Tuesday, December 16, 2008

St Jude

Saturday, December 6 was a special day for me. I had signed up for the St Jude Half Marathon a few weeks prior and the day had arrived. I picked up running in seminary again, after taking several years off in favor of gorging myself on Chick-Fil-A and overall laziness in college and part of seminary. In April 2006 I ran my first half, and I had longed to do another one. Timing and circumstances had long prevented that, but here it was!

The weather forecast was for the low to mid 30's, which always sounds great. That morning, I learned the weatherman can be right once in a while. It was a cold morning, but the thing that worried me more was that I had not trained as hard for this as I had my first half. I hadn't done the long runs or done the hill training I had done before, and so I was very concerned that I would not be able to make the full 13.1 miles. My plan was to aim for an 8:30/mile pace, somewhat slower than my training runs but I wanted to err on the side of caution.

After some good luck hugs and kisses from Carrie, the waves starting rolling out as me and 11,000 of my new friends took off for the course. It was a pretty course, going by many of the historic landmarks of Memphis, down to the riverfront where Old Muddy was hard at work living up to the name. Then came the funny part, somewhere around mile 3 the course runs back through Beale Street and this is where the crowd is roaring. Out of nowhere on 3rd Street in front of the Peabody Place a manhole cover jumped in front of me and tripped me up, and I ate pavement in front of a few hundred people. I freaked out at first, well actually I sprang up like nothing had happened, then freaked out that I had twisted an ankle and then noticed a pain in my wrist, elbow, and my hand was bloody. Not going to lie, first thought was "I don't care if the wrist is broken, I'll dry the blood, deal with the elbow later. I signed up for this and paid for it and I'm going to finish this! Ow, Ow, Ow...."

My strategy was to coast for the first 7-8 miles and then depending on how I felt I would start to turn it on and finish strong. I clocked in at around 8:36 for the first 6 miles, and then around mile 8 I was feeling so good and barely felt like I'd expended much energy that I turned it on and began to push myself harder than I had done in a training run. Around mile 11 I talked to a guy who was starting at Southern in the fall, and that was awesome. Right before the finish at the stadium I saw Carrie and sorta posed for a picture! I knew she would be there and looked feverishly for her. Seeing her gave me the strength to push that last quarter mile in an almost sprint to the line.

When I crossed the line I looked up and saw the time, but I had no idea what my official time was (wave starts mean big delays). It turned out that I had turned in a PR, 1:49:09, a pace of about 8:20 per mile. I was so excited to have been able to complete the course, get a warm blanket, change into dry (and not smelly) clothes, get some hot food, and a big kiss from my wife!

To God be the glory though, anything I do is for Him and only because of Him. It is a gift I do not plan to waste.

On to Nashville, first full marathon. Bring on 26.2!

Sorry for the Delay!

Sorry for the long delay in postings, but the last week and a half has been very interesting. After doing St Jude I took a couple days to rest but then came down with a wicked cold and found myself working almost double the hours I normally do at Starbucks.
Have no fear! We shall pick back up again!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What Do I Contend For?

I have often wondered about what my objective in ministry is, what sorts of things I would like to accomplish while having the ability under the grace of God to do. The countless times I have worked on, edited, and redone my resume the most difficult part of it is not the experiences or education background, but what my objective is in ministry. Those of you who know me know that I have never felt a particular calling to any one aspect of ministry. I have struggled for years with that, in the end concluding that my calling is anything from pastor, youth minister, professor, missionary, church planter, martyr, anything not music. The Lord has protected me from the embarrassment of singing by giving me absolutely no desire to ever do that, and I thank Him daily for that.

Still though, my mind is left wondering exactly what my purpose is. It has weighed so heavily on me that throughout seminary I began to wonder if I had really been called to ministry if I had such an unclear understanding of a "calling." It was hard for me to conceive being called to one particular area. Currently I serve as a youth minister, but I do not feel a driving call to youth ministry. I am on the roster as an adjunct instructor at a Christian college, but I do not feel a driving urge and desire to teach at the university. It was hard for me as a seminary student to wrap my mind and heart around what my "calling" was, and to make any sense of it.

My greatest joy is still found in what initially got me thinking about a call to ministry, the preparation and execution of teaching/preaching the Word. There is very little about ministry that excites me as much as the opportunities to preach and teach. I have never been big on meetings, nor is administration one of my strong points (though I have learned to do both and appreciate them for what they are), and in spite of my great compassion for people and love to see reconciliation I have very little patience for stupidity. But when opening the Word and diving into its meaning, application, context, significance, and power, it sounds corny but there is an elation that surges through my being that shouts out "you want your objective, here it is!"

With this glimpse into the calling God has placed on my life, I have began to understand a little more of what it is He expects from me. The study and teaching of the Scripture, being my foremost love in ministry, has also become the cornerstone of my ministry. Relationships are great and God has used many over the years for impacting the Kingdom, but I will not be judged for that. Nor will I be judged for programming or for having the cool youth events. No dear friend, I will be judged on how I have taught and presented the Scripture. What will stand for eternity is not programming or Disciple Now, but the Word of God. And so, it is with that cornerstone understanding I have been able to understand a little more of what it is that the Lord expects of me.

This brings us to the title of this post, what is it I contend for. I must say that there are many pressing needs that I desire strongly to fight against, that my heart and energy can, has, and will be poured into. I will contend for the rights of the unborn, I will contend for righteousness in living, I will contend for the personhood of all people regardless of circumstance, I will contend for the next generation that God is rising to be about His Kingdom coming. More than anything though, I will contend for the faith, I will contend for the Truth. My heart longs for the reclaiming of Truth as essential and objective, and for the Church to carry on the faith in the Jude 3 model. My assignment is to proclaim Truth to students, to engage them in the metanarrative of Scipture, and through this challenge them to live their faith daily contending also for the Truth in a culture that is increasingly anti-Christian. I want them to be dangerous arrows in the arsenal of God, and I want the legions of hell to shake in their boots when they hear of this generation of students. I want the Word of God to so permeate their lives that they sweat the very words of Christ, and for them to be aggressively dependent on the Spirit for everything in their lives. Big goals I know, and very lofty objectives, but I don't care. I have a big God who can meet those, and I pray by His grace He does. Ultimately though, it's not about me. I want them to forget me, I want to never be remembered by anyone, to have a simple grave and simple funeral, because my desire is that I become less and He become more. I close with the Southern Seminary hymn, Soldiers of Christ in Truth Arrayed. It is the Truth I contend for, not acceptance or esteem. I pray I be hated for the Truth of the Gospel than loved for tickling ears.

Soldiers of Christ, in truth arrayed,
A world in ruins needs your aid:
A world by sin destroyed and dead;
A world for which the Savior bled.

His Gospel to the lost proclaim,
Good news for all in Jesus’ Name;
Let light upon the darkness break
That sinners from their death may wake.

Morning and evening sow the seed,
God’s grace the effort shall succeed.
Seedtimes of tears have oft been found
With sheaves of joy and plenty crowned.

We meet to part, but part to meet
When earthly labors are complete,
To join in yet more blest employ,
In an eternal world of joy.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Black Friday

These are two stories that made me absolutely sick this weekend, and I wanted to share them with you.

Wal-Mart Employee Trampled

Shooting at Toys R Us

First off, my heart and prayers go out to the families of these people who were killed because of the rush on Black Friday. The Toys R Us story is not as tragic as the Wal-Mart, but both break my heart that the holidays will forever have a black stain on them because of this.

My thoughts on this are simple, that we as a society have gone pretty far down the toilet when bargain shopping becomes such a frenzy that lives are lost. Somehow I hope this gets our materialism under control and we see the insanity that Black Friday has become.

My prayers are with those affected by the tragedies and many others that may have been hurt during the rushes across the nations. I hope those responsible for these incidents are happy with their plasma TVs and iPods.


Thursday, unless you live in a cave, was Thanksgiving. This post should have been done then but I had to be rolled from the car to the house from all the turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, etc., oh yeah and pie that I had for supper. This is a short list of some things I'm thankful for this year

1) My wife - Simply put, there is no one else on this planet I could imagine being as happy with as I am with her. She is my best friend, my confidant, my support, my fashion consultant, but more than anything else my helpmate.

2) My church - I serve on staff at a church that teaches the Scripture, and while we may not be a large church or while our youth ministry may still be small, I love that we are faithful to the teaching, exposition, authority, and sufficiency of the Scripture. So many churches chase after the flavor of the week to get people in the door, but the key mark of the church is its view on the Word.

3) My family - I miss them a ton, and I hate that we're over 300 miles apart now that I have moved to Memphis. But I am glad to be able to talk to them, and I have been so blessed that they are able to come and visit as often as they have. I look forward to them coming and my dad truly has been one of the big influences on me as a person.

4) My new family - On October 18th I officially joined the Puckett family as the #2 son in law. Carrie's parents, sister and brother-in-law and niece have been nothing short of wonderful during our dating, engagement, and in the early days of our marriage. There has been nothing but encouragement, warmth, welcome, and I have so much enjoyed having them in my life the last two years.

