Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A friend of mine, told me that I should read A Tale of Three Kings, by Gene Edwards.  He had read it and he said he thought of me.  Why?  That would be T.M.I. for this context.  Suffice to say, knowing what I know, I was honored that my friend saw traces of me in the story.
In the rawest terms the book is about Saul, David, and Absalom.  Really it is about humility, ambition, brokenness, and yielding to God.  There is much that God knows, but "He won't tell."  Much of the book revolves around that tension of wanting to know--wanting to know so much that we will arrogantly claim to know--yet having to make choices in the realization that we don't know.  We don't even know our own heart.
The book is very selective in its history of David.  It claims that David did not fight for the kingdom, He did.the beginning of 2 Samuel makes that clear (3:1 in particular).  The book is right, however, in pointing out David's remarkable resolve in being unwilling to "stretch out his hand against the Lord's anointed."  (Saul)  Likely David's motives and actions toward Absalom were more complex than those portrayed in the book.
Having said that, I think Edwards zeros in on a central characteristic of David.  Maybe the characteristic that made him a man after God's own heart.  I know beyond any doubt that A Tale of Three Kings caused me to evaluate the contents of my own heart.  It seems that is the author's intention.  "The story is a portrait . . . of submission and authority within the kingdom of God."  (Introduction)  It gave me a new paradigm for evaluating some of the interactions that have formed and shaped me.
To put the question in the Words of David:  Am I willing for the "Lord to be my shepherd" even when He doesn't tell?  Am I willing to submit to Him even when I don't know where He is leading?

I think others will find A Tale of Three Kings, by Gene Edwards, a worthwhile read.

A Tale of Three Kings, Gene Edwards, Tyndale House Publishers.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Who gets to say what is beautiful?

Let me totally up front with my limitations, prejudices, and conclusions:

  • I consider myself aesthetically challenged.  I just don't get why this color doesn't go with that one.  
  • I enjoy music, of various genres, but my analysis of it pretty much begins and ends with, "I like (or don't like) it."
  • I have great appreciation for a nice piece of wood well crafted.  I have made enough feeble attempts at doing that crafting, to have great respect and appreciation for those who do it with excellence.  I work hard at saying things well, and, to a lesser degree, expressing myself well in written form.  I seldom succeed in doing either in a way that could be described as "beautiful."  I think I'm able to translate that appreciation and respect for the crafts I am familiar with to those who labor in disciplines where I have no experience.  I think good art takes hard work, and practice, and that it involves that difficult to define quality, talent.
  • I realize that art communicates.  I know that what I say is said not only by the dictionary meanings of the words, and the grammatical parsing of the sentences, but by the emotions my words call on, and the cultural memories they stir.  As any good comedian--not to mention Simon and Garfunkel-- I know even the absence of words--when the silence is well crafted--communicates with eloquence.  The problem is different cultures have different cultural buttons, and the 21st Century culture in which I live is made up of a polyglot of cultural languages.  I really hate to insert a high-end, technical term here, but it seems to be that "different strokes for different folks" is a concept that definitely must be considered in this discussion.  Having said that, though I stood in awe of  Michelangelo's David, I think using a picture of a naked guy is in appropriate in worship.  In my culture it just pushes too many wrong buttons.
  • Finally, let me show my scars from the worship wars.  (For those who don't understand what I mean by "worship wars," first stop and thank the Lord, then if you are still curious, google it.  In those battles, I have leaned toward the amoral nature of music--music itself, apart from the words.  
A couple of recent articles have again raised this discussion in my thinking:
I saw a picture a while back that said something like, "Click if you think this world needs more beauty."  I very much wanted to click.  Yes, I do think this world needs more beauty.  I toured a local neighborhood recently, and I was bothered with how ugly it is--overgrown yards, falling-down porches, junk strewn about, and peeling paint flapping in the breeze.  I just spent a week+ redecorating a room in my house, and, while it doesn't show nearly as much as I wish it would, I work every week to say something with a measure of beauty.  Yes!  I think this world needs more beauty--desperately so.  I didn't click, though, because of one big question.  
Who gets to say what is beautiful?  
The world is filled with people who come at you with "too"s.  It's "too middle-class,"  "too baby-boomer-ish," "too Black," "too White," "too common," "too snooty," etc. etc. etc. too much.  Yes, the world very much needs more beauty, but I have to admit--and so do you--that we don't all agree on what is beautiful, and at least some of that difference of opinion is not based on the fact that I'm under, or over educated, or sold out to, or not in tune with, my culture, or common, or high-falutin', or etc. etc.  Some of it--I think more of it than I care to admit is because we are different.

Al Mohler, with his usual perception, commented on this broader issue by way of responding to a panel discussion on Christian rap music.  This excerpt from his blog-post, has the nuance that I am struggling to communicate.

Rap music is not my music. I do not come from a culture in which rap music is the medium of communication and I do not have the ear for it that I have for other forms of music. But I do admire its virtuosity and the hold that is has on so many, for whom it is a first and dominant musical language. I want that language taken for the cause of the Gospel and I pray to see a generation of young Gospel-driven rappers take dominion of that music for the glory of God. I see that happening now, and I rejoice in it. I want to see them grow even more in influence, reaching people I cannot reach with music that will reach millions who desperately need the Gospel. The same way that folks who first heard Bach desperately needed to hear the Gospel.
The good, the beautiful, and the true are to be combined to the greatest extent possible in every Christian endeavor, rap included. I have no idea how to evaluate any given rap musical expression, but rappers know. I do know how to evaluate the words, and when the words are saturated with the Gospel and biblical truth that is a wonderful thing. Our rapping Gospel friends will encourage one another to the greatest artistic expression. I want to encourage them in the Gospel. Let Bach’s maxim drive them all — to make (their) music the “handmaid of theology.”
In particular I appreciate Mohler's admission, "I have no idea how to evaluate . . . rap."
I am aware of my limitations, which I am sure exceed, Dr. Mohler's.  Lord, help me to keep those limitations in mind.

