Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Hungry Haitians Eat Mud

This morning my daughters had Fruit Loops and oatmeal for breakfast. This afternoon we will eat lunch together as a family as a part of our weekly Wednesday routine. This evening after bible study we will probably go out to dinner with our friends Barry and Lauren. At the end of the day we will enjoy three satisfying meals, and in some cases, we won't even finish what is on our plates because we are "full".

Todayt Charlene, 16, and her 1-month old son will eat cookies made from dried yellow dirt in Haiti's central plateau.

When my mother does not cook anything, I have to eat them three times a day," Charlene said. Her baby, named Woodson, lay still across her lap, looking even thinner than the slim 6 pounds 3 ounces he weighed at birth.

Though she likes their buttery, salty taste, Charlene said the cookies also give her stomach pains. "When I nurse, the baby sometimes seems colicky too," she said.

Food prices around the world have spiked because of higher oil prices, needed for fertilizer, irrigation and transportation. Prices for basic ingredients such as corn and wheat are also up sharply, and the increasing global demand for biofuels is pressuring food markets as well.

The problem is particularly dire in the Caribbean, where island nations depend on imports and food prices are up 40 percent in places.

This story brings tears to my eyes as Randall Goodgames "Share The Well" echoes in my ears. I'm half a world away, wondering what I can do about hunger in Haiti, AIDS in Africa, or human sex trade in the Far East. The words of the prophet Micah reverberate in my gut this morning, "He has shown you, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you. But do to justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with my God."

Father, I may not be able to show mercy to Charlene in Haiti today, but surely there is someone. Open my eyes, that I may see the world as you see it today.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Rick Love Responds to Piper's Criticism of A Common Word

Rick Love, International Director of Frontiers who lent his signature to the document A Common Word Between You and I has responds to Piper. It is worth reading.

A couple of points with noting. Love states the document does not "promote or renounce evangelism" but is merely a response to the invitation to dialogue. While this seems fair enough I do wonder if the Muslim clerics would find the acceptance of the invitation as disingenuous if/when they become aware that the intent of this dialogue may not be the acceptance they seek, but rather an opportunity to expose the illegitimacy of Islam as a viable road to salvation and that Muslims must no longer worship God in ignorance, but through Jesus Christ.

Love also says:

I believe that Muslims worship the true God. But I also believe that their view of God falls short of His perfections and beauty as described in the Bible. Thus, I try to model my approach to Muslims after the apostle Paul who said to the Athenians: “What you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you" (Acts 17:23).

While I understand Love's point, he seems to be reaching. I do not understand how you can divorce "the true God" from the concept of the Trinity as revealed in Scriptures. How can Muslims worship the true God, which by Love's definition is only God the Father, while excluding the necessity of also worshiping Jesus and the Holy Spirit? I would certainly affirm that Muslims have a high view of God, but the God that they worship as Allah is not the same as Yahweh who says let us create man in our image. The Trinitarian concept of God must have a seat at the table when dialoguing about whether or not Muslims and Christians truly worship the same God.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

"Pinch" Those What?

About a year ago I heard this audio and laughed hysterically for days. My sister-in-law found the video footage and I couldn't resist posting it. Disclaimer: the video is of a "blooper" from a bible study. It's not inappropriate (in my estimation), but some more conservative folk might not laugh as hard or loud as I did. Consider yourself warned.

Obama on the Gospel

In a recent interview with Christianity Today Barak Obama makes some comments relevant to how evangelicals should understand his faith and influence on some criticual issues to evangelical Christians. When reading his comments about abortion you would do well to also read Denny Burk's response to what Obama has said.

Here are Obama's comments about gospel.

"I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life. But most importantly, I believe in the example that Jesus set by feeding the hungry and healing the sick and always prioritizing the least of these over the powerful."

What I find most interesting (but not necessarily surprising) is that Obama places a higher priority on the social implications of the gospel than he does the gospel itself. He elevates how the gospel is supposed to be worked out in our lives above the gospel itself. While I certainly do not expect Obama or any other presidential candidate to be a theologian (though we all are to some degree), there is nothing more important than the gospel itself, not even the implications of the gospel to culture. Perhaps it is this understanding that is at the root of how the gospel has failed to shape Obama's political positions on moral issues such as abortion that should be, but clearly are not, informed by the gospel.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Responding to "A Common Word Between Us and You"

On October 13, 2007, 138 Muslim scholars and clerics sent an open letter to leaders of Christian churches, everywhere. The letter highlights what Muslim clerics say they beleive Christians and Muslims have in common: a Scriptural mandate to love God and love people. In response to this gesture of peace from the Muslim world, 300 Christian leaders signed their name to a letter drafted by scholars at Yale Divinity SChool's Center for Faith and Culture in support of a Christian response to A Common Word Between Us and You. Some of the leaders who signed their name to this letter are Joseph Cumming (Yale Divinity School), Leith Anderson (President, National Association of Evangelicals), Bill Hybels (Pastor, Willow Creek Community Church, Chicago, Illinois), Tony Jones (National Coordinator, Emergent Village), Brian McLaren, Richard Muow (President, Fuller Theological Seminary), Robert Schuller (Founder, Crystal Cathedral), John Stott (All Souls Church, London), and Rick Warren (Pastor, Saddleback Church, California).

