Friday, July 28, 2006

Sugarless Sonship

I didn't live near my grandparents growing up, but I always enjoyed going to see them. There were things I always looked forward to when I went to my "Nana's" house in Stella, Missouri: playing in the creek, candy cigarettes (in hindsight, isn't this a bizarre "treat" for a child), and lemon pie. My Nana almost always made lemon pie when we were home. One year my mom and Nana made one of her famous lemon pies (at least they were famous in my eyes). After dinner the pie was cut and it was time to enjoy some down-home goodness.

Have you ever put something in your mouth and said to yourself, "Something is not quite right"? Though young, I was not so foolish as to say this out loud, but something was terribly wrong with this pie. Talk about tart! It was all anyone could do to choke it down. It wasn't long before my mother and Nana noticed all the contorted faces and shifty eyes darting back and forth around the room between the suffering pie-partakers. Perceiving our culinary discomfort, my mother and Nana took a bite of the pie and quickly realized why our tastebuds were on high-alert. They had left sugar out of the pie! To this day I give a sugarless lemon pie a thumbs down!

Yesterday I received news that John MacArthur had reversed his position regarding the sonship of Jesus ( Until yesterday I viewed MacArthur's view of "incarnational sonship" very much the same way I see sugarless lemon pie: edible, but hard to choke down, leaving you with the feeling there is an ingredient missing from the final product. MacArthur's previous view of the "incarnational sonship" of Jesus stemmed from the dilemma presented in Hebrews 1:5 (see also Psalm 2:7; 2Sam 7:14) regarding the issue of the Son (Jesus) being "begotten".

I came across MacArthur's view of the sonship of Jesus in my study in Hebrews over the past year with the young adults in our church. Since I have such high respect for MacArthur (on most issues), his argument for the "incarnational sonship" of Jesus rather than the eternal sonship of Jesus was one that I have weighed seriously, even though it is historically a minority interpretation of the Scriptures. As I studied it, I found the position of "incarnational sonship" one that was plausible, but not quite satisfactory, though I admittedly seriously considered it because of my respect for MacArthur's ministry and a pourous understanding of Hebrews (meaning my understanding of Hebrews, at the time, was full of holes because of lack of study).

I rejoice at MacArthur's humility and willingness to re-examine, where possible, the positions that he holds in regards to the teachings of Scripture. Our theology and systematic should always be open to the scrutiny of Scripture and the counsel of church history and godly men. We all have blind spots, and though God's Word is inerrant, our understanding of the intent of Scripture isn't always! The finiteness of the human mind and the frailty of our flesh makes us susceptible to doctrinal error. We must strive for theological integrity and consistency in our doctrine. Spirit-guided humility and the willingness to scrutinize our theological convictions by interpreting Scripture with Scripture is one step among many on the road to doctrinal purity. Thank you Pastor MacArthur for following in the footsteps of Augustine and demonstrating for ministers the serious obligation of pastoral ministry to watch our doctrine closely (1Tim 4:16).

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Driving A Wedge

On Wednesday July 19 Jerry Vines (a famous, influential Southern Baptist pastor) posted the following blog on abstinence regarding alcohol ( Needless to say, posts like this cause my blood to boil, but it's not for the reasons that one might think. I'm not upset that Vines is an advocate of total abstinence among Christians regarding the consumption of alcohol, nor am I any longer distressed at the recent resolution at the Southern Baptist Convention regarding alcohol. I've come to accept the fact that the majority of old-school Southern Baptists are hard-core prohibitionists through and through and they are convinced in the Lord Jesus that their position is biblical because they believe alcohol is "unclean" (Rom 14:14). Regarding the teachings of Scripture, I do believe that it would violate the conscience of many confessing believers in the SBC to drink alcohol of any kind, under any circumstance, and thus, it would be sin for them to consume because they would not be able to do so in faith (Rom 14:23).

My consternation with Pastor Vine's article is in his call for separation, the separation achieved under his terms would not so much be separation from the world, but rather, separation between brothers and sisters in Christ within the family of God. His article is a call to arms against anyone who names of the name of Jesus Christ and also has the liberty to enjoy a Guiness on occassion.

Vines says, "Biblical separation begins with our absolute commitment to Jesus and His Word." I absolutely affirm this statement. However, what Vines fail to take into consideration is the reality that Scripture is not silent regarding the consumption of alcohol. Not only is it not silent, but it does not call for total abstinence from its consumption. The evils of the abuse of alcohol are well-documented and should be heeded. Nonetheless, there is not a compelling biblical argument that tells us that the consumption of alcohol in moderation is sinful. The implication of Vines' statement is that anyone who does not believe in abstinence and practices moderation is not committed to Jesus and His Word. This is a gross misrepresentation of the confessions of those who believe in Jesus and practice biblical moderation. Most moderationists are trying to honor Scripture in their moderation while also holding in tension the reality that "nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it is unclean" (Rom 14:14). The moderationists, particularly those in leadership within our churches, should be on notice though. They must carefully weigh the influence their position on alcohol has on members of their flock and take heed of the fact that their consumption and liberty to partake may actually prove to be a stumbling block to weaker brothers and sisters (Rom 14:21-23) who follow their example but lack the necessary faith to do so "in the Lord Jesus" (14:14).

