Monday, December 29, 2014

This and That

Sounds like Jim Harbaugh is going to Michigan to coach. Michigan fans should brace themselves for another two to three years of mediocrity as Harbaugh tries to rebuild and convince recruits that he will be there to coach them. That will be followed by another coaching search when Harbaugh bolts for the NFL, leaving the players he recruited high and dry. Once you have been to the Super Bowl, it seems doubtful you will be happy coaching college again.

Speaking of mediocrity, the College Football Playoff starts this week. The committee got it mostly right, given the hand they were dealt, having to choose only four teams. The miss is Florida State. A team that wins that many close games by so small a margin has no business being considered in the national championship picture. For those who say, “Winning is the name of the game and they were undefeated,” remember Boise State when winning wasn’t the name of the game. I imagine Oregon will beat FSU pretty handily, and OSU will beat Alabama. That will set up the Ducks and the Bucks for the national championship which will be an entertaining game. Put your money on the Buckeyes.

The CFP needs to go to eight teams. That would remove a lot of controversy. It’s hard to argue that TCU or Baylor aren’t as good as FSU. They certainly belong in the conversation.

But at four teams, Florida State doesn’t belong in that conversation.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Santa for (Some) Christians

Christmas always brings out the best in some people. And I mean that in the most sarcastic way.

It seems there are always some people every year who feel it is their job to rid the world of the idea of Santa Claus. They want to protect kids from the enormous evil of thinking that there is a fat guy in a red suit who brings children presents, somehow making it to all the houses via a sled being pulled by reindeer through the sky, landing on roofs, and sliding his little fat self down the chimney into a roaring fire without even getting his long white beard dirty.

Spoiler Alert: I am about to reveal that Santa is not real. Kind of … If you don’t want to know that, please turn away from the screen. And now would not be too soon.

Trigger Alert: If hearing that stories of Santa are mostly made up and grossly over-exaggerated will send into a holiday depression or other traumatic decline, please stop reading here.

I will give you thirty seconds to move away from the screen.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Okay, now that the crowd has dwindled, let me continue.

Santa (as in the fat guy in red who brings presents down the chimney) is not actually real. There are some fat guys out there, some who even wear red. And I imagine there are some people in chimneys. (Check yours now.)

But there’s no need to clean our your fireplace because he won’t be there tonight.

In the spirit of Christmas cheer and giving, I am going to let you in on a little secret. Your kids will not be forever warped if they don’t know that yet. In fact, it is highly likely they won’t even be temporarily warped. The chance your children having issues from a belief in Santa Claus is pretty small. They are in more danger standing out in a thunderstorm.

You aren’t lying to them by allowing them to have a little imagination. The older I get, the more I am inclined to let kids be kids for a bit. They will grow up all too fast. But for now, in the right proportion, there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of fun and imagination at Christmas.

Poor Santa is the subject of an awful lot of folklore, mostly found in Christmas songs.

The truth is that Santa’s not making a list, and he most certainly is not checking it twice. He doesn’t particularly like being called “Santa Baby.” He puts up with it for the sake of holiday cheer. (He told me that once in an unguarded moment.) He also thinks that being called jolly and old is putting his man-card at risk.

But the kids who “… Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” weren’t quite as traumatized as one might have imagined. It has a lot more truth in it than most kids realize. I have it on good authority that mommy kisses Santa Claus. And he doesn’t mind.

My kids used to ask me, “Is Santa real?” I always responded with either “What do you think?” or “Of course he is.”

My oldest recently said to me, “Santa Claus isn’t real.” I said, “Really? Why do you think that?” He told me it was because he knew who Santa was at the library.

I told him, “If you think that, that’s fine. As a family, we do some things that are fun for all of us, so don’t ruin it for other people.”

In the end, they will find out all too soon that Santa is real, and that he is not nearly so impressive as they thought. The sleigh is actually a well-traveled minivan with six cylinders instead of eight reindeer. It won’t fly though it has been known to try when a few kids have made it almost impossible to be on time for school.

But Santa loves them a lot, and loves to see them having fun, even if an imaginary fat guy in a red suit gets the credit for it.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Around the Horn – 11/14/14

At first, former major league baseball player, 1948 Rookie of the Year, world champion as both a player (1954) and a manager (1974), and guest of honor at my 16th (or 17th) birthday party Alvin Dark died this week. I, along with a dozen or so other high school boys and one lone girl, talked baseball with Mr. Dark for several hours that night. He was a scout for the White Sox in those days, and back then I was a baseball nut. It was a very memorable evening. A friend who was there texted me about his death last night and remembered that party. Ironically, Dark was fired as manager of the Padres during spring training in 1978, in part, because he wanted to move Ozzie Smith to shortstop. Of course, Dark lost his job and the Wizard went on to become one of the greatest defensive shortstops of all time. Dark had a solid Christian testimony and that was a memorable night for me.

At second, an interesting article that reveals just how insensitive, and frankly, how evil some people can be. The idea that disabled people of whatever sort are things to be dispensed with is a tragic statement on the image of God in man. Human dignity that derives from the image of God in man belongs to every person, and we must insist that all people be treated with such dignity.

At third, is an article about running late. An old definition of being punctual is “showing high regard for other people and their time.” It is a thought worth having, and living by. It’s one thing to have the occasional disaster on the way out the door. It is another thing to be consistently behind schedule.

And the home run (literally), is the video of Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard Round the World. It is the home run that won the pennant for the Giants in 1954.  In light of my earlier link to the death of Alvin Dark, Dark is the one who started the rally with a single and scored the first run of the inning ahead of Thomson’s home run.

Detroit folks might enjoy this short segment with long-time Tiger play-by-play man Ernie Harwell who was calling the game on TV that day. Of course, no one remembers him. Russ Hodges line, “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” is the one that people remembered. It was even the focus of a MASH episode.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Oh What Hope!!!! (????)

Election Day is over. The Republicans took control of the Senate and widened their majority in the House. And now, all my conservative friends are rejoicing. This is so great, right?

Yes, because never before have we seen such a thing as the Republicans controlling both houses of the legislature.

Well, except for the 2000s. And we all remember then, right? The Republicans did such a great job.

Abortion was outlawed in all fifty states and hundreds if not millions of conservative justices were nominated and appointed who overturned Roe v. Wade.

Federal pending was dramatically curtailed and the budget was balanced. Welfare was declared to be over, and all those people on welfare were either given high paying jobs or shown unequivocally to be lazy goof-offs who just want to have kids and collect money from working stiffs.

Foreign policy was unquestionably sound. There was never any question that the right people were being attacked and the right people being defended. And no one ever died. At least, no one on our side.

Education was returned to the local level so local school boards (who are known for their impeccable academic credentials and accomplishments) could decide the best way to educate their local students for success in a global economy.

You remember all that?

Yeah … me neither.

And my guess is that this resounding “shellacking” (as it has been called) will be largely the same. A bunch of loud fast talking Republicans will develop a serious case of lockjaw when it comes to making meaningful reform.

Although I do think it would be really funny if, when challenged by the president about passing their agenda, someone reminds him that he said if they wanted to change things to “go out there and win an election.” Well, they did.

But if I were you, I wouldn’t start any of these Republicans in your fantasy political league. They are not known for actually getting stuff done at game time.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

It’s Election Day

It’s Election Day and all over the country millions of people will be doing what they normally do, which is nothing. That’s right. Millions of people today will not vote.

And I am not particularly troubled by that.


Because I am one of those with the notion that people who vote should be people who know something and people who have something at stake. I am not in favor of ignorant voters who pull levers, push chads, or whatever simply because there is one there. I think voters should have to pass a basic knowledge test of issues.

Let’s face it, you would never leave your health care or your car repair to something as dysfunctional as our voting system. You really don’t want your health care to be determined by taking a vote a bunch of people who knowledge of your health and medicine comes from a series of thirty second ads and scattered yard signs with names on them, and who could be bothered enough to show up on a particular day to cast an unnuanced vote.

You don’t want your car problems diagnosed by someone whose knowledge of auto repair extends all the way to, but not past, the “So God Made a Farmer” commercial from the Super Bowl. It might be a little better if they are old enough to remember “Crazy ‘bout a Ford truck” sung by Alan Jackson.

Well, on second thought, that’s probably not a little bit better.

But that’s how we select a president. And a congress. We elect them by people whose knowledge extends no further than commercials and sound bytes, but who can happen to show up and vote. And these people (both the electors and the elected) are making decisions that will outlast your car, and cost you more money. And they affect everyone, not just you, like your doctor’s advice might.

And while I am here, let me talk about people who vote on things they have nothing at stake in. Around here (and perhaps other places), property tax increases on homes and businesses are voted on at the voting booth. And around here, a large percentage of voters are people who don’t own property.

And that, to me, is simply wrong. Why is someone who pays no property tax getting a say on how much others pay? Voting should be limited to people who have a stake in the outcome. If you don’t pay property tax, you shouldn’t get to vote on the property tax rate.

I know. I know. That’s a “poll tax.”

