Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Quick Update from India

So far, things are going very well here in India. It has been quite an eye opening experience on many levels. Today I had the privilege of preaching to a group of bible college students in the city I am in. It was a very encouraging and humbling experience.

Tomorrow we will be headed for the city of Kota which is in the state of Rajasthan (A state of 50 million people.) There, we will be attending a pastor's conference. There will be thousands of our brothers and sisters present, please pray for us. Seriously pray for us.

Last time the pastors met in Kota, there was a great deal of persecution. Many of the pastors were beaten by militant Hindus. I am not in as great a danger as the national pastors. Most of the attacks occur on trains and places in which I will not be. Pray for these men of God that they will be safe. The enemy is doing everything that he can to shut this great work down. I have seen and heard it with my own eyes. I hope to write about my experiences in more detail when this is over. Until then, I simply ask you to pray that God will cloak us with humility and fill us with boldness that we may open our mouths to speak the gospel, as we should.

Thank you for continuing to check for updates, and please continue to pray for us.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Importance of Missionary Endeavor

It is often objected that there are enough lost people in the United States to keep a minister busy. Why then should he waste precious time and resources overseas? The objection is, of course, ridiculous, as if the value of souls could be measured in time and money. It is furthermore rendered a useless objection in light of the great commission of Jesus Christ. We are to go into the "uttermost" parts of the world. I won't dwell here on a full theology of missionary work overseas. If you object to going overseas, I'll just throw something hard and heavy at you.

The balm, I believe, for many dry and dying churches is good overseas missionary involvement. Is it an odd theory? How can a church that is not engaged locally be boosted in zeal by being involved globally? The answer is simple: Shame.

I believe that if the average churchgoer could take his eyes off of his own bellybutton long enough to cast a glance across the world, he would realize how complacent he has been in his witness and Christian conduct. He would realize how he is guilty of embezzeling the Lord's money on his own selfish desires and not on kingdom growth. He would realize that he doesn't have a healthy prayer life because he doesn't know of any serious thing for which to pray. He doesn't have friends in prison for the faith. He doesn't see entire countries buried in false theology and devilish lies. He doesn't understand the reality of the darkness. He is, as he imagines, far from the battlefront and living comfortably on God's grace.

Yet the reality is that in China people are being tortured for their witness. That men and women and children meet for worship under the cover of darkness so that they may learn from God's Word. That people in India literally have no idea where their next meal is coming from, and yet they look to God for sustinance and care. These people have to have serious prayer for bread to feed their children. What is even more shocking is that you get the feeling that they truly desire God more than bread, that they long for their countries to turn to Christ, and that they actively pray and work to see this become a reality.

Tonight, I am supposed to speak words of encouragment to men who face ridicule and persecution. I am supposed to encourage men who will make less this year than I carry in my back pocket. What shall I say? What would you say?

This is how overseas work helps the local church. It makes you realize that you are not as engaged as you should be. That our excuses are pitiful and that our shame is real. That we are slothful in our faith. We are cold when we should burn with zeal. We have ten thousand times the resource and opportunity as the men I will face tonight, and yet they have more faith in their back pocket than I may display this year. Their condition has driven them to childlike dependance upon their Creator. Who is really the blessed here? Who has had the better spiritual education?

Watching these men work is humbling, exciting, and encouraging. I am so thankful for them. I hope that through this trip, my eyes will once again be drawn to the ends of the earth, and that I will burn with the desire to see Christ lifted up in all nations and amongst all peoples. My global vision will help correct my nearsightedness. That is my prayer for my local church: That we may be globally engaged to the glory of the Jesus Christ, and that through this work we will be aroused to better work at home.

From India with Love

We arrived in Bombay (Mumbai) yesterday(?) at 2am.  Though I spent time in some pretty poor sections of Brazil, the poverty here was still shocking.  Children followed us from the time we walked out of the airport until the time we got to our vehicles.  They were begging us for money for food.  The squalor in which so many live is hard to convey with words.  The closest thing I can think of is post-flood pre-cleanup New Orleans.

Today we flew to Goa.  It was a Portuguese colony until 1961.  It is quite beautiful, actually.  Our hotel overlooks the Arabian Sea.  That is another thing that shocks the senses here.  The stark contrast between the wealthy and the poor is incredible.  You can visit a five star hotel that is literally across the street from shanties built with items found on the street.  

We have met several of the pastors in the area already.  They are great men of God; I admire them immensely.  The pastors here plant a church from nothing, and then they build orphanages.  That is, they take in street children to raise.  Last night I talked with Pastor Matthew.  He labors just outside of Bombay (19 million people in Bombay, by the way.)  He and his wife take care of their three children and forty orphans that they have rescued from the streets.  I asked him who cooks for all those children.  He smiled and said, “My wife and I.”  The man prepares 135 meals a day.  He took the free toiletries from our hotel room for his “family.”

Tomorrow night we will be attending a graduation of fifty pastors from a local Bible course.  I am supposed to speak words of encouragement.  I believe that I will simply tell them of my admiration, and I will thank them for their courage and bold testimony.  A pastor I ate with today has to come in go in relative secret.  His life has been threatened on many occasions.  As I understand, both the Muslims and the Hindus of the area would like to see him gone.

After I get over this jet lag, I’m going to write a little of the incredible history of this ministry.  It began with one poor pastor and seventeen orphans some thirty years ago.  In one city alone, they now take care of 1,600 orphans.  They have these orphanages scattered all around the country.  That’s why I am here.  To see how I can support this ministry in the future, and hopefully to help it continue to grow as it has over the past thirty years.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

My Traveling Companion

This post is going to go in our church newsletter this month while I am in India. I thought that some of the folks at FBC could get the first peek. Don't worry, I have another article that will be published in the newsletter that you won't see here.

I'm in Atlanta right now. I have a ten hour layover here. Keep me in your prayers!

If all has gone as hoped, I am somewhere in India as you read this article.  I am writing it at a table in the Atlanta airport during a ten hour lay-over.  That should be plenty of time to write an article, don’t you think?

Fortunately for me, I have chosen some very good traveling companions.  My companion for the first leg of my journey is Augustine of Hippo.  Augustine lived and died over 1500 years ago, but he still speaks.  Often, he speaks with painful clarity concerning the sinful condition.  Today, he spoke of his love affair with sin, and he exposed it for the shame that it is.  It is a condition common to all, and his confessions prick my heart as deeply as if his sins were my own.  For even though I may not have sinned in the same manner as he, I recognize the impulse.  

