Thursday, December 20, 2007

Packing and Moving

There is only one thing in the world worse than packing and moving I'm told, and that's helping someone pack and move. I have no time for creativity, and my paltry posting demonstrates. As soon as I get settled on the mountain, I'm sure I'll have something erudite and exhortative to say.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Reading and Believing

After reading this, I'm glad that not everyone believes everything they read.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

If it be the will of the Lord...

My current blog hiatus is due to the fact that my family and I are moving. We have been called to a church in Alabama, in my own home town, in a church I attended as a boy. I have not resided in my home town for any great length of time in 15 years, and so it is with great surprise that I return there with family in tow. This process has been an emotional and spiritual ordeal of the likes that I have never experienced. In short, I am exhausted. I never planned to leave Plaquemine.

At some point in the future I will post a series on this event, and what I have learned from it. For now, the feelings are too raw for me to go over again. We are very excited for the future, and we firmly believe that God has led us to this move. At the same time, the experience of leaving so many we love like family is a grief. Please pray for us over the course of the next few weeks as we relocate, recoup, and begin the new ministry that God has led us to.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

No Posting for Awhile

My family and I have some things that we have to do over the course of the next week. Please pray for us. I won't be posting much for the next few days.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Getting Plugged In

I have to say that church leaders are often pretty lousy at giving advice to new members, and even old ones, on how to get "plugged-in" at their local church. Usually, the advice is to seek out some area of ministry and start serving there. In my opinion, this generally leads to profound guilt in the listener because: a) They don't know where to start looking and b) they have no idea what they want to do. This problem is especially bad in smaller churches because many ministries are already running quite well, and even if they aren't, the over-worked people in them are amazingly incapable of accepting help. In the end, the pew-sitter may wind up slinking off to another church that will grant them blessed anonymity and better music.

Instead of telling people to simply serve, why don't we encourage them to simply build relationships with those in the church. That's much more fun and gratifying, and it is much more Biblical. Teaching disciples to love one another is how the world will know that we are Christ's, not if we teach them to simply 'work'. If you are new to a church, make an effort to get together with another family for lunch after church. Begin cultivating true friendships that will lead to accountability. The upshot of this is that after making such friendships, one will inevitably be drawn into the ministry network of one's friends. Even if it doesn't, trying to make friends, and even being a friend, is a very needful ministry in itself. Indeed, it may be the must needed one of all. So make friends at church. Invite people over to eat popcorn and watch football or whatever. It'll make a healthier church if you do.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

10 Dumb Things I've Done Since Being Married

Just for fun, I thought I'd share 10 Dumb things I've done in my marriage for your edification. These are off the top off my head and done in under 10 minutes, and they are not in order of dumbness:

#10 I once compared my wife's spaghetti unfavorably with my mothers.

#9 Just after my wife received a scheduled dose of potocin to begin labor, our doctor and anesthesiologist were called away on an emergency. I tried to break the tension with a joke. I said, "Well, now you'll at least get to feel one good contraction before the epidural." One contraction later and the joke was not funny at all.

#8 Early in my marriage, I gave an honest answer about a less-than-stellar food experiment my wife slaved over. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

#7 I tried to convince my wife that it would be a good idea for me to go to the "Together for the Gospel" Conference a week before the baby was due.

#6 I once shaved off my beard on a whim and came to bed, nearly inducing a heart-attack when my wife saw a strange man in the bedroom.

#5 The inability to distinguish between permission and approval is a constant dumb mistake. The tip off: When the wife's arms are crossed, her brows are furrowed, and she fires off, "Fine! Do what you want to!" That doesn't mean you necessarily should.

#4 I once mentioned how much money we could save if we would change the car oil ourselves.

#3 I interpreted the request for "help" with the post-pregnancy diet to mean that I should point out that ice cream and potato chips are fattening.

#2 I once thought it would be a good idea if I was in charge of balancing the checkbook. Apparently, "keeping up with it in my head" doesn't cut it with the wife.

#1 I got stuck on 8 things and asked my wife for help. Let's just say I found out that this list could be much longer.

Hopefully my idiocy will be to your benefit, and we can rest assured that I have grown in sanctification from each blunder. Amen.

When Play is Work

By the grace of God, I have a healthy, wonderful son who will turn three in December. By the further grace of God, I have another on the way who will be born in April. I am so very grateful for them and for my wife. I am blessed beyond measure.

Having said that, I will confess that keeping up with a two year old is tough work. For now, the boy genuinely covets my attention...all the time. The day is coming when he will avoid me like I'm some unclean thing, so I should treasure all of these moments while I can. However, like every male born after the fall, I have other responsibilities that also demand my attention, and not all of that labor is easy. It can be tiresome, mind and heart-wearying work, and that does not leave much energy for my beloved son.

At least once a week, my son and I have a three hour play-fest. Usually, this is on Monday night while the wife is away at women's Bible study. I am not always up for a play-fest. My son only knows a few games. We can wrestle, work puzzles, or we can throw the ball. His favorite, and it seems that all games turn into this quickly, is wrestling. My son has the energy to pound me for three solid hours without a break. I sincerely worry for other nursery children if our discipline fails. Of course with me he never gets beat up; a nursery kid with a good jab may curb his enthusiasm.

All of this reminiscing has been to make a very important point: it is very easy to neglect the tiresome duty of play, especially when one is already worn out. I can very easily pop in a "Little Einsteins" video and be set for the evening, but that's not a way to show affection. Little boys need hugs and zuberts and tickle tortures and bear hugs and papa's to pound on. Is your child a glorious gift from God or isn't he? Then go to the work of play, I doubt that you will come to regret it.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Date With Death

I'm going to die. The only thing that could possibly prevent such a fate is the return of the Lord Jesus, and I have no idea if that will happen. I will have to meet death like everyone before me, and it is likely that it will test me like no other trial I have ever endured.

I firmly believe that the date, time, and means of my death are firmly fixed on God's calendar. I cannot alter it one moment, nor would I if I could. I will die precisely when God means me to, and it will be at the perfect time for me and all who love God. I believe that God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love Him, don't you?

In the meantime, I am jogging to stay healthy. In the near future, I hope to expand my exercise regiment to work on other muscle groups. I do not do this stave off the inevitable encroachment of death. I do it, to paraphrase Jonathan Edwards, "to live with all my might while I yet live." If I die skinny and otherwise healthy at 35 of a massive heart attack, it is better than dying fat and unhealthy at 35 of a massive heart attack. It is good because I will have died a good steward of the only body I've been in, and I believe that pleases the Lord. Living is not the opposite of dying; there is more to life than a pulse and brain waves and unclogged arteries.

I live every day with an eye on death, my final foe. I once had a friend who speculated on what would be the best day of his life outside of the day he was saved. He thought it might be the day he met his wife, or his wedding day, or perhaps the birth of a child. He asked me what I thought. I said, "I am living so that the day that I die will be the greatest day of my life." He looked puzzled. I said, "In that moment when death comes, if life truly flashes before our eyes, then I want to look back and remember the day that I met my wife and remember that I treated her with integrity. I want to remember my wedding day and every day after and know that I loved her as closely as I could to how Christ loves His church. I want to remember my children and that I raised them to know Christ, and that I shared my joy in His love at their rising up and when we walked in the way and when they went to bed. I want to know, as I lay dying, that nothing I did in my life ever contradicted my love for the Savior. If that is the case, then that will truly be the greatest day of my life."

Death is an enemy and an old foe. I believe it was John Piper who said that the power of death lies in his ability to take away all that we hold dear. He steals our dreams, our loved ones, and all our hopes in this life. So we recoil at him and hate him because he would rob us of all earthly treasure. The way to conquer is to know all the threats and power of the enemy, Certainly, he is coming to take all that we hold dear in this life, and he is an unstoppable foe. He cannot be beaten by diet and exercise, nor can he be bribed by riches. He will not spare the young or the old or the innocent. Yet, the Christian may triumph because when he comes, we hold one thing to be more dear than anything this world holds, something so precious that when death comes, we count that day gain. In that moment, our enemy will usher us into the presence of the King. It is gain to be with the King! That is where are heart is and that is where our true treasure lies. Death has lost his sting and the grave has no victory, for in Christ is eternal life, and in His presence is the fullness of joy and at His right hand are pleasures forevermore. John Piper helped me see this, as have many of God's other magnificent conquerors.

