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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Proverbs 31:32

If it existed, it would read, "She reads Humility more than once and then strives to show humility.

Read her review. Then read the book.

Pastor of Multiplication Concerns

We had a great time celebrating with the Tri-State district last Sunday. It was wonderful to praise God for His glorious grace in allowing us to participate in the ministry of reconciliation, specifically in our local church plants.

It was also thrilling to allow Daniel to articulate how our transition will hopefully help facilitate more planting. As our Pastor of Multiplication (or Outreach Pastor), one of Daniel's duties will be as a District Church Planting Coach. I've been excited about this for quite some time, but now I am a little concerned. Consider the following evidence:

Daniel Pierce, Church Planting Coach

Tim Nixon, Church Planter

Daniel has easily been one of the most influential people in my life (and will continue to be), but I think for the sake of my coiffure, I may just start calling him a mentor, instead of a coach.

Perspicuity v. Postmodernity

[Quick confession before I post. I'm not really in the mood to post today. It appears some people have been reading my blog, for which I am grateful, but feel that I am writing thoughts directly for them. That is not the case. A conversation with someone may have sparked thoughts of mine, but I do not mean to write in any way that incites anger or hostility in anyone. I am not gunning for anybody, and if you see some fruits of a conversation with you expressed in this blog...please do not view that as me trying to rebuke via the web, but rather that our conversation sparked my mind, and I am articulating my thoughts.]

Can perspicuity and postmodernity coexist?

I've been reading through the Westminster Confession of Faith recently. I'd never read it and have heard many people refer to it. Something being perspicuous simply means it is "clear or lucid." One of the delights of the Word is that we believe that when the Holy Spirit illumines the soul, the Scriptures are understandable for the untrained and even a child. This does not mean every passage is easy, for Peter himself says Pauls words can be hard to understand. However, the gospel message is clearly there and definable for us.

But postmodernity is far from embracing the concept of perspicuity. For an example, just try to define postmodernity in two sentences. People are no longer interested in quick "pat" answers, nor are they content to just hear, "You just need to believe." They want to wrestle with things, and they want to know that we wrestle as well.

I think Deuteronomy 29:29 is a great example of this tension:
"The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law."

There are things we can not know about God. Yet, God in His grace has revealed things about Himself, and He desires that we know these things. It is wrong for us to claim knowledge about that which only God knows (secret things), but it is also wrong for us to claim that those things which have been revealed are still a mystery. Those things revealed are necessary for salvation; for observing the law allows us to know the will of God and to see how we fall short, thus our need for grace.

But where is the line between mystery and absolute? How can we know when things are clear and when they are vague?

Can we not start with the gospel? Therefore, doesn't a person need to accept some absolutes to become a believer or present the gospel to others? On points of contention, is if fair to say that those things which contradict the gospel message are clearly wrong?

If perspicuity and postmodernity have to battle, I know who wins that fight. Ultimately, it means I have to abandon the tag of postmodernist, and become defined as a Biblicist. I do not have to deny all that postmodernism teaches (for some things are very true and Biblical), but I will have to deny some. Yet I don't desire to deny some of what the Bible teaches so I can remain postmodern.

I praise God for being so gracious to reveal Himself to us and His way of salvation, yet delight in the fact that He alone is God and I can fully wrap my fingers around Who He is.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Here they come...

In complete unity, the elders asked Matt Strader to join us on staff at Grace. Matt will be assuming the role of Youth Pastor upon graduating from Grace College (May 6, 2006). Matt will be wedded to Isabel Hutchins on June 3, 2006.

Personally, I am totally excited for Matt's arrival. From the first meeting, it has been evident that Matt is a great fit for our Body. This was only confirmed by responses from elders, parents, students and youth staff. I truly believe our student ministry will be stronger with his arrival.

I'm sure I'll post more on Matt and the "transition" in the future, but I thought I'd list a few distinctions between Matt and myself, so you can get to know Matt better.

1. Skill versus bracket. Matt played two years of basketball at Grace College (while the closest I came was watching three years of basketball at Grace College). However, I clearly have the better bracket for this NCAA Tournament between the two of us.

2. BA Biblical Studies versus BS Youth Minstry. Matt is getting his degree through The National Institute since CE National waited to start the program til after Danny graduated (not that I'm bitter about that).

3. Guitar. Matt plays it, while Charity let me carry her guitar once...in the case.

4. Fantasy Basketball. Matt is competitive in a fantasy basketball league that he has been in for four years, while Danny has been in a league for 12 years and has probably never been considered competitive.

5. Border War. Since the family hails from Ann Arbor, Matt is a Michigan fan, while Danny can't bring himself to actually hyperlink to their site (go back and check where it is linked...same difference). Before you freak out, Gary, remember, as long as we have Tressel, it's going to be fun to abuse Matt every November.

So set out the welcome mat to well...welcome Matt (yes I've used that pun before). We've been praying for you since the Lord laid the transition on our hearts. It's finally nice to have a couple to match up with those prayers!

No Joke

I was challenged by a couple of people as to whether it was appropriate to joke about the Emerging Movement. I didn't respond immediately, and haven't spent too much time thinking about it, but here are some of my thoughts:

--I'd hate a world without humor. Shouldn't we as believers be the most willing to laugh? Shouldn't we also be the most gracious about our differences with one another? We all need to take ourselves less seriously. (Myself included).
--Cussing is an issue. Not in every emerging body, obviously. But many of the publications and sermons you can get from people in that circle have a different definition of proper language, and they are not afraid to expose that difference. In fact, in several publications I have observed, the lanugage is used to express liberty and to shock...therefore, they should not be surprised when they receive reaction.
--Sensitivity may mean something is wrong. Just like brushing is healthy, but can be painful if your teeth have something wrong, a joke tends to bring a little pain if something may be wrong. If a joke about improper language is overly sensitive, it may be an indication that cussing may not be the sign of Christian maturity it is couched to be.
--I didn't make that joke up. Ok, that has nothing to do with an arguement. If it's improper, whether it originated with me or not is not the issue. However, I thought it was funny when I heard some sort of derivative, and want to give credit that I didn't come up with it. (Didn't want anyone to think I'm more clever than I am...not like that would happen anyway).

Sure, I believe in sensitivity to one another and respect. However, I do think it is a shame if we feel it is inappropriate to joke with one another. We shouldn't sweep our differences under the rug, but should handle them in a way that is unashamed.

If you appreciate good, creative humor, Marc Heinrich's purgatorio is one of the best I've seen.

And if you appreciate the cheesy, old-school type of "Christian jokes," check out this post.

Night, Not Fog

As I was driving to work this morning, the fog was overwhelming. Just before I left the house, I heard the schools were on a two hour delay, due to its danger. I chuckled as I left, thinking the school was over reacting. However, my entire way to work, I found driving in this fog more dangerous than driving in a storm or at night. Once I finally got on the main road to our church (and no longer had to turn left through intersections), I started thinking about the fog.

One encouragement about the process of inspiration (and possibly a proof) is the profound nature of Biblical illustrations. It's important that we don't take the illustrations too far (a brief look at commentaries on the parables will show you some people regularly do this), but we also don't want to ignore how well these illustrations hold up.

This world is not a battle between fog and clear skies...it's a battle of darkness and light.

God is Light. (I John 1:5)
You once were in darkness but have been called from that. (Ephesians 5:3-21)
Darkness and Light have no place together. (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)
Jesus offers light. John 8:12)
The gospel is our only access to that light. (Acts 26:18)

As I drove to the office, I noticed that my headlights had no effect on the fog; either way, I still lacked visibility. However, in darkness, even dim headlights have a great impact. Even now, as I look out my window, the fog has lifted slightly and yet it is coexisting with clear skies in an indistinct way. Yet it is light outside; the sun is out and the darkness is chased away. It was a great reminder to me, as I prepare for our student gathering tonight, that my mission is not to lift fog, but to shed light where there is darkness.

And glory to Him Who is Light and shone His light on my dark soul.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

What is the gospel?

It's hard to be together for the gospel, if we don't all mean the same thing about gospel.

I typically turn people to I Corinthians 15:1-11 as our defining text for the gospel.

