Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Called to Serve

I recently received a Merry Christmas message from Steve Rice, a friend and colleague of many years--great words for the close of this year:
Why am I doing this? We have all asked ourselves this question at some time or another in our work. It is usually at a time when things are not going well or the way we expected them. It is when morale is down and service has become a drudgery instead of a joy. We often can get lost in the myopic view of the every day and lose sight of the big picture.

So it can be helpful to stop in the 'busy'ness of service and remind ourselves why we work so hard and toil with such diligence. Why do we spend our time, our skill, our resources on projects that we may or may not see personal results from? The simple answer is we have all been called to serve.

We have been called to serve to make this world a better place. We have been called to serve our fellow men in all their plights. We have been called to serve each other and pass on to others as we have been given by those who first served us. As the old Navy ads used to say, "It's not just a job, it's an Adventure!"

As the holidays approach and we enter our busiest fundraising season of the year, it would be a good time to take a moment and remind ourselves why we are doing what we are doing. Let that vision of the results of service be your inspiration. Let it encourage you to deeper levels of service and commitment to your cause and give you strength and stamina for the days ahead.
You can find out more about Steve and his firm here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Being a Better Friend than Job's

Last Friday's tragedy in Newtown, CT has left a whole community (if not the country) reeling in waves of grief. How could this happen and why? Could something like this be avoided? How can we protect our children? How can we stop such violence? The onslaught of advice from experts in crime prevention, legislation, mental health, education, family counseling, medicine, religious groups and the like has been overwhelming. Most of it is well-intended and much of it can be beneficial, but could it be too much too soon? Rain is good, a torrent can be deeply damaging. This becomes clear when some use the occasion as a soap box for their social or political agenda. All kinds of issues are brought up that have little to do with the horrific circumstances. Thinking we know much more than we do, we end up sounding like Job's friends. At least they sat with Job in silence for 7 days. We could use more of that. Pause. Weep. Grieve. Listen. Lend a hand, a shoulder, a hug. Of course there is much that can and should be done in the wake of this tragedy, but we would be better off if we were "quick to listen, and slow to speak;" quick to comfort, before rushing to cure; quick to feel, before working on a fix. Perhaps in tragedies like this what is needed most from all of us is to take the time to learn how to love well.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Christmas List

Here are three simple items for my Christmas list this year:
To have more time with friends who have more faith than I do. It is wonderful to have a living,
breathing, walking example beside you as you walk through life. Faith-filled friends give a godly infection.
“Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” Philippians 3:17
Secondly, to get rid of everything doubtful in my life this year.
“Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”  2 Corinthians 7:1
I hope to avoid degrading and defiling entertainments and distractions that eat away at the life of the Spirit in me.
The third item is for mastery of my tongue.
“Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.” 1 Peter 3:10
Here is a resolution for my kids to consider, a paraphrase of Jonathan Edwards’ statement in Religious Affections:

To maintain a conviction so clear as to induce me to venture forth with boldness, counting any problems insignificant in comparison to the joy of proclaiming Christ’s glory!

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Next Global Meltdown

In Aftershock authors David and Robert Wiedemer and Cindy Spitzer write about the next global meltdown. Despite the risk of sounding like "Chicken Little," here is their executive summary:

What is a bubble? An asset value that temporarily booms and eventually busts, based on changing investor psychology, rather than on underlying fundamental economic drivers that are sustainable over time.

What is a bubble economy? An economy that grows in a virtuous upward spiral of multiple rising bubbles (real estate, stocks, private debt, dollar, and government debt) that interact to drive each other up,a dn that will inevitably fall in a vicious downward spiral as each falling bubble puts downward pressure on the rest, eventually pulling the whole economy down.

What is the bubblequake? Phase I of the popping of the bubble economy, including he fall of the real estate bubble, private debt bubble, stock market bubble, and discretionary spending bubble.

What is the aftershock? Phase II of the popping of the bubble economy. Just when many people think the worst is over, then comes the Aftershock, when the dollar bubble and the government debt bubble will burst.

Here are some practical steps to take for those of us without the resources to invest in hedge funds or stock up on gold:
  • List all expenditures for a two-month period to see where the money is going.
  • Go through the list, item by item, and reduce what you can. Shop for a cheaper telephone, cell phone, TV, Internet, and other services.
  • Eat out less often (a big money drain for many people).
  • Cut down on entertainment shopping.
  • Think about creative, lower-cost vacations.
  • Rent out part of your home.
  • Don't look at it as a loss. Cutting spending is a positive step toward maximizing your future prosperity.
  • Hang onto your job. 
  • Consider making yourself more marketable in a safer job sector, or adding skills within your chosen field, or making yourself irreplaceable in your current job. 
  • If you decide to change jobs, don't quit your current employment before getting your next position lined up!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Prayer of Martin Luther

Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled. My Lord, fill it.
I am weak in the faith; strengthen me.
I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent, that my love may go out to my neighbor.
I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust you altogether. O Lord, help me. Strengthen my faith and trust in you.
In you I have sealed the treasure of all I have.
I am poor; you are rich and came to be merciful to the poor.
I am a sinner; you are upright.
With me, there is an abundance of sin; in you is the fullness of righteousness.
Therefore I will will remain with you, of whom I can receive, but to whom I may not give.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Limits of Politics