I am resolved with Jonathan Edwards to live with all of my might while I yet live. I am resolved to meet death with a clear conscience and with an eye that looks over his shoulder to see a risen Lord. Death has a destiny as well. His cruelty is coming to an end. "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive...Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death" (1 Cor. 15:22, 24-26). May the grant us the faith to overcome this last and great foe, and may we so train ourselves in God's Word and be so entranced with His gospel that even our dying will be full of grace and utterly victorious.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Wisdom from Richard Sibbes

Occasionally, I like to go back and peruse a good book. This nugget of wisdom displays the beauty of Sibbes language and the great mystery and comfort of ministry. Hope you'll enjoy it:

We feel by experience the breath of the Spirit go along with the breath of the ministers. For the reason the apostle knits these two together: 'Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings' (1 Thess. 5:19, 20). Nathan, by a few words, blew up the decaying sparks in David. Rather than that God will suffer his fire in us to die, he will send some Nathan or other, and something always is left in us to join with the Word, as of the same nature with it; as a coal that has fire in it will quickly gather more fire to it. Smoking flax will easily take fire.

This is from his most excellent book, The Bruised Reed. It is an excellent resource for those struggling in the faith, and it is a great rebuke for those of us who tend to be impatient with the struggles of others.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Just for JD

I can't tell you how many inches that would be, but this is what it would look like. Notice in the pucker picture that the fish's head is as big as mine. I suppose my ability to put this picture up indicates that my jealousy has subsided.

S. Louisiana Fishin'

That's me and my brother-in-law with two Red Fish we hauled in simultaneously Friday. We caught a boat load, as you can see. Those are two 150 gallon coolers, if I'm not mistaken. That's a lot of Red Fish, Drum, and Flounder. Ah, Venice!

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Christian as the Greatest American Hero

I was reflecting yesterday on the prideful goofiness that so often marks my life and it reminded me of a show I used to watch as a kid. The show was called "The Greatest American Hero," and the premise of the show revolved around a schoolteacher named Ralph Hinkley. Ralph was minding his own business on a school field-trip when aliens dropped out of the sky and gave him a superhero suit. This suit basically made him Superman, and his charge from the aliens was to go about doing good and fighting evil. There was only one problem. As Ralph was leaving the scene, he lost the instruction booklet to the suit. This meant that he sort of bumbled along learning how to use his powers by trial and error. If Ralph ever stopped evil, it was usually as by an accident of his gifts, not because of their skillful use.

I think that evangelicals like myself are about as close to the reality of the Greatest American Hero that you will ever see. Though we give great homage and honor to the Bible, most are about as knowledgeable about its contents as Ralph Hinkley was the instructions to his "red jammies." Even those who are familiar with doctrine often disregard truth for pragmatism with impunity. The resulting comedy is to watch pastors flail about like Hinkley in flight. We think that we are accomplishing great things for the kingdom via movement, and sometimes we actually do get things accomplished. We just don't realize how idiotic we look to the casual observer, and we are oblivious to how much easier it would be if we took a little time to study the instructions.

Take, for example, a sincere Christian moved to do missionary work. They may have 50 wrong motivations for doing so. They may go because they feel sorry for the people of the world who are "starving for the gospel." Even a cursory understanding of theology ought to be enough to reveal that, far from being gospel-hungry, people actually bear great animosity to God and His Christ. We do not take into account the great depravity of man, nor the cultural tribulation that will result in this endeavor. Yet off we go, flying haphazardly to the far reaches of the globe to preach the gospel, armed with power of the Holy Spirit. It turns out that He is sufficiently powerful to overcome any obstacles despite our comedy of errors.

Whilst we are busy crashing into walls through ignorance and folly, the Holy Spirit is busy blessing the gospel we can barely handle coherently. Often, the result is that folks are actually brought into the kingdom, though this is often accomplished in spite of and not so much because of the messenger. To compound the comedy, it is often the case that the messenger then begins to think that it was actually his method that brought about the desired result in the people. Other Great American Heroes then begin to emulate the quirks of another, and so the entire movement is engulfed with pastors looking more like a flying Bozo than Superman.

I am still learning to walk in the Spirit by faith each day, and I confess that I am often more Ralph Hinkley-like than Christ-like. I am also quite glad that the glory of God is manifested through the power and message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that clowns like myself are given such an amazing gift as the Holy Spirit. I simply lament that we do not pay more attention to and have more faith in the instructions God has so graciously provided.

And yes, I do actually sit around and think about stuff like this.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Evil of Gambling

My sin has found me out yet again. For some reason, in a fit of arrogance and pride, I made a wager with my wife five years ago over the Alabama/LSU match-up. I, being the Alabama alum, promised that I would wear an LSU tie on Sunday morning following the game if the Tigers overcame us, and for the fifth year running, I have to preach in that gaudy tie. The LSU Tigers pulled it off 41-34. May this never happen again, and may my wife have to wear a Crimson and White dress for the next ten years after this game. Meanwhile, I shall repent in dust and ashes. Amen.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

In Honor of Reformation Day...

According to my calculations, today marks 490 years since Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door. Hallelujah! So I thought I'd include a few quote of Martin Luther to celebrate Luther was a crazy, sometimes foul-mouthed, beer drinking, forever blessed monk who turned the world upside down. If you find the writings of the reformers dull, it is only because you have not read Luther. You should read his three great treatises now, if not sooner. You can get them together for practically nothing if you are willing to buy it used. Try here. So without further ado, here are a few quotes I mined in honor of Reformation Day!

I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals. I have within me the great pope, Self.

I feel much freer now that I am certain the pope is the Antichrist.

Let the wife make the husband glad to come home, and let him make her sorry to see him leave.

Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.

When I am angry I can pray well and preach well.

You should not believe your conscience and your feelings more than the word which the Lord who receives sinners preaches to you.

I am afraid that the schools will prove the very gates of hell, unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures and engraving them in the heart of the youth.

And finally....
I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

More on Huckabee

If you read this blog very much, you'll know that I came out "Pro-Huckabee" a couple of weeks ago. In that post, I listed the positives I saw with the Huckabee platform and some of my concerns. (You can read the post here). One of my concerns has been admirably addressed today by Joe Carter at The Evangelical Outpost. If Joe isn't already one of your regular blog stops, you should consider visiting. He's one sharp cookie, and you can't beat his regular Monday 33 Things.

Friday, October 26, 2007

An Anecdote About A Favorite Professor

Since I can't think of anything extremely substantive for today, I thought I'd tell you a little story about one of my favorite professors. His name is Dr. Andreas Kostenberger. He was my Intermediate Greek professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The story begins with me sneaking into Intermediate Greek. I say that I snuck in because I had never had Beginner's Greek. One summer, I simply bought Dr. David Black's Learning to Read New Testament Greek and I worked my way through it. (He's another favorite professor, by the way.) In the Fall, I registered for a class that I did not have the pre-requisites for, and fortunately, the registrar did not catch me. I was in.

I wanted to take Dr. Kostenberger's class for several reasons. For one, I was convinced that having a handle on the fundamentals of Greek was an essential tool for a man going into the pastorate. Secondly, I knew that Dr. Kostenberger was a first rate scholar. Thirdly, I also knew that he was serious about teaching the language. So I joined the class with minor anxiety that I might dive in over my head, but I was determined to do well.

Fortunately, my studies over the summer had not been in vain. I found myself able to keep up in the class and even be involved in the discussions. Dr. Kostenberger was quite serious about Greek and if you said something ignorant or pompous in class, he could let you know. So if you spoke, you needed to have a clue about what you were speaking about.

Things were going smoothly for me until a little before midway through the semester. One day, after class, Dr. Kostenberger asked me, "Did you take the first year of Greek?" It was a simple question to which I knew that he knew the answer. I don't know how he found out, but he did. I said, "No..not exactly." He replied, "This is not good. Meet me in my office tomorrow. Bring your Greek Bible."

I was frightened to say the least. At the time, Dr. Kostenberger had a pretty good beard going, and he speaks with a sort of Austrian/German accent. (Which is far cooler than my Sand Mountain/hick accent.) He was also sporting a pretty good limp at the time because he had recently broken his foot. I suddenly felt like he was a sort of Goldfinger character come to life. I wanted to say, "Dr. Kostenberger, do you expect me to parse verbs?" But I was afraid he would say, "No, Mr. Williams! I expect you to die!" So with great trepidation, I went to his office at the appointed time to meet my certain doom.

I came in and sat down. He instructed me to turn to 1 John and begin reading in a certain place. I forgot which. What you need to know, dear reader, is that this was a most gracious choice. 1 John is the easiest Greek. I was relieved.

Under the conditions, I did pretty well. I only missed one word, and I can only ascribe it to nervousness because the word was koinonia, which is Greek for fellowship. When I had read and translated enough to satisfy him he said, "You did well. You are up to speed." I left happy and bathed in nervous sweat. For that quiz I received a pass on my first year Greek work, which basically means I got credit for six hours without a grade.

I managed a B+ in Dr. Kostenberger's class that semester. I was agonizingly close to an A. I had done rather poorly on a gimmee vocabulary quiz early on in the semester. An emergency came up at home, and I had to take it before the others in the class, and under the circumstance I did not prepare as I should. Bummer! That was one of very few B's that I received in seminary, and it is the only one that I felt that I actually earned.