In his article, Vines describes Christian moderationists as "worldly", "apostate" and compares them to "winos", all of which explains why he calls them to repentance. He goes on to say that a position of moderation will "lead thousands to addiction and destruction". Furthermore, Vines says that "total abstinence is the only way to go for a Christian who takes Bible separation seriously." Again, the issue, for me, is not whether you abstain alcohol or consume in moderation. The issue is the accusatory nature of Vines' comments. The very nature and tone of his article is divisive and leaves no room for God's judgment (Rom 14:10-12). Is it accurate that moderationists are worldly apostates who fail to take seriously God's call for separation? Not likely. The charge that moderationists are on the road to apostasy by Vines is serious and should not be taken lightly.

I agree with Vines in that we need to call our churches away from "rampant worldliness" amongst our members and leaders. However, I would submit that 20% of the messengers of the SBC voting against the resolution on alcohol is not so much as sign of worldliness as it is an issue of faith holding the teachings of Scripture in tension. There is support, biblically, for abstinence and moderation, and this issue is also largely cultural. The issue of alcohol is serious and needs our careful attention. There are many things to consider, including the physical, social, domestic, spiritual and biblical implications of abstaining versus moderation. But the charge that one who does not practice total abstinance is not faithful to God's Word is egregious.

There is no question that there are likely some within the church may need to heed the call to repentance regarding the abuse of alcohol. Some may also need to repent of the use of alcohol because they do not drink in faith. But a greater evil, in my estimation, than the "evil" of moderation is the rampant materialism in our churches, which is perhaps, a more significant, glaring indicator of love for the world or things of this world (1John 2:15) than the occasional glass of wine or beer by confessing believers in the Lord Jesus.

When Paul dealt with these issues of faith in Romans 14 and 15 he told those who were strong to "bear the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up" (15:1-2). In this case, I think Vines approach to this issue is wrong and puts him in the category of "one who is weak in faith" (14:1) regarding this issue. However, the appropriate response for the believer in the Lord Jesus is to build him up and others like him and respond to the issues and his concerns biblically, compassionately and respectfully. As we do so, "May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Fatehr of our Lord Jesus Christ" (15:5-6). May those who disagree with Vines not be guilty of the same kind of inflammatory, broad-brush comments and accusations.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Stolen Post

I had to post this from (which is a great site if you are interested in blogs) .

In an article in the LA Times about the International Christian Retail Show. You'll read about:
  • Christian perfume ( "It should be enticing enough to provoke questions: 'What's that you're wearing?' " Hobbs said. "Then you take that opportunity to speak of your faith. They've opened the door, and now they're going to get it.")
  • Stuffed animals wearing "Jesus Loves You" T-shirts
  • Camouflage baseball caps with red crosses
  • Golf balls with John 3:16 printed on them ("a great golf ball with a greater purpose")
    Christian health clubs
  • Christian insurance agencies
  • Christian tree trimmers (who advertise in Christian business directories)
  • Christian gangsta rap
  • Christian shoot-'em-up video games
  • Christian sweatbands
  • Christian playing cards
  • Christian scrapbook supplies
  • Christian children's pajamas
  • Life of Faith dolls (like American Girl, expect "the dolls come clutching Bibles; their stories, sprinkled with Scripture, describe how the girls find sustenance in their faith")
    Scripture Candy

It seems to me that these folks have inverted Jesus' idea of being "in, not of" the world (John 17:14-18) so that they are of the world but not in it.

Political scientist Al Wolfe gets it right.

The effect of such products, according to political scientist Alan Wolfe, is to create almost a parallel universe, one that allows Christians to withdraw from the world instead of engaging it as Christ commanded."It's as if they're saying the task of bringing people to Jesus is too hard, so let's retreat into a fortress," said Wolfe, who directs the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College."Evangelism is about reaching out and converting the unsaved," Wolfe said. "This is about putting a fence around people who are already saved. It strikes me as if they're giving up."

Sorry, folks. The world is not impressed.

Leak in the Bottom

The life dedicated to Jesus should always do its duty. Jesus illustrates this point in Luke 17:7-10. "Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and recline at table?' Will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink'? Does he thank the servant because he did what he was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are only unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'"

Don't miss what Jesus is saying. As disciples of Jesus, servants of the Kingdom of God, there is an expectation, and the expecation is that God's people will do what is required of them as revealed in God's Word. Because of this, I confess that I find it more than a little amusing, as well as quite frustrating, that we honor and exalt those who have confessed Jesus as Lord who are simply doing what God anticipates they should. We applaud teenagers and young adults who guard their virginity until they enter into the covenant of marriage. We celebrate their chastity as if they have done something unusual. Yes, their physical purity is peculiar, in the eyes of the world, in a secular culture inundated with sexual deviance and imagery, but it is what is expected of servants of Jesus.

The problem with doing our duty is that, for many, it is a joyless expression of devotion to God. Far too often we do what we should, but secretly, in the depths of our hearts, we desire the very thing that we are abstaining from. Be sure, we should still do what we ought even when we don't feel like it. However, the problem with simply doing what we should while struggling in our heart with desires that conflict with our actions is that we fail to maximize the spiritual benefits of our duty.

Duty is a conduit of grace. It is intended to help cultivate a fertile heart in which the seeds of God's purposes in our lives grow. It is intended to move us from mundane repetition and ceremony in our worship of Gods to a response birthed from delight in who He is and the joy of serving Him as King. But this only happens with careful attention to the heart. Remember the words of the prophet Jeremiah? "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (17:9). We are incapable of seeing the depths of the depravity of our hearts without God's assistance, and as we do what we should in our relationship with God, we must always ask the Spirit to help us unearth the motive behind our obedience.

