Showing posts from 2011

The Best Christmas Letter I Received This Year

Like most people I receive a host of Christmas cards and letters every year. One of our favorite traditions is going through them on Christmas morning. Of all the letters I've received, this one stands out. With Lowell's permission I share it with you: In just two days it will be December 25th, what most think of as the end of the season.  But me, I see it as the “middle child” in our trilogy of American holidays.  We started back on Thanksgiving, preparing for the renewal that comes at the start of the New Year.  The thing is, January 1st can often be a disappointment. Not because your goals or resolutions were unrealistic, but because you didn’t properly prepare yourself spiritually.  That’s the process we’re going through.  So now that you cleared away the unnecessary distractions in your life on Thanksgiving (both material and otherwise) Christmas is the time to stop and think about what you really have and what it is you are truly grateful for.  This Christmas, …

Signs You Haven't Experienced Gospel Wakefulness

From Jared Wilson's new book, Gospel Wakefulness, here are 11 signs (pgs 72-73) you haven't experienced gospel wakefulness... 1. The gospel doesn't interest you--or it does, but not as much as other religious subjects.
2. You take nearly everything personally.
3. You frequently worry about what other people think.
4. You treat inconveniences like minor (or major) tragedies.
5. You are impatient with people.
6. In general, you have trouble seeing the fruit of the Spirit in your life (Gal 5:22-23).
7. The Word of God holds little interest.
8. You have great difficulty forgiving.
9. You are told frequently by a spouse, close friend, or other family members that you are too "clingy" or too controlling.
10. You think someone besides yourself is the worst sinner you know.
11. The idea of gospel centrality makes no sense to you.

Why I Signed the Manhattan Declaration

Two years ago, the Manhattan Declaration was released to the public at the National Press Club. The Declaration is a call of Christian conscience issued by Catholic, OrthodoxChristian, and Protestant leaders to affirm support of "the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty".The drafting committee includes evangelical leader Charles Colson, Princeton University law professor Robert P. George and Beeson Divinity School dean Timothy George. Close to a half a million people have signed the declaration including such leaders as James Dobson, Tony Perkins, Chuck Swindoll, Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan, Harry Reeder, Tim Keller, and Bryan Chapell.

R. C. Sproul, Alister Begg, Michael Horton and others refused to sign the document because of its ecumenical overtones. The document identifies Catholics and Orthodox (as well as Protestants) as "Christian" which, they maintain, muddles the distinctives of the Biblical gospel, namely, justification by grace throug…

What Suffering Have I Caused

When dealing with suffering, we are quick to find fault in others--our parents, our spouse, society, God? To be sure much of our suffering finds its source elsewhere. Job is the prime example of one who suffered not because of his own sin, but as a ploy of Satan to test his fidelity to God. Job's supposed friends are a great example of what not to do when someone is grieving. We should be very to slow to jump to conclusion about the suffering of others.

It can be, on the other hand, very beneficial to examine ourselves as a source of suffering--our own and the suffering of others. What suffering have I caused? The middle portion of the 12 step program walks participants through an "owning up to the wrongs I've done" process.

Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself.Admit to God, to yourself, and to another human being the exact nature of your wrongs.Be entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.Humbly ask Him to remove your short…

Why Do God's People Suffer?

Although there will always be nagging questions about suffering and the problem of evil on a philosophical level (Why does God permit evil?) and a personal level (Why did God permit this evil?), we are given some clear answers in God's word. Why do Christians suffer?

For their own sake--to learn who God is (Psalm 46; Daniel 4:24-37), to learn to trust God (2 Corinthians 1:8-9) and obey him (Psalm 119:67-72), to become more like Jesus (Romans 8:18-29), and to reach maturity of character (Romans 5:3-4; Hebrews 12:1-11).

For the sake of others--that God's people may have courage (Philippians 1:14) and power (2 Corinthians 4:7-12), and bear witness to the grace of God (2 Corinthians 12:9).

For Christ's sake--to identify with Christ (Galatians 2:20), and to share in his sufferings and glory (1 Peter 4:12-16; Philippians 1:29; 3:8-10; Romans 8:17-18; 2 Corinthians 4:17).

Is God Willing and Able to Prevent Evil?

Epicurus, the ancient Greek philosopher, stated the problem of evil thus:
Is God willing to prevent evil but not able?
Then his is impotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Whence then is evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?
This line of reasoning has been echoed by many throughout history, but it hinges on a mistaken premise. It assumes that a good God would not allow evil to continue. The reasoning underneath that premise goes like this:
1. We cannot think of any justifiable reason why God would allow suffering and evil to continue.
2. Therefore, God cannot have such a reason. The logic does not follow. Why should there be no reason just because we cannot think of one?

