Monday, April 30, 2007

Torture in Turkey

This is an important post that everyone who loves Jesus and the Gospel should read. And while it may not be saying much, this may be one of the most important posts I've ever published. "I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne" (Revelation 9:6). I couldn't read it without asking, "Do I love Jesus this much?" It's also hard to read without tears. May the glory of Jesus be revealed through the blood of His saints. You should keep checking Denny Burk's site for thoughts about the death of these disciples throughout the week. And though it is linked to Burk's site, you should also read the letter received by The Voice of the Martyr's from a church in Turkey.

The Church in Smyrna ("Izmir"), hometown of one of the three martyrs, has recently posted another letter correcting any inaccuracies. But God's glory is already being revealed as three people are said to have professed Christ since the death of these three saints.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Why RED Isn't Working

Ryan Thompson writes a compelling article about why Bono's RED campaign, which has spent over $100 million in advertising to raise a measely $18 million for poverty in Africa, isn't working, and how it's failure exposes the impotency of the campaign.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Let the Python Eat Its Tail. Amen.

John Piper responds to Justice Anthony Kennedy's opinion about the favorable Supreme Court ruling banning partial birth abortion. It's worth your time to read.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Collapse of America

I recently received an email with this article which talks about atheistic China's startling discovery regarding the prosperity of the West. The article reveals that Jiang Zemin, president of China from 1993 to 2003, was tempted to make Christianity the official religion of China. He pondered this because of twenty years of research from leading scholars in China. Here is their conclusion:

One of the things we [Chinese scholars] were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact the pre-eminence of the West [America] over the world. We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you [America] had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on the economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don't have any doubt about this.

What I find most compelling about this research is that it confirms something John Adams, our second president and one of the prime architects of the Constitution said in a speech in 1798, "We have no government armed in power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other."

While the motivating premise of each statement is different (economics vs. governing morality), there is a common thread in these statements made over 200 years apart. It is a universal moral foundation of social and cultural life, largely shaped by religion, that sustains the greatness of Western culture. The reason for this is because a shared moral foundation leads to voluntary submission to what is regarded as accepted social, cultural and economic practice, and without this voluntary submission, it is impossible to maintain any degree of freedom and self-government (for more about this interview with Richard Land by Marvin Olasky).

But there is a frightening trend emerging in America. While spirituality is widely accepted and cherished, the institution of religion, especially Christianity, has been increasingly marginalized, and to some degree, demonized. While the US has never been a "Christian" nation in the evangelical sense of the word, we have been a nation of Judeo-Christian values, which our Constitution reflects. However, the current cultural climate, while not currently completely hostile to these values, is at the very least antagonistic to historic Judeo-Christianity morality. The propoganda of our day is rapidly staging a coup designed to redefine sexuality, family and ethics. This "new" morality is a frontline assault on the next generation and has quickly eroded confidence in Christianity in particular in the West.

The problem with this erosion at the founding principles of our nation is that the "new" morality embraces far too much in regards to social and cultural life. The boundaries for morality are so broad that they feed unbridled passions (morality and religion) that cannot be adequately governed, and thus Western culture will soon implode and the triumphant shouts of self-expression and individualism will become the fading echo of our own demise. "freedoms".

Following Jesus

Summary of story as told by The Voice of the Martyrs magazine. Check out more information here.

"Salavat" is a pastor in the predominantly Muslim nation ofUzbekistan who has often been beated and detained by the government and was recently released from a six-month prison term. While he was in prison there was no one to care for his wife and five children because church members lived in fear of Muslim persecution. Many days his family went without food.

Once released "Salavat's" fortune did not quickly change. None of the believers would come to church because they were too afraid. For two days Salvat praised God alone in his church, remembering Hebrews 10:34 and vowing to joyfully accept the plundering of his property in the name of Jesus. And while he embraced imprisonment, the plundering of his good and the abandonment of other believers with humility before God, he found it difficult to accept his family's suffering. There was very little food and no help in sight, and the day finally came when what little food there was ran out.

His 7-year old oldest daughter "Rachel" asked, "Dad, when will we have something to eat?" Salavat did not have an answer. He simply said, "Let's wait until morning. We'll have breakfast then."