I found this post, which, I think, contains the discussion, a video, that prompted Mohler's commentary.  I don't know any of the men on this panel, but I have met, heard, and argued with them all.  Owen Strachan's thoughts are worth considering.

Here is one more post I found that critiques--don't read this if you agree with these guys--the arguments made by the panelists, Brent Hobbs

OK, I'm a preacher, thus I feel a compulsion to at least suggest some things that we ought to do with this.
  1. Just be quiet (I wanted to say "shut up,". but my wife would fuss at me.) about only being able to worship God, if--you know, "I can only worship God with organs, or guitars, or with people in suits, and dresses, or folk in blue jeans." or  "I need the place where I worship to be 'real'" as in, looks like a shopping mall, or "Worship can only take place in a sacred setting."  meaning pipe organ and stained glass.
    The fact is all of us have preferences, but that is all they are.  Three element are necessary for true worship, and none of them are listed above--you, God, and the absolute, Isaiah 6 conviction of the vast difference between the other two.

    "I saw the Lord high and lifted up."

    Certain things will help me in that regard, but in my fifty-one years of walking with the Lord, and my forty years of trying to help others worship Him, I have found that a change of heart-attitude is far more important than a change of venue.
  2. I ought to be able to say, "I really don't like your music."  or, "I think you dress really tacky."  or "This building, practice, way of doing things is too . . ." without starting a fight.  
  3. I should be able to hear what is said above without getting my easily culturally offended nose out of joint.
  4. I should be open to hearing arguments about what is the best way to do God's work.  I need to realize that my way does not necessarily equal the best way, nor is my way necessarily wrong.
  5. It's not about me.  I worship God.  He is supreme.  He has given me a mandate to enlist others in worshiping Him.  I must be willing to step outside of my comfort-zone to do that.
As always, I welcome your comments.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Perspectives on Thanksgiving:

I'm listening to my son preach on thanksgiving on Thanksgiving.  One of the points he makes is the effect perspective has on my thanks.  His confrontation provides wind in my sails for a journey I've been working on for a while.
I don't want to ignore or neglect any responsibility I have to make things right with anyone I have wronged.  I want my forgiveness to be without limit, as my Lord's forgiveness is to me.  I have an infinite ways to go on that.  I want to, however, focus on those who are willing to do the hard work it takes to live, love, and serve together.  I am very thankful for my family, for my church, and for the circle of friends and colleagues with whom I am able to serve the Lord.
Chad, in forty+ years of ministry I have found that the Holy Spirit often takes my words and uses them in unexpected ways.  The Lord used your words to encourage a continued change of perspective, I've been working on for a while.  Thanks, and
Thank You, Lord.

FWF 11-24-13 from First West on Vimeo.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Another Voice for the Cessation of Imprecision:

Dr. Kevin Bauder, is a writer I describe as a sane Fundamentalist.  He wrote a fourth of the book, Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism.  I find his articles at In The Nick of Time, his blog, to be consistently worth reading. He recently wrote about Cessationism and Continuationism.  In that post he observes some of the same "imprecision" that I observed in my foray into the world of academic theological conversation on that subject.  You can read his thoughts about the need for greater precision in the conversation here.  You can find my thoughts, and links to some papers on cessationism, at least the promise thereof, from the presenters at the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics,  here, here, here, and here.

It is an important conversation.  I hope it continues.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

I post this primarily for my preacher buddies.  Let me add, I appreciate what you do.
If some of you who face the other way on Sunday morning happen to read it, there is a lesson here, but that's between you and the Lord.  I'm just posting it so some of my fellow "Men of the Cloth"--even though the cloth is frequently denim these days--can say, "Amen."

Who Is Your Pastor?  No Really . . .

Monday, October 7, 2013

Some thoughts from the House of Mourning:

This is one of those blog posts that has more to do with me wrestling something to the ground than anything else, but if it provokes profitable thought and/or comment from others, so much the better.  Solomon says that we are wise to visit the house of mourning (Ecclesiates 7)  I had to visit recently, and decided to stay for a bit, look around, and ponder.
From my last post here on the TVTMK blog as well as several articles at STTA, you may have gathered that my mom recently died.
My brother, sisters, and I knew mom's death was near.  In fact, we hoped it would come quickly.  Unlike when my father died unexpectedly, we had some time to plan.  Money was a factor.  We wanted to properly honor my mother, but we all think it foolish to be extravagant.  My immediate family lives in Virginia, Texas, and Indiana.  The next generation takes in another four states and a nation in Europe.  So, things are complicated.  Mom lived in Indiana with my sister. Her last real home was here in Virginia where my dad is buried.  Early on we decided that mom would be buried here.  Having any service in Indiana was unlikely, and in the end we didn't have any there.  One of the early points of discussion had to do with cremation.  Since mom would die in Indiana and be buried five-hundred miles away in Virginia, there were obvious logistical advantages.  I don't have any strong Theological/Biblical opposition to cremation.  I have read some of the attempts to prove from the Bible that it is wrong and haven't been convinced, but I was opposed to it.  Primarily I was opposed to cremating mom's body, because I know other people find cremation highly offensive.  I wanted to honor my mom.  That is hard to do that while thumbing one's nose at the sensibilities of others.  Especially since I am called to minister to those folk, I voted against that possibility.
We chose to have no viewing of mom's body.  I last saw her several months ago.  I hope I don't offend anyone by saying this, but generally when I go to a viewing (a wake as it is called in other places) I only look in the casket, because some people expect me to.  I don't need to see in order to know that the person is gone.  Perhaps others do. Mom's body was brought here to Virginia.  She was buried in a private graveside service.  Later that day we honored here in a Memorial service.