Take the confessing believer who maintains their virginity before marriage as an example. Such a person may remain pure, but the motive for their purity may not be devotion to Jesus. It might be that they fear their parents disapproval or they fear sex itself. Perhaps, if they are educated in the public school system, it could be that the sex education videos and pictures so disgusted them that they vowed to abstain from sex just to protect their bodies from disease or an unwanted pregnancy. Many believers maintain sexual purity because of pride. They wear their virginity like a badge of honor, a.k.a. Jessica Simpson, but they wear it, not because they love Jesus, but because they want to be a good role model for young girls, they want to please their peers, etc.

John Flavel, an English Puritan who lived over 300 years ago said, "The careless heart profits nothing by any duty or ordinance it performs or attends upon...a man may go with a heedless spirit from ordinance to ordinance, abide all his days under the choicest teaching, and yet never be improved by them; for heart-neglect is a leak in the bottom - no heavenly influences, however rich, abide in that soul." The truth that we need to be challenged by today is the reality that we must do what God desires and requires as servants of the Kingdom. But in our duty, we must also tend to the matters of the heart, asking what our motive is for obedience. We must, with the Spirit's help, crucify all pride, lust, arrogance, joylessness and self-sufficiency in our service to Jesus. This is the only way that our duty will ever profit us spiritually.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Tending the Garden

Much has been said about the SBC convention this summer, particularly about the dialogue between Paige Patterson and Al Mohler regarding differing views of the doctrine of election. If you are a Southern Baptist leader everyone is wanting to know, "What kind of Calvinist are you?" Five point? Four Point? Three point seven five point? I've even met Baptists who say that they don't believe in predestination and election, to which I'm inclined to respond, "Really? Then you don't believe in two issues that Scripture explictly deals with?"

The bottom-line is that everyone believes in election and predestination. Almost no Southern Baptists are Arminian. If you were Arminian, then you would believe that men aren't spiritually dead as Scripture teaches (Eph 2:3),but are merely spiritually sick or predisposed to some kind of spiritual weakness. You would believe that God "elects" people to salvation before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4), not based upon His eternal decree alone (Jonah 2:9), but based on how he has seen that humanity will respond to the offer of salvation (this is one view of biblical "foreknowledge" and it a widely held view of foreknowledge among many Southern Baptists). You would believe that Jesus died, not only for the sins of His people, but for the sins of the whole world (1John 2:2). You would believe that the grace of God is offered to all men and that men can resist the effectual (saving) call of the Holy Spirit on his own free will. Finally, you would believe, because men choose Christ, because faith (in this view) precedes regeneration, you would believe that men can also ultimately walk away from Jesus and lose their salvation (Heb 6:4-6).

As I write, I understand that some of what Arminians believe is precisely what many Southern Baptists believe, but not entirely. In other words, many Southern Baptists are Calminians. They've taken the best of Calvinism (TULIP; Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistable grace, Perseverance of the saints) and the best of Arminianism and wedded to the two systems to form a hybrid systematic theology concerning the call and process of salvation that isn't wholly consistent within itself (another topic for another day). Most Southern Baptists believe that: 1) humanity is totally depraved and spiritually dead (Calvinism); 2)God elects based on what His foreknowledge about what He has seen men will decide about Jesus (Arminianism); 3) the atonement of Jesus is universal in its scope but effectual only to those who believe (Some Calvinists and all Arminians); 4) the saving grace of God is able to be rejected by men and regeneration does not happen until a person expresses faith (Arminian); and 5) those who confess Jesus are eternally secure in their salvation and will persevere until the end (Calvinism).

This is what all the rage is about in the SBC right now. As you can see, I'm well-versed in the debate. But this is not the point of my post. I'd simply like to call to the attention of well-meaning theologians in our Southern Baptist churches the reality that the entire garden of church and theologcial life needs to be tended. As Al Mohler, who happens to be a Calvinist, said in the dialogue at the Pastor's Conference at the SBC convention in Greensboro, NC, there are some Calvinists who would "fly across the world to defend Calvinism but won't cross the street to tell someone about Jesus." I think this is true, not just about evangelism, but about other critical issues facing Southern Baptist churches in Western culture. We need to pull our head out of the TULIP's and realize that there are equally important, critical issues facing our churches that need our attention as well. What are they? Here's a short list:
  • Meaningful Membership. We boast membership rolls exceeding 16 million people in our SBC churches and less than 30% of those members attend on a regular basis. More than 90% of our churches have platued or are declining.
  • Church Discipline. This explicit directive in Scripture has long been ignored in most SBC churches and the health of the church is suffering because of it.
  • Feminism. Young academic women who flood our college campuses every year are being indoctrinated with a feminist agenda that is contrary to the teachings of Scripture and the church is largely silent on this issue.
  • Preservation of the Family. There is a worldwide assault on the definition of family and we have been slow to respond culturally. We are also as guilty as secular culture of dismissing the importance of family since more than 50% of Christian marriages end up in divorce.
  • The Mismanagement of Youth Ministry. The majority of students who group up in youth ministry in a local church, once they go to college, will leave the church and never return. If this trend continues youth ministry will be one of the greatest hoaxes and mismanagment of resources and energy in the history of the church. Something is wrong with the way we are training and equipping students in the Western church. Is anyone listening?
  • The Loss of the Gospel. The gospel message is getting lost in our pragmatic, consumeristic approach to ministry.