Bringing up politics in polite company is a great way to ruin a pleasant evening meal--so says T. M. Moore in his insightful brief study, The Limits of Politics: What Government Can and Cannot Do. With general elections coming up in November it's a timely topic. He begins by stating that government in necessary, but not necessarily evil.
Politics is often seen as the black sheep of family America – a source of disappointment and disgust, who only comes around at certain times, but from whom we’re never entirely separate. But politics is simply the science of government. Politics describes the ways people in society organize their relationships and apportion the exercise of power in an effort to establish order and maintain peace. The problem is not with politics, as, doubtless, most of us realize, but with politicians. Politics is a noble science, and the practice of politics can be a way to bring glory to God and much good to people. That politics has come to be associated with corruption and contention is not the fault of politics but of those who practice it.
Moore goes on to lay out his central thesis. Politics is necessary to a good society. But it’s not necessarily evil. And it falls to those whose senses are trained by the Word of God to differentiate between good and evil to do whatever they can to ensure that what God intends for the business of politics is actually what we in our society enjoy (Heb. 5:14).
Moore then presents a brief outline of what government can and cannot do: establish order, but not define order; promote goodness, but not make us good; ensure justice, but not create arbitrary standards. The stakes are high. The power of government can be unwieldy. The good and sobering thing is that in our country, we are directly involved in the political process. Even better, the LORD rules as sovereign over all the leaders of the land (Proverbs 21:1). So get through with your political discussion (as important as it may be) and get back to your pleasant evening meal.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Doing Life Together While Living Far Apart

Our friends are moving. Our youngest daughter is upset, but I think that my wife and I are the ones who are devastated  We've enjoyed BBQ and the big games. We've babysat for each other. We've borrowed tools and shared eggs and sugar. And who's going to watch our dog? Good neighbors are really hard to find. 

Doing life together is what family does by default. It's what friends do by choice. Then there is the body of Christ. The church family is supposed to "do life together". But that's increasingly hard when many of its members live so far apart. Tim Chester lays out the following options:
1. Join or plant local churches  I wonder how many churches people pass as they drive half an hour to church each Sunday. Some will be dead and ready for burial. But many will be good churches. They may not be as good as the church people attend. But they may be faithful and engaged in their locality. Why do people do this?It reflects a consumer mentality. We shop for churches like we shop for groceries. If we don’t like the product then we take our business elsewhere. We end up at the big convenience store with the large parking lot and the local shops in Main Street that the old and the poor have to use wither and decline.A particular instance of the consumer mentality, but a very common one is this. If church doesn’t have a big children’s programme then we find another church. Who’s going to say we shouldn’t out our children’s spiritual needs first? Me! A lot of Christians have made an idol of their families. So it becomes an excuse not to do mission or community. Look at what Jesus has to say about biological families. It is all negative! Really, it is. ‘Anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me’ (Matthew 10:37). That’s what Jesus said. Get over it. And think about what moving church for children teaches our children. That the world revolves around them. That church is there to entertain them. That relationships with peers matter more than relationships with  people who unlike them. At best you will teach you children to be church-attenders. You will have missed a big opportunity to teach them to be radical disciples and missionaries.
2. Move closer to one another  Come back to our church in New Jersey. One of the members lives in a neighbourhood of homes, fairly well defined. It centres around a lake. There is a strong sense of neighbourhood, an active residents’ association, regular community events. This Christian family are getting to know their neighbours and last year they ran a backyard Bible school. Imagine if two other families moved into that neighbourhood with perhaps a single person living with one of the families. Now you have a team of seven, attending the church each Sunday, but then working together to reach that neighbourhood. Building relationships with neighbours. Getting involved in the residents’ association. Praying together. Sharing their lives. Involving unbelievers in their shared life. In time holding Bible studies. Dynamite!There are six or seven households represented in the gospel community to which I belong back in Sheffield. All but one of those intentionally moved to be in that area, to reach that area together, to be community. With one exception, we all live within ten minutes walk of each other. Sharing lives is easy! The weekend before I came to the States, one family send a text round saying anyone is welcome to watch our equivalent of American Idol with them. You all watch American Idol – go on admit it. So why not watch it together? It’s a lot more fun!
3. Jump in the car  Again, come back to our church in New Jersey. Some members lives one hour from each other. But of course they are all spread out across the area. So in fact most of them live within ten minutes of several other members. So why not cluster together with those who are near? Ten minutes is not far.I live in an urban area. If you said someone lived ten minutes away then everyone would assume you meant ten minutes walk. Maine is clearly far more rural. Your state is roughly the same size as my country with the population of my city! But that shapes your pattern of life. It shapes the way people think about community and neighborhood. In Sheffield 20 minutes feels like a long way away. But here you travel 20 minutes to get your groceries. So 20 minutes is near. You make that kind of journey several times a week. So why not jump in the car and pop over to see someone? Why not call and say, ‘We’re about to watch American Idol. Why don’t you come over and watch it with us?’
If you can drive 20 minutes to Walmart, why can’t you drive 20 minutes to share life with members of your Christian community?

Monday, August 20, 2012

In God We Trust

Here's a great reminder during this election year from my prof. John Frame:
But what the Bible would teach us above all in this situation is this: we should not put our trust in government, private industry, or economic theory, whether capitalist or socialist. All of these have failed us miserably in the present crisis, and many times in history. We should not be looking to government to make us wealthy or to deal with the sins that have led our nation to this point in history. Now as ever, we should trust only in “the name of the Lord our God” (Ps. 20:7), the name of Jesus Christ.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Why the Chick-fil-A Flap Matters

Long lines on Chick-fil-A appreciation day
I love Chick-fil-A. We don't have one in our town, so when we travel, it's a treat to get their Chargrilled Chicken Club Sandwich smothered in extra Honey Roasted BBQ sauce. It's enough to make my mouth water just thinking about it. So when all the commotion surrounding  Dan Cathy's defense of "the biblical definition of the family unit" broke loose, I saw it as just another opportunity to go to one of my favorite restaurants. Nevermind that the nearest one is over 20 miles away.