In a Theologically rich passage about death, the Apostle Paul speaks of the body as an "earthly tent," and says it will be "torn down." He says it will be replaced with a "dwelling from heaven."  After some further discussion, the Apostle, well versed in bodily suffering, pronounces his druthers--"to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord."  (2 Corinthians 5:1-8)
Yet in other places it is clear that the body is not merely a container of the person, but an integral part.  Jesus spoke of His friend Lazarus, as being sick, asleep, and dead.  In each case it was Lazarus that was in the condition Jesus described.  Jesus told His disciples, ". . . let us go to him."  (my emphasis) Jesus assured the grieving sister, Martha, "Your brother will rise again."  When Jesus called Lazarus from the grave He called him by name, "Lazarus, come forth."  (John 11)

Several months ago I visited my uncle's grave in Normandy, France.  Nearly ten, thousand servicemen are
buried there.  On a wall more than a thousand more names are inscribed.  These are the fallen whose bodies were not recovered.  If Sergeant  Hugh Allen Merrell is in the grave, where are those hundreds whose bodies were destroyed or lost in their battle against Nazi tyranny?

Obviously, there is a tension, here, and as with most theological tensions there is a tendency to gravitate toward one pole or the other, or, to change the metaphor, to swing the pendulum to one of the extremes.

I reacted against one extreme years ago when a close friend died.  His eldest son wanted to get rid of the body in as cheap a fashion as possible.  Immediate cremation, and unceremonious disposal was his plan.  My friend was loved, not only by me, but by many others, including his church.  I thought, and, more so, I felt that this proposal was wrong--even vulgar.  Not knowing where I would get the resources I said, "I don't want my friend to be remembered this way.  If need be, I will take care of the expenses."  (There was more involved, and as is often the case, the difference financially between cremation and burial was not as great as was originally thought.)  My friend was properly, but modestly honored.  Later when I watched this scene from West Wing, I was reminded of what I had done for my friend.  It was right.  The extreme that says the body is nothing is wrong.

Yet I hear others speak as if the body is everything.  Some of the more intellectual among them are fond of using the word gnostic*.  I think, in using the word they are railing against the extreme bifurcation of body and spirit that marked the Second Century cult, and is the excuse for the shabby treatment of the body that I and the fictional Toby objected to.  Yet in their objections, it seems that some go to far.  Look here for an extended--very extended--discussion.  They seem to make more of the body than it is, and pronounce absolutes were none exist.

I'm humbled by the realization that I don't all that I wish I did about death.  It is an enemy.  For those of us in Christ.  It is a defeated enemy.

*I find it interesting that in railing against gnosticism some folk embrace a characteristic of the cult.  The idea of, and dare I say "the pride in," possessing knowledge that others do not have.  Why else bandy about a code word that clearly separates the initiate from the ignorant masses.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Yesterday, after a long decline, my mother died.
Mom was the least healthy the four parents my wife and shared.  I can't remember a time when she wasn't sick, yet she outlasted the other three.  She spent more than a 1/4 of her life a widow.  Most of that time she was my nearest neighbor, living in an apartment my family was able to build for her.

September 30, about 12:30 PM Irene Merrell opened her eyes. She saw clearly for the first time in a number of years. Not only did she see, she also comprehended with brilliant clarity all that she saw, heard and felt. All at once the cruel hand of the dementia that had caused her world to grow ever smaller and dimmer—taking away her independence, then her recognition of others, command of words, even her self-awareness, and, finally the ability to do vital tasks like swallow a sip of water—released its grip on her in one liberating flash of deliverance. In an incalculably brief moment she became not only all that she had ever been, but more. Eighty-five years after her conception she became all she was meant to be. Irene was with us for eighty-four years
I think she first saw our Lord. She had been born into His family when she was still a child. Now she was born into His presence by angels sent to bring her home. I don’t know, but I’d like to think she saw Doc Merrell a moment later. He stands strong and erect. No Parkinson’s stoops his frame or brings tremors to the hand that reached out for hers. His playful grin shows the gap in his teeth. Her eyes have a sparkle that has for so long been missing.
Irene was known by many names in her life. Madge and Luke Hargrove called her Daughter.
Elene, Clara, Ray, Lena, Ruth and Jim called her Sister. There was no doubt she was Doc Merrell’s Sweetheart. Howard, Ted, Judy and Carol called her Mom. To Chad, Chris, Leslie, Audrey, Stacy, Joy, Jayne, Dawn and Mitzi she was Grandma, and to the next generation she became Gooma.
In eternity God’s people will serve Him, a task Irene was accustomed to. While yet a teenager she taught Sunday School, a ministry she continued off and on for more than half a century. She exercised the gift of hospitality and used her sharp mind to keep the books of one church. Her little crocheted angels are literally around the world. She died having no treasure here and much there.
Irene’s desire for her funeral arrangements can be summarized in four words, “What the children want.” In keeping with those wishes we will bury mom next to dad in a private graveside service and then honor her at a Memorial Service Thursday evening, at Covington Bible Church, 2140 S. Carpenter Drive, Covington VA 24426. The family will be at the church to receive friends at 6:30, the service will begin about 7:30. Mom desired, and we children concur, that in lieu of flowers donations be made to IU Goshen Home Health Care & Hospice, 200 High Park Ave, Goshen, IN 46526, or Covington Bible Church.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics, #5, & last:

My life is going to be filled with family responsibilities any time now, so I need to finish this flurry of blogging activity brought on my by recent attendance at the annual meeting of the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics.

So I'll just give a couple of bullet points.  Before I do, though, I would encourage the reading of the presenters' papers.  Most are thought provoking and contribute to a conversation that needs to be ongoing.

