Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Sovereignty of God and Riding a Hawg

In just two short weeks, I shall begin my endeavor at higher education once again. I have a few hurdles to jump through, which I will now share, and you may put forth your two cents.

One is that this enterprise shall cost me around $400 a month in tuition. Can you say, "OUCH!" They ain't giving book learnin' away, that's for sure. That's only as a non-degree student; I tremble to think of what the actual Ph.D program will run me.

The second challenge is that my car is a clunker and it's 90 miles from my house to the seminary. That's roughly 360 miles a week on a car that I sometimes doubt will get me across the street. With the above tuition, a new vehicle is not an option. Unless....

Though I can't affod a new car, I can afford to get myself a Yamaha V-Star 650 Classic. That's a motorcycle folks, and a fine one at that. It gets over 50mpg, won't get blown off the road by passing diesel trucks, and it reeks of manliness. I daydream about riding that bad boy to seminary. I'll be the Ph.D student who has cool chaps, rides in the rain, sleet and snow, and is generally the envy of all the other students. Except the music guys, they are a different lot.

However, my wife and friends are not entirely keen on this idea. (We even have a few bike riders at church who are uneasy with this. It's sort of like a smoking parent threatening to whip a child if they start smoking I guess.) They are afraid I will wind up splattered on I-10 East between here and New Orleans. Though I have repeatedly reminded them that God is Sovereign, and that dying is actually not so bad, and that I will exercise the utmost caution, they have not yet been persuaded. I tell them that in Brazil, Italy, and Portugal, everyone rides a motorbike. They don't care.

Here's the bottom line: the bike is awesome, inexpensive, environmentally friendly, and gobs of fun to ride. And, it could be a good draw to church for the local motorcycle gang. (You never know.) The downside is that I could wind up roadkill faster than you can say "Idiot Preacher!" I promised my wife that if I get one, I will up my life insurance policy. That helped a little, and I believe that she commented that next time she will marry for common sense and money and not just handsome.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Back to School

After much thought, several Alka-Seltzer's, and a trip to New Orleans, it seems that Divine Providence would allow me to return once again to school in pursuit of a Ph.D in Systematic Theology. I have a few things that I have to do before I can be officially in the program at New Orleans, but they are not insurmountable nor are they altogether dreaded.

First, I must register for the following year as a non-degree student. I have to have a good deal of German, which I chose over French and Latin, and an advanced exegesis class in Greek. I have chosen a class covering the book of Hebrews. Further, I must take the GRE next Tuesday, turn in a paper I've written, (do you suppose I could simply direct them to the blog?) and have a test and interview. If all goes well, I should be learning great things as a Ph.D student by the fall of 2007.

The challenges are many. I have to get serious about my Greek again. It has, I am afraid to say, gone soft due to my greedy dependence upon BibleWorks. I will also be absent from home for at least two days a week, it is an hour and a half to the seminary from my house. This puts more of a strain on the pastorate and family life. All things considered, I believe this to be a wise decision despite the challenges.

So pray for me, offer your thoughts, and in five years or so you can call me "Doc." I will probably be puffed up with pride for 3 months after I earn the hood and insist on it, then God will humiliate me, and I will beg to be Brad again.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Best Job Ever

Of all the various and sundry jobs that I have had in my life to scrape together enough dollars to survive, I believe that being a Pizza Delivery guy was my favorite. It was an adventurous job, and sometimes it was fairly dangerous. But all in all, I enjoyed it more than I probably should have.

Being a pizza delivery man (not pizza delivery boy) is a lot like being a garbage man. What I mean is that all children think that your job is the coolest in the universe. Think about it, to a kid, what could possibly be more awesome than driving around giving pizza to people. They probably have fantasies that the pizza man gets to eat all the free pizza he can stand. Imagine these ingredients to a kid: Drive a car, listen to the radio, eat pizza until you're sick. Beautiful. And basically, that's pretty much true. That is, to my mind, the ultimate dream job for every kid.