Protesters standing against Chick-fil-A
But, of course, much more is at stake than a good chicken sandwich. Marriage and family issues are vital to the health of any society. What we believe about what constitutes a marriage matters immensely. The reaction to Dan Cathy's comments--both pro and con--are evidence of this fact. In the end, truth matters and people will stand up for what they believe in. My appeal to those who stand for traditional marriage (which I enthusiastically embrace) and those who are pressing for non-traditional forms of family units, is to remain civil in the discourse. John S. Ehrett recently wrote a clear and compelling article, "Playing Chicken with the Law: Chick-fil-A and the demise of responsible discourse." He closes the article explaining why the manner in which we engage in debate matters:
First, the aggressive demonization of one’s public opponents – and the suggestion that opponents are undeserving of constitutional rights – must stop. Few issues are more critical to a liberal society (using the term “liberal” in its classical sense). Real “tolerance” – and basic ethical treatment of others –requires that one respect others’ right to disagree.
Second, private pressure must be the catalyst for social change. Those who disagree with Chick-fil-A’s position on marriage have a number of options: they may choose to take their casual-dining business elsewhere; they may demonstrate against the restaurant chain; they may petition the company’s leadership to change its stance. Resorting to political arm-twisting sets an unhealthy and subversive precedent.
The ideological majority of today may be the ideological minority of tomorrow. Ruling factions must not establish a precedent of suppressing dissent...or risk the tables being turned upon them. And that, in a free society, is the death-knell of liberty. 
Suggesting that others no longer have a right to their opinion – even if that opinion runs counter to prevailing societal currents – is unethical at best and tyrannical at worst.
To read the rest of John Ehrett's click here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Taking (and Handing over) the Wheel

During the summer months when our family takes a road trip, I end up doing most of the driving. I like it that way. It gives me what I like to call a "modicum of monarchy." Somehow being behind the wheel makes me think I'm in control. In reality, lot of other factors like the weather, traffic, and (rightfully) my wife are there to remind me that I'm not a monarch. I'm really more of a chauffeur. Nevertheless, I like being behind the wheel.

There is a down side to this, of course. That means that I can't watch the movies the kids are enjoying at 70 mph. I can't catch up on email and texts like my wife, Heather, in the "shotgun" chair. I can't read the stack of books I brought along on the trip. I can't even listen to "my music" via earbuds because I only have one good ear. (Believe me, I've tried all these things and I would not recommend them.)

There seems to be a lesson here. Being in the driver's seat gives you some sense of control, but it also comes at a cost. Being in charge is limiting. It's demanding. Those who sit in the driver's seat have to dismiss unnecessary distractions. They must be disciplined to deal with the duties at hand.

Of course, there are always limits to leadership. The leader is human after all. A person can only drive for so long. Some are more capable of leading than others. Some can manage a trip to the department store. Others can lead an expedition across Antarctica. Effective leaders learn to work in tandem with others. Team leadership is usually best for the long haul. In other words, there are times to hand over the wheel to someone else. I'm not the only capable driver in the car. Although I love to drive, I also love to crawl in the back and watch a movie with the kids, catch up on email, read a chapter or two, and (of course) listen to my music in my one good ear.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Staying Local

Jim Elliot, one of the 1956 missionary martyrs to the Huaorani in Ecuador, once said, "Wherever you are be all there. Live every moment you know to be the will of God to the hilt." He was getting at the notion of "faithful presence," as put forth in To Change the World, by James Davison Hunter. We live in a world of distraction and escapism. What Jim and James are both calling us to is what could be called localized living. My grandmother would just call it living.

What for many generations was just fantasy has now become commonplace. Hundreds of thousands of people will jet to London to see the Olympic games later this month. Hundreds of millions more will watch the games on TV and online. It is as if the whole world is converging on England. The same thing will happen in Brazil for the World Cup in two years and then the next Olympic games in 2016. The digital generation can "be anywhere, anytime" via the internet--a new breed of electronic teleporters akin to David Rice (played by Hayden Christensen) in the 2008 film "Jumper." Although the film was generally panned by critics, it stands as a cautionary tale to our escapist culture. At one point in the film, Roland Cox (played by Samuel L. Jackson) tells the trapped teleporter David, "You think it could go on like this [teleporting in and out of people's lives] forever? Living like this with no consequences? There are always consequences!" Indeed there are. If we insist on being everywhere we want to be, we may lose the ability to be anywhere in particular at any given moment. 

The apostle Paul while in Athens addressed the Areopagus: "The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth...made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place" (Acts 17:24, 26). Traditionally we describe this as part of God's providence. He not only made the world, but manages it--down to the details of where we dwell. And his intent, as the apostle points out, is that we might know him and worship him aright. 

I'm convinced that one of the chief tools that Satan uses to thwart God's purposes in our lives is to distract us, to get us to live with a constant "the grass is greener" attitude toward life, to make us want to escape our present circumstances instead of find God in the midst of them. Jesus came to dwell with us. His mission has not changed. He now resides in (and among) those who love him and keep his words (John 14:15-24), and will one day return to dwell with his own forever.