  • One paper that intrigued me is one I can point you to, now (You have to wait for the others to be revised and posted).  Dr. Rodney Decker posted his paper on the ending of Mark at his blog,  Rod did his doctoral work on the Gospel of Mark and has just written a two volume handbook on Mark,, so he is thoroughly familiar with this Gospel.
    The paper takes the conclusion that most of us have, that the long ending of Mark is not canonical, but then goes on to ask a question, or two.  What does this writing from some early Second Century author tell us about signs and miracles?  Or at least how some (presumably this guy was not isolated) did.
    Even for those of us who have to jump over some of the more technical stuff it is a good read.
  • It appears to me that there is a great need for clearer definitions in this discussion.
    It is obvious that when talk about cessationism we don't necessarily agree on what has, or has not ceased.
    I thought I knew what Spiritual gifts are.  Now, I'm not so sure, and I am sure that when we talk about them that not everyone brings the same definition to the table.
  • I need to read Grudem's book.  He was by far the most talked about absent person at the conference.  If anyone wants to show gratitude for my exceptionally perceptive reporting in this blog, by giving me a copy, it would be a clear sign of gratitude.  I would even wonder at it.
  • Thanks to those who labored to put this conference on.  Thanks for allowing we observers to observe.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics, #4:

I was privileged to attend the 2013 gathering of the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics.  To help clarify my thinking, and to encourage further discussion, I've been commenting on what I heard there.  Since the papers that were presented at the conference will be published, this is a discussion that will be open to all.
While this year's papers are not yet published, one can find the topics and presenters at the Council's website.
Since my first post following the conference was mostly personal.  This is really the 3rd post in which I discuss the discussion about cessationism.  Look here and scroll down:

Often looking at things in a fresh way helps bring clarity.  Even when I end up not agreeing with a different perspective, I often find that looking at the same old thing from a different angle helps me gain a better understanding.  A couple of the papers that were presented did that.

I already mentioned Dr. Arp's paper.  Dr. Arp, in as nearly a literal way as a metaphor can take, took us on a walk around 1 Corinthians 13:8-13.  He refused to tell us what he saw.  Instead he told us where we need to look.  If my Greek were an automobile it would be banned from the road for being more rust than substance.  Still I found my former teacher's tour compelling.  He took us to various portals and said, "Look here.  Before you can make a clear conclusion you have to decide what this is."
Structure, verb change, voice change, middle voice, the omission of "tongues" in v. 9, the contrast between the "perfect" and the "partial."   It looks like I have some work to do, and so do others who speak before they have taken the whole tour.

Often we speak about things that we haven't adequately defined.  Dr. Ken Gardoski called us out on that one.
In biblical studies we sometimes come across definitions of words and concepts that are
assumed but not defended. This is the case with spiritual gifts. The definition of spiritual
gift as “ability” is frequently offered but rarely defended. This definition is prevalent to the
point of being a default—proponents cite it automatically without discussion or support.
It is simply assumed to be correct.
Related to spiritual gifts is the Greek word often associated with them: χάρισμα. As with
the concept of spiritual gift, so too with the word χάρισμα a particular meaning, namely,
“spiritual gift,” is assumed but not defended. The purpose of this paper is to correct
these misunderstandings about the word χάρισμα and the concept of spiritual gift and to
offer alternate understandings of both word and concept.
At this point I think his case for seeing a more general meaning, at least in some places, for the word χάρισμα (charisma) is pretty convincing.  I see some problems in adopting his proposal that spiritual gifts--especially sign-gifts--are ministries rather than abilities.  I guess I'm open but cautious on that one.

Dr.Mark Soto, another former schoolmate of mine, surprised me.  The topic of his paper had come up a couple of times in the discussion periods.  I wasn't impressed.  When he read his paper, however, I found his idea to have merit.  It makes sense.  At this conference it definitely had the advantage of fitting in a dispensational paradigm.  This paragraph gives the gist of the idea, not new, but one I hadn't heard for a while:
In 1 Corinthians 1:22 Paul while Paul is making an argument about the Gospel and the Wisdom of God, he says that “Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom;” Gordon Fee has a wonderful treatment of these two general axioms in his commentary and while the argument of Paul is not to dwell on these axiomatic truths they are true none the less. This reality further outlines the distinction of the nature of the Church in Acts. We observe numerous signs and wonders in the first 12 chapters of Acts but there is a waning of those signs and wonders in chapters 13 to 28. Here we see Paul emerge as the predominant character in the book and his gifts are used to logically present the gospel to Greeks and show the gospel not the way that Gentile scholars did but to provide an understanding to the Gentiles who would listen and believe.
His other idea is another one that I'm open but cautious about.  He observes a distinction between tongues and tongue.
It appears to this writer that when Paul uses the singular γλώσσῃ [tongue] it always is accompanied by some restriction by the apostle Paul and the plural uses γλώσσαις [tongues] except 1 Corinthians 14:23 which does not conform to either observation. Where the plural us used Paul admonishes the church not to restrict tongues. This writer believes that 1 Corinthians 14:23 uses the plural to describe a different event and that is the entire church is speaking ecstatically together so the plural is appropriate but referencing human languages but ecstatic speech. . . . The conclusion of this writer is that in the singular use of tongue in 1 Corinthians 14 Paul is referring to ecstatic speech and in the plural use of tongues except vs. 23, Paul is referring to the Biblical gift of languages. . . . Interestingly the plural use γλώσσαις is seen in Acts 2,10,19, Mark 16, and 1 Corinthians 12 when the spiritual gift of the Spirit is referenced. 1 Corinthians 14 appears to this writer to be about revelation and instruction to the church for growth and maturity not a treatise on the spiritual gifts.
I'm sure that there were some other new--at least to me--thoughts that were presented.  I mention these because they caught my attention, and they illustrate the reality that there is need for further study and discussion.  I look forward to rereading the revised papers and further work on these matters.  I'm hoping there will be some vigorous interaction both within the Council, and from without.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics, #3, Some observations from an Observer:

From the schedule of this year's CDH, which focused on issues involved in the discussion of secession or continuation of sign gifts you can see that there were over a dozen papers that were presented at the conference (Dr. Emory Johnson of Dallas Theological Seminary presented a paper at the Chapel session, 9:00 on Wednesday).  As one would expect, the presentations varied in viewpoint, clarity, and persuasive content. As I indicated in the last post, these papers are currently undergoing revision and will be posted on the Council's website in the near future.  I will honor the desire of the presenters and the CDH, and not share the papers which were provided to us.  I will, however, share some of my observations about several of the papers, including some brief quotations, and the discussion which flowed from them.