Mark Dever gave this answer in a blog today:

I think Augustine said somewhere that the cross was a pulpit in which Christ preached his love to the world. I can't remember (or just don't know) where he said this. If someone could supply me with a reference (Lig?) I'd appreciate it. Anyway, that expression is a succinct way of drawing our attention to the holiness of God (a sacrifice was needed), His love (he provided the sacrifice), our sinfulness (we've been separated from God by our sin), His provision in Christ (his life and death) and our response (we need to hear this word preached and respond to it in repentance and faith). So there it is--the gospel is about our holy and loving God, creator and judge, His creation of us in His image, our sin against Him, His amazing provision of us in Christ, whose life, death and resurrection was for us. He then calls all who hear this message to turn away from their sins and trust in Christ alone for forgiveness of sins, restoration of a relationship with God, and even adoption as His children, now and forever!

It's important that we don't confuse the gospel message with gospel benefits (primary and secondary) as well as with gospel impacted living. Just acknowledging these facts Dever shared (notae) are certainly not enough to save. However, one cannot acknowledge the truth of the gospel (assensus) and place their entire faith upon it (fiducia), unless they know what those facts are.

Less than a month, and I get to celebrate these facts together with others at:

Am I a Moron?

Reasons why I don't think it's terrible for you to think so:

1. Compared to God, moron is giving me far too much credit. Even "His folly" greatly surpasses my wisdom. (I Corinthians 1:18-31)
2. The cross is foolishness. Ultimately, it's wise to be a fool, at least in the world's eyes. If I am diligent about preaching Christ crucified, I will be considered a fool. (I Corinthians 3:18-20)
3. As a pastor, it reminds people of the perspicuity of Scripture. Yes, there are parts of Scripture which are difficult to figure out, but as a whole, most of Scripture is clearly articulated so that the learned and unlearned can grow in it when applying practical principles. I do not stand up to preach because I have my own wisdom, or even because of a degree. I preach because God's Word is wise and quite clear. (For a better statement about this, read Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1 (Holy Scriptures), Article VII).
4. It helps me laugh. Ocassionaly, it's good to do things that just don't make a lot of sense. A great way to spot when my pride is getting the best of me is to assess whether I'm willing to still laugh at myself. Sometimes, it's a bit theapuetic to do something that appears pointless or absurd.
5. It curbs my pride...some. I am a very arrogant man. If left to myself, I would regularly try to move the spotlight off of God and focused on me. Laying my weaknesses (including intellect) in front of people is a way to be held accountable. I can't demand praise for myself when those around me are far too familiar with what a bafoon I can be.

Reasons I hope you don't think I am:

1. God's wisdom is full of character. Wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. That list is even a humble reminder of how much wisdom I lack, but I'm praying by the grace of God, that more and more of that kind of wisdom becomes evident in my life.
2. Wisdom values the Word. Wisdom means we not only value the Word and hear it, but the wise one obeys the Word too. Any wisdom people would see in me, I pray comes as an acknowledgement that I honor God's Word, in word and deed.
3. It can be hard to lead. If God has placed a person in leadership, it can be hard to lead others if they think you are an idiot. People are not going to entrust what they care about to you, if they think you will just handle it whimsically.

In the end, I guess I would say that Danny Wright is a total idiot. However, by the grace of God, He has stepped in and placed His wisdom within me. I do hope you see me as wise, but not because I have attained it. Rather, I hope it is a display that He who began a good work in me is carrying it on to completion.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Vision Cubed

I watched a C-span interview with Mark Cuban today. Ordinarily, Charity makes fun of me for watching C-span (I love when the British yell at each other) but I was able to avert geekhood by explaining the Cuban owns the Dallas Mavericks. You can read the transcript here.

A couple of thing that caught my attention:

1. Cuban appeared quite humble. For accomplishing so much in his life, he doesn't seem to be filled with overwhelming arrogance.
2. He gave his email address out on the show. I felt sorry for the guy, I'm sure his box will be flooded (but it's not the first I've heard him do it, so he certainly knows what he got into). I also couldn't resist. If you can't resist either, it's mark@hd.net.
3. He's a genius. He gets a lot of heat for being emotional and or dancing around a lot during games. But the man is incredibly smart, yet not in the academic-no-practical-skills sort of way. He seems like a guy who could hold his own in any business setting, yet meet you at B-dubs and hold his own in trash talk.

As I watched, I wondered a few things:

1. What does Cuban think about God? It didn't come up in the interview (at least not what I saw), and I wouldn't expect it to. But I wondered what a man who started a company with a $4000 computer and later sold it for a couple hundred million thinks about Almighty. Does he even see the need? Does one who accomplishes so much in life take more pleasure in seeing his life as earned by his work, and not by grace? Statistics and Scripture would argue that it would be tough to have a Biblical perspective of God with so much provision, but of course, Jesus said in that passage, with people, this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.
2. Vision and Risk. It's a twist of irony that the man owns a team called the Mavericks. Cuban has taken amazing risks in his life, yet they always seemed worth it because he can see the final product. Visionary capacity is a gift from God. By nature, it seems it is a gift few have. Guys like Cuban make your head spin as he can fit multiple pieces of a puzzle together in a way that appear effortless.
3. I felt guilty. I am regularly haunted by Jesus' chastisement: "or the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind F366 than the sons of light. I know I do not have many of the gifts of Mr. Cuban, but I wonder how much shrewdness I really show. Cuban has used his intelligence, vision, connections and funds to produce more funds, influence more people, and to do charitable work. I didn't feel guilty about claiming a bigger house or a faster car (that's selling it so short). I felt guilty in regard to the gospel. Am I shrewd when I have something so much greater at stake? Cuban is brilliant with two billion dollars and can turn it into six billion. But do I take what I have and turn it toward making an eternal difference?

I am amazed by those God has placed within the Body who are visionaries. I was challenged while watching the interview to pray for those people. I was challenged to dream big for His sake. If God should see fit, I pray he would grant using what gifts I do have to make an eternal impact.

To the praise of the glory of His grace.

Think fast...

Maybe I'm thinking about it too quickly, or not enough at all...

but I just don't get Volkswagen's new Think Fast Campaign.


In person, over the internet

After having a heated discussion with a friend regarding some "Christian personalities" I also listened to a podcast from Stand to Reason. During the Februrary 26th podcast (you must register to listen to podcasts, it' free, so it's worth it, but it means I can't link), Greg Koukl was reviewing a conversation he had with several prominent emerging movement leaders. During the meeting, he mentioned that John MacArthur had a conference on the Emerging Movement. Koukl shared that MacArthur probably shot all discussion down by starting the conference with "Emergent--Bad." He said there was also a guest speaker who had some very hostile things to say.

An emerging movement leader shared that he emailed the guest speaker about his hostility (some of which was personally directed at the e.m. leader). The guest speaker emailed back saying that he never would have said some of the things he said had he considered that the person may be in audience.

Ouch! I've certainly made that mistake on this blog before. I have written about situations without considering that the reader may have been involved in the situation as well. Being confronted about that, it has made it easier to keep in mind regarding those I know. However, I have I spoken about "Christian celebrites" in a way I probably wouldn't if I knew they were reading my blog? Unfortunately, I proabably have.

I truly feel bad about that, and hope you will help hold me accountable about this. It's not right to talk about personalities as if they are not people. I can certainly afford to grow in graciousness. However, this does not mean we have to agree with everything. But I should be less personal when approaching disagreements. It may need to look something like this (tell me if you think I'm still off).

Emergent. You are obviously intelligent people and I appreciate the fact that you emphasize mission. However, the movement makes me nervous when orthodoxy seems to be abandoned for the sake of being open-minded. I also feel at times that the emphasis is placed more on the culture than the Word of God. I do not hate Emergent or emerging leaders, but I do wish some of these issues were clearly articulated.
Rick Warren. Obviously, Warren is a largely influential person. I also appreciate the emphasis of considering why we do certain things (probably more clearly articulated in Purpose Driven Church.) However, I think a method of quoting Scripture from different translations at a whim is dangerous. I also do not agree that we can use a verse for our purpose because Jesus did that all the time. I think that there can be a dangerous temptation to assess success the same way in the Body as we would a corporation. I also wish the atonement was more clearly articulated in gospel presentations.
Joel Osteen. I appreciate that you do not approach Christianity as something to be dreaded or as a list of painful laws to be obligated to. However, I think an over emphasis on the here-and-now diminishes what God really considers a blessed life. I think it can make those with low bank accounts feel like they aren't fully pleasing God. I appreciated his apology for not being clear about the gospel on Larry King Live. Your humility in response was refreshing. However, I do not believe subsequent teaching has shown that the previous teaching has been corrected. Again, I wish issues of the atonement and the exclusivity of Christ were much more clearly articulated.

