some thoughts on this.)

While Nelms wanted to use this prayer for publicity for the church, to draw people to the gospel, attracting people to your church because of a pastoral prayer like this ain't exactly holding up offense of the cross of Christ as the dividing line.

But in a church world gone mad over relevance and being cool and hip which has confused attraction and novelty with evangelism, this shouldn’t be surprising.

God help a church, or a believer, that thinks this is a good thing for church attention and growth.

And God help a pastor who thinks that this is appropriate for public prayer.

In the Diner

I am sitting here this morning waiting for my three eggs over easy, potatoes, white toast, and strawberry jam. The big storms over night have passed, and the air feels as wet as a shower, only without the refreshing part of it.

The radio is on today. It’s playing a country song called “Tomorrow.” It tells the story of a man who has been in some sort of relationship with a woman. He knows it’s bad, that they are not good for each other. They need to split up. But tonight, let’s have one last time. Tomorrow we will stop.

This is one of sin’s great lies. It’s why addictions never get broken. It’s why sinful relationships never end. It’s why procrastination rules the day.

“There’s always tomorrow. And tomorrow will be different. But today, it’s one last time.”

One person quipped about the addiction to the nicotine in cigarettes, “Quitting is easy. I have done it a million times.”

So it is with us. Quitting is easy. It’s staying stopped that’s hard.

And that’s why the grace of God in the gospel is so important. Paul reminds us in Romans 5 that where sin abounds, grace much more abounds, that where there is sin (no matter how much), there is always more grace. It frees us from guilt that our last time wasn’t.

But that grace does not leave us there. As Paul reminds us, the grace of forgiveness is not the same as permission. “May it never be” that we should “sin so that grace can abound” (Romans 6:1-2). No, indeed the grace that saves is also the grace that teaches (Titus 2:11).

Some of us are slow learners. We have played the “one last time” card over and over again. And, in one sense, that’s okay. God’s grace is big. Bigger than our most recent “one last time.”

But for all of us, it is time to graduate. There will always be sin to deal with in our lives so long as we live in this fallen world.

But by God’s grace, we can be freed from sinful patterns of living and find hope in the gospel that Jesus died to free us from the chains of bondage and to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

This and That

David Sitton has a good article on the call to missions. He says,

“The missionary call is not like a prison dog that tracks us down, sniffs us out, and hog-ties us for the nations. That is silly-talk and really bad theology. Nowhere in Scripture is a mysterious (supernatural) call a prerequisite before we can respond to the Great Commission. The opposite is actually true. … Dramatic calls to ministry are the exception. If you have it in your heart to go, then go. Then, lean on the sovereignty of God to get you where he wants you in the harvest. Don’t worry about “running ahead of God.” You aren’t that quick!”

Man, have we ever overcomplicated things in some ways. I remember times of living in fear of missing the “will of God” rather than just going out and laying it on the line, loving life, and telling people about Jesus. Overanalysis is usually not a good thing if you are thinking about vocational ministry (though underanalysis can be bad as well). Get busy now, and the future will probably take care of itself. And wherever you are, be all there. Don’t be looking for the next big thing.

My friend Andy Naselli has written a dissertation and a book on Keswick theology. For those who have time for neither, he now has a short article that is worth your time. (Unfortunately, the book is only available in the Logos format. Fortunately, Logos has a free version which is enough to read and use basic features.)

There are some things that I just don’t know what to say about. This is one of them. If you have any suggestions, I am not sure I want to know about them.

And one other question: What’s wrong with the other 54%?

All for now.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Ministering From and For the Long Term

Some years ago in ministry I made a horrible decision. It didn’t disqualify me or split the church. I didn’t kill anyone, or preach heresy. But it was a bad decision.

I didn’t make this decision based on the memory of past years . I didn’t make it in anticipation of future years. I made it on the basis of six months. And I made it out of anger, hurt, frustration.

And I regretted it.

Oh, I didn’t regret it then. I was hurting too bad. And I wanted to make a point. I washed my hands. I was done. 

In fact, I didn’t regret it until three years later when an event in my own life made me see starkly what I had done. And I realized that it hadn’t been worth it, even if I had been completely right (and I wasn’t).

It took three more years to work up the courage to pick up the phone and call. 

The fact is that had I been thinking about the past twenty-five years, I would have never done what I did.

Had I been thinking about the next twenty-five years, I would never have done what I did.

But I wasn’t. So I did.

The reality is that my decision flowed out of my core values, values that I still hold. And I think those values are correct (which is why I still hold them, even though I would apply them differently today, in a way that might not have changed things even then).

The problem was that my decision took place in the context of fear. You see, for six months I was scared. It was actually longer than six months, but those six months were the killer. I just didn’t want to deal with it. I kept papering it over with avoidance when possible and weak smiles when necessary.

I lived out of fear, rather than out of care. I lived for immediate convenience rather than extended ministry. I lived out of hurt rather than courage. I lived out of isolation rather than partnership. And so I did it.