Cessation & the Miraculous:
Dr. Johnson's, DTS presentation was not only significant for it's content--he chose to center his thoughts in the book of Hebrews--but for it's location in the Council's program.  His was the first presentation of the conference.  He appropriately opened his remarks with these words, "Since this is a Chapel message, I would like to challenge us in our ministry as well as to address the subject of cessation of sign gifts."
While the rest of his presentation was well done, I was particularly intrigued with the following comments at the end of his message.
As sign gifts were given according to the will of God, so God’s will could change where His purposes are served again by signs. It is a question of God’s purposes and not any imposed necessity. So when the two Witnesses will prophesy concerning Christ’s appearance a
second time for salvation, their message will be validated by signs and wonders (Revelation 11: 3-6).
While the progress in revelation is determinative in recognizing any change in God’s purposes, Scripture is not necessarily explicit declaring all instances of change. There may be circumstances within the dispensation of grace in which God’s purposes may change. We suggest such possible circumstances in which a change in purpose appears to be plausible:
  • a population which has never heard of the truth of the historical Jesus confirmed --- would God provide sign gifts to validate the Gospel message as true from God? (Muslim ministry, ministry among unreached peoples).
  • a post-Christian generation who have rejected the confirmation of truth present in Scripture. . . . 
It appeared to me that Dr. Johnson was seeking to raise a point of discussion.  He added some anecdotal comments to the above words, copied from the print version of his paper.
It was clear at the outset of the conference that at least one Council member was open to the possibility that the reports of miraculous phenomena among Muslims, for example, might very well be Divine.  I was concerned that Dr. Johnson's gauntlet was going to remain on the carpet of the meeting room.  I actually looked for an opportunity to raise the matter in the discussion times.  Toward the end of the conference someone else did.  As I remember there were three presenters on the platform at the time the question was raised.  Memory might fail me here, so I'll simply say that one of the three said something to the effect, that he saw no reason to call these reports into question, that certainly we should not be found questioning God's ability or His sovereignty.
It struck me that a conference that obviously was defending cessationism (as a reminder, that is my position) had just gone on record that cessation does not mean all things miraculous had ceased.  According to the straw-man definition of cessationism that many continuationists seek to hang on us, this group had just denied cessationsim.
Take note of something that this council did not say, and they did not say it quite loudly.  Cessationsim--at least the variety represented at the CDH does not deny the supernatural.  At this point these are my words (If any of the Council members are observing this observer they are certainly welcome to weigh in.):
Believing that the sign-gifts are not for the church today does not mean that one denies the possibility of the miraculous.  The fact is, I prayed today that God would heal one of the members of this Council who is currently dealing with a life-threatening disease.  I believe God heals.  I agree with Dr. Johnson's words quoted above.  I don't see any contradiction between what I just said and saying that I am a cessationist.  I believe God heals.  I am open to the possibility of His communicating in supernatural ways in extraordinary circumstances (and He judges what is ordinary).  I don't believe God is specifically gifting individuals with the sign gifts today.  I find my situation like what I observe at the chronological end of the New Testament.  Now I have several Doctors who say I'm not necessarily a schizophrenic for holding those beliefs.

1 Corinthians 13 & Cessationism:
Several of the papers dealt with 1 Corinthians 13, in particular verses 8-12.  Many regard this passage as the Holy Grail of cessationism.  Dr. Robert Dean, West Houston Bible Church, did a credible job presenting the evidence for, and arguing the conclusion that the reference to "the perfect," in 1 Cor. 13:10 refers to completed canon.  While his argument was much better, he essentially presented the view that I grew up on.  Of the choices available for identifying "the perfect," I may agree with Dr. Dean.  I was not, and am not convinced that it is convincing argument to use in persuading the unpersuaded.  When the paper is published I do encourage reading it.
Dr. William Arp, BBS presented a paper in which he studiously, and somewhat annoyingly to one fellow Council member, avoided drawing any conclusions.  What he did share, rather convincingly, are the questions that have to be asked and answered in order to draw a clear interpretation of the 1 Cor. 13 passage.  If I were dealing with 1 Corinthians in a message, I'd use Dr. Arps paper as a checklist.
The longest paper of the conference is one presented by Dr, Rodney Decker, BBS.  This was a paper that Dr. Decker had previously written which is germane to the issue at hand.  I'll content myself with giving the title and a few lines from the conclusion.  They speak clearly.
A History of Interpretation of “That Which Is Perfect” (1 Cor 13:10)
With Special Attention to the Origin of the “Canon View”
The preceding survey [about 66 pages containing 238 footnotes]  has demonstrated that the vast majority of biblical commentators throughout the history of the church have understood the expression τὸ τέλειον [the perfect] to be related in some way to the eschaton [The second coming of Christ]. Both the canon view and the mature body view are relatively recent interpretations that have developed out of the controversy over contemporary manifestations of the miraculous gifts. Both can be traced only to the mid or early twentieth century, though there were apparently some antecedents to both in the nineteenth century.  The recency of a view does not necessarily disprove its hermeneutical legitimacy, but it should serve as a caution to the interpreter to be sure that there is an adequate and valid exegetical basis for it. Too often views have been adopted because they provide the “right answer” to controversial issues.
 Obviously, the Council reflected the divergent views found in the Evangelical community concerning 1 Corinthians 13 and cessationism.  I came away with a strengthened confidence that one need not maintain a strained exegesis of 1 Corinthians 13:10 in order to maintain a cessationist position.  Or to put it in another way, the fact that some continuationists turn to 1 Corinthians 13 to support their position doesn't concern me.

