Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Day and My Favorite Memory

Everyone woke up a little blurry-eyed. Thankfully there wasn't the normal frantic pace of a typical Christmas morning. Once everyone was stirring we sat down and had a delicious breakfast, complete with balloons to signify from the onset that the day was set aside for someone special. Of course Emeline was already geared up to open presents, but I have to admit that she was less insistent that we open them than she could have been.

After breakfast we gathered in the den and began reading the nativity story from the Jesus-Storybook bible, which if you have children, is a must for your library. We then proceeded to read though on story about the life of Jesus. Emeline picked out the parable about the treasure hidden in a field. What an appropriate selection for Christmas morning. We then continued our reading into the events of the crucifixion, Jesus' subsequent death, and then his glorious resurrection. Emeline then sang us a song (an original) about how God made the whole world, everyone should praise him, and Jesus died on the cross so that we can praise God. It was sweet.

Everyone got multiple meaningful and needed gifts (my second favorite might be the pass to the Masters Par 3 in April!; you'll understand my first later), but there is no need to spend much time here because it wasn't the focus of the day.

We sat down for a marvelous dinner and after dinner we had a marbled red velvet birthday cake made in honor of the incarnation of the Son of God. Emeline led us in Happy Birthday. She began the song by changing keys mid-stream. I couldn't help but laugh through most of the song.

What will surely be my most lasting memory from this Christmas followed. Emeline went to get her storybook bible and brought it to the table to read everyone a story out of the bible. She began "reading" at the Garden of Gethsemane, which she calls the "Olive Garden" ("Jesus' favorite place, you know"). She explained how the disciples were tired and went to sleep on Jesus. She then talked about Jesus praying and telling the Father that He didn't want to die. She then descriptively explained the events of Jesus' crucifixion, his agony on the cross, and even his words, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

She then went on to talk about Jesus' disciples laying him in the tomb where the three women came to wash his body. She said it was "Mary, Madeline (because she didn't get that Mary Magdalene was one person and can't say Magdalene), and because we didn't know the name of the third woman in the picture (who we later discovered was likely a woman named "Joanna"), Emeline named her "Aladia" (her imaginary friend). She detailed the encounter with the angel where the women scramed in fright. She spoke of Jesus' meeting Mary outside the tomb when she mistook him for the gardener. She closed by talking about Mary running to tell Jesus' disciples that he was alive.

Emeline did all this from memory. She can't read, but with book open she shared in detail accounts from each page of her storybook bible. Not only was is quite sweet, but I was amazed at how much of the gospel she has already processed at such a young age. I thank God for making His gospel come alive in her heart and pray eagerly that she will come to embrace it as her only hope for salvation. The seeds have been planted and are beginning to bear fruit. This was my favorite gift this Christmas. Thank you, Jesus, for letting me see your work in my child on the day we celebrate you coming to earth as an infant, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in weakness and fragility in a manger.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas in North Korea

There have been many discussions at our church about how to celebrate Jesus this Christmas in a way that puts him on center-stage in our Christmas celebrations. For most of us, however we choose to do this, we will be able to do so gathered around many family and friends, where we can openly celebrate and rejoice in the gift of the incarnation as we eagerly await the final consumation of our salvation through Jesus' return.

However, not all Christians around the world have been given the grace of open fellowship with other believers. There are believed to be tens of thousands of Christian disciples in North Korea. Unfortunately it is illegal for them to openly practice their faith. This sad reality may cause you wonder: how will Christians in North Korea celebrate this Christmas.

An article titled "Lonely Christmas for Christians in North Korea" paints both a bleak, yet surprisingly hopeful view of the length that many North Korean Christians will go to this Christmas to worship their Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. Here is an excerpt:

Simon, whose full name cannot be given for security reasons, explains that believers in North Korea can usually only gather two at a time on a given Sunday. A Christian would sit on a park bench and another Christian would come sit next to him. If no one is around, they may be able to share a Bible verse they know by heart and briefly give a reflection. They also share prayer topics with each other, said Simon.

