Monday, July 31, 2006

As it is in Heaven - Jonathan Edwards

Marvin Olasky of World did an inteview with Stephen J. Nichols (Lancaster Bible College and Graduate School) on the person and teaching of Jonathan Edwards. It's quite interesting.

Olasky asks "You write that the apostle Paul's statement to the Philippians that 'Our citizenship is in heaven' should be contextualized by the understanding of Roman citizenship common at the time. You note that it didn't mean a Roman citizen in Philippi should hasten to Rome, but that he should bring the glory of Rome to Philippi..."

Nichols answers: "Some take this text to mean that we should have very little to do with this world, with life on earth. Heaven is our home, this interpretation argues, and that is where our allegiances lie. Recently, however, some New Testament scholars have made a compelling case for thinking about this text differently. Citizens of Rome who lived in Philippi were not to pine away for Rome. Instead, they were to bring Rome to Philippi. We shouldn't pine away for heaven. Instead, as citizens of heaven living on earth we should bring heaven here, even if it is only in miniature. Remarkably, Edwards was preaching such an insight to his Northampton congregation three centuries ago."

We certainly should live in such a way to bring Heaven, as well as the Kingdom of God, to earth - even if it isn't a perfect representation, which it won't be until, well, Heaven. Isn't that what we mean when we pray "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven"? I think so.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

"That's Really Cheesy"

A couple of quotes on cheese - enjoy!

"How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheeses?" (Charles de Gaulle)

"Blessed are the cheesemakers for they are pure of heart." (Monty Python)

"Never commit yourself to a cheese without having first examined it." (T.S. Eliot)

"The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese." (G.K. Chesterton)

(All quotes brought to you by the fellow cheese-lovers at Credenda Agenda (

Words to a Barber

How can I pray more effectively? That question is asked quite a few times - prayer can be somewhat mysterious after all.

(Personally, I wish it would be asked more than it is. The questions pastors get more often have to do with the time and date of the next potluck, why we sang a particular hymn or didn't sing another one, or how so-and-so is doing. How I would love to hear - more than I do now - questions about prayer, Bible study, ministry, service, evangelism, and a host of other things that involve living as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ! Soapbox over.)

Martin Luther's barber asked him about praying that was less distracted by the things of the world. Luther wrote a 40-page response in which he outlined a method of both prayer and Bible study. Peter, the barber, was told that as he meditated on God's Word he should ask 1) What does the Bible teach me to do? 2) What does it teach me to be thankful for? 3) What does it teach me to confess? 4) What does it teach me to ask for?

That's a pretty good outline as far as I'm concerned!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Website Recommendation

I came across a website today that I have to pass along - The purpose of the blog is "to frustrate, educate and motivate the church to communicate with uncompromising clarity, the truth of Jesus Christ." Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Submission - Part 2

Submission, in the biblical sense, is based upon the 6th Commandment - "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you" (Ex. 20:12).

The Heidelberg Catechism answers the question of what the commandment means by saying, "That I show all honor, love and fidelity, to my father and mother, and all in authority over me, and submit myself to their good instruction and correction, with due obedience; and also bear with their weaknesses and infirmities, since it pleases God to govern us by their hand" (Lord's Day 39).

True liberty is found in submission to God and those He is pleased to place in authority over us. Sounds absolutely counterintuitive, but it's true!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Been Thinking About...


The Bible has a lot to say about it, some of it I'm sure we'd rather not hear (and definitely don't heed). To be honest, I have to say that. Mark Twain once quipped that it wasn't what he didn't understand in the Bible that bothered him, it was what he did understand. So it is with me, too.

"Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you" (Heb. 13:17).
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right" (Eph. 6:1).
"Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ" (Eph. 5:21).
"Wives, be subject (or "submit") to your own husbands, as to the Lord" (Eph. 5:22).
"Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ" (Eph. 6:5).
"Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves" (Rom. 13:1-2).

That's just a small sampling of what God has to say in His Word about submission and submitting. I need to submit to those who are in authority over me, because by doing so I'm submitting myself to God (who placed those people over me). That doesn't for a minute mean that it's easy. In fact, sometimes it's excruciatingly hard, because those who we are to submit to are sinful and fallen. We should be reminded that if we ourselves are in authority over someone else, we fit that definition (sinful and fallen), too.