5) My job - I love having a steady source of income, and while Starbucks can be quite aggravating with the people and the crazy hours, God has blessed me to be able to work there and have affordable health insurance. I certainly do not agree with them on everything, but they are a company that knows how to take care of its employees.

6) My friends - It's so weird to think that some of my best friends live many hours away, but thanks to the wonders of modern technology and a central home base of Louisville, I have been able to keep up with and see many dear friends who have meant so much over the years. I thank them for keeping me sane, for listening to my crazy ideas, and for being there to share in so much.

This is but a short list, many more come to mind. Thanks most of all to my Lord and Savior, because He chose me for Himself out of His grace to have a fellowship with Him both here and for eternity, that I have no claim for or deserve, simply because He loved me and because left to myself I never would have chosen Him. From someone with a heavy heart and much that has kept him up late, thank you Lord for your mercy and grace extended to someone who did nothing to deserve anything but your wrath and condemnation.

Integrity Still Exists

Sorry for the delay in posts, was very busy on a short week last week trying to get things accomplished before leaving for Thanksgiving weekend.

This article caught my attention as I was reading through the top news online. It is the story of JP Hayes, a former PGA regular earning his way back to the Tour by playing at Q-School. Here is a link to the article, but the summary of it is he discovered he was using a ball that was not officially recognized as legit for play, and because of that he disqualified himself from the competition.

Golf is a funny game, if nothing else for the fact that guys in goofy pants (i.e. Payne Stewart) hit a small ball a long way on nice grass and then try to get the small ball into a small hole. It really is a fun game to play, even when you're lucky to hit it once on the fairway in an entire round (my game). It is often said golf is a good walk spoiled, but it is a very relaxing game, fun to play with a small group of friends allowing for a lot of fellowship and conversation. It is also a gentleman's game, where players are responsible for policing themselves and enforcing the rules of the game on themselves (and now you know why your uncle Larry shoots a 70 average).

What Hayes did is significant not because he recognized that he cheated, I think most cheats do and know exactly what they are doing. Hayes had the real choice of not reporting it, finishing high enough to earn his Tour card and return to a good life on the PGA, or to report it and thus disqualify himself from more prestigious events and probably cost him thousands in earnings from tournaments. What he did was in respect for the game and what it stands for.

Thank you JP, for showing us that integrity and professional sports can still be used in the same sentence. In a day of Congressional denials about steroids, Spygate, etc., it is refreshing to know that there are some out there with enough respect for the game to play by the rules, even when no one is watching. I encourage our students often to have integrity in what they do, that character is who they are when no one is watching, and that in the little things is where you are able to most glorify God.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

November Runs

OK so I want to know who came up with this whole global warming thing, because I froze my tail off running today! I mean really, if the polar bears are dying because it's hot at the North Pole, come to Memphis! It's cold here!

I also want to know what scale the Memphis weathermen use when determining temperature. They said it was 42 degrees this afternoon, but I was wondering if they were using Fahrenheit or the Kelvin scale.

Just tossing these thoughts out there?

I'll be good for God's sake

The Christmas season is fast approaching us, and for many of us this means stringing out lights that probably don't work, putting up a tree that requires hours to get straight up and down, tons of ham and turkey, time with family, etc. The holiday of Christmas has undergone a well, transformation in recent years in terms of becoming more of a religiously vague secularized day of celebration. There is not a central event or person of celebration, just a celebration. And this is something we tolerate so long as we get toys and fruit cakes and a couple weeks out of school.

Recently though, the push to remove Christ from Christmas has become a much more aggressive position, rather than passive opposition it is now much more active and aggressive. The humanist/secularist/atheist movement is now finding itself on best seller lists and within the greater culture as well as the Academy. In Washington DC, there has been a recent advertising push from the American Humanist Association, with the slogan "Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake." The article from CNN can be found here.

This approach is problematic for several reasons. The first is the concept of being "good." What is the definition of good behavior? We believe in the existence of good because God in His personhood is good. There is a standard for good and bad, and this standard of objective truth can be found from the revelation of God, which is the Scriptures. We must also recognize than when the individual (or even the society) exists sovereign over itself and to determine what is true and right, we are left with a subjective understanding of this, and therefore now clear-cut call of what is good. In the words of Judges, everyone did what was right in their eyes. One person has the option of doing certain things that could be considered good, because as an autonomous determiner of truth and goodness, the degree of goodness is in the eyes of the participant, not from an outside other. This ultimately is where we have found ourselves in light of the post-modernity movement.

The second area of concern comes from the idea that the denial of an existence of God frees us from any sort of moral or social responsibility. To deny the existence of God does not diminish His reality or His rule over creation. It doesn't work like Santa, whose sled is fueled by the "Christmas Spirit" whatever that is. So to free oneself from the moral constraints of believing in a god is a foolish attempt to place oneself on the throne and declare the self to be the decider of what is moral. The widespread denial of God is only a recent thing, as the word "atheist" did not come to be coined in English until the Enlightenment period (not surprising...).

We are then left with the third area of concern, the being good for goodness' sake. I understand this is from the song Santa Claus is Coming to Down, but really? The reason for being good was because Santa was coming to town. The concept of being good just for the sake of being good is problematic in the sense that this assumes that there is no reason or purpose in good conduct and "being good." There are no rewards for good behavior, and the telos in being good is found simply in being good. This contrasts a Christian worldview which sees all things as working towards the telos of the coming Kingdom of Christ. Christians are expected to "be good" for the purpose if glorifying the Father and being the light to the nations. The expectation for the believer is to be of good character because the fruit of our character is reflective of the salvation we experience through Christ. There is so much more to being good for the sake of being good, for a Christian the reason to be good is because it is with our lives we have the opportunity to glorify God in whatever we do.

While this is a fringe movement in a local setting, there is some concern considering the recent advances of the atheist/secularist movement in American society. We should remember that our reason for solid character is found in the person of God and all things are to be done for His Glory. There is much more to life than being good for the sake of being good, we are to submit all things under the Lordship of Christ and to that end our lives should be directed.

Friday, November 21, 2008

How to be a Successful Musician

After years of going to concerts, I have come up with the list of necessary steps one must take in order to make it in the booming Christian music industry. This is not exhaustive, but the order must be preserved in order for this to work.

1) Sell all your clothes, everything nice you have. Go to a thrift store and spend no more than 50 cents for anything. Resupply your closet, the goal is to look as ratty as possible.

2) Stop washing or cutting your hair. Jesus didn't have shampoo, you don't need it either.

3) Buy a guitar, preferably one from a pawn shop or used store. Learn 3 chords, that's all you need, and it doesn't matter what 3.

4) Don't have big dreams yet, start out just you playing guitar at any possible opportunity (Disciple Now weekend, Youth Group meetings, coffee shops, on a street corner). There's plenty of songs out there so you don't need to write your own next.

5) Now comes your own original material. Inspiration can come from your journal, your thoughts, cliches you find on t-shirts, the Bible, or when all else fails just borrow from stuff that's been done before. This is called Christian Sampling.

6) Now it's time to recruit a band, you must find people who have followed steps 1 and 2 but have not yet gotten to 3 lest they surpass you. Any number will suffice here, but if you have a novelty instrument (piano, violin, dulcimer) use it!

7) Take your album photo, remember that no one is to look directly into the camera.

8) For your first big concert, remember that no one is there to see you, so play your four or five songs, and hop off the stage. But don't forget to bring your CD to the show so you can sell it out the trunk of your car.

9) Get one hit song on the radio, content means nothing as long as it's catchy. Feel free to throw out tons of Christian cliches if you need to.

10) Trim your hair, you don't want to look totally homeless, now you're being marketed.

*Disclaimer - This is meant to be humorous satire, not any malice towards Christian music or the industry. I hope you got somewhat of a kick out of this.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Looking for the Big One

For the next couple weeks I'm taking our students through a study on the book of Jonah, with the series being called More Than a Fishing Story. Last week was our first one and we were able to discuss the sovereignty of God throughout all circumstances through the first chapter. Jonah is such a fascinating book to study because the primary message of the book is not the prophetic message but the prophet himself. Jonah, while being the anti-type of a prophet, is the prophet Jesus most associates Himself with (3 days in the fish, 3 days in the tomb), and we see in his story many similarities with our own. He received a direct command from the Lord to preach to the city of Nineveh (a cross between NYC, Vegas, and ancient Rome), and for whatever reason, whether fear or anxiety or doubt, he flees from God's call on his life.

Most people focus on the fish when talking about the story of Jonah, but a careful exploration of the text shows that this is more than just a story of a guy getting swallowed by a fish. It is the story of the Sovereign God of heaven and earth, the God who is never caught off guard because He is in control of every aspect of creation. The fish that swallowed Jonah was not a "Plan B" because God needed Jonah or else the Assyrians would be lost. No, God directed all the circumstances of the story (the storms, the lots, the sailors, the fish) for the purpose of His Glory being displayed through Jonah and in the city of Nineveh. One thing I think do not give proper attention to is the sovereignty of God. Many times we consider Him to know all possible outcomes and directions but the choice is up to us (like a "Choose your own ending" book), instead of a sovereign God who directs all things to the Glory of His Name. We see it in Jonah, we see it in the story of Joseph, we see it in the Exodus, and we see it in the cross. God's plan for all eternity for the salvation of humanity was through the Incarnate Son being the lamb. The Law points forward to this perfect sacrifice, all roads lead to Jesus in the Bible.