“Then they leave one another and go and look for Christians in some other part of their town. This continues throughout Sunday,” he said.

A cell group usually has less than 20 Christians who meet and encourage one another this way or meet one-on-one in people’s homes.

In this way, Christmas will also be celebrated.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Better Prayer Life

Joe Thorn has a good post about cultivating a better prayer life/. Here is an excerpt:

When it comes to struggling with prayer I often hear things like:

“I don’t know what to say.”
“I run out of things to pray about.”
“My prayers amount to little more than a laundry list of requests.”
“I feel like my prayers just bounce off the ceiling.”
“My praying feels artificial.”

There are a number of things I recommend to people who are learning, or re-learning, to pray. The simplest is the ACTS acronym. Most of you know what it is, but just in case - it is the model of prayer that encourages us to begin with Adoration (praise), and then continue with Confession of our sin, moving on to Thanksgiving for all God is and has done for us, and concludes with Supplication (specific requests for self and others). I like this model, and it typically structures my prayer time even when I am not thinking about it. There are some great books I encourage people to read and use as well. Reading and praying through the Valley of Vision is a great aid to learning to pray more theologically. The Bible and the Closet by Thomas Watson and Samuel Lee was instrumental in altering my prayer life forever. Herman Witsius’ Sacred Dissertations on The Lord’s Prayer should be read by every pastor. But the best advice I can give someone who wants to deepen their prayer life, is typically the most unexpected. I am convinced that one of the best things to help your prayer life is systematic theology.

Calvinism, Prospective SBC Pastors and Search Committees

This past month there was a conference called Building Bridges was birthed out of the research by Lifeway concerning the resurgence of Reformed theology within Southern Baptist life (though the term "reformed theology is somewhat of a misnomer for most Southern Baptist Calvinists since most are not "reformed" in exactly the sense that the term means). The purpose of the conference was basically to have an open discussion about what Calvinism is and isn't and move the SBC forward in a spirit of cooperation. Here is what the research revealed:

The research portrays what many have imagined to be true. While around 10 percent of rank-and-file Southern Baptist pastors would consider themselves to be five-point Calvinists, a sizeable portion (29 percent) of recent seminary graduates would identify themselves in that particular way. In fact, over 60 percent of graduates of one of our seminaries identify themselves as five-point Calvinists.

SBC leaders who do not consider themselves 5-point Calvinists such as Danny Akin and Paige Patterson are calling for more open dialogue and understanding among Southern Baptists over this issue, which is a good thing in light of some of the more hostile rhetoric towards Calvinists coming from Southern Baptist leaders such as the late Adrian Rogers and Ergun Caner (Liberty University).

One of the primary issues emerging from this resurgence in Calvinistic theology is that some prospective pastors have been less than forthcoming about their theological persuasions during the interview process with the pastor search committee. This has led to unneccessary conflict and even division in some local churches. Paige Patterson says that the solution is for prospective pastors to give full disclosure about their Calvinistic theology during the interview process. While this is good counsel, Tom Ascol points out that this is much easier said than done.

I add a hearty "amen" to his statements. But I also think it is necessary to inject a huge does or realism into the discussion at this point. Many of our Southern Baptist churches have not been very well taught on basic doctrinal issues. It would unkind and unproductive, therefore, for a pastoral candidate to employ theological jargon in a thoughtless way when interviewing with a search committee. Such language can be intimidating to some sincere believers and confusing to others. The goal is genuine understanding. Therefore both love and wisdom dictate speaking plainly and simply about one's doctrinal commitments when in the interview process.

Ascol then offers some helpful advice to prospective pastors whose doctrine has a Calvinistic flavor.

I encourage men to provide the search committee with a confession of faith that represents what the candidate believes. This can be a recognized confession or one that he himself has written. But it ought to be more thorough than brief. Don't try to hide your convictions. To do so is cowardly and dishonest and has no place in Gospel ministry. Try to explain your views in clear, concise language. If "Calvinism" as a term comes up, fine. Define it accurately and address it. If it doesn't come up, don't feel compelled to mention the word as some kind of test of honesty. Just be very clear about your biblical convictions.