Well, I am not convinced that is a wrong thing in this day and age. A poll tax can help to keep people from voting who shouldn’t be voting.

Why do we want government being run by people who don’t know things?

This is why political polls are so misleading. There was an episode of the West Wing where political polls were being discussed, particularly (if I recall correctly) on the subject of foreign policy and some crisis. Someone brought up the poll, and the president remarked how foolish it was to imagine that the public could have any informed opinion about the state of affairs.

I think he was right.

Listen, most Americans have no idea about the complexities of the national and global economy. They have learned a few buzz words from their favorite radio host or columnist. And they know when the money runs out before the month does. But that’s about it.

But most Americans shouldn’t feel bad about that. Most presidents and most congressional representatives are right there with them.

You can’t run the government by polls simply because it is silly to take advice from ignorant and partial people. Which is the same reason you shouldn’t run government by a president and Congress. But, to quote Churchill (or someone), “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others out there.”

Not to mention, who is going to trust an election these days? I don’t. I have no confidence at all in the integrity of the voting process. The lack of voter ID is unconscionable. The reality is that there is little or nothing aside from my personal integrity that would keep me from voting as any of my neighbors, or as Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton. And that’s a problem.

The suggestion that voter fraud isn’t a problem is ludicrous on its fact. How big a problem it is we don’t know. I suspect it is big. But how big does it have to be before it matters? Until the government takes steps in ensure the integrity of the voting process, no one should have any confidence in it.

While much (though not enough) is being made of computer voting and voter ID, there is no nearly enough being said about absentee voting, and that, in my opinion, is where the greatest fraud is likely to be.

Which, to me, raises a constitutional question. If the election is to be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, on what constitutional basis are votes cast on any other day? That seems to rule out early voting and absentee voting.

But alas, I am not going to change the world here. But today is election day so I can at least contribute something.

So what should we do? Well, go vote. Make the best choice you can. There are real issues at stake and the world is run by people who show up. So show up and vote.

And don’t leave your Christianity at the door. There are moral issues and political issues. The moral issues are the ones that matter most. Issues like abortion and gay marriage are far more important than tax policy, right to work, education, and the like. Never forget that we will give account for these votes.

Some of you might refuse to vote on the grounds that you won’t vote for the lesser of two evils. That, my friend, is bankrupt thinking. Until Jesus is on the ballot, we are always voting for the lesser of two evils. And Jesus will never be on the ballot because he will just take over.

So don’t vote, if you wish. But don’t blame on “the lesser of two evils.”

Friday, October 31, 2014

Around the Horn – 10/31/14

At first is a rather strange article about WWJD in which Jesus buys a round of drinks for people who are already drunk. This is the kind of article that make a mockery out of the life of Jesus and the commands of Scripture. It is, unfortunately, all too common to decide who Jesus is and what he would do, and then just say that, regardless of what the Scriptures say. Even worse is the tendency to take some truth about Jesus and mix it up with stuff that is made up. There’s a reason why someone who lies all the time is more trustworthy than a person who lies only some of the time. Only in the former will you always know the truth. The worst part is that I came across this article from a pastor who should know better.

At second is an article highlighting three pastors or teachers (MacArthur, Charles, and Mohler) giving their perspective of the hardest text to preach. For me, the hardest text to preach is usually the next one.

At third is an article about race that is profoundly unhelpful. It purports to talk about race in the revitalization of Detroit. It argues that grants and opportunities are disproportionately going to white people. The reason why this is unhelpful is because it doesn’t actually give a good foundation. For instance, it says that “only one out of ten featured suppliers” for Whole Foods was black. Troubling? Well, I don’t know. How many black suppliers applied? And what about the ones who weren’t featured? Maybe 100% of black suppliers were selected. In another case, he says that 62% of certain opportunities went to white people in a city that is largely black, but he doesn’t tell us what the percentage of applicants were. 62% maybe a good sign if 80% of applicants were white. What percentage of black applicants were selected? He doesn’t tell us. He admits that he did not give a complete picture. In other words, he cherry picks data from only certain opportunities, and doesn’t tell his readers what they need to know to make an informed decision. And he doesn’t under the guise of race inequality. Might it be that the revival in Detroit is disproportionately going to certain people? Sure. It might be. But this article gives us no real reason to believe that. Living in this area, I have a vested interest in the topic. If Detroit does better, we all do better. And it might be better to forget these kinds of misleading stats and focus on solutions.

Finally, Dave Bruskas is the new interim pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle where Mark Driscoll recently resigned. He writes of some values they will pursue in transition. It’s sounds great. The problem is that Bruskas was one of the three executive elders (with Driscoll and Sutton Turner) that created the monster that was Mars Hill. I am all for repentance and change. But color me skeptical on this one. Where was Bruskas for the last ten years? Why wasn’t he stepping up and showing leadership then? Be wary of those who create the problem who are now going to solve the problem. It’s good to learn from mistakes. Maybe one of the lessons to learn is to seek new leadership.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Houston and the Subpoena of Sermons

Word is going around that the city of Houston is issuing subpoenas for sermons to see if they criticize homosexuality.

Is it true? Who knows. It could be. It might not be. Like a lot of stuff on the internet, it might be overblown. Like a lot of the stuff on the internet, it may be entirely true.

But here’s the question: Why is Houston using court resources and tax payer resources issuing subpoenas for things that are publicly available?

If they want the content of these sermons, can’t they just show up at church? Or download them from the internet?

But it seems like Christians like a persecution complex and tend to go into crisis mode at the drop of a hat. So it’s a great time to note that the end of the world is almost here.

I think if I were a pastor in Houston, I would invite the people charged with this task to come to church and hear it first hand. I speak publicly several times a week, and to be frank, a lot of what I say is not in my notes, and a lot of what is in my notes never gets said. So getting my notes is no guarantee that you will get what was actually said. Not to mention that my notes often contain the opinions of people that I don’t actually agree with. In a nutshell, my notes are quite often useless for anyone other than me.

However, you are welcome to come, record (or just use our recording), take notes, just sit and listen, or whatever, so long as you do it peacefully and quietly. We will even give you some coffee.

Here’s another thought: If this is actually true, then the government of Houston must be run by a bunch of second-graders. Or the Detroit City Council. Seriously. This is like (insert whiny second grade voice here) “Johnny said something mean about me.”

You know what, kid. Get over it. Move on. Go swing on the swings, or slide down the slides.

Can the mayor of Houston really not endure a few pastors saying things about her lifestyle? She’s a politician. Surely this can’t be the worst thing ever said about her, can it? Why is she so insecure in her lifestyle?

When you embrace a lifestyle (whether homosexual, Christian, vegan, video-game lover, etc.), expect that people will think you are strange, weird, wrong, stupid, silly, etc. If you like your lifestyle, then go on with your life. If avoiding criticism is that important to you, then change your lifestyle. But don’t whine because someone disagrees with you. You are not smart enough and don’t know enough to demand complete agreement.

And why are pastors in Houston, or anywhere else, naming names of political officials when they are supposed to be preaching the Bible? What verse does that come from? Seriously, if we are supposed to preach the Bible, that should limit us to things God actually said. And there is more than enough of that.

Here’s what I think I would do: First, I would invite any interested person to come to our services. Come for six or eight months to every public meeting. Listen, engage your mind, engage with the people around you. Let’s have some conversations together over coffee or lunch. You might be surprised at what will happen.

Second, I would also complain that the city of Houston is using taxpayer resources to issue subpoenas for things that are publicly available. Don’t waste my money on this nonsense. If you want it, come and get it firsthand, every week.

Third, I would let the legal process play out. I don’t know if I would turn anything over. On what biblical grounds could I? I don’t know. I think this will be challenged in court and overthrown. So I think, in the end, it will be much ado about nothing.

But Christians, let’s embrace the fact that people don’t like Christianity. We shouldn’t have a conniption over it every time we see it.

Sure, let’s use the courts and resources available to fight it, but let’s not be scared of it. Let’s go on about our business, Let’s do what we have been called to do.

Friday, October 03, 2014

The Future of Baptist Fundamentalism

Recently a panel discussion on the The Future of Baptist Fundamentalism was organized by my friend Greg Linscott and hosted at the Fourth Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN. You can read a summary of it here, or listen to it at … well, nowhere. Apparently, technology hasn’t reached all the way to Minnesota yet.

Just kidding.

I heard they actually had the technology but the hamsters got tired of running fast enough to power the generator. But that may be just a rumor as well. Perhaps the participants all decided it would be better to have no audio in order to maintain some plausible deniability. You can always claim you were misquoted, unless the pesky audio exists somewhere.

Of course I digress. Some of these people are my friends. At least they were. But I find the topic interesting and, if the write-up is indicative, the panel discussion seemed interesting as well.

So what do I think of the future of Baptist fundamentalism? Thanks for asking.

I have a few thoughts, which you may have suspected if you have made it this far.