The list could go on. I encourage those of us who take the name of Jesus seriously to tend to the whole garden. The bible is wholistic in its instructions about life, but far too many of us have reduced it to a weapon to defend the systematic theology we are most passionate about. Don't misunderstand me. Theology is important and we should devote our time and energy to its study. But it should not be to the exclusion of equally pressing matters in the church and the world.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


It happened again. Another devastating tsunami has hit the mainland of Indonesia (see link: Home to more than 200 million people, Indonesia is the most populous Muslim-majority nation in the world and the fourth most populated nation overall. What doors is God opening through these natural disasters? "Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it? For the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets." (Amos 3:6).

We are not prophets, but I wonder how the church is praying in regards to discerning how God desires to see His people respond to this nation so well-acquainted with grief in recent years, and yet so hostile to the God who offers them comfort? The gospel must go to Indonesia and perhaps God is using waves of water to soften the ground where the feet of God's saints must tread.

What can you do? Pray. Pray for the people and the church. Pray that God would reveal His purpose in these calamities to His people and that the church would respond as the hands and feet of Christ. Pray about going to offer the hope of the gospel where there is only despair right now. Offer financial relief through a trusted charity organization. Do what you can do, but heaven forbid, don't fail to do something.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Two-Year Service Contract Needed

It is too easy to join most Southern Baptist congregations. As a matter of fact, it is probably harder and requires more commitment to purchase a cell phone than it does to become a member of a local church. The last time I got a new mobile phone I got a great deal. Two phones for forty bucks. The customer service was excellent and the process rather easy. But there was a catch. I had to sign a two-year service agreement. For the next two years I am locked into relationship with Verizon Wireless. I can break the agreement, but not without penalty.

In many cases joining the church is as simple as walking the aisle at the close of the sermon, taking the pastor by the hand, explaining that you have been baptized and would like to become a member of the church. Some pastors will welcome you right there on the spot! No more questions asked. In other churches potential members are required to attend a membership class that speaks to the basics of Christian faith and the direction of the church. However, more often than not, these classes are not very demanding and serve the purpose of vision-casting or a refresher course on Christianity 101. In some cases potential members are required to meet with the pastor or associate pastor. Depending on the approach the pastor takes, potential members are asked to articulate the gospel. If the pastor sees a person struggling to put what faith in Jesus looks like in his/her own words, he may be tempted to "lead the witness" by sharing the right answer and simply asking the potential member if this is what he/she believes. This may make the meeting more comfortable, but it may be spiritually perilous and cripple the pastor's ability to discern whether biblical faith is actually present in the potential member.

I believe that churches should demand and expect more from their membership. The consumer mentality that has made our economy one of the most stable in the world is quickly eroding the integrity of many church rolls. Far too many people are joining churches, only to back out on their commitment shortly after they join. It's like buying a new car. You pick out a car based on all the nice features it offers and whether or not you like what you see while it's parked on the lot. But you won't really know whether you like the car until you drive it for awhile. Then you'll experience firsthand how it handles, whether the ride is smooth, how vividly the paint reveals minor scratches, and if the control knobs are all in convenient locations. And before long you'll see another model that you like better, and perhaps you'll decide to trade the car you loved at a distance in for another model that is more suited to your taste and preferences.

This is precisely how hundreds of thousands of confessing believers are treating the local church in Western culture. Instead of wedding one's self and family to a local body of believers, too many "Christians" are simply dating the church, hoping from place-to-place, upgrading their experience to meet their felt needs and preferences. This should not be.

The church is not about us. It is about Jesus and His Kingdom. It is the body of Christ in the world. The church is called to be the hands, feet and heart of Jesus in every local community where it is established. It is a place where believers are called to live lives of holiness and are equipped to maturity. It is a place where confessing believers gather to worship Jesus, encourage one another, and prepare to engage a perishing world.

I'm discovering that the average church-goer in America doesn't want to invest in the Kingdom. They want to be invested in. When the church is about Jesus and His Kingdom, people don't really care about what style of worship takes place at their church. They just want to sing songs about and worship Jesus. Hymns or choruses. It doesn't matter. What matters is the object of the worship, not the beat. When the church is about Jesus and His Kingdom, whether or not there is a big youth program becomes less and less important because people realize there is much for our children to learn from the larger community of believers, which is presicely what Scripture teaches us. When the church is about Jesus and His Kingdom, His disciples come to learn about God's greatness and power, His love for the nations, and their need for Jesus and His cross, rather than coming to hear feel-good stories or God's desire to give them their "best life now", because they realize that their best life won't come until they are in God's presence (Psalm 16:11).

Unfortunately, when people discover what Scripture teaches us about the church, too many are inclined to walk away and look for some other church that best meets their "needs". This is what I mean that people want to be invested in rather than invest themselves personally in the call of the Kingdom. I'm afraid the church has done a poor job of teaching those who name the name of Jesus what their needs really are. The way we've structured the church tells people that they "need":
  • a paid staff person to do ministry in the community for them;
  • lots of people the same age as one another (both children and adults alike) because there is very little to learn from those younger or older than us;
  • to be spoon-fed the Bible because we don't feel people are competent enough to study it for themselves because we've never taught them how;
  • a church that offers a safe environment for kids to play sports because it would corrupt our children to allow them to mingle with kids that don't know Jesus at the local YMCA;

There is so much more that could be said and many more examples to be shared. Sadly, when people don't find what they "need" at their church, they walk away and go somewhere else. Unfortunately we make it easy for them because nothing is really required of people when they join a local congregation. Membership isn't meaningful. In most churches there is no active church discipline. In many communities there is very little dialogue between local congregations and the "competition" between local congregations for members keeps interaction and the sharing of pastoral concerns at a minimum.