John Piper already has an excellent response to this letter. After reading both documents for myself (which you can see here and here) I have a couple of observations, primarily because some well-respected men in evangelical circles have affirmed in writing that they believe that Christians and Muslims can achieve peace by loving God and loving our neighbor as our Scriptures command because they believe that this explicit tenet in both the Bible and Qu'ran are sufficient common ground for peace between Christianity and Islam.

The Christian response says:

"If we can achieve religious(emphasis mine) peace between these two religious communities, peace in the world will clearly be easier to maintain."

A significant problem presents itself immediately:
How is religious peace possible between Muslims and Christians as long as their are significant differences in how each of us view the person of Jesus Christ? The Muslim letter states, "The basis for this peace and understanding already exists. It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God, and the love of the neighbor. These principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity."

But what about Ephesians 2:13-16? "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might creae in himself one new man in place of the two, so making pecae, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing hostility."

The second issue is that the sacred texts of Islam also betrays that there can be any real peace between believer and unbeliever. Citing the Qu'ran 9:29: Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book (Christian or Jew), until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.
There is another concerning aspect of this ecumenical olive branch extended between Muslim and Christian leaders. In what way does this document injure the biblical call to evangelize people from all nations, tribes and tongues, including Muslims? The document implies that, from a spiritual perspective, Muslims seeking to live in cultural and social peace with Christians, are okay spiritually. This letter makes dangerous assumptions, such as: Allah and Yahweh are the same (in our understanding of their character); the love of God for man and Himself can be divorced from the person of Jesus Christ, which is implied from the Christian side by this statement: "Our love of GOd springs from and is nourished by God's love for us". Sure it is, but not apart from Jesus Christ (1John 4:8-9.

Will any Muslim who may agree with the spirit of this letter in hopes of achieving worldwide peace (is this really possible apart from Jesus) not take offense at the Christian who signs this document and then proselytizes them? My concern is that this document harms the evangelistic impulse that should drive us to share the gospel with Muslims because it implies that they have no need for a Savior.

I certainly affirm the need for open dialogue between Muslims and Christians. Less open hostility and deliberate efforts to find common ground as a part of the human race is an admirable goal. I also believe that it is imperative that we live to do good to all men, both friends and enemies. As followers of Jesus we should show respect for Muslims and their religious convictions, never becoming belligerent or hateful in our response, always willing to respond with gentleness (as we should all people, regardless of their religious persuasion). However, the greatest good for mankind is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we cannot sincerely seek the good of others and divorce the importance of Jesus from the equation. There can be no peace, not lasting peace, apart from the establishment of God's Kingdom through the reign of the Son of God Jesus Christ. There can be no "religious" peace between Muslims and Christians until there is agreement that there is only one prophet, Jesus.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Erwin on the Declining Membership in the American Church

Erwin McManus is pastor of Mosaic Church in Los Angeles, Californian and author of books such as The Barbarian Way and The Unstoppable Force. He is also an insightful cultural observer. In a recent interview McManus was asked this question:

"Why do you think so many churches in America are facing declining membership?"

My primary assessment would be because American Christians tend to be incredibly self-indulgent. So they see the church as a place that is there for them to meet their needs and to express faith in a way that is meaningful for them. There is almost no genuine compassion or urgency about serving and reaching people who don’t know Christ.

I think the bottom line is our own spiritual narcissism. There are methods and you can talk about style, structure and music, but in the end it really comes down to your heart and what you care about.

: the use of this quote isn't an endorsement (as McManus can be a controversial figure among more conservative evangelicals), but I do think his insight about what is out of balance in the modern Western church is right. I would add to McManus' thoughts that an individual's role in the church is not only about serving and reaching people who don't know Christ, but also about serving and encouraging those who do.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Private Abortions

The abortion rate in the US has fallen to its lowest rate since 1974, the first full year after the US Supreme Court legalized abortion as a viable and humane way to murder the unborn and legitimize the rights of women to do whatever they want with their bodies as long as the act has their consent. Interestingly, at the same time, there has been a significant increase in the amount of abortions caused by the abortion pill RU-486. The number of abortions induced by RU-486 has steadily risen by 22% and now accounts for almost 14% of the total abortion caused each year. At the last statistical analysis almost 1 out of every 5 pregnancies ended in abortion.