In his Confessions, Augustine writes of an episode that he participated in when he was sixteen years old.  He got together with a group of friends late at night, and they got into some mischief.  That is, they went into a person’s yard and stole all the pears out of their pear tree.  At face value, that does not seem like such a terrible thing.  It seems like a childhood prank.  Just a little trouble that youths often get into.  Nothing to write home about, certainly nothing to be in anguish of soul over…or is it?  Let us listen to Augustine’s confession:

I stole a thing of which I had plenty of my own and of much better quality.  Nor did I wish to enjoy that thing which I desired to gain by theft, but rather to enjoy the actual theft and the sin of theft…a group of very bad youngsters set out to shake down and rob this tree.  We took great loads of fruit from it, not for our own eating, but rather to throw it to the pigs…Behold, now let my heart tell you what it looked for there, that I should be evil without purpose and that there should be no cause for my evil but evil itself.  Foul was the evil, and I loved it.  I loved to go down to death.  I loved my fault, not that for which I did the fault, but I loved my fault itself.  Base in soul was I, and I leaped down from your firm clasp even towards complete destruction, and I sought nothing from the shameful deed but shame itself!

What was it about this childish behavior that caused Augustine to mourn?  He did not break in and steal because he was hungry.  He did not break in and steal because he needed the fruit; he confesses that he already had better at his disposal.  He mourns because he sees that he did it because he loved stealing.  He loved the evil for the sake of evil.   He loved being bad.  It didn’t matter that if it were fruit, or a money purse, or another man’s wife; Augustine saw that the real danger of this boyhood mischief was that he loved doing evil.

Augustine realized another thing about his sin.  He committed sinful acts so that he may boast about his evil.  When he could not find an evil thing to do, he made up evil actions and lied.  He again confesses:

But lest I be put to scorn, I made myself more depraved than I was.  Where there was no actual deed, by which I would be on equal footing with the most abandoned, I pretended that I had done what I had not done, lest I be considered more contemptible because I was actually more innocent, and lest I be held a baser thing because more chaste than the others.

Augustine’s insight is keen, and his confessions bring light into the dark places of the heart.  What young man engage in lying “locker room” chat and puffed himself up with boasting about “manly” deeds they never did?  Who has not lied about something in order to make themselves look better before the crowd?  People confess to doing evil things that they never did in order not to be ridiculed for their innocence.  Such is the depth of the sinfulness of the human heart.

It cleansing to sit with Augustine, and it is humbling.  The insight he has into his own heart reveals that darkness that lurks in mine.  Is it good to dwell on such things?  Should we spend our time probing our hearts to uncover our sinfulness?  Here is Augustine’s answer; I believe that he is absolutely right, and I am grateful for his candor:

     “Why do I tell these things?  It is that I myself and whoever else reads them may realize from what great depths we must cry unto you.”

He writes these things so that we may understand how deep the grace of God must be in order to rescue us from the pit.  By understanding our sinfulness in all of its filth, we understand more about the width and height and depth of the love of God for us in Jesus Christ.  Thank God that He rescues from our shame; the very shame that we once boasted in.  And thank God for the testimony of saints like Augustine; his insight has not grown stale through the passing of years, but instead comes to us as fresh air to our souls.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Therefore Going...

I recently wrote a post describing how my trip to Indian has caused me to reflect on life and death. It has been a very helpful excercise. It is a great thing for a Christian to contemplate the inevitable. No, it is not inevitable that I die in India, but it is inevitable that I will die: barring rapture, of course.

One thing I had forgotten in the excitement is the pain of packing and preparing. How I hate packing. How I hate buying traveler's checks. Oh, how I am dreading hauling my luggage all over India. My wife "helped" me pack, which means I could live comfortably in India for the rest of my life with all the things she stuffed into my baggage. She saw that I was going to bring two pairs of pants and three shirts and a toothbrush for three weeks and decided that she had better take over. Between us, I am certain that there is a comfortable middle.

I am also freaked out that I will be carrying on my person three times the average annual wage of the average Indian citizen. Would you feel comfortable in a strange land with the equivalent of 60 grand in your pocket? I didn't think so. As if it isn't enough that religious persecution could do me in, I have to worry about highway robbery. Death could come from planewreck, persecution, robbery, or the infamous Dehli Belly. Or, I could catch the Bird Flu. I will be riding on crowded trains, in crowded buses, and staying in who knows what kind of hotels, and I will be eating rice and curry for a month straight. You may think I am insane, but I am absolutely stoked. The gospel is worth it; the opportunity is priceless. You'd have to tie me up to keep me from getting on that plane.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Sermon Notes!

Just for fun, and perhaps for critique, I thought I’d post my “Sermon Notes” on Ephesians 4:1-6, the passage that I preached this morning.  Since I’ve already confessed to being a stealer of thoughts, I thought I’d return the favor so that you can steal stolen stuff.  Seriously, I write these notes for two reasons.  One, I find it to be a helpful exercise in gathering together all my thoughts on the day before I preach.  Secondly, I actually read some of these sentences.  Why?  Because they are good sentences.  At least, I think so.  And I haven’t gotten fired yet so they must be decent.

If you are an astute reader of commentaries and etc., this will not be new information for you.  You will also notice that at the end, I have no notes for the last few verses.  That’s because I knew what I wanted to do there, so I didn’t write it down.  So here are my notes, for what they’re worth:
UPDATE: For some strange reason the outline didn't transfer. I had this in a format that would put in Roman numerals, but they've vanished. Oh well.

Introduction:  When we join something, we must know of its designs, its goals, and its rules.  We must be in line with them and hope for their success.  The first three chapters were doctrinal; they were truths that ground us in the faith.  They let us know that we are indisputably God’s children.  They teach that the Father chose us in Christ Jesus before the world began, that Christ Jesus suffered for us, and that we are given the indescribable gift of the Holy Spirit.  Now seeing that we have so great a confidence, Paul will turn to the practical.  Now that Paul has paved the road of faith beneath our feet with solid doctrine, he will call us to walk it in faith.

  • To Walk Worthy

  • “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).

  • Worthy of the calling with which you were called.  What is the calling?  That God spoke your name before He created the worlds (1:4).  That He decided to save you before you were ever born.  That He has raised you up to seat you with His Son, that He treats you as His son!

  • A member of the royal family is watched constantly.  They are taught impeccable manners so that they may dine with heads of state.  They are called to a higher accountability.  

  • Attitudes that Bring Unity     

  • Lowliness-  The chief Christian virtue is humility, translated here “lowliness”.  The world does not teach us to behave in this manner.  Look back to Phil 1:27, after entreating there to walk worthy, Paul quotes the characteristic humility found in our Lord Jesus. “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Phil 2:3).

  • “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

  • Humility is not a false contriteness or a despicable hypocrisy or a self-loathing that focuses too often on self and not the redeeming grace of God..  But knowing ourselves rightly.  We are miniscule compared to God, and we are all-together unworthy of His gracious affections.  This is not pious talk; this is stark reality.  David captures this humility when he writes, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him” (Psalm 8:3-4)

  • Meekness- Refers to a controlled spirit that is not easily provoked

  • Longsuffering- Patient.  Pray for patience.  Pray that God will do whatever is necessary to make you patient.  Do not be flip and say, “Don’t pray for patience…God will put you through trials!”  Rather say, “At whatever cost, make me like Jesus.”  We must have all of these virtues in order to “bear with” our own brothers and sisters.  How beautiful it is that you must bear with me!  Our perseverance begets the peace of fellowship.