Wouldn't it be great if prospective members were required to enter into a 2-year service contract with the congregation they felt led to join? Perhaps this would help facilitate a real investment in the community and Kingdom. Maybe it would provide perspective about the seriousness of uniting oneself with a local body of believers and the role that we are called to serve in the Kingdom. And if we wanted to walk away, we'd walk away knowing that the "penalty" would be that our former pastor would sit down and talk with any prospective pastor whose church we wanted to join about his concerns, impressions and observations about our commitment to the church and our Lord Jesus, and what kind of members our new church should anticipate us being. After all, pastors are responsible for their sheep, and isn't it fair for a pastor to know exactly what kind of sheep has wandered into his field?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Mr. Mom?

I've been wondering, and I confess, I don't have answers. But perhaps the three people who read this blog might be willing to throw some comments my way. Some of you might remember the move Mr. Mom starring Michael Keaton. It's a comedy about a man who decides to stay home and raise the kids while his wife brings home the bacon (figuratively speaking, of course). A friend and I were talking about the roles of men and women in society and were discussing scenarios where both husband and wife (with children) worked outside the home where the woman earned more income than the man.

As a complimentarian theologically (meaning I believe Scripture specifies that male and female are meant to have complimentary roles, and that while men and women have equal value in the eyes of God, they have been designed for specific roles in the world) and not an egalitarian (meaning male and female are equal in every way, including leadership and ministry roles; more could be said about both of these but time doesn't permit), I have to wonder whether it would be a violation of biblical principles for a woman who is married with children (particularly young childrne) to work outside the home and support the family simply because she earns a higher income than her husband. Yes, there are situations that may require both husband and wife to work outside the home, but what about the situation where the family desires to have one parent at home with the children, but decides that this person should be the husband purely for financial reasons?

Surprisingly, I had never really even thought about this until a conversation over a game of Settlers of Cataan the other day. In Titus 2:3-5, we learn that older women are encouraged to mentor younger women. "They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled". Paul, in his instructions about unmarried and widows regarding the benefits of serving Jesus, tells us that "the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband" (2Cor 8:34). The implication is that married women have a specific role in the home, a role shaped and ordained for women alone. The implication is that the role of the wife is to support, love and compliment her husband and raise and love her children above all other agendas.

Those whose worldview has been shaped largely by the feminist agenda will likely repine at the suggestion that a married woman who earns more income than her husband should be the one to stay at home with the children, but it seems to me that Scripture is pointing in this direction. This isn't an argument about whether women should work at all outside the home. There are many cases where this is appropriate. However, when a married couple has young children, where possible, women should seriously consider the benefits of staying at home with their young children during their formative years.

Yes, I said women should consider their role in this. I didn't say a man can't do it. He can, my belief is that this is not what God has called the man to do. Questions like these quickly point us to the bottomline of what Scripture intends to teach us about the roles of men and women. What do you think?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Very Few Rich Enter...

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God" (Jesus, Mark 10:25).

The populations of more than 130 countries in our global community live off of less than $10,000 annually. Consider these startling figures. The average income of the following countries is listed in terms of annual income:
  • China - $1290.00/year
  • Peru - $2360.00/year
  • Yemen(startling because it is a country rich with oil) - $570.00/year
  • Ghana - $380.00 year (though each World Cup player was paid $20,000.00 per victory in the World Cup)
  • Ethiopia - $110.00/year
  • Iran - $2300.00/year

The average income in the United States: $41,400.00. It is true that that United States is not without the poor, but is there any disputing that the majority of citizens in the United States should lend their ear to the warning Jesus offers in Mark 10:25? If Jesus is right, very few people who prosper in this life will inherit the kingdom of God. If we take the words of Scripture at face value, and thoroughly examine church history and the lives of the pillars of the faith who have gone before us, it is the exception, not the rule, that those who were rich in Christ, were not those who are rich in this world. Consider the words of the Apostle Paul concerning the calling of God's people:

"For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God" (1Cor 1:26-29).

Fame, wealth, power and prestige are the ways of this world. But God's economy turns the world's standards on its head and shows us that the way to the Kingdom is not the path of prestige, fame, comfort, or wealth. God uses what is foolish to lead His people into His presence where there are eternal pleasures forever (Psalm 16:11).

Jesus' words expose the folly of the prosperity gospel circulating in Western culture. And Jesus' words should also cause our hearts to tremble, those of us who are rich in this world. It should provoke us to examine our hearts and the things that we value in this world, to be sure that we value Christ more than we value our comforts and prizes. May we recognize, as St. Augustine did, that "the love of worldly possessions entangles the soul and keeps it from flying to God."

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Cameron Alysse

She is finally here. God blessed us with another precious little girl yesterday. Cameron Alysse was born at 2:47 p.m. She is 9 lbs 2 oz, 22 inches long and has a head of dark hair. She looks more like Emily than me, but has received the mark. I'm sorry to say that she does have cow licks and she'll do her fair share of murmuring against Dad for this reason in the days ahead. Thanks to all of you who have prayed for us and Cameron. She is an amazing gift and a true testimony of God's mercy. We think back to the early days of pregnancy when her safety was uncertain because of an amniotic band, so we can't help but rejoice and thank Jesus for His compassion and grace towards us. And yes, the legend continues to grow. My wife was made to give birth to babies. Emily began pushing at 2:32 pm and Cameron was breathing the air of Erlanger East at 2:47 pm. 15 minutes and the kid was here! Unbelievable!