I appreciated Dr. Kostenberger's class because he held us to a high standard, and he made Greek feel important. His expertise in the field was evident, and I admired it greatly. Though he was serious about the subject, his grace was clear to those willing to learn, and it was manifest in the treatment I received when my secret came out. He could have put me straight out of the class because I had clearly violated the rules, and I am fairly certain that he would have if my Greek had not been up to par.

I am grateful to good for having had the opportunity to study under Dr. Kostenberger and others at Southeastern. Perhaps one day I will be able to return to such tutelage. In the mean time, I will endeavor to keep my Greek skills sharp, just in case I get called to the office again for interrogation.

"Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches" (Galatians 6:6).

FaceBook Discovery

I now have a Facebook profile. Currently, all of my creative energy is being sucked into looking for old friends and checking out all the cool stuff there. I'll try to think of something decent to write tomorrow. Until then, if you are a Facebooker, you can invite me to be your friend.:)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Suffering and the Prosperity Gospel

There is no Biblical explanation for the popularity of the prosperity gospel except for the inherent worldliness of the soul. Never in the imaginations of the apostles would they have equated worldly advancement necessarily following faith in Christ. The entire philosophy vanishes under even a cursory reading of the book of Acts.

I understand Acts 1:8 to be a sort of thesis statement for the book as a whole. Jesus told his disciples, "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." The story of Acts is the progress of the exaltation of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth, beginning in Jerusalem and advanced by the power of the Holy Spirit and obedience of His witnesses.

But the gospel was not advanced by the disciples having all that they wanted. Indeed, if you look at how the gospel advanced in Jerusalem and Judea, you will find that it was advanced via suffering. Peter and John were arrested, then all of the apostles were rounded up and beaten when they refused to stop telling of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. After being beaten, they went home and rejoiced that they were counted worthy of suffering. Before long, Saul of Tarsus came on the scene and began dragging men and women out of their homes and imprisoning them. He even went so far as to condone the murder of Stephen.

Stephen's death led to an exodus of Christians from Jerusalem. One of those was Stephen's compatriot Phillip. On his journey, he went to Samaria and spread the gospel there. A journey borne out of the necessity of fleeing for his life.

Everywhere the message of the gospel went, riots ensued and the people of God suffered tremendously. The writer of Hebrews tells us that the early Christians "joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven" (Heb. 10:34). Paul himself was in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. (2 Cor. 11:23-28). Does this sound like Paul's "Best Life Now"? Does it sound like that for the audience of the epistle of the Hebrews?

This is why I find the prosperity gospel utterly revolting. It is the antithesis of storing up our treasures in heaven. If that isn't enough, you think of what it says about our brothers and sisters who suffered the loss of all things: from land to spouse to children to their our lives. It says that they lost these things because: a) They didn't have enough faith, or b) They didn't experience the fullness of God's blessing. Both are absolutely ridiculous.

The prosperity gospel is such an affront to the true gospel of Jesus Christ that I hardly have the strength or stamina to point out the parody. It is well-known that the early Christians faced death by the lion's paw in the Roman arenas, and it is also known that Nero dipped them in tar and lit them on fire to light his garden parties. Do you suppose that the sort of "smiley" gospel that is peddled by pastors today would hold any comfort for those in the dungeon awaiting execution? Indeed, would it not give them sorrow upon sorrow? They would believe that they died out of the favor of God, because if they had God's favor, they wouldn't be in the dungeon in the first place. They'd be driving a fine chariot in a big house with plenty of servants surrounding them.

The Biblical exhortation to endure suffering, Paul's long to know the fellowship of Christ's sufferings, the death of James by beheading, Stephen's martyrdom by stoning, Phillip fleeing for his life, the fact that for Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter just doesn't make any sense. Beware of worldliness preached as gospel, it is a deadly cancer to the soul.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Why Christians Care About What Rowling Says: A Lesson in How to Read a Text

Why does it matter to me what JK Rowling says about Dumbledore and his sexual orientation? After all, if you read all the books as I have, you will find no hint of his sexual orientation. Its only after this announcement that Dumbledore's pre-occupation with another character becomes suspect. (That's Grindlewald for fans, not Harry...though I guess anything goes now.)

The fact is that evangelicals are driven in their interpretation by the "Author's Intent." When we read the Bible and other texts, we aren't so concerned with simply finding out we think a text means, we want to know what the author meant for the text to mean. The author ultimately assigns the meaning, and if we miss their meaning, then we miss the entire point.

We are taught to be skeptical of our own interpretations. And that, by the way, is very sound evangelical advice. This is why your pastor has multiple commentaries lining his bookshelves in his office on a single epistle (I sure hope he does, anyway.) And this is why he is diligent in the original languages. He's not trying to "reader response" what the author said, he's trying to understand the original point.

So, when an evangelical hears and author say, "Oh, by the way, this character is gay." We can't, with Stanley Fish, say, "Well, the text doesn't mean this to me. Therefore, he is absolutely not gay, no matter what Rowling says." We respect intent, and so as ugly as the truth is, we read Dumbledore as gay as per the author's wishes. Thus, the story is tainted for us.

If Rowling had come out and said, "You know, Dumbledore dealt with sin like everyone else. In fact, he was attracted to other men, an issue with which he struggled his entire life. Indeed, this explains why he so threw himself into teaching and the study of magic." Not only would I have applauded that, my respect for Dumbledore would have risen.

This is not how the author told us this information, however. We are told, smugly, that he is gay. And it was even given with a jab to "evangelical" types, the very ones who take authors the most seriously in their works. This is why a serious evangelical can't just "overlook" this part of the story due to scant evidence in the text themselves. We have a living author saying, "This is how he is, and he's not sorry." So, we have to grudgingly change our opinion out of respect. Amazingly, a more liberal reader could pretty much blow-off anything an author says anyway because they make texts mean what they want without recourse to any opinion but their own. Just look at what they do to the Bible!

So, needless to say, I am disappointed, and if I ever read Harry Potter's series again, I will read Dumbledore as a homosexual as per Rowling's wishes. But his character is diminished in my sight, and I think that beauty of the story is lessened by Rowling's irresponsible addition to an otherwise noble character.

Pastor Plays Political Pundit

The title of this post doesn't really make any sense, but it's alright because its alliterated. What you need to know is that this post is about the Presidential race and where I stand right now. I'm writing this for two reasons: one is that the primaries are creeping up and are only 3 months away, the second is because I have appreciated reading what others have written, and so I thought I'd toss in my two cents. If you are a member of our church, please remember that I'm speaking as an individual. I don't want to make your mistakes for you if I've been misled.

I freely admit that up until recently, I have been very disappointed with the candidates in the Republican field. If a Texan won't eat a Salsa dip from New York, then I seriously doubt that I currently need a president from there. Gulliani makes me as sad as any of the liberal Democratic candidates. I felt a vote for him is a compromise to the Republican party. I won't vote for Mitt Romney because I don't trust him, and I won't ever.

This left me rather candidateless for awhile. Fred Thompson came on the scene, but he was a dud in my opinion. I don't resonate with the guy, despite the efforts of some evangelicals to get other evangelicals on board with his candidacy.

Then I noticed this guy named Mike Huckabee. As I poked around, it seemed that the only objection to the guy was that he couldn't be elected. That sort of nonsense has never deterred me before, and so I looked into his platform a little closer. For the most part, I liked what I saw. So I thought I'd list the pros and cons and give you his website to explore to make your own decision. Here's what I like, in no particular order after #1:


1. He is undeniably and completely pro-life. I truly believe he holds this position by conviction and not for political expediency.

2. He understands and supports the Second Amendment.

3. He wants to secure the border.

4. He is pro-marriage amendment defined as one man marrying one woman.

5. I agree with him about Iraq.

There are other pros to consider, such as his promotion of education and the arts, but almost every candidate says such things. Here are the cons, in no particular order:


1. I'm afraid that he's not as fiscally conservative as I'd like. Though he's promised to cut taxes, I'm afraid he likes to spend money too much.

2. He believes he can make us "energy independent" by the end of his second term. That seems like a very, very unlikely promise to fulfill.

3. I don't understand his plan to "fix" health care, but I do like the fact that he doesn't believe in a universal, government mandated type of health care system.

4. He is seen as weak in the area of foreign policy.

That's the short list of the pros and cons I see. I hope that you find my observations helpful, and I hope that you will also look into the candidates and make up your own mind. If you feel that your candidate has been slighted or is better than Huckabee, make your case in the comment section. Here is Mike Huckabee's website: Mike Huckabee for President.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Dumbledore is Gay?

Good grief. You can go read this and tell me what you think about it. It seriously irks me, and it definitely alters my view of Dumbledore. What a bummer. It's like saying, "Dumbledore was a pervert."