Alvin Plantinga writes in Warranted Christian Belief, "Suppose the fact is God has a reason for permitting a particular evil... Is it even likely that we would wind up with plausible candidates for God's reason?... Given that he is omniscient a…

Something Wicked This Way Comes

There is something very wrong with the world. The witch in Macbeth announced that "something wicked this way comes." There is no doubt that it has arrived. The existence of evil is undeniable. Many Christians, as well as others, have worked hard to provide answers for those who ask: Is God the author of evil or its helpless victim? Many have pointed to the thought of St. Augustine (354-430) for help in solving the vexing problem of evil.

Gregory Koukl, in his article Augustine on Evil states, "Augustine's approach was not just brilliant; it was practical. His insight is intellectually credibleandemotionally satisfying in that it gives hope and offers meaning to the Christian trying to make sense out of life in a fallen world." Two Aspects of the ProblemThe problem of evil can be phrased in several ways. One approach addresses the origin of evil, prompting the syllogism (a series of statements that form a reasoned argument): 1) God created all things; 2) evil is a…

The Death of Satan

On April 8, 1966, Time's cover declared that God was dead. Bill Hamilton explained the phrase he coined for popular culture, "The death of God is a metaphor. We needed to redefine Christianity as a possibility without the presence of God."

 It is interesting to note that Hamilton came to this conclusion after years of wrestling with the concept of God. When he was a teenager his friends had been building pipe bombs. The two Christian friends died. And the third, the son of an atheist, emerged without a scratch. How, Hamilton wondered, could a just God allow this? Why do the innocent suffer? Does God intervene in human lives?

 "Theodicy came to dwell in my 14-year-old head that Sunday," he says.

 Hamilton wrote out his two choices: "God is not behind such radical evil, therefore he cannot be what we have traditionally meant by God" or "God is behind everything, including the death camps — and therefore he is a killer."

 Hamilton didn't s…

Theology Is Worthless

In an interview about his biography on Bonhoeffer, Eric Metaxas makes a startling and stinging statement about what we can learn from the pastor and theologian who gave his life standing against the Nazi regime in his native Germany. The main thing it to realize that on some level, theology is worthless unless we live it. This is a particular challenge for us as evangelicals--you can say, "I believe this and this," but at some point God says, "If you're not living it, I don't want to hear about it." Sometimes we can worship an idol of theological correctness. It doesn't mean that theology isn't extremely important, and anyone who says it isn't is wrong. At the same time, it's not everything, and Bonhoeffer challenges us to understand that the two have to be one--our life and what we say we believe. You can't fool God with a statement of theology.

Weeping over America

This year in staff meetings we have been working our way through the book of Jeremiah. Although written over 2400 years ago, the parallels between his day and ours are uncanny. If God is still the same, his holiness hasn’t diminished, his standards for what constitute a good and just society haven’t altered, and our responsibility to hear and obey His Word hasn’t been negated, then the "weeping prophet" has a message for us. "If any nation will not listen, then I will utterly pluck it up and destroy it" (Jeremiah 12:17). Here is a sampling of the indictments Jeremiah made against Judah: They "went after worthlessness and became worthless" (2:5). They "turned degenerate" (2:21) and wore themselves out sinning (9:5). They were so wicked that they even taught "wicked women" things they didn't know (2:33). They "polluted the land with [their] vile whoredom" (3:2). They were callous and unjust toward the poor (2:34). They rep…

Montana or Bust!

What a summer! It's almost Labor Day and I have yet to write about it. The 'road trip of all road trips' took us from the southern tip of Florida to the Northern border of Montana and back. The main reason for the trip was a 'once a decade Manuel family reunion,' but the purpose quickly expanded to retracing the roots of Dad.

I showed the kids where I was born, where I went to elementary, middle and high school, where I went to college, where I had my first paper route, bought my first car, scored my first (and only) touchdown, etc. They were riveted to every detail of their dad's mesmerizing life. Actually they were much more interested in creating their own adventures.

We chronicled the highlights of our trip on FB. (You'll have to friend us to see the whole slide show.) Visit the 'Manuel Cousins Reunite!' FB page for a taste of what the Manuel cousins do when they get together. The 'Redneck Waterslide' video is well worth 3:18 of your tim…

Is Manufacturing Dead in America?

Quick--answer these two questions: 1) What country is the #1 manufacturer in the world?
(HINT: I got this answer wrong.) 2) Has the manufacturing output of the USA increased or decreased in the last 30 years? (I got this wrong too.)