When we read the story of Jonah we see several themes that we cannot ignore. We see the Providence of God in all things, we see the mercy of God to the nations by sending them a prophet, we see personal mercy to a rebellious son (the same mercy withheld to Jesus), the stubbornness of God's people, and finally that salvation has always been intended for both Jew and Gentile. The Abrahamic blessing was to be a blessing to all nations, Israel as the elect people of God were charged to be a light to the nations so that they would know the Lord. We as Christians, God's elect people to be a light to the world, have that same command to witness to others who is the reason for our hope.

Jonah is a wonderful study and I look forward to what the Lord does through it. May we forget about the big fish and instead focus on the BIG God it shows us.


Our House Survived!

The title says it all! We had a great time having our students over to our house last night. Carrie was such a great hostess and we had a wonderful time of fellowship and laughter. Thanks to all who came! Look for pictures on the student ministry website, or you can find them via Facebook!


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Fellowship at our place

It's 3:30 on Sunday afternoon and I am sitting in my home office enjoying a little bit of quiet for the afternoon. After our evening worship service we are having our youth over for a fellowship at our place. It's our first time hosting the entire group for something like this, and we are a little worried our apartment is going to be too little to accommodate the students.

It should be an awesome night, Carrie and I have looked very forward to this for a while. She has been an excellent host getting everything ready, even if it means going back and forth through the kitchen making sure we have enough to feed and keep everyone happy tonight. She truly is a P-31 kind of gal, and it's fun to watch her work and fill in and do whatever she needs. It's been an awesome ride so far, look forward to many years of it!

Did I say too much?

Yesterday while looking for a gift for my mother-in-law at LifeWay I was browsing through the theology section (which is what you do when you're a nerdy theology book loving kind of guy), and I was surprised to see a book about re-imagining the practice and art of preaching in a post-modern society. I did not have time to read the book, but would like to sit down for a couple hours and hear his argument. What happened the rest of the day was me examining both myself and to a larger context the evangelical movement. I was asking myself the question "What is the problem with preaching today? Is it poor preachers, are we not exploring doctrine enough and relying on shallower messages, is the problem found in the contemporary listener who is not geared to hear rhetoric and follow an argument, has society as a whole moved beyond the relationship of preacher/hearer to a more conversational approach, and finally has the age of preaching died?" Welcome to my head America, now you know how to pray for Carrie. She has to hear this all played out more often than I'm sure she would like.

So that beg the question, are we saying too much in sermons? Does the contemporary listener care what we have to say? For starters let me say that I believe in the power of the preached word, that there is something to be said because God has spoken through the ages by His Word. When we depend more on experience or relationships or other avenues of communication (i.e. visual, tangible) we lose a little bit of what has distinguished us as Christians. God did not chose to reveal Himself through visible nature or by touch, He chose to reveal Himself through the spoken word. There is great power in the sermon that is both expository and exegetical, deriving its theme, structure, and content explicitly from the biblical text. Many of the great revivials in history began in large part because of an emphasis on preachers of righteousness being faithful in their calling.

Churches who do not address the state of the culture-at-large are probably doomed to failure, but the line must be drawn in the sand regarding what things the church cannot and will not change on, regardless of how culture would flow. There must be something unique about the church, about the "called out ones" who have been set apart by the grace of God for His work and glory. When we become more like the world in our methodology and worship, we lose something of what distinguishes us from the culture. Here is a quote from C.H. Spurgeon, by many called the "Prince of Preachers"

This is the suggestion of the present hour: If the world will not come to Jesus....Shall not the church go down to the world? Instead of bidding men to be converted, and come out from among sinners, and be separate from them, let us join with the ungodly world, enter into union with it, and so pervade it with our influence by allowing it to influence us. Let us have a Christian world.

Certain ministers are treacherously betraying our holy religion under pretense of adapting it to this present age. The new plan is to assimilate the church to the world by semi-dramatic performances they make the house of prayer to approximate to the theater; they turn their services into musical displays in fact, they exchange the temple for the theater, and turn the ministers of God into actors, whose business it is to amuce men. This then is the proposal. In order to win the world, the Lord Jesus must conform himself, his people, and his Word to the world. I will not dwell on so loathsome a proposal.

My dear hearers, how much I long to see you saved!! But I would not belie my Lord, even to win your souls, if they could be won so. The true servant of God is not responsible for success or non-success. Results are in God's hands.

May the Lord find us faithful to remain true to the calling to proclaim the Truth of the Gospel to sinners who need to repent, and may we resist the temptation to sacrifice our identity and uniqueness for the sake of being relevant. The Lord will do a work in His church, and He will do it only when He and His Word are pre-eminent in the life and practice of the church.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Joy in Being Sick

The title is not misleading, there is a great joy in being sick. A little background, yesterday I worked all day but the whole time just did not feel good, and could not put my finger on it. I had planned on doing a 10 mile run when I got off but when I left work I figured I'd go home for a bit and rest and that would refresh me. Once I got home all I wanted to do was lay down, and then felt that uneasy stomach feeling where you feel compelled to make a trip to the bathroom. After vomiting everything I'd eaten for the last month it felt like, I keeled over on the couch until Carrie got home. A couple hours later I got hit with a fever that peaked at around 102, and stayed there for a few hours. During the night it broke, and today I feel much better, though still not really feeling up to doing much more than walking from one end of the room to the other.

So where is the joy in that? It was during this time of being sick, pitiful, and helpless that I was able to see in my wife a compassion and love that gave no consideration to her own desires but instead focused her attention on me to give me comfort and aid in healing. Everything from constantly refilling my Sprite and Gatorade cup to soup bowl runs to getting out at 8:30 at night to go get Tylenol because we did not have any, to getting up at 3 to give me some medicine so I could continue sleeping through the night.

During the entire time I was laid up on the couch, there was a huge joy running through my heart knowing that in the chair next to me was someone who loves me more than I do myself. She served me in a way that struck the deepest parts of me. In this, there is joy in being sick, because during that time everything wrong with my body was countered with everything right in my life. I love you Carrie!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

75 in November

I feel like I'm back in Louisville this week. It's 75 degrees and it's the first week of November. Only in the Mid-South and Ohio Valley is it possible to experience all four seasons in a week, summer in winter, winter in summer, and it is entirely likely that every few year spring or fall will be totally skipped!

Can I get an amen on this?


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Voice of Reason about Christian Spook Houses

This was a posting from Dr. Russell Moore's website concerning a recent fad in evangelical churches to do "judgment houses" as a way of evangelism around Halloween. I have always had a certain distrust and misgiving about them, and I was never really sure why it set funny with me. But then I saw this and I went "wow! He said exactly what I'd been thinking and I'd never been able to figure out how to express it!"
Here it is, special thanks to Dr. Moore for your wonderful contributions to the Kingdom.

Seven Reasons Why Halloween Judgment Houses

Win So Few People to Christ

Friday, October 31, 2008

1. They're not scary enough. To speak of hell, Jesus used the imagery of a garbage dump overun with worms, a place where babies were once sacrified to demons (Mark 9:43-48). Teenagers in plastic red devil masks and styrofoam pitchforks usually don't convey what it means to "fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb 10:31). The answer isn't better technology, though, since nothing we could conjure up can convey the anguish of the damned walled off from relationship with God.

2. They assume people's problem is that they don't know about judgment. But the Bible says they do. All of us have embedded within us a conscience that points us to the Day of Judgment (Rom 2:15-16). We have a "fearful expectation of judgment" (Heb 10:27). The problem is we block it out of our minds, diverting ourselves with other things. The problem isn't that lost people don't hate hell enough. It's that they don't love Christ. Hell is the Abyss they run into in their flight from him.

3. They abstract judgment from the love of God. I know most "Judgment Houses" present the gospel at the end. But in the Bible the good news doesn't come at the end. The prodigal son leaves the father's house, but the father is eager to receive him back (Luke 16:11-31). The awful news of God's judgment is always intertwined in Scripture with the message of the gospel of a loving, merciful God. "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:17).

4. They abstract judgment from the glory of God. The prophet Isaiah doesn't see that he's "undone" first by the horror of judgment. He sees it in light of the glory of God's presence (Isa 6:1-6). The Apostle John tells us the glory Isaiah saw was Jesus of Nazareth (12:47). When we preach Jesus, the glory of God breaks through (2 Cor 4:6). Some people recoil at that light; some people run to it (John 3:19-21).

5. It's hard to cry at a Judgment House. But Jesus does when thinking about judgment (Matt 23:37). And so does the Apostle Paul, pleading with sinners to be saved (2 Cor 5:20). These evangelistic tools though are meant to take on the feel of a "haunted house," a place of thrill-seeking and festivity. It's hard to convey the gravity of the moment in such a way.

6. The Holy Spirit doesn't usually like to work that way. Pop quiz: How many people do you know who came to know Christ through the witness of a friend? How many do you know who came to know Christ through faithful parents? How many are in Christ due to the week-to-week preaching of Christ in a local church? Probably a lot, right?