  • The One Faith

  • Tie everything together with the great truths of the faith that all must believe and live for.  

Friday, October 14, 2005

Some Shallow Thoughts on The Priesthood of Every Believer

I wanted to write about the Priesthood of all Believers today, but I just don’t have the energy.  So, in short, let me tell you some things that this glorious doctrine teaches:

  1. You are do not need another person to come before God on your behalf, save the one Mediator, Jesus Christ.

  2. Every believer is free to go to God for forgiveness of sins and is free to study and trust that they may understand Scripture.

  3. Every Christian is responsible to minister to others and to intercede for others in prayer.

Now, let me tell you what it does not mean:

  1. Whatever you think about Scripture must be true because you think it is.

  2. You are not accountable to the local church.

  3. That you do not need the local church.

  4. That your voice is as authoritative in matters as appointed officers in the church.

  5. That you are automatically qualified for every office in the church.

  6. That you do not need God given teachers to help you understand Scripture.  (Not a contradiction with #2 above.)

  7. That being a priest means you can commune with God just as well watching TV or fishing as you can at church.  (Just a repeat of 2-6 so you’ll catch my pet peeve.)

That’s all I have to say about that for now.  I feel tired today.  It could be because both of my shoulders were used as pincushions yesterday, and today it feels like I took a beating on both arms.  Further, there are all sorts of dead diseases floating about my bloodstream today, and that sort of creeps me out.  So, I’m going to take it easy today and mow the yard.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Thinking about Dying

I have been driving my wife crazy lately with talk of death.  I am not, in general, a morbid type fellow.  Sometimes I think about these things, especially when I am about to make a long plane flight into a semi-safe area where I do not speak the language and stick out like a sore thumb.

Here’s the bottom line:  I could very easily get myself killed in India.  I could get robbed, martyred, catch malaria, or die screaming in a prop plane surrounded by chickens.  It has happened before, and it will happen again.

I have a lovely wife and a ten month old son.  I love them both dearly, and even if I live, I will miss them terribly.  I dread the separation.  I dread the extreme poverty I will witness.  I dread wondering if the vendor just seriously short changed me.  I dread the case of Montezuma’s revenge that I will most likely get.  I dread having to use the squatty potty.  I dread the heartbreak.  My giddy notions of romantic missionary conquest are tempered by a healthy dose of depraved reality. With all of these things to dread, I do not need to have the added burden of worrying about dying.

The shots that I have to get today are enough in themselves to make you anxious:  Hepatitis A-Z shots, Yellow Fever, Tetanus, Typhoid, and I have to start taking malaria pills.  Oh death, how do you hound me?  Let me count the ways….

So why go?  Do I go because one person getting saved will be worth all the sacrifice?  Yes!  But the fact of the matter is, no one may be saved at all.  I could die before I ever land in India.  Or, I may go there and preach and no one care.  Or, I could preach and they could care enough to pick up stones and smite me.  If no one would be saved, if I knew that for certain…would I still go?  What if I knew that I would go there and die and no one would be saved, would I still go?  Even if I knew that my son would be left fatherless and my wife a widow?  Would I still go?  Can I say with Paul, “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem…”  Die for what, Paul?  “…for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13).

Even if no one were saved, I would go.  If I died for holding fast to the good confession, I would go.  Even if I leave my son fatherless and my wife a widow, I will go.  I go because Jesus Christ is worthy, not because the people are.  If I should die screaming in an airplane, or get knocked in the head by a Muslim or Hindu or Christian, I go knowing that this is a price I am willing to pay for the sake of His Name.  

My wife would grieve, but she would give me up as a fragrant offering to the Lord.  I trust that in time my son would come to see the all-surpassing greatness of God in Christ, and that he would not only be thankful for my testimony, but be willing to go forward and do the same should the Master bid him.  Even if no one in India believed, I know that I do not live or die in vain.  My God who sees and searches the heart knows that I am bound to Him in conscience, in love, and in hope.

I have given you, and myself, the worst case scenario.  But is it really so bad?  I don’t think so.  Not if you believe in a God who is good, merciful, and compassionate, and One who truly works all things to the good of those who love God.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Read a Good Book Lately?

We should stop writing so many books.  I am only semi-serious, but I think that I am wasting a good deal of valuable time.  Joe Thorn alluded to this over at his blog in this post .  I want to expound upon the theme.

One of the things that we pride ourselves on is creative thought.  Creative thought is good.  I promote creative thought.  I am, after all, a Blogger.  But when it comes to theology, I certainly do not spend my time attempting to come up with ‘innovative’ concepts.  If I did, I would worry about what I had come up with.

I am afraid that many of us spend our time re-inventing the wheel.  As I surf the blogs, I find common themes popping up again and again.  Law/ Grace, anyone?  How about a good tussle over Calvinism?  I’ve got one!  How about credo-baptism versus paedo-baptism?  

There is truly nothing new under the sun, as the Preacher so astutely points out in Ecclesiastes.  The Auburn Avenue controversy is nothing new.  The baptism controversy is nothing new.  The Law/Grace discussion is nothing new.  The doctrine of election and predestination is nothing new.  You get the point.

So why, then, do we think that the only place to get answers are out of “new” books?  Old books are like beautiful antiques.  Truly, they just don’t make them like they used to.  Currently, I am reading Samuel Bolton’s (1606-1654) The True Bounds of Christian Freedom.  What a fantastic book!  Do you want a challenging book on Pastoral ministry?  Don’t just go and grab MacArthur’s latest.  Grab The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter (1615-1691).  He’ll let you know what a lazy Cretan you are far better than MacArthur does.  How about a systematic theology?  Try Calvin’s Institutes. Want a “meaty” devotional book?  How about The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded by John Owen (1616-1683)?  It will do for your soul what a personal trainer will do for your body.  Everything that was ever written that was any good was written in the 1500’s and 1600’s.  I’m kidding.

Pastors should already know what I am talking about.  People in the pew are, in my experience, almost completely ignorant of these classics.  Yes, we ought to read contemporary books.  I have a few living heroes.  (Though I must say that I am far more charitable towards people who are already dead.)  Each generation has to find its voice, and they have to express themselves in order to defend areas of orthodoxy that may be under attack.  But they don’t have to build a wagon to race to the arena:  our forefathers have already outfitted tanks for our disposal.  They had no cell phones, no regular phones, no internet, no cars, no radio, no TV, and apparently government was perfect back in those days.  They had far fewer distractions, and they spent their time wisely.  They examined doctrines like one would examine a diamond; they checked every facet and detail.  They were doctrinal artists.

Sometimes, they are flat boring.  But don’t let that deter you.  Read a classic.  It’ll be worth it.