Again I need to respect the time-limit.
Go get some coffee.  I'll be back with some Apostles and Prophets--or not.  It depends on your view..

Monday, September 23, 2013

My foray into the world of scholars--The 2013 Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics.

The subject up for consideration at the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics, that I attended last week, is "Has Cessationism Ceased? (or Do the Sign Gifts Continue?)."  I say "is," because the discussion is still ongoing.  In spite of the impression my rather cavalier decision making process (see last post) that led to my attendance at this event might have given the reader, the subject is one in which I am interested.  In the interest of full disclosure, I'll say for the record that I consider myself a cessationist.  To those of you who immediately have a negative reaction to that, I issue an invitation to stay tuned.  Here are two reasons for hanging in there with me:  I've been convinced for some time that cessationsits are a misunderstood breed.  Listening to my scholarly brethren, who read their papers at the conference, confirmed that.  Furthermore, as is often the case, many of the ideas put forth in the meetings are of value beyond the realm of the cessationist - continuation discussion.  Bottom line, these are people who think the Bible really has something to say.  They have devoted their lives to understanding what the Bible says, and helping others to do so.  That ain't bad.

You can look at the schedule to see who is involved in this current project.  As I mentioned in the last post, I know a couple of these men.  Rodney Decker and I together attended Baptist Bible College, and Osterhout Bible Church, where his dad was my pastor.  Bill Arp taught a class I took at BBC.  Mark Soto is a graduate of Appalachian Bible College, as am I; he and I took a couple of classes together at Liberty Seminary.  A couple of the institutions these men represent have influenced my life.  I spent two years at Baptist Bible College.  Though I didn't attend Dallas Theological Seminary, graduates of the school, 
through books they have written, classes they have taught, and movements they have championed, have had a major impact on me, .  Generically these guys take a high view of scripture.  In the sane sense of the word, they are Fundamentalists.  (For example King James Only-ism came up in discussion.  It didn't get a good press.)  They are Dispensationalists.  At least some of them describe themselves as "Classic Dispensationalists."   It is a narrow--I don't mean to say narrow-minded--group.  The names and topics that brought "cheers" and "jeers" (Offered in a gentlemanly sort of way) revealed the pedigree of the group.  As to the level of scholarship of the participants, I will refer you to my friend, Dr. Decker's credentials, here, & here.  

As I understand it, the procedure at the CDH meeting is similar to other scholarly gatherings.  Official delegates write papers.  (I got the idea that some of the topics were more or less assigned, at least the writer was urged to write on a particular aspect of the subject at hand.  It was obvious from the response of the rest of the council that some of the papers were rather a surprise.  At least one of the papers was one that had been written some time ago, but which was judged to be germane to the topic at hand.)  The author of a paper would "read" his paper at the assigned time.  There was a thirty minute time limit.  One of the papers was near a hundred pages, so the reading consisted mainly of the introduction and conclusion.  Most of the readers read a truncated version of their paper.  At least one choose to talk through his paper rather than read it.  The full text of all the papers was made available to all the council, and even to "observers" like me.  As is true about readers of bedtime stories, some readers were better than others.  If there is a revival of Ferris Beuller some of the presenters might be able to supplement their income.  Some, however, presented their papers in a very effective manner.

At the conclusion of the reading (in some cases readings were grouped together because they dealt with similar topics) there was time for questions and comments.  As is appropriate, council members were given priority.  The plan is for the presenters to consider the input of the council, as they prepare their papers for final publication on the council's website.   (Papers from past councils are posted on the site.)  This process is to be completed in thirty days.  I was surprised that the question and comment time was not more vigorous and cut-throat.  Maybe the heavy-duty criticism takes place behind the scenes.

Listening to, or reading, any one of the papers is a bit like looking at a part of an automobile.  Unless you are a real aficionado you probably don't have much interest in examining a transmission or a fuel-injection array.  You just want to get behind the wheel of a high-performance vehicle.  These papers mostly correspond to components.  They have to be assembled before they have much practical value.  Since I am interested in the overall system--both Dispensationalism, and Cessationism--and I regard sound Bible interpretation as absolutely essential, I was interested in most of the papers.  I look forward to reading the revised version of several of them.

Before I exceed the thirty minute time limit, I need to bring this post to a close.   I am planning to share a couple more posts about the Council.  I hope to comment on:

  • I was looking for consensus on some broad themes.  At least in part, I observed that.
  • While there is no official doctrinal statement that one needs to sign in order to call one's self a "Cessationist," I am assuming at this point that this group is representative of the position, or maybe I should say they "represent the thinking wing of those who self-identify as believing that certain of the New Testament gifts were temporary in nature."  It is important to hear what they did not say.  In some cases they didn't say it rather loudly.
  • A couple of the papers clearly have implications beyond the discussion related to the continuation of sign-gifts.
Stay tuned.

Friday, September 20, 2013

I just returned from an interesting couple of days.  Pastor Doug and I attended the meeting of the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics, held at Baptist Bible Seminary.  The particular topic of discussion this year was "Has Cessationism Ceased?"  I'm sure those titles make little sense to most of my readers.  I would say most of you will still have many questions even after you look at the CDH website.  Probably high on the list of questions is, "Why would you go there?"  The question has already been asked.  Here is the basic answer:
Doug noticed the event online.  He was interested--though, I don't think he knew exactly what we were getting into--in attending.  It was free.  It offered the opportunity to say hi to some old friends, and gave Doug and I an opportunity to spend time together, so I said, "Sign us up."  Careful analysis, huh?  The answer to the obvious follow-up question is, "I'm glad we went."  I'll share why over the course of several posts.