The rise in popularity of RU-486 since its approval by the FDA is largely due to the fact that women can now avoid both the invasive surgical procedure, as well as the potential for confrontation by zealous pro-life advocates who picket abortion clinics.

RU-486 compliments the strategy of abortion rights advocates because it is yet another way to try to establish the morality and normalcy of abortion. In speaking about the impact of RU-486 Beth Jordan, medical director of the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, said, "The impact and promise is huge. It's going a long way toward normalizing abortion." One of the primary reasons it is serving to "normalize" abortion is that it turns the decision to have an abortion, what is typically a medical procedure, ripe with doctor's visits and waiting room agony, two uncomfortable barriers to the abortion process, into a benign decision that can be made and executed in the privacy of one's own home.

Judi Gilbert, 41, a nurse in Philadelphia, opted for mifepristone in 2005 when she had her second abortion. She had a 3-year-old son and was about to start a new job.

"It was something I could do at home and be with my husband," Gilbert said of taking the pill. "It was a decision we made together alone, and we were able to take care of it this way alone. It was just a much more private affair."

She added: "I wouldn't say it was easy -- it's never easy to terminate a pregnancy. But in the grand scheme of things, it was much more pleasant than a surgical procedure."

This is an appalling sterilization of the atrocities of abortion. While having to go to a doctor for consultation followed by a medical procedure doesn't guarantee that a woman may choose against having an abortion, it at least created an uncomfortable space for the opportunity. Now women can simply drown their child with a capsule and a glass of water.

Monday, January 21, 2008

When Fear Is An Obstacle To Intergenerational Fellowship

God blessed me with a gracious providential gift today when David and I were visited by Mike Garrett and Dr. Gerald Bray as they returned from an ordination service in Johnson City, TN. Dr. Bray was one of my professors in seminary. He is an Anglican with a brilliant theological mind and charming personality. As we talked we got on the subject of intergenerational fellowship. As an almost 60-year old single male I found his observations about this subject fascinating. One reason for this is that I think we generally assume that the primary obstacle to meaningful intergenerational fellowship is that younger people do not desire or pursue purposeful mentoring relationships with older adults. However, Dr. Bray challenged me to consider that perhaps older men and women are just as fearful of this kind of interaction as younger generations.

One barrier between older and younger generations, Bray observed, is that his generation is the first generation that has been confronted with the reality that younger generations are smarter than his generation. What he meant by this is that my generation (and even those younger than myself) are both - to a large degree - more educated (on average) and more technology-driven and literate than his generation. He believes this has promoted a great deal of anxiety in his generation leaving many older adults left to wonder whether or not they have anything significant to contribute to the life experience of younger generations. While it is certainly true that those who have walked with Jesus for generations do indeed have something to offer, they may not necessarily feel that this is the case.

While I'm not completely certain of what effect if any Dr. Bray's observation has on the lack of quality intergenerational fellowship in many Christian churches, the reality is that the kind of spiritual mentoring relationships described in the book of Titus between older and younger generations are virtually non-existant in many churches. If nothing else, his observation is at the very least something for us to consider as a possible obstacle to meaningful intergenerational relationships.

Friday, January 18, 2008

"Why Go Back To the Founders..."

Timmy Brister has an excellent response to Frank Page's comments that I posted about yesterday. Brister shows his respect for Frank Page while at the same time pointing out that the resurgence of reformed thinking in the SBC isn't necessarily something to be feared.

Apparently, what Dr. Page does not understand, what the Arbuckle Baptist Association does not understand, what the itinerant evangelists do not understand, is that the movement taking place today is nothing less than a sweeping work of God’s Spirit to revive a passion for the gospel that compels us to believe it passionately, preach it fully, share it faithfully, and defend it lovingly. Young Calvinists in the SBC are not expecting you to agree with Calvinism or be a “five-point Calvinist.” We are not even asking you to go back and appreciate your Baptist history and what God did through the Founders of the SBC. But what we (if I can speak for the younger generation) are asking is to cease misrepresenting the truth and attempting to rewrite history.

You can check out the entire response above.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Getting It RIGHT About Calvinism

The rhetoric, combatism, and venonmous dialogue about Calvinism and its resurgence among younger Southern Baptists is wearisome. However, though only 10% of Southern Baptist pastors claims to be 5-point Calvinists, there remains growing concern among Southern Baptist leaders (Frank Page Paige Patterson, etc) about the resurgence of Calvinism and its impact on the local SBC congregation. I'm convinced that open dialogue, biblical discussion, and kind-hearted, open-minded conversations would go a long way toward bringing both sides of the debate together.