Thursday, October 18, 2007


This sort of thing is a prime example of a society bereft of common sense and courtesy. According to this study, people with potty mouths boost office morale. What a joke. All this does is give Mr. Potty Mouth free reign to spew expletives all over the office like vomit. At least, that's how I feel after being around a potty mouth. I can tell you that it is no morale booster. It's like being trapped in close quarters with a chain-smoker. You have to run home and change clothes because the taint of smokey foulness clings to you.

In Colossians Paul wrote, "Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one" (Col. 4:6). This is a different kind of "salty" language than is advocated in the article. This kind of speech is supposed to "impart grace to the hearers" (Eph. 4:29). On the other end, we are forbidden to allow "corrupt speech" from leaving our lips (Again, Eph. 4:29).

Remember, what comes out of your mouth is an excellent indication of what's going on in your heart. So be polite, don't be known as a potty mouth. Your gracious speech will open for more doors for you than ugly invectives.

Note this little irony as well. The author writes, "swearing in front of senior staff or customers should be seriously discouraged or banned." Now why is that? For one, how do you know one of your current co-workers won't someday be your boss or your customer? Two, why would you set up an automatic division within your office between management and not-so management? In my experience one's opinion on rude behavior doesn't shift that much when you earn the title "boss." If it is respectful to clean up the language around the boss, then it is respectful to treat co-workers with the same courtesy.

I give this research an F- in common sense and courtesy.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Another Word on Assurance

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).

This verse, and the verses that follow, are a wellspring of hope and peace. By these verses, we are taught that our justification is received by faith, and that the object of that saving faith is the Lord Jesus Christ. The better we understand this, the more comfort and peace we will have as we traverse the difficulties of this life.

When the Reformers taught that we are saved by "faith alone," they did not mean that faith, by itself saves. That is, a faith that is not attached to Christ as its anchor. In other words, it is by faith alone in Christ alone that we are saved. Faith must be attached to the Lord Jesus in order to work for our salvation.

I have heard the analogy made before that faith is sort of like a plug for the television set. In order for it to work and carry the needed electricity to the TV, it has to be plugged into the wall. It simply cannot function apart from the power source, and neither can the television. In the same way, the source of "power" for the Christian is Christ, and the conduit for that power is our faith, and we are the TV that is brought to life by that power.

When we are "plugged in" to Christ, we are walking by the Spirit. Or rather, when we are walking by the Spirit, we are plugged into Christ. As the Scripture says, "For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit" (Rom. 8:5). The way, then, for the Christian to be attuned to Christ to receive power from Christ is to set one's mind on Christ. If we do this, we will know the peace of God.

It would be a mistake, I believe, to try and concentrate on faith itself to see if your faith is "real." Faith does not get stronger by looking at faith. Indeed, your faith will most likely shrink if you do that. By that I mean if you look only at your conversion experience or how much you really believe God's promises. However subtle it may seem, any time you take your eyes off of Christ Himself you begin to wane in strength. Faith grows stronger by examining and keeping one's eye on Christ.

So what does it mean to examine and to keep our eye on Jesus Christ? Essentially, I believe that this means to reflect upon what Christ has done for us and the things that He has promised to do for us in the future. I like to think on the fact that Jesus came to save sinners like me (1 Tim. 1:15). So then I must wonder if He is able to save the sinners he purposed to save, and Scripture again tells me that He is most able to do that very thing (2 Tim. 1:12). Nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (cf. Rom. 8:38-39).

Perhaps a gloomy soul might balk at such a promise and say, "Surely, Christ could not do this for me because I'm too (you fill in the blank.)" What a mistake to look to the unworthy soul to attempt to find something there worth salvaging. No wonder people look to themselves and despair, for there is nothing there that would ever compel us to believe that one so great and glorious as Jesus would stoop to suffer on its behalf. Keep your eye on the promise, not on the one to whom the promise is given. Christ is able to save, and Christ is willing to save, and Christ Jesus is eager to save those who will love Him.

Assurance is not simply a static thing. Assurance is a blessed gift that waxes strong with our faith. The more we look to Christ, the strong our faith gets, and the stronger our faith gets, the more we are assured that Christ is mighty to save sinners like us, and the more we are assured that Christ is saving us, the more we will know peace in our life.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Jerk, or Not a Jerk, that is the Question

It's not my fault. The blame lies with the Rainbow vacuum cleaner people and the awkward position that their "free" giveaways can put people in. At least, that's how I feel about it, and this post is written so that you can judge whether or not I am a calloused, heartless jerk or merely normal.

In the providence of God, my wife signed up for a free giveaway from the Rainbow Vacuum company. And of all the happy surprises, she won some sort of house air-freshener gizmo. The catch is that they have to bring it to your house and demonstrate the vacuum cleaner.

I know a little bit about the vacuum cleaner and the sales pitch because I had an aunt who sold them once. I also know that this vacuum is very expensive. I further know that even if this thing could suck microbes out of the entire neighborhood when we used it, there ain't no way I'm shelling out nearly $2,000 for a vacuum cleaner. So when the salesperson came, I skipped the demo. As near as I can tell, this prevented me from wasting 2 hours of valuable time.

Here are the problems that I have with this set-up in order:

1. They aren't really giving you anything "for free." At the end of the demonstration, my wife found out that you must pony-up $25 for the scents to work the free gizmo. We declined. Now we have a free gizmo that won't work anyway.

2. No matter how nicely you watch the demo, you always feel like a jerk when you say, "No thanks." to the salesman. You hate to see the disappointment, but that's what you get.

3. They pressure you to give referrals. We declined. We don't give out the names and phone numbers of friends and family to get business solicitations. I find that rude.

4. They make you feel obligated to buy something when, in reality, they volunteered a free thing.

5. The entire thing is a no-win situation.

I understand that they are trying to make a living, and I sympathize with that. But after all this is over, I wind up feeling like a jerk, and I cannot tell you how happy I am to see them leave.

Just so this doesn't wind up being a meaningless rant, I see some parallels between this and how many people do evangelism. So, don't do it like that. I wish I could be more profound than that, and maybe I will be tomorrow, but right now I want to get back to my commentaries!

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Male Psyche

It is hard to critique the male psyche when one happens to be a male. It would be like a fish trying to come up with a critique of wetness. It is, after all, all he's ever known and can possibly hope to know. So the statements that follow aren't so much critiques but sort of an observation on what it means to be male, or at least, a tendency I have noticed that predominately goes with maleness. And frankly, we are weird.

It begins at birth I suppose, but it is easily identifiable by 3 years of age. There is something self-destructive built into the male brain. I'm not talking about the natural tendency toward risk-taking, I'm talking about the natural tendency toward stupid.

I have a clear recollection of a particular day in kindergarten when myself and two other boys thought it would be fun to ride the tricycle into a brick wall over and over again to "see how good we could crash." What brought this memory back to my brain was observing my son demonstrate similar behavior on his tricycle this morning. Girls don't do that sort of thing. In fact, I remember one particular girl trying very hard to pull me off of the tricycle to keep me from ramming it into the wall. She was worried, of course, about the trike.

You can pretty much transfer this obsession into anything boys do. Its really why they play football, and frankly, it is the only thing that explains NASCAR. Boys want to hit something and see things demolished. Even when boys play war, they like to pretend like they've been shot and partially blown up.

Just observe schoolyard boys for an hour and you'll see this behavior manifest itself. In Middle School, all the boys thought it was funny to thump one another in a place where one should never be thumped. And if we weren't thumping each other in that most tender spot, we were "frogging" each other on the arm or giving a "charlie horse" on the leg. It was downright paranoia to walk down the hall to class. You had to be on the look-out for thumps (or "scattles"), okay signs, and charlie horses.
We even had this stupid game where if you could make the "okay" sign and get another boy to look at it, then you got to hit him on the arm. Or, if you saw a VW beetle you could yell, "Slug bug!" and then whack your buddy. (This, by the way, is a spontaneous international phenomena, though some call it "Punch bug!" You don't have to teach this game, boys naturally invent it at 7).

I have never observed this behavior in a group of girls. Ever.

I also strongly suspect that this is the real reason why men work-out. The average man really doesn't care about dying of a heart-attack. He just wants to see how far and how fast he can run until he drops or how much weight he can "bench". The fact is that if you are in the gym and can bench more than another guy, it's like getting to frog him on his ego. We like that.

This is also help explain why men join the Marine Corps over the Air Force. The pay scales are identical, only in the Corps you have ten times the physical punishment. Guys who have made it through Marine Corps boot camp sneer at all other military types because, of course, they had it the toughest and so they are naturally the most manly. I joined the National Guard at 18 mainly because I wanted to see if I could go through Army boot camp. While not quite as manly as the Marine Corps, I still get props to this day in the man-world because I did that.