First, a non-academic report:

David and Luann Sverduk, part of the CBC extended family live thirty-six minutes away from BBS.  They graciously allowed us to stay, Tuesday and Wednesday nights, at their lovely home in lake Ariel PA.  Yes, there are Buffalo.  It was great to catch up with them.  They are well, and busy, and their kids are all on their own and doing well.

  • Their youngest, Victoria,, is finishing up her work at a veterinary school in St. Kitts.  She will soon move to Blacksburg where she will complete her preparation for veterinary medicine.  
  • Ginger and her family live near David and Luann.  We were able to see them briefly.  Lovely family.
  • We were also able to see Tupper.  He lives and farms near York, PA. 
  • Lee and his family live in Delaware.
One of the members of  the Council is Dr. Rodney Decker.  I attended school and church with Rodney while at Baptist Bible.  It was good to see Rod.  Please pray for him.  He is battling cancer.

Stay tuned for a non-academic's look at what goes on at a gathering of PhDs.  

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Marrying folk who are living together:

I suppose it is the pastoral equivalent of a lady hearing someone say, "Have you lost weight?  You look great!"  Someone recently commended me for "speaking the truth in love."  The conversation this friend spoke of was one that took place some years ago.  Two adults were living together without being married.  They had plans to be married--some five months in the future--and without thinking about it very much, they thought that made their present cohabitation OK.
I need to make known that I wasn't an outsider sticking my nose into somebody else's business.  On two levels (maybe more) I was being asked to be a part of the live-together now, marry later arrangement.  I remember swallowing hard just before I said, "I have a problem with that."
After I turned on the flashing red light in the room, I gave the couple an opportunity to end the conversation.  I know that the fact that I have a problem does not necessarily mean that I have a right to impose my standard on others.  The couple said little, but their eyes, and more the fact that they stayed seated, said, "Go on."  It's not a time for a complicated, long-winded, hard to follow tirade.  I used a one-verse observation to, as my friend, said, "Speak the truth in love."
There is nothing complex here, but it might be something that will help others who desire to lovingly speak the truth about a difficult problem in our culture.

Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge."  (Hebrews 13:4)

Use the semicolon in the verse above as the dividing line.  Before the semicolon the verse is marked by honor.  God says that what is going on here is to be held in honor.  Whatever is going on after the semicolon is something that makes one subject to God's judgment--hardly honorable.  The mention of the "marriage bed" is a tip-off.  If one were to make a video of what is going on in the marriage bed (something I very much don't recommend), and if a video were made of the activity that is described as fornication and adultery, the content of the videos would be identical.  So here the very same activity that in the front end of the verse is honorable, in the back end of the verse places one in the uncomfortable position of being the subject of God's judgment.
"So," I asked my friends, "what makes the difference between the two ends of the verse?  What has changed?"
The obvious answer is marriage.  At the beginning of the verse a married couple is being contemplated.  At the end a couple who are unwed.

Generally this scriptural observation/exhortation doesn't have the positive result that it had on this day.  I've been told that such matters are none of my business.  Frequently, I'm met with a look of incredulity, that eloquently says something like, "I can't believe that you believe (or "still believe") that."

I do believe it.  Further I don't believe it is just an arbitrary standard that God sent down from on high.  The sexual standard of the Bible is really rather simple.  Sex is to take place only between a man and a woman who are married to one another.  God gave us this standard because it is in line with the way that He made us.  Adhering to this standard leads to the greatest possible human flourishing.  Allowing it to erode does no one any favors, and for those of us who are given the responsibility to speak for the Lord, to fail to uphold this standard is sinful.

Here is where I have problem with some of my colleagues.  For too many of my fellow-pastors, this is the elephant that fills the room yet is politely ignored.   I'm  asking you to acknowledge the pachyderm.  It is tough, very tough, but I am convinced that if we are going to maintain our integrity we have to deal with it.
I appreciate the position that some pastors I know have taken:

  • The pastor of a mega-church in California says to couples who inquire about marriage, "If I am going to work with you in doing this wedding you need to enter into this commitment of purity.  I'm not going to judge you about the past, but I need for your to commit to a standard of purity (chastity) from this point until your marriage."
  • When confronted with the usual "problem,"
    "We can't get married now, we have to book a DJ, buy a dress, schedule a venue, etc. etc. etc."  Sometimes all of this is complicated by the claim that "we can't afford to live apart."  Leaving aside for a moment the fact that a family of six could live for a year on all they money they are proposing to spend on the big wedding, my friend offers the couple two alternatives:  Somebody needs to move out, or our church will help you put together a wedding.  It has to take place within two weeks.  (To those who would say that one more night is no different than another year, I would say, There is a difference.  My friend is encouraging the couple toward a commitment to do what is right, rather than what looks fabulous.)
  • Another uses a questionnaire to begin a conversation about what the couple really wants.  If what they really, really want is to do as they jolly well please in spite of what the Word of God says, what business do we as "Men of God" have in being involved?
Guys, we can help one another here.  If a couple says, in essence, "We really don't think that what the Bible says about marriage has anything to do with us."  Why should we be involved.  I tell couples, "I'm not in the marrying business.  I am, however, glad to help people build Biblical homes.  If we are going to do that, we need to start right now."