Okay, now answer this: How many people do you know who came to know Christ through a Halloween "Judgment House" or "Hell House"? If you know one, you're outpacing me, and everyone I've ever talked to about this. The Holy Spirit tends to work through the preaching of Christ (Rom 10:17). That's how he points the world to sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8).

7. They're easier to pull off than talking to people. Can people be saved through Judgment Houses? Sure. I have a colleague who was saved at a Stryper heavy metal concert in the 1980s. Are the intentions behind them good? Absolutely. If you have a Judgment House and it's enabling you to share Christ, have at it with blessings on you.

But the fact remains that most lost people in your neighborhood are going to be saved the same way people have always been saved, by Christian people loving them enough to build relationships, invite them to church, share the gospel, and witness to Christ. The problem is that for many Christian's that's scarier than a haunted house.

Sovereignty of God at the Polls

Romans 13:1-7 (ESV) 1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

A little bit of background on this passage before we begin. Paul is writing during the time of Imperial Rome, to the church located in the center of the Eternal City. He is writing to people who are living everyday in the midst of the cult of the Emperor whose image was to worshiped as that of a god on earth. The letter was probably written a few years before the church underwent major persecution under Nero in AD 64, though it is entirely likely the church felt some external pressure to conform to the culture-at-large going on around them. They were living in a culture of death and gluttony and debauchery, and were forced daily to see idolatry practiced all around them in the form of the Pantheon. They were very distinct in the city and they faced an interesting setting in which to do ministry and to live as both residents of Rome and as Christians.

And then Paul writes this segment of text in Romans, and tells these Christians who watch the Imperial lust for power, the overtaxation, the abuses of absolute power, etc. and he tells them that they are to be submissive to this authority. The same government that desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem is to be respected, feared, and obeyed. How can this be? Simply put, those who are in authority are there because God Himself has put them there to do His good will. In fact, Paul goes so far as to say those in the church who defy the authorities are subject to judgment. They are to be honored, respected, and they should be supported by taxes. This pagan, idolatrous, arrogant, God-hating government was put in place by God Himself to carry the sword and be a part of His Sovereign will.

That said, there seem to be many Christians who feel that unless a certain candidate wins the election today, God will "lose" and that there is no way God could ordain a certain candidate to be our next President. To those who feel like God can lose or that God's will is not perfectly achieved in every aspect of life, I want to tell you that you have far too small a God. We see in Scripture an all-sovereign God who holds the kings of the earth in the palm of His hand and directs them as He sees fit. He raised the Assyrians and Babylonians to discipline His people and return them to the covenant, He hardens the heart of Pharaoh (a self-professed god himself) to show His power over nations, and He in Christ uses the evil Roman empire to be the vehicle for the rapid spread of the Gospel.

A God who is not in control of ALL things and sovereignly ruling over all things at all times in all places through all people using all (noticing a theme here) is not a truly sovereign God. If anything catches God "off guard" then He is not really sovereign. So that being said, we come to a very interesting time in our history as a nation. It is entirely likely that the winner of the election today will be someone who holds to a very liberal view on critical evangelical issues such as abortion, religious freedoms, etc. Whatever the outcome of the election is, whether it be a McCain or Obama victory, as Christians we have confidence that the winner is the one ordained by God to that position as His chosen agent and servant. Our votes are so important, and every citizen should do their duty and cast their vote for who in their conscience they feel should be our next President. But God is the Lord of the thousand hills, and all that is on the earth is His, and that includes nations and their governments. No matter who occupies the White House, there is a White Throne where the true King sits and He rules in perfect wisdom, goodness and judgment, and His power makes every king and President and man look meek and insignificant. Do not forget church, you are citizens of Heaven, you belong to a greater Kingdom than anything here on earth, and He by His Word rules over all in complete power and providence. THAT is my God, is He yours as well?

Should this happen, how are we as Christians to respond to that? Simply put, we are to follow the teaching of Paul in Romans 13 and submit to the authorities that God has placed over us, pay our taxes, be faithful citizens, honor and respect those whom God has placed over us, and continue to fulfill the Commission given by our Lord in Matthew 28. Christians should daily pray for our President and his family, our national, state, and local governments that they would govern justly and exercise authority rightly. More than that, pray for their salvation. The hope for curing America's ills is not found in policies, programming, or in judicial decisions. The cure is found in the hope and glory of the cross, where the sinful hearts of men are regenerated to new life in Christ. When we place our hope for change in programs, we forsake the cross. Christ is the only solution to our ills, and that is change we can believe in.

So, with the election results looming and the likelihood of an Obama victory very high, I ask you one question.... How big is your God?


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Happy Reformation Day!

Friday is Halloween on our calendars, and there is much controversy surrounding this day among our Evangelical circles, with opinions on both sides of the issue being drawn by thoughtful and reverent Christians. Personally, the pagan origins of Halloween cause me some concern but I must balance them with the pagan origins of other holidays (Christmas and Easter come to mind for example). Our apartment has pumpkins, and some jack o' lantern decorations, and I fully intend on dispensing candy to children who come to our church Fall Festival. I cannot condemn a Christian father for allowing his family to celebrate Halloween and his children to go trick-or-treat in the same that I cannot condemn a Christian father who sees concern and decides to not allow his family to participate. There is a need for Christian families to discuss this issue and for parents to consult Scripture, approach the Lord in prayer, and seek counsel from wise men and women on what to do about this.

That said, I would like to really celebrate a monumental day in Christian History that coincides with All Hallow's Eve. In 1517 a young Augustinian monk nailed 95 concerns to the Castle Church door in Wittenburg, concerning the practice of plenary indulgences being sold by the Pope and in Germany by Tetzel. These concerns brought a whirlwind of attack against Luther, forcing him to flee from his home and address Roman authority concerning his heresy. As a lecturer in Bible he studied Romans and became convinced that the teaching of penance for forgiveness was in err, and that justification could only come by faith alone. The righteous shall live by faith, and this became the cornerstone of Luther's theology.

In 1521 Luther was summoned to the Diet of Worms where his writings were placed before him and he was asked to recant. His response was this: "Unless I shall be convinced by the testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear reason ... I neither can nor will make any retraction, since it is neither safe nor honourable to act against conscience." He was also known to say "Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders. Gott helfe mir. Amen." ("Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen."). It was decreed by the Emperor that anyone could kill Luther without arrest or punishment, and he was an outlaw in his own country, hated by his own people.

Luther's actions began the movement known as the Reformation, and we as Evangelicals stand in the great history of this movement. We hang on the coattails of giants like Luther, Calvin, Hus, Wycliffe, etc. who reclaimed for the Church the Gospel, who reclaimed the prominence of Scripture, who reclaimed the preaching of the Word as being the center of worship. We owe our lives, our doctrinal knowledge, our theological insight and freedom to preach to this movement.

Where are the men today who stand in the gap like Luther and the others? Where are those who stand holding the Bible as ultimate authority in the midst of an anti-truth and anti-revelation society who seeks to only be entertained and have all of life reduced to therapy and self-esteem? We live in a day where biblical ignorance is at its highest since the late Medieval Church, and I pray that God brings about a new Reformation where His Bride is reclaimed by the Gospel, where the innovations of the world are stricken from the Church and the purity of the Gospel is restored. We do not need to rely on marketing and strategies to grow our churches, that's relying on something other than the Holy Spirit to do the work of regeneration. The Gospel convicts sinners, and brings them to repentance and faith. Any of our efforts have to always come back to this dependence on the preaching of the Word and the work of the Spirit in the hearts of men and women, that we are simply the vessels by which the Spirit ministers to people and draws those God calls to Himself.

I pray the Lord gives me the strength to stand in that gap, to stand in the rushing tide of our day and hold up the Scripture and say "Thus saith the Lord," and call on sinners to realize their sin and repent of it and draw to Christ as He draws them to Himself and He to them. So men who seek a new Reformation in the church, stand in the valley as a prophet calling to the dead bones to live. Who is with me, humbly I put myself in the Lord's service, may He do with me as He will.

"Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders. Gott helfe mir. Amen."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Power of Preaching Today

There is an assault today on the art and practice of preaching in many churches. I have felt called to preach for a few years now and in my time in Seminary developed a love for not only the delivery of sermons but a deep appreciation for receiving the Word. I was blessed to be able to hear great men of God who were set apart in such a unique way by God for the proclamation of His Word.

In my time since graduating Seminary, I have had the chance to preach several times and have come to a deep love of the preparation and study necessary to stand boldly in a pulpit and speak on behalf of God to God's people God's eternal message. I have also seen a diminished view of preaching in many churches, where the emphasis has gone from the Word read and the Word proclaimed to worship being grounded in experience. This I believe is an outgrowth of the postmodern movement which seeks to ground truth in experience and that revelation and proclamation are to be placed more in the background.

The importance of Christian preaching is found in the person of God and His self-revelation to His people. God did not reveal Himself to us visually or tangibly, He is not seen or felt (counter this with a postmodern approach to worship being about experience and the visual stimulation of the stained-glass projector screen). Instead, God spoke. He speaks and Creation comes to pass, He speaks and His Law is inaugurated, He speaks and the sinner is redeemed. We speak because He has spoken (thank you Dr Mohler for your book on this subject), and our message is not innovative or new but is grounded in the words that have stood for eternity.