I can't get around submission by saying, "I submit to God and God alone!" That sounds real spiritual and real holy, but it isn't - it's the height of rebellion. If we don't submit to human (and imperfect) authority, we're not submitting to divine (perfect) authority. That's hard to take, but it's true and I need to hear it. (The one exception is when we're commanded to do something God forbids or forbidden to do something God commands - which I believe is rare.)

Submission isn't really submission until a disagreement takes place. Up until that point, we're not submitting, we're agreeing. I do my best to drive the speed limit because I agree with it. I wear a seatbelt in the car because I agree with the law that says I have to. However, I don't like to wear a helmet when I ride my bicycle, but I do because it's the law in the town where I live. That's submission - I don't agree it with it but I do it anyway because it honors God, ultimately.

Before I entered the ministry (and even before I entered seminary), I discussed the possibility of my being called to the ministry with my then-pastor. I didn't like what he told me. I disagreed with him strongly, in fact. He told me that before I went to seminary, I should work for a year or so at a "secular job" (I use the term even though neither he nor I like it, but for ease of understanding) which involved "punching a clock" so that I would be better able to relate to those I ministered to who have to "punch a clock" themselves. He thought it unwise for a young man to move from college to seminary to ministry without having experience in the world of work (which would have been me if I hadn't heeded his advice). I was convinced that I was called by God and was ready to go - right now! My wise pastor added some teeth to his counsel by saying that because he felt so strongly about the matter that he wouldn't give me a recommendation unless I complied (the recommendation was required by the seminary). I could have bolted and went to some other church, or went ahead with my own plans without his blessing. But, by the grace of God, I submitted to my pastor and did what he recommended even though, at first, I didn't like it, and received his good recommendation. The postscript is that I'm eternally grateful to him. His counsel has proven wise many times over. Just a personal illustration for what it's worth.

I can't forget the Bible, either. I have to submit it because it's the Word of God. There are things I don't understand and don't like, but the Bible stands in judgment of me and not me of it. Why didn't God reveal some truth or information to us which would have finally and fully solved a problem? I don't know, but I submit to Him because I love and trust Him.

More could be said, but that's enough for a good start.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Roberts on Denominations

Pastor Mark Roberts of Irvine Presbyterian Church in California has written a good series of posts on denominations. Yes, I realize that's a dirty word for some, but it doesn't have to be. Roberts is pastor of a church in the Presbyterian Church USA, and many have asked him if, as a result of recent decisions, they would be leaving. He hasn't given a definite response yet, but did do some thinking and writing on the subject of denominations. They're all worth a read - a good defense of denominations. You can read them here. I highly recommend them.

~ What's good about denominations?
~ What is a denomination?
~ Denominations establish hospitals and schools.
~ Denominations plant churches.
~ Denominations provide accountability for churches and church leaders.
~ Denominations provide guidance for congregational worship.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Man in Black

Johnny Cash has always been one of my favorite musicians, even when I didn't quite know why. His music (especially the lyrics) seem timeless and extremely honest. Cash pulled no punches when he wrote and sang about the unseemly aspects of life - the dark side. Too much of what is called "Christian" music is focused nearly entirely on the bright side of life, and because of that it isn't honest, in my opinion.

Russell Morris wrote an article for an older issue of Touchstone called, "Real Hard Cash." He has some good thoughts on why Johnny has endured on the music scene for so long, and why he strikes such a chord (pun intended) with so many of us.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

"Thinking of the Unthinkable Pastoral Response"

Michael Spencer (iMonk) has a thought-provoking post on how a pastor can respond to the death of an infant, especially if he believes in the "T" in Calvinism - total depravity. Standing at the graveside with the family would we say something like, "Because this child was born a sinner, and thus dead in trespasses and sins, and unless this child was elect of God, then he or she is burning in hell right now"? (This is not preciesly the way he put it, but it isn't far off - you can read his post here.)

Let me offer a brief response.

Michael, I am a pastor who has done his share of funerals (nearly one hundred in seven years) and a pastor who believes in total depravity. I've never made that statement at a graveside or anywhere else, for that matter. I don't know anyone who has, either. But, to be perfectly honest, I've thought about it a lot and prayed about it a lot. This is one of the toughest of the practical pastoral issues I've faced.