Monday, July 10, 2006

World Cup

Italian defender Marco Materazzi after being headbutted
by France's Zinedine Zidane. Zidane was shown a red
card and sent off. Italy won the final on penalty kicks
5-3. This was definately one of the most bizarre plays
of World Cup 06.

Turn My Heart Toward Jesus

"Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways" (Psalm 119:37).

Turning our eyes towards something is a sign of focus. The psalmist implores us to turn our focus away from "worthless things". This word "worthless" literally means "vanity" or "emptiness". The plea literally means, "Shift my focus away from empty thoughts, images and pleaures. Give me life in Jesus."

What are the empty things we invest so much mental energy, anguish and anxiety pursuing? What's are your list? Sex? Money? Information? Community? The answer is probably in the context of Psalm 119. Immediately preceeding the words of verse 37 are these words:

"Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!" (Psalm 119:36)
Empty pursuits are those desires that find their ultimate satisfaction in an empty well. It is not wrong to pursue pleasure. We're wired for pleasure. But it is wrong to find pleasure and satisfaction in that which cannot ultimately satisfy us. The prophet Jeremiah calls such things "broken cisterns". The charge laid against Israel was that God's "people had committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer 2:13). This is why the psalmist declares, "Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things, and give me life in your ways." We can only be satisfied by committing ourselves to the One who made us and made us with the purpose of worshiping and enjoying God as our Creator, and this life can only be found in Jesus.
What is the prescription for a life focused on Jesus?
1) A life that loves God's Word (Psalm 119:35).
2) A life that sees the foolishness of pursuing pleasure in apart from God. This doesn't mean we
shouldn't enjoy God's gifts (James 1:17). It simply means that in whatever we do, we are doing
it in worship to God (Col 3:17).
3) A life that intentionally focuses on the way of life, Jesus Christ (Psalm 119:15; Heb 12:1-2;
Col 3:2).
What are the empty, vain things of this world, that though they aren't inherently evil, become stumbling blocks for us when they become our focus? The list is endless. Sex. Money. People. Technology. Prestige. Reputation. Power. Success. Entertainment. Sports.
What things have become "worthless" because they have or are becoming your idol today? Confess it. Receive the forgiveness of God in Jesus. Rejoice that you are not condemned in your sin. And pray that you will find life in Jesus and that He will satisfy you with His unfailing love.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Does Mental Overstimulation Endanger True Worship?

"For a dream comes with much business, and a fool's voice with
many words" (Ecclesiastes 5:3).
Some commentators have understood this verse to mean that too much work causes restlessness in sleep, and too many words indicate the vanity and foolishness of a person. But as I've been studying Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 I'm left wondering if there is something else in view in the context of the passage. Below are some brief thoughts from my study today in preparation to teach the students on Wednesday evening.
There is a certain mental fatigue that comes with sensory overload. We know this to be quite true, better than most in the world, because Western culture bombards us with thousands of images and spools of information through print, cyber-space and entertainment outlets such as radio and television. On most days I feel like my head is spinning because of all of the information I've taken in during the course of the day reading blogs, news articles, the Scriptures, not to mention the unending barage of visual images received. The result, at least for me, is often an inability to focus clearly (on anything) without taking time away to simply be silent and mentally debrief.
In Ecclesiastes 5 Solomon warns us to guard our steps when entering into God's presence. He calls us to pay attention and obey God's words and avoid the folly of the sacrifice of fools, which are cavalier words uttered in the presence of the One who is in heaven. By reminding us that God is in heaven and we are on earth, it is once again brought to our attention that God is much more grande, more majestic, and more valuable than we are as mere creatures on this earth (though, significantly, creatures made in His image nonetheless).
It seems that we are being warned of a contributing factor to the "sacrifice of fools" found in the verse above. After we are told to let our words be few, the author says, "For a dream comes with much business, and fool's voice with many words". There is an intentional contrast here. Futhermore, the word "dream" is used again in 5:7.
The word "business" can quite literally mean a "flood of events or images". When I'm flooded with events and images it often produces what we might call a "daydream". Think about it. When you are unfocused or doing what my friend Natalie King likes to call "free-talking", you often say many words to convey something that could have been said in a much simpler fashion. In other words, you express yourself with a scrambled thoughts stream-of-consciousness style.
What I am getting at? An overstimulated mind that is unable to focus on God makes it difficult for us to listen (5:1) to a holy God. A mind flooded with events and images often approaches God with the same haste (which we are warned against in 5:2) that we embrace all of life. The result of this kind of approach to worship leads to sin (God calls this evil; 5:1, 6) and fails to honor God with the reverance that He demands and deserves.
The frightening reality is that this is not a sin of ignorance. It is a deliberate, intentional sin. This is the point of 5:6-7. In our haste to encounter God on our terms and within the boundaries of our hurried lives and schedules, we often say words we don't mean, makes promises we won't keep, and then try to tell God that it was simply a mistake (5:6), when in fact, we never really intended to do what we promised. We only hoped to appease God with the eloquence of our words.
There is much more to be said about this text, and admittedly my thoughts are incomplete, but I hope that this causes you to pause and heed the words and warning of Ecclesiastes 5:1-7.