You may be reading this and wondering, "How bad must he feel if he turns right around in the same post and states specific issues?"

It's a weird issue of the way I've been created. I truly hope that people would confront me with concerns they have. I actually would consider it an act of love that they would be willing to dialogue about difficult things (thought I may chaff at first). In a way I can't fully explain, I really believe it's more loving (to the reader and the author) to articulate differences than to keep them to ourselves.

I will try to keep them less personal in the future, and keep it clear that I have a problem with philosophy, doctrine, application, teaching, or emphasis, but not with the individual. Thanks for helping me do that, and for being patient when I don't.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Tastebud Trama

Anyone who doesn't believe that expectations play into perception should try drinking what they think is water but is actually Sprite. I had a similar moment Wednesday night.

Our son's birthday is in just a couple days, and my wife has been experimenting/perfecting the cake preparation for "the Elmo cake." I walked into the house upbeat but fatigued. My wife was on the phone, so I stood there in the kitchen for a minute. As I'm standing there, I notice this yellow/orange glop on the side of the sink. Thinking it is frosting (which I absolutely love!) I swipe my finger with it and suck the big glop off of my finger. Little did I know that about five minutes before I walked into the door an "emergency egg salad sandwich" had been prepared. By the time I realized I had just taken a major swipe of mustard, and not frosting, I had already swallowed it and just had to ride through the contortions and spasms my body was going through. Normally, I like mustard, but I don't think I want a cake iced with it.

Ever heard of Chittlins? When I used to work at an auto parts store during high school, a coworker brought an entire bag of homemade chittlins. I watched the guy continually popping them in his mouth and decided to check them out. They looked like Taco Bell Cinnamon Twists and so I assumed they tasted the same. The taste was so revolting, I became physically nauseous. Of course, when Jesse told me I was eating pig intestines, that didn't really help either.

But the worst of all was when I mistook Clorox for cooking oil. I walked by the kitchen table one day where there was a measuring cup filled with clear liquid. For some reason, I couldn't resist the impulse to stick my finger in it and give it a lick (not sure why, it's not like i enjoy the taste of cooking oil.) This time however, the spasms were accompanied by the fear that licking a finger covered in clorox could kill you.

Now the time i brushed my teeth with peroxide in stead of bottled water was cool...but I digress.

And to think, when we go out tonight, my wife will probably make fun of me for ordering the same thing I always do.

Playing for Keeps

Last night, Amare Stoudemire had 20 points, 9 boards and 2 blocks in 19 minutes of play. Those are his only 19 minutes of play this season. He has been sitting on my bench the entire season.

So why am I so excited?

Last season, our league (in its second decade now) decided to switch to being a keeper league. Before each year's draft, we declare what two guys from our previous roster we wish to keep for the next season. You can only keep a guy for three seasons, so you can't horde a guy forever. I'm glad we switched to a keeper league for a few basketball reasons...

--injury plagued season. I cringe as I type this because I get so fed up with guys that claim their team would be great except for injuries. Injuries happen (and often can be predicted). However, this season I have certainly been hammered hard. Amare went down about a month before the season started. Manu has only shown flashes of his form as he has battled minor leg injuries all season. Corey Maggette missed much of the season with an injury. Darius Miles went down with surgery. Then, I traded for Tracy McGrady and two days later he went out for the rest of the season with a back injury. If we were not a keeper league, I would have thrown in the towel a long time ago.
--fair league. This is the first season that I felt like no one made a "fire sale" at the trade deadline. Owners who are out of the running (like me) still have something to build toward (next year). I clearly have no shot of the championship this season, but I can try to set myself up better for next year.

But more than that, I like the things it makes me consider that correlate with life.

--Commitment. Just one month before the draft this season, I was prepared to name Amare my favorite player for the next three years. In a non-keeper league, I would have avoided him on draft day, knowing he can only provide his team with 15-20 games this season. But as a keeper league, I stashed him on the end of my bench (he is just too good to give up next season without something in return). There is a unique kind of joy when your guy bounces back and reaches the potential he previously had. I can't explain it, but it just feels more noble to see Amare sitting on my bench (where he's been all year) as opposed to being the GM who signed him as a free agent when his return became close.
--Goal Setting. I tend to look ahead far more than I consider the present. Often, I find myself talking to God about what He wants me to be in five years instead of what He wants of me today. By December of this year, if we were not a keeper league, I would have been thinking about next season, which would have had nothing to do with this season. However, in a keeper league, I'm able to think about next season, but always consider that this season is impacting the next. That's a reminder I can always use.
--Handling adversity. Some times we are restricted by our environment, resources or abilities. This does not mean that you don't try your hardest, but it means that your expectations may need to be tempered. For the Steelers, a successful season is a Super Bowl. For the Browns, keeping half your team from being arrested by the end of the season should probably be counted success for them. The same goes for me in ministry. I can't succeed at everything (though that doesn't mean I shouldn't try hard) but I should be comfortable to acknowledge that everything I do won't be deemed a success by others. I also should not assess others on a scale that I have produced.

Welcome back, Amare. In my humble opinion, the Suns just became the team to beat in the West. (And the Caribou just became a team to reckon with next season.)

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Sermon Theft

Justin Taylor pointed to an article written by Steven Sjogren entitled, "Don't be original, be effective." After reading Sjorgren's article, it is clear that he believes it is a good practice to use someone else's sermon before your congregation. You may even say it is noble, for you acknowledge too much is at stake to not use someone else's and "hit a home run."

There are three great articles to look at that deal with what is plagiarism and why it's wrong:

Justin Taylor: Plagiarizing in the Pulpit

Matt Perman and Justin Taylor: What is Plagiarism?

Ray Van Neste: Pastoral Plagiarism

These guys do a great job of breaking down why it is wrong to use someone else's sermon and not credit them. IF a pastor wanted to, it is probably morally permissable to preach someone else's sermon as long as you give credit that it is not your own. While there may be an extremely rare occasion where this would be beneficial, I would argue for the following reasons, it is more than likely a terrible idea:

1. Carbon copied passion. Hearing a pastor preach on a passage can not replace doing personal study of a passage. In the same way, preaching a sermon from someone else can not involve, nor convey the same passion as the original. People are getting the explanation of your interaction with the product of someone elses study in the Word. Resolution is bound to be lost.
2. The pastor is a person. In the articles listed above, they actually cite times where pastors used someone else's personal illustrations. Are you actually getting a message from a person or a performance? At that point, the pastor is no longer fulfilling the role of shepherd, but instead is playing the role of actor.
3. It idolizes performance. Instead of preaching, performance becomes the key:

a.) The church sits on the edge of their seats waiting for that "homerun." A church that can't handle a sermon that would be classified "a double" or "a triple" is in serious trouble. I love preaching and see all the Biblical principles for it. However, a church that's survival is based on the sermon is ignoring much of what makes the church a church.

b.) What makes it a "homerun?" If a pastor repeats a message verbatim, or must use the points or outline of a previous message, odds are it was not the content but rather the presentation that wowed him. People begin to expect juggled puppies and amazing light shows to keep their attention. The focus is not on the content but on the presentation. Frankly, that's a trend much of the church has already fallen for. Preaching someone else's sermon does nothing to help with that problem.

4. The pastor is robbed. When I was with a speaking ministry, we were expected to preach certain sermons repeatedly. I noticed with those messages that I never had the same passion, and never personally interacted with the text like I did the first time or two I preached it. [I've even noticed the same issue with preaching two services. Convential wisdom would suggest that second service should always be better, for you could work out bugs from the first service. However, I typically feel much more comfortable with the sermon in first service than the second.] Forget how the congregation is getting a copy of a copy, the pastor is doing this to himself as well. I also noticed it created a tendancy to preach down to the people instead of preaching as one of the people.

5. You're stealing from your congregation. In Acts 6:4, the elders of the church remind the Body that their ministry is to be to the Word and prayer. A pastor who is not doing that, but rather, is using someone else's ministry to the Word, is not doing part of what they are there to do. If the pastor is paid, he should probably offer to give some of his money back since he didn't do that portion of the job. (Please don't hear me say that the only responsibility of the pastor is to preach. There are many more things. But it is certainly one of his primary responsibilities.)

So how can you help me?