The next morning Salavat woke at his usual 5 a.m. time for time with the Lord. Rachel also rose, again asking, "When will we eat? I'm hungry." Salavat prayed fervently for his family, and after his prayer he told her, "We'll have something to eat in a bit. Let's go out and work in the garden while we wait."

As they worked they hard a car approaching. Two men got out of the car and asked for Salavat by name. They said, "We were not supposed to be here today, but the Lord has sent us," as they handed Salavat an envelope. Salavat looked inside and found $200 - more than a month's wages. The two men left quickly and Salavat and his daughter ran after them to thank them.

When they reached the street there was no car. There wasn't even proof there had ever been a car. No cloud of dust. No fading engine sound. No tracks. Nothing.

Rachel looked at her father, then at the enveleop still in his hands, and said, "Dad, from now on your God will be my God." Eventually other believers returned to the Lord, gaining courage from their pastor's strength and God's provision.

But Salavat still faces daily threats. When asked his favorite verse he opened to the book of Job to the story of a man from the land of Uz - modern-day Uzebekistan. He pointed to Job 1:8 where God mentions his faithful servant and Salavat whispered, "I, too, want to be faithful to the Lord, just as Job was."

Pray for Pastor Salavat and his family. And then pray that God would make you (and me) as courageous and confident in God as this man.

How to Minister When You Don't Know the Answer

I found this article by John Piper on the Resurgence website. It provides some helpful insight into how to handle difficult ministry situations.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Blood of the Martyrs

In a world where Christians are free from persecution to a large degree, it's easy to forget that Jesus' Kingdom is being established by the testimony of those who shed blood for His name and glory. Read the latest here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Can Particular Atonement Sympathizers Survive in the SBC?

Let's be honest, the controversy between young Calvinists and old guard Southern Baptist leaders has been brewing for several years and continues to escalate. What I find interesting is that the hostile shots across the bow most often come, not from the aggressive, restless younger generation, but from older, and supposedly wiser, pastors, professors and seminary presidents. Though Dr. Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) said, "There's plenty of room under the [Southern Baptist] umbrella for anyone who is anything from a one-to-five point Calvinist," he has also expressed deep concern about the rise of Calvinism in the convention. Adrian Rogers, before his death, was an outspoken critic, not only of Calvinism (the doctrines of grace), but also of men who believe this doctrine accurately reflects the intention and meaning of Scripture. For the most part the criticisms have been well calculated, deliberate, and civil.

But the rhetoric coming out of Liberty University these days is anything but amicable, and very little is said in the spirit of cooperation as it relates to those who hold to a more Calvinistic soteriology. Liberty University was founded by Jerry Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church, which recently became affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convenation. Recently Ergun Caner, dean of the seminary at Liberty, compared Calvinists to "Muslims" in their zeal and equated the staunch dogmatism of Reformed doctrine by many believers to be similar to "Christian jihad", a characterization I personally found offensive and unnecessary. But Jerry Falwell raised the stakes this Friday when he labeled the doctrine of limited atonement (i.e., particular redemption), which states that Jesus' death on the cross was, in effect, only for the elect because only the elect will believe and receive the benefits of Jesus' work by faith through grace, a heresy (see the charge here). It is strange to me that Falwell singles out a doctrine that everyone must believe on some level or else you are logically a universalist. The atonement of Jesus does not apply to all people in all circumstances in the same way or else all people will go to heaven and enjoy eternal life. In this respect, if you deny universalism, you affirm some nuance of limited atonement.

We can and should applaud Falwell's boldness and courage to state unequivocally what he believes, but this is a serious charge. Heretics are individuals who deliberately distort the gospel and who are false teachers, likely individuals who are not even members of the Kingdom of Christ. With this claim Falwell is stating that John Piper, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, Charles Spurgeon, C.J. Mahaney, Mark Dever, Bryan Chappell, William Carey, John Owen, Al Mohler, and, yes, myself and more are heretics. But this is more than a label or Falwell resorting to school-yard name-calling; he is condemning those who believe differently than he does in regards to the atonement, even though this difference in belief has been widely accepted within historical Christianity.