Baby Martin News

I know, the suspense has everyone walking on pins and needles. Emily was due on Tuesday. We had a doctor's appointment this morning. She still has not progressed very much (dilated 3 cm; 10 cm is when you are ready to give birth). So, we scheduled an induction for Tuesday morning at 7:00 am. This means the end is in sight. Emily would prefer not to have to induce, so if you want to pray that Baby Martin comes before Tuesday I am sure she would appreciate it.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Josh Harris

In a recent interview (for full interview: Pastor Joshua Harris was asked what he feels the biggest issue facing the world today is. Here is his response. I found it compelling, and more importantly, right on target.

"Maintaining an enduring loyalty to the gospel. Here’s why this is particularly difficult today: First, the idea of transcendent truth is out of step with our culture. Then, within the church, many are losing their grasp on the authority of Scripture, the doctrine of sin, and the centrality of Jesus and his atoning work. The good emphasis on reaching the lost that has shaped the seeker-sensitive movement has fostered an indifference to doctrine in general. People are more drawn to self-help solutions than a message that calls them sinners and displays a glorious Sovereign God who saves by grace alone. And I’ll be the first to say that it’s just plain hard to consistently train members to believe and live in the good of this central truth. It’s so easy to stray into moralism, legalism, or into this or that cause."

God, helps us hold fast to the Gospel for the sake of our churches and the world.

The Necessary Hope of the Gospel

I spent much of the morning reviewing a curriculum written for students focused on the Ten Commandments. It was a fairly well-written curriculum. Well-illustrated. Practical. Full of ideas and concepts supported in Scripture. It was clearly written primarily to students with an evangelical Christian background. It was assumed that any student going through the curriculum was well-versed on the character and purposes of God in the world, as well as God's purpose in giving the Law. I imagined the difficulty of tackling an Old Testament text, particularly one such as the Ten Commandments. How do you make the "thou shalt not" instructions relevant to a post-modern generation (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2; Rom 4:15)? How do you help students make sense of the purpose of the Law in the 21st century (Rom 7:5-6)? But something was missing. The curriculum fell flat. And then it became obvious what was missing from the curriculum. It wasn't Christ-centered. It failed to answer the question: How are we to relate to the Law on this side of the cross (Rom 5:20-21; Gal 2:16)? How does Jesus make sense of the Law (Matthew 5:17; John 1:17)?

Any focus on the Law given by God through Moses (John 1:17) apart from Jesus only magnifies our spiritual despair and hopelessness. As the Apostle Paul said in Romans 7:5-6, our sinful passions, the very nature of who humanity is as objects of wrath (Eph 2:3), are only aroused, not suppressed by our knowledge of God's Law. This is a devastating blow to our inflated, naive view of humanity's capacity for goodness. We are incapable of a righteousness that is pleasing to God, and according to Scripture, we do not even desire the kind of righteousness that is pleasing to the Holy Creator of this ball of dirt that we call earth (Rom 3:10b-18).

This is why I say that people are in need of the necessary hope of the Gospel. As I read this curriculum this morning, I was left with the impression that if I did not know that Jesus Christ was the only One who could mediate between me and the Father (1Tim 2:5), of whom I would be His enemy apart from the work of Jesus on the cross and my confidence/trust in that work in faith, I could somehow please and know God simply by keeping His Law. Tragically, this is a false hope that has enslaved untold millions of people in darkness. Multitudes of Muslims, Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, Catholics, and yes, even Protestants who do not rightly understand the Gospel of Jesus, cannot be justified by works of the Law and neither can you (Gal 2:16) or I. And for this reason, if anyone believes that their goodness or works will be satisfactory to God when they stand before Him and give an account for their lives, they will be judged severely and cast out of God's presence.

To be fair, let me point out that I don't think the author's intent was to leave Jesus out of a teaching on the Ten Commandments. It is a challenging mission, importing a vision of Jesus' and the work of the cross into Old Testament history and law. However, this is the work of those who have been called to shepherd and teach the people of God.

The only hope we have to know and be reconciled to God, the only hope we have for life and salvation, is faith in the Gospel, the reality that Christ died for sinners (1Tim 1:9). Jesus died for the ungodly (Rom 5:6-11).He who knew no sin became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God (2Cor 5:21). That's right. Not only did Jesus die for our sins, but in doing so, He gave us the right to claim for ourselves an alien righteousness, a righteousness not our own, but Jesus' own righteousness (Phil 3:9; Gal 3:6; Rom 5:18), so that when the Father looks upon us, He sees the merit and purity of His Son.

This is our hope. All I know is that this truth, the beauty of the Gospel, is the only confidence I have that I am right with God by faith in Jesus. I am grateful that my standing before God is not contingent upon my faulty, weak, inconsistent, faithless performance and adherence to the Law. Thank you, God, for the mercy and grace of your Son, Jesus Christ, my Righteousness, Hope, Savior, Redeemer, and Friend.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