--If you hear something profound from me, assume I got it from someone else. Come and ask me where I got that from and remind me that I need to credit sources. (Plagiarism that is unintentional is still wrong.)
--If you here something profound, and I claim it is original, follow up by asking me what I've been reading and listening to lately. If I stagger around with that, it's probably safe to assume I'm embarrassed to admit it, because that would reveal my sources. (If I would purposely plagiarize, I would probably lie about doing it too. Watch for the nonverbal cues that would give that away.)
--Comment on content. Rather than just saying, "That was a good sermon" or "Nice job today" try telling me about the content. Share what about God's Word impacted you, or what application you are taking with you. This reduces the pressure of having the great illustration or being especially catching and puts the focus back on exalting God.
--Hold me to the text. If you sense I am preaching soapboxes or taking passages away from the text for that morning, come talk to me about it.

Of course, if we are all preaching from the same Bible, and we are striving to preach the author's intent, messages will seem similar. But is not only immoral to preach someone elses sermon, it is not beneficial to the Body either.

But Rick Warren wouldn't agree with me. After all, the article suggesting we use others sermons was found on his pastors.com website. (Please understand I only mention that to show that problems I have with much of the Purpose Driven approach are philosophical and are not an issue of personality.)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Sanctified Expletives?

What do you do when a fellow believer cusses at church?

a.) You look for an opportunity to correct or teach about such behavior.
b.) You ignore it, trying to focus more on what they say, than how they say it.
c.) You call him pastor. (If you're in the emergent movement.)

Ok, I couldn't resist the joke, but there's a serious side to the issue as well. Not just with language, but what should our response be when a person does something inappropriate in our prescence? Let me give some examples of things I've heard other pastors being approached about:

--Bad Action. You're listening to a story someone is sharing. They mention how they went off on a teller at a local store because of what they felt was incompetent service. There action was not the main issue of the story, the service was. But do you gently try to instruct the person that they may not have exibited Christ-like behavior to the teller?

--Bad Advice. Someone is telling you about a recent conversation they had with a friend. In the midst of the conversation, they tell you the advice they gave the person. (The advice may or may not have been taken.) The advice may be horrendous (ie. leave your husband so he knows you mean business), but that's not really the person's point. They move on to tell you more about the situation and the action the person took. Do you try to hit pause and get the person to explain why they gave the advice they did? Do you instruct them that their advice is Biblically flawed?

--Bad Theology. This one often comes up when people want to give God credit (or blame) for things He is not responsible. (If I had a dollar for everytime a person has told me they think God is tempting them.) What do you do with that situation? Do you show them how they are bound to give bad advice and take bad actions because their theology is bad? Do you leave the person alone? Do you preach on it soon and hope they are paying attention?

In my tiny brain, here are some thoughts I've had about this:

1. Gentleness, respect and humility must be practiced at all times.
2. Anything "anti-gospel" must be confronted. Whether a believer or an unbeliever, if action, advice or theology is contrary to the gospel message, we have an obligation to highlight the contradiction.
3. Items not contrary to the gospel message should probably be overlooked in the non-believer but addressed with the believer.
4. Situations dictate how the response happens. Is this a repeat offense? Are you close with the person? Are others around? Are they in a position of authority?

Some would argue that things are best left unaddressed. Not only is that about impossible for someone with my personality, I don't see that as a Biblical instuction regarding living in community. We should be sharpening one another. We certainly need to express grace to one another, but I also never want someone to think that my silence condoned their action.

By the way, if you disagree, I just laid out that I think you must comment to tell me so!!!!!!!

Monday, March 20, 2006

"L" in my bracket

Yes, my bracket is dead. It is peppered with more L's (losses) than I would like. But that's not all I mean by "L" in my bracket.

I got an interesting email about a site that will help you with podcasting. Yes, the idea crossed my mind to occasionally offer a podcast, but you may be surprised to as to the content (maybe not, if you know me). I thought it might be fun to illustrate the basic doctrines of grace (TULIP) from things we see around us in sport. Regardless as to how you may feel about Calvinism, I thought it may at least clear up some of the confusion about what the letters really mean.

I do believe sports can be a great tool to learn from, and certainly God can use them to exalt His name, even when that isn't our intention. Incidently, CJ Mahaney has written two excellent articles about how to use sports for His glory (Fathers and Sons and March Madness, and Fathers and Sons and Sundays) as well as did a wonderful job on Al Mohler's Radio Program describing this very issue (Has he turned Mohler into a closet sports fan?).

The NCAA Tournament can help us understand Limited Atonement?

That's the thought I want to pose to you. Now, allow me to preface this by saying that the doctrine of Particular Redemption (as it should probably be called...but TUPIP just didn't catch on) should be explored exclusively according to Scripture. Limited trust should be placed on experience, logic or metaphor. However, this doctrine is probably the most misunderstood (This is not an original statement of mine at all, but it is largely held by "5-pointers" that a "4-point" Calvinist is really a 5-point Calvinist who doesn't understand Limited Atonement). Therefore, I thought this illustration may help us understand the doctrine better.

To start off, consider this question: Who was the NCAA Basketball Champion Trophy built for? It may be a hideous thing (if it's anything like the BCS trophy), but when they put the work order into the company that would construct it, who did the NCAA have in mind?

At this point, we have no idea. (I think in the end, we'll find that it was built for Duke and JJ Redick, but we'll have to wait and see.) There are a couple of things we can know at this point, however:

1. It was not built for UNC. OK, that's not just a chance to take a jab. It also was not built for OSU, Tennesee, Syracuse, or any other team that has been sent home packing. It's a single elimination tournament, so if you have lost a game, we know the trophy wasn't built for you.
2. The trophy is available to 16 teams. Just because Duke has the superior talent, does not mean that they have the exclusive right to it. The trophy is equally available to all 16 teams that are still alive in the tournament. It has an opportunity to claim it.
3. It was not built for all 16 teams though. It is available to all teams, at this point, but will not be owned by all 16 teams. Should Gonzaga lose in the next round, they would not be able to show up on the campus of the winning school and claim the trophy for a day. It may be available to all, but it is certainly not owned by all.

Where it breaks down. Obviously, as the NCAA had the trophy built, they had no idea who it was built for. God, in His Sovereignty knows who will respond to Him, for our depravity ensures He must intercede for us to submit to Him. Therefore, the tourney builds a trophy with no idea who it will go to, but with the knowledge that it eventually will be reserved for a specific team. God, offered His Son with full knowledge of who would submit to Him and therefore His Son paid the penalty for a specific people.

Instead of imagining the NCAA as God, it is probably better to imagine them as fellow believers. At this point, we have no idea who Christ's sacrifice efficient for, for we have no idea who will submit to Him. Sadly, as some pass and we review their own statements of Christ, we can be sure they were not part of the elect. But others, we cling to the hope that they will submit to God and therefore find their penalty paid for.

The NCAA built a trophy that could have gone to 65 different teams, but in the end is reserved for one. This does not diminish its availability, simply it's efficiency. Christ's atoning sacrifice is available to all, but will only be efficient for those who submit to the gospel. That does not diminish its availability, but to say it is efficient for all means that all will be in heaven some day.

[Praise be to God as well, that the NCAA tournament is about individual acheivement and work, while salvation is about His work for me. I didn't list this as a way it breaks down because I hoped people would realize that one is obvious.]

Saturday, March 18, 2006


Anyone who is a fan of 24 knows just one day can make the biggest difference. Charity and I were able to escape for a day and I feel like a new man. A couple of observations:

1. Mad props go out to my parents, Jason and Jodi, and John and Robyn for watching our kids. We split them up so everyone could play man-to-man. What a tremendous blessing to have friends and family that would let us get away!
2. Fancy dining is not me. We grabbed dinner at Montgomery Inn. The ribs are amazing, but I realized I have no idea what I'm doing. Do you eat ribs with your hands at a fancy place like that? They gave us bibs and wetnaps so I assumed it was ok to devour by hand. However, the whole tipping thing is confusing to me. (Yes, I know to tip the waiter.) Do you tip the guy that seats you, especially when you ask for a particular table? How about the valet? I know you should tip him, but do you do it when they park your car or when they bring it back? (I tipped when he parked it and not when he brought it back. I'm pretty sure by the look on his face that he thought I was some kind of cheapskate. I was glad there was not an icthus on my car as I drove away.)
3. Finally, a decent hotel. I have had the hardest time finding a good hotel on line. Our family always seems to get hosed. However, the Arcadia Suites are a great place to stay. Nicely updated place with plenty of room and never smells of smoke (major hotel pet peeve). They are quite reasonably priced too.
4. I am a mission based shopper. Give me a task and I can accomplish it. But send me cruising around to see if there are bargains, I'd rather be locked in a room listening to Billy Ray Cyrus. Charity found amazing deals at the Gap Clearance Warehouse and graciously allowed me to stay in the car, working and reading. I'm glad she's a bargain hunter, for it means I don't have to be, and it means our money stretches out further.
5. My wife is amazing. I think I could have enjoyed a polka and bagpipe convention as long as she was company with me. I can not spend time with her without being reminded of the amazing grace of God in my life. (I still don't know how I ended up with her. I guess it's the fruit of Grace's "man-friendly" guy/girl ratio. She didn't have many options.) She laughs at many of the things I do, she loves to talk theology, and even claims that she likes my "D tendencies." While I was humbly enjoying a great weekend, I also found myself feeling a bit of a rebuke. How could I let ministry, kids and complacency robbed me of precious time with my spouse? (I mean, though I caught very little March Madness, I haven't missed it a bit.)