How this is similar to being a garbage man should be fairly obvious. Even though every kid wants to ride on the back of the garbage truck and be the garbage man, every parent knows that garbage is disgusting and the pay leaves something to be desired. Typically, the parent points to the garbage man and says, "Now son, if you don't get an education, you'll wind up doing that for a living." This is, in my humble opinion, about the most idiotic, demeaning, scandalous, rotten, stuck-up thing an adult can say to a child. The garbage man should hop off the back of his truck and stick dad in the chute for saying such a thing. There's nothing wrong with hard, smelly work and not being wealthy.

I know that parents told their kids that if they didn't get an education, they'd wind up delivering pizzas for the rest of their life. Unfortunately, I actually had a bachelor's degree and was working on a Master's, and I still had to deliver pizzas. Even worse, I wasn't ashamed of it, and I actually enjoyed it. Further, I believe that God took pleasure in my pizza delivery. It grew my faith, and I rejoiced in the fact that I had money to spend. How, you may ask, did it grow my faith? It helped me to be more patient and less angry.

Here are several things that used to make me exceedingly angry that God used to mellow me out:

1. People who do not know where they live. You may be one of these people. You may have lived in your house for 20 years, but you couldn't tell someone how to get there if they were across the street. You used to aggravate me. How can you expect to get a piping hot pizza to your house if even you don't know where you live? Plus, you probably get mad when your pizza's late, and it's because you "forgot" to tell the driver about that second turn in your subdivision.

2. Stingy people. Let's face it, the reason that you have the guy bring the pizza to your house is because you are too lazy to get in your car and go get it yourself. Yet, when this dude drives across town, burning his own gas, you don't have the decency to give the guy at least $2. If you are one of those people whose order comes to $10.57, and you give $11 and say, "Keep the change!" You should be flogged. Horsewhipped. Tarred and feathered. Skull-dragged. (This is not from anger, it is simple truth.) I actually had a person give me .25 cents as a tip, in the rain, and as she handed it to me, it dropped to the ground through the cracks in her porch. She looked at me, standing there rain-soaked and said, "Well, there's goes your quarter." What a great opportunity for spiritual growth!

3. Trailer parks. I hate trailer parks because every trailer looks the same in the dark. And if you knock on the wrong door, they will gladly take the pizza and pay you for it. That means you have to come back to the trailer park, waste more gas, and deliver the pizza to the angry guy whose pizza should have been there an hour ago. All this equals, "No tip for you!"

This may not seem like much, but I assure you that there is plenty of room for growth from those few peeves. But all in all, especially on Mondays, I wistfully remember being the pizza delivery man. Those were the days.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Children, Adults, and Professions of Faith

I was doing some reading over at Centuri0n's place and I found this article linked there. It is by Mark Dever, and the gist of the short post is how we determine "genuine" professions of faith.

This is an important topic for Baptists especially. One of our hallmarks is that we believe in regenerate Church membership. That is, you cannot join the church without a valid profession of faith. Once someone has been recognized as having a valid profession, and then follows with a valid baptism, then they may join with full rights and privileges. In most Baptist churches, that means they get an equal vote and voice in the business meeting.

The problem is that sometimes folks who think they get saved really don't get saved. They may be simply trying to get saved. That is, they hear the evangelist, realize that they are in big trouble because of sin, and decide that a trip down to the front and a hand-shake may put them back on decent terms with "the Man Upstairs."

Another problematic part of an 'invitational' conversion is that children sometimes walk the aisle to talk to the preacher or evangelist. I'm all for children being saved, mind you. I just get nervous about the reality of conversion in anyone under ten. It can happen; I'm sure of it. However, it may be a response to pressure or manipulation and being scared of the boogey man also. Such things need to be handled with the utmost care for the sake of both the individual and the health of the church.

Typical scenario is this: a child gets "saved" and baptized at six. They live like the devil until they get married at 28 and have kids themselves. They feel guilty about their children being raised in a reprobate home, and so they go and rejoin the local church. Of course, this thrills mom and dad that their wayward children have "come back to Jesus" and the pastor is happy because now more people are there on Sunday and the numbers look better. The biting reality might be, however, that while the new church members are now more moral, they are still lost and will ultimately cause problems in the church if the previous "profession" at six is not earnestly questioned by the pastor or somebody who knows better. Again, this must be handled with care, but it needs to be handled. 22 years of rank rebellion cannot...or should swept under the rug with a "nevermind about that" attitude.