However, the burden need not rest solely on the prospective pastor. Ascol wisely calls on search committees and churches to become more theologically aware and educated about the doctrines of grace. Sadly, too many churches and SBC lay persons "think" they know what Calvinism is, when in fact, they do not. My experience has been that many Southern Baptists equate biblical Calvinism with hyper-Calvinism. This had lead to widespread confusion and misunderstanding.

Calvinism, the doctrines of grace, Reformed Theology (insert your favorite description here _____________) is on the rise among young Southern Baptists. It is not an issue that we can, or even needs to be ignored. It is an opportunity for healthy dialogue (not debate). Furthermore, it is an opportunity for the followers of Jesus to search the Scriptures seeking God's wisdom and insight into how and why is it than anyone believes in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Time spent in God's Word is profitable so my encouragement to all lay theologians (and we all are exactly that on some level) is to spend twice as much time in God's Word as you do reading someone else's opinion on that matter. I believe you will find there is great gain in this worthy endeavor.

You can read Tom Ascol's whole post here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

So Long, Jack

Britain's Office of National Statistics (wouldn't this be a fun place to work) is reporting that the name Mohammed is about to pass the name Jack as the most popular boy's name in the United Kingdom. While England has long been rampantly secular, it appears that the UK is now becoming increasingly Muslim.

Can Faith In The Public Sector Remain Exclusively Private?

Many of the ideas this country has adopted and (wrongly) interpreted into the Constitution about church and State were shaped and introduced by the brilliant English philosopher John Locke. I discovered a post titled "The Privatization of Christianity on Behalf of America" that does a good job of giving us some insight into Locke's beliefs about the role of the church and the role of the State. Here are some quotes:

Giving a reason for establishing the right boundaries between the functions of the church and the state, Locke defends, “If this be not done, there can be no end put to the controversies that will be always arising between those that have, or at least pretend to have, on the one side a concernment for the interest of men’s souls, and on the other side, a care of the commonwealth.” Hence, it is assumed that the Church’s interests are primarily (if not exclusively) “men’s souls.” The care of the commonwealth is, thereby, placed in the hands of the state. The purpose of which is for “procuring, preserving, and advancing” civil interests, that is, according to Locke, “life, liberty, health, and indolency of body; and the possession of outward things, such as money, lands, houses, furniture, and the like….”

In Locke’s view, the “power of the civil government relates only to men’s civil interests, is confined to the care of the things of this world, and hath nothing to do with the world to come

Interestingly, as this blogger points out, these views sound strangly contemporary as we listen to Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney in his recent speech about the role of his religious views (he is Mormon) and the Presidency.

“Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions,” he pledged. “Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin."

But here is the question: Is this really possible? Can any man who truly believes in his religion with conviction separate the private implications of those beliefs with the public implications?

I can't speak for Mormonism, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Islam or any other religious group outside of Christianity because I am Christian and do not embrace any other expression of faith as valid or biblical. But as a Christian I cannot see where Jesus makes any allowance for the privatization of faith for the sake of the greater good within society. I see exactly the opposite. Even a cursory reading of the ministry and message of Jesus will see that Jesus intends for his followers to live for the phyiscal and emotional interests of others, including going so far as commanding his followers to live lives of sacrificial service towards others in humility.

The reality is this: true faith - even faith that I might dismiss as erroneous - does influence our decisions. Romney may state that his church or faith will not influence his presidential decisions, and by this he may mean that he will not allow the Mormon church to strong-arm any political presidential decisions, but make no mistake, Romney's faith values, as well as the faith values of every presidential candidate, will influence the private and public decisions of our next president. If they do not it only reveals that their religious beliefs have been expressed more for political expediency and currency than as true personal convictions.