Eugene Peterson closed an interview in Christianity Today a few years ago by describing his  45-year career as a pastor:
One thing that I think is characteristic of me is I stay local. I'm rooted in a pastoral life, which is an ordinary life. So while all this glitter and image of spirituality is going around, I feel quite indifferent to it, to tell you the truth. And I'm somewhat suspicious of it because it seems to be uprooted, not grounded in local conditions, which are the only conditions in which you can live a Christian life.
This is not to say that we shouldn't travel broadly, or watch world-wide sports or news. It does mean that we should stay grounded, rooted in time and space. There is no other way to live and flourish.  

Monday, July 9, 2012

Women in Church Leadership

The role of women in the Church is crucial for its health and growth. Just as women were active during Jesus’ ministry and in the early church, so women are actively ministering in the church today. Without their efforts the work of the church would be severely hampered. That being said, when we address the role of women in the church we need to remember that Scripture is our sole and sufficient guide in this matter, as in all others. The creation account in Genesis 1 and 2 shows that the Lord determined that man should be head of the woman, who was made from man in order to be his glory and helper. Basing his teachings on the order of creation and the example set by the Son in freely submitting to the Father’s headship, Paul requires a woman to submit voluntarily to her husband’s leadership and to the leadership established by Christ for the church which is limited to men (1 Tim. 2:11-13). Women can serve in any capacity in the church along side men, except in the role as officers (1 Tim. 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6).

The following is taken from Introduction to Redlands Community Church, the course people at our church go though when they are interested in membership. I post it here because several people have asked about my (our) position on the issue of women in church leadership.

A. The question of having women serve in various leadership positions in the church is a controversial, but important issue that needs to be addressed in each church congregation.

1. We recognize that it is possible for Christians equally committed to the authority of Scripture to disagree on this issue (as is the case on election, the sacraments, etc.). We are committed to working together with all those who believe and proclaim the gospel, even when we disagree.

2. The issue is complicated by the fact that, in many churches that do not ordain women to the pastoral office, there are often limited opportunities for women to exercise gifts in the areas of public teaching, theology, etc.

B. Scripture strongly affirm the fundamental equality of men and women—both men and women are (and this was an astounding proclamation in the Ancient Near East) fully the very image and likeness of God. While strongly affirming this personal equality, the Scriptures, however, do not teach that men and women are simply interchangeable. Men and women, the Scriptures teach, while clearly equal, are also different in many ways. (See Genesis 1:27; Galatians 3:26-29.)

1. Traditionally the church has seen a difference in the role of men and women. The Bible teaches that, in the family, the husband/father has the role as the spiritual leader of the household (Ephesians 5:22ff). It is important to remember, of course, that the Bible teaches a unique, gospel-centered view of leadership—leaders are, first of all, servants.

2. Scripture often draw a parallel between the family and the church. This is why those who lead the church—as the “fathers” of God’s household—are to be men. (Key text: 1 Timothy 2:12.)
In the context of Paul’s apostolic instructions to the church for the ordering of church practice when the church is assembled together, two things are prohibited: 1) women are not permitted to publicly “teach” Scripture and/or Christian doctrine to men in church (the context implies these topics), and 2) women are not permitted to “exercise authority” over men in the church. Women teaching other women, and women teaching children, are not in view here, and both are encouraged elsewhere (Titus 2:4; 2 Tim. 1:5). Nor does this passage have in view the role of women in leadership situations outside the church (e.g., business or government)… Since the role of pastor/elder/overseer is rooted in the task of teaching and exercising authority over the church, this verse would also exclude women from serving in this office (cf. 1 Tim. 3:2). Thus when Paul calls for the women to be “quiet,” he means with respect to the teaching responsibility that is limited in the assembled church. Paul elsewhere indicates that women do speak in other ways in the church assembly (1 Cor. 11:5, 13; Acts 2:17; 21:8-9).
(ESV Study Bible notes)
C. What about deacons?

1. Redlands Community Church (and the PCA) believe that deacons are to be ordained and are only to be men. There are those in our denomination, however, who believe there is strong evidence in the Bible for women serving as deacons (or deaconesses).

a. In Romans 16:1, Phoebe is referred to as a “servant” (NIV and ESV), or in Greek, a diakonos. Since the Greek term can mean either “servant” (13:4; 15:8; 1 Cor. 3:5; 1 Tim. 4:6) or “deacon” (referring to the church office; Philemon 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8, 12), scholars debate whether Phoebe was a servant in the general sense, or whether she served as a deacon.

b. In 1 Timothy 3:11, in the middle of describing the qualifications for deacons, the apostle Paul gives qualifications for “their wives.” Who were these women? The Greek word gyne can mean either “women” or “wives.” The ambiguity results in at least three interpretations: 1) the wives of deacons, 2) women deacons, or 3) women who assist the deacons but who are distinct from the deacons.

c. Evidence for women deacons (sometimes called deaconesses) can also be found in the history of the early church.

2. Again, Redlands Community Church (and the PCA) do not allow women to be “ordained” as deacons. However, the PCA’s Book of Church Order (BCO) allows Sessions to appoint women for non-ordained diaconal ministry. Consequently, our practice at Redlands is to have men and women serve together in diaconal ministry without ordination.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

15 Reasons Why I Stayed in the Church

On Mondays, I sometimes slip into the "I'd rather be an ice cream truck driver" blues. Anyone who is a pastor will understand these "after Sunday doldrums." Of course, you don't have to be a pastor to wonder why in the world we put up with one another in the body of Christ. Plenty of people are throwing in the towel, or just moving on to the next group of misfit believers. Why have I stayed? 