Heading for India

I need a break to clear my head a little.  I’ll return to the quandary of baptism later on.  Right now, I have a few other things to keep me busy.

In six days, I will be heading for India.  There, I will be attending a pastor’s conference, a Christian school graduation, and I will be working with a leper colony.  I will be gone for almost three weeks.

I am not certain what my role will be at the graduation and the pastor’s conference.  I may actually get to speak at one or both.  I don’t count on it, but I may.  In the down time between these two events I will be working with the pastors to encourage them, be encouraged, and to establish relationships with them.  At the leper colony, we will help build a large chicken house to help the community sustain itself.  Currently, this particular colony has to beg in order to get food.

This will be my first trip to India.  I am looking forward to this, and I am dreading it.  I dread it because I know that the needs there will be overwhelming.  I dread it because I will see the conditions of the pastors there, and I will know that I am spoiled and wretched.  This was my experience during the summer in Brazil, and India will be worse.  The pastor at one of the churches I will be going to has no front teeth: an angry Muslim mob knocked them out.  I also dread it because I will be away from my wife and my10 month old son for that long.  But the ministry there and the opportunity far outweigh the costs.  

It will not be ‘safe’ where I am going.  The area is about 80 percent Muslim, and they are hostile to the Christians.  The last time my friend went to speak at the graduation, he was booed down by the Muslims.  Oddly, the Muslims send their children to the Christian school, and then they boo at the graduation and sometimes beat up the church members.

I will be leaving on October the 18th, and I hope to blog from India.  After all, they are the computer wizards, are they not?  Every time I have a computer problem I talk to someone from Bombay, which is where I will land.  I will be posting some thoughts on missions over the next few days, and I would like to hear from some folks on some missions that they are involved with.  

Monday, October 10, 2005

Drawing the Line

For those who are following this “out loud” think through of the issue of baptism and the local church, Pilgrim raises a great point by asking, “Where do we draw the line?”  That is, what does it take for someone to join the membership of the local church.  Where we draw the line on this issue deeply effects how we relate to one another and to other churches.

There are, as I understand historical and biblical theology, two ways for someone to be excluded from local church membership.  One way is by immoral, sinful conduct from which someone is unrepentant.  Secondly, they may be disciplined for teaching doctrinal heresies.  I think that everyone is in agreement on these two standards.

So where would baptism go?  (There is overlap in each category, but an adulterer may be spot on theologically if you quizzed him and still be unrepentant!)  I would think that most would regulate an erroneous doctrine of baptism into the second category.  

Some forms of baptism are, as Brother Terry stated, heresy proper.  I would file any doctrine that teaches baptismal regeneration into that category.  Again, I believe that our Presbyterian friends would largely agree.  (I hope!)  However, Presbyterians do not teach that infant baptism is regenerative in nature, rather, it is an “open door” for covenant children to share in the promises of God. Just as circumcision did not guarantee salvation in the Old Testament, neither does infant baptism guarantee regeneration.  But it does allow the children of believers to move freely about the community and share in its basic benefits.  As a Credo-Baptist, I do not agree with that assessment.  I understand it; I like it; I just do not think that the Bible teaches it!

Now I am stuck with whether or not this is heresy proper.  Technically, I suppose any false teaching could be labeled “heresy”.  But I certainly would not draw lines of fellowship over some teaching on the millennium or end times.  (Unless they denied the second coming altogether!)  I do not believe that the Presbyterian view of baptism is heresy with a capital “H”.  However, I do believe that it is worse than a squabble over the rapture.

In the end, I believe that this issue fits better into the first category.  That is the category of unrepentant sin.  Can someone be inside the universal church and still be in unrepentant sin?  I believe so.  Paul writes, “Deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5).  In this case, the person in question was steeped in gross sexual immorality.  Yet Paul seems to believe that this discipline will not overthrow his salvation.  He believes that the man’s spirit will be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Is an error on the doctrine of baptism as serious as being involved in sexual immorality?  I believe so, and I am cutting myself as well with that statement.  If I am wrong and my Presbyterian brothers are correct about baptism, I am sinning grievously against my son by refusing his baptism.  I cannot describe to you the anguish I would feel over this issue if I were wrong.  Would neglecting infant baptism change my son’s destiny in Christ Jesus?  No, not in itself.  But neither would adultery in itself necessarily end in divorce.  Adultery would hurt my wife and damage our marriage.  Much of the intimacy we now enjoy would be ruined.  It would bring sorrow upon sorrow.  My son’s status regarding election will never be changed, but I do him much grief by not having him baptized if my Presbyterian brothers and sisters are correct.

It cuts the other way if I am correct, and I am convinced that I am.  Infant baptism can indeed lead to a false sense of security in a parent and child regarding the child’s condition.  There are other issues, but I will not belabor them here.  That is not the point of my protest.

So where do we draw the line?  We do not have to draw the line.  It was drawn a few hundred years ago by men like Cranmer and Calvin and Luther.  (Why didn’t Luther and Calvin get together, anyway?)  It is drawn at the Word of God properly taught and the ordinances.  I know that Bethlehem Baptist cares for the paedo-baptist who wants to join the fellowship.  I do too.  But I have a larger responsibility to the local church as a whole, and to the church universal.  I have to hold to what I believe the Word of God teaches, no matter how sweet a brother or sister may be.  So, I protest.  It is as simple as this:  Dear brother or sister, if you wish to join this fellowship you must come by the means which Scripture has proscribed: an obedient believer’s baptism.  If you refuse, then the door is shut and we grieve.  If you are found blameless in every area save this, it still warrants the strictest censure and our earnest admonition.  God speed the day when we may all sit at the same table where this confession will once again be true:  One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism.  Amen.  

Anguish Over Infant Baptism

I truly wanted to write something today on the issue of allowing those who have only received baptism as an infant into the membership of a local Baptist church.  However, I find that the more that I grapple with this question, the more problematic it becomes.  This has tremendous repercussions on the local church, and I am certain that most pastors have not thought through this issue enough.

Let’s look at the big picture first.  Thomas Cranmer wrote this, “The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men in which the pure word of God is preached and the sacraments be duly administered.” (You can find that in the Forty-Two Articles of the church of England.)  I am convinced that if Credo-Baptists (those who believe only in believer’s baptism) will not allow the paedo-baptist into communion (one who has only been infant baptized) then we are, in effect, stating that paedo-baptist congregations are not true churches.  I do not see how we can avoid this implication if we use Cranmer’s (and John Calvin said something very similar in his institutes) definition of the local church.  If we toss Cranmer’s definition, then we are left with redefining what we mean by “local church.”

If we confess that some paedo-baptist congregations are indeed within the church universal, then how can we also disbar them from fellowship at the local level?  This is one of the troubling questions of our day.  It has absolutely preoccupied my mind since I heard of Bethlehem Baptist’s decision to allow paedo-baptists into communion.