However building bridges of understanding and cooperation among Jesus-lovers on both sides of the debate will only happen when everyone starts speaking the same language. In other words, understanding will only come when we actually understand and can articulate what each side believes about the issues of election and human responsibility without resorting to caricatures and exaggerated statements about the theological positions of the opposing sides. I also find it increasingly troubling that the conversation about the doctrines of grace continue to be very man-centered. The concern seems to be among many in SBC that we uphold the integrity of human autonomy without giving enough thought to the God-centered nature of salvation.

I found two examples of this in an article in Christianity Today this week.

Example #1: In speaking about the SBC historically...

Long considered more Arminian in orientation—emphasizing an individual's need to respond to the gospel rather than God's election in salvation—the nation's largest Protestant denomination is grappling with doctrines of grace and election amid a seminary-led revival.

While it is true that modern Southern Baptists have not emphasised God's election in salvation, I doubt that even the most sympathetically Arminian Southern Baptist would seek to dismiss God's electing purposes in salvation. If your reject the doctrine of election then you have put yourself outside of a biblical understanding of salvation. They would simply speak of it differently than a Calvnist. They would say that God has elected men and women to salvation based on his foreknowledge of all the future choices of humanity.

But even more troubling is the implication of the above sentence regarding the Calvinists view of human responsibility. Did you catch it? The statement is written suggesting that Calvinists would not emphasize an individual's needs to respond to the gospel. Anyone who would state that an individual's need to respond to the gospel is secondary to God's call of election has misunderstood the intent and tenants of Calvinism. It is clear in Romans 10 that faith comes through hearing, hearing through the word of Christ, and that all who call upon the name of Jesus upon hearing the gospel will be saved. Even the elect must willing respond to the message of Jesus through faith and repentance. No one will be saved without hearing and responding to the gospel. The proclamation of the gospel is the means of God's salvation.

Example #2:From the lips of SBC President Frank Page...

While acknowledging that both sides seek to uphold biblical truth, Page worries that extremists could undermine the SBC's emphasis on outreach. He isn't impressed by arguments that most convention founders embraced Reformed ideas. "The totality of history shows the vast majority of Baptists have not been [Calvinists], so why go back to the founders?" Page said. "I think we need to go back to the Bible."

A biblical Calvinist would shout a hearty "AMEN!" to Page's words, if he means that both sides on this debate should return, not to our traditions, but to Scripture in seeking clarity about how and why any man or woman turns to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith or why we should be motivated to evangelize the nations. But I'm afraid that Page's quote betrays his motive in his statement. He charges Calvinist with running too far to our SBC roots in appealing to the fact that the earliest Southern Baptists were historically Calvinists, while ignoring the fact that for the past 150+ years SOuthern Baptists have NOT been 5-point Calvinists historically. His statement that "we need to go back to the Bible" seems to imply that more recent history is right or more biblical on this issue.

What I find interesting is that most theologians are careful to take this approach with many other theological issues. When confronted with potential heresies, we often look to what the earliest church fathers said about the issue, not what our contemporaries say about it.

If Frank Page means that both Calvinistic and less Calvinistic Southern Baptists should look at what Scriptures says over and above what history and tradition tells us about the doctrines of grace, then I couldn't agree more. But I don't think it is fair to anyone to suggest that simply because Southern Baptists have been less Calvinistic over the past 150+ years that this means that Southern Baptists have been right.

Tim Keller: A Test For Biblical Involvement In The Local Church

Have you ever wondered what it means to be involved in the local church? Thinking biblically, does attending church weekly, even going the extra-mile by going to Sunday school, constitute true biblical involvement? Furthermore, is passive involvement in church life where we mostly sit, receive information, sing songs, and then leave to embrace the demanding rat-race of life what the Bible has in mind when we are instructed to meet together regularly for the sake of our spiritual health (Hebrews 10:24-25)?

Tim Keller provides us a helpful test to gauge whether or not the depth of our involvement in our local church meets biblical criteria and standards. Keller is the Pastor of Redeemer Church in New York City. I have deep respect for Keller, the way he leads his church, and his gospel-centeredness in his ministry. I recently listened to a sermon by Keller titled “How the Cross Unites Us” from Ephesians 2:11-22. With this simple outline ( A) The Necessity of the Church; B) The Intensity of the Church; C) The Causality of the Church) Keller gives us reason to pause and evaluate what it means to be deeply committed and involved in the local life of the church. The Apostle Paul uses very deliberate metaphors in speaking about the change in our status that takes place through faith in Jesus Christ. The people of God are united in Jesus, the dividing walls of hostility are torn down, and we are called to be fellow citizens, family, and building blocks for the Temple of God as God dwells in us collectively, not simply individually.