I don't ever presume to make a dogmatic declaration about anyone's final destiny - whether they are 18 months old or 96 years old. I don't know for sure. The Bible is not as clear as I would prefer on this question of the destinty of an infant who has died (but, praise God I'm not God, and He hasn't chosen to reveal that to us). I trust the goodness, justice, and love of God in this situation. I know that God is good, that He will always do what is right, and that His love is amazing. I happen to think that infants who die and those who lack the capability to believe intelligently are elect. I realize this is speculation, but so is every other position in this debate. I think Reformed theology is the best summary and explanation of what we find in the Word of God, but I readily admit that I could be wrong. I sincerely hope that my commitment to it doesn't drive me to misinterpret Scripture and thus mislead people.

I've been helped tremendously by John MacArthur's little book Safe in the Arms of God. He quotes Charles Spurgeon as saying:

"Among the gross falsehoods which have been uttered against the Calvinist proper is the wicked calumny that we hold the damnation of little infants. A baser lie was never uttered. There may have existed somewhere in the corner of the earth a miscreant who would dare to say that there were infants in hell, but I have never met with him, nor have I met with a man who ever saw such a person.
"We say with regard to infants, Scripture sayeth but very little, and therefore where Scripture is confessedly scant, it is for no man to determine dogmatically. but I think I speak for the entire body, or certainly with exceedingly few exceptions, and those unknown to me, when I say, we hold that all infants (who die) are elect of God and are therefore saved, and we look to this as being the means by which Christ shall see of the travail of his soul to a great degree, and we do sometimes hope that thus the multitude of the saved shall be made to exceed the multitude of the lost.
"Whatever views our friends may hold upon the point, they are not necessarily connected to Calvinist doctrine. I believe that the Lord Jesus, who said, 'of such is the kingdom of heaven,' doth daily and constantly receive into his loving arms those tender ones who are only shown and then snatched away to heaven."

MacArthur's three points on the matter bear repeating: All children are conceived and born as sinners. The salvation of every person is a matter of God's grace, not man's works. We are saved by the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ on the cross - the supreme manifestation of God's grace.

The "unthinkable pastoral repsonse" is just that, unthinkable. Thank you, Michael, for your thoughts and thoughtfulness.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"Not Very Serious"

David Wells is a professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and, in my opinion, something of a prophet in the church today. I was challenged and enlightened by his earlier books, No Place For Truth and God in the Wasteland. He's written another book called Above All Earthly Pow'rs, which I haven't read, but will in the future. Here are a couple of quotes from it I gleaned from a review (he's critiquing the contemporary evangelical church):

"Evangelicalism, now much absorbed by the arts and tricks of marketing, is simply not very serious anymore. "

"This is probably the first time that Christian people anywhere in the West have thought that ecclesiastical architecture is, in principle, offensive, that religious symbols, such as crosses, should be banned from churches, that pulpits should be abandoned, that hymns should be abolished, that pews should be sent to the garbage dump, and that pianos and organs should be removed. All of this has been happening on the forefront of this movement. This is probably the first time, too, that churchgoers have wanted their buildings to be mistaken for corporate headquarters or country clubs."

I'd certainly agree with Wells' comments on the state of the evangelical church in the United States. The last four words of the last sentence are critical - "in the United States." The evangelical church in most of the rest of the world is growing, vibrant, and very serious, even if it isn't here. I look forward to reading Wells' book and taking in his entire argument.

I think he's right, but I hope he's wrong.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Fundamental Difference

Chuck Colson, in his latest Breakpoint commentary, makes some great points about the Spiritual Activism Conference held in Washington D.C. not too long ago. It was a gathering of the religious left to complain about the religious right, basically. (On a side note, that's not very tolerant or welcoming and it doesn't "honor divrsety," now does it?)

Here's some of what Colson said,

"You see, that's the crux of the liberals' problem. This conflict is
not about political or social divisions. It's about authority -
specifically, whether or not Christians are willing to acknowledge that the Bible is our authority."

"Tony Campolo certainly recognized this. Though Tony and I disagree on a lot of things, I really like Tony. He's honest, and he loves the Bible. He tried to explain at this conference the necessity of following Scripture. But one participant retorted, 'I thought this was a spiritual progressives' conference. I don't want to play the game of 'the Bible says this or that,' or that we get validation from something other than ourselves.'"