David L. Bahnsen, Senior Vice President of The Bahnsen Group at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, was recently asked about manufacturing in the US. Here is his reply.
What can you tell us about the state of manufacturing in the United States?

9 out of 10 times when I ask people if manufacturing is dead in America, they tell me that it is. So I suppose it will be a shock to people to find out that the United States is STILL the #1 manufacturer in the world - producing 21% of all goods (4). That percentage is the same that it was thirty years ago. But here is what I really want to share: There are 23% less employees in the manufacturing sector here in the states than there were thirty years ago, YET manufacturing output is 2.5 times higher than it was thirty yea…

My Summer Reading List

Here are some books on my "must read" list this summer. Progress reports and book reviews will be forthcoming. NB: I actually started reading some of these books quite a while ago (like Augustine's 'City of God' in seminary circa 1996!). Happy reading!
UNBROKEN, by Laura Hillenbrand
CRAZY LOVE, by Francis Chan
RADICAL, by David Platt
THE CITY OF GOD, St. Augustine

Short on Logos, Disingenuous on Ethos, and Long on Pathos

“O simple ones, learn prudence;
O fools, learn sense.”
--Proverbs 8:5

It’s election year again. Every time the political debates come round, I am reminded of the section in Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death where he described what political discourse looked like a hundred and fifty years ago.

Postman cites the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates as an example of how much things have changed. In 1858 a day’s debate could last seven hours and was packed with richly developed intellectual argumentation. By contrast, today’s politicians typically offer us a succession of quick, disconnected points which attempt to convey a general impression of competence and trustworthiness while lacking in the rigors of analytical depth and philosophical sophistication.

Elvin T. Lim, political scientist from Wesleyan University, has chronicled the gradual dumbing-down of American political discourse in his 2008 publication The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from G…

A Chance to Die

Things were supposed to slow down after Easter.
I promised my wife that I would be more available after the flurry of activity surrounding Passion Week. But alas my predictions were way off. Because of a "late" Easter, the end of the school year activities came quickly on the heels of the holiday. My administrative assistant had her baby two weeks before we expected. This meant that our new pastoral intern was thrown into his role as church administrator with no training. On top of this we are launching a day camp this summer--a new ministry for us. My reaction to this type of perfect storm, of course, is to go into "Superman mode" and think I can single-handedly get everything off the ground at once. Things never go as planned. You would think at 43 I would know this by now. Not so.

When things speed up, the chance of things going wrong increases. And that's what has happened since Easter. From my perspective, a boat load of things have gone wrong. The elusive …

Make Up Your Mind!

Two recent news events caught my attention. The puffy fizz surrounding the release of Rob Bell's Love Wins seemed to fizzle at the execution of Osama Bin Laden. I couldn't help but notice the irony between the covers of Time magazine featuring Bell's book and that of the NY Daily News heralding the news of Bin Laden's death. I could almost hear the call go out, "So which is it? Do you want there to be a hell (for Bin Laden types) or don't you? Make up your mind!"

Not That Complicated after All?

Kevin DeYoung, like the rest of us with kids in the house, is a struggling parents. He writes, "I remember years ago hearing a line from Alistair Begg, quoting another man, that went like this: 'When I was young I had six theories and no kids. Now I have six kids and no theories.' I must be smart. It only took me four kids to run out of theories." I am at three kids (and holding) and I'm fresh out of theories.

After explaining his "no theory theory" of parenting, Kevin concludes:
The longer I parent the more I want to focus on doing a few things really well, and not get too passionate about all the rest. I want to spend time with my kids, teach them the Bible, take them to church, laugh with them, cry with them, discipline them when they disobey, say sorry when I mess up, and pray like crazy. I want them to look back and think, "I’m not sure what my parents were doing or if they even knew what they were doing. But I always knew my parents loved me a…

Have It Your Way

Do you remember the Burger King commercials and slogan "Have It Your Way"? The idea was that you could order your hamburger the way you wanted with the toppings you wanted--right when you wanted it! That kind of "make it the way I want it (right now!)" mentality has crept into the way we live, the way we relate to one another, and even the way we pray.

On this National Day of Prayer, I had a note from Elisabeth Elliot in my email box. She asks, "Does prayer work?" Here is her answer.
The answer to that depends on one's definition of work. It is necessary to know what a thing is for in order to judge whether it works. It would be senseless, for example, to say that if a screwdriver fails to drive nails into a board it doesn't "work." A screwdriver works very well for driving screws. Often we expect to arrange things according to our whims by praying about them, and when the arrangement fails to materialize we conclude that prayer doesn'…

I Can't Get Past the Smell of Condemnation

Last Sunday I was mad. I was not in a good frame of mind to be entering the pulpit. Over the course of the last three or four weeks, several people had let me down--not showing up to teach youth SS, not attending the New Member class I was offering, not showing up at small group, missing church when they said they would be there. I was letting it get to me and it showed. My preaching crossed the line from passionate to irate. And people sensed it, of course. Comments and questions like "Are you mad at us?" were made. I had to apologize and ask forgiveness.