On the larger level, this question strikes right at the heart of what it means to be a “church.”  Is a church made up of believer’s only?  If so, what will Bethlehem Baptist do with those paedo-baptists who insist on treating their unbelieving children as members of the church.  Indeed, they do not merely ‘treat’ them this way, they believe that they are members of the church.  In some cases, they refuse to evangelize their children because they are already united with Christ Jesus through the covenant of baptism.  This troubles me greatly.  I cannot accept this for even a moment.

Yet, I hesitate to say that Presbyterian churches are not true churches.  But the implication is there, and for me it is glaring.  If our church continues to practice a membership made up of only professing and then baptized believers, I feel that our church is implicating this very thing.  More troubling, I believe that they may be correct.

Is the Roman Catholic Church a true church?  No.  They teach a gospel that it incompatible with Scripture.  Are there believers inside the Roman Church?  Yes, undoubtedly there are regenerate people inside the Roman Church.  Yet, if a Roman Catholic comes to a Baptist church with a credible confession, fruits of the Holy Spirit, and rejects Roman doctrines, even to the point of rejecting baptismal regeneration, should we allow them into membership without baptizing them?  What if they believe that, while not regenerative, their baptism is valid because infant baptism is valid and they were baptized in the name of the Triune God?

If you do exclude them from membership, then you would probably do so based on the fact that you believe the Roman Catholic Church to be a false church.  But why do you believe it to be false?  Because the Word of God is incorrectly preached and the sacraments are not properly administered?  Or shall we simply change the definition of a true church as “Where the word of God is purely preached.”  This simply begs the question of, “Does the Word of God, rightly preached, teach infant baptism?”  If the answer is no, Rome is still disqualified, and so are the Presbyterians.  Baptists have always taught that the Bible nowhere teaches that infants may be baptized.  Further, we believe that it is extremely dangerous to do so.  

So what is a church?  If we use Cranmer’s definition, then I believe that paedo-baptist congregations are no churches at all.  They are groups of believers, perhaps, meeting together but defying the commandment and teaching of our Lord to be baptized in His name after they make the good confession.  They are being irresponsible with their children and giving themselves a false sense of ‘covenantal’ security. This is a hard saying, and who can stand it?  

Finally, we must ask ourselves if this is a hill to die on.  Is it worth the rift and division that such a stand will certainly cause?  Is this a position to die for?  This is not rhetorical flourish, nor is it the banter of a fighting fundamentalist.

  It was just such an issue for Balthasar Hubmaier.  On March 10, 1528 he was burned at the stake for his belief in Believer’s Baptism.  Three days later, his wife had a stone tied around her neck and was cast into Danube River to drown for the same belief.  Before he was martyred, Hubmaier had already suffered torture at the hands of the authorities of Zurich, under the consent of Ulrich Zwingli.  Frankly, it angers me to think that such men died over what we are now sweeping under the rug without even a peep.

If it is true that the practice of paedo-baptists is unbiblical, then I have no problem saying that they need to repent of this sin. If this makes them protest that such language is accusatory and implies that they are no true church, so be it. My conscience, as were the consciences of the Reformers before me, is bound to the Word of God. If I am in error, then I hope that I may find the humility to listen to correction.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Sermon Stealing?

Preaching is the most wonderful thing in the world.  I love to preach, and I love to listen to good preaching.  Occasionally, I even enjoy listening to myself preach.  I can’t tell if that’s conceited or not, but I can’t seem to find any preacher with whom I agree more often than myself.  That is, as long as I don’t go too far back into the archives.  In fact, I believe that one of the greatest signs that you may be called to preach is when you are dissatisfied with everyone else’s preaching.  When you find yourself being that critical, go and try it yourself.  Call me, and I’ll come listen and scowl through it so you’ll know what your old pastor felt like.

Alas, I digress.  The point of this short post is centered around sermon thievery.  I am adept at swiping sermons and quotes.  In defense of my plagiarism, I must admit that I do not always do it on purpose.  I read a lot.  I’m an admitted book-o-phile.  So sometimes a quote will come to me as I am preaching, and I’ll just let’er rip.

Most often though, my thievery is on purpose.  I spend all week studying a passage for preaching.  I even study the Greek.  I have the most wonderful, lazy Greek student program available in the modern world:  BibleWorks 6.0.  It was expensive, but worth every last penny.  It’s like having Daniel Wallace and Bruce Metzger and A.T. Robertson standing over my shoulder in the study going, “Ooo!  Did you notice that Aorist there?  Did you notice that participle?  Why do you think Paul wrote it like that?  Wow!!  What an interesting textual variant!  Do you think that’s original?”  In some ways, it is a good time to be a preacher.

Here is where the stealing comes in.  By the time Saturday rolls around, I begin to realize that I am not where I want to be with the passage.  I feel woefully inadequate.  So, I go to www.desiringgod.org and click on one of John Piper’s sermons.  Then, I break out my John MacArthur.  After that, I rummage through my commentaries for one last time.  I grab nuggets from all of these people for my sermons.  It’s a group effort.

I do not feel the least bit guilty about this.  First of all, I am not looking to be original.  I am looking to be informative, precise, and expositional.  Secondly, I would be extremely happy if someone stole one of my sermons, especially if they had studied all week and still liked what I said better than what they had come up with.  Finally, I am reminded of an anecdote that supposedly happened to Charles Spurgeon.  Apparently he had gone out of town on a trip, and he had stopped by the local church to attend services.  That morning, a young man preached one of Charles Spurgeon’s sermons.  He had ripped off the Prince of Preachers!  (He could have done worse!)  After the service, Charles Spurgeon supposedly went down to the front to meet the pastor.  The poor pastor was immediately dismayed and embarrassed because he knew what he’d done.  As he began to apologize, Spurgeon supposedly thanked the pastor very graciously and sincerely and said, “It was good of God to feed me with food I had prepared for others.”

I usually give credit where credit is due in my sermons, and I always do it when I’m writing.  (To my knowledge I have, anyway.)  But if I forget someone in a sermon, or if I don’t give credit to Augustine, Lewis, Piper, MacArthur, Pink, or the guy down the block, they’ll get credit in heaven.  

Friday, October 07, 2005

A Moment of Glory and Humiliation

Since I have already dedicated a good number of my life’s embarrassing moments here for the world to read, I thought I might as well share one more.  They seem to be entertaining, and maybe somebody somewhere can glean something of spiritual significance from the humilities my Savior allows me to go through.  This one has to do with pride.

When I was a high school student, I was always looking for legitimate ways to get out of class.  I joined the French Club, FFA, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Chess Club, and etc.  Another upshot of this is that my picture is in my Senior annual about twenty times.  I look like I have real school spirit.  Who would know that I was really a slacker in disguise?

