Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Contrast from Luke 1

In my reading of Luke 1 this morning, something jumped out at me - the contrasts between Mary and Zechariah. One young, the other old. One female, the other male. One a commoner, the other a priest. One betrothed, the other married. Perhaps the biggest contrast between the two of them, though, is Mary's faith and Zechariah's lack of faith.

After the angel Gabriel told Zechariah that he and his wife, Elizabeth, would have a son (a child they had been praying for fervently), the priest said, "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years" (Luke 1:18). Not exactly a faith-filled statement. Gabriel tells him, "you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time" (Luke 1:20).

Mary, on the other hand, had no such unbelief. Yes, she did ask Gabriel "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" (Luke 1:34) But she obviously trusted God to do what He had promised through Gabriel, because of her reply - "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38). The mother of Jesus trusted God and submitted to Him, even though she couldn't have fully understood what the rest of her life would entail.

A postscript: Zechariah didn't continue in his unbelief - read Luke 1:57-79.

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Good and Pure Words

Good, and thought-provoking, words from Purechurch:

"Three things confuse a Christian; Yeah, four confound any man.

Unbelief masquerading as wisdom,
Enthusiasm presenting itself as faith,
Fear pretending to be patience, and
Permissiveness claiming to be love."

Amen and amen!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Scientology 101

A very interesting - and long - article on Scientology can be read here.

If you want a crash course in what this group believes and how they operate, read it. It's being talked about in the culture (and by our neighbors), therefore it wouldn't hurt for us to have some knowledge about it. It's also a good opportunity for us to present the real Jesus as opposed to the house of sand built by L. Ron Hubbard.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"The Gospel & Personal Evangelism" - Chapter 1

"Why Don't We Evangelize?"

Dever starts out by making the remark that most of us would flunk Jesus' call to evangelize. Honestly, I agree with him. I don't like to, but I have to say I think he's right. The point of this chapter, writes Dever, is to consider some of the most common excuses we use to justify our lack of evangelism.

1. I don't know their language.
We may not know someone's language, but there are things we can do to overcome that obstacle. We could learn their language. We could also get evangelistic material they can understand in their own language - the point is to hear and understand the gospel.

2. Evangelism is illegal.
Yes, proclaiming the gospel is illegal in some countries, but it isn't in the United States. Very few of us face this obstacle.

3. Evangelism could cause problems at work.
Evangelism might cause problems at work if it isn't done in a proper and appropriate way. But it doesn't follow then that evangelism shouldn't happen. All of us need to work within the guidelines we have at work (which may mean not proclaiming the gospel during work time except on rare occasions). "We don't want our evangelism to stand in the way of the evangel - the good news" (emphasis in the original).

4. Other things seem more urgent.
If we're too busy to evangelize, we're too busy. While there are a multitude of things we can, and should, do during any given day, many of them are not as urgent as the gospel.

5. I don't know non-Christians.
Dever calls this "the excuse of choice for mature Christians" and the most common excuse for not evangelizing. This justification may have quite a bit of truth to it. As the years go by, many of us who believe in Jesus and follow Him have fewer and fewer non-Christian friends. As a pastor, that's especially true. Dever thinks one of the answers is for us to determine how we can fulfill our roles in our families, churches, and to those who need to know Christ.

Next, Dever deals with objections we (Christians) think non-Christians will have when we try to evangelize them. "People don't want to hear." "They won't be interested." "They probably already know the gospel." "It probably won't work. I doubt they'll believe."

The solution, according to Dever, is to plan to stop not evangelizing. He then offers a twelve-step plan.
1. Pray. We often forget to pray and leave God out of the picture.
2. Plan. We plan for other things, why not evangelism?
3. Accept that evangelism is our job, not someone elses.
4. Understand the fact that evangelism may not be your gift, but it is your duty.
5. Be faithful to God in this area.
6. Risk. Evangelism involves takiing a chance - be willing to do it.
7. Prepare. We need to be ready and equipped for the opportunities God gives us.
8. Look for the opportunities God gives you.
9. Love others in general and specifically those with whom you share the gospel.
10. Fear God, not people.
11. Stop blaming God. We need to stop excusing ourselves from evangelism because God is sovereign. God sovereignly choosed to use us as the means to His ultimate end.
12. Consider what God has done for us in Christ

All in all, this is an excellent chapter. It was convicting in that I've probably used most of these excuses myself (and know how wrong they are). The chapter was also encouraging in that Dever provided positive steps to move beyond these excuses to actual evangelism.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Sense about Fashion Nonsense

Marcia Segelstein has had enough. She writes, "Enough is enough again. My boiling point has been reached. Peddling soft-core pornography to kids in order to peddle clothes is beyond the pale." She lays out her complaint and case in an article posted on the Breakpoint website. Anyone of us who have seen things like this should definitely agree with her, in my opinion. You can read her article here.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

"The Gospel & Personal Evangelism" - Introduction

Mark Dever's introduction is the tale of two evangelists.