You may get caught in a conversation with a bunch of old guys who like to emphasize about how bad they used to have it. They recite how they used to have to get up and slop the pigs, shovel poop out the stalls, milk the cows, and feed the chickens before they ate breakfast and walked two miles to school. They will also inevitably mention that all they ever got for Christmas was a stick and an orange. What you need to understand is that they aren't complaining; they're pretty much bragging about how much tougher they are than you. When they say, "You ought to be grateful!" What they really mean is, "You ought to be grateful because if it were still like it was back in my day, you'd be dead by now. Son, compared to me, you are one serious weenie."

I wrote all of this so that if I have any women who read this blog, it might shed helpful insight into why your boys act like they do. And if any men happen to read it, I just wanted you to know that I've been through boot camp and that I recently hiked 28 miles over 5 mountains carrying 50lbs on my back.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Mr. Switch

We have a new member of our household. His name is Mr. Switch. Mr. Switch was plucked green from an overgrown azalea bush in the yard. He is quite thin but resilient. He is around 12 inches long with a slight curve. He tapers off to a very thin end.

Mr. Switch lives on top of the bookshelf in my office at home. He is balanced there on the end so that anyone who walks by may see him. Mr. Switch is happy living on the bookshelf, and he doesn't like to come down. Indeed, the only thing that can make him come down is when a certain little boy begins to act wickedly. When he does, Mr. Switch hears from his perch and he comes down.

Mr. Switch has officially replaced Mr. Spoon. We have found that, for whatever reason, Mr. Switch instills greater fear of punishment, and yet he is not as heavy handed. The wife and I feel good about Mr. Switch. Indeed, I feel good that he is watching me this very moment from his ledge on the bookshelf.

"He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly" (Proverbs 13:24).

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A Look at Certainty

Certainty is a funny thing. We all like it. We want to be certain that our investments will yield a decent profit. We want to be certain that our children receive a good education. We want to be certain that our spouse is being faithful to us.

But this kind of certainty does not work like math. Math is comforting because 2 + 2 is always 4. In life, this sort of certainty is rare, and I believe it can be a spiritually devastating thing to seek a sort of mathematical certainty in the arena of spiritual decision. It can lead to needless worry, indeed a sinful worry, if we obsess over a type of certainty that is never guaranteed to us. The truth is that my last physical could have missed a cancer that is currently killing me, but I am confident that I am okay. That sort of "it could be" doubt arises due to the uncertainties of this life, and I believe that they can be silenced through a mature and confident walk with the Lord Jesus Christ.

I own a 12 gauge Remington shotgun. I have used it to devastating effect on various critters over the past 18 years. I have taken that shotgun apart more times than I can remember. I know how it patterns at 30 yards with a 3 inch magnum turkey load, and I know how it shoots with number eight shot with a modified choke tube. I also know that it is currently unloaded and locked in my gun safe.

Yet, if I were to walk with someone into my office and get that gun out, and they asked, "Are you certain that this gun is unloaded?" I'd say, "Yes, I'm quite certain." And they said, "Well, then I guess you wouldn't be frightened if I were to point it at you and pull the trigger, right?" I confess freely that I would be quite nervous. I've seen what that thing can do. Indeed, if I said, "Well, no." And they said, "Alright, go ahead and check it." If I checked it and found it empty, and then I handed it back and they said, "Now would you be afraid if I pointed it at you and pulled the trigger?" I would still say, "Yes."

Do I have a little bit of doubt? Yes? Would you say it is unreasonable doubt? Perhaps. Maybe I am just a little bit paranoid. To see a gun barrel pointed in my direction makes me a little nervous, even if I am "certain" that it is unloaded. But this type of doubt is no reason for me to throw away all hopes of any sort of real certainty.

I believe that it is quite understandable that people often struggle with spiritual certainty, whether it be over a concern so great as salvation or with entering some sort of ministry. The stakes could not be higher. When death comes for us, we don't want to be uncertain about what happens next. Or, we don't want to waste our lives in a career or relationship that will not maximize our potential in Christ.

When this sort of difficulty comes, and I believe that it comes to us all, it is detrimental to then neglect Scripture. In terms of salvation, all the promises of God are there in bold print. Much could be said to the soul that struggles with this sort of ominous doubt, and I do not have time to deal with it thoroughly here. What I would say is that the best place to begin dealing with this question is not to look to the past but to concentrate on the present. Take the Bible, read John 3:16-18 and let God speak to you through His Word. Listen to Him, not your nagging doubts.

But for other things not pertaining to salvation, I try to reach a place in my decision making where I am comfortable that I am not shaming the gospel of Christ. Is this thing that I am pursuing sinful? If not, then I must ask is it beneficial? Is it beneficial for me only, or will it bring others closer to Christ as well, especially my family? Would it offend me if I knew that one of my spiritual mentors were to do this thing? Have I asked for their counsel? If not, then why not? Is it because I am embarrassed? What would appear to be the wisest decision?

If, after all of this, one can still pursue that new house or relationship or job or car or school with a clear conscience before the Lord, then I feel that is the type of certainty for which we strive. This sort of certainty is more related to the "confidence" that the Bible speaks of than mathematical certainty. Could one go through all of this and still make a mistake? Perhaps, but it is unlikely. One may still have jitters, just as when a double-checked empty gun is pointed in your direction, but I believe I sound, Biblical, Spirit-filled walk will quell such doubt.

In the end, we must walk by faith and not by sight, but this does not mean that we stumble blindly in the darkness. No, the Lord guides us very well by His Word and through His Spirit. We can be confident in the Lord's pleasure if we have placed everything before the bar of His Word and the counsel of His saints, and even if we still err after all is said and done, we may bank on the fact that God's mercy knows no bounds and that His grace is always sufficient.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Creative Writing: A Rite of Manhood

Seven boys stand in a circle with eyes turned toward the sky. Their attention is riveted to a spiraling football thrown heavenward. Each boy trying to anticipate the first bounce. Some are hoping to scoop up the ball and run for daylight, others are hoping to simply get out of the way. Jeremy is one of those boys.

Jeremy is a skinny kid of average height with curly blond hair, freckled cheeks, and glasses prone to slip down a sweaty nose. No one would mistake him for a future football star, not even Jeremy himself. His destiny lies in books and learning and invention, a discipline that can take him far and into a noble trade. But today, he must play this game with other boys. Life is more than books and notes.

The game which these boys play has no real winner. There are no touchdowns. Indeed, there is no scoring at all. There are no referees, and there are few rules. The game is simple. When the ball bounces, someone picks it up and runs for his life. The other six chase him like a pack of wolves intent on dragging down their prey. It's about competition and survival and thrill of the chase. It's about the freedom that comes with knowing you are doomed and yet running like you have a chance. Ah yes, we all know that we will eventually be caught and dragged to the earth, but not now, not while I still have a few moves left.

There are really three types in this game. The one type likes to grab the ball and try to break free. Another is the bully type. He doesn't care about carrying the ball, he only waits to put the hurt on the guy who grabs it. The third sort of hangs pack to pile on. They make feints for the ball, as if they will grab it, but they seldom do. They don't make tackles, and they don't run, and they pray that no one notices that they have the guts for neither.

Jeremy has watched the ball bounce, and he has watched one boy after another pick up the ball and run, only to eventually get clobbered. He has felt the excitement of the game, if only vicariously. His friend Trevor has gotten creamed again. Trevor likes to run the ball. Jeremy admires Trevor the way a boy admires a warrior fresh from battle. It is the fearlessness that he admires, the willingness to play against odds that are insurmountable.

Trevor rises from the ground and flings the ball into the air in a slow, lazy spiral. Jeremy watches, spellbound, as it rises. And that's when something happens in his heart. Something that cannot be fully explained to a boy or anyone else. It is something that goes back to the time that God made a man from dirt, from the time that man had to deal with thorns and wild animals and adversity. Jeremy comes from a long, unbroken line of men who have survived famines and wars and plagues and disease and shipwrecks and heartbreak. All boys do. And as that ball floats something may fire in a young boys heart, something of the spirit that he inherited from the survivors who came before. A passion to play and to run and to laugh while there is still time.

One bounce and the ball is his. Jeremy's heart is on fire. He is surrounded by boys who want nothing more than to grind him to dust, and yet it is his joy to put off their pleasure as long as he can. Somehow, he has broken free of the ring of boys. It comes at the cost of his T-Shirt. His mom will be appalled at the tear, and when she asks how it happened he will shrug and say that it happened playing football. That's all the explanation she'll get. Dad will overhear and smile; that's all the explanation he'll need.

And so Jeremy runs for his life. Like the rest, he won't get too far until he is pounded to the earth. And he will rise, indomitable and dirty, glasses hanging loosely from a sweaty nose. He will fling the ball into the air and wait for it to bounce, ready to give his brothers the thrill of being chased.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Baby's Heartbeat

Yesterday, I had the privilege of taking my wife to the doctor, the baby doctor, that is. We are now 11 weeks pregnant. After a brief check-up, the doctor asked us if we would like to try and hear the baby's heartbeat. Of course, we answered with an enthusiastic, "Yes!"(Does anyone ever answer "No" to that question?)