I was born on Sunday, August 6th, 1967 (in the same hospital as Brad Pitt, but that's for another post). The next Sunday I was in church. Since then, I can count the number of times I have missed Sunday worship on one hand (and that's really not an exaggeration). I am a son (and grandson) of a preacher man and now I'm a preacher with a son (and two daughters). My whole life has revolved around this wonderful, marvelous, but not yet "without spot or wrinkle" Body we call the Church. With all that my parents went through as leaders in the Church, and all that I deal with as a pastor, I wonder if my children will continue in our steps. In my darker days, I wonder why should they? In my stabler moments I'm pleading with God for them to be the next generation of Reformers. My life's calling centers around the need for ongoing Reformation in the Church. It is what Christ is in the middle of doing, building up and beautifying His Bride. I want to play a role in this process. After all, I'm part of the wayward Bride that Christ is calling to the Wedding Feast.

My bride knows me well. She knows when to graciously critique my sermons and when I just need to sleep it off. Thankfully, she was a cheerleader for her school and now she is mine. When Heather passed on a link to a list of 'Fifteen Reasons Why I Stayed in the Church' I was so encouraged, I bookmarked it, shared it with all my Facebook friends and now I am archiving it here on my blog. I will return to it often, especially on Mondays.
Fifteen Reasons Why I Stayed in the Church
  1. I believe that there is no such thing as Church (with a capital “C”) without church (with a lower case “c”)--as messy and as difficult as that may be.
  2. I want to be the change in the world that I seek. And that means engaging the problems closest to me. Like in the next pew. Like in this pew. Like in my own seat.
  3. I believe that reconciling nations and people starts at home. If I can’t work toward reconciliation in my own church, there is no way I will be able to accomplish it on a broader level anywhere else.
  4. I’m not a militant separatist. I don’t believe that everybody has to think EXACTLY the way I do before I will worship with them. Even if they are more conservative than I am.
  5. I don’t expect the church to be anything other than it is—a group of difficult, broken people plodding their way to glory. The kingdom of God is coming; it isn’t here yet.
  6. I believe the church is bigger than political parties even if the people attending it don’t understand that. Even if the people who leave it don’t seem to understand that either.
  7. I believe Jesus can and wants to redeem Pharisees as much as publicans.
  8. I believe by staying in the church I earn the right to speak about the problems I see. It’s the old adage that you can criticize your family but no one else can. By staying with “my family,” I can speak about our failures and the doubts I wrestle with.
  9. I believe that 2000 years of church history holds a bit more weight than my personal experience.
  10. I have brothers and sisters in Christ who have been imprisoned and lost their lives for doing the very thing that I would be giving up.
  11. I do not want to lose people I love and who love me and my family. And while there are times that conviction must trump relationships, these relationships act as a grid to help me determine whether my convictions are sufficient enough to risk losing these people from my life.
  12. I need the church to regularly remind me about the things that I don’t like in the Scripture. Things like God’s anger and my sinfulness--things that if left to myself, I would conveniently ignore or rationalize.
  13. I am not an island. My choice to leave church affects everyone else in the congregation. Remove one part from the whole and it is no longer the same entity.
  14. I have children. And while I’ll be the first to admit that it’s dangerous to raise your children in a church that distorts the gospel, it’s equally as dangerous to raise them apart from church altogether. One way the gospel is expressed is in the loving covenant relationship that happens in the church – I want that to be part of the warp and weave of their experience. I want them to know that real commitment means taking the good with the bad.
  15. Jesus hasn’t left the church. No, of course, I don’t mean this in a sanctimonious way. (If I had, I would have put the word sanctimonious in asterisks.) I mean simply that after he threw out the money changers, Jesus continued to worship and sacrifice in the temple. His work is to purify and redeem, not to alienate or destroy.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Why We Need a King

I'm starting a sermon series on the book of Judges tomorrow. It is a confusing and sometimes offensive book to many. Murder, treachery, immorality, slavery, sorcery, genocide fill its pages. Why do I think this book deserves a close study? Why would I even say it is needful in our day? Because our time is much like their's when "everyone did what was right in his own eyes." In both places where this phrase occurs (17:6 and 21:25) it is linked to the telling statement: "there was no king in Israel."

This points to the theme of Judges, an apology for the Davidic monarchy. Without a righteous king to rule, people slide into ruin, apostasy and chaos. Indeed, as the book progresses, things go from bad to worse. The only hindrances to hellish conditions are the judges that God raises up when the people cry out for deliverance.

If we are not able to rule ourselves righteously, we will be ruled by another. If we do not master ourselves, we will be mastered. Our efforts to govern ourselves (in the political sense as well as the personal) have fallen woefully short. Just read the book of Judges to see what happens when people "do what is right in their own eyes" and compare it to our present society.

Do we need a dictator to come in and clean up our mess? Certainly not. Can we at long last make "a clean sweep" of the corruption in Washington, Tallahassee, Miami-Dade, the city counsel? Not a promising prospect.

Why is government (and especially monarchy) discounted or even despised throughout the world today? The only legitimate reason that kingship is not attractive to us is because in this age and this world the only kings available are finite and sinful. Listen to C. S. Lewis describe why he believes in democracy:
I am a democrat [proponent of democracy] because I believe in the Fall of Man.I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that every one deserved a share in the government.
The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true. . . . I find that they’re not true without looking further than myself. I don’t deserve a share in governing a hen-roost. Much less a nation. . .
The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.
       —C.S. Lewis, “Equality,” in Present Concerns 
If there could be a king who is not limited in his wisdom and power and goodness and love for his subjects, then monarchy would be the best of all governments. If such a ruler could ever rise in the world—with no weakness, no folly, no sin—then no wise and humble person would ever want democracy again.