World Cup Blues

The joy is gone. My heart was with two teams in this tournament: the United States and Germany. The US for obvious reasons, and Germany because I actually have ties there having lived there for three years as a kid. The US was an utter disappointment this Cup. Yes, they played in perhaps the true "group of death" with Czech Republic, Italy and Ghana, so advancing was a difficult task indeed. The dramatic, gutsy effort against Italy aside, their lackluster play in the Czech Republic game and inability to play with any sense of urgency against Ghana, along with their offensive ineptitude (4 shots on frame in 3 games!) left a bitter taste in the mouths of many US soccer fans. Sure, players are to blame, and there is plenty of blame to go around (where were Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Kasey Keller and Claudio Reyna this tournament), but one has to wonder if the time has come for the most successful coach in US history (Bruce Arena) to step aside. Perhaps he has taken the national program as far as he can. The early exit by a talented but underachieving left my heart with one team: Germany. After a decisive victory against Sweden and a penalty kick thriller with Argentina, Germany matched up today with Italy, a team that they have never beaten in World Cup play. I need to say this: I loathe Italy. I'm sick of hearing about the match-fixing scandal in Italy, one which has the potential to implicate several Italian national team players. But more than this, I am weary of watching Italian players fall to the ground, take dives, and whine and complain about everything that happens on the pitch. Please, anyone but Italy, win the Cup! The match was great. It was exciting, play moved up and down the pitch. There were exciting shots on frame and good saves by the keepers. The referee was mostly invisible and called a good match. He let them play, but kept the game under control (although, in my opinion, he could have called the game a little tighter). The game was scoreless for 90 minutes. In the first 2 min of OT Italy had two shots hit the crossbar. Italy had better chances and it finally caught up with the German team. In the 119 minute Italy scored. No mistake by Germany. Just a great play by the Italian team. As Germany pushed up to try and equalize in the final minute Italy gained possession, countered and scored as time ended. Crushing defeat but an excellent game. A far cry from the performance of the US during this tournament. And amazingly, the one game the US got a result from was against an Italian team that will play in the finals against the Portugal/France winner. I don't care for France, although Zidane is a futbol genius, but it's hard to root for Portugal after their dirty play against Holland and watching their star, Cristian Ronaldo, rat out his Manchester United teammate Wayne Rooney in their quarterfinal match, leading to Rooney being shown a red card (which he admittedly deserved, but it didn't appear the referee saw the infraction) and being sent off, leaving England to play 10 on 11 for 60+ minutes. So, I suppose I'll watch the remaining games I can, but it will be bittersweet because there is no one left to root for.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Still waiting...

Baby Martin's due date is tomorrow, July 4th. No news yet. Keep praying.

Warning to the "Feel Good Gospel" Preachers

"Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for hi inquity, but you will have delivered your soul. Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul" (Ezekiel 3:18-21).

If a person were drowning, would you simply watch them struggle for life? If a child were about to be crushed by an on-coming vehicle, would you simply stand there or try to warn or rescue them? If you wife were diagnosed with cancer, would you deny her medical treatment? The answer to each of these questions is obvious. If you cared at all for the well-being of these individuals you would do what you could to save their life.

The prophet Ezekiel spoke a message of hope to a people who had lost sight of God's covenant relationship with them. The book of Ezekiel reveals a powerful, loving God who is able to breath life into spiritually dead people (Ezekiel 37). What I find compelling is the nature of Ezekiel's message. He didn't try to inspire Judah by preaching messages that made people feel good about themselves. He warned them of God's judgment for their sin. Not only that, but God told Ezekiel that what mattered is not whether or not the people responded positively or negatively to his message (2:5). What matters is that they know that "a prophet has been among them" (2:6). In other words, what matters is that they know they have heard from God.

I am grieved at the reports surfacing in many "churches" in Western culture who minimize the serious offense that sin is to a holy God. No, I don't believe that we should only preach hellfire and damnation to people. It is good to focus on the goodness of God. However, we cannot enjoy the goodness and favor of God until we first come face-to-face with the seriousness of our sin, come to the end of ourselves, turn away from a sinful, idolatrous lifestyle, and trust in the merits of Jesus Christ's work on our behalf on the cross by faith, securing our adoption as sons and daughters of God by God's grace.

The passage from Ezekiel 3 says that the "watchman", which is a closely related to the word "overseer" (pastor/elder) in the New Testament has a responsibility to warn the wicked and righteous about the seriousness of sin "in order to save his life" (3:18). If you care about people that you shepherd as their pastor, how can you avoid the problem of sin and still claim to love them and care about their eternal well-being?

There are even broader implications in this text. The "watchman" bears a spiritual responsibility before Almighty God for the spiritual condition of those entrusted to his ministry. The author of Hebrews makes this clear in his instruction for the people of God obey their spiritual leaders. "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who have to give an account...13:17). This is a sobering thought for those who have been called into ministry, particularly for those called to preach and teach.

Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, which boasts that more than 25,000 people attend their services weekly, recently said: "Listen; don’t dangle people over the fires of hell. Lisa and I always kid about you know we’re going to dangle them over the fires of hell. Listen, that doesn’t draw people to God. They know what kind of life they live. They know how bad they’ve lived. What you’ve got to do is talk about the goodness of God. Listen, it’s the goodness of God that brings people to repentance. It’s the goodness of God. One thing I always appreciated about my dad is that he instilled into us a good vision of who God was. We learned about a good God.” [Sermon: What the Resurrection Means to Us As Believers]

The problem in 2Peter was that false teachers were distorting Scripture to serve their own purposes. Osteen is right, it is the kindness of God that leads to repentance (Rom 2:5), however God's kindness is most magnified in the horrific execution of His Son Jesus on the cross for our sin. This is the good news of the Gospel: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. It seems to me that Osteen is walking closely in the footsteps of those leading people astray in 2Peter, using Scripture for their own gain and to validate their misguided message.

I mention Joel Osteen, not to slander him, but to warn him and others who would fail to expose people to the whole counsel of God's Word. Yes, we can draw a crowd by telling people how good God is and how He wants them to enjoy His favor. And this message is true. But it is not the whole message. You can't enjoy the benefits of the good news until you've first dealt with the reality of the bad news.

Those who claim to be men of God, called to share His Word with people everywhere, preach the Word. Preach of all it. The good news about God and the bad news about man. People need to hear it all.