There is nothing new under the sun, and the minister of God should not seek to find an innovative way to proclaim God's Word, because the ordained method in Scripture is the human voice speaking to the people out of a biblical text seeking to proclaim Truths that demand a response. The Holy Spirit does the work of conviction and redemption in the ears and hearts of the hearers, it is not the responsibility of the preacher to egg on or lead or "develop and environment" of response, that is the Spirit's work.

I love preaching, I love hearing good preaching. I listen to good sermons while I work, it helps motivate me to put in more effort to strain for godliness. But I can only listen to sermons that are biblically-driven, exegetically organized, and expositing the biblical text. Those are the sermons that are true to the Jude 3 faith handed through the ages. We as pastors must always seek to lean entirely on the text for organization, application, and meaning. Preaching that does not call for an application and change of living is not Christian preaching, because we are to come away from the hearing of the Word with the question "How then shall we live?" and the sermon must be direct for a call of changed living and ethics and repentance for people to heed, as the message is not from the preacher but from God.

The church must always hold the preaching and proclamation of the Word as the central point and emphasis of any corporate gathering for worship. Anything else is un-Christian, and we must never forsake the preaching of the Word for the sake of "innovation" or "adapting to the times" or "because there's too much of it." The church that moves away from the primacy of preaching moves itself closer to a church that does not reflect the radiant Bride she was intended to be.

Pray for preachers, pray for your pastor that he would be emboldened to speak the Word freely, with passion and conviction, with truth and love, fidelity and devotion to the text, with the purpose of edifying the saints and calling for sinners to repent, Christians to cleave to Christ, and for those who hear him to say "God is at work in this place."

We're Back!!

Sorry for the long delay between posts, but there was a pretty big deal that happened a couple weeks ago that has kinda overtaken everything about my life in October. The day finally came, Scottie got married!
We had a wonderful ceremony where we hope the Lord was glorified and the Gospel was clearly presented as the center of our wedding and marriage. After that we honeymooned in the beautiful island of Cozumel Mexico (highly recommended), and were there for six days. It was overcast, but we still had plenty of time to snorkel, hang out by the pool, tour the city and haggle with the shopkeeps, and take full advantage of the 24 hour food available! Anyone looking for a vacation, do the all-inclusive!
We missed all of you and are deeply grateful to have good Christian fellowship to return home and experience. More posts to come!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Review of The Shack

Recently I completed the book The Shack, which is right now the #3 book on Amazon.com, and has found increasing popularity within evangelical circles (in particular within "Emergent"). While this was a very engaging read and a very captivating story, I feel there are many problems with the book's worldview and dismissal of historic orthodoxy. I first became aware of this through the web, and seeing lots of people both recommend it, as well as it being featured on a daily edition of the Albert Mohler Program.

This review is not intended to dismiss what has been written as a great piece of literature, or to promote a censorship movement within the churches. One of the beauties of living in America is the right to free speech and free press. This allows a great freedom to express one's views in safety and to help cultivate the marketplace of ideas. While there are many who speak publicly against things I (and many other Christians) cannot agree with, we must come to an understanding that their right to speak outweighs our opposition to it. Any society that censors ideas and books is a society that promotes intolerance and a dominant minority (c.f. Third Reich). My intent is also not to encourage churches to rise up in arms against this book. Every time we do so, we only make it more popular (see how The daVinci Code fared against The Golden Compass). Nevertheless, we as Christians must be vigilant and cognizant of what is going on around us in the culture-at-large.

This book is highly popular in Emergent Church circles. The "emergent" movement can be anything from wearing square glasses and having a soul patch while singing in candlelight to being a full fledged denial of objective Truth and placing the whole of Christian faith and doctrine into relativistic terms and ideals based on experience rather than revelation. For a discussion on what the Emergent Movement is, click here. While there are many in the Emergent movement who can be considered brothers in the faith, the rejection of Universal Truth and revelation by many should cause us to be hesitant.

The story centers on a man, Mack, who has a very troubled past but has overcome that and has a good life with a great family in the Pacific northwest. One weekend, he takes his children on a weekend hiking/camping trip to a beautiful park in Oregon. While there, he meets a couple other families and a friendship kindles with them. One day, as he rescues two of his children in a canoe accident, they realize the youngest, Missy, has disappeared. During the ensuing investigation it is discovered she was likely kidnapped. The evidence points to a serial killer the FBI had been tracking known as the Little Ladykiller. Obviously distraught, Mack and his family fall under what Young refers to as The Great Sadness, and the family dynamic changes drastically. Her bloody clothes are found in an old shack shortly thereafter, but her body is never recovered and the family is left to only assume she has been killed. Mack receives a letter in the mail from a person named Papa, calling him to come back to the shack. Mack considers this a cruel joke, but remembers that Papa is his wife's favorite name from God. His curiosity gets the best of him, and he ventures out to the shack to figure out what is going on.

Upon his arrival, the memory and anger resurface and his feelings towards God are revealed. Mack desperately wants answers but feels his prayers and concerns are being shouted to a deaf and uncaring person. At his wit's end the scenery around the shack changes and when he goes to the door he is met by an older African-American woman who reveals herself to be Papa. Not only has Mack been granted presence before God, but the entire Trinity is present (Jesus pictured as a middle-aged Jewish man, and the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman). They begin the healing process for Mack and through a series of discussions, meetings, and other encounters begin to restore to him the joy that he once had and the peace of being healed of his hurt. In one scene he is able to see Missy in a sort of dream sequence where she tells him all is well and that she loves him. After receiving new insights about his faith and being granted a bigger picture of the world, Mack leaves and assists the police in locating Missy's body as well as other evidence used to track down and arrest the killer.

On a very personal note, this book was a great look into the heart of grief, guilt, and pain experienced by someone going through situations that we all pray we never have to go through firsthand. The prose Young uses is captivating, and his command of the language and descriptions of the scenes literally takes you out of your chair and into the woods and other scenes in the novel. Having gone through some intense grief and pain in my own life, I was able to empathize with Mack in his struggle. In this regard, it reminded me of the great C.S. Lewis work, A Grief Observed.

When reviewing any book, it must be considered within its literary genre. This book is billed as fiction, and during the reading process it must always be in the mind of the reader that this is a story designed as fiction rather than detailing real events that happened in the Northwest. In this regard, it is one of the more captivating novels I have ever read. I had a hard time putting it down, longing for Mack to receive the peace he so desired regarding his daughter's death (a similar peace I have longed for regarding the death of my mother).

That being considered, we must remember this is not a theology work. However, I would contend that even as fiction, it has tremendous implications as a work of doctrine. Each of us is influenced by our worldview, which is (though circular) a description of how we view the world. We cannot differentiate how we look at the secular or fantasy from how we look at the sacred. While Young does not intend to change our theological foundations (I assume), his worldview is inherently dangerous and faulted and is at its best misinterpretation and at its worst a heresy.

My first point of contention is how God is depicted. We see in Scripture that God is spirit, and He has no flesh or corporeal existence to limit Him, but the depiction of God as a woman is a clear split from the witness of Scripture and of the history of orthodoxy. God is referred to throughout Scripture as "Father," and while He does care for His children in a way that is very sensitive and tender, we must acknowledge the fact that He refers to Himself as "He." We are not to construct new ways of depicting God or deciding how we want to label Him. The depiction of the Divine Feminine is rooted in the fact that as a culture the concept of a "Father" is in many places reduced to simply biological. The concept of "Father" is too difficult for many to bear, whether by abuse, neglect, absence, or other circumstance. Rather, God should be thought of in the feminine, or even in the neutral (Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer) so as to not cause stumbling. While it is true that many have experienced that, and as the Church we must minister to those needs, it is not sufficient to redefine how God is depicted. Seeking to depict God as we wish is in essence idolatry, where we seek to set forth the terms of the relationship rather than God setting the terms.

My second point of issue with this is the depiction of the Son. The Council of Chalcedon sets forth the dual-nature of Christ as being both fully human and fully divine. How this works is still a mystery, but through the witness of Scripture we must take it as such and leave the unanswered questions to eternity. In the New Testament there are places where the divine nature of Jesus are clearly stated (i.e. when He says that He existed before Abraham), and at the same time the reality is there that He was fully man (He was hungry, tired, thirsty, called Himself a Son of Man, etc.). In this book, the human nature of Christ is so deeply emphasized that it diminishes His divine nature. He is so emphasized as being the Son of Man that there are times when it almost looks like adoptionism or Nestorianism. One time, it is said that He could not by Himself on earth do any of the miracles, that it was the Father (or Mother... whatever...) working through Him. Jesus even says that He chooses to set aside his divine nature to identify Himself more with humanity. This is all good and true, but you must be honest with the fact that Scripture portrays Him as the King of Glory and equal in being and personhood to the Father. He is also kinda well... a wimp, focused more on relationships and being sentimental than being a powerful King, and to quote one of my heroes, Mark Driscoll, I can't worship a guy I can beat up. That is a side note, but one I felt like throwing in the mix too.