The first evangelist is John Harper, born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1872. In 1886, God saved him by His grace, and as a result he began to tell others the good news of Jesus Christ. After serving in the Baptist Pioneer Mission in London, Harper started a church which had five hundred members by the time he left thirteen years later.

Harper was asked to preach at Moody Church in Chicago (for a second time), so he booked passage from Southampton, England to New York on a new passenger ship called Titanic. You know the story after that. Harper's daughter, Nana, and a cousin who was traveling with them were put in lifeboats and ultimately rescued. Harper went down with the ship, but not before preaching the gospel to anyone who would listen - one man in particular who was Harper's last convert. As Paul Harvey would say, "Now you know the rest of the story."

The second evangelist is Dever himself. He readily admits that he is no John Harper. He writes, "If there is a time in the future when God reviews all of our missed evangelistic opportunities, I fear that I could cause more than a minor delay in eternity." I like that kind of honesty. It will probably get him in trouble with some (he is a pastor after all, and pastors shouldn't have a problem with that according to some), even though it shouldn't.

Dever asks why we are so slow to tell others the best news in the world? He asks a question many others ask, "Should I evangelize if I don't feel like it?" These are a few of the questions he attempts to answer in his book.

Pastor Dever says it is his prayer that a "culture of evangelism" would be developed in the church andthat evangelism would be normal - in our own lives and in the life of the church. That's a very noble cause which I pray is achieved, too.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Here's What It Looks Like

Approximately 46 million unborn children have been killed in the United States alone since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. Here's what it looks like in visual form. Amazing and amazingly sad.

Sad Anniversary

Yesterday was the 35th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision that overturned the abortion laws in all fifty states, making the killing of unborn human beings legal any time during pregnancy for any reason whatsoever. A day that will truly live in infamy.

Here is part of what I prayed as I led our congregation in prayer at both services this last Sunday:

"Heavenly Father, we come to You this morning through Jesus Christ, who is our Lord, our Savior, and our Mediator. We praise You because You're the Creator of all things - including each one of us.

In Psalm 139, You inspired David to write, "For You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well. my frame was not hidden from You, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in Your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them."

Lord, You've created each of us in a fearful and wonderful way. You've made us in Your image and likeness, and because of that every human being - from the moment of conception to their very last breath - has dignity and value and worth. When that life is destroyed, Father, it's an insult to You - a slap in Your face. We're saying that someone You have fearfully and wonderfully made is worthless in our eyes. Life is precious because You've given it to us as a gift. May we always treat it that way.

Lord, I pray that we would repent of abortion, abuse, euthanasia, callous hearts and apathy. may we repent individually, as a church, and as a nation. "Search us, O God, and know our hearts. See if there be any wicked way in us and lead us in the way everlasting."

Father, we know that there are some of our brothers and sisters who've been involved in these things. Forgive them, restore them, and comfort them. And we ask that You would forgive those of us who haven't always been gracious and haven't always stood for the truth. Show us, Lord, how we can be loving and compassionate and gentle and kind, while at the same time be holy and just and righteous. I pray that we would balance grace and truth. Lord, may we glorify You in all things, including the sanctity of life.

In the Name of the One who is life, Jesus Chirst, Amen."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Gospel and Personal Evangelism - Preface

I've just started reading The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever (Crossway, 2007), and I'll be "blogging" it. I'll give some thoughts on each chapter and make some comments. I haven't done this before, so it should be interesting.

Dever is pastor of Capitol Hills Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. and founder of 9Marks Ministries. My wife and I have read two of his other books - The Nine Marks of a Healthy Church and The Deliberate Church - and have been both impresses and blessed by them.

The Gospel and Personal Evangelism is a short book (about 120 pages), which makes it easily accesible to a lot of people. (I'm beginning to agree with the idea that a book should be less than 200 pages if anyone is going to read it in this day and age.) Let's face it, 800-page books that weigh six pounds are difficult for anyone to digest.

The preface for Dever's book was written by fellow-Together for the Gospel member C.J. Mahaney (of Sovereign Grace Ministries). What stood out to me the most in this two-page piece was the fact that Dever eats lunch at the same place - a particular Subway (I don't know if it's every day) - and frequents the same businesses around Capitol Hill Baptist. He probably does it where he lives, too. Dever does this in order to build relationships and look for evangelistic opportunities. He knows the people he sees - and they know him, too. Dever has a plan - he's intentional. That's the point - he's doing it on purpose.