I love you cutie! Thanks for a great day away. (And thanks again to those who helped make it happen.)

Friday, March 17, 2006

RIP: My Bracket

Danny Wright's bracket, Redick=B-ball Spurgeon was pronounced dead today after missing some upsets and predicting others that didn't come. Born March 14th at 7pm, Wright's bracket was announced dead March 17th at 3 pm. Speaking at a service to commemorate his bracket, the following quotes were given.

Said one pastor on the west coast, "It's said to see that Wright's bracket did not understand the fullness of living up to its purpose." The pastor went on to say some other things but kept choosing different languages at random, making it virtually impossible to follow.

Another pastor, out of Houston, Texas said, "I would say that it is clear that his bracket lived its best life from March 14th through March 16th at 11 am. It's ashame that his bracket obviously fell out of the favor of the Lord."

CJ Maheney was quoted as saying, "I hope this bracket will further in Danny learning humility. As a humble man, I myself do not want to say, 'I told you so,' but c'mon, the guy had Duke winning it all."

A president of a seminary in Louisville, Kentucky was quoted as saying, "What is a bracket? Is that something that goes on my car? Anyway, I don't like the bracket's name. Spurgeon should only be compared to....well, Spurgeon."

Wright has requested that instead of flowers, money should be sent to the Wright Family Scholarship Program.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Raw Steak and Twinkies

I've had some great conversations with some friends lately regarding the need/importance of doctrine. In most conversations, we end up agreeing that there are two extremes; avoiding doctrine and placing attention entirely on application, or teaching "heavenly thoughts" that never seem to impact this earth. Neither is a good choice.

Dangers to teaching doctrine alone with no application:

1. We can feel defeated. We see the character of God and how we fall short and are left to feel hopeless. We don't strive to honor God because we feel it's a losing battle anyway.
2. It appeals only to the intellectual. Some people love to sit and philosophize, others are geared to do things and occassionally consider why. If you only speak to the head, you lose an entire segment of the church in what they see as pointless (a segment of the church that will be your "doers" at that!)
3. You become arrogant. "Knowledge puffs up." Knowledge that lacks application is not wisdom. Application is necessary for humility that we can say, "I know this is truth, however, I still war with my flesh to accomplish it."

This, my friends, is the raw steak. Sure, meat is being served up, but it is quite unappealing and can be unhealthy. Consider that even the healthy eater, when presented with the option of a raw (not even rare) steak or a twinkie will choose the twinkie. The twinkie is application with no doctrine.

Dangers to teaching application with no doctrine.

1. Pastor-dependant believers. People are forced to come to the teaching of their pastor to know what they should do. The church is weakened by believers who can't read the Scriptures and understand them in a way that they can apply.
2. Action-specific believers. The church can understand that murder and adultery are wrong, those are clearly stated in Scripture. However, since they don't understand why those things are wrong, they aren't sure how they should respond to things like the death penalty, abortion, war, pornography, marriage and divorce, or cohabitation. Because the Bible doesn't specifically say, "Thou shalt not look at XXX websites," some believers feel unsure what their response should be, let alone how they should then act.
3. Pharisees are created. This is probably the most surprising. The attack I hear most often about those who care about theology and doctrine is that their teaching leads to legalism. In reality, that isn't consistant with Scripture. The Pharisees were never condemned for knowing the Law, they were condemned for not obeying it (and since no one could, they missed its intent) and for making their own laws to only care for the exterior. There are actions that are wrong and those actions reveal a heart problem. (Is there really any conceivable way where adultery is an action of virtue?) However, there are not actions that guarantee a proper heart. (I can do something that looks virtuous, yet sin is at the heart of my action) The heart must be the issue addressed. When we teach people to abstain from sin, or to treat others nicely, or even to share their faith, but we do not address doctrine, we run the risk of raising up Pharisees. We could produce a group of people who have a set list of do's and don'ts but don't know the God they are seeking to obey.

In the analogy of the twinkie, it's like a sugar high. Sure, you will feel energy for a brief season, but you're left with less energy once the sugar wears off. Application teaching alone can give a person energy for a season. Most of us are equipped with some form of determination and will-power. Therefore, we can live on just the application for a season, really fueling ourselves off of our own resources. However, once that fades, we are often left with less energy than we had in the first place.

How did we get here?

Cooking a steak can be complicated. (I've been married for eight years and still haven't attempted grilling a steak.) The pastor finds himself short on time, or engaging a passage that can be difficult to understand. Due to a lack of time, or insight on how to present the doctrine, we either chuck the steak at the Body raw, or resort to just throwing them a twinkie. Also, in an era where people pleasing and popularity polls are at an all-time high, we also just give people what they want.

At lunch today, I could throw a cooked steak and a twinkie on a plate. Guess which one my three year old daughter would choose? The twinkie. But as her father, I won't settle for that and I make sure she eats the steak, for that's what her body needs. Paul said in Hebrews that the people should have been ready for meat, but they still needed milk because they were so malnurished.

Nothing will motivate the believer like the knowledge of God. Nothing has universal application for situations like theology. Yet we can't just teach them facts, not showing how it applies to life. We've got to be offering well prepared steak for our Body if it is to grow and be healthy. Anything else will eventually make it sick.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Week Five Review

This week, over at the GOSPEL Journey blog, we tackeled:

Everyone who trust in Jesus alone has eternal life.

That was the theme we dealt with in Week Five of the GOSPEL Journey. In case you missed some of it, here are the questions we dealt with:

What is faith?
Did Jesus make an exclusive claim?
Why faith alone?
Am I arrogant for knowing I'm saved?
Is He a liar, a lunatic or LORD?

But we also wondered how the gospel impacts the following groups of people:

Other religions
Those who've never heard of Jesus
Last second decisions

Next week we'll look at Life that's eternal means being with Jesus forever.

We're also going to have a GOSPEL Journey celebration at our church next Wednesday night, March 22nd. All are invited! (yes, adults too)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Is Your Kid into Sports?

If you've got an athlete in your family, or if any of you are into sports, you really need to read this article:

Fathers and Sons and March Madness

Even if the sport is not hoops, or if the child is not a son, this is a great article about how sports can be used to bring God honor and glory. I pray this is the emphasis parents are putting on our students and I pray it's the emphasis we will put on our three.

Did Mark Dever make me flip off a truck driver?

So I'm driving down to a Tri-State Church Multiplication meeting in my truck. Since the radio is very fickle, I'm listening to the 1st Hour of the March 10th podcast from Way of the Master Radio. I specifically downloaded this one because I noticed that Todd was talking to Mark Dever (actually, I end up downloading about all of them, just this one caught my eye.)

As Mark is talking, of course the Together for the Gospel Conference is mentioned...

[Yes folks, it's that time again for another T4G commercial. Go to it! Make sure your pastor goes to it!]

..and Todd Friel mentions that the price is really cheap considering the quality and length of the conference ($175). Dever responds that not only is the price relatively low, but you will receive well over $175 worth of free items and books while at the conference. (I have a friend who goes to the Shepherd's Conference and said he comes home with tons of books. I was hoping the same thing would happen here!)

I was so excited to hear the news that I pumped my fist in the air in the car (yes, I'm a nerd). Just as I pump my fist, a tow truck swings into the left lane to pass me. Once the driver pulled back in front of me, he seemed to be pointing to the headliner of his truck with a very specific finger. Then the horror sunk in. This man thought I was flipping him off for tail-gating me! (In reality, I was so engrossed in the interview, I didn't even notice.)