Abortion and Preemies

TIME has revealed a study that links abortion to low birth rates and higher risk of premature birth. While the study was unable to conclusively determine if there is a higher risk from medically induced abortions rather than spontaneous abortions ("miscarriages"), there is sufficient evidence revealing that those who have had an abortion may increase the risk of an unhealthy future pregnancy.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Acts 29 Responds to the MBC

Here is an excerpt from the response by Acts 29 to the motion set forth by the MBC yesterday.

Monday was a day when toddling church planters were left out in the icy cold. Justice was not served. On January 1, several church planters in Missouri will lose their promised funding, not because they were guilty of breaking a rule, but because they were associated with a small church planting network (only 9 churches in Missouri are affiliated with Acts 29 Network).

Acts 29 Network and the Southern Baptists share the same mission: to seek and to save the lost; to go into all of the world and share the gospel of Jesus and to baptize and teach the believers through the local church. For this reason, we love the SBC, have appreciated our partnerships throughout the country and are now mourning the loss of our fellowship with the MSBC. Since Acts 29 Network has never been contacted by the Missouri SBC to seek reconciliation, clarity and understanding, I am requesting justice and not retribution as an honorable response to an abstinence policy that we fully respect. I am asking you to consider reversing the vote to read, “We reaffirm the policy of the Missouri Southern Baptists to abstain from alcohol and will remove any funding from church planters who disavow this position. ”That way the baby church doesn’t get thrown out with the fermented bathwater.

You can read this thoughtful response in its entirety here

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Piper on Acts 16:14

Desiring God has posted an excellent meditation on Acts 16:14 by John Piper. Since the link on the site isn't working for this post I've copied it in its entirety. I hope you are encouraged.

A Meditation on Acts 16:14

December 12, 2007
By John Piper

Everywhere Paul preached some believed and some did not. How are we to understand why some of those who are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1, 5) believed and some did not?

The answer why some did not believe is that they “thrust it aside” (Acts 13:46) because the message of the gospel was “folly to them, and they [were] not able to understand” (1 Corinthians 2:14). The mind of the flesh “is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:7). Those who hear and reject the gospel “hate the light” and do not come to the light lest their deeds should be exposed (John 3:20). They remain “darkened in their understanding . . . because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Ephesians 4:18). It is a guilty ignorance. The truth is available. But “by their unrighteousness they suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18).

But why then do some believe, since all are in this condition of rebellious hardness of heart, dead in our trespasses? The book of Acts gives the answer in at least three different ways. One is that they are appointed to believe. When Paul preached in Antioch of Pisidia, the Gentiles rejoiced and “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48).

Another way of answering why some believe is that God granted repentance. When the saints in Jerusalem heard that Gentiles were responding to the gospel and not just Jews, they said, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18).

But the clearest answer in Acts to the question why a person believes the gospel is that God opens the heart. Lydia is the best example. Why did she believe? Acts 16:14 says, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” Notice four aspects of this conversion.

1) “. . . what was said by Paul.” First, someone must speak the gospel. God does not open the eyes of the heart to see nothing. He opens them to see the glory of Christ in the truth of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4-6). Therefore, we must speak the gospel. We don’t make the new birth happen when we do. But we fit into God’s way of doing it. The point of the new birth is to grant spiritual sight. The point of speaking the gospel is give something to see. New birth is for the glory of Christ. Therefore, God causes it to happen when Christ is lifted up.

2) “The Lord . . .” Second, the speaker of the gospel relies upon the Lord. Prayer is not mentioned here. But that is what we do when we realize that it is the Lord who is the decisive actor, not us. We have a significant role in speaking the gospel, but it is the Lord himself who does the decisive work.

3) “. . . opened her heart . . .” Since the key problem in not believing the gospel is the hardness or the closedness of the heart, this is where the Lord does his decisive work. He “opens the heart” of Lydia. This means he takes out the heart of stone, and puts in the heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26); he says with sovereign authority, “Let there be light,” and “shines in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). So the darkness flies away and the light of truth reveals the irresistible beauty of Christ in the gospel.