First, I wonder how the lack of agreed upon history affects this. As of now, there is no wide agreement (or perhaps even narrow agreement) on what fundamentalism has been. There are a variety of people making their own case for a history. Virtually all seem to agree that over the last fifty or so years, Baptist fundamentalism has become more and more fragmented. I am among those who don’t think there is a fundamentalist movement, per se. There are a bunch of fundamentalists and a bunch of fundamentalisms. More and more, people are hesitating to use the term fundamentalist anywhere outside of a very narrow and controlled context. Perhaps all of that is indicative of the future that I see in my crystal ball. If no one knows what fundamentalism is, how will we recognize it in its future iterations?

Now, looking into my crystal ball, my suspicion is that Baptist fundamentalism is in the process of becoming (1) more confessional, (2) more regional, and (3) more age-segregated, and (4) less denominational.

More confessional? Yes, I think there are a lot of fundamentalists who are tired of being lumped together with people who don’t agree with them on basic fundamentals of the faith, such as Scripture, salvation, or Jesus. Put aside for the moment who is right or wrong and fundamentalism has a mixed history on that. Twenty years ago many were lamenting the fact that we tolerate all kinds of aberrant doctrine and practice because the holders of said doctrine and practice separate from the right people. It was a serious problem then, and still is. I think the future of fundamentalism will see groups or participation centered more on people who agree on these matters. It may not be a formal confessionalism, but I think many fundamentalists will return to a doctrinal basis for fundamentalism. Some will include practice in that. I predict that doctrine will become more important than how separation is parsed in future Baptist fundamentalism. Separating from some other person will be less important than what one teaches about the gospel itself.

More regional? Yes, I think the days of “national” gatherings are probably over for fundamentalists. I think the only national gatherings will be either denominational (SBC, PCA, etc.) or involve big names (such as T4G, TGC, or the Shepherd’s Conference). In the interest of full disclosure, I have never been to any of those. I think fundamentalism does not have the kind of big names to draw national conferences of much size any more. Some are trying, such as West Coast or Hammond, but I think they will fall victim of a more confessional fundamentalism. Their constituency will show up, but that’s about it.

There are some who are suggesting a “Baptist Congress.” I am sure some will attend, but I suspect it will support my assertions that the future of fundamentalism will be more (confessional) and third (age divided). I think Baptist fundamentalists will likely spend their associational capital with people they can gather frequently with because they are close, and people with whom “ministry cooperation” or “partnership” has some real meaning such as church planting rather than gathering to listen to a few messages and pass a few resolutions.

More age-segregated? Yes, I think that the future of fundamentalism will be increasingly characterized by a younger group and an older group. Of course, there will be some crossover, and eventually perhaps this becomes less pronounced as the younger of today become the older of tomorrow. Younger fundamentalists are much less enthralled by the fundamentalists personalities of the past (though ironically enough, they might be very enthralled with present personalities).

I predict that the younger guys will charge the older with being out-of-touch traditionalists who just don’t understand reality and the gospel and the older guys will charge the younger guys with being compromised and not being fundamentalists at all. Some will even cite 1 John 2:19. Of course, that didn’t take a crystal ball to predict. It’s already happening. It’s probably misguided to some extent on both sides, and it’s doubtful that such charges or division will produce any substantive exchange of ideas. Look for the traditional fundamentalist hangouts to be more and more hoary-headed and suit-and-tied, and the younger ones to be more and more goatee’ed and jeans-with-untucked-shirts.

Lastly, less denominational? Yes, I think that the future of Baptist fundamentalism will have a higher regard for the work of God in other denominations, and even willing to enter into limited partnerships with them. This will, ironically perhaps, mean that the future will look more like the past where fundamentalism was not interdenominational. In the future, people will gather for fellowship and even partnership to some degree with people with whom they could not share church membership.

So what of it? I have no idea if I am right, or even close. I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet. And I work for a non-profit organization (to borrow an old line that Dr. Kaiser has worn out for decades). In fact, being a cessationist, I work for a non-prophet organization (as we all do).

Each individual will have to work these issues out for themselves. Each person or church will have to determine the amount of latitude they are willing to offer in various contexts of ministry partnership. And they will have to determine how they will interact with those who allow more or less latitude.

Some, no doubt, will have a scorched-earth policy, lambasting all who differ with them. Some will take the approach suggested by Mark Dever of keeping low fences and shaking hands often across them. Others will just go on about their business, almost oblivious to things around them.

In all of it, the most important thing will still be the local church. Partnerships and conferences will never surpass that.

So wherever you fall in the above categories, be a faithful serving part of your local church. Be less worried about others and more worried about your own heart. Be firm on the Scriptures and live them out with character and integrity, even with, or especially with those with whom you might disagree. Take care of your own house first.

Let us call sin sin, but do it with caution and brokenness. Let us realize that all differences are not gospel differences. That doesn’t make them unimportant, though some are certainly less important.

In all, let us remember Christ his the head of his church and we serve Him at his pleasure and for his glory. Let us build more local churches and fewer personal kingdoms. And let us realize that we will probably be in heaven with some people we didn’t like on this earth.

So live humbly and serve well for the sake of the Jesus and his church.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Around the Horn – 9/6/14

At first, here’s an interesting interview about work and productivity from Stephen Dubner, the co-author of the very interesting Freakonomics. Habits and patterns of work are increasingly important to me. They probably should be for all of us.

At second, here’s a much needed article on Preaching and Piety. Too often, it seems like the beauty of the gospel is being used as a cover for sinfulness. The pastoral qualifications still mean something other than being able to exegete, assemble a message, and deliver it. We should take them seriously.

At third, Andy Naselli links to an article about unmarried couples making out. Andy, in his usual helpful way, highlights a few key points. Read the article anyway. It’s worth it. It needs to be taught and lived by. Along with this topic, Andy also posts eight ways that pastors can prevent sexual sin from John Armstrong’s book The Stain That Stays.

And last, Dan Phillips uses his normal style of blog writing to point out that when a ministry goes off track, the only wrong thing it to have been on the front end of calling it out.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Is There a Difference Between Preaching and Teaching?

Short answer: Biblically, no; practically, perhaps.

Long answer: The public ministry of the Word is sometimes divided into preaching and teaching, with various ways to distinguish between them. Adams (Adams 1982, 5‑6), Zuck (Zuck 1998, 39‑40), and Dodd (Dodd 1980, 7‑35) distinguish between preaching (κηρύσσω and eὐαγγελίζω) and teaching (διδάσκω) in terms of the audience. In this view, preaching is evangelistic activity among unbelievers while teaching is the work of moral or ethical instruction among believers. For Dodd, in particular, the distinction is related to the content, rather than the act of preaching itself (Dodd 1980, 7‑8). Singley (Singley, III 2008, 45‑46) and Prime and Begg (Prime and Begg 2004, 125; cf. Anderson 2006, 93‑94) distinguish between preaching and teaching in terms of intent or goal. In this conception, teaching has as its goal the communication of knowledge whereas preaching has as its goal the movement of the will and emotions to respond to the truth communicated.

While these distinctions may have practical value, it seems doubtful that they can be rigidly sustained from Scripture since the various words used do not fit neatly into the categories of preaching or teaching. Frequently, the words preaching and teaching themselves are not used precisely. For instance, the public ministry of the word is described by using preaching (κηρύσσω or εὐαγγλίζω) and teaching (διδάσκω) alongside each other (Matt 4:23; 9:35; 11:1; Acts 5:42, 13:35, 28:31). The context of these passages do not lend themselves easily to a distinction between preaching and teaching, whether by audience or content, or by goal or intent. They seem to describe the public ministry of the word as a whole rather than as distinct parts. Teaching (διδάσκω) is used for gospel preaching to unbelievers in Acts 4:2, 5:21, and 20:20, and it is used for teaching believers in passages such as Acts 11:26, 18:11, and 1 Tim 4:11. Preaching (κηρύσσω or εὐαγγλίζω) is used for evangelistic work among unbelievers in passages such as Acts 8:4 and 25, and 1 Cor 1:23 and 2:4, and it is used for teaching believers in 2 Tim 4:2. In addition, there are passages in which the spiritual state of the audience for either preaching or teaching is not clearly distinguished.

To use a specific example, in Acts 20:17-35, Paul recounts his entire ministry among the Ephesians “from the day he set foot in Asia” (v. 18) with various terms. He uses proclaiming (ἀναγγέλλω), teaching (διδάσκω), and solemnly testifying (διαμαρτύρομαι) to describe the gospel proclamation of “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 20-21). He further describes his ministry among them as “preaching (κηρύσσω) the kingdom” (v. 25), “declaring (ἀναγγέλλω) the whole purpose of God” (v. 27), and “admonishing (νουθετέω) each one with tears” (v. 31). Here, there seems to be no consistent division between gospel preaching and ethical teaching. The various terms describe the entire ministry of Paul.

In Thessalonica and Athens, Paul reasons (διαλέγομαι) with unbelievers in the synagogue (Acts 17:2, 17), which is the same word used to describe his ministry with believers at Troas (Acts 20:7, 9). This same word (διαλέγομαι) is used for ministry both with believers and unbelievers in Ephesus (Acts 19:8-9). In Athens at Mars’ Hill, Paul “was preaching (εὐαγγλίζω) Jesus and the resurrection” which led the hearers there to inquire more about “this new teaching (διδαχή) … which [he was] proclaiming (λαλέω)” (Acts 17:18-19). Here, the teaching was being preached. In 2 Tim 4:2, κηρύσσω, a key word for preaching to unbelievers, is used for preaching to believers.