For the sake of brevity I encourage you to listen to the linked sermon, but let allow me to highlight the two tests that Keller gives to gauge whether or not we are really involved in the church as we should be, because according to Keller, and I believe he is right, simply attending church regularly isn't enough.

Test #1: Personal Accountability

Keller tells the story about life before he got married. One day after he got married he went to work and after work he decided to stop by the store and pick up something. He arrived home about 30 minutes later than usual and walked in the door and his wife said, “Where were you?” Keller said he suddenly realized, “Oh, I didn’t tell her.” I never had to tell anybody when he was 30 minutes later than usual before. Suddenly he was accountable. Suddenly he realized he had lost control of his life! He wasn’t sure if he liked that, but it was too late then. He was married.

This is what we don’t like. Unless we find our ability to make decisions unilaterally hampered, unless we find that you are no longer an independent person who can kind of make his own decisions, unless that independence starts to go away, you are not involved enough in the church. Hebrews 3:13 tells us to exhort each other daily. How many people in this church know your besetting sins either because you have told them or you spend so much time with them that they can see them? And then, you’ve given them a green light to talk to you about them. You’ve given them a hunting license to come after you. You’ve given the permission to talk to you about them constantly. Are you personally accountable within this body of believers? Are you willing to go to this kind of accountability, you aren’t really invested in this household, you aren’t really the kind of building block that the gospel demands.

Test #2. Corporate spirituality. “As we are built up together, we are a temple of God…” God doesn’t indwell the individual building block, but rather, he indwells the temple. It is together we are inhabited by the Spirit of God. Corporate spirituality means that we are talking to each other about God. We are praying together. We are letting each other see what our relationship with God is really like. We are letting people see our heart toward God.

This is too intimate for most of us. We don’t like to talk at this level. In The Four Loves by CS Lewis he talks about his circle of friends, and some of these friends were pretty famous (Jack, Ronald (JRR Tolkien), and Charles). Charles died and when Charles died, as awful as this is, in some sense, at least I’ll have more of Ronald. He’ll spend more time with Ronald because there is no rival. But what Jack realized (to his shock) is that in losing Charles he did not have more of Ronald but less of him, for in losing Charles he lost the part of Ronald that only Charles could bring out. When Jack realized this he began to think, “If this is true of human beings, if no one human being can bring out all of another person, but it takes a whole circle of human beings (community) to extract the real you, how much more is this true of Jesus Christ?”

“In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity. I need other lights than my own to show all my friend’s facets. Now that Charles is dead I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Charles joke. Far from having more of Ronald to myself, I now find that Charles is gone I have less of Ronald. In this friendship exhibits a glorious nearness experience to heaven itself, where the great multitude of the blessed, which no man can number, increases the fruition that each has of God. For every soul, seeing him in her own way doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. This is why the seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying ‘Holy, holy, holy’ to one another. The more we share the heavenly bread between us, the more we shall have.”

The only way to know God intimately is to know a lot of other Christians intimately. The more Christians you are deeply involved with, the more you have opened your heart to, the more of God you will see.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Snapshot of the Emerging Church

PBS takes an objective look at the emerging church.

Oswald Chambers on Hearing God's Voice

My friend Crystal Bouknight sent this to me because it pertains to the discussion taking place in yesterday's post "Service to the Saints and Beyond". Pay particular attention to what Chambers says keeps us from hearing the voice of God. Where I think this is applicable to the discussion is in the fact that God may be speaking to us and challenging us to serve in particular areas through the means of people, particularly pastors, seeing gifts and abilities in us that we may not see ourselves.

"I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send?" Isaiah 6:8
When we speak of the call of God, we are apt to forget the most important feature, viz., the nature of the One Who calls. There is the call of the sea, the call of the mountains, the call of the great ice barriers, but these calls are only heard by the few. The call is the expression of the nature from which it comes, and we can only record the call if the same nature is in us. The call of God is the expression of God's nature, not of our nature. There are strands of the call of God providentially at work for us which we recognize and no one else does. It is the threading of God's voice to us in some particular matter, and it is no use consulting anyone else about it. We have to keep that profound relationship between our souls and God.