It is this kind of rhetoric that is raising the stakes and creating unnecessary stress within the SBC. The Apostle Paul,when writing for the presevervation of unity in the Body of Christ, says, "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." The Baptist Faith & Message , which essentially serves as the doctrinal statement for the SBC, incorporates language that is intentionally inclusive of individuals and churches that fit within the full specturm of an acceptable understanding of Baptistic soteriology. However, recent responses to the doctrines of grace with rhetoric like Falwell's and Caner's threatens the unity of the Convention. Should the stakes continue to rise it won't be long before a motion is made from the floor, or perhaps even through a doctrinal committee, at a Southern Baptist Convention in the near future, that calls to exclude explicit or implicit Calvinistic doctrine from SBC articles, statements of faith, and eventually SBC churches in good standing. You may scoff at the notion that this could happen, but where else can condemning language such as the "H" word lead? If more people follow Falwell's lead and believe that Christians with a reformed perspective or understanding of the bent of Scripture are heretics, why would you tolerate what you believe to be heretics in your fellowship? God, help us to heed Paul's admonition in Ephesians 4:1-3 for the sake of unity and the spread of Your glorious gospel.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Kentucky Fried T-Rex

Does anyone else find the recent findings, or shall I say loose speculation based on questionable date, funny? Recent studies show that the Tyranasauras Rex is a distant cousin of, you guessed it, a chicken? I'll bet you never look at a chicken in the same way again. I've always wondered about a possible link, since chickens are such ferocious carnivores and all.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Teenage Sex

The release of a long-awaited study by Congress reveals that teens who participate in abstinence-based sexual programs are no less likely to have sexual intercourse than their non-abstinence educated teenage counterparts. What this study proves is that without consistent, steady and careful conversations with teenagers about sex, sexuality and sexual expression, all teenagers, educated and uneducated alike, are at risk for promiscuous behavior.

What stood out to me about the study is not the fact that teenagers who not only attend, but even perhaps profess to support abstinence-based programs, are sexually active, but that the age for most sexual encounters is frighteningly young. The study reveals that most sexually active teens have sexual intercourse for the first time at 14 years and 9 months old.

As believers we should understand that sex is a beautiful gift from God given, not only for the purpose of procreation, but also for our pleasure. It is a wonderful expression of intimacy and a powerful reflection of the "one flesh" union between a husband and a wife. But sex can also be awkward and expose many insecurities. Think they don't exist? Then why is it that not only the institution of the church is far too silent on sexual issues, but many Christian husbands and wives communicate very little about their sexual lives?

With the reality that sex can be awkward and expose insecurities in mind, it is not hard to imagine the emotional trauma and discomfort that inevitably accompanies sexual experiences at such a young age.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Why Doesn't the West Value Women?

Al Mohler has a great post about why Western soceity doesn't value women the way that we should. The irony, however, is that this reality was exposed by a man whose religious culture, while supremely valuing motherhood, is also known to oppress and brutalize women. Some Westerns view the Muslim perpective on femininity as one that is repressively enslaved to premodern notions of male and female gender roles, and perhaps this is true to some degree. However, our culture is one that is so progressively feministic in our pursuit of declaring the unequivocal equality between men and women that we champion women who enter the killing fields of war and abandon the God-honoring role of mother and wife charged with the responsibility of nurturing one's children, encouraging one's husband, and ordering the home to the glory of God. What we elevated as "value" in our culture has evolved into nothing more than the neutering of the precious gift of femininity as we pursue the deification of human autonomy and self-exaltation and glorification. Be sure to read the link to Mohler's site. I'd love to hear your thoughts about this topic.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

For the Ignorant

For those who think that soccer, aka, "futbol" to the rest of the world, isn't much of a sport, when is the last time you heard of a football player severing a leg artery during a game. That is exactly what Everton striker James Vaughan did in a Premier match against Bolton. Sure, football players occasionally break their necks because they propel their bodies into other players while lowering their head like a battering ram, but if you think American football is more physical than futbol then you've never seen a high-level soccer match in person. There's no comparison.