In light of these instances in which the same words are used to describe ministry both to believers and unbelievers, and seeing that no clear distinction is consistently apparent between goal or intent of preaching, the distinction between preaching and teaching seems to fade into the background. The full picture of the ministry of the Word is better seen in the totality of the words used to describe it. Greidanus helpfully says, “Preaching can be seen as an activity with many facets—facets which are highlighted by such New Testament words as proclaiming, announcing good news, witnessing, teaching, prophesying, and exhorting” (Greidanus 1988, 7).

The distinction in content or emphasis between the ministry of the Word to unbelievers and believers is a valid one since the two groups often need to hear different messages. Likewise, the distinction between teaching as informing the hearer of truth and preaching as appealing to the will and emotions to respond to the truth is helpful. Yet these distinctions seem borne more out of practicality than out of the words Scripture uses for the preaching task. Again, Greidanus is helpful: “Although one facet or another may certainly be accentuated to match the text and the contemporary audience, preaching cannot be reduced to only one of its many facets” (Greidanus 1988, 7).

A distinction between preaching and teaching may be useful when considering the various speaking opportunities in the church. There are occasions where the particular forum will involve more teaching (communicating truth) than preaching (persuading). There are also occasions where the audience will include unbelievers in needed of gospel proclamation, and other times where it will be mostly believers in need of ethical and moral instruction. The wise pastor will be sensitive to these occasions and adjust both his content and his intent accordingly.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Around the Horn – 8/29/14

At first, NASCAR recently instituted a new rule that prohibits drivers or crew members from going on the track or approaching another moving vehicle. I am going to go ahead and go out on a limb here and suggest that if your employees need to be instructed not to stand in the middle of a road where cars are traveling in excess of 100 miles per hour, you should consider something besides a rule, something like, oh I don’t know … sending them back to first grade. I don’t say that to make light of the death of a racer, but seriously, why do you need a rule to tell people to stay out of the way of speeding cars? Isn’t that the first thing parents teach kids when they let them out of the back yard as a toddler? Yes, parents have to supervise that for a few years, but usually that becomes unnecessary. Apparently not if you are a NASCAR driver.

At second, here’s a nice article about teacher and author Jamie Langston Turner. In my thirty years of formal education, I have had a lot of teachers. She is at the top of the list. She is an excellent writer as well.

At third, here’s a good article on life and class reunions:

It was obvious that none of us had gotten through life without challenges and sorrow. No matter how successful, how financially secure, everyone I talked to had dealt with something – from disabled children to mental health issues; from surviving breast cancer to broken marriages and addiction. Life can be a marathon through a minefield.

And the homerun today, something that I would swear has to be a parody. Except it’s believable.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The NFL and Violence Against Women

Roger Goodell and the NFL absolutely dropped the ball on the Ray Rice domestic violence situation.

Rice knocked his then girlfriend/now wife (what was she thinking? Does she have no one speaking into her life?) unconscious in a hotel elevator. He is now suspended for two games of the 2014 season.

Yes, that’s not a typo. He knocked his girlfriend unconscious in a rage and is suspended for two games.

By comparison, Terrell Pryor pulled some shenanigans to avoid an NCAA suspension and get in the NFL through the supplemental draft and got a five game suspension before he was ever in the NFL.

A guy named Robert Mathis got four games for taking some fertility drugs to help his wife conceive. Yes, four games for trying to start a family with your wife. Two games for knocking out your soon-to-be wife.

Using marijuana will you get you a whole year in the NFL, even in states where it’s legal to smoke marijuana.

So assuming the rational position that the punishment should fit the crime, and that we reward or punish based on relative significance, the NFL has declared that beating a woman unconscious is not as significant as trying to have a baby with a women you are married to. It’s not as significant as taking money and favors in college when you have no accountability or responsibility to the NFL. And it’s way less significant than smoking pot.

Why should anyone think that the NFL takes violence against women seriously?

That’s not a rhetorical question. Go ahead. Someone tell me why anyone should think the NFL takes domestic violence seriously.

I’ll be waiting.

Until then, Roger Goodell should be without a job.

The league owners should demand either a higher suspension of Rice (at least a year, perhaps two, maybe even three), or a resignation from Goodell for embarrassing them and their league in this manner.

Until one or the other happens, no one should think the NFL cares about domestic violence.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Something on Eschatology for Saturday

The end of the week brings thoughts of the end of the age. At least for me it does, as I finalize a message for tomorrow on Matthew 24 and the Olivet Discourse.

A lot could be said about this passage, but what gets my keyboard going today is Craig Blomberg’s comments in the NAC regarding the identity of the “great distress” (NIV) in Matthew 24:21. He says,

The concept of a period of unparalleled distress (based on Dan 12:1) causes problems. If these two verses simply depict the horrors surrounding the war of A.D. 70, it is hard to see how v. 21 could be true. If they point to some end-time sacrilege, just before the Parousia, then it is hard to see how Matthew allows for a gap of at least two thousand years between vv. 20–21.*

I think he is correct that these verses cannot describe the war of A. D. 70. There’s too much history of violence to identify that event as “unequaled from the beginning until now, and never to be equaled again.” Not to mention, the Bible describes a period just before the end that is even worse than A.D. 70. It might be that A.D. 70 is a type of some sort, or a downpayment of sorts on that which is to come. But it is not likely the referent of Jesus’ words.

It is the second part of Blomberg’s argument that is more troubling. He says it is hard to see a gap of almost two thousand years between vv. 20-21.

But why? That such a gap is possible is clearly testified to in the OT where the coming of Christ is pictured as one event when in fact we know it as two events.

An example of this is Isaiah 9:6-7:

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.  There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.

The period between the birth of the Son and his eternal kingdom of justice and righteousness is at least two thousand years. So if this two thousand year gap can be seen between two verses in Isaiah 9, why can it not be seen between two verses in Matthew 24?

I don’t pretend this is an easy passage. Everytime I read it, I feel as if I have more questions than answers. But that doesn’t stop me from drawing enough conclusions from the text to preach it to the Lord’s assembled people.

In the end (no pun intended), there is much that we do not know.

I tend to think that Matthew 24 describes events that are generally characteristic of “the last days” as marked by the return of Christ to heaven. This is the church age. This age culminates in a period of The Tribulation (which is not to be confused with tribulation). The Tribulation in Scripture is a defined period of time in which events such as the ones described in Matthew 24 actually increase and intensify around the world, and end with a very visible and unmistakable coming of the Lord in power and glory.

I have yet to see a convincing exegetical explanation for how it can be otherwise.

Having said that, two points follow:

First, Christ in Matthew 24 shows us that eschatology is not some insignificant add-on to Christianity and the gospel which we are to talk about only when forced to. No, Christ actually brings the subject up, and likely baits his disciples into asking for more information about it. (I could say more about this to defend it, but I won’t here, except to suggest that the disciples, upon hearing Christ’s prophecy of temple destruction, may have recalled Zechariah 14:1-2).

Too many today are treating eschatology with the old and tired “panmillennial” joke—as in, it will all pan out in the end. I think Scripture is too clear for such a trivial treatment. While I can share good Christian fellowship with brothers and sisters who disagree with me, I don’t think that makes this insignificant, if for no other reason than Christ devotes a major section of his teaching to it in Matthew.

Second, I don’t think Christ’s intent was to encourage us to read the newspaper as an appendix to Matthew 24. The events of the Middle East do not help us understand Christ’s words here.

Blomberg takes a strange shot at “the unrelenting pessimism of traditional dispensationalism” (357). I wonder what he means. I find traditional dispensationalism to be extremely optimistic. After all, we are the ones who think the world will get better when it has a righteous branch of David ruling it, and further, we do not share the overwhelming burden of trying to bring it in. Is there anything more optimistic than a great restoration that we do not have to bring about?

I personally find amillennialism to be extremely depressing. I read the OT with interest and see a world that seems amazing. And then I look around and think, “This is it”? This is what God meant? I  know most amillennialists, good and faithful brothers, see those promises fulfilled in the eternal state. But I cannot reconcile the eternal state with the words of the OT. I am a premillennialist primarily because of the OT.

I could find a bit more hope in postmillennialism because at least there is the promise of a brighter day. But the hopeless burden of working towards that end is depressing.

My hope rests on the fact that God will do as he said, restoring the world and everything in it, reigning in peace and justice, punishing the wicked, and bringing prosperity once again to his people Israel and to the worshippers of the one true God.

In the end, I think we can conclude four basic things from Matthew 24.

First, don’t let wickedness and danger around you freeze your love (v. 12). That danger is not limited to the Tribulation. It is a real danger now. The tendency towards complacency in the face of danger and persecution is real in all ages.