I have made a lot of bad decisions in my life, but this is one of the ones I regret the most. To this day, I still choke up when I think about it or talk about it, as I did just this week in a conversation.

Back then, in the heat of the moment, a mentor asked me, “What have you learned from this?”

I said, “I learned that problems don’t go away. You have to deal with them, and the sooner the better.”

And that is an important lesson.

Now, some years later I have learned another lesson to add on: “Don’t minister out of the moment. Minister from and for the long term.”

You see, my choices closed a door back then, a door that had stood wide open for more than two decades, and a door that would take years to reopen.

Sure I made my point … to me only. And now I know I didn’t even make the right point.

Now I also I know that long after this moment (whatever it holds), ministry can continue.

So don’t kill it by living out of fear and hurt.

Nurture it by living out of grace, courage, and commitment.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Quotable – On the Olivet Discourse

It is unfortunate that Harold Camping, for all his claims to teaching the Bible, never grasped what Jesus made clear in Mark 13 as evidenced by this excellent word from James R. Edwards:

Most importantly, Mark 13 admonishes readers against attempts at constructing timetables and deciphering signs of the Parousia. Disciples are admonished to be alert and watchful (vv. 5, 9, 23, 33, 35, 37), reminded that they do not know the time of the end (vv. 33, 35), and warned not to be led astray by even the most obvious signs (vv. 5, 6, 21, 22), for the end is not yet (vv. 7, 13). No one is either encouraged or commended for attempting to be an eschatological code-cracker. That is folly, for even the Son of Man is ignorant of the End (v. 32). The premium of discipleship is placed not on predicting the future but on faithfulness in the present, especially in trials, adversity, and suffering.

(James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002], p. 386.)

Faulty Missions Mind-set?

Recently I linked to a series of articles on missions in South America in the middle of the 20th century which I found interesting. There is a new, and interesting, installment.

Read it all, but here are two interesting lines.

First, their understanding of the call of God as primarily to a location soon leads to the question: ‘How fast can I get there?’ However, an understanding of God commissioning us to a particular kind of work would lead to a completely different question, namely: ‘How well equipped will I be for the work when I arrive?’

I admit to not knowing a lot about modern missions preparation. I am convinced that we do not do particularly well in domestic situations of getting men in places where they can succeed, and then giving them helpful and serious mentorship.

Equipping prior to getting there seems like a high priority. I know of one family currently doing a short-term stint in a creative access country to help some other families get adjusted through helping them think through ethnography and mission-related issues. I remember a discussion about this where one person was questioning whether or not this was necessary. I think it absolutely is necessary. And I think this probably needs to start before you spend months or years raising support, only to get somewhere and find yourself frustrated and discouraged because you aren’t ready.

In the future, one thing I want to know from prospective missionaries is this: What have you been doing to get ready? How seriously have you studied the culture and language of your prospective field? How long have you been doing this? What books have you read on the culture you are going to? What kind of ethnographical research have you done?

My friend Dave, who knows a thing or two (get it and watch it, and make sure you watch the interview) about missions, puts it this way:

What you should really ask is “What do I need to learn before going to the field, why, and what source or combination of sources can teach me most efficiently?” Those are not easy questions to answer, so you have to seek help from a multitude of counselors—especially those who have proven themselves faithful and fruitful.

Here’s a second quote from the Speared article:

I just want to point out that the two major interpretations of the Commission – ‘take the Gospel to every person that hasn’t heard it’ versus ‘take the Gospel to every people that hasn’t heard it’ – lead to radically different strategies.

I think (as the blogger says), that both of these are important. But which is the Great Commission? The word “nations” (ethne) seems to indicate the latter—people groups, though it does not exclude the individual people in the groups.

Paul’s pattern described in Romans 15:19-23 of leaving a place fully evangelized to go where “Christ was not named” is equally instructive, at least in some respects (with due respect to this perspective).

By having ‘fully preached the gospel’ he surely did not mean he spoke to every person. He rather meant that he had established a gospel presence that could now continue on without him.

“Pioneer missions” is certainly different than going to places with gospel works already established. And I confess that when it comes to mission support and encouragement, I would rather see missionaries go to unreached people groups or gospel-less areas rather than pile in on gospel preaching churches just because they have a “burden” or have a little different doctrinal perspective than a church already there.

That is not to discount going to evangelized places. If that is the desire you believe that God has placed in your heart, pursue it. But realize that when you try to get me to support you, you will need to convince me that you have a legitimate place there—that you are not merely duplicating the work of someone nearby.

And realize that if I have an option between you and someone going to an unreached people group, you are starting a step behind.

I realize that most communities could stand more gospel witness, not less. And so by going, you will be a help in many ways.

But I am reminded of two things. First, the gospel and Great Commissions is for all nations because Jesus died to purchase people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation (Revelation 5:9-10).

Second, I am reminded of the old parable that if a bunch of people are carrying a log, consider helping out on the end where there are fewer people.