I followed him into the next town and at the light I was planning to turn left. Since he was going straight, I ended up right beside him again. I looked over and wanted to explain to him that I wasn't upset with him, but he still looked quite upset with me.

Is there anything you can do at that point? Should I have tried to explain the issue to him? Would he believe me even if I did get the chance?

Is there any way I can blame Dever for this?

Dissed or DISC-ed?

We had the Moellering Management Company attend our elder meeting last night. Kelly Fair shared with us the results of our DISC profiles and what that means for our communication abilities. It was a very productive evening, and I'm quite thankful Brian saw the need for this and encouraged us to pursue it. I thought I'd share my results with you so that this blog may make a little more sense.

D(ominance): 92 (out of 100)
I(nfluence): 39
S(teadiness): 25
C(ompliance): 24

Basically, that means I am an off the chart "D." The general statements about me that I found most accurate were:

-you may forget that others have different wants and needs
-you do not shy away from confrontation
-you may think of solutions to a problem first, and think of the people second
-you will defend your position
-you are active in the things you do and in your communication
-rather than listening to others, you will be thinking about what you might say next
-you may lack empathy and hurt the feelings of others without realizing it--this is not intentional

Great ways to communicate with me are:

-provide solid yes or no answers--don't say maybe
-provide options, rather than opinions (help us get a solution, don't just state the problems)

Barriers to communicating with me: (stuff that drives me nuts)

-don't say it unless you mean it
-don't hesitate when confronted--fight back (verbally)

What does this mean to "Carnivorous Caribou?"

Well, it explains why so many of my posts are black and white.
It explains why my comment will often be the last comment on a post. I always feel like I need to rebut a point.
It explains why I get frustrated when I find out someone didn't agree and yet didn't comment.
It explains why I miss the fact that some guys who typically disagree with me have quit commenting.

What does it mean about Danny?

To be perfectly honest, I don't like what I see. According to the profile, which I believe is accurate, I am inclined to have a temper problem (as my nature needed one more way to be inclined to sin!) and I can value stuff over people (not exactly an attribute of Jesus). Though I'd love to be balanced in my approach to things, I am dispropotionately a "D" meaning the traits will be even more excessive. I feel really bad for my wife and kids.

What does it mean at Grace?

I have no idea. I know it means I need to change some things about my communication style at elder meetings. I am surrounded by very godly men who don't operate like I do. It means I've got to be very careful that people know I do value them. It means I've got to contain my emotion a little better as some may feel threatened by my excitability.

It means I need to be much more gracious. Seriously, this church has for a teaching pastor a man that I wouldn't even want to listen to. It means I need to constantly remind myself that God is so gracious to provide me a church of patient people who allow love to cover the multitude of my weaknesses. It means that pretty much all that we see that is good happening at Grace is inspite of me, not because of me.

It means that somehow God in His grace is using me despite the fact that my sin nature and my natural personality traits should make that impossible. What a magnificent God we serve!

[By the way, please don't read this post and think I'm down. I am not writing this to receive a bunch of "but I think you're swell" comments. (I think I would throw up on my mac and ruin the keyboard if that happened.) Don't feel sorry for me. This is a really good process for me to go through. Though I realize I don't like much about myself, I am extremely delighted in my God right now and marveling at His grace!]

Monday, March 13, 2006

On a Positive Note

My personality being as it is, I seem to spend more of my time on this blog pointing out things I don't like.

I enjoy going to Dan Kimball's blog because it often makes me think. We don't always agree (but don't always disagree either) but it atleast makes you consider things.

Dan's church is moving into a different building. The building has pews in it which is causing the church to think through the purpose of pew seating.

I encourage you to check out his post and follow through his process of thought. The pew issue isn't really what caught my eye, but rather his desire to consider their place in worship and evaluate why they do what they do.

semper reformanda!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Church Built by Ty Pennington

On tonight's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (proof that I allow my wife to control the remote occasionally), Ty and the crew not only built a house (and renovated a trailer) but also built a church. It made me wonder:

Would I allow Extreme Makeover to build my church?

Of course, there are a few pro's:

1. Free! The folks come to your town and give you more than you could ever need, and you don't pay a dime. Imagine all of that money for a building being able to go toward mission and ministry in your community.
2. Exposure. We've seen a ton of visitors to our new building. Imagine the buzz if "celebrities" built your church and it was nationally televised.
3. Outreach. Not only to the crew and workers, but could you capture the opportunity to present the gospel in the soundbytes and quotes they used of you on television?

The con's:

1. Desperation. To qualify for consideration, you basically have to be a hardship case. While I don't believe we should ever present ourselves as invincible to the world, does it represent Christian fellowship well, that a church had to depend on a television program for help?
2. The crew gets the mic. Some quotes from the crew were: "It doesn't matter if we have the same faith or we pray the same prayers. It's what works for you." "Tonight we celebrate the power of faith." and "It's whatever works for you." People may not associate your theological views with the musings of the cast, but constructing a church certainly gives them a platform to present that which is counter to the gospel.
3. Soundbytes. Even if you were given the opportunity to faithfully present the gospel several times, in this era of slicing and dicing people's quotes, they could completely weed out that which spoke of the cross, shed blood or the exclusivity of Christ. The pastor gave a prayer of blessing for the house and gave a speech beforehand. Neither one spoke of Christ. In fact, at one point the pastor exhorts the people for giving their time, "the ultimate sacrifice." I want to give this pastor the benefit of the doubt, and assume he spoke regularly of Jesus and they just chopped it up. The gospel may be all over the editing floor, but it didnt' make it into the livingrooms of the country.

As I wrote this, I realized that I'm not sure if they built a church or not. By the end of the second hour (which is the only one I caught), they hadn't shown a clip of the church. But after writing this, as cool as it would be to have a television team build a new house for you, I'm not sure I'd take them up on it. If they notice my faith and how dear Christ is to me, would they distort that faith and contaminate the message.

That would be a price I could not afford to pay for a free home.

Knocking Off the Rust

I had an incredible time this weekend with the men from Delaware Grace Brethren Church. It was definitely a weekend to knock some rust off...

5. Hoops. These guys love to ball. With the cold weather, I haven't gotten a chance to play much. Fortunately for me, my game has consisted of not being able to shoot, dribble, pass, defend or rebound well. Therefore, I have not missed a step. However, I am very very sore. Muscles ache in my legs that I didn't know existed. But it was a blast playing ball with guys that played hard but no one ceased to glorify God doing it.
4. Joking. While there is something fun about joking with others via email, instant messenger, and the blogosphere, nothing is better than doing it face to face. By 3am I felt I was finally on top of my game, figuring out ways to manipulate a sentance so I could make fun of the Emergent Movement, Willow Creek, John Eldredge and Rick Warren all in one sentance. Of course, doing all this dodging flying cough drops. [Warning: This is only safe with those you would truly consider brothers. Others may get offended rather than firing barbs back.]
3. Retreats. Obviously, returning to church ministry (which I couldn't be more thrilled God has placed me here!) has meant I don't do as many retreats as before. Speaking at a retreat is a whole different animal. I'm not sure how to describe it, other than to say it is probably only about 40% similar to preaching to your own congregation. God has granted me the privilege of speaking in a couple in the last month or so. It is truly humbling to stand in front of a group, knowing you have no right to, and yet share the Word with them.
2. Sleep deprivation. Reading CJ's Humility (that's right, you'll see this book referenced continually until I am convinced that all 4 of my readers have read it), taught me that sleep is even a gift from God. And while I do not believe it is a noble pursuit to avoid sleep, however, there can be valuable lessons when you reach that point. Not since college have I known what it's like to be at the end of your own energy and have to depend on something greater. I pray that the men on the retreat, and my own church on Sunday morning, didn't suffer from my fatigue. I prayed that in God's grace, He would grant me an energy His Word deserves. It was a wonderful reminder of nothing I can do in my own flesh is worthy to present His Word. I pray I keep that urgency even when well rested.
1. Iron. That's right, good old Fe. In this fallen world, iron will naturally get rusty. That's why I find Proverbs 27:17 such a joy. While I may have been the speaker for the retreat, God used these men to sharpen me as well. In God's grace, I pray that I put to action the convictions I felt as a husband, son, father, and servant. I'm grateful for the way God used others in my life.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Week Four Review

Over at the GOSPEL Journey blog, we've been working through the statement, "Paying the price for sin, Jesus died and rose again."