4) “. . . to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” The effect of the Lord’s opening her heart is a true spiritual hearing of the gospel. “Pay attention to” is a weak translation of the Greek prosechein. It is stronger than that in this content. In this verse, it is a hearing with attachment. The work of the Lord does not just help her focus. It brings about faith. She was “granted repentance” (2 Timothy 2:25) and faith (Philippians 1:29).

Or, in the terms of John 6, she was given by the Father to the Son (v. 37), and was drawn by the Father to the Son (v. 44), and was granted by the Father to come to the Son (v. 65). She was “made alive” (Ephesians 2:5) and born again (John 3:3, 7).

Would you pray with me in these weighty and wonderful days at Bethlehem that God would do this for hundreds of people in our services? I have heard of three conversions in the last week. Mercy drops around us are falling, but for the showers we plead.

The Missouri Baptist Convention Executive Committee Should Repent

Yesterday the Missouri Baptist Convention Executive Committee passed a motion establishing a "no partnership rule" with the Acts 29 Network (a church planting network established by Pastor Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church in Seattle). The motion reads as follows:

Effective Jan 1, The Acts 29 Network is an organization which the MBC Exec Bd. Staff will not be working with, supporting, or endorsing in any manner at anytime.

The motion was then amended with the following statement:

While recognizing the autonomous nature of all areas of MBC life beyond that of the Executive Board Staff, the MBC Executive Board directs the Church Planting Department and other ministry departments to not provide CP dollars toward those affiliated with the Acts 29 Network.

What does this mean? SBC church plants affiliated with the Acts 29 network in Missouri will not receive Cooperative Program dollars.

While there has yet to be an official documented public statement was to why this motion was passed, it would be logical to conclude that it comes as a result, at least in part, of the position of the Acts 29 Network and leadership (particularly Mark Driscoll) on alcohol (you can view their statement on alcohol here). The reason this is a logical assumption has to do with the recent history in the ongoing debate between the MBC and a church called The Journey, which leads a church-sponsored discussion called "Theology at the Bottleworks" at a local pub. The Journey Church is an Acts 29 Network church plant pastored by Darrin Patrick.

Why am I calling for the MBC Executive Committee to repent? The reason is that irregardless of your views of the social, casual consumption of alcohol in moderation for believers in the Lord Jesus (both libertarians and abstainers agree that drunkenness is a sin), the MBC Executive Committee has established boundaries for fellowship that exceed and violate the commands of Scripture. Romans 14 & 15 make it crystal clear that anyone who judges (condemns) another brother in these matters of Christian liberty has done so in violation of God's Word. No one has the right to declare unclean (in itself) what God has made clean in the Lrod Jesus (14:14).

There many compelling and biblical reasons to abstain from the consumption of alcohol within our culture. But the bottom line is that this is a matter of liberty and conscious between our God who judges and the individual believer. A person's view of alcohol should not be the litmus test for cooperation and unity in the gospel.

If you want to read more in response to this issue check out the following links:
Background on the issue
Tom Ascol
Scott Lamb

Thursday, December 06, 2007

My Smart Daughter

Tonight Emeline was screaming in the car. Cameron joined the chorus. I told Emeline to stop screaming. About 3 minutes later she screamed again (all in an effort to get Cameron to scream). I told her that she would get disciplined when we got home.

After 5 minutes of silence Emeline said, "Daddy."

"Yes, Emeline," I said.

"My bottom hurts."

"Why does your bottom hurt?" I asked.


"Because why?"

"'Cause I'm sinning."

Just the anticipation of wrath brings a burning sensation to my daughters bum.

Ben Stein Takes On Darwin

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Prince Caspian Trailer

You can find the new Prince Caspian trailer here

What Would Jesus Buy

Monday, December 03, 2007

Modern Parables

We are an image-driven, visually-stimulated world. Much of how we communicate today is dictated by the medium of technology. Compass Cinema has cast a new vision for the telling of some of Scriptures most famous parables. They look interesting, though the trailers do not give any indication of how faithful the telling of these parables as they flash on our high-definition flat screen televisions will be to Scripture. Here is hoping that they are a faithful rendition of the meaning of the parables. Check out a couple of trailers belows.