Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Hauling Water to a Thirsty, Unbelieving, Unconvinced World:

The view through my keyhole is narrow--bound as it is by my perception--but, magnified by the Internet, it is long.
Some friends of mine serve as Christ's witnesses in Phnom Penh. The tragic bridge collapse, of a few days ago, took place in their neighborhood. T. recently wrote:

We're writing with sad hearts. As you've probably seen or heard on the news, the
Water Festival ended with tragedy here in Phnom Penh last night. The latest
reports are claiming about 400 people died and 400 more were hospitalized after
a stampede on a bridge not too far from our apartment.
. . . To be honest, we are feeling sad and frustrated. . . . 400 people almost all of whom did not know Jesus suffocated or were crushed to death, 400 families lost
children, parents, siblings and just as many are in hospitals fighting for their
Because there was no way to really help besides praying for the families, I spent the day driving my motorbike with as many cases of water as I could carry to deliver to families waiting outside three of the major hospitals which received stampede victims. . . .
At the last hospital, the people in charge directed me to take the water to the place where families came to claim bodies. There were so many exhausted, hopeless faces. I felt incredibly inadequate showing up on a motorbike loaded down with a measly 10 cases of water in the face of such loss; but the workers there were kind and thanked me. . . .
The scripture comes to mind, "And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward." (Matthew 10:42, NASB95)
My friend sees his act as insignificant, and by the metric of the horrendous scale of the disaster, I have to agree, but apparently there is a Divine measurement that imputes far greater significance to a moped loaded with water delivered by a kind, though foreign face.
A few days after receiving the note above, I happened to see T. online. We chatted for a moment. He observed that most of the people affected by the tragedy believe in reincarnation. They are comforted that because these loved ones died in such a terrible manner while participating in a religious event, they would come back in a better state in the next life. He asked,
"How do we argue with that?"
I don't think my friend's question was primarily intellectual. He is well versed in apologetics, and knows how to share the Gospel. His query came from the gut more than from the head. How can we take away this shred of hope--false, though it may be--when lack of language, trust, and cultural awareness make it nearly impossible for me to share the real hope. Like his meager offering of water in the face of such overwhelming need, T. felt that what he had to offer was inadequate.
My reply to T.'s question, "How do we argue with that?" was brief.
"We don't."
I went on to offer some further explanation about how we trust God to penetrate hearts with the Good News. He and I know, however, that such penetration is usually frustratingly slow and sporadic. I wished for a jet plane, a couple of cups of coffee and time to listen and talk.

I share some further thoughts here not only, not even primarily, for my friends there on the front-line--I figure they already know more than me--but mostly for all of us who constantly struggle with questions related to tragic events.

  • First, T., though your offering of water is literally a drop in an ocean, you were precisely and profoundly right to offer it.
    I don't have his book in front of me but Theologian and pastor, Millard Ericson, in his book, Christian Theology, makes the important distinction between a pastoral and a Theological answer to the problem of evil. People who are hurting are much more in need of a drink of water, offered from a kind hand, than they are a tightly reasoned Theodicy offered from a brilliant mind.
  • While my answer was brief--partly due to the constraints of i-chatting & slow-typing--I still think it is right. Clearly there is at least (I say "at least knowing that many, to one degree or another, hold to and practice evidential-apologetics.) an element of truth in presuppositionalism. Our task is not so much to prove the validity of the Gospel as to proclaim it. We believe that "Life and reality make sense only on the basis of Christian presuppositions." ( As Jesus said, "If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. (John 7:17, ESV) There is always an element of risk in faith, at least on the front end. No apologetic safety line can make the plunge into faith--especially when the starting point is a culture largely devoid of Christian influence--totally free of fear. Examples abound of those who received the Good News when it appeared to many outsiders that it was totally unreasonable for them to do so. Later they found it made perfect sense. Often those Saul/Paul-like conversions lead to significant penetration of the truth of God into a people-group. Keep hauling water, both in plastic bottles and the "Living" kind.
  • We cannot get away from the reality that our security in the Lord is not primarily based on our complete understanding of His ways, but in our trust of Him. We need to refer to Deuteronomy 29:29 often.
  • We are far better to offer no answer than to traffic in easy, pat, feel-good pseudo-truths. Following another disaster, Al Mohler shared some words worth reading in this regard, "God and the Tsunami."

To my friends in Cambodia, thanks. To the rest of us, Let's haul some water.

Friday, November 19, 2010

We were sitting around the THANKSGIVING table. Ours was not a wealthy home, but it was one where the ample provision of the Lord could be seen in many ways.
  • We were all healthy.
  • My dad had a good job, with which to provide for the family.
  • Our home was warm and secure.
  • It was the time of the "Cold War." Vietnam was still on the horizon. My dad, a vet of WW2, and neighbors who had fought in Korea were home on that Thanksgiving Day. Though from an earthly viewpoint our peace was secured by M.A.D.. It was peace. The boys were home.
  • Our table was indication of the plenty that we had. There was a car in the driveway, a TV in the living-room, beds for all, and blankets on the beds. We had bikes, ball-gloves, roller-skates and dolls that cried. Christmas planning, if not shopping, had likely already begun.