Monday, April 09, 2007

What We Need To Unlearn

David King pointed my attention to this article from Christopher Wright about what we need to unlearn in the West in order to be God's agents of mission in the world. Read it. If you wonder how to best reach the world you'll find this article insightful and challenging.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Say It With Me: The Institution Is Not The Enemy, Even If It Has Become The Sacred Cow

Several years ago I read a book by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost called The Shaping of Things to Come. Admittedly I found the book provocative, stimulating, challenging and unnerving all at the same time. My most severe critique of the book is that I fear it calls us too radically away from an institutionalized Church. What I mean by this is that Hirsch and Frost seem to call for the abandonment of any gathering of believers which can rightfully be recognized as a church where there is structure and clear hierarchial roles of authority. They also passionately argue for a subversive, winsome, creative, compelling gospel-centered, missional-driven lifestyle that may or may not be rooted within a traditionally understood biblical model of the church.

Today I was reading a post on Alan Hirsch's blog (and it is good for us all to read individuals who challenge us to think outside of what is normal and acceptable in our own minds) and came across this quote from Jacques Ellul in The Subversion of Christianity.

“No doubt some will reply that God is not a God of disorder, incoherence, or arbitrariness, but a God of order. Of course he is. Unfortunately the whole of the Old Testament shows us that God’s order is not that which we conceive and desire. God’s order is not organization and institution (cf. the difference between judges and kings). It is not the same in every time and place. It is not a matter of repetition and habit. On the contrary, it resides in the fact that it constantly posits something new, a new beginning. Our God is a God of beginnings. There is in him no redundancy or circularity. Thus, if his church wants to be faithful to his revelation, it will be completely mobile, fluid, renascent, bubbling, creative, inventive, adventurous, and imaginative. It will never be perennial, and can never be organized or institutionalized. If the gates of death are not going to prevail against it, this is not because it is a good, solid, well organized fortress, but because it is alive; it is Life that is, as mobile, changing, and surprising as life. If it becomes a powerful fortified organization, it is because death has prevailed.”

Ellul aptly reminds us that what God defines as order is not necessarily order as we might conceive of it. This, is in fact, a healty perspective. We cannot put God in a box and His ways are not our ways, and in His works will manifest themselves in many designs, shapes and experiences of which our finite and feeble minds would never imagine. So the challenge here, as Ellul sees it, that God's people (His church) would mirror God's penchant for new beginnings and creative interaction with His creation. To some degree I agree with Ellul. The church should be dynamic, creative, inventive, adventerous, imaginative and without resistance to change. However, I disagree that the characteristics for which Ellul believes the church should be known are incongruous with the institution or structure of the church. I believe Ellul's critique likely stems from an observable deficiency within the modern Church to display any winsome gospel-saturated vigor in a culture where Christianity is becoming increasingly marginalized. 95% of churches are declining in numbers. The institution of the church, on many fronts, appears lifeless and culturally insignificant. But we must resist the temptation to move outside the boundaries of Scripture as it relates to order and structure within the body of Christ for the sake of flexing our creative and adventerous missional muscles. Creativity, adventure, imagination, renacence are more are not enemies of structure and institution, although few could argue that they aren't well-acquainted. Our challenge is to function within the biblical prescription for church life with such dynamic vigor and creativity that an unbelieving world cannot help but notice our presence.

Sam Storms

Here is an excellent interview with a man I have great respect for.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Islamic Extremism Altering the Historical Landscape

It is becoming increasingly apparent that Westerners live in fear of not only Islamic extremists, but of Islam as well, and this fear reaches all the way to the classroom. A recent government backed study in England reveals that many teachers are dropping the Holocaust from history lesssons for fear of upsetting the beliefs of students who deny the Holocaust every happened. Never mind that pretending the Holocaust never happened by erasing it from our history books (at least as far as it being taught orally) may be horribly offensive, insensitive and dishonoring to the lives of more than 6 million Jews tortured and slaughtered at the hands of Hitler's Third Reich.