The call of God is not the echo of my nature; my affinities and personal temperament are not considered. As long as I consider my personal temperament and think about what I am fitted for, I shall never hear the call of God. But when I am brought into relationship with God, I am in the condition Isaiah was in. Isaiah's soul was so attuned to God by the tremendous crisis he had gone through that he recorded the call of God to his amazed soul. The majority of us have no ear for anything but ourselves, we cannot hear a thing God says. To be brought into the zone of the call of God is to be profoundly altered.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Service to the Saints and Beyond

I've been pondering the issue of service, particularly within the body of Christ, for some weeks now. The reason for this is because of the on-going frustration in ministry of struggling to find people willing to serve strategic ministries within the local church. I've got some thoughts and what I hope is a biblical response to how things should be, but before I verbalize them I want to get some feedback from the 3 people that read this blog regularly. So here is your chance to respond to the question below. Let me hear you.

What role, if any, should a person's interest play in their willingness to invest in a particular ministry? For example, a camp is planned for 3rd-5th graders. A recreation director is needed. You don't particularly enjoy 4th grade boys. However, a ministry leader thinks you are a capable, gifted leader and would be a great fit in this area. What role should your lack of interest in this area play in your willingness to serve?

What role, if any, should a person's spiritual gifts play in their willingness to serve in a particular ministry? How many people even know what those gifts are?

How many of you discovered areas of giftedness, not because you discerned these gifts or capabilities on your own, but because others saw their potential in you?

I'd appreciate any feedback the three of you faithful readers are willing to offer (and if there happen to be more of you, please chime in).

Obama's Connection to Farrakhan

Denny Burk found this interesting article about Barack Obama's religous beliefs, with seems to be fair game considering the heightened interest in GOP candidates Huckabee and Romney's religious roots.

A significant amount of media coverage has focused on the religious beliefs of the Republican candidates for President (especially Romney’s and Huckabee’s). But Richard Cohen turns the spotlight on Democrat Barack Obama’s church in a column in the Washington Post. Here’s the heart of it:

“Barack Obama is a member of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ. Its minister, and Obama’s spiritual adviser, is the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. In 1982, the church launched Trumpet Newsmagazine; Wright’s daughters serve as publisher and executive editor. Every year, the magazine makes awards in various categories. Last year, it gave the Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. Trumpeter Award to a man it said “truly epitomized greatness.” That man is Louis Farrakhan.

“Maybe for Wright and some others, Farrakhan “epitomized greatness.” For most Americans, though, Farrakhan epitomizes racism, particularly in the form of anti-Semitism. Over the years, he has compiled an awesome record of offensive statements, even denigrating the Holocaust by falsely attributing it to Jewish cooperation with Hitler — “They helped him get the Third Reich on the road.” His history is a rancid stew of lies. . .

“The rap on Obama is that he is a fog of a man. We know little about him, and, for all my admiration of him, I wonder about his mettle. The New York Times recently reported on Obama’s penchant while serving in the Illinois legislature for merely voting “present” when faced with some tough issues. Farrakhan, in a strictly political sense, may be a tough issue for him. This time, though, “present” will not do.“


Why Are Discerning People So Mean?

Tim Challies has just finished publishing a book about discernment. It's getting rave reviews and I hope to read it. Challies is currently on a blog-tour answering questions about his book. Recently Justin Taylor asked him this question, "As the World’s Most Famous Canadian Reformed Blogger, you seek to practice discernment as you critically engage culture and review books. Having now extensively studied the concept of biblical discernment, I wonder what implications you think this has for “discernment blogging”? In part, I’m thinking of “watchdog” blogs and bloggers that have “discernment” as their primary focus. Speaking generally, what are they doing right, and where do they need correction?"

Here is Challies' insightful response:

One of the questions I was forced to ask as I wrote a book on discernment was this one: “Why are so many discerning people so mean?” If you go looking on the Internet for discernment ministries or discernment blogs, you’ll quickly realize this is exactly the case. There are many people out there who, to borrow a phrase from one of my favorite bloggers, “give discernment a bad name.” Many, and perhaps most, of the people who emphasize discernment do so in a way that seems entirely lacking in grace. You’ll find all kinds of web sites that list all of Christianity’s authors with a list of their supposed flaws and foibles. You’ll find blogs that catalog lists of the offenses of every major Christian author or ministry. And all this is done under the banner of discernment. For the sake of my own sanctification and to ensure that I do not succumb to listening to all manner of gossip and speaking evil of others, I have long since had to cease visiting many of these sites. I suggest that others do the same.

I think there are several reasons that people who emphasize discernment can become so mean. But perhaps the primary one is this: the Bible makes it clear that as Christians we are to focus on the things that are good and lovely and pure and true. When we disobey God in this way and focus constantly on what is evil, it seems clear that we open ourselves to a kind of spiritual oppression. Constantly dealing with matters that are evil will inevitably damage us. As I was studying discernment I continually came across a metaphor which said that people who are being trained to identify counterfeit currency are taught not by being shown stacks of counterfeit money, but by being trained in the defining characteristics of real money. I visited the Bank of Canada (the body in Canada that is responsible for our currency) and found that this is exactly true. When people know what to look for—when they know the marks of genuine money—they rarely have any trouble distinguishing between true and false. And the same is true when it comes to spiritual matters. Rather than constantly looking for examples of a lack of discernment, we should focus on things that will build faith rather than threaten to extinguish it.