Mahaney's preface is good because of that interesting piece of information, along with the fact the Dever walks as he talks, which is fast. Tidbits like that make reading more enjoyable. You feel like you know the author.

So far, so good (with the book and the "blogging" of it!). As I read more, I'll write more.

If anyone has read the book, please give your own review.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Reasons to Read

Colin Adams gives 20 reasons to read good Christian books. Very good! You can read them here.

A tip of the cyberhat to Justin Taylor.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Meaning of Sports

Brad Locke has some excellent thoughts on sports in "The Meaning of Sports" posted several days ago at One News Now. You can read it here.

Locke makes the point that sports do have value and meaning to us as Chirstians - they're not a waste of time and they don't have to be a distraction (see my previous blog post). He writes:

~ "Athleticism is a God-given gift."
~ "Athletic endeavors are not merely for our own amusement."
~ "There are unmistakable parallels between sports and everyday life."
~ "Sports can help us bond to our fellow man and provide an avenue for truth-sharing."

All very good thoughts.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Good Words from Begg

Alistair Begg on Hebrews 12:1 ("Therefore we also, since we surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.")

Begg comments that as we run the race of our Christian life we have to remove whatever slows us down ("let us lay aside every weight"). The following is a paraphrase of his comments:

The things that slow us down may be completely allowable - good things in and of themselves - but they weigh us down and keep us from our objective. Most of us are not deterred by prolonged sinfulness, but by the toleration of the allowable, innocent, and praiseworthy things which we have unwittingly allowed to divert us from the objective of being there at the end (and being found a good and faithful servant).

Some examples of these weights are family life (churches should be God-centered and not family-centered), diligence in business, an interest in theology, reading good literature, and gardening.

Good words from Pastor Begg! The list of good things that can keep us from the better thing could go on and on. You and I could add dozens of things to the list, I'm sure. What's on your list? It's definitely something to think about.

If you want to listen to the sermon, it's here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Reasons to Read

Colin Adams gives us 20 reasons to read good Christian books. Very insightful! I don't need any more good reasons to read, but other people might, so here they are.

Tip of the cyberhat to Justin Taylor.

When You Say You'll Pray, Do It!

When someone asks us to pray for them, I'm sure our motives are sincere. We genuinely plan on praying for them - we really do. But we don't always do it, do we? Of course not. We mean well, but sometimes the busyness of our life gets in the way, or we just plain forget, and we realize later that we didn't pray for the person who asked us.

I was reminded of this when I checked out online one of my favorite comics - Funky Winkerbean. The Columbian, our local newspaper, doesn't carry the strip anymore, so I have to go into cyberspace to find it. One of the characters made the statemant that there are three things people say they're going to do that never happen: "The check is in the mail. I'll pray for you. I'll send you a CD."

I immediately blanched when I read the middle statement - the one about prayer. Starting to get defensive, I remembered that I should look for the "kernel of truth" in all criticism. Obviously, Tom Batiuk, the creator of the comic strip, has had the experience of asking for prayer and not receiving it or being asked to pray and subsequntly not doing it himself (or he could simply be cynical to the core). Whatever the case, there is some truth in what he says.

We don't always pray for people who ask us. We should, but sometimes we don't.

One way to solve the problem is to recognize that our usual routine may not serve us well. When someone asks us to pray for them, we'll normally do one of two things: mentally or physically add it to our prayer list. Then, sometime later, we'll actually pray (hopefully!). Adding something to our prayer list mentally may not be the best course of action because the chances are good we'll forget it (especially as we get older). Adding something to our prayer list physically (writing it down) may not be the best course of action because that list, which was long to begin with, just got longer. It's the intimidation factor.

Here are a few suggestions to help us actually pray when we're asked to. If it's possible and appropriate, pray for and with the person who asks when they ask you. If you do that, you certainly won't forget! If you can't pray with them, then pray for them silently very soon after they've asked. If you're asked to pray via an e-mail, do so right after you've read the request. If you see or hear someone you know needs prayer, do it right then - don't wait until your regularly scheduled prayer time. These prayers don't have to be long or involved, but can instead conatin only several sentences. Don't neglect putting these people and requests on your prayer list, but do more than that! When we do that, I think we come closer to the ideal of "pray without ceasing."