"There you have it. Validation from ourselves simply means you make up your own god. We Christians may interpret the Bible differently; we may apply it to life differently; we may have arguments over exegesis. But the Bible has to be the ultimate autority. Otherwise we end up worshiping the goddess of tolerance and believing that tolerance takes precedence over truth."

You can read the rest of Colson's remarks here.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Truth in Labeling

If you spend much time interacting with those who have different opinions than your own, you've no doubt been charged with "labeling." At a certain point in the discussion, someone will say, "You're just labeling me." It's meant to stop the debate, basically. How can you go on making your point and advancing your argument when you have to go down this rabbit trail and deal with this vague idea of "labeling"? In most cases, you can't.

A number of people don't like to be "labeled." They think it is somehow demeaning and a form of name-calling. It's true that some who label others may be mean and demeaning, but it doesn't have to be that way. And it doesn't have to be name-calling, either.

Why do we label? Why do we call others (or ideas) "conservative," "liberal," "fundamentalist," "post-modern," "Arminian," "Calvinist," or any number of other things? Because it's inevitable. We were created by God with the ability and responsibility of naming ("The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field" - Gen. 2:20). Another word for what Adam did is "labeling." Created in the image and likeness of God, we classify and distinguish both people and things - we can't help it, in fact. Jesus Himself labeled. In Matthew 23:13, He said, "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites."

When we label - and we will - we need to keep three points in the forefront of our thinking: 1st: Is it accurate? 2nd: Is it fair? 3rd: Is it being used to marginalize or manipulate?

I don't mind, for example, being labeled as a Calvinist. It's accurate and true. However, I do mind being called a hyper-Calvinist because it's neither accurate nor true. I also don't enjoy being labeled a Calvinist when it's used to ridicule me or dismiss me summarily. Nobody else would enjoy those things, either, so I need to be careful I don't do it. By the way, when someone charges you with "labeling," they are labeling you as a labeler, which means that they're guilty of labeling, too.

Truth and accuracy in labeling, therefore, is what we ought to shoot for before the face of God.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Seven Lessons from Summer Camp

It's summer, which means camps! Shawn McEvoy was a counselor at Pine Cove Ranch - a Bible camp - from 1991-93. Looking back on it, he gives seven lessons he learned (good not only for camp, but for life, too!).

  1. God doesn't call the qualified; He qualifies the called.
  2. If you want to learn something, teach it.
  3. The kid with the toughest exterior on Sunday is the one who'll be hugging you the hardest come Saturday.
  4. Life and Christianity are so much more than Do's and Don'ts.
  5. It's good to be alive.
  6. We are the Body.
  7. There's biblical application everywhere.

Sounds pretty good to me! Have a great Lord's Day!

Friday, July 14, 2006

More on Rice

I realized at some point today that I left out another statement about Jesus from Anne Rice in yesterday's post. I also didn't include my thoughts, either. So here goes -

"Christianity achieved what it did because Jesus rose from the dead." (Anne Rice)

Rice's statements about the Lord Jesus are definitely interesting (as well as hopeful). I haven't read her book Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. It's described as historical fiction dealing with the first seven years of Jesus' life. I'm sure there would be some things I would disagree with, but her book is important. It's important because it is chronicling her spiritual journey - it represents where she is right now. It's important to the church, because it adds to the body of literature regarding Christ, as well as giving us an opportunity to teach about who He really is. It's also important to the culture at large because, although it's not an infallble record, it takes the person of Jesus to the culture. People who would never read a book about Jesus might pick it up because they know the author.

Some of Rice's comments in various interviews have been anything but biblically orthodox. Before we jump up off the couch and go get the heresy matches, we need to remember a few things:
* Anne Rice is on a journey either to Jesus or with Jesus. So am I and so are you. Some
are further along than others. In my early days, months, and years as a follower of
Christ, I made some unusual statements about Him and believed some things about
Him that were pretty weird (as I later learned). Rice, though, has the blessing or
curse of having her thoughts and beliefs published in novels and interviews (I didn't!). I
look forward to the next book in her series - at least to see if she's grown
* We need to pray for her. If she doesn't believe in Jesus, we need to pray that she would.
If she does, we need to pray that she grows and matures in her faith and commitment.
* Pray for all of the people who pick up the book and read it. Pray that they would be
drawn to the Lord and want to know more about who He really is.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Anne Rice on Jesus

Anne Rice, the author of all sorts of vampire stories (among other things), had her book on Jesus published last year (2005) called Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. Here's one of her comments about Jesus Himself:

"I'm not offering agnostic explanations about Jesus. He is real. He worked miracles. He is the Son of God!"