In case you missed some of it, here are some of the topics we covered:

Betrayed by a kiss.
Mock trials.
Punished before the cross.
A look at crucifixion.
Christ crucified.
Living faith in a Living God.

We also dealt with some questions:

Is Jesus God?
Did Jesus really become flesh?
Was Jesus tempted like us?
Why did Jesus have to suffer so much?
Did Jesus really raise from the dead?
What happened to these guys?

Next week we'll look at Everyone who believes in Jesus alone will have eternal life.

Join us and check it out!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Something Good is Brewing...

and since I'm not a coffee drinker, you know it can't be that.

Almost four years ago, I spoke to a man about the need in our area for youth pastors to get together and pray for one another. I knew I needed a partnership, but wasn't sure how to make it happen.

This afternoon, I went to a meeting that was originally to plan a community wide worship service. At the meeting, the need for mutual prayer, support and partnering in the gospel came up.

Partnering in the gospel....hmm....

(Yes, I thought I'd plug it again. If can go, you should go. If your pastor is not going, you should tell him to go!)

It seems that God may be stirring some things that are centered on the message of redemption through the shed blood of His Son. Please pray that the Lord could use these kind of cooperations for His glory!

Paralyzed Discipleship

A couple things have made me that much more excited that we will soon have a Pastor of Outreach at our church. Again, it is not his job to do the outreach for the church, but to coach, encourage and motivate all of us in outreach endeavors. God is so gracious to our Body by giving us this gift!

Why the repeated excitement? Because a couple of things have reminded me of the man-made chasm between discipleship and evangelism.

I was sitting in a meeting the last week with an organization that does a great job emphasizing evangelism in student ministries. They have done a great deal in contributing to the gospel passion of our young people. I sat through a meeting and presentation that I found very encouraging and beneficial. However, one thing the speaker said, bothered me. He suggested that they help us with evangelism and the discipleship is our job. As he said it, it struck me as funny, because this organization has even restructured some to provide discipleship WITH their evangelism training (for they saw it was empty without). But the thought that hit me was, "Why do we not see evangelism as part of the discipleship process?" Sure, we first make disciples by introducing them to the Savior, but we also continue their discipleship by teaching them to share the gospel. A disciple who does not evangelize is not a mature disciple. The two should not be severed.

I also noticed this as I read Dan Kimball's most recent article. I am thrilled that churches emphasize their missional calling, but it is sad that this makes some churches unique. A church being missional should be no more unique than a church being people. One of the signs a church is healthy is that it is concerned about saving souls.

Though I have much room for improvement individually, God has graciously blessed our ministries to have an evangelistic thrust. There are a couple of things I would love to say to people when they come and question the prudence of such a thrust.

1. People are dying and going to hell. Let's not mince words. If you say you love God but don't love people, you lie. If I can rest in my salvation and have no concern over those who do not know the gospel, I should repent before God and pray He breaks my heart. A believer should have a heart for the lost. (Incidently, if you don't, you can pray to God and ask that He break your heart. I would also recommend spending some serious time studying the work of the cross and the resurrection.)
2. It's in there! I am more expositor than evangelist. So I get frustrated when I hear evangelists encourage pastors to present the gospel weekly. Typically, their reason for this challenge is based out of point one. However, I present the gospel weekly for that reason, but also for a reason I consider more vital to my preaching. Isn't the redemption story the scarlet thread running throughout the Word? As a good expositor, isn't it my obligation to present the material in the context of depraived man being offered forgiveness by a righteous, holy, glorious, gracious God? I shouldn't have to read the gospel into the passage, or take a brief timeout to present a secondary message, but the gospel should be articulated as the context of the message.
3. We're not there yet. There has been a real strong correlation for me between those that complain that the gospel is presented too much (by the way, by grace of God, I have not heard this complaint for quite some time! Hallelujah!), and the amount of time they spend in evangelism. Typically, the person who is bothered is the person who is not doing it. Consistently tying evangelism and discipleship together means that I wouldn't move on from evangelism until I see it happening. A piano teach does not move onto the next lesson until the student has grasped the current material. When confronted about this in the past, I would have loved to have explained to the student or parent, "I tell you what, I will quit emphasizing evangelism when I see your student actually doing it." Ironically, once the person starts doing it, they are then encouraged when they hear it happening and don't want it to stop.
4. The message is good. In view of God's mercy...IN VIEW OF GOD'S MERCY...IN VIEW OF GOD'S MERCY. I cannot offer myself as a living sacrifice to God unless I keep the cross in my vision. The gospel is not just a message for conversion, it is a message for the convert. A proper perspective of the gospel will help me grow in grace and truth.

Please don't immobilize discipleship by separating it from evangelism. Your walk, and the world, can afford that mistake.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Weekend Rapid Fire

Just some quick thoughts from the weekend...

5. World Baseball Classic. About twenty years ago, it would be a huge statement to say that the World Baseball Classic has taken the baton from the Olympics. Of course, it's 2006, so it's not necessarily a good thing. I couldn't care less what is going on with the WBC.
4. Oscars. I don't usually watch it, and I rarely recognize any of the films. However, I noticed a couple of things from the show (only watched about the first hour). a) Many of the people, though good actors or workers in film, are not good public speakers. b) Jon Stewart handled it well when his jokes didn't click. That's a terrible feeling when you make a joke and people respond like they aren't sure you were joking. c) Moderate political statements made. d) The drama played out during the song from "Crash" was just odd. Stewart handled it well when he followed by saying, "If you are fleeing from a burning car, I recommend you not move in slow motion." e) When Salma Hayek announced the Oscar winner for her category, it sounded like Oscar Weiner which made Charity and I laugh.
3. Has Clooney been reading Guinness? I couldn't believe the parallel between Clooney's statements about what made Hollywood relevant and what Guinness had said made the church relevant. Pretty uncanny.
2. Now that's alluring. I don't care what craziness John and Stasi Eldredge are trying to sell, a woman is truly attractive when she wants to snuggle up to you on the couch and read Humility. I have certainly been blessed beyond what I deserve.
1. A new friendship. Whether God desires for Matt and Isabel to join our fellowship or not (we're all praying for his wisdom in regard), I feel I have connected with a brother and sister that I pray the Lord allows us to continue in contact with. If you haven't met them, I would encourage you to swing by the church Wednesday night around 8:30 pm and get a chance to see what I'm talking about.

Book Review

Preaching for God's Glory by Alistair Begg.

Before you seem impressed that I've finished a second book in two days (remember, I don't seem to be capable of reading the Bible, and more than one other book at once), I should point out this "book" is only forty-seven "half pages." Like Begg's sermons, however, it is rich and challenging.

Begg first deals with the fact that expository preaching has been removed from many pulpits today. Giving the pastor the benefit of the doubt, Begg approaches this issue sympathetically, acknowledging some good intentions that may have led to this movement. He unapologetically exposes that though the intentions may have been pure, the result has been disasterous.

Begg then moves on to deal with many of the objections to expository preaching. Many people believe expository messages are dry and boring. Nothing should be further from the truth. I should have more passion sharing with the Body what God's Word spells out, than my own therapeutic advice. Others also think expository preaching doesn't engage with the culture. However, proper examination of Scripture reveals that doctrine is always revealed in living. Good exposition should lead to Biblical application.

(A side from the review: As I was reading this book and thinking about the Bible and culture, an illustration came to my mind. Imagine two people floating in inner tubes in a swimming pool. One person represents the Scriptures, the other the culture. In our desire to bring culture and Scripture together, it is like throwing a rope between the two tubes and telling both parties to pull. The tubes will eventually collide, but neither will be in its original location.

Now we realize that culture and Scripture should not be on the same plane. So, instead we encourage only the person representing Scripture to pull on the rope. However, since both are still floating in the waters both tubes will still drift from their original location.

Bibilcal exposition means that we see the Word of God and firmly anchored on solid land. It's not expositiory preaching if we are content for culture and application to drift along in the water while we simply instruct what the Bible says as seperate issues. Instead, we still pull on the rope, from the shore, and watch the culture and our application move toward Scripture. The Scriptures do not move, but we do.)

Quite simply, expository preaching is allowing the Bible to determine the message. It is applicable, but not application driven. It does not have to be a word-by-word account (there are some who are wonderful at this) but can even be an overview of an entire book of Scripture (provided it is driven by the Scripture). It could seem topical (as one might preach on anxiety, temptation, etc.) but should be driven by a passage dealing with that topic. And it should never seek to apply the passage to our modern context before we first understand what the author originally intended for his audience.