I believe that it is wise to inspect the life of a professing believer for some sort of spiritual fruit. Without some sort of safeguard at the 'front door,' the church is basically defenseless against false converts. I don't think Mark Dever is out to lunch on this, do you?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

More on Mark Driscoll

Since I wrote a review on Confessions of a Reformission Rev. and no one was killed, I thought I'd do a review of his interview with Christianity Today magazine. If you want to skip my commentary and read it for yourself, you can check it out here.

You may ask yourself, "Why, dear brother, are you spending so much time on Mark Driscoll?" The answer is because he is extremely influential, and because he isn't boring. He may be wrong, but he's never boring. Also, I think that he's right a good bit of the time.

The interview only consists of a few questions. I will deal with two of my favorites. I'll give his abbreviated responses here.

Question #1:

What are some of the major blind spots of megachurches?

Driscoll: The major blind spot of megachurches is that they tend to be very effeminate with aesthetics, music, and preaching perfectly tailored for moms...many of the men who find it appealing are the types to sing prom songs to Jesus and learn about their feelings while sitting in a seafoam green chair drinking herbal tea—the spiritual equivalent of Richard Simmons.

Me: HA!

Question #2: This is actually the best question, and Driscoll gives a three part, alliterated answer...which means this isn't the first time he's been asked this.

What do you think needs to be the relationship between church and culture?

Driscoll: The difficulty is that there are actually three ways that faithful Christians and churches must respond to culture:

Reject—Some aspects of a culture are simply sinful and should be rejected by God's people. In our day this would include sexual sins (fornication, pornography, homosexuality, adultery), illegal drug use, and the pluralistic notion that every religion is an equally valid path to salvation.

Receive—Some aspects of a culture are the result of common grace and should be received by God's people. Examples in our day would include stewarding and enjoying creation, building community, and acts of mercy for the poor, widows, orphans, sick, and elderly.

Redeem—Some aspects of a culture are, in and of themselves, morally neutral but are used for evil, and can be redeemed for good. Examples in our day include using media portals (e.g., internet, podcast, vodcast) for the gospel, celebrating sex within heterosexual marriage, and spending money and using power in such a way that honors Jesus and demonstrates his love for people.

I very much like the answers to questions one and two, but I have a quibble with number 3. "Celebrating sex within heterosexual marriage" is not a morally neutral issue. Sex is a good gift from God. People use this gift sinfully, but sex in itself is intrinsically good. In fact, I'm not certain that anything is actually "neutral." Picking your nose is gross in company, but very helpful and good in private, especially if something flies into your nostril. In other words, it isn't the use of the thing that makes it evil or good. The act may be reprehensible precisely because it abuses the good thing itself, which is ultimately an insult that that object's Creator. Perhaps some of you will disagree. I'd like to hear all about it if you do.

If you haven't already, it would be worh your while to go and read that interview. Let me know what you think, there's a lot more interesting stuff in there than what I've covered here.

Oh yeah, and thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

No Wonder the Kings were so Lousy.

I have always wondered why great men like Solomon could have such lousy children. It is fairly common in the books of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles to read of a great King after God's own heart, only to have a son that is a worthless reprobate. This always bugged me, and it especially bugs me now that I have an heir to my empire. (Two baseball hats and a car payment is about all I'll be able to leave him at this point, but still, I've worked for years to earn the right to that kind of debt.)

Today, as I was reading through 2 Chronicles, I think I stumbled upon the answer to this puzzle, at least in part. In fact, I can't believe I didn't think of it before, and I am certain that others have pointed out this glaringly obvious thing, but I missed it. This was the verse that struck me, and it wasn't even talking about a very good King. Here's the verse:

Abijah grew mighty, married fourteen wives, and begot twenty-two sons and sixteen daughters. (2 Chronicles 13:21)

I was stunned. I've probably read through 2 Chronicles a half dozen times, and I've known since my youth that Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines, but today I was floored. It wasn't the fourteen wives that stunned me today; it was the 38 children.