The doctor told us not to get our hopes up. There was only about a 50-50 chance that we would be able to hear the heartbeat this early. Amazingly, she stuck that gizmo on my wife's belly and immediately we heard the heartbeat loud and clear. 156 beats a minute. Praise the Lord! Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to spend the rest of the day googling baby heartbeats to see if I can figure out if the baby's a boy or a girl.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

What is Forgiveness?

I am troubled by how the average Christian understands the concept of forgiveness, and I cannot help but wonder if it is directly tied to a lousy understanding of repentance. If I am wrong, then I am the one who misunderstands how forgiveness works, and I need correction. Hopefully, some astute readers will be able to help me with this by affirmation or reproof.

So what is forgiveness? Here is the dictionary definition for "forgive":
1. To excuse for a fault or an offense; pardon. 2. To renounce anger or resentment against. 3. To absolve from payment of (a debt, for example).

Of these definitions, I like #2 the best because I think that it is the only real power that I have. It is not in my power to pardon sin or excuse it, and I certainly cannot absolve someone of a sin-debt. I can only "renounce anger and resentment." The question is, and it is a very good one, "How do I do that?"

I believe that the Bible is clear that if a brother asks for forgiveness, then we ought to forgive him. Jesus said, "Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him" (Luke 17:3). I also want to quickly point out that asking for forgiveness and being repentant are not always the same, and often one who is offended can tell the difference. But let me be clear and say that if someone sins against us, and after rebuke repents, we ought to forgive them for Christ's sake.

In all of this, I am not so much worried about the offender. I am worried about the offended. I am worried about a bitter, rebukeless Christianity. Bitter because sin should be punished, and when we are not confident that it will be, it leads to despair and enmity. Rebukeless because we think that we can easily go to a true forgiveness while short-cutting past the necessary rebuke. Confronting sin, I believe, is a necessary step in the forgiveness process.

I remember seeing after a school shooting, perhaps the one in West Virginia, where a group of students held up a sign saying that they forgave the shooter. I found that to be interesting. Such things are often heralded as a positive sign, and I believe if they found peace in the midst of the tragedy then good, and if by "forgiveness" they meant that they had given up resentment, then all the better. But I do not believe that people who go wild and shoot people and then kill themselves will be receiving any forgiveness from the Lord God. I believe that they will pay for their wickedness.

Practically speaking, if someone bursts into my son's school and guns him down, I will be grieved and angry because of such a wicked act. My personal challenge is to be rid of all thoughts of evil myself. That is, I cannot allow my soul to seethe with bitterness and hatred. I can pray that such a villain will find forgiveness in Christ, if they have not already killed themselves. But ultimately, my comfort will rest in knowing that both forgiveness and vengeance rest in the hand of God. That is, I know that He will not overlook this evil act of violence: either the murderer will pay or Christ will. Either way, I do not have to worry about justice being done in this situation. Therefore, my ability to forgive is based on the certain fact that evil will be paid for, one way or another. This way, I do not have to seethe with anger or long for my own vengeance. God will repay. I believe I once heard John Piper say, "If you hold a grudge, then you don't trust the judge." I believe that is a proverb worthy of acceptance.

Hopefully you are beginning to see how I believe forgiveness works. The only way that I believe you can be free from bitterness, anger, and an unforgiving spirit is to place absolute trust in the Lord God who does all things well. Whatever crime has been committed against you, beloved, the Lord will surely judge. They will pay the debt that their crime demands, down to the last penny. If they do not pay, then you can be certain that the sufferings of the Lord Jesus are sufficient to cover any debt that they may owe, and if they have found forgiveness in Him, then we should be free of resentment and full of joy.

In the end, for clarity's sake, I want to say that all forgiveness must be achieved with an eye on the cross and faith in God as judge. The Lord knows our sorrows, and He will not let injustice go unpunished. I pray that those of you who are battling with a real injustice and the resulting unforgiving spirit will find the grace to trust Christ more today that you may be free.

Monday, October 01, 2007

A Pastor and His Politics

*Warning, Satire to Follow*

I write this post to confess that I am utterly perplexed when it comes to the political realm, and I want to offer an apologetic to any candidate who cares on why I am not alone. For some reason, it has become vogue for evangelical pastors to be up-to-snuff on all things political, and since I am an "evangelical" pastor, I thought I'd give my political two cents here as a private citizen (<--- I think that I have to say that I'm giving this as a "private citizen" so my church won't be sued, just so you know.)

First, I freely confess that I am not qualified to speak on the American economy. The numbers are too big for me. My wife and I are supremely happy when our meager checkbook balances. If I expanded my personal economic policy to the political candidate most like myself, I would be left with no candidate. The main reason for that is that I abhor debt, and short of my one car payment, my wife and I have none. Yes, I drive a 1990 Ford Ranger, so what? Instead of putting my dollars down the sinkhole of depreciation, I have them working for me in an appreciating portfolio. Nice economics, if you ask me. I don't see anyone advocating that sort of policy, do you? I know, it's got to be more complicated than that or else Social Security wouldn't be in such a mess. It couldn't be a simple matter of spending more than we get, right?

Second, I have no idea what to do about the "immigration problem." I like people, and I like immigration. In fact, immigration makes my job easier. I am called to carry the gospel to the nations, it makes it convenient when the nations come to my neighborhood. I don't even have to move. If someone goes to the trouble of sneaking over here for employment, I say give the man a job. BTW, it baffles me that a man can sneak into our country with 20 pesos, no ID, and no English skills, and within a week he can find self-supporting labor. Yet, if I drive within two miles of my house I can find a half dozen healthy men sitting on their porch watching TV and smoking cigarettes all day. These have the advantage of being born here, they speak English just fine and have a perfectly good ID, and yet no job. Anybody up for addressing that problem?

Thirdly, I can't tell if politicians are serious. It seems to me that they spend a great deal of time talking about things that 50% of Americans have no idea about anyway. They talk about boosting the economy by creating more jobs and things like that. How does a politician create a job? And don't they all say that? Another favorite promise of a candidate is the one where they promise to improve the economy. I know I addressed this a little already, but let's think a little more about it. I recently read where the average American has over $9,000 in credit card debt alone. That means that the average American thinks that it makes economic sense to pay around $250 for an item that costs $100. So don't talk about economics and job creation, American voters don't understand that stuff anyway.

Fourthly, I do not know how to solve the education crisis. Part of me says, "Give me back my tax dollars and I'll educate the kids at home, thank you." But the other part of me knows that this will not work for everyone, and I have lived in this country long enough to know that I am financially responsible for not only educating my kids but everyone else's kids as well. So I guess my answer is to simply start paddling kids again, and if that doesn't work, send someone over to paddle their parents.

Fifthly, I hate taxes. I really like it when a candidate promises to cut taxes, but some folks say that cutting taxes is a bad idea. Apparently, if I stop giving the government half my paycheck the United States will be thrown into utter chaos. (You know, George Washington and the founding fathers thought it was a good idea to start shooting people over a 2 cent stamp tax. Those guys were crazy.) By the way, I think that George Bush cut my taxes. This makes him an alright guy in my book.

Sixthly, I don't know what to do about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Personally, I think that we should send in the Wal-Mart executives. If people in Iraq could have a Wal-Mart to walk around in, it would do wonders to relieve stress and to promote the beauty of capitalism.

That pretty much sums up my political dilemma. I know that many of you may be dismayed that I did not even venture into the realm of morality. I would, but it wouldn't really help you, would it?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth

I have always imagined that when the Bible described the "wailing and gnashing of teeth" of those cast away from the presence of God in the judgment that this was an expression of physical pain, sort of like when a linebacker pulls a hamstring (cf. Matt. 13:42, 50). But I was stunned to find the same word for "gnashing" used in Acts 7:54. The scene is the martyrdom of Stephen. The word of God says that after his testimony that "when they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth."

The context here is that they utterly despised Stephen and were enraged at the words which he spoke; his words were words of condemnation to them. I wonder now if that wailing and gnashing signifies something more than more pain at the torment they are enduring. I believe that it also signifies their continuing hatred of God, especially because they have been righteously judged for their sins.

It is incredible to imagine that after seeing the glory of God in Christ, and even after hearing a just and holy verdict, that those who are sentenced will feel, instead of remorse, even greater hate towards God. But I believe that this is entirely possible, and I believe that apart from the grace of God, such enmity is the natural response of the fallen heart. This makes the miracle of the newbirth and the staggering change that it brings in the human character all the more marvelous.

What say you? Do you believe that when the wicked are judged that they will be repentant, or that they will become even more recalcitrant than before? Will the gnashing of teeth be out of pain only, or will they gnash their teeth at the Sovereign God the way they did at His martyr Stephen?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Fun Picture

This is my son trying to smuggle himself into my backpack before our man-trip to Arkansas. I can't wait until he can go for real.