Second, don’t let wickedness and danger around you cause you to quit (v. 13). Endurance in the face of trial is necessary for salvation. That’s a hard verse, and one that a lot of people want to minimize. We dare not. True faith is at the last persevering faith. Don’t despair. That doesn’t mean perfect faith. It simply means real faith. Faith in God and his promises ultimately and finally wins.

Third, don’t let wickedness and danger around you cause you to not preach the gospel (v. 14). The promise that the gospel will be preached in the whole world is part of our commission (Matthew 28:18-20). It happens before the end. Though many dangers, toils, and snares await those who take the gospel to others, we dare not quit before the end. Keep preaching wherever you are.

Fourth, keep watching for the return of Christ. Matthew 24 closes with a parable, and several parables continue into Matthew 25, all on the theme of watching while we wait. There is a kind of servant who beats on the slaves and eats and drinks with pleasure and ease because he doubt the master will come back now. He is surprised by the master’s return, and is punished for it. The faithful servant keeps watching and is blessed.

So brothers and sisters, though we may not be entirely clear about the precise identity of the events Jesus describes or entirely clear about the order in which they will take place, let us be as those who love with heat, who persevere in faith, who preach with boldness, and who watch with alertness for we do not know the day and the hour of his coming.

*Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. Vol. 22. The New American Commentary Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992, 360.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

One More on HL and SCOTUS

One last post on Hobby Lobby, and then I am done … at least for now.

The Detroit Free Press reports recently that some Democrats in Congress are making plans to pass a law to override the recent SCOTUS decision in the HL religious freedom case. That has apparently now been refused, as a mentioned in a previous post.

This article shows that people with microphones in front of their face still don’t get it. Here are three examples of the absolute falsehoods being propagated by people who should know better.

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow says, “I am eager to work with my colleagues to make sure that women are making health care decisions in consultation with their doctor, not their employer.”

Perhaps she was out of the country and just got back and hasn’t had time to read the news yet, but there is nothing in this decision that has anything to do with women and their doctors. The women who work at HL are still completely free to consult with their doctors, to use whatever birth control they desire, and to have an abortion if they so desire. This decision did nothing to change any of that. She probably knows that. So why didn’t she say it? Because you can’t play politics and tell the truth at the same time. I think it reveals a lack of integrity.

An ACLU lawyer chimes in with, “ … we think Congress can pass a new law, something as simple as ... employers have to cover all health care that’s required under federal law.”

Perhaps this lawyer is not aware of how SCOTUS works, but there was a law that said exactly that (the ACA), and SCOTUS just said it cannot be enforced. So federal law does not require this health care.

The executive VP of the Center for American Progress says, “Congress should clarify that RFRA should not be used as an excuse for forcing an employee to adhere to the religious beliefs of their boss.”

Again, there was nothing in this case that is even remotely connected to expecting HL employees to adhere to the religious beliefs of HL owners. The employees are welcome to believe whatever they want and live however they want. They are even welcome to have abortions, or to use whatever birth control they desire.

The only people being expected to adhere to others beliefs are the HL owners, who are being expected to live in conformity with the beliefs of others.

It is people such as Senator Stabenow would have the owners of HL give up their religious beliefs to conform to her own.

Leonard Pitts chimes in now saying that, “I once saw a protest sign to the effect that if men gave birth, contraception would be bacon flavored and dispensed from vending machines.”

Maybe Mr. Pitts highlife affords him first class travel and the best of everything. I, on the other hand, have been in enough gas station and truckstop bathrooms to know that flavored contraception is available from vending machines in a great many of them. Now, I’ll admit that I haven’t seen bacon flavored yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I just overlooked it since I tend to get in and out of those places as fast as possible.

Here’s the bottom line, at least until someone goes even lower than these have gone: Until there is a renewed commitment to telling the truth among people, these types of articles will not go away. And our country will be the worse off for it. There is such a entire lack of integrity in the political world and the news media today that it completely hampers the open democratic process of our nation.

It goes to show that people just don’t think much, and those that speak hope the hearers don’t think much either.

I appeal to Senator Stabenow to publicly apologize for misleading people about the nature of this decision.

But I won’t hold my breath until she does it.

An Interesting Comparison

Person 1: We have to outlaw _________, because too many people are getting killed.

Person 2: If we outlaw that, then people will just get it through other means that won’t be as safe and controlled.

Person 1: That doesn’t matter. We have to do it anyway.

If you put “guns” in the blank, you probably tend towards the liberal end of the political spectrum in the USA.

If you put “abortion” in the blank, you probably tend towards the conservative end of the political spectrum in the USA.

Both sides tend to support the things they like and oppose (at least in voice) the things they dislike.

I am reminded of this recently when I see that some in our Congress have introduced a bill to override the recent decision of SCOTUS in the Hobby Lobby case. Word is that the GOP has rejected it.

Can you imagine the outrage if someone had introduced a bill to overturn SCOTUS in the ACA/Obamacare case?

Turns out you don’t have to imagine it. We have seen the outrage of people on the left when the GOP (rightly or wrongly) introduced bill after bill to overturn Obamacare. After the SCOTUS decision, they proudly declared that it was settled; Obamacare was the law of the land.

So why doesn’t that apply in this case?

Because some want to play politics with religious freedom.

Here’s an article that argues that, in the HL decision by SCOTUS, “The Supreme Court’s five conservatives have delivered a profoundly liberal opinion.” You can read it over there. Or I can give you synopsis which centers on two points: HL demonstrated that corporate profits are not ultimate (something which is a liberal view), and this case appeals to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which waspassed unanimously by the House, 97-3 by the Senate, and singed by Bill Clinton, which surely reflects the will of the American people, and “reflects the core liberal values of toleration and respect for diverse viewpoints.”

In other words, this case honored the core liberal values of corporate responsibility and toleration.

And the liberal decry it.

“Why?” you ask.

Because in the end, being liberal is not about being liberal. It is first and foremost about abortion. And anything that is even remotely connected to abortion, however tenuous and absurd that connection might be, is instinctively politicized.

Back to the comparison. Is there a biblical view on abortion? Most assuredly, and the fact that people might turn to back alley abortions does not in anyway justify the continued legalization of the most defenseless among us.

Is there a biblical view on gun control? Not that I can tell. Christians can certainly differ on gun control while remaining equally committed to the gospel and Christian living. They can even be members of the same church and take communion together.

It seems that Christians in the US have unfortunately confused being Christian with certain political positions, and that is most unfortunate.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Around the Horn – July 5, 2014

At first, jilted US soccer star Landon Donovan chimes in on the US departure from the World Cup. Whether or not he should have made the team (and can any seriously doubt that the departure of Altidore would have been less substantial with Donovan available?), his comments are correct. Klinsmann failed in his strategy. You can’t tilt that heavily too defense at that level of soccer. You give up too many opportunities, and eventually, a mistake is going to happen. It might be a mental mistake, a field condition like a slip or fall, or an unfortunate bounce. But it will happen. Disappointing, not that they lost, but that the game was the kind of game it was.

At second, US goalkeeper Tim Howard has been showered with praise for his efforts in the match against Belgium, and he deserves it. He did a magnificent job. However, a goal keeper should not be making sixteen saves in a game. That, in itself, revealed a bad game plan by Klinsmann. You shouldn’t put your goal keeper in a situation where he has to do that.

At third, the term “rape culture” is getting thrown around a bit these days. To quote Mr. Montoya, “I don’t think that means what you think it means.” Scott Johnson at Power Line links to a piece about the so-called rape culture in America. Rape and sexual abuse is unconscionable and should be addressed with swift and strong punishment—retributive punishment. But let’s not overstate the problem, even with good intentions.

Last, here’s a page with a lot-o-links to some online seminary classes that might have something of interest for you. I have identified a few already for summer morning walks, and I look forward to downloading them and listening in.

Friday, July 04, 2014

More on the Birth Control Mandate

Earlier, I noted that one of the disturbing issues of the Hobby Lobby case is that it puts the government is charge of deciding the sincerity and importance of religious beliefs. I had no idea Justice Sotomayor had already proven me correct.

Concerning an injunction granted to Wheaton College, the NY Time reports,

“Let me be absolutely clear,” [Sotomayor] wrote. “I do not doubt that Wheaton genuinely believes that signing the self-certification form is contrary to its religious beliefs. But thinking one’s religious beliefs are substantially burdened — no matter how sincere or genuine that belief may be — does not make it so.”

What are Justice Sotomayor’s qualifications to determine whether or not Wheaton’s beliefs are burdened or not?

She says she doesn’t doubt that Wheaton’s beliefs are genuine, but then doubts that their beliefs are substantially burdened. How can she doubt that?

By such a statement she is talking out of both sides of her mouth. She is doubting the sincerity of their belief by denying that it is burdened by a governmental requirement.

Once again, the American citizenry would be better served by keeping the courts, and the legislature and White House, out of these matters. No person’s religious beliefs should be subject to the whims of a court.

Some Thoughts on Hobby Lobby and the ACA

This week, the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) passed down it’s decision in the birth control mandate case that Hobby Lobby (HL) brought before the court. It was a small, minor, and likely short-lived victory for freedom.