The reason this stunned me is because I spent the better part of the morning chasing my only son around the house with a wooden spoon to whack his derriere with. He told me no; he ran from me; he hid from me; he touched every forbidden object in the house, and what he touched, he tried to eat. He threw himself into a fit because I wouldn't let him drink Windex. His mom, my wife, was ready to give him to the garbage man. And I've got one son. One. And I can't get him to do a single thing without brute force.

Now, multiply this scenario times fourteen wives and twenty-two sons and sixteen daughters. I'll do the math for you 22 sons + 16 daughters = a dad who will never come home. Ever. I guarantee you that this man abdicated the responsibility for his own kids to somebody else. You cannot run a country, fight Philistines, keep fourteen women happy, and raise 38 godly children. Sorry, not possible. I have one son, one wife, and a small church and I still feel guilty that someone else taught my son that frog's say "Ribbit."

So, that's my amazing pastoral insight for today. Having only one wife is good for a multitude of reasons. One is that at some point, say at around 12, your one wife will kill you, probably, if you go for one more. Even if you do have 38 with one women, you've still cut out 13 wives from the equation, and that means more time and less women to escape to when you're being a lousy father to her 3 kids. Now, I completely understand why it was a miracle if a King's son didn't turn out to be a reprobate.

Coincidently, this also explains why castles were so big, and why they had all those secret passages. It wasn't to escape from enemies; it was to flee wives and children.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

A Review of Mark Driscoll's Confessions of a Reformission Rev.

Since things move at the speed of fad in the blogworld, I am very behind in reading and reviewing Mark Driscoll's Confessions of a Reformission Rev. Thank goodness I am a firm believer in the old adage "last is not least," I decided to give you my two cents on this book.

First, for those of you who do not know, let me introduce Mark Driscoll to you. He is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington. He began the church in the early nineties, and today it has grown to over 5,000. You can check the church out here. Pastor Driscoll is known as part of the "emerging" church, which is notoriously difficult to define. As best as I understand, the emerging church seeks to bring the gospel into the culture without compromising the gospel. At least, that's what Mars Hill tries to do. Some of the problem with Emergent churches is that they teach erroneous doctrine. Pastor Driscoll makes it clear that he does not agree doctrinally with everyone known as emergent. He puts himself on the conservative end of the movement.

It's hard to know where to begin, but I'll begin with the title. The most prominent word in the title is the word "Confessions." Personally, I did not feel like I was reading a confession. Certainly, Pastor Driscoll confesses mistakes he made, but not as one would expect from a confessional. The confessions were written more as, "Man, I screwed up here, and it almost killed me." This is not to say that it is wrong to write about sin as such, but a quality of humility about such sins was decidedly missing. Even a cursory comparison with Augustine's confessions will immediately demonstrate the difference I'm speaking of.

So, instead of calling this a confessional, I would say that this is more of an autobiographical book on Pastor Driscoll's struggles and triumphs in planting a church in Seattle. So the content is not necessarily meant to be doctrinal in nature. It's simply a story about a guy who loves Jesus and Seattle and wants to make a difference there. This is the story of how they are making that difference.

Let me talk about the writing style of this book. It is informal and conversational. If you have read Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz and enjoyed that style, then you should enjoy this as well. The style makes the book and easy read; it took me about two days to complete the book, and I'm a fairly busy guy. You could easily finish this inside a week. It will not require deep thought to process Pastor Driscoll's points.