A third point of contention I have with this book focuses on the exclusivity of the Gospel message, or how there are times when I wonder if this work realizes or believes such to exist. When we deal with the claims of Christ, we must choose whether what He says is true or what He says is false. If it is true, then when He says there is no other way to Heaven but through Him, it must be taken as truth. That said, there is one point where Jesus tells Mack that He does not care if His followers are Christians, Mormons, Buddhists, etc. While I think that He is maybe saying He is the only way, the language used is a bit evasive and when He says "I do not desire to make them Christian," I wonder what Young is meaning by that? One of the dilemmas of Emergent/Post-Modern Christianity is half the time, you can't tell what they're thinking because they never come out and say it.

A fourth thing I must speak on is that the book masks most of its assumptions and statements under the umbrella of all things being "in relationships." I believe relationships are important, and that connecting with people in a genuine and authentic way is important to build bridges to the Gospel. But revelation does not come from relationships, it comes from the speaking God who is not silent, and Truth is not discerned from interactions but rather from the mouth of an authority.

All things said, I am not out to make you want to throw this book away or dismiss it without giving it a fair day in court. Your soul will be blessed in reading this, as you can glean some insight into what pain feels like and looks like. You will have trouble in your soul as well, as something just isn't right about the depictions and circumstances. It is indicative of a greater cultural phenomena of denying Truth and exposing everything to experience and subjectivity. My prayer is that you will seek the Lord regarding your response to this book, and if you have any questions about it or if you wish to discuss this further, please contact me. It is a blessing to be able to write in this forum, and I pray that it is an encouragement to your soul. May we seek Him more daily,

Friday, September 26, 2008

Another "You have got to be kidding me"

Officially, PETA has lost their minds. PETA has issued a statement saying that Ben and Jerry's ice cream should be made using human breast milk instead of cow milk, because milking cows is cruel and subjects them to undue pain and suffering. Here's the article. I understand stopping animal cruelty and abuse, but I really think whoever makes these decisions at PETA has been smoking something and is under some serious delusions. This has to be the ultimate sign of their insanity, and if milking cows is cruel, then why would we subject women to it? It makes no sense that a group can support something like that, but what can you expect from such a weird culture?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sunday Night Hymn Recap

So here I am sitting at San Francisco Bread Co. eating my "lunch" and it's 9 AM. The joys of working at Starbucks, I want a real meal while people are just getting to work, haha. Highly reccomend it though, good food at a good price.
This past Sunday I suggested a hymn that no one seemed to know. The title of it is "How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds," and it was written by John Newtwon (might remember him for another one he did). It made me sad because it's a great one with wonderful content that we sang from time to time during our college/young adult worship services at my home church. I have included the words, let me know what you think. Pray it encourages you to call the name of Jesus during your day.

How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds
In a believer’s ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.

It makes the wounded spirit whole,
And calms the troubled breast;
’Tis manna to the hungry soul,
And to the weary, rest.

Dear Name, the Rock on which I build,
My Shield and Hiding Place,
My never failing treasury, filled
With boundless stores of grace!

By Thee my prayers acceptance gain,
Although with sin defiled;
Satan accuses me in vain,
And I am owned a child.

Jesus! my Shepherd, Husband, Friend,
O Prophet, Priest and King,
My Lord, my Life, my Way, my End,
Accept the praise I bring.

Weak is the effort of my heart,
And cold my warmest thought;
But when I see Thee as Thou art,
I’ll praise Thee as I ought.

Till then I would Thy love proclaim
With every fleeting breath,
And may the music of Thy Name
Refresh my soul in death!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The I of Worship Music

One thing I have noticed, and I think it goes along with the common mantra of our culture being self-focused and self-referential, is the emphasis in many worship songs on the first person. So many times we sing about what Jesus did for me, personalizing the impact of the events of Calvary and the glorious salvation that results from that. And it is awesome that Christ did all those things for me, that because of the person and work of Christ I personally have hope that surpasses all understanding, brings me to my knees, and draws me closer to the Lord through this humbling circumstance.

I think our day promotes the self as the center of attention and focus. This is best reflected by TIME magazine saying "YOU" are the person of the year, with Apple coming out with the i-Line (iPod, iPhone, iMac, etc.) saying that "I" am the one who is most important and who determines what is best. Is there anything wrong with having any of these things? No, I do not believe so. I have an iPod, and I am a Mac convert, and one of the selling points for me was that I could choose what came on the computer. The problem I had with my previous machine was that it came full of stuff I didn't want or need and I spent a day deleting it all. Personal convenience is one of the best parts of living in 2008, I can go to the restaurant and order food as I would like it as opposed to a cookie-cutter menu. I work at Starbucks, and there personal choice rules the day (just ask the people who get a half-caf triple grande 2 pump vanilla soy no foam extra hot light whip latte).

So how does this apply to us in worship? Simply put, I think our worship in a lot circumstances is very selfish. Our focus is so much on "me" and "I" and "my Lord" and less and less on our corporate identity as the people of God. The subject of many of our songs is the first person singular singing towards God, and the first person singular reception from God. Before I continue, is there anything wrong with this? Certainly not, because the work of Christ personally applies to me and you and every individual believer on a very personal and deep level. I love to sing of what my Savior did for me, and how my words are inadequate to respond to Him.

Maybe I'm just blowing air, but I do wonder what it means for Christians to focus so much on the personal relationship with Christ and distance themselves from the corporate relationship we have with other believers in Christ. By isolating worship solely to the individual and God, I fear we lose some of the identity we have as a Church praising the Lord in one voice. Also, sometimes I think worship songs talk too much about "me" and not enough about God. Worship is ascribing worth to God, and we sing about Him, we sing to Him, we sing because of Him. Anyway, just tossing some thoughts out there.


Weekend in Louisville

This past weekend we got to go back to Louisville for a wedding shower hosted by my aunt's for Carrie. It was great to get to go back home, if nothing else because I miss being able to see UofL banners and billboards (by the way, preseason top 5 for basketball), and dear family and friends.
We got to spend some considerable time with my mentor and dear friend, Scott Davis, who recently was called to serve full time at my home church. It was a sweet time of fellowship and discussion and encouragement. His thinking, preaching, writing, and influence I find often in my own ministry. I owe a dear amount of my personal growth to him and his mentoring during college and Seminary, even if his favorite team is nothing but felons and thugs :)

It was also fun to spend time with my sisters and the new additions to their house, Olivia and Norman, two cats with very different personalities.
There was the "aww" moment with the pics! Great trip home, keep praying for the city as they recover from the storms resulting from Hurricane Ike!

The Simplicity of the Gospel

So many times when we get to talking about the Gospel we come up with a long detailed account that either fits on the fingers of your hand or fulfills an acrostic that makes for a great banner, sermon outline, or catchy slogan. The Gospel, this "Good News," that we as Christians are called to preach to the nations is a message that is timeless, cross-cultural, unbiased towards age, descent, background, etc. It is the only message that applies to all peoples at all times in all places in all circumstances through all worldviews and in spite of all the efforts of men.

So what is this message, that is called a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles; that will cause a division between father and son and brother and sister; that has the power to free the captives and institute the eschaton of Christ's Kingdom that is defined not by Law or ethnicity but by a commonly held faith that identifies us with other believers and as Christ's chosen people?

In 1 Corinthians 15, we see a short statement from Paul about the Gospel. The chapter talks about the bodily resurrection of believers and likens that to the bodily resurrection of Christ which serves as a foretaste of what ours will be like. The historicity of the Resurrection is incredibly important because without that we have no hope as believers (v. 17), because our hope is found in the bodily resurrection and the reality that it really did happen. Paul's words as found in the Scripture are:

that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures

So much is said that this happened "in accordance with the Scriptures," which refers to the many OT prophecies regarding the person of the Messiah who would come as the Suffering Servant (cf. Isaiah 53, etc.) and would be the propitiation for sin (1 John 2:2). Our hope in the Gospel is found in the fact that it was prophesied about long before the actual event and that it was done as the Scripture said. Our hope in the Gospel is rooted in the truth of Scripture and in it's reliability.

Christ died for our sins - There was a purpose for the death of Christ, He did not get the short straw or a raw deal (Week 1 Chargers vs. Broncos) that led to His innocent death on the cross. No, we see from this that the Savior died for a reason, our sins. On the cross He bore our sins in His body and bore the wrath of God against the thing He hates. The image of sin (man) became the image of the liberation (The God-Man), and in Him our sins can be atoned for because He is the perfect sacrificial Lamb, the sacrifice made once for all.

That He was buried - Jesus' death was really real, contrary to many skeptics who would say that He passed out and woke up and that is why He "resurrected." The description of the Passion, supplemented by our understanding of Roman punishment, and the fact that in His body He took the full wrath of God towards sin (which if you have heard me preach about this I have said that I think Mel Gibson took it easy on Him in the Passion movie). This is the stumbling block to Jews, that the Messiah would die (as a humiliated criminal no less).