One of the ingenious things that I did to avoid class was to join the track team.  (I also needed to do this to get in the FCA.)  Since I was too skinny for football, too short for basketball, and too clumsy for baseball, my only hope was track.  I was neither fast, nor could I jump far, nor could I throw a shot-put or discus.  My only hope was long distance running.  I cannot believe the lengths that I would go to in order to miss class.

So, I ran the 800 meter ‘dash’ and the mile and the mile relay.  It hurt.  Bad.  But I did it anyway.  I was mediocre at best.  I never placed in the top three in the history of my career.  Usually, I finished a respectable “middle of the pack.”  

The only time anyone even cared about track was at the County tournament.  At that meet, we would actually have people show up. Not a great crowd, but enough to notice that people were there.  This year, we had a slightly larger crowd than usual.  Our biggest rival, Boaz, had a guy on there team who was actually a machine.  He was inhuman, really.  Guess what his best event was?  The mile run.  This guy was going for the county record this year.  It had stood for approximately twenty years.  He had to run the mile in under 4 minutes and 15 seconds.  Folks, that is trucking.  This guy had run under that in practice, but never at an official meet.

My time for the mile run was around 5 minutes and forty five seconds, on average.  Once, I actually ran a 5 minute 15 second mile.  Not too shabby.  The problem with this time is that it left me in real danger of being lapped.  Lapped in a mile run!  That’s a humiliating thing to have to endure, especially if your humility comes at the hands of your biggest rival.

Another terrible thing about this guy was that he was cool.  He ran in Oakley’s, and he never lost.  I was a skinny, white-legged nerd.  He was a bronze, Oakley wearing champion. How I envied and despised him.

At the starting line, I was filled with dread.  Chiefly, I dreaded the intense pain that I was about to go through.  The horror of Algebra class helped to deaden this pain.  I would rather be beaten with a stick than go to Algebra.  Also, I was seriously afraid that Mr. Perfect was going to lap me in front of everyone.  I couldn’t let that happen.

At the sound of the gun, we all took off like a shot, especially Mr. Oakley.  You’d have to see the guy run to appreciate it.  He ran like a deer.  He was graceful, fluid, fast, and tireless.  He left us all in the dust.

For a while, I lost track of my rival.  I was concentrating on running and sucking wind.  The intense pain that running causes made me actually forget the guy altogether, that is until the last leg of the third lap.

I was used to be passed up.  I have already admitted that I am not much of an athlete.  So when I heard footsteps pounding behind me, I thought little of it.  I scooted over to let the guy pass.  I was competitive but courteous.  As he whizzed by me, I saw that it was Mr. Oakley.

I was shocked and dismayed.  The dude really was going to lap me…over my dead body!  I gritted my teeth and ran.  I ran so hard that I thought my lungs would explode.  I couldn’t hear, and I couldn’t see.  The only thing I was aware of was the pounding of Mr. Oakley’s feet to my right.  He was hurting, I could tell.  I could also tell that he was flagging and falling behind me.

On the back stretch of lap three, I toasted Mr. Oakley.  He was worn out and couldn’t keep up.  I felt elated as I crossed the finish line; he hadn’t lapped me.

That’s when I noticed the crowd.  The entire crowd was up on its feet cheering like mad.  My hometown’s section was in, what seemed to me, a frenzy.  It looked like that we had just scored a touchdown in football.  I was confused.  Then I realized what had happened.  They thought I had beaten him.

You see, many of the people who had come that day had come to see Mr. Oakley set the record.  But it’s hard to pay close attention to a long foot race; they are boring.  All they noticed was that when Superman came down the backstretch he had some competition, and they could further see that both guys were running to “win.”  They saw the Champ drop back and finish behind.  It was the upset of the century.

I was mortified.  The crowd would certainly learn the truth in a couple moments.  I thought, “I’ll pretend it’s a victory lap!  I’ll just wave to the people as I jog around my last lap.  That’ll fool them.”  But I couldn’t.  I was too tired and humiliated to lift my hands.  The cheers died.  They were replaced by confusion.  Then people started figuring out what had happened.  I went from nerd to hero and back to nerd again in about 45 seconds.

As I gasped across the finish line in the back of the pack, one last, horrible thought went through my oxygen deprived brain:  This is worse than doing Algebra.

There is one happy thing about this entire tale of my humiliation.  Mr. Perfect missed the county record by eight seconds.  Ha!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Baptism and Exclusion

I have a burning question running through my head and heart right now that is being stoked by the fires of this ‘baptism’ controversy.  It may not be controversial to you, but I believe that this issue is a big, big deal.  I believe that this issue forces us to examine what we mean by “church membership.”  I believe that this issue forces us to examine what we mean by “church.”  It also drives us to define what we believe about baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and church discipline.  It makes us examine what it means to be a pastor and teacher.  It defines how we understand a confessing church, and it compels us to deal with whether faith or baptism is the door to the church.  It causes us to examine how the faith of a believing parent affects the heart of an unregenerate child, or if infants of believing parents are to be treated as unregenerate at all!  There is much at stake in this issue.

As I mentioned in an earlier post the church over which John Piper serves as elder, Bethlehem Baptist Church, has voted to allow confessing believers to join the church membership even if they refuse New Testament baptism.  To be clear, they say that they will not allow someone to join if they have never been baptized at all, but this simply begs the question.  “What is baptism?”  If baptism is something done to professing believers only and by immersion, then nothing else qualifies as baptism at all.  If that premise stands, then Bethlehem Baptist has voted to allow non-baptized members to join the membership of the congregation.

I understand the impulse behind this move.  (Since I last posted, I have read over sections of the statement that Bethlehem Baptist has put out on this issue.)  If I am consistent in my position, I would have to withhold the Lord’s Supper from R.C. Sproul, Ligon Duncan, and if they were alive, Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield and John Calvin and Martin Luther.  All of whom are tremendous heroes of mine.  All of whom I trust are safe and secure by grace alone to Christ alone forever.  I embrace them as brothers, and I love their work and exhortation dearly, and I am grateful to God for them.

But they are and were wrong about baptism.  It is not for infants.  Baptism does not replace circumcision.  Baptism cannot bring the faithless into the fold of the church.  Baptism does not regenerate the soul.  With all of the statements of this paragraph, I trust, the elders of Bethlehem Baptist would agree.  Yet, they have still decided to allow members into the church based on a profession of faith alone without submitting to the clear New Testament teaching of baptism.

Here is where I am really upset about this.  The Lord Jesus Christ left us with two ordinances.  Two.  That’s it.  Was the practice of baptism and the commandment of our Lord so unclear that we cannot even figure out how to practice the only ordinances He left us!  Can we not stand, without wavering, on the New Testament practice of believer’s baptism without capitulating to the tug of our heartstrings?  Yes, I love Sproul and Calvin and Edwards, but love requires me to say that they were wrong.  If I am in error on this, I would expect the same courtesy from them.  In point of fact, I spent a good portion of my day yesterday in dialogue with John Calvin via his Institutes on this very subject.  I listened intently.  I took notes.  And may I say that he had very harsh words for me.  He lumped me into a category with a man that was beheaded in his Geneva (Michael Servetus).  He railed against my position as ridiculous.  It was no minor matter to my dear friend Calvin.  I respect him for that.