In analyzing the content of this book, I'll start with what I disliked and end on a positive note. The majority of what grated on me while reading this book was the humor. Pastor Driscoll is a funny guy; I admit it. While the humor bothered me at times, it was also one of the high points of the book. I'm not against funny. I'm against cruel funny. The first line of the book illustrates what annoyed me. Pastor Driscoll begins the book by writing, "The upstairs room at the fundamentalist church was so hot that everyone was sweating like Mike Tyson in a spelling bee." That's pushing the line for how humor should be used. In my opinion, humor should not be used to denigrate others for a cheap laugh. If one wishes to denigrate themselves, that's free game. When Pastor Driscoll tells the story of crapping himself during a sermon, that's fine and funny. But leave Tyson alone; he's got enough trouble. The examples of denigrating humor abound. For example:

The drummer used what appeared to be baseball bats instead of drunsticks and beat the kit as if it were Rodney King.

To this day, I twitch like a Vietnam vet just thinking about the mural.

You get the picture. I know that even reading this that some of you are trying not to laugh. Some of you are actually laughing. Quit it. Seriously, such humor will evoke laughs, but it is not good. Now these quotes are funny:

Preaching is like driving a clutch, and the only way to figure it out is to keep grinding the gears and stalling until you figure it out.

I'm glad that more people don't go to church in Seattle, because if they did, they would likely end up at churches led by pastors who are going to hell with their gay partners. Things are so bad that even two Baptist churches have gay pastors, and when the Baptists are gay, a city is officially lost.

Okay, so the second quote may be pushing the envelope, but I liked the part about the Baptists.

In a nutshell, Pastor Driscoll is sometimes a little vulgar and used denigrating humor. I can deal with it, but I don't find it wise. Some people were horrified with the language, but I wasn't. In fact, I found one particular episode of his supposed "vulgarity" refreshing. That was the part where he yelled at the men of his church about being perverts. I especially enjoyed that part. Frankly, if I pastored a church full of 20 years old porn addicts I'd probably yell at them too. Our median age is probably 50. I have to yell at them for not caring about the 20 year olds.

Let's briefly discuss theology. Pastor Driscoll is a reformed guy, and I like that. He's a credo-baptist, and I like that. Further, he has some good points once you get past the jokes. However, he is not a cessasionist by any stretch of the imagination. He believes that he has prophetic dreams, and that God guides him through these dreams. He also believes that Satan attacks him in his dreams. In short, believes that all of the sign gifts are still fully functional in the present day. In fairness, I am reduced to either believing that Pastor Driscoll is lying about the prophetic dreams, or that he is psychic. I hope he isn't lying, and if he's telling the truth, then I suppose he's having prophetic dreams.

I like Pastor Driscoll's emphasis in ecclesiology pretty well. (That's church organization.) He identifies types of folks in the church that are helpful and unhelpful, and he stresses that for a church to grow, you have to be willing to cut off the dead weight. If you don't, they'll anchor the church and refuse to let it move forward. He also believes in an elder ruled church, and he believes that congregational rule means letting the lunatics run the asylum. I think that's hyperbole, but then again he's in a different place than me.

I believe that this book is a help to young men, as long as they don't start trying to be funny like Mark Driscoll. He is a little vulgar at times, but a male audience will relate to what the man is saying. A woman will most likely be disgusted with some of what he says. Also, I imagine that if some pastor in Mississippi 50+ picked up this book and read it, he would probably die a thousand deaths at the way Pastor Driscoll does things. But most guys like that are ready to nuke Seattle anyway, and I can't imagine why they would want to read this book in the first place.

In comparison to the church I pastor, Mark Driscoll and I are living on two different planets. His town is filled with maybe a million people; I have a few thousand. There, nobody goes to churc; here, everybody goes to church....Catholic Church, that is. The average age of his church is mid-twenty, mine is mid-50's. He started from nothing, I have 100 years of good and bad precedent to deal with. His culture is "post-modern," mine is Cajun. His folks go to Starbucks for fun; mine go to the swamps to shoot things. But I was still encouraged to be more aggresive in doing the work of the ministry by him, and for that I am thankful.

In the end, I enjoyed the book. Go ahead, throw rocks at me. I liked it. I have been so deep in commentaries and "heavy" books lately that I needed a book like this. Plus, it did me some good to think about what Pastor Driscoll said. So, I would recommend that you read it if you are interested...but please, don't make it a habit of putting down others afterwards.