The question is not whether God broke into the universe as a king. He did. The question is: What kind of king is he? What difference would his kingship make for you?

The theme of my series on Judges is that we need a king--the king who bore the cross for us, now wears the crown and will come again to put the world to rights.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Need for Strong Marriages

My friend Eric Metaxas asserts, "If strong marriages are the foundation of a healthy society, we've got a lot of repair work to do."

He cites several alarming statistics. In 2010, for the first time in our history, married couples no longer form the majority of American households. In 1950, married couples made up 78 percent of all households. In 2010, they made up only 48 percent of American households--a nearly forty percent decline! Furthermore married couples with kids comprise only 20 percent of households in America. This makes me, a man married to the same woman for 18 years with three kids, a rare breed in America. Dare I say an endangered species?

I am not trying to toot my own horn. I am making a humble plea for couple to get married and remain faithful to their wedding vows. Examine the raw data. Fidelity in marriage results in more wealth, better health, and more prosperous children. The statistics all point to the same conclusion: If you want your kids to do well in life, get married and stay married.

Of course, marriage isn't for everyone. I have many friends and some family members who are single. Some have chosen to remain single. But for those who want to live together and those who want to have kids, marriage is clearly the best option. Oh, and yes, it is God's design.

To view or listen to Eric's commentary, click here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Face of Jesus

The face of Jesus:
    marred more than any man--
    spit upon,
    the beard plucked,
    twisted in pain--
For my salvation.
A glorious face, now.
Let its light shine on me, O Light of Life.
Let Your radiance fall on me, Sun and Savior,
Lighten my darkness.
Then grant me this by Your grace:
That I, in turn, may give
"The light of the knowledge of the glory of God" (2 Cor 4:6 AV)
As I see it in the face of Jesus Christ.
--Elisabeth Elliot, A Lamp for My Feet

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Not the Sexiest Way to Worship

Recently I was asked about the worship at Redlands, the Presbyterian church I pastor. "What's with all the responsive readings and prayer recitations? I thought we were Protestants." I knew what he was getting at. The order of worship seemed a little too ordered. It seemed like we were just going through the motions (though as Presbyterians we really don't do any "motions"). I reminded him that we do want to avoid being rote, but there is nothing wrong with routine. This reminded me of a recent blog post by John Haralson. He explains their practice at Grace Seattle:
We follow an ancient liturgical pattern in our worship, drawing from the wisdom of Christians who have gone before us. Every Sunday we renew our commitment to God, offer him our prayers and gifts, confess our sins, receive forgiveness, hear from God’s word, and celebrate the Lord’s Supper together.
In other words, not much changes from week to week. Sure, we sing different songs, pray slightly different prayers and hear from different parts of God’s word, but the weekly pattern is the same.
In a culture obsessed with the novel and unique, we should ask a very important question: What is the wisdom in this?
God generally doesn’t work through seismic spiritual events in our lives. True, most of us can look back to significant turning points in our lives that were profound and maybe even “out of body”. But the vast majority of the growth God brings is the result of slow, plodding work.
Think about the Bible’s dominant metaphor for spiritual growth—it is the growth of fruit. When you grow fruit, you don’t just plant some seeds and expect immediate results. No, you plant seeds and then you do a lot of the same things—watering, fertilizing, pruning—over, and over, and over again. Then you will have fruit. French winemakers are said to not really take a grapevine seriously until it is at least 20 years old. I think we need that kind of perspective when we think about growing as disciples.
By worshiping liturgically, we are doing the same things over, and over, and over again. We do this with the belief that, over time, God will bless these practices with fruit in our lives. Sure, there will be some seismic moments of profound change. But, for most of us most of the time, change will happen in a much more deliberate fashion.
And how does this spiritual growth manifest itself? It manifests itself when we actually “become the liturgy”. It happens when our liturgical actions—like  responding to God’s word, confessing our sins, praising God for his goodness, pouring out our sorrows at his feet—become second nature to us.
Think about our liturgy and the actions we practice. Every week, we confess our sins. We confess our sins on Sunday morning because we want confessing our sins to become second nature on Thursday afternoon. We sing our praises to God on Sunday morning so we can learn how to instinctively praise him on Friday nights. We pour out our hearts in prayer to God on Sunday morning so that we can turn toward him in prayer when our lives fall apart on Wednesday.
Is it the sexiest way to worship? Not by a long shot. However, worshiping in this way helps us be shaped and formed by a God who grows his people slowly and steadily.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Works of Art

A friend of mine recently wrote me about his attitude toward his children. I thought it was worth passing along:
Why don't I see the beauty that God has placed all around me – my children?  I see work – not works of art.  I see busyness – not joyful and eternal business.  I see inconvenience, not scenes of heaven.  Daily I prove that my pride means so much to me.
Especially in light of the recent shooting in Ohio, I want to hug my kids, pray with and for them, and be more grateful for the gifts of God they are.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Stronger for the Shaking

When I was a kid growing up I often heard that the Biblical word for "tempt" and "test" was the same. I have since learned that this is indeed true. It is still puzzling to me. The same temptation from Satan can be a testing from God (e.g. David's census 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21).