So while I appreciate that there are many bloggers and webmasters and others out there who are interested in guarding the church and who value being able to see in the black and white terms so necessary for biblical discernment, I believe we have not properly done our task of discernment until we have spoken the truth in love. Love may be tough, at times, but it must still be present. I think many of these blogs and ministries would do better to model discernment
than to continually show only the end result of their own attempts at discernment.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Would You Go To Church If You Knew You Might Die?

Since the US-led invasion in 2003 the number of Iraqi Christians has decreased from 1.2 million to approximately 600,000, with many Christians fleeing to bordering countries in search of safety. The US occupation of Iraq has led to increased persecution of the already small minority of Christians in Iraq. This past New Year's Eve seven churches were bombed in a coordinated attack.

But not every Iraqi Christian is fleeing their homeland.

“We have decided to continue to go to church, let them bomb us, we’ve had enough,” said “Daniel” (name withheld for security reason) to AINA. “It’s our country too. If they want to wipe us out, they’ll be able to do it anyway. I will die proud,” he said in defiance of increasing Christian persecution.

I wonder if I value the fellowship of the saints so highly that I would willingly endanger my mortal flesh, as well as the safety of my family, in an effort to seek and savor the grace of Christian community we know as the church? Is this Iraqi Christian crazy, or does he see within the community Jesus purchased with his blood a treasure of greater value than the certainty of a comfortable, safe existence free from danger and uncertainty?

Appears More and More Likely that Evangelicals Have Found Their Man

Huckabee no longer polarizing the evangelical voting base

McCain Surging, Dobson Speaks Out

I don't wait with eager anticipation for James Dobson to guide my political and religious convictions, but he is a conservative evangelical and carries a lot of influence. John McCain's campaign is picking up significant steam, while Romney's is in political crisis and Huckabee has seemed to cool. Dobson is staunchly against a MCCain Republican nomination.

Speaking as a private individual, I would not vote for John McCain under any circumstances," said James Dobson

See You Real Soon

We made it back from Disney. We had a fantastic time. I remember reading a blog a couple of months ago from a site I frequent and the author talked about how much he loved Disney. I can see why. What a marvelous place for the imagination of both young and old to be energized! The people at Disney were courteous and seemed genuinely eager to serve. The parks were immaculate and ripe with creative ideas and other-worldly encounters. And while a trip to Disney isn't cheap, they go out of their way to make everything convenient, so that, in the end, you get maximum enjoyment out of the trip. I have a few stories I plan to write about, but for now, I'm back and it's good to be home.

Monday, January 07, 2008


I'll be leaving today with my family for vacation at Disney World hoping to see an expression similar to this on my daughter's face when she meets Cinderella at the Magic Kingdom. Needless to say, I won't be making any posts this week but hope to have some fantastic pictures to share when I get back. I thank GOd for providing us the resources and opportunity to share this experience with our girls, my parents, my sister and her family, and my in-laws.

Posting will resume on Monday Jan 14. Until then I leave you a few posts below for your thought and meditation.

Mark Dever on Penal Substitution

What if you're a ruler, known as a good guy, but you don't take action against those people who aren't good guys? What does it mean to say, "I oppose murder," but then refuse to punish murderers? What does it mean to bear responsibility to punish? ...

Christians believe that all such authority is rooted in God himself. ... He alone is able, ultimately and fully, to fulfill this responsibility. But in limited ways it is shared with parents and pastors, with judges and public officials, with bosses, with anyone entrusted with authority.

So what happens when you or I do something bad? Well, if we're children, our parents may punish us for it. If we're adults, well then maybe someone else, maybe the punishment could come from our workplace, or from the sheriff's office.

Of course, this is where our atheist friends may sink into their grim confidence that there is no one to right wrongs or reward rights. Whereas Christians hear echoes of the truth and the expectations that all naturally have of life, the atheist says that they are nothing more than reflections of our own groundless hopes and desires. ... Right and wrong are constructed by a social construct, they would say. They're simply relationships of power, that's how they're talked about today. Moral and immoral are customs that may or may not be enforced. The cash value of atheism on this point is that we can sin and get away with it.

But according to the Bible what is our situation? What is God's responsibility in the face of wrongdoing? Well, it must be great, given who God is. He is more powerful, more knowledgeable, more right than any one authority. He is more able, He is more certain of who and what merits punishment and more certain of what punishment it merits. ...