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

There Are No Shortcuts

Someone once asked Tiger Woods if he would give him a shortcut or two that would improve his golf game. Woods said, "There are no shortcuts."

True in golf (believe me, I know!). True in Christianity, too. Being a mature follower of Jesus Christ takes time and effort. It isn't easy, either. G.K. Chesterton said, "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been tried and found difficult."

We're bombarded with shortcuts as Christians. If you doubt that, walk into a Christian book store and browse for a while. "Say this prayer every day and God will bless your life!" "What Would Jesus Do?" (I don't think He'd spend $17.95 for a hat with the letters WWJD on it.) "You can have success, health, and wealth by saying all the right words in the right order and having a lot of faith." All of these are shortcuts and all of them are wrong.

Being a disciple (literally "a learner" or follower) of Jesus involves much time and more effort. Prayer isn't always easy - it can be excruciatingly hard sometimes. Bible reading and study isn't always exciting - there are times when it's boring and confusing. Fellowship with other Christians isn't always a pleasant experience - we rub each other the wrong way a lot. Gathering for worship isn't always the best experience - there are times when we'd rather be anywhere else than in church on Sundays. Serving and ministering to others is often very difficult for a number of reasons.

Having said all that, the only way to be a mature follower of Jesus Christ is to put in the time and the effort because there are no shortcuts. Maybe that's why so many people shy away from it. It's hard and we have to do things we don't always want to do. The good news is, though, that God forgives our sin and gives us the ability to actually do what He's called us to do.

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23 - ESV)

Monday, July 10, 2006

"The Church is Full of Hypocrites"

If you've been a follower of Christ for any length of time, you've heard the objection, "I'm not interested in Christianity because the church is full of hypocrites." Dave Burchett tackles the subject well in his article "Sunday Morning Masquerade." He makes some very good points. Read it here.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

According to Mark

Christianity Today posted an e-mail interview with Mark Drsicoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Mark, as usual, has some interesting things to say. Here's a sample:

Q - What are some of the major blindspots of megachurches?
A - "The major blindspot of megachurches is that they tend to be very effeminate with aesthetics, music, and preaching perfectly tailored for moms. Many men are repelled by this, and many of the men who find it appealing are the types to sing prom songs to Jesus and learn about their feelings while sitting in a seafoam green chair drinking herbal tea - the spiritual equivalent of Richard Simmons. A friend of mine calls them 'evanjellyfish' with no spiritual vertebrae. Statistically, traditional churches are in steep decline, contemporary churches will dominate in the foreseeable future, and emerging churches are just beginning to sort out what the future holds for them."

Read the rest of the short interview here.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Importance of Being Humble

Does humility characterize our life? C.J. Mahaney (and more importantly, the Word of God) says that it should. 1 Peter 5:5 puts it like this: "Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." You can read the article here.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Behold, the power of the KJV!

The King James Version of the Bible has had a tremendous impact on western civilization, especially the United States. Mark Noll (a great historian and writer) has posted an article on The Wall Street Journal's website that explains the "cultural force" of the KJV. Very interesting reading - check it out!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

"Building A Virtuous Country"

"Wouldn't we consider it unconscionable to neglect a child's moral instruction. Certainly we'd never accept as justification for negligence in this area the excuse, 'My rules can never change a child's rebellious heart. Only the Gospel can do that.' We wouldn't accept it because we know that we are responsible to do more in the care and moral training of our children. We expect to raise moral children by giving them rules to live by. We punish our children when they break them and praise them when they obey. In the process, they develop virtues and live out virtuous lives later as adults, when our rules are not around to inform them. If this procedure works so well in a family, why can't it work in a nation?"

My answer to Greg Koukl's question - the one who wrote this commentary - is yes! The law, although it can't ultimately change hearts or bring salvation, is a great teacher. It shows what we as a culture (and a family is a small culture) value and what we expect in terms of behavior. The Cultural Mandate (Gen. 1:26-28) is a command to build a godly culture, which starts with us (God's people) but doesn't stop there. That doesn't happen with laws alone, but ultimately as hearts are changed it will.