That He rose again on the third day - This is the part that we struggle with, that a dead person could come back from the grave. This is the foolishness to the Gentiles, and it is foolishness to many who are in our day. But to us who believe, it is the power of the Hope of the Gospel. It is through this Resurrection that death has been conquered, sin no longer has power. The action taken in the Resurrection was the destruction of the Curse found in Genesis 3. Not only are we forgiven and have God as Father (which is where we stop so often), the Curse that afflicted the whole Creation has been lifted! By conquering death Jesus does what only He could as the Second Adam, to inaugurate a whole new people who are free from this.

It is such a simple message, but it causes people to make several assumptions that because of Sin we are not comfortable making. 1) We do not have the power to fix the problem, 2) We have a problem to start with, 3) There is payment for the problem of sin, 4) Someone else took our punishment, 5) The hope of the universe is found in Christ alone, 6) By aligning with Christ it may cause alienation from others, 7) The key to attaining this is not found in ritual but confession and repentance.

The reason why churches have struggled is that we have gotten away from the simple message of the Gospel and have chosen to dress it up or cater it to the culture instead of preachers standing as prophets in the valley calling for people to repent and draw near to Christ. The mission of the Church is the proclamation of this Gospel message, as preachers we must be faithful to the Word and leave the results up to God. This is a list of affirmations that were put out by a group called "Together for the Gospel" which seeks to reclaim the Gospel in churches and the sufficiency of the Word for the conversion of sinners to repentance and faith in Christ.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Some Starbucks Thoughts

I had meant to write this for several days, but recently I celebrated my 6 year anniversary of being with Starbucks (I know, it's a long time). I have seen pretty much everything, from people stealing tips to several cars in a row offering to pay for the drink behind them (in a Pay It Forward kind of way). As such, I thought I would write down some insights I have gleaned from being there so long. Some are positive, some are negative, some are funny, some are pathetic. Hope you enjoy!

1) Everyone has a story. There is no way to be around people without finding out something about them. Each person has had unique experiences and life events that have shaped them into who they are today. Maybe they were in a war, traveled the world, survived a disease, etc. All people, regardless of background and behavior, have something to say.

2) I don't think I can ever get used to being at work at 5:00 in the morning. I know some people can, but it's just not for me. However, it is pretty awesome to be half asleep and at work and not really know where I am until about 9 or 10.

3) There is a real difference in Starbucks coffee and the stuff they sell for a couple bucks per bucket at the grocery store. Call me a coffee snob, I don't care. I have gotten used to what fresh beans taste like, and I don't think I will ever pre-grind my coffee again. The few extra bucks per bag is well worth not having that nasty aftertaste in my mouth.

4) Rude knows no color, economic status, race, gender, etc. It's not just obviously rich people who can be nasty and mean. I've come to grips with the fact most people just don't know or care how hard the people work. People will get mad and upset over so many things, and I've gotten to where it just doesn't surprise me anymore. Next time you go to Starbucks, make sure you're nice to them, they work awful hard for fairly low wages and are under constant stress.

5) My favorite customers are the ones who come in because they enjoy it, appreciate a good product, and who are interested in trying new things. Typically, they are the easiest to please, in the best moods, and the most understanding when things go wrong. Thank you.

6) People who are on their cell phones have no clue how obnoxious they are and how much we as employees hate that. The only person important enough to be on their phone 24/7 is the President, get over yourself, your brunch appointment can wait 5 minutes while you place your order. That's why I make extra noise working the bar when someone comes in on their phone, stop it, we hate it.

7) Instead of getting mad at people who are easily angered by everything at Starbucks, I have developed a new sense of pity for them. With all the things that could go on in someone's life to cause them grief and stress, blowing up over your latte is quite childish and petty. I understand you pay a lot for it, and sadly mistakes do happen. It's no excuse to be a jerk, speak politely, and I won't blog about you later. :-)

8) Benefits outweigh job enjoyment. The situation we are in as a nation with health care being so outrageous causes many people to make sacrifices of sanity and satisfaction to be able to take care of their family with good medical insurance.

9) Some of the people I've worked with have been very unique and been able to offer great insight and wisdom during some weird and rocky times in my life. One advantage to working so early or so late is low customer traffic during those times, and it affords a great opportunity to talk about more than coffee tastings, promo numbers, and all the other stuff that goes into the job.

10) While I think it is a great company to work for, I think that profitability and falling sales have prompted the company to make some wacky decisions lately. There was a push to "get back to the coffee" which was quickly followed up by several non-coffee drinks and a new breakfast line. I guess the almighty dollar outweighs corporate image and standards.

11) I can say a lot of quasi-Italian words and phrases, and it always works pretty cool to impress people to be able to speak Starbuckseanese.

12) I've learned that white and black polo shirts will never go out of style and can always be gotten cheaply during school uniform season.

13) Comfortable shoes are very important to doing a job well. If you're on your feet for 8+ hours a day, you learn to find good shoes that give both comfort and support (highly recommend slip resistant shoes too).

14) 30% discounts on top of 10% extra during Christmas means automatic gift ideas for everybody I know.

15) Old, returned, or chipped coffee cups given to me by my old boss are some of the best cups I've ever used. And for travel mugs, I've learned a metal thermal cup will keep coffee hot for almost 10 hours!

16) People automatically like you more when you give them a pound of beans or offer to pick something up for them.

17) Sometimes hiring practices confuse me, especially when it comes to supervisors and managers. It should go to the best candidate, not the biggest kiss-up or because they're "available."

18) I think I will always hear the coffee timer beeping for the rest of my life, every hour... er... 30 minutes now.

19) People will overpay any amount to get some cheap piece of crap as long as it says "Starbucks" on it, especially during Christmas. The same coffee maker at Wal-Mart for 1/2 the price, go figure...

20) The company went from being a unique commodity to becoming the McDonalds-Abercrombie of coffee, and sadly it is taking store closings to get back to being something less ubiquitous.

21) Store performance is top down, without good management and direction, no amount of suggestive selling or lame gimmicks will help people do their job better.

22) People don't know how little we make, and therefore do not tip. I know it doesn't look like we work hard, but it's nonstop for hours. It is quite exhausting to work a full 8 hour shift. Leave some change in the jar, for most of us those tips are our gas money.

23) 99% of the customers don't care about growing regions, taste profiles, pastry pairings, etc. They just want something good, delivered to them in a timely fashion from a smiling partner.

24) People who call in 30 drink orders have no idea how much we dislike them. Keep in mind before faxing it in that most of them will get cold by the time they get back to the office or the whipped cream will melt.

25) It still ranks as one of the better jobs I have worked, for any number of reasons.

Seeing Jesus for who He Is

I came across the quote by Mark Driscoll and had to share it. Mark, founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, is one of the leading voices of a resurgence of orthodoxy in faith and practice. This quote is about the person of Christ and how many in liberal traditions seek to minimize the biblical presentation of Christ.

There is a strong drift toward the hard theological left. Some emergent types [want] to recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in His hair, who drank decaf and made pithy Zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes. In Revelation, Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up. I fear some are becoming more cultural than Christian, and without a big Jesus who has authority and hates sin as revealed in the Bible, we will have less and less Christians, and more and more confused, spiritually self-righteous blogger critics of Christianity.

So often in our day we try to make Jesus into something that He is not, whether it be this loving do-good guy or as a weakling who could not stick up for Himself and that's why He got nailed to the cross. I'm really glad Scripture paints Jesus as King. Even in His earthly life, He was a carpenter, someone who did manual labor. Jesus was strong, able to go days without food or rest, and on Good Friday He was able to endure great suffering and flogging and still was able to carry His cross for a good part of the way.

Just some thoughts for today as we celebrate the Lord's Day. Who are you worshiping, the Hippie or the King?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Firsthand Lessons

Today I had the joy of going to a very popular place in Memphis, the 201. It's always fun to live in a city where everyone knows the address of the jail. I had to go there to deal with a speeding ticket I'd received in July (on my birthday no less), and hopefully get it dismissed or just take traffic school.

I was to report there at 1:30, and I got there early of course. I proceeded to wait in a line that seemed like it would never end, sandwiched between two ladies with the foulest mouths I've ever seen and a guy who had not appeared at his previous court dates. The immediate thought that came to mind was the Great White Throne Judgment in Revelation, where everyone appears before the Lord and are judged. Hopefully, that Judgment won't take as long as my trip did today (not that it matters, in eternity I believe time will pass as nothing because we won't be bound by the constraints we have here on earth), and if it does hopefully there will be a magazine rack. :)

The reason why this was a firsthand lesson is that I was going to appear before a bench and have a decision made regarding my ticket. Did I break the law? Yes, I did, 5 over. Did I get caught? Yes, and those cruisers are quick! Did I have any good excuse? No, I was driving home. Did I deserve to be punished and fined for what I did? Yes, I was guilty as charged. In the same way, we as sinners have no excuse for our crimes, and have been found guilty by a Holy God who has pronounced a sentence of death and condemnation upon us because of our sin.

That is the scenario we face, sinners guilty before the sight of God. Now, here comes the amazing part. When I got to the bench, the lady said "Your 5 over is dismissed, have a good day." In that simple sentence, my offense against the city of Memphis was pardoned, forgiven, and I was free to go. Mercy had been shown, mercy I did not deserve and have any right to claim. Some people there had an argument for their offense, they didn't have their current insurance card with them but brought it to court. I didn't have any excuse, I was guilty, but I was shown mercy.