Changes in My Short Life

I was born in 1974, which really isn't that long ago...I think. Anyway, I was thinking about how many changes I have seen in my short life. Some of this may be due to economics, I don't know. I was thinking how weird the world would be without our upgrades, and how weird younger people would think it would be without this stuff. Here are the inventions in no particular order.

1) Cordless phones. When I was a kid, all our phones were connected by a long, slinky looking cord. These cords were magically altered to tangle so that, no matter what you were reaching for, you would come up 6 inches short. Also, the cord was designed to snap out from between your chin and shoulder when reaching for said object so that it could bang on the ground and wall with maximum force. I remember when my dad got a cordless phone. We all took turns walking around the house saying, "Can you hear me now? I'm like, 20 feet from the base. I'm serious! I can reach my keys and everything!"

2) Cell phones. These were like cordless phones, only you could drive with them. A friend had one of the early models. It was a huge box/phone that went in your car. I think it cost $20 a minute to run the thing. Recently, I was watching "Commando" on TBS. (You know, the Schwarzenegger movie with Alyssa Milano in it?) Anyway, the bad guys were trying to call the big boss and tell him that Schwarzenegger had gotten off the plane but they couldn't find a pay phone to make the call. Pay phones...remember those?

3) Computers. Yes, there was a time when I had no computer, and neither did anyone else. I had an early Commodore 64. Here's a flashback for you, Load "*" ,8,1. I hooked it in directly to the TV and stayed up all night playing Bard's Tale. Fabulous, man, fabulous.

4) Microsoft Word. Seem like a little deal to you? FYI, I learned to "type" on a real live typewriter. I wrote term papers on typewriters. A typewriter! Egad. I cannot imagine trying to do that again. The very thought of it gives me the creeps.

5) Remote control TV. My dad got an RCA TV with a remote control when I was a kid. That means you didn't have to get up to "turn the dial." His TV actually malfunctioned whilst under warranty, so he sent it back and got a new one. He failed to pack up the remote with the return, so we had two remotes. I hid outside with the second remote and changed the channels on him when he tried to use the volume and etc. What a hoot.

6) LASIK surgery. Holy smokes, they can do surgery on your eyeballs now with laser beams and you will have nigh perfect vision the next day. Can you believe it? I know this may not seem like a wild advancement to you, but that's because you probably haven't ponied up the $1300 yet to get yours fixed. I asked the doctor if I gave him an extra $500 if he would install X-Ray vision. He said, "Not yet." Upon reflection I was quite thankful that this cannot yet be done. Men are not to be trusted with X-ray vision under any circumstance.

7) The internet. I used to have to look things up in an Encyclopedia. Thank you Al Gore!

8) TiVo. Possibly the most wonderful invention in the past 25 years. Actually, it is neck and neck with the Post-It Note invention and the CamelBack.

9) Actually, TiVo, Schmee-Vo. I remember when the VCR came out. We had a Beta Max. We backed the wrong horse on that deal.

10) Satellite TV. Okay, not really a universe shaking invention, but when my aunt and uncle got a "satellite" in the 80's, the thing took up half the backyard. It looked like they were trying to contact Mars, not watch television.

11) Microwave Oven. This was a divine inspiration. Without this invention, God knew that thousands of college freshman would have cruelly starved to death each year.

12) Computer Animation. We are thankful for this invention, precious, because it made it possible for the Lord of the Rings Trilogy to be done right. I mean, can you say, "Clash of the Titans"? Remember the special effects in that one? If not for computer animation, Gollum would have had to be played by Steve Buscemi with a shaved head.

13) CD's. I grew up listening to "The Charlie Daniel's Band" on 8-track. (8 Tracks are like CD's with tape, only you get fewer songs and can only fast-forward.) We had an Eagle's 8-track as well. I had the J. Geils Band album. In case you don't know, that a big record. I listened to "Freeze Frame" about 1 million times. There was another song on that album that I used to like, but now I am aghast that I listened to it at such a tender age. I had no idea what they were talking about. My blood runs cold indeed.

I think that's enough reminiscing for one day. You guys can add your own favorite, recent, life-changing inventions.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

John Calvin on Church Discipline

I thought I'd share something from my reading today. Calvin has some interesting things to say about Church discipline. He seemed quite anxious that the Church's exercise of discipline might turn into cruelty and legalism.

"Although excommunication also punishes the man, it does so in such a way that, by forewarning him of his future condemnation, it may call him back to salvation. But if that be obtained, reconciliation and restoration to communion await him. Moreover, anathema is very rarely or never used. Accordingly, though ecclesiastical discipline does not permit us to live familiarly or have intimate contact with excommunicated persons, we ought nevertheless to strive by whatever means we can in order that they may turn to a more virtuous life and may return to the society and unity of the church. So the apostle also teaches: 'Do not look upon them as enemies, but warn them as brothers' [II Thess. 3:15]. Unless this gentleness is maintained in both private and public censures, there is danger lest we soon slide down from discipline to butchery." [From Calvin's Institutes, Chapter XII, Section 10].

When Calvin spoke of "excommunication," he meant that persons under discipline were not allowed to partake of the Lord's Supper, unless they met the condition of repentance for which they were under discipline. This is why he mentions that the "anathema" is very rarely or never used. Anathema meaning that someone was essentially cut off from Christ without hope of reconciliation.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Heart of a Savage

For almost two years now, I've had something living in my attic that I cannot catch, poison, or even see. I have long thought that this varmint was a squirrel. The only problem with that theory was that the critter liked to move his attic furniture in the middle of the night, and squirrels don't usually do that.

Last night, I believe that I finally came face to face with my nemesis. It was no squirrel, oh no, not a squirrel at all. Squirrels are cute, sort of, and they make a good spaghetti. This thing is useful for nothing.

You have to understand the build up to this encounter. I have tried everything to get rid of this pest who keeps me up at night. We've tried traps, rat poison, boarding up the awning on the house, and we've even called the pest control to no avail. It's been like a bad Disney movie where the guy keeps being outwitted by some dumb animal.

So last night I open the back door to bring my dog's food into the house, and much to my fright, the nefarious creature is less than 6 inches from my foot eating my dog's food. It was an opossum, possibly the ugliest creature that God ever made. And, I kid you not, the thing hissed at me. It hissed! I just about died of a heart attack.

Fortunately, my girlie squeal was interpreted by the creature as a sign of hostility, so it retreated under my grill and stared at me. My first thought was to run into the house and grab my shotgun, but I figured that the gun going off at 11:00pm in my neighborhood might scare a few folks. Plus, the clever animal had curled himself around the gas tank of the grill, and I figured if the shotgun didn't wake the neighbors, then the exploding tank rattling the windows would surely do the trick.

So I did the only thing that I knew to do. I went and got my garden hoe. I didn't know exactly what I'd do with it, but I decided that if the beast went on the attack that this would be my best option. So there I was, hoe in hand, staring down my nemesis. I was only momentarily distracted by noticing that my wife was watching through the window. I didn't know what to do, but I knew I needed to act manly.

I stared at this opossum for a good three minutes, and for a moment, I pitied him. Yes, he had woken me up almost every night for a year and a half, and he had pilfered food from my beloved dog's bowl for who knows how long, and he had generally embarrassed me in front of my wife countless times already. ("Honey, what's that noise?" Me, "What noise?" Her, "That one, in the attic!" Me, "It's that creature waking us up again at 2am." Her, "Are you going to get rid of it or what!") He looked so helpless laying under that grill staring at me with those beady black eyes. So I did the only thing a man could do in that situation. I smashed him in the face with the hoe as hard as I could.

I couldn't really get a good swing at him, and that's what really irks me. It was really more of a jab than a swing, and I think the blow was partially absorbed by the gas tank instead of fully on his skull like I had planned. Regardless, he streaked out from under the grill and headed for my shop, which I can only surmise is the point of entry to the house. (The two are connected.)

But I wasn't going to give up that easily. I went on a savage rampage, swinging and striking at the scurrying, hissing beast like a maniac. I hit a tricycle, a Red Flyer Wagon, a box of sidewalk chalk, and one folding metal chair. I managed to graze him once more before he vanished behind the building, but I suspect I did little damage to him.

Though I managed to drive the enemy from the field, I do not know if I would call this encounter a total victory. I know that somewhere nearby, and sullen opossum is licking his wounds and planning his revenge. But last night, he didn't scurry in the attic for the first time in a year, and if he comes back, I'll have my hoe handy.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Personal Gift from Our Father

I often marvel at the greatness of the Lord God. I wonder at His power and glory and holiness. I see the universe and its vastness and I realize that this great place in which we live is a mere reflection of His might. It is easy to admire that sort of majesty.