Yet on that day of plenty, a Day that had been set aside to acknowledge that, there was an awkward pause before the meal. I don't remember all the details. Perhaps the presence of guests created embarrassment. At that time none of us was particularly "religious." I don't remember whether a prayer was offered or not. I do remember the strangeness. We were gathered for Thanksgiving dinner, and no one was interested in offering thanks.

I hasten to add that this condition was corrected in my family. Later my dad became one who delighted in reminding his kids of God's blessings and leading us in offering thanks. I think I can confidently say that all my siblings are living lives of gratitude. I know I'm trying.

I write this with the knowledge that Thursday in a great many homes Thanksgiving Dinner will be served, but no thanks will be offered. I'm hoping that perhaps in a few homes this will encourage a family, blessed like mine was fifty, or so, years ago to hold hands and praise Him from Whom all blessings flow.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 15, 2010


The Barna group recently posted some interesting results from a survey related to Calvinism in today's evangelical world. "Is There a "Reformed" Movement in American Churches?"
Those of you who read magazines and blogs have likely noticed descriptions like "The New Calvinists," or, the "Reformed Movement." Until I read this article I was one of those who would have said that the theological wind was blowing in the direction of an emphasis on Divine sovereignty. My thoughts in that regard had to do with the popularity of some writes and preachers who it seems to me are on that end of the spectrum--Piper, Keller, DeYoung, Begg, Harris, and Mohler. A number of magazines have covered the phenomenon, here.

I won't quote any numbers from the survey, you can read it, but, at least it seemed to me, the survey results do not bear out any move toward Geneva. I would appreciate your take on these numbers and observations on the trend, or lack thereof, in general.

There was one aspect of the crunched numbers that reinforced a personal observation--"nobody is any one thing anymore." It used to be that if you identified a trait associated with say Calvinism, or Wesleyanism in a person's Theology, that you could with reasonable confidence conclude that this person also held to most of the other tenets of that Theological system. No more. Note this observation from the survey: "The study found that 31% of pastors who lead churches within traditionally charismatic or Pentecostal denominations were described as Reformed, while 27% identified as Wesleyan/Arminian."

It kind of reminds me of the pastor who went to a pastor's fellowship that had experienced a schism along Calvinist/Arminian lines. When he registered, for no reason that he could identify the receptionist sent him to the Arminian group. Not recognizing him, some of the delegates asked who he was and why he decided to join their part of the fellowship. When he told them that he had no choice, but was sent, they threw him out. Not knowing where else to go, he chose to go to the Calvinist meeting. You can finish the story. :) The moral is there are a lot of folk who don't fit in either end of the convention hall.

Maybe we can help each other understand what is going on.

Monday, November 1, 2010

It's Complicated . . .

but politics often is.

Since it involves Sarah Palin, and she's been good enough to call my house several times in the last week, I thought I'd share something with her here. She didn't leave a number for me to call her back. I'm sure it just slipped her mind.


I may not have all the details, but here is what I understand. Joe Miller, a friend of yours, won the Republican primary.

Incumbent Republican, Lisa Murkowski was not willing to rally behind Miller. Instead, with the blessing of much of the GOP establishment Ms. Murkowski is mounting a write-in campaign.

One can make a case that Murkowski had somewhat of a contract to respect the will of the primary voters. She lost. What she did seemed like bad style to me. I think her explanation, she wants the "people to have a choice," is pretty lame. Seems they had a choice and it wasn't her. I'll let others decide whether what she did was ethical. Is there such a thing as political-ethics? If so, my guess is a lot of politicians skipped that class.

I live a long way from Alaska, so I don't know much about what happened next. I understand that Murkowski's campaign was able to get some consessions from a judge, making it easier for a voter to write in. Included in these consessions was a ruling that poll workers would have a list with the names of write-in candidates who asked to be put on the list. Write-ins have to be spelled correctly. Murkowski is not the most common name.

Now, a radio talk show host--who looks a lot like a young Rush Limbaugh--gets involved. As I understand it, Dan Fagan, began promoting the idea that every Tom, Dick, and Mary, especially if their last name ended in "ski," should call the judge and get their name on this list. The idea being, this would make it harder for voters to find and copy Murkowski's name. Understandably, the Murkowski campaign was not happy with the radio voice. They made threats and Mr. Fagan found himself suspended.

There were some other media misactions, directed at Miller, that took place about the same time. While not directly related, they no doubt helped fuel to the ire.

OK, I'm not commenting on Politics, Governor Palin, I just want to talk about what is right.

I agree that as long as Fagan is not violating a law he has the freedom to spout his stuff. I have weighed-in, in the past, on protecting the freedoms of folk with whom we don't agree. (See my post from 8/24) I don't know, so I won't argue with you when you say that Miller is being treated badly.

What bothers me is I don't hear you saying that political decisions should not be decided by tricks and obfuscation--tricking people into spelling a name wrong. We should help people get the truth, persuade them to act on that truth, and pray. Winning by tricks may produce a short-term victory. It is a sure route to long-term disaster.

We can't tolerate underhanded behavior on the part of those who support our causes. If we don't condemn this stuff, at the least we appear to support it.