In a nutshell, HL objected on religious grounds to providing insurance that included a few of the required birth control options required. HL did not object to providing insurance that included other forms of birth control. In addition, HL does not (apparently) have any concern for whether its employees seek the birth control methods to which HL objects. (More on this in a minute.)

The biggest question for me is this: What were the other four justices thinking? On what grounds in America should someone be compelled to violate their religious beliefs?

Apparently, birth control for women is one of them.

It is ironic, I must admit, that this generation of people who want the government to stay out of people’s bedrooms went all the way to the Supreme Court to get the government in the bedroom. People who want the freedom to do whatever they want do not want to afford that same freedom to others.

The hometown newspaper here, The Detroit Free Press, has run some articles on it. I highlight two.

The first is an editorial by Stephen Henderson, who objects to the idea that corporations have rights (more on this in the next post), unless its his corporation, the Free Press. But more shockingly, and in what can only be ascribed to ignorance or dishonesty, Henderson says, “But it ignored the rights of employees — a comparatively weak constituency — to use their compensation (yes, health care is compensation) in a way that was free from someone else’s religious beliefs.”

Actually, the employees are probably the single strongest constituency related to a corporation. If you doubt that, imagine what would happen if all the employees decided not to show up for work one day. Actually, you don’t have to imagine it. It has happened in our labor history. And when that happens, not all the money in the corporate coffers can make a freshly built car roll off the assembly line, or stand up in front of a class and teach some students. All that money can’t even make a cashier stand behind a register and take people’s money for little kitschy craft items.

But more directly to Mr. Henderson’s attempt at an argument, no one, at any level, has suggested (until now) that HL was trying to control what its employees do with their compensation. Henderson probably knows this, which means it isn’t ignorance. It is more likely that Henderson is a political shill (something we already knew), who willingly subverts facts to support pet causes. I have seen and read enough of Henderson to believe that Henderson is not to be taken seriously. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine that Henderson takes himself seriously. This piece is another proof of that.

Mr. Henderson, HL has made no attempt to prevent employees from using their compensation to acquire whatever they desire. They are free to use their above average wages to but whatever  legal drugs they like. In fact, as you know living in Detroit, they can use their wages to buy whatever non-legal drugs they like. You know that. So why say something that isn’t true?

This case was never about controlling how employees spend the money they earn working. It is fundamentally dishonest to pretend that it is.

Another Free Press article highlights what is perhaps one of the most ironic comments that came from April Higgins, 31, of Detroit. She said, “I don't think anyone should have the right to tell you what to do. … What does that have to do with my job? If I'm working and I'm here every day, why should it matter?”

I imagine that HL could not have made a better case for their position. No one should tell them what to do. It has nothing to do with the job. People should come to work every day and work.

Of course, Ms. Higgins doesn’t believe what she said. She thinks the government should have the right to tell people what to do. That’s what this whole case was about. Do the people in Congress and the White House have the right to tell other people what to do with their money.

Justice Ginsburg opined that other religious objections might now arise in other matters, and what will we do then?

That’s an easy one that even Justice Ginsburg should have gotten right: We honor religious objections. If a company doesn’t want to pay for blood transfusions, vaccinations, or some such, they should be free not to.

Let’s return this issue (and virtually all others) to the marketplace. If people want these four types of birth control in their insurance plan, then they won’t work at HL. Go work somewhere else.

That’s what the aforementioned April Higgins does. She works at Greektown Casino. So why does she care what HL does for its employees? She is free not to work at HL.

You say, “It’s not that easy.”

Why not? Any HL employee can walk into the manager’s office and say, “I am quitting this job.” They don’t have to give a reason. They can just quit.

You say, well, it isn’t easy to find another job. Okay. So you have choices to make. We all make choices about what we do and don’t do. And there is no right to an easy choice.

Here’s the most disturbing implication of this case: It appears to put the federal judicial system in charge of determining whether a religious conviction is sincere or not.

I don’t like that, for me or for anyone else. How would it be measured? What proof will be acceptable? And why, in the first place, should courts be involved in determining people’s religious views?

In the end, this isn’t a big deal. The HL decision is fairly narrow, apparently. And it is probably short-lived.

For those whose Christian hope is in America, they will be found sorely disappointed. This holiday weekend is a good time to remember that America is not the church, and the church and the gospel doesn’t depend on America.

HL being free from providing all forms of birth control isn’t going to bring revival. I doubt your church attendance will be higher this weekend because of this. In fact, I doubt many people in your church will know much about this case. So I encourage you not to change that.

Preach the gospel. Call people to obedient faith. It still works.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Around the Horn – 6/27/14

At first, Paul Levy has a good piece on coming forward. It’s one of my pet peeves. Just because you have a big auditorium doesn’t mean you need to use it all, particularly if you don’t need to. Come together, people. It helps everything.

At second, Philip Corbett at the New York Times has a good piece on writing where he exhorts us to “do the hard work of ironing out our sentences so readers don’t have to.” Complex writing may make you feel good. It may make you feel smart. But it won’t help your readers. Simplicity, not complexity, is a virtue in communication.

At third, over at First Things, Robert Gregory writes about his experience at Bowdoin College over the matter of university policy requiring that Christians organizations open the doors of leadership to non-Christians. Such a policy is so absurd on its face that it could only come from modern academia. However, Gregory insightfully says, “Too much ground has been conceded over recent years in purchasing a ‘seat at the University table.’” It is reminiscent, perhaps, of the old fundamentalist/new evangelical controversy and quip, “I’ll call you brother if you call me doctor.” It is hard to tell what the end of this will be. It has happened other places, and will continue to happen. It is a good reminder that the university, and university fellowships (as good as they might be) are not the way God set out to accomplish his mission. The church is still God’s way, and Bowdoin, Vanderbilt, or anything other university cannot affect the church.

Last, here’s another view of the world. Or at least of a few cities. Street Score is a way of determining safe and dangerous neighborhoods, at least the perception of them by asking people to rate photos from Google. Here’s the Detroit map for those interested. (It’s still the Detroit map for those uninterested.) It’s interesting because all the major streets are unsafe and the neighborhoods tend to be rated safer. What strikes me from this is the way that people are going about gathering data. It is hard to imagine there is anything reliable about the methodology. But appearance matters. Perception may not be reality, but it is perception, and it shapes people’s views. There’s a lot of lessons there I suppose.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

This and That

I recently saw (for the billionth or so time) someone comment about the supposed evil of being known for what you are against rather than what you are for. It made me wonder if this person wanted us to know he was against people being known for what they are against.

It’s not there’s no truth to the idea. It’s that it’s simplistic and misleading. To be for something is automatically to be against other some things. And that’s okay. And it’s also okay to let people know you are against some things. However, if you are only critical, or constantly critical, you may need to rethink some things.

Speaking of that, I recently saw someone condemn someone to hell because they handled a situation differently than they would have. And this from a person who says fundamentalists are judgmental and graceless. Ironic, eh?

Which reminds me that it seems that the people who talk most about grace often seem to give it the least. They are all about grace … so long as you agree with them. Otherwise they want nothing to do with you.

Which reminds me that a lot of people hate theological or philosophical separatism in ministry. They have a novel solution: they do not associate with those who are separatists.

Methinks they don’t see the irony of it.

I do. And I laugh.

You see, almost everyone is a separatist. The question is for what reason and from whom. And that’s okay. Just have biblical reasons.

I was playing golf last night … a 4 ball match with a medal component. All that means is that there are two games going on at once and both holes and strokes count. We ended up winning 2-up on the match and 3-up on strokes. I tried to give it away on 8th hole by carding a snowman … on a 90 degree day no less. It was a disaster. But I came up big on the 9th to seal the deal with a tap-in par. We followed it up with a salad (both garden salad and crab salad), grilled lamb chops and chicken (I skipped the fish), garlic roasted potatoes, mixed vegetables, ice cream, and oreo bread pudding. Win or lose, that tastes good.  

Two things about golf and life.

First, don’t make a guy putt an 18-incher for a quadruple bogey. It’s really rude. Unless all the strokes count, in which case it’s smart, particularly if the game is close. But if you hadn’t given a couple of two-footers away earlier, you might not be down now.

However, if you are the one putting for an quadruple bogey, you deserve the shame of having to make it. In fact, you should probably have to make it twice. But to quote Jude, on some have compassion. But only when the competition is over.

Second, sometimes it doesn’t matter how bad you play, so long as you show up when you need to. It’s not a good way to live life, but you get away with it sometimes. And it won’t build character. But every now and then you get away with it. Last night was one of those times.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Around the Horn – June 13, 2014

At first, here’s an interesting article on forensic science. For those who criminal investigation experience extends all the way to Law and Order and CSI, this article gives a side of the equation that removes the simplicity. Which leads me to wonder about fingerprints and snowflakes. It is commonly said that no two are alike, but how would they know that unless they have compared every single fingerprint or every single snowflake? Which I say mostly to remind pastors (and prosecutors) to be careful about using illustrations which cannot be proven to be true, because someone out there will be thinking about it.