I respect him for another error which I believe he avoided.  It is an error that is rampant in our society and our churches.  While he held to the priesthood of all believers, he never elevated the individual over the health of the church as a whole.  The church of God is more important than you and I.  I do not care if it hurts my brother’s feelings and breaks my heart, infant baptism is wrong.  I do not care how ancient the practice or how venerated its advocates, it is nowhere taught in the Sacred Scriptures and its practice cannot now be presumed as if we were at liberty to presume on God’s Word!  If it is taught there, then produce the evidence.  Believer’s Baptism is as clearly presented as the Trinity.

Here is what I explicitly and exclusively see in the New Testament:

  1. Believer’s are baptized.  That’s all I ever see in the New Testament.  

  2. They are baptized by immersion.

In future posts, if God permits, I am going to deal with a few subjects that relate directly to this subject:

  1. Can we bar someone from communion and still believe that he is regenerate?

  2. John Bunyan’s unsuccessful attempt to convince Baptists of this very position.

  3. The nature of The Lord’s Supper in the Church.  (open vs. close vs. semi-close.)
4.  Anything else that may pop up due to interest.


Wow. It seems that I have jumped up the evolutionary chain to a Slithering Reptile. In case you do not know what that means yet, there is a ranking system in the blogworld that rates you based on the number of links you have and your average daily visits. It is ranked on an "evolutionary" scale. I just popped up to "Slithering Reptile" from "Crawly Amphibian." I think I'll go sun myself.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Current Issue of Baptism

Arguing theology often feels like having to re-invent the wheel.  The reality of the matter is that no one out there is really coming up with “new theology.”  Most often, it is the simple rehashing of old heresies or the needed re-emphasis of neglected doctrine.  It is frustrating as a theologically minded pastor to see these things crop up again and again.  It’s like playing that game where the little weasels pop up and you smack them with the little mallet.

One thing that is popping up its ugly head in Baptist circles these days is the issue of baptism.  Of all the issues that could pop up in Baptist life, one would think that Baptists would know where they stand on this issue.  Apparently, we do not.

At Bethlehem Baptist Church, where John Piper is the pastor, they have decided to allow paedo-baptists (infant baptizers) into the local Church membership.  They cannot hold the office of elder, as I understand, nor can they occupy a teaching position.  However, they can become regular members of the Church on every other level.  While I sympathize with the spirit in which this is done, I am dismayed that it has come to pass.  I believe that Bethlehem Baptist is wrong about this.  I believe that it is a capitulation to the spirit of the age masked as charity towards fellow Christians.

Now, those are fighting words and I know it.  Let me make a few things clear from the outset:  First, I love John Piper.  I pre-ordered his newest book, and I have read through Let the Nations Be Glad and The Pleasures of God more than once.  Indeed, I have read almost everything the man has written.  Intellectually, I cannot loosen the man’s sandal strap.  As for zeal, he consistently shames me.  So I take the stand against him with great sadness in this issue.

Currently, I am struggling with where to begin in my refutation of this nasty thing that they are proposing to do.  I am further struggling with whether or not to post my thoughts here on this blog or on ThirstySoul.  I am leaning towards ThirstySoul because this website was not created to be a deep theological site.  Rather, I created it so that my fellow members at FBC Plaquemine could get to know their pastor better, and so that I might make new friends across the internet, and possibly share my devotion to Jesus Christ and His Excellency with those who are not Christians.  Finally, I hoped that it would be an encouragement to my brothers and sisters across this nation and others to hear my testimony, to read some of my thoughts on Scripture, and to get to know another brother in general.  It was not designed for “in house” debate.

For now, my thoughts one the matter will simply have to remain provocative and without much content.  However, it does do two things:  One, it lets you know that I am absolutely against what Bethlehem Baptist is doing.  Secondly, it will let me know what the level of interest is on this subject.  In the near future I pray God will bless me with the time and discipline to organize my objections and thoughts into a more clear refutation of what I see as folly for a well-respected and most beloved Church.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Do Not Lose Heart

I was reminded today of the simple truth of the gospel.  The good news about the love of God for me demonstrated in the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth is so rich and deep and wonderful that I need to hear it and think of it everyday.  It is as wonderful as falling in love again and again and again.  It consumes me.  At least it should.

As a pastor, it is easy for me to lose sight of the simplicity of it all, the beauty of it all.  I spend much of my time studying and reading in order to be prepared.  I worry about “Auburn Avenue” theology and Bethlehem Baptist’s admission of infant baptizers and Jehovah Witness theology and Mormons and Roman Catholics and on and on and on.  I am prepared for debates which I will likely never have.  I do not want to be caught flat footed.  Not for my sake, but for the sake of those I am charged to watch over.  I want to be ready; I want to be faithful.

In all of this study and preparation, it is easy to lose sight of the good news.  This causes despair and fatigue.  I lose sight of the gospel because the church members do not respond as I wish they would, or we do not see the conversions I’d like to see, or when my devotions dry up like a river bed.  This is a common experience for everyone I believe.  Here’s what your list of troubles may look like:  You worry for your lost son; you struggle in your marriage; you struggle with a lost parent; you struggle to pay the bills; you struggle with past sins that haunt your life, and etc.  

Paul, Peter, Timothy, Luke all felt this way at times.  They got discouraged.  They felt the bleakness of despair.  So how did they climb out of such a dark hole?  Look at this quote. Revel in it.  Wash in it.

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.  Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart”  (2 Corinthians 3:18-4:1)

How did Paul not lose heart in the face of rejection by his countrymen, beatings, being stoned, being shipwrecked, being a prisoner, and ever losing his life?  He said he did not lose heart because he remembered the mercy of the cross.  Paul saw a crucified Messiah.  He knew that the Messiah groaned for him.  When people beat Paul and scorned him and mocked him and treated him cruelly, Paul needed something powerful to drive away despair.  His solution was to turn to the truths that he could not deny: the gospel of Jesus Christ had changed him, was changing him, and that Jesus Christ was crucified on behalf of Saul of Tarsus.  This was enough to keep him from losing heart.

So dear reader, when the cold shadow of despair steals over your soul, remember these words, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).  The Father gave you His Son, the most valuable treasure in the Universe.  By comparison, the world and its fullness are nothing.  Sometimes, I must remember to put down my book and let go of my conflicting thoughts and think, “The Son of God bled for you, therefore you should not lose heart.”  I remember reading a book that admonished me to preach the gospel to myself every day.  I think that is very, very good advice, don’t you?