Someday, I'd like to see the second thing on Batiuk's list removed. When someone asks us to pray, let's be faithful to do it and not give cartoonists any more fodder.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Verse of the Moment

"If we confess our sins, He (God) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)

This is one of the most precious verses and truths in all of God's Word. When I sin (not if I sin), the Lord will forgive my sin and wash the unrighteousness away if I confess it to Him - if I say that same thing about it He does. Praise Him for His wonderful grace and mercy! I don't deserve to have my sins forgiven and my unrighteousness cleansed, but He does it for His glory and my good.

It's not possible to wear out the promises of God - certainly not this one!

All Sin is Not the Same

"All sin is the same in God's eyes."

If you've been around the church and other Christians for any period of time, you've heard that statement before. Maybe you've been in a Bible study where someone said it when the subject of sin came up. More than likely, it's been said when we're being exhorted not to judge other people.

I don't think the statement is true and I've always had a problem with it. You mean to tell me that coveting (a violation of the tenth commandment) is on the same level as premeditated murder (an obvious violation of the sixth commandment)? Of course it isn't. Our legal system has different levels of punishment for different levels of criminal activity, which, in my opinon, is based on the character and law of God.

Melinda Penner, at Stand to Reason, has a post called "Equal Depravity, Unequal Sin" which makes the point well. You can read it here.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Joe Gibbs and Priorities

I admit it, I'm a sports fan. For as long as I can remember I've loved sports - watching, commenting, occasionally participating (as I get older, it gets tougher).

Joe Gibbs resigned as head coach of the Washington Redskins of the NFL. The main reason he cited was that his priorities were out of balance. He realized that the Lord was no longer first in his life - football was. Gibbs realized that was wrong and acted to change it.

Terry Mattingly at has an excellent article on how this story was covered by the media called "Faith, family and football - again." It's the fifth post down. An interesting note is what Peter King of Sports Illustrated wrote (I knew I liked that guy - now I have a reason).

Thursday, January 10, 2008


This political season (as every other) has brought the idea of "change" to the forefront. Barack Obama mentioned it no less than 12 times in a statment that lasted approximately one minute. Mike Huckabee had a similar count in one of his statements. "Change. Change. Change. Change." That seemed to be the theme.

But here's where my teacher instinct kicks in: Define change. Give three examples.

What do we mean by change? What does it look like? From what are we changing? To what are we changing? Is all change good? Change is an easy word to use, but hard to define and describe - that's the problem. We have an emotional and visceral response to it (usually positive), while remaining seriously short on details and specifics.

"Change" isn't confined to politics, however, it's also found in the church (or, better said, in the thinking of some in the church).

"We need change!" We've all heard that before. But using the same logic, please define change and give three examples. What do we mean by change? Removing all of the pews would certainly be a change, but would it be a good one? Maybe. It would depend upon why and how it was done. Removing a pastor is a change, but may or may not be a good one. The list goes on and on.

Change can be a cliche, whether it's used by a politician or someone in a church. It can become an empty slogan if we're not careful. When we talk about change, we need to be careful to define and describe it. But, thinking about it, that would mean change, wouldn't it?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Unity - At What Price?

Dennis Prager has written a column posted at Townhall that touches on the subject of church unity and the regular calls we hear for us to be unified ("Can't we all just get along?").

The point of Prager's column is that Senator Barack Obama's repeated calls for unity aren't all they're cracked up to be. Unity sounds good, but what will it take to get it? In other words, someone is going to have to give something up in order for all of us to "just get along."

For example, Obama supports pulling our troops out of Iraq immediately. Republicans, with the exception of Ron Paul, do not support removing our troops immediately from Iraq. How can we all have unity on this issue? One side will have to move, give in, or compromise their position. There's no other way it can happen. Prager says that what Obama means by calling for unity is that everyone should agree with his (Obama's) opinion. In other words, "Let's have unity! Everybody should think like I do!"

Calls for unity in the church are not what they seem, either. In the church at large, we have disagreements around the forms of church government, the modes of baptism, the nature and existence of spiritual gifts, the role of women in ministry, theological systems, and end times scenarios. When we get down to brass tacks, "unity" in the church would involve one or more groups giving up their distinctives and joining (or agreeing with) another group. "Let's have unity! Everybody should think like I do!" Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Unity is a laudable goal, but the calls for it are not always what they appear.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Tradition vs. Traditionalism

Tony Woodlief writes about the difference between "the living faith of the dead" versus "the dead faith of the living" on WORLD's website. Read it here - it's worth thinking about.

For me, Tony is an writer and thinker who has "come out of nowhere," so to speak. I'm looking forward to more.