William Gurnall, the 17th century Anglican, explains how God uses Satan's temptations in his classic work, Christian in Complete Armour.
God makes Satan's temptations the courier of His love to the saints...And what did Satan get for all the energy he spent on Job, but to let that holy man know at last how dearly God loved him?
The devil thought he had the game in his own hands when he got Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. He supposed he now had man in the same predicament as himself. But did he catch God by surprise? Of course not! God knew the outcome before the match was ever begun and used Satan's temptation to usher in that great gospel plot of saving man by Christ. At God's command, Christ undertook the charge of wrestling His fallen creatures from Satan's clutches and reinstating them to their original glory, with access to more than they ever had at first.
God never condones wickedness in His saints, but He does pity their weakness. He never sees a saint in mourning without planning to clothe him in the sunlight of His love and mercy. God can, in fact, use His saints' failures to strengthen their faith, which, like a tree, stands stronger for the shaking.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Two Ways We Get Life Wrong

The 'Parable of the Prodigal Son' found in Luke 15 is really the story of two lost sons. The younger son was estranged from the father by breaking the rules. The older son was estranged from the father by keeping them. Both were seeking to live life on their own terms, apart from a loving relationship with the father. Tim Chester, from the Crowded House, explains how this dynamic works.
There are two ways we get life wrong.
1. We want to be our own Lord instead of Jesus
In other words, I replace Jesus as Lord with Tim as Lord. I run my life my way. I want to be in charge. That often leads to behaviour that by moral standards is bad: ‘sex and drugs and rock-n-roll’. We do not think Jesus is enough. We do not think the rule of Jesus is the good life. So we replace Jesus with others things.But there is a second way we can get life wrong.
2. We want to be our own Saviour instead of Jesus
In other words, I replace Jesus as Saviour with Tim as saviour. I want to save myself by doing good things or I want to save other people by straightening out their lives or I want to save the world through good causes.Now, here’s the tricky thing: This way of getting life wrong often leads to behaviour that by moral standards is good behaviour. People who are trying to be their own saviour are going to live moral lives. Or they are going to be good husbands and wives and parents because they want to rescue their family. Or they are going to be involved in good causes, raising money for the poor or campaigning for justice or getting involved in the environmental issues.Those are all commendable things to do. So replacing Jesus as Saviour can look like a good life. They will be people in your congregation who are doing this and you will think they are doing great.But its fruit will eventually become apparent. It will lead to pride or frustration or stress or anxiety or manipulation. Think, for example, about a parent who is trying to save or sort out their children and who thinks it all depends on them. They might be manipulative or domineering as they attempt to control and protect their children. Or they might be bitter about their children’s behaviour or weighed down with stress.
The people who are rejecting Jesus as Lord will usually be easy to spot. But be on the look out for people who are rejecting Jesus as Saviour. I can think of people who have come to us highly recommended, but whose hard work turned out to be driven by deep insecurities. Gently and firmly we have taught them the good news of justification and adoption. I tell people who are rejecting Jesus as Lord to repent, find joy in Christ and change their ways. I tell people who are rejecting Jesus as Saviour to do … nothing. Stop. Listen. ‘It is finished.’ There is nothing left to do. You have a heavenly Father who loves you and cares for you.And look out for saviour-tendencies in your own heart. Many of us are rejecting the lordship of Jesus in some areas of our lives while trying to be a saviour in other areas. Here is the good news: Jesus is Lord and Saviour. And he is better Lord than you and a better Saviour than you.

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Bonhoeffer Moment

In case you missed this or haven't seen it yet, you really owe it to yourself to watch this video. Eric's talk begins 35 mins in (on the C-SPAN video below) and ends with him leading the 3,500 assembled (including the President, Vice President, and Secretary of State) in singing “Amazing Grace”. This may be the most important 30 minutes you spend today.

As Eric says, this is a Bonhoeffer moment. As Christians, we need to lovingly, yet with full conviction stand for religious liberty, the freedom of conscience, traditional marriage, and the protection of all human life.

Here are two first steps. First, get informed and add your voice to the the more than500,000 people who have read and signed the Manhattan Declaration. And then share it with others on Facebook, Twitter, and by email.

Second, please take 60 seconds and sign this petition to the President and let him know that you want him to stand for religious liberty.

Chuck Colson and Timothy George on this issue in Christianity Today.

Read Eric Metaxas' New York Times bestselling book on Bonhoeffer:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The “Life-Fire” of God’s Word

In 1854, at the age of twenty and just four years after his conversion, Charles H. Spurgeon became pastor of London’s New Park Street Church. His ministry grew so much that the 6,000-seat Metropolitan Tabernacle was built to accommodate the congregation. In “The Mustard Seed: A Sermon for the Sabbath-School Teacher” he spoke of the power of the gospel, and his words extende to the whole of Scripture.
The human can never rival the divine, for it lacks the life-fire. It is better to preach five words of God’s Word than five million words of man’s wisdom. Men’s words may seem to be the wiser and more attractive, but there is no heavenly life in them. Within God’s Word, however simple it may be, there dwells an omnipotence like that of God, from whose lips it came.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Book that Would Understand Me