Pacifism and My Abducted Garbage Can

Oddly enough, I had already decided to write on this subject today when I noticed that the Pyromaniac had chosen this topic for the day.  While his post is more theologically reasoned and probably altogether better, mine is at least more practical, experiential, and much funnier.  Mine is a “rubber meets the road” post.  This really happened to me.

I spent most of yesterday in Baton Rouge visiting a friend who had to have a six by-pass surgery on his heart.  I didn’t even know that you could have six by-passes!  My wife and son went with me because this family is so close to our hearts.  We stayed and prayed and provided whatever measure of cheer and hope that we could, then we made the trek to our home.

Everything appeared to be normal when we returned to the house.  The doors were locked; no windows were broken, and the dog seemed happy.  Little did I suspect the scenario that was about to play out over the course of yesterday and this morning.

Yesterday was also the day before trash pick-up.  Since it is my duty as a man to see to it that the trash gets from the house to the road, my wife was naturally rounding up all the indoor trash and taking it out to the outdoor can.  After which she would return and smugly remind me that I had once again neglected my duty, and that the least I could do now was finish the job by dragging the trash to the road.  It did not go as she suspected.

I was sitting at the computer when she returned.  She had a shocked look on her face.  This was not the look that I had suspected because I had already figured out that she was rounding up the trash.  I had already assumed the humbled, sheepish look of a man who had once again neglected his duty.  As I blinked confusedly, she uttered this statement, “The neighbor has our garbage can.”

I continued to blink confusedly.  She explained again, “The neighbor has our garbage can.”  I said, “The neighbor has our garbage can?”  She said, “Yes, the neighbor has our garbage can.”  I said, “Why does the neighbor have our garbage can?”  She said, “I don’t know, but he has our garbage can.”  I said, “Oh.”

I got up from my seat and went over to peek out the blinds at the neighbor’s yard.  Sure enough, amongst the other five garbage cans this particular neighbor had sitting out by the road, there was a green one that looked suspiciously like mine.  To complicate matters, it was stuffed full of trash.  The neighbor’s trash, that is.  Not mine.  My trash was sitting on the carport where my wife left it.

Several possibilities ran through my head.  “Maybe he took it by mistake,” I thought.  But then I would think, “How can you take a garbage can by mistake?”  “Well, maybe the garbage men threw it into the wrong yard.”  I knew that this was no good because I had seen the can in my yard the day before.  “Maybe the wind blew it over there.”   The logical guy in me said, “Yeah, right.”  “Maybe they stole it out of my yard!” I deduced.  “Perhaps, but let’s not be hasty.”

I pondered what to do.  Should I just go over there and take it?  I mean, I still had the matching lid in my carport.  I could prove to the CSI people that it was my can if a question arose.  But then there was the problem of it being already full of trash.  That means it would do me no good unless I dumped the neighbor’s trash out.  That’s rather impolite, especially if it was an accident that my can wound up in his yard.

My wife was looking for me to do something.  After all, I am the man of the house.  I mean, if I let someone waltz over and take my garbage can in broad daylight without a word.  Next thing to go will be my lawnmower, then my weedeater, and eventually my wife will leave too.  Who wants to be married to a sissified man?  This garbage can thing was serious business.

What would John Wayne do?  What would Jesus do?  What would Gilligan do?  While I wanted to be manly like John Wayne and waltz over and fight my way to the garbage can, I knew that Jesus might not approve of this.  I honestly had no idea how Jesus would handle this.  Nobody ever took His garbage can.  To my horror, I realized that Gilligan would probably be looking through his blinds at the neighbor’s yard like a weenie, which is exactly what I was doing.  I am definitely more Gilliganish than John Wayne-ish.  My wife proved that she was the Skipper by verbally smacking me over the head with, “Well, what are you going to do?”  “Well,” I said, “I’m going to wait until after the trash pick up tomorrow and go and get my trash can.”  “Oh,” she said.  For the rest of the day I peeked out the blinds at my garbage can sitting there with another man’s trash in it.

This morning, I rose with a determined plan.  I would go and get the can. But how?  Should I knock on the door and talk to the neighbor?  Or should I just go covert?  What if the neighbor confronted me in the middle of the operation and it turned nasty? This was the real question that burned in my mind.

Let’s take the worst case scenario.  Let’s pretend that my neighbor is some sort of nefarious garbage can stealer, as evidenced by the multitude of mismatched garbage cans he has in his yard.  Let’s further speculate that he is a bruiser.  A real mean guy who twists off people’s arms and steals garbage cans for fun.  What would I do if he came out and confronted me?  Should I fight over a garbage can?  Certainly not!  No, I would fight over the principle of the thing.  That’s my garbage can people!  I have the lid and everything!

Then I thought, “Okay, let’s say he waltzes over and says, ‘Hey, what do you think you’re doing, skinny preacher?!’”  I’ll say, “Getting back my garbage can sir.”  And he says, “Well, I'll just beat your brains out then!”  Then he proceeds to try, and I actually get lucky and knock him out flat in the road.  Then I think, “Would I get fired as a pastor if I punch out my neighbor over a garbage can?”  I knew I could keep my job if I simply got beat up over it.  The pity factor would help me keep my job if I got whipped, the problem with the job would be winning the fight. It's weird how we admire a guy getting beat up on principle, but we dislike someone winning on principle.

By the time I had thought through all of this is was nearing 9am.  The garbage man had come and gone, and I was late for work.  Through the blinds I could see my empty garbage can laying by the road.

Foolishly and without a plan, I walked across the street with my lid, stuck it on my garbage can, and walked back home with it.  I never did figure out whether or not I should resort to fisticuffs over a garbage can, but the Skipper is happy, and so is Gilligan.  I guess that makes a happy ending.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Bathroom Humor with Martin Luther

I have to confess something to you all, I was a bit nervous about posting the bathroom episode for the whole world to read, but I simply could not help myself.  Try as I might, I cannot help being the semi-doofus that I am.  I struggle with this aspect of my personality.  I am afraid that it makes me less Puritanish.

I do, however, have a scapegoat.  I blame everything on Martin Luther.  I think that he has rescued me from turning into a stiff shirt on more than one occasion.  John Calvin, theological genius that he was, is not known for his sense of humor.  At the risk of having rotten tomatoes thrown at me, I will also confess that I can only take him in doses.  Yes, I learn from him.  Yes, I admire him.  Yes, I wish I could grow a pointy beard like he had just once. I simply can’t read him all the time.  I start to wither.  I sometimes need a good laugh.

When I do start to grow old and dusty like a book page, before my time I might add, I turn to Martin Luther.  I pick one of his magnificent Three Treatises and I read it.  They are so not boring!  He is definitely my favorite old, dead Reformational writer hands down.  I highly, highly recommend you to read his Three Treatises.

However, and this is why I can blame my problems on Luther, do not pick up Luther’s Tabletalk if you are easily offended.  Also, I must warn you that Luther often talked about potty habits.  Having the juvenile, immature mind that I have, he cracks me up.