What would motivate a teacher to ignore such a profoundly horrific, yet significant event in human history other than fear that those who ignorantly deny the authenticity of these events might be inspired to act violently against those who dispute their zealous religious and historically dubious claims? This certainly isn't to suggest that all Muslims are prone to acts of violence, but capitulating to our fear of Islamic extremists and acts of terror will only further inspire and embolden radical Muslims in their efforts to destroy any and all cultures different to Islam and write their own version of revisionist history in the world. And by altering the historical landscape of the world by being silent about issues and events that are contrary to the teachings of the Quran we give the voice of Mohammed more and more legitimacy in secular culture while marginalizing other perspectives. What should concern the followers of Jesus is that this marginalization includes the suppression of the Gospel while advocating the vision and teachings of a false prophet.

God, save us from our fear, help us to trust in your sovereign care knowing that you are the only one we need to fear, and embolden us to speak truth - both spiritual and historical - in every area of culture when given the opportunity.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Is God's Word Relevant and Practical?

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God" (Colossians 3:16).

I plan to take a one-week break from the study in Isaiah this week with the students to deal specifically with the issue of the relevance and practicality of God's Word. You may ask, "why?", and the answer is that I'm not sure that any of us really understand or embrace the comprehensive competency of God's Word for life. I believe we even struggle to wholeheartedly believe that God's Word provides sufficient answers and help in all of life's circumstances.

But here is a related thought to the issue that struck me as I read in Colossians 3 this morning. As the Apostle Paul writes the church at Colossae and gives instruction about setting one's mind on Christ, laying aside self-centered desires for glory, and clothing oneself with Jesus, who is our life, he speaks of all of this within the context of community or Christian fellowship. Paul tells us to mortify desires which often cause us to use, harm or manipulate others for our own perverse appetities such as sexual immorality,covetousness, slander and obscene talk. As we take these things off he tells us to put on, by the power of the life of Christ within us, attitudes and actions that are indicatitve that the grace of God we proclaim lives within us. He tells us to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. He calls on us to bear with one another and to forgive each other even when we have a complaint against one another. Above all, Paul challenges us to love one another.

What, though, does this have to do with the relevance of God's Word, besides the fact that Paul's words are said to be inspired by the Holy Spirit and are found within God's Word? Paul understands that this action - the putting off of sin in our lives and clothing ourselves with the character of Jesus - is stimulated by the Word, yes, but ultimately becomes regular practice in our lives through the life lived in intimate fellowship with other believers. This brings us to 3:16.

When Paul says "Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly..." he may well mean that we are to make Word of God at home within our own hearts in such a way that its influence shapes every thought, desire, action and word. And how does the Word dwell in us? It makes itself at home in our hearts when we hear it and receive it with meekness (Matt 13:9; James 1:21), when we handle it (2Tim 2:15), hide it (Psalm 119:11) and hold it fast (Phil 2:16). There is a clear personal application and incorporation of God's Word into our lives.

However, if we stop here, this may be why some believers miss the true power and impact of the word of Christ in our lives. There is a mistaken notion that God's Word and Christian faith is meant to be personal only. When we try to obey, live, abide and feast on God's Word without probing interaction and application of God's Word among others, we miss the impact it is intended to have in our lives because we are often blind, and sometimes even indifferent, to the areas of our lives that need attention from the word of Christ.

Contextually Paul is talking about an application of the word of Christ that happens corporately when two or more Christians are engaged in meaningful, God-centered admiration and praise to the glory of Christ and the edification of their own souls. Paul is clearly making this statement within the Christian community. It is quite possible, if not even probable, that when Paul says, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly..." that he means "among you", and not exclusively "within in" (in an individual sense). He may not mean this corporate interpretation exclusively, but it would be unwise to dismiss it entirely.

In other words, God's Word becomes extremely relevant and practical when it becomes the centerpiece of our relationships with one another. After all, isn't this the purpose of the word of Christ dwelling in us richly so that we might teach and admonish one another in all wisdom. I'm afraid we dismiss the relevance and practicality of God's Word because there are too few people in our lives applying the truth of God's Word in the areas of our lives that we need it most. We need truth-tellers and true friends who will be willing to speak God's Word into every area of our lives so that we might more effectively clothe ourselves with Christ and put to death what is earthly within us.

Evangelicals Fight Slavery

Evangelicals are getting some good press this morning as groups who are typically polarized are uniting in a campaign against global indebted slavery, child soldiers and sex slavery.