At second, here’s a good article by Mark Snoeberger on raising children. Mark gives a needed reminder that the modern emphasis on giving grace to children should not exclude common grace. I am reminded of an article I read recently of a father who was going to punish his son for disrespecting his mother. Instead, he gave the belt to his son and told the son to hit the father ten times as hard as he could. Not only does that distort the atonement, it disregards the biblical command for fathers to teach and discipline their children, and it disregards the biblical teaching on respect itself. A child should never strike a parent.

At third, here’s an article on hyperactivity among children. We have probably all experienced the soundness and ease of a night’s sleep after a physically strenuous day. Or even the comfort of sitting in a chair on the porch and having no energy to move after an afternoon of work in the yard. Perhaps some common sense in dealing with fidgeting among children would go along way towards solving certain problems. There is no “one size fits all” solution. But there are some common sense things that get overlooked. Maybe this is one of them.

And last, Jurgen Klinsmann may have been a good soccer player, and a good tactician, but he’s clearly a bonehead as a coach. He came out several times recently saying that the US cannot win the World Cup. Now, let’s be honest: That doesn’t take a particular helping of clairvoyance to know that. But it’s a dumb coaching move to say it. That’s the job of commentators (of which there is not shortage). It might be something you say after it’s over. But it is not something you say going into a tournament.

While I am on this topic, I continue to think that the idea that Landon Donovan is not one of the 23 best players in this country right now doesn’t stretch the bounds of credibility. It is blows far past said bounds. For Klinsmann to leave Donovan off the roster was both a dumb PR move and a dumb coaching move. If Klinsmann wants to prepare young people for the 2018 World Cup, he has four years to do that. And it starts by exposing your young players to the experience and leadership of the most decorated players in US Soccer history. I maintain that if the US doesn’t make it through group play, Klinsmann should be fired in a post game press conference.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Around the Horn

At first, Matthew Hoskinson writes about What a New Pastor Doesn’t Know. Having lived the life of trying to revitalize an older, dying church for a few years, actually fifteen years, I think the five year number is probably too high, at least for some things. But there is a lot of wisdom in these words.

At second, here’s an interesting post about China and the work of the gospel there. Whether or not one agrees with the strategy talked about here, this gives an interesting perspective, particularly on the idea of bringing suffering and persecution to people.

At third, here’s an article in which Late Night TV host David Letterman talks about his regret over humiliating Monica Lewinsky. It reminds that comedy today seems based on humiliating people. It’s easy comedy, but cutting, disrespectful, and damaging. Letterman and others have made a career out of it for years. To express regret now may be honest enough. One wonders if he feels the same regret over the others he has humiliated. It is a good reminder to think before you speak, because there is a real person on the other end of those words.  

Last, USMNT Jurgen Klinsmann has named his 23-man roster for the World Cup this summer. Strangely, US stalwart Landon Donovan is not on it. This would have been Donovan’s fourth World Cup. Klinsmann is taking a big chance. He says he has the highest respect for Donovan, but one is not out on a thin limb to read that as pure politics. Klinsmann’s actions over the last year do not line up with that. I find it hard to believe that Donovan is not one of the best 23 players in the country, particularly with his experience and leadership. Klinsmann will (hopefully) live or die with this. If the USMNT does not get out of the group play, Klinsmann should be fired before the final whistle.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Here’s My Take on the NBA, Sterling, and Race

You probably heard that NBA owner Donald Sterling made some racist comments recently. People are all up in arms. Everybody is weighing in to condemn this is no uncertain terms. And it should be condemned in no uncertain terms. It was an unconscionable statement with no place in civil society.

On Tuesday, the NBA responded with a life-time ban from anything NBA related, a $2.5 million fine, and will apparently try to force him to sell the team.

Here’s my take: this was easy. Too easy. Good, but easy.

It takes no great moral courage to sound off on this one. This was a soft lob right down the middle. You don’t have to be Miguel Cabrera to drive this somewhere long and deep.

It’s easy because it won’t require you to change anything in your life. You can say your piece, and go right on back to the way things are.

The problem is exactly that: It’s easy. This was a politically incorrect thing to say, and an easy target for response. When it comes to real issues, few are willing to take a similar stand. Why? Because it’s harder. As the old saying goes, what’s good for people isn’t good for politics.

I don’t know that that’s an old saying. In fact, I may have just made it up. But it’s true.

President Obama weighed in on Sterling and said it was bad. Good for him.

This is the same guy who, just a year ago, couldn’t muster up a word about a guy who murdered hundreds, maybe thousands, of black people.

Apparently telling your girlfriend you don’t want her being seen with black people is horrible.

Killing black people? Not so much.

Why? Because Kermit Gosnell was an abortion doctor. And one thing worse than killing little black babies is making it so little black babies can’t be killed.

Or saying you don’t want your girlfriend taking pictures with black men.

You see, Sterling was a old rich white guy with a young girlfriend who could work a recording device. Gosnell was an abortion doctor who killed babies for decades. Those two things aren’t equal. One deserves vicious tirades and substantial punishment. The other is painted as an anomaly and quietly goes to trial in hopes that the outcome doesn’t damage women’s abortion rights.

In another incredibly brave example of courage and social consciousness, word comes that UCLA turned down a $3 million grant for kidney research because it came from the Donald Sterling Foundation.

Imagine that conversation: “Yes, we were close to finding a cure for you, but the money that would have helped was offered by a man who man who didn’t want his mistress-girlfriend posting pictures with black guys, and it was important for us to make a social statement. But don’t worry, we still have our dialysis machine, and we will send flowers to your funeral.”

I won’t pretend to understand the complexities of race, economics, community, education, and all the related things, so I won’t pontificate on that. You probably don’t understand either, and you shouldn’t pontificate either.

I won’t pretend to think I can change the world. You can’t either.

Here’s what you may not know. The NBA didn’t learn anything new this week. Sterling didn’t change his views last weekend. This has been known about Sterling for years and years. And no one did anything. Stern sat on his hands while his wallet and the NBA’s wallet got exponentially fatter.

Now, new NBA commish Adam Silver doles out lifetime ban to Sterling. Whoopeee!!! He’s eighty-one years old. Eighty-one. 81. Yes, they gave a lifetime ban to an 81-year old. What courage. What a statement.

Oh yes, and they are going to force him to sell his team. Or at least try to force him. You know what that means? It means that Sterling’s $12.5 million purchase in 1981 will probably net him somewhere north of $750 millions. I don’t even know what the rate of return is on that, but please, punish me with such force.

NBA, you want to make a difference in race issues? Don’t make symbolic gestures. I am not saying reinstate Sterling. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. Seriously. It doesn’t. No one’s life is changed or not changed by this.

If you want to make a difference, get serious about decimated family structures in urban areas. Start by leading the charge to make sure every black baby actually gets born rather than being eradicated from its mother’s body like some sort of cancer.

Figure out a way to help men take responsibility for their children. Start by getting serious about the children your players have with multiple women. $10K a month in child support is no substitute for dad loving mom, and being around the house, teaching their little boys to be men, and teaching their little girls to be women. And realize that a very large number of black children are growing up without active fathers. That’s far worse than Donald Sterling spouting off in private.

Do something about education. No, I don’t mean send a player to read a book for thirty minutes to a class in some upscale school district for a photo op. I mean figure out a way to make a meaningful difference in kids’ lives so that they can learn the basics of life, and have a shot at moving out of the urban ghetto they have grown up in.

Do something about black employment. I know your own employ is more than 75% black, but what how about start some urban initiatives for places where half that percentage are chronically unemployed. Do something about the situation where many people don’t look for jobs because they actually lose when they find one.

Be creative. Do something substantive. Take some of those billions you make and start addressing real racial problems.

By all means, keep Sterling out of the NBA for life. Take his $2.5 mill fine and spend it on some charitable organization addressing race. Sell the Clippers to a minority group led by Magic Johnson, Oprah Winfrey, or whoever.

But don’t think you killed the big one because it took you thirty years to make a non-meaningful social statement that won’t actually change anything.

And don’t sit on your laurels and think it was anything other than a non-meaningful social statement.

The real work starts now. So get busy.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Survey Results

Almost a year ago, I requested help from pastors in the form of completing a survey for my final Doctor of Ministry requirements. That survey was closed in September and the results have been compiled and compared, analyzed and assembled into something resembling a conclusion.

I learned much in this survey, much of which surrounds the idea that writing survey questions that tell you what you want to know is very hard. And sorting data is is not for us inexperienced people. In the future, I intend to stick to counting noses and nickels and leave this kind of stuff to people like Ed Stetzer and George Barna. Of course, neither of them were willing to do this survey for a price which I could afford, so I did it myself.

As promised, for those interested, you can read the narrative of the results here and see the raw data here. I will probably some reflections on it here.

For those of you who took the time to take the survey, my sincere thanks.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Around the Horn

At first, here’s a good article on doing something. Almost anything. It’s a good thought on the possibility of spending a lot of time on things that ultimately don’t matter much.