At the center of the discussion of right and wrong, of punishment and rewards for us stands the cross of Christ, and all that flows from that, our understanding of reconciliation, of atonement, of forgiveness, of restoration.

Christ's accomplishment on the cross is celebrated in a great profusion of images in the New Testament. There, He redeemed those in bondage, He reconciled those alienated, He propitiated God's wrath, He satisfied His justice, there Christ defeated Satan and broke the power of death.

And yet one image among this joyous proliferation is under attack today. ... It's the idea of penal substitution — that is, the idea that the penalty that we deserve God gave to someone else, another who did not deserve it, but who took it voluntarily, for us.

Now this very idea which is at the heart of the Christian message, is one that has been long denounced by non-Christians. For centuries, Christians have defended their message against those that have attacked it at this very point. About a century or two ago, however, these same objections started being raised by liberal Christians. ...

These objections of the idea of Christ making atonement for us as a substitute must be answered. ...

Today there are questions about the whole idea of the retributive justice. In the first place, all punishment should be restorative, people say. It's distasteful for some to have God involved in anything that would be some kind of gross spiritual economics of substitution, one person taking another person's penalty, freeing the first person from their own just deserves. ...

Faustus Socinus, one of the founders of modern-day Unitarianism, in 1578 put forward the objection that the doctrine of Christ being substituted for us, to receive our penalty, would put God in violation of the teaching that we are to forgive those who have wronged us. A kind of divine hypocrisy would ensue.

The Bible, however, disagrees with that. In fact, Paul in the epistle to the Romans stated specifically that God has a right to, and in fact should, and in fact does, act differently than we do in this matter. ... Romans Chapter 12, Verse 19 specifically, where he tells us not to take revenge. ... He tells us not to take revenge, specifically, because he says God will take revenge. So, because God will ensure that justice will be done, we as individuals do not need to take revenge. And then he goes on in Chapter 13 to say that the function of retribution is shared, in small part, with the government, though it's denied to the individual. The individual Christian is called to forgive. ...

Is such substitution alien to the Bible? No. Covenantal substitution was already deep in the story of the Bible. ... This idea of penal substitution is not alien, artificial, foisted-upon-the-Bible concept, but is woven deeply into the narrative of Israel and the whole Bible.

Mini-Me on Regeneration

You ask why I call Mark Driscoll Mini-Me? Have you seen him? You tell me.

Here is Driscoll on regeneration. Be encouraged by the glorious work of Jesus in the lives of redeemed sinners.

Do Evangelicals Have A Future?

Christianity Today has an interesting article that asks a pertinent question for our times: "Do Evangelicals Have a Future?". Here is an excerpt from the article:

Consumerism and relativism stand out as dominant cultural trends that seriously threaten the future of evangelical theology. When evangelicals over-contextualize their message in response, they strip the gospel of its transformative power. "To begin with, in our competition to be culturally 'more relevant than thou,' we have often forgotten that 'what you win them with is what you win them to," Jeffrey says. No few problems with discipleship can be traced back to this problem. The Baylor University professor goes on to observe, "Perhaps it is not too much to say that our 'old, old story' has been too frequently overshadowed by the glitzy show-biz media we have tended to use to proclaim it."

Friday, January 04, 2008

Murdered Christian Turks Case Re-Opened

You may recall the brutal torture and murder of three Christian Turks last year by a handful of Muslim extremists pretending to be sympathetic and open to Christianity. The case was apparently mishandled by the prosecution and the murderers received lesser charges. However, the case has been revisited by the government. This is an important case for Christians in Turkey because it will reveal whether or not Christians are receiving the same liberties and rights as Muslims in the Islamic-led state.

You can read the article in its entirety here.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

John Piper on the Prosperity Gospel

This is an excerpt from John Piper's sermon at University Christian Fellowship in Birmingham, Alabama in 2005.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Get Off My Bus, Joshua

In Joshua 24:15 Joshua says, "If serving the LORD seems desirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

Christine Lutz of Texas was reading the Bible out loud to her children on the way to church will riding public transporation and was asked to stop by the bus driver. She refused and was promptly escorted off the bus. The city says the same action would have been taken if she had been reading Moby Dick or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. I think it is doubtful that had Mrs. Lutz been reading to her children the latest pop culture gossip that she would have been asked to stop reading or lose her seat on the bus. Or if Mrs. Lutz had been reading the Koran to her children I doubt this bus driver would have said a word to her. This is yet another example of how the liberties our Constitution is intended to protect are being violated when the exercise of such liberties in is the name of Jesus. Our government works hard to protect the liberties and free expressions of all kinds of religions, views, opinions except Christianity.

You can read the entire article here.