In some ways, it is like admiring Einstein's intellect because for its genius, or watching an athlete at the top of his game. We are amazed at what they accomplish. They become our heroes. We wear their jerseys, and we cheer for them and watch them perform. Or we study them and their writings and are enriched by their ability to communicate such wonderful things.

I believe then, it is easy to marvel at God at arm's length. It is an altogether different story when His majesty comes close. It is absolutely life-changing when the Maker of All Things is near enough, and concerned enough, to hear and sympathize with the longings of our heart. He made the stars, and yet He is concerned with my needs, even with my unnecessary desires.

Almost three years ago, God blessed us with a healthy baby boy. We were, and are, ecstatic about that. Soon after, however, my wife developed a complication and had to have surgery. We were told that it was highly unlikely that we would have anymore children, even if we opted for "help," which we quickly decided against.

We prayed, and we decided that if this were God's will, then we would be content with it, and since we had a desire for more children, we would look into adoption. We rejoiced to think that we might be able to become the parents of a child in this way, and we prayed that the Lord might help with the financial end of that process.

But the desire of our heart was for another child of our own. I confess that I asked God for this often, even with tears. I wondered if such a prayer was selfish, and I still wonder. I knew that my wife wanted to carry another child. We were content with no more, and we were thankful for our son, but we wanted another baby. So despite the fact that it might be selfish, I asked for a baby. And now, almost two years from the time that we were told of the improbability, the Lord has opened the womb of my wife. She is two months pregnant and wonderfully "morning sick."

I cannot here describe how this makes me feel. I am filled with rejoicing, but it is not simply because we are, God willing, having a baby. I rejoice because I know that God heard me and He answered. My hero came to visit, and He saw my tears and He listened to my request. He was not too big or busy to hear me in this matter, and even if I was being selfish, He granted my desire. He treated me like a son, like someone important, like someone worthy of His attention.

I am a theologian and pastor and student of the Bible. I know that God omnipotent and omniscient. I know that He parted the waters for Israel; I know that He governs the nations. I know that God is working in the world for His glory, and that He will get it on a global scale. His plans are world-wide so that the nations may marvel. I get the "big picture," and I love it. God's plans are so big and so marvelous that I am sometimes ashamed to ask for what I want. My personal requests feel like bothering dad when he's busy at the office.

So I write this post, in part, to thank my God for once again demonstrating that He cares for and loves "the least of these," to try and convey to you my humility at His graciousness, and to solicit yet more prayers on my behalf that our baby will grow and be healthy. In all this, I have become even more a debtor to God's grace, and I am the happiest, most grateful debtor on earth.

Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness,
And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
For He satisfies the longing soul,
And fills the hungry soul with goodness.
(Psalm 107:8-9)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Creative Writing: Intercession

The pleasure of tucking him into bed belongs to me, though the joy is often a shared one. Each night is the same, I tell my son that I love him, and I lay my hand on his head and I pray for him. He laughs because he's two and I force a smile. He doesn't yet know the seriousness of prayer, and he cannot know the burden of the heart. He just knows that bedtime is near, and he hopes that laughter will entice one last moment of play before sleep.

I pray for him to have a peaceful rest, and I pray for his health. This is easy and comes with no sorrow. In the end, I pray for his soul. Every night, I wrestle for his sake that God will take him and fashion him after the image of Christ. I plead for God to change his heart and rescue him from sin's folly.

I intercede for many sons and daughters, but this one is mine. This is my son, and my heart is knit to him. I want, more than all others, for this one to be saved. I cannot bear the thought of eternal condemnation for my son, my flesh and blood, my baby. I know that he has a sinner's heart; this, too, he inherited from his father. I know that God's swift judgment would be just and right and praiseworthy. But I tremble for it, and I doubt God's justice in it in my heart.

I comfort myself with thoughts of the age of accountability, though the evidence is scarce and rather flimsy. But this delay will not last long, for soon he will be a man and his sin will mature. What will be my comfort then if he lives and loves rebellion against the Holy One?

In my mind's eye I can see him there before the throne of the King, awaiting his sentence. My son, my only-begotten son, standing before the Lord of All Souls in the terror of judgment. I cannot shield him; I cannot save him in that day, and I cannot blame my God for doing right. Should my son be commanded to depart forever, I must kiss the rod and praise the King, for I know that He is just for doing so.

These thoughts are soul-grinding thoughts, and they leave me nearly without strength. So each night, I slip into my son's room and I lay my hand upon his head and I pray for God to spare him. He giggles while I plead.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Sinful Remembrance

I have a hard time watching dramatic television. In truth, I have a hard time watching goofy television. My wife makes fun of me because I have to get up and leave the room so often during episodes of television shows. The reason is because I cannot stand to watch people do things that will lead to awkward or humiliating consequences, even in a comedic situation.

Unfortunately for me, I have 1,000 such scenarios stored in my memory banks. Not from silly things on TV, but episodes from my past that I have grown to regret. I regret them because of the shame they have brought to me and to my Lord; I regret them because of the selfish sin that prompted the actions. Yes, I am forgiven, but that doesn't stop the squirm when a fresh re-run of my iniquity passes through my mind.

I have come to see these episodes as chances at rehabilitation. Instead of immediately switching channels in my mind, I allow myself to remember the humiliation that sin brings. I try to feel the remorse now that I should have felt then, and I repent that I ever did such a deed or thought such a thought. I believe that this can be a healthy exercise, as long as we remember in view of Christ's atonement and our justification.

Augustine did this, and one particular thing he remembered was a vivid picture for me of the pre-salvation love of sin for sin's sake and the remorse and repentance of the born-again Christian. Augustine recalled a time in his youth when he and some of his friends had stolen some fruit out of a neighbor's tree. Augustine said that he stole the fruit despite the fact that he had better fruit at his home. He wasn't even hungry when he did the deed. Indeed, they wound up feeding most of the fruit to pigs. So why had he stolen the fruit? He could only conclude that he stole the fruit because he loved sin. He stole the fruit, not for the sake of fruit, but to satisfy his craving to do evil.

Sometimes Christians feel overwhelmed by past sin. For the record, I think that this can be a good thing. Anytime we begin to realize that we are unworthy of grace and are, at heart, brazen sinners, we have arrived at a pivotal, life-changing truth. When we realize that grace can reach us there, even in the slop-pit of our own making, we begin to see the beauty of a crucified Savior.

So when those embarrassing re-runs pass through my mind, I feel the shame afresh. This helps me in two ways: It reminds me of the shame of wickedness, thereby cautioning me against committing the same wickedness. Secondly, it reminds me that I have a great Savior. When I committed those foul deeds, I relished my sin. Now, I am ashamed, deeply ashamed, and I pray to be even more so. That, my friends, is a work that only grace can bring.

I remember my iniquity, but I do not linger on it. I leave that valley of shadow as many other have before me. I'll let my thought on the matter be expressed in the words of Horatio Spafford, who said it much better than I ever could:

My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more,
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Apologetic Frustration

"In order to know truth, you must pray that God will reveal it to you. In order to know truth, you must read God's word. If you do these two things, sincerely, then God will show you that what I am saying is true. Why don't you pray that God will reveal to you that the Book of Mormon is true, he did for me."

Sounds pretty good right up to the last point, doesn't it? I have faithfully kept my appointments with the LDS missionaries each time they come by since I have been here. I'm on the list, and so each new crew comes by for a visit. Tonight's appointment was the most frustrating yet.

The girls were sweet and gracious. They were not argumentative, nor were they easily ruffled. Though they were certainly not Scripturally knowledgeable, they knew their Mormon theology quite well. After a certain number of visits, I know, generally where to steer the conversation, but tonight that didn't help.

Did you know that the authority to baptize was lost from the death of the apostles until the apostles appeared to Joseph Smith? When I argued the point, I was told that this was the fulfillment of the great "falling away" that Paul predicted to Timothy. Amos had foreseen it as well.

So I turned to the essence and being of God Himself. This proved totally fruitless. They simply insisted that we were the same essence as him, that we were eternal like him, that we had chosen to come here from before the foundation of the world so that we might become more like him, and that the Scripture never contradicted this. Nothing I could muster would satisfy.

Besides, they knew that the Book of Mormon was true because God had told them it was true. And that, in the end, is how we know truth. God tells us through our feelings, and when that happens, no amount of persuasion would change our minds.

We touched on the glory of God, I countered with every Scripture I could think of, but each was cleverly warped to fit into their thinking. The fact that I refused to pray about God revealing to me whether or not the Book of Mormon was true was simply evidence of my hard-heart. I said plainly that the Bible was the source of authority and that it contradicted Joseph Smith. That was met with incredulous looks.

I seriously prefer debate with the Jehovah's Witnesses. Seriously.

So where would you go, dear reader, to demonstrate that we are not of the same essence as God? (It's not enough to say, "There's nothing like God!" They simply respond, "Of course there's nothing like God. He's way ahead of us!") And where would you go to prove that the church never ceased to exist outside of Ephesians 3?