When I read this passage from Randy Newman’s book, Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well, I knew I had missed the mark of displaying God's love as I preached about it:
A few years ago, The Washington Post conducted a social experiment in what they called “context, perception, and priorities.” They arranged for Joshua Bell, one of the finest violinists of all…

Dance, Drink, Smoke and Chew

I was raised in what most people would consider a very strict family. I was banned from many "worldly" activities that my friends enjoyed. My motto became, "I don't dance, drink, smoke or chew or ever go out with girls that do." Whenever I pressed my parents about going to school dances, I was reminded what Mamie (my grandmother) would often say when asked to dance, "When I dance so, I sweat so, and when I sweat so, I stink so--so no thank you, I don't think so!"

A lot of my friends growing up, however, (and many of my friends now) fit very comfortably in the dance, drink, smoke and chew category, including my wife (JK--I just angered Heather, my wife, and gave my mom a heart attack!). Often people ask me about these "worldly" activities--if I think they are sinful or if people who do them are going to hell.

Randy Newman, in Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well, gives a great a…

Just Wait! You'll See!

Last night as usual, our family sat around the dinner table and talked about the events of the day. Then we talked about gifts and how we should use them. Taking turns, we told the person on our left a talent God had given him/her and how they could best use it to bring glory to God and good to people. Elijah's talent? A bright and creative mind he can use to help people think and enjoy learning. Emily has a way of great influence with people. Ellie is a ray of sunshine and helps all the other kids feel included. Heather has the gift of hospitality and is always reaching out to people. Eli said that he sees me as a general leading people strategically in battle against evil. Heather said I have great faith and can see things before they have come into existence. That sounds very grand, but I'm not sure I always see it. The soldiers in God's army don't seem to know there is a war going on at all, much less that I have the responsibility to help lead the 'soldiers of…

The Gospel of the Kingdom

For over 25 years I've been studying, talking and writing about the gospel of the kingdom. It all began when I picked up a little book callThe Gospel of the Kingdom by George Eldon Ladd. As I read it, I had an inkling that it was a game changer. Now looking back I can see that it was a fork in the road (one of many!). It changed the course of my life.

A quarter of a century later, I am still sorting out the gospel of the kingdom in my head, heart and life. Without any hesitation or fear of overstatement, I can say the gospel of the kingdom is not only my only hope, but the only hope for the human race, the planet and the cosmos. It is that monumental, huge, epic (or whatever the current slang for massive is).

To get a picture of what I'm talking about, consider this very compelling (and concise) article by Matt Guerino. He asks, "What is the gospel?"
It’s a deceptively simple question, yet one that merits more thoughtful reflection than might seem necessary at first. Th…

Comedy or Tragedy?

When people ask me if I'm optimistic or pessimistic about the future, I say, "Both, of course!"

I'm very optimistic about the grace of God triumphing over evil. In the end, God wins. Evil will be banished and righteousness will prevail. Leland Ryken describes the scene of the new heaven and new earth portrayed by the apostle John:
The climactic vision of Revelation is this vision of heaven. It is pictured in symbolic terms--as a transformed or new place and as a city that combines features that no earthly city can possess. The emphasis is on motifs of permanence and transcendence; splendor; the bliss and perfection of the citizens of the city; the beauty of the place, freedom from intrusions of sin; absence of fallen experience; the banishment of all evil; the satisfaction of all human needs and longings; the life-giving, light-shining presence of the Lamb... The garden of perfection at the beginning of the Bible is here completed in a city of perfection.
I'm very …

Family Movie Night

Last night was 'Family Movie Night' at Redlands. We had our dinner as usually at 6 pm, followed by a special Spring Break edition of our normal mid-week gathering. It was "a break form Spring Break," complete with popcorn, candy, and Lord of the Beans on the "big screen." We learned the importance of using your gifts for the glory of God and the good of others.

Just in case you don't have plans for your Spring Break weekend, I thought I would recommend some movies that you can actually watch with the kids (or your parents) and may have missed (or need to watch again):

1. Chariots of Fire This is still my favorite movie. Recently, the kids, Heather and I watch it for the first time together. The race scenes still get my heart pumping. What struck me this time was the scene when Eric Liddell reads verses from Isaiah 40 while athletes’ greatest efforts come to nothing. In light of the recent fall of dictators and the threat to empires, the scene became for …