Friday, January 04, 2008

New Link

Over on the right side of the blog, I've added a link to Justin Taylor's blog called Between Two Worlds. I heartily recommend it. Enjoy!

No pass for Osteen

Joel Osteen gets no pass from this writer at Slate. Joel shouldn't get one from any of us, especially those of us who take the Bible and preaching God's Word seriously. The author of this article isn't an evangelical (and I can't endorse all of the article), but I'll take honest criticism of Osteen wherever I can get it.

Call and Response

Pop singer Christina Aguilera said, "I'm not really religious but very spiritual. I give money to this company that manufactures hearing aids on a regular basis. More people should really hear me sing. I have a gift from God." (Quoted on - 3 January 2008)

Where to begin? Hmmm. Christina, you do have a good voice, but I honestly don't think anyone who needs a hearing aid is in any rush to go out and buy one of your CD's. Just a guess on my part.

In other "news", the Reverend I.M. Vain recently convinced his church's leadership to buy hearing devices for everyone who attends worship services. Why? So nobody will miss a moment of his spectacular, John Chrysostom-like preaching. (There are times I wouldn't be surprised to read or hear something like that.)

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Peterson on the church

"What other church is there besides institutional? There's nobody who doesn't have problems with the church, because there's sin in the church. But there's no other place to be a Christian except the church. There's sin in the local bank. There's sin in the grocery stores. I really don't understand this naive criticism of the institution. I really don't get it. Frederick von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree. There's no life in the bark. It's dead wood. But it protects the life of the tree within. And the tree grows and grows. If you take the bark off, it's prone to disease, dehydration, death. So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something alive. And when you try to have a church without bark, it doesn't last long. It disappears, gets sick, and it's prone to all kinds of disease, heresy, and narcissism."

Eugene Peterson

Matters of the Heart

1 Samuel 16:7 says, "For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

I have to admit I've always been bothered when someone says, "The Lord knows my heart." Not because I have any problems with God's omniscience (He does know everything!), but because I know what's in my own heart, and that knowledge doesn't give me much confidence. Yes, the Lord knows my heart and He knows how dark it is, even though I'm redeemed.

Nathan Zacharias has a good article called "Following My Heart" that illustrates what I've just said. You can read it here.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Tradition vs. Traditionalism

Tony Woodlief has posted some good thoughts on "the living faith of the dead" versus "the dead faith of the living" on the WORLD website. It's worth a read and some thought.

For me, Woodlief has "come out of nowhere" to be a really insightful writer. I've seen his work in WORLD and also in the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal website.

One Bad Act

For the past number of months, I've been working as a night auditor at a local hotel that's part of a national chain. Being a night auditor means that I work the graveyard shift, by the way. I don't like the hours, but it's gainful, respectable employment. (This is in addition to my teaching duties, too.)

New Year's Eve night, something happened at the hotel which reminded me of the power and influence of evil.

When I came on duty at 11:00 p.m., there were no reported problems and things went smoothly for the next several hours. Almost all of the guests I had contact with were pleasant and somewhat quiet, actually.

The occupants of one particular room, however, ruined or seriously marred the night for all of us by their actions. They were loud and disruptive to other guests, even after repeated warnings. Between 4 and 5 o'clock (in the morning, remember), one of them pulled a fire alarm on their floor. You can imagine how "excited" people were to have to leave the building (in 35 degree weather) at that time in the morning.

One stupid, and definitely sinful, act spoiled an otherwise nice evening for everyone. In the same way, one drunk driver can ruin the lives of an entire family who did absolutely nothing wrong. One person who has too much to drink at a party can ruin the experience for everyone. One or two obnoxious people can destroy the experience of going to a movie.

Why is that? Everyone else at the hotel last night was behaving themselves; the family was simply driving home from a ball game; the other party-goers have not consumed too much alcohol, if any; and the rest of the people in the theater just want to see a good movie - they even turned off their cellphones! Why? Because evil is powerful and its effects are more readily seen than the effects of good. It can take a lifetime to build a reputation and ten minutes to destroy it. Evil has an easier job in this fallen world than good.

When we realize this, it may cause some to despair. "What hope is there, then," they may say. We can have hope, though. Even though evil is powerful and pervasive, there is coming a day when all stupidity, sin, and evil will be judged fully and finally by the One who is far more powerful, far more pervasive, and far more influential than evil. Of course, that One is the true and living God - the Triune God of the Bible - the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Evil may seem to have the upper hand now, but looks can be deceiving. May I remember that the next time the fire alarm goes off.

That's Not Evangelism!

Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. has a good piece on what evangelism is not. Read it here.