If you are a pastor, I highly recommend you read this book. (It won't take long, and will hopefully encourage you). If you are not a pastor, I recommend you read it and then pass it along to your pastor. It will allow you to know what you should be looking for and challenge the pastor to understand what you'll be looking for.

If you are still wondering why the fuss, or fear your pastor would say the same if you handed him the book, allow me to share Begg's list of benefits of expository preaching:

1. It gives God glory alone. The focus is not on the wisdom or genius of the speaker, it is on the glory of God and His grace for revealing Himself to us.
2. It makes the preacher study God's Word. As a child, I remember our church hiring a pastor who seemed brilliant in the candidating process. However, it quickly became obvious that he had about five good sermons in his pocket to use at any time. A church that loves expository preaching places accountability before the pastor that he better be in the Word, because it is the Word they want to hear.
3. It helps the congregation. It is a deep prayer of mine that no one will sit in a sermon and feel the study and application is beyond their abilities. As we preach expository messages, we send a picture to the whole Body of how to study God's Word systematically.
4. It demands treatment of the entire Bible. It's much harder to preach "soapbox topics" or favorite doctrines. Know a pastor who only preaches about prophecy or continually preaches against Hollywood every week? Odds are that expository preaching is not happening.
5. It provides a balanced diet. Closely related, a church does not become fat on certain topics while starving in other areas. We grow in the whole council of Scripture.
6. It eliminates Saturday night fever. Begg is not claiming that expository preaching brought down disco (though if our churches had been more expository at the time, it may never have arrived!!!). Begg offers that expository preaching allows the pastor to be released from worrying about what he should preach on next. He no longer wrestles Saturday afternoon, wondering whether this is really what the people need. God's Word does the directing.

It's a quick, easy and necessary read. I recommend it and encourage you to pass it on to your pastor too.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Book Review

Prophetic Untimeliness by Os Guinness

Having read Long Journey Home and having heard some lectures by Guinness on line, I was pumped to receive "Prophetic Untimeliness" for my birthday.

Guinness lives up to the theme of the brewery company ("Brilliant!"). The son of medical missonaries, and a decendant of the Dublin brewers, Guinness works you through the practical issues of life by examining the world views that motivate action.

A couple of observations from the book:

Thick. "Long Journey" was intended as a book you could give to an unsaved person who is wondering about the different faith systems in the world (and for one truly curious, it is a great book to give to an unsaved person). Therefore, he kept his thought and work at a much easier to digest level. "Prophetic Untimeliness" is definitely material that works through some more difficult themes. It's not a book you can nibble your way through, but should probably leave it sit unless you can at least work through a section at a time (about 40 pages/section). Technically, I've probably read the book twice already (due to rereads) since I kept trying to read small sections, and had to review them.

Surprising. With a subtitle: "A Challenge to the Idol of Relevance," I expected it to cover more of the modern church trends. However, the word "Emerging" only shows up once and Guinness spends very little of his time dealing with specific issues. Not surprisingly, in a book that challenges the way you view time, Guinness seems to have written this book in a way that keeps itself from becoming outdated.

Important. Despite the lack of specifics (which I grew to appreciate by the end of the book), it is probably an important read if you are in a position where public opinion can sway your work. I found it quite interesting that many of his projections have come to pass statistically in the next couple years after publication.

Guinness has us take a look at what happens when we focus too much on relevance. He is quick to acknowledge that relevance is necessary, and it makes sense to speak a person's language. However, he wants us to examine what happens when it becomes too much of a focus and things get distorted. (An example he states is the 1966 World Council of Churches dictum: "The world must set the agenda for the Church.") He poses that an unbalanced pursuit of relevance will lead down four paths:

1. Assumption. We will take something from the world (capitalism, democracy, etc) that looks good and assume it must be good for the Church as well.
2. Abandonment. The emphasis of what we have assumed will cause us to neglect (either deliberate, or incidently) other issues (like ignoring the doctrine of hell to create a less offensive environment).
3. Adaptation. After what has been assumed and what has been neglected, the rest is modified to fit under the emphasis created by that which is assumed. (I think this is observable in the way many churches in the 90's began to operate like corporations, blending their leadership and purpose to look more like successful companies.)
4. Assimilation. You lose your initial identity and become just like that which you assumed. (ie. Do you call your Sr Pastor the CEO of your church?)

Guinness calls us instead to review the way we view time in our culture. We are obsessed with the future and pay little attention to the past. Guinness urges us to look again to the past and hold true to those things that truly make us relevant.

For the church, that is the gospel, as presented in the Holy Scriptures.

Guinness calls us to appear odd to some. We would find our relevance when we stand out, or rather, stand against the crowd. Our society is basing greatness and popularity by who they see fitting in now. However, history has proved over and over again, that it is those who have stood out, who have not conformed to society that have made the greatest impact.

It's not an easy road. Guinness doesn't say it is. But neither did Jesus.

Overall, I'd rate it 7.5 (out of 10).

Friday, March 03, 2006

Tolerance is Bad

I was listening to Dr. Mark Ramsden share Is Christianity Arrogant, a Capital Hills Baptist Church "Henry Forum" from September 22, 2004.

In the lecture, he again reminded us of the definition of tolerance.

This highly beloved word, which has become an idol our culture sacrifices all things on, is really negative from the beginning. Ramsden asked the following questions.

1. If you took me out to lunch, and later someone asked me how the company was during that lunch, if my answer was, "tolerable," would you find that complimentary?
2. Again, if I state the food was, "tolerable," does that sound like a restaurant you'd want to frequent?

Tolerance has today been equated with inclusivism. People will regularly get upset with Christianity because of its exclusive claims. However, through recounting past conversations, Ramsden shows us how even the inclusivist is exclusive. They believe all roads lead to God and any religion that teaches otherwise is wrong. So all roads lead unless you think you are the only road?

To tolerate something means you've already made a judgement about something and determined it is subpar. Even though it is inferior, you have decided to allow it's presence.

Ramsden states that when people urge tolerance, they are really setting the bar far too low. Good engagement cannot take place unless respect is the buzz word we're using.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Simplicity Test

I was rearranging the church after youth group, as I listened to Way of the Master Radio. Todd was speaking to Mark Dever, Pastor of Capital Hill Baptist Church and founder of 9 Marks Ministries. Mark mentioned that he interviews people before they can become members of Capital Hill Baptist. In the interview, they must present the gospel in 60 seconds or less!

Take a moment to do the test. Stop now and check a clock. Start presenting the gospel and time yourself.

Really, don't read on 'til you try it.

(I'm not kidding, try it.)

Dever said that many people "present the gospel" but forget to mention the cross or repentance. How about the resurrection, did you remember it?

Why does this matter? In my preaching training at the speaking ministry I used to work for, I wasn't allowed to preach a message unless I could summerize the theme in two sentances or less. At first, I thought that was the silliest standard I'd ever heard. But then I noticed the correlation. Those messages that I could summerize in two sentances or less were always the messages that were clearest.

Too often we bog down the gospel presentation. The message of justification (how we get saved) is not fuzzy. The message of sanctification (how we become more like Christ) is more complicated and messy (due to our sinfulness). Many times we confuse the two in our presentation and muddy the message up with secondary issues.

If you failed the test, try again. If you fail again, try another time. If you still can't get it, contact your pastor or a believer you respect and have them help you filter down the message to the essentials. It is a message that can be presented in less than a minute.

Not so that you can save time by presenting the gospel in less than sixty seconds to a friend, but so that when you sit down to talk for an hour, the gospel message comes through clearly.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Week Three Review

Sin cannot be paid for by good works.

That was the theme we dealt with in week three of the GOSPEL Journey. In case you missed some of it, here are some topics that we covered:

Commandments 1 & 2
Commandments 3 & 4
Commandments 5 & 6
Commandments 7 & 8
Commandments 9 & 10

After working through the 10 Commandments, we also tackled these two statements:

The real view of humanity.
Lessons from death.

Of course, we worked through some questions too:

So I'm bad, but can I plead ignorance?
Was Moses saved by sheep?
Why can't good works make up for our bad?
Was this a setup?
Can't He do just a "small-curve" system?
Why does God get to be jealous?

Next week we'll celebrate Paying the price for sin, Jesus died and rose again.

Stop on by and check it out!