Just like that, in Christ we have a pardon before the Father. But it is a pardon far greater than having a speeding ticket expunged, it is the forgiveness of a Holy God towards a guilty sinner. How awesome is it that in Christ we are forgiven our debts and set free to live a life devoted to Him, in His mercy, in His grace, in His power and in His presence.

Know it's cheesy, but I thought it was pretty cool. Laying on the couch with an ice pack on watching Jim Rome, so I'll close it like Romey would do.

War UofL making sandwiches out of Kansas State's defense next week, War the Douglas Dundees running the table in the Shine Jesus Shine fantasy football league.


Excellence in All Things

Over the summer at World Changers the students were challenged to be excellent in everything they do. That is something I have long been praying to be able to do and has been something I seek to live by in ministry and in all work I do.

The principle is simply this, that Christians, as the Redeemed people of God, should always seek to do their best in everything they do, because they work for Christ primarily and should therefore seek to honor Him in everything they do by offering their best.

In my life this has meant that I never settle for second best, and never settle for mediocrity. It has meant to me personally to always seek to be the best at what I do, not to my credit, but for the Glory of God. For my marathon training, it means I never settle for complacency, but always am after faster times, longer distances, better conditioning, running hard when things hurt and when I'm tired because I run to God's glory that I might make Him known through my efforts. It means that at Starbucks, I seek to be the best at what I do there, not to pat myself on the back, but because I work for Christ and He deserves my best effort. It means that at the church, I pour myself into my work, putting in hours above what is expected of me because I want to give my best and my all to the Lord, to give many hours to study for our Wednesday night service so that I may rightly divide the Word of Truth and present the Scripture accurately to the students. It means I put hours into planning events and preparing things for them regardless of how many of them actually come or care. It means I labor as a farmer in his field to see a harvest of mature, Christ-honoring young men and women ready to take on a world that seeks to destroy their faith and their Christian worldview. My ministry to them will not see fruit for years, but it is one I believe strongly in and will work my best at.

That being said, I fear that in this day we have accepted being C students as being acceptable, that we shouldn't put forth our best effort and give our all in everything we do. That, friends, is laziness. To not pour your all into every task, every course, every program, anything you do in life is simply laziness. God desires our best, and we should always seek to be a people and a Church Universal to strives to do all things with excellence, because we serve an Excellent God who expects nothing less and deserves nothing more. Churches who settle for second best are like the people of Israel who gave sick and lame animals to the Lord in sacrifice. All churches who do not seek excellence in programming, preaching, music, worship, organization, etc. are churches who are not fully seeking the Lord and are not honoring Him as they should.

May our double love for God and Neighbor draw us to work as hard as possible for the Lord, and may we never take our eyes off the cross as we seek to make the glories of His Name known throughout the world. My challenge as you read this is simple, where are you selling God short on your effort, and what can you do to glorify Him more in your life? Pastors who read this, give your all in your work, pour yourself into the task, it will make you depend more on Christ to give you strength, and NEVER settle for being second best and not desiring to have excellent sermons, music, programming, etc. Glorify the Lord in your ministry, and He will bless you.


Family Visit

I had the awesome experience of getting to play Tour Guide to my family as they visited me in Memphis over the weekend. We got to eat a lot of good BBQ (of course, you visit Memphis you have to eat a ton of ribs!), see a lot of the interesting sights, get lost in the hood, and catch up on what all is going on back home.

We got to go to the Civil Rights Museum, which was an awesome lesson in history. History is so important to study because those who do not learn from it are doomed to repeat its mistakes. I must confess that even as a white person, I was struck by the courage and determination of those who battled injustice and simply wanted to be considered equal in terms of value, worth, and dignity as a person. As a Christian, I must affirm that every human being is created imago Dei, and that color is simply pigmentation and not a determination of value or dignity. This is a lesson we still must learn as a society though, and I pray that soon the mistakes of the past will be something that is looked upon by students as events of a bygone era.

We also got to go to Graceland, but we weren't about to pay $30 just to walk through the house and see how lavish Elvis was in his life. So instead, we took pictures of the house, and saw the wall which is covered in writing by fans and passers-by.

Beale Street was also a really neat experience, as we got to eat at BB King's restaurant, and were entertained by a live blues band. The food, less than desirable, but it was still pretty good and more about the atmosphere.

Pictures coming soon, whenever my sister gets around to putting them on Facebook.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Coincidence, the biggest heresy today

Now that I have your attention with the title, I must say I have felt compelled to write about this subject for a while. In our contemporary setting, the church faces attacks on several fronts which would seek to overthrow historical orthodoxy, the regula fide, and the historical understanding of the person of Christ. Another area that the church faces controversy is over the sovereign nature of God. What I mean by my title is that the biggest heresy facing the church right now is a diminished view of God. In order to make God fit into our framework of understanding, we have reduced the power of God and His omnipotent nature to a view that is commonly called Open Theism. This view, in essence, is the view that God is not sovereign over all things in the sense that not all things are under His authority and control, that there are things that happen that God must react to, and that God knows all possible outcomes (similar to the "Choose your own ending" books many of us read as children) but that the course of action rests with us.

Now to address my title, which I am sure you have been wondering about. Dictionary.com would define coincidence as "a striking occurrence of two or more events at one time apparently by mere chance," with other words like luck, fate, chance, accident, serendipity, etc. being used synonymously to describe the concept of coincidence. While this may seem like a silly argument to make, I believe it is of utmost importance if we are to understand the nature of God as He has revealed Himself to be. I have often asked myself the question, "Can't things just happen?" Every time I have asked that question, I have had to consider my theology and from that draw a conclusion one way or another. When I have asked if things can just happen, I am making an assumption that God is either not fully involved in Creation or that He does not care enough to be involved in every aspect of Creation. In essence, by making the assumption that things happen by random chance, I am making a bold theological statement that God is not in control of all things.

How must we address this issue? Simply put, we must recognize that nothing happens outside the control, decree, ordination, and will of God. God is presented in Scripture as being both powerful and intimate, and we must always remember both of these things when asking ourselves questions about our circumstances and the role God plays in everyday life. I propose the concept of meticulous and total providence, the idea that all things are under the hand of God and that He is both the architect and designer of all things. This may sound like fatalism, which I do not hold to, and I will address that later in this post.

The idea of God being sovereign over all things and in control of all things must impact our worship, prayer, devotional life, preaching, and every other aspect of life. We must always remember who it is we pray to, the One who holds the cattle on 1000 hills (obviously meant as a comparitive statement to Rome, the city built on seven hills), who control the weather and storms and causes rain to fall or the sun to scorch, who draws men and women to Himself as He sees fit (Romans 8-10), and who causes nations to rise and fall based on His good pleasure to act as He sees fit (i.e. the Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans, etc.). This is not the God so often portrayed in our churches, where the concept of making God more like "one of us" as Joan Osbourne sang has caused us to see God as a buddy, as someone who wants a friend to sit with Him because He is lonely and needs us to feel better. That concept of God is heresy and an insult to the witness of Scripture.

When looking at Scripture, we see that there are many times where life seems to not make sense, where God's servants are treated unfairly and punished wrongly. Last night in DIVE time with the Youth, we looked at the life of Joseph. Joseph could look at his situation in life (his sitz im leben for you German scholars) and see it as either conicidence, that things have just happened and he has been dealt a bad hand of cards, or that it falls together under this universal application of all things we commonly refer to as the "Will of God." Our response to his circumstances reflects how we interpret our own circumstances. Do things just happen, or is there a purpose, a meaning behind them? If we are honest with ourselves and honest with Scripture, we have to come to the conclusion that all things do indeed work together for the good of those who are called of God. There is purpose, there is meaning, like in Job suffering is not experienced in a vacuum but is all part of the plan of God.

Then you ask, how is this not fatalism? Simply put, there is a complex paradox involving the will of God and the decisions of men that enables it to be both predetermined and part of God's sovereign will and to be a very real and conscious decision for us. I do not believe we have libertarian freedom, but that we choose to do that which is most appealing to us and of our greatest desire. We make real decisions on what to do, where to go, who to follow, how to respond to the witness of Scripture as to the identity and reality of Christ and the Gospel. An honest reading of Scripture should lead you to this balanced view. It is not a contradiction of wills or of logic, because God exists on a plane of existence that is not bound by time, space, or other limitations, whereas we are. Therefore, our conceptual understanding of the nature of God is limited to what He has revealed about Himself and is bound by our time-space limits. He exists outside of our understanding, and much like the clay is not allowed to question the potter, we must never consider the wisdom and decrees of God to be "unfair." Fairness is something we perceive, but we must remember that God is faithful to His word and when He says that He will work all for good and for His Glory, we must trust Him at His word axiomatically.

Let's never put God in a box and limit Him and what He is capable of. As the Church, we must seek His face, repent where we have failed Him, and pursue Him unashamedly towards the glorious end that He is, to the glory of the Father through the Son by the Spirit. May I never have a small view of God or perceive Him as a buddy or as a lonely friend, but as the sovereign King of the universe who through the purchase of His Son has permitted a sinner such as I the oppportunity to share in the glories of His Kingdom.