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?