At second, here’s an article on dress codes in schools. It’s interesting, on the one hand, how many school districts have gone to uniforms in recent years to avoid these (and other) kinds of problems. It’s also interesting how a lack of specificity about expectations creates problems. While it might sound great to have a minimal dress code (or rules about anything), it can be very unwieldy and impractical at times. It’s also interesting to see the total self-focus of an honor student who says, “I’m paying attention in class. So why are you making a big deal about it?”, as if she is the only one who matters. Unless you are home-schooled as an only child, you paying attention in class is not the only thing that matters.

At third, here’s a short clip from an interview with Bubba Watson, the now two-time Master’s champion where he talks about his faith and fatherhood. It’s a good, short reminder about things that matter. It reminds me that mostly good King Hezekiah’s greatest failure was probably his son Manasseh, who was probably the worst king Judah ever had.

Last, here’s an article about an avalanche on Mt. Everest that killed more than a dozen people. It reminds of the book Into Thin Air that I finished just last week about the (up until now) greatest tragedy on Mt. Everest in 1996. Oftentimes, at tragedies like this, people say, “He died doing what he loved.” To which I reply, “Yeah, but he’s still dead.” Dying while doing what you love is only worthwhile if you love things worth dying for. Climbing Mt. Everest, driving a fast car, and a whole lot of others things aren’t on that list.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Around the Horn

At first, if there are any still buying the canard that Calvinism is driven by logic and the alternatives are not, these two articles by Roger Olson on High Calvinism and a Followup to it should put that to rest. Olson is an Armininian who knows enough about theology to know what that means. Most Arminians don’t know enough to know they are Arminian, and not a few are actually Pelagian. Olson’s point is driven, not by Scripture, but by logic, namely, God can’t be something because Olson’s mind can’t comprehend how he can be that something. It’s a bad way to go about things, when the smaller determines what the bigger can be based on what fits into the smaller mind. That’s not to say Olson is a small mind. It’s to say that he is human, and the finite cannot sit in judgment on the infinite.

At second, here’s an interesting article an interesting article by a historian who is claiming that “being gay” is a modern notion, not a biological one. It’s worth a read, perhaps particularly because it is not from a religious perspective. Why does that matter? Because even non religious people believe that homosexuality is not biological.

At third, here’s an interesting article on urban church planting. On the one hand, there is some good stuff here. On the other hand, I wonder if this doesn’t actually perpetuate some racial ideas that might increase or at least continue racial tension. In addition, I am not sure it wrestles adequately with theological issues involved. Perhaps I will write more on that later. Until then, read it and consider it.

Last today, here’s a sobering collection of color photos from the German prison camp Dachau taken by Hitler’s personal photographer in 1950. Only our collective memories will prevent repeat of history. And has that last sixty years of history have shown, our collective memories have failed. Whether it’s Russia, southeast Asia, the Balkans, Sudan, or American, the killing fields continue. At least today, the pictures of Dachau are considered acceptable. In America, the pictures of our own Holocaust are ruled to gruesome for public consumption. How strange it is.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Around the Horn

At first, Carl Trueman brings it strong here and here on celebrity pastors and particularly Mark Driscoll. He has done this before, even showing up at what is probably the largest gathering of celebrity pastors to defend himself. It’s worth reading. (Ironically, one of the commenters at First Things talked of having to choose between evangelicalism and Presbyterianism, so he left evangelicalism and chose the PC-USA. I think that probably says more than he intended it to. But I digress … )

At second, here’s a good article raising a very legitimate point about Roe, namely, why do mothers have the right but fathers do not? Why can mothers kill their babies because of future costs, but fathers cannot? Why are fathers prosecuted as murderers for doing the same thing that mothers do with immunity?

At third, here’s an old article by Thomas Sowell on writing. It is both instructive and amusing. And it has relevance for preaching as well, such as when he says, “Jaw-breaking words often cover up very sloppy thinking.”

Lastly, here’s a long, disturbing, thought-provoking, and interesting article from a series of interviews with the father of Newtown killer Adam Lanza. It’s hard to imagine, to fathom, and to understand what happened, and how a father lives with it. This doesn’t help any of that, but it gives some insight into all of it.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Some Thoughts on the Creation Debate

A few nights ago, creationist Ken Ham debated evolutionist Bill Nye on creation and evolution. I didn’t watch it for several reasons. First, it was at a bad time. I was reading to my kids and getting them in bed. Second, it didn’t sound interesting. My suspicion was that it would be a rehash of old arguments, made by both sides often and rejected by both sides equally often.

I am a young earth creationist (YEC), primarily because the Bible presents it that way, and secondarily because, as I understand the science, there is no reason not to be. Now, I admit to not understanding all the science, but I have never gotten satisfactory explanations of things from an evolutionary perspective.

Simply put, I don’t have enough faith to be an evolutionist. Too many statistically impossible things would have to fall exactly in place for it to be true. To get a one-in-a-billion occurrence to happen is unbelievable. Irrational. To get a whole series of them to happen (which is what evolution requires) is … well … I don’t have a word for it. To believe in it is either an act of extreme faith or extreme naiveté, or both.

I have read some of the articles and reviews of the debate. It’s predictable. Evolutionists mock Ham for his beliefs, and Nye for even going to the debate. Creationists praise Ham and point out Nye’s faults. And there is a predictable group of old-earth creationists, or what we used to call concordists, who try to carve out a middle position, praising Ham for his commitment to the Bible and condemning his science, while agreeing largely with Nye’s science but pointing out his lack of belief in a Creator.

Having read these reports, I will make only a few comments about the larger debate, not the one from the other night.

First, I hear that Ham continually took it back to the Bible. Good for him. I am glad. He should do this. We all should. I doubt that many people are actually walking away from the faith over young-earth creationism, though if you listen to the critics (including Ham), the church is almost empty on Sundays because of YEC (either those who believe it or those who don’t). But in the end, YEC is the only position that is consistent with the gospel. Others can indeed be saved, and are saved, but they have some issues that they can’t really explain apart from some big leaps, namely the problem of death and it’s relation to sin. If death isn’t the result of sin (as an OEC must affirm), then we can’t really explain why the Bible says that it is, and we can’t explain why Jesus had to die as a payment for sin since death wasn’t the result of sin. We have a payment made (death) that has no connection to the debt (sin).

Second, I see that Nye professed a belief that all innovation would stop if everyone became young earth creationists. It’s hard to understand in what world that would be true. It certainly isn’t true in the world as it exists now, however, it may have gotten here. And Ham apparently proved that by videos and references to YECs who have innovated.

In fact, we should point out that the only reason innovation is possible is because this is a world of order and law, where certain things happen every single time. Innovation is possible because of that repeatability. There’s no reason to believe that the science that enables innovations works in a world of randomness and chance (the world of evolution).

Nye appealed to the “reasonable man.” Again, it is difficult to grasp how any reasonable person could look at the world as it currently exists, even with its problems, and assume it the product of randomness and evolution. That is beyond reason. It is not rational. It is a position of pure faith. Unwarranted faith, I would say. There is no reason to believe that the world we live in is accidental.

The atheist has no reason to believe that the world is like it is. He has no reason to believe that tomorrow will be like today. Or yesterday. The consistency of the world’s existence is possible only in a theistic universe. The atheist’s science only works in a world he doesn’t actually believe in. He does not want to live in the world he believes in. In fact, he couldn’t live in the world he believes in. No one could, either physically, morally, or ethically. The atheist can defend his atheism only because it isn’t true. He has to borrow from the theist to assert anything about reality, beginning with the fact that reality exists.

In the end, the question of reasonableness ultimately hinges on the mind that is reasoning. When that mind is darkened, ignorant because of hardness, and calloused (Ephesians 4:17-19), it is hard to take it seriously. Unless, of course, you share its fundamental preconceptions and presuppositions.

And that is why, in the end, debates like this probably primarily only strengthen the adherents of both sides. For most people, the winner is the one you agreed with before it started. If your presuppositions (the things you accept without argument) align with Nye’s presuppositions (the things he accepts without argument), then you are likely to agree with him. And likewise with Ham.

As Ken Ham (and others) have said before, the question isn’t one of bias. We are all biased. The question which bias is the best bias to be biased with.

Or as I have said, Is your faith, and the object of your faith, big enough to account for reality? If your worldview can’t explain the world, you need a better one.

Nye’s worldview can’t explain death and brokenness in the material universe. It can’t explain innovation and consistency in the material universe. It can’t answer the most basic question of why there is something rather than nothing, and where it is headed. Until it can, it is not a viable explanation for the world as we see it.

For now, we must all admit that when it comes to origins, we see through a glass darkly. What we do know, instinctively, is that the world is broken. Only the Bible can explain why it is broken, or how we even can recognize brokenness. Only the Bible can explain how that brokenness can be repaired. For creationist and evolutionist alike, Jesus is the answer.

And so my friend, be wary of converting people to creationism prior to or even instead of converting them to Jesus. Jesus didn’t die so we could explain the fossils, the size of the universe, or the ice cores from Antarctica. He died because our sinfulness is doing something very bad to us. And the worst is yet to come. Only by Jesus’ death can there be hope.