From Princeton philosopher Emile Cailliet (in Eternity Magazine, July 1974):
I was born in a small village of France and received an education that was naturalistic to the core. This could possibly have had a great deal to do with the fact that I did not even see a Bible before I reached the age of twenty-three.
To say that this naturalistically inspired education proved of little help through front-line experiences as a lad of twenty in World War I would amount to quite an understatement. When your own buddy - at the time speaking to you of his mother - dies standing in front of you, a bullet in his chest, what use is the sophistry of naturalism? Was there a meaning to it all?
One night a bullet got me, too. An American field ambulance crew saved my life and later the use of a badly shattered arm was restored. After a nine-month stay at the hospital, I was discharged and resumed graduate work.
During my stay at the American hospital, I had married a Scotch-Irish girl whom I had met in Germany on Christmas Eve the year before the war had broken out. She was, and has always remained, a deeply evangelical person. I am ashamed to confess that she must have been hurt to the very core of her being as I made it clear that religion would be taboo in our home. Little did I realize at the time that a militant attitude often betrays an inner turmoil.
I had returned to my books, but they were no longer the same books. Neither was my motivation the same motivation. Reading in literature and philosophy, I found myself probing in depth for meaning. During long night watches in the foxholes, I had in a strange way been longing - I must say it, however queer it may sound - for a book that would understand me.
But I knew of no such book. Now I would in secret prepare one for my own private use. And so, as I went on reading for my courses I would file passages that would speak to my condition, then carefully copy them in a leatherbound pocket book I would always carry with me. The quotations, which I numbered in red ink for easier reference, would mead me as it were from fear and anguish, through a variety of intervening stages, to supreme utterances of release and jubilation.
The day came when I put the finishing touch to "the book that would understand me," speak to my condition, and help me through life's happenings. A beautiful, sunny day it was. I went out, sat under a tree, and opened my precious anthology. As I went on reading, however, a growing disappointment came over me. Instead of speaking to my condition, the various passages reminded me of their context, of the circumstances of my labor over their selection.
Then I knew that the whole undertaking would not work, simply because it was of my own making. It carried no strength of persuasion. In a dejected mood, I put the little book back in my pocket.
At that very moment, my wife - who, incidentally, knew nothing of the project on which I had been working - appeared at the gate of the garden, pushing the baby carriage.
It had been a hot afternoon. She had followed the main boulevard only to find it too crowded. So she had turned to a side street which she could not name because we had only recently arrived in town. The cobblestones had shaken the carriage so badly that she had pondered what to do. Whereupon, having spotted a patch of grass beyond a small archway, she had gone in with the baby for a period of rest.
It turned out that the patch of grass led to an outside stone staircase which she had climbed without quite realizing what she was doing. At the top, she had seen a long room, door wide open. So she entered.
At the further end, a white-haired gentleman worked at a desk. He had not become aware of her presence. Looking around, she noticed the carving of a cross. Thus she suddenly realized that this office was a part of a church building - of a Huguenot church edifice hidden away as they all are, even long after the danger of persecution has passed. The venerable-looking gentleman was the pastor.
She walked to his desk and heard herself say, "Have you a Bible in French?"
He smiled and handed over to her a copy, which she eagerly took from his hand; then she walked out with a mixed feeling of both joy and guilt.
As she now stood in front of me, she meant to apologize, but I was no longer listening to her.
"A Bible, you say? Where is it? Show me. I have never seen one before!"
She complied. I literally grabbed the book and rush to my study with it. I opened and 'chanced' upon the Beatitudes! I read, and read, and read - now aloud with an indescribable warmth surging within. I could not find words to express my awe and wonder. And suddenly the realization dawned upon me: this was the book that would understand me!
I continued to read deeply into the night, mostly from the Gospels. And lo and behold, as I looked through them, the One of whom they spoke, the One who spoke and acted in them became alive to me.
The providential circumstances amid which the book had found me now made it clear that while it seemed absurd to speak of a book understanding a man, this could be said of the Bible because its pages were animated by the presence of the living God and the power of his mighty acts. To this God I prayed that night, and the God who answered was the same God of whom it was spoken in the book.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Fewer Meetings, More Parties

This past weekend we were invited to one party (a going away party for a friend) and threw another (Emily's 13th birthday party). Both were a blast and reminded me that we "should do this more often." Then I read the following today regarding Jesus' calling of Levi, the tax collector and the party that ensued.
"We seem to have forgotten an important dimension of what Christianity is all about: the kingdom of God is a party. Our Jesus was and is the Lord of the party" (Tony Campolo).
Probably the main thing my friends and I would miss if our church didn't exist would be our community parties! I think this is born from a conviction that parties can be a sign of the kingdom if they deliberately include those on the outside, those considered unacceptable by others. Today's story once again powerfully demonstrates Jesus' focus on people on the margins, with parties as a key element. In Jesus' day tax officials were extortionists, Roman collaborators, regarded as ritually unclean by the Pharisees. Still, Jesus chose to break into their world, just as he did with the man with leprosy, by calling Levi to follow him.
Jesus didn't merely call people like tax collectors to follow him; he also sat down to meals with them (29). Eating together was a sign of acceptance, and the Pharisees had strict rules about table fellowship as an indication of who were true Israelites. Jesus, however, rewrote their criteria, putting recognition of need and repentance at the heart of the matter. When they used John the Baptist as an example of religious austerity, Jesus again highlighted the party theme, a wedding feast, as a sign that a new age had come with celebration central to this. He wasn't saying that fasting was a bad thing (See Matt. 4:2; 6:16-18), but that the need was over for the type of fasting in Judaism that was a lament that God's kingdom had not yet come.
Meals feature a lot in Luke's Gospel as a radical sign of the kingdom, yet in today's church we've mostly reduced this to invitations to people like ourselves. Maybe we should have fewer meetings and more parties!