I'd love to hear from you.  I think a discussion--even an argument--could be helpful.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Balance--Make A Demon Miserable:

Roger Olson is, in a cyber sense, the friend of a friend.  He is the real deal.  I first become acquainted with him when I read The Spectrum of Evangelicalism.  Since then I have read his blog from time to time.  My friend recently blogged about one of Olson's posts, ”Totalistic, Aberrational, Christian Organization.” T.A.C.O. (here).  
The churches and ministries that Olson describes are sometimes admired for "for their dedication, intensity and outreach."  Yet these virtues are maintained by, or corrupted by behaviors that coalesce around power--leaders trying to seize and/or maintain power, or boards trying to take power from a leader, etc.  In these power struggles the people in the pew become pawns in battle, or worse fuel for the fire.  (At least that's my summary .  I encourage you to read the article.)  In forty+ years of ministry I've been tempted to be T.A.C.O..  Convinced of my righteousness and the utter necessity of seeing my agenda adopted, I became more interested in winning than in caring.  (It is another topic, but it needs to be said that not all battles are bad.  In fact a case can be made that it is sinful to allow evil to stand, when it is in our power to mount a realistic opposition to it, but, as I say, that is another topic.)  More often I have been accused of serving T.A.C.O.s.  Sometimes those accusations came from those who were guilty.  Yep, it's complicated.
A short time later Olson gave expression to the other  extreme.  He describes "Precious Moments Christianity" as the opposite danger to T.A.C.O.ism.  "They specialize so much in comforting the afflicted that they lose Christianity’s prophetic cutting edge. I call their brand of Christianity “Precious Moments Christianity” because they present the gospel as all comfort and calm, sweetness and light, with no conviction or accountability."
I think it was Warren Wiersbe who pronounced, "Blessed are the balanced."
Those of us in leadership roles need to be self-aware.  There is no doubt that Satan is aware of our tendencies.  I figure that somewhere in, to get Lewis-ish for a moment, the "lower-archy" there must be a demon with a database (Anyone want to argue about the hellishness of computers?).  Among the other characteristics there must be a column that identifies every ministry leader as either T.A.C.O. prone, or subject to the Precious Moments syndrome.

By God's grace let's make that imps existence more unpleasant.

Here are a couple of observations.  I would appreciate yours.

  • When I react--especially in anger--I am apt to be T.A.C.O.-ish.
  • Weariness leads to P.M.
  • It may be trite, but the "Jesus, Others, You" acronym that we teach children is not a bad thumbnail measurement tool.
  • If our ministries are doing what God wants done, then doing ministry will not conflict with growing in the Lord, and enjoying Him.  T.A.C.O.-ish ministry robs joy.  P.M. style organizations tend to do little, but doing it feels good.
  • (fill in)
As I said, let's give the database demon a hard time. 
"I don't get it your Undership.  These P.M.s are becoming downright warlike, and these T.A.C.O.s are caring about their comrades.  I'm proposing a new designation--"Enemy operatives to be feared."

Andy Naselli has some worthwhile things to say about a related subject, legalism.  Here is a post.  Click the links to follow his thoughts.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

More on Death

As is often the case, I found much more for tomorrow's message than I'll have time for.

Here are some quotations that speak to the subject of death:

Christ conquered death. He took upon himself our nature ‘so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil’ (Heb. 2:14). The devil’s power is subject to God’s overruling (Jb. 2:6; Lk. 12:5, etc.). Satan is no absolute disposer of death. Nevertheless death, the negation of life, is his proper sphere. And Christ came to put an end to death. It was through death, as the Hebrews passage indicates, that he defeated Satan. It was through death that he put away our sin: ‘The death he died he died to sin, once for all’ (Rom. 6:10). For those who are apart from Christ, death is the supreme enemy, the symbol of our alienation from God, the ultimate horror. But Christ has used death to deliver people from death. He died that believers may live. It is significant that the NT speaks of believers as ‘sleeping’ rather than as ‘dying’ (e.g. 1 Thes. 4:14). Jesus bore the full horror of death. Therefore, for those who are ‘in Christ’, death has been transformed so that it is no more than sleep. ‘If a man keeps my word,’ Jesus said,‘he will never see death’ (Jn. 8:51).[1]
Scripture closely associates death with the malevolent activity of Satan, whom Jesus labeled a “murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44 HCSB). The entrance of death into the creation came through the cunning temptation of the Serpent (Gen. 3:1–6). The writer of Hebrews ascribes to the evil one the “power of death,” namely a paralyzing and universal fear of death, from which believers are liberated by the atonement of Christ (Heb. 2:14–15).[2]
We should understand death as something that involves the whole person. We die, not as so many bodies, but as people, in the totality of our being. And the Bible does not put a sharp line of demarcation between the two aspects. Physical death, then, is a fit symbol and expression of, and unity with, the more serious death that sin inevitably brings.[3]

The biblical portrait of death is not that of a normal outworking of natural processes. Instead, the Bible presents human death as a reaffirmation that something has gone awry in God’s created order. The Scriptures do not, however, picture death as a hopeless termination of human consciousness but instead brim with the hope of resurrection. [4]

Although physical death is sometimes compared to sleep (Deut. 31:16; John 11:11; 1 Cor. 11:30; 1 Thess. 4:15), Scripture does not teach that one’s consciousness lapses after death to reawaken at the day of resurrection and judgment. Jesus promised the repentant thief on the cross that He would see paradise the very day of his death (Luke 23:43). Paul teaches that, for believers, being absent from the body means being present with Christ (2 Cor. 5:8).[5]

Paul, having established death as the consequence of a universal human depravity, heralds the resurrection of Jesus as pronouncing the death knell for death itself (2 Tim. 1:10). Proclaiming that the end times have come in Christ as the “last enemy” is destroyed in the resurrection of the Messiah (1 Cor. 15:26), Paul mocks the power of death in light of the victory of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:55). He assures believers on the basis of God’s resurrection of Jesus that the same bodies buried in the graves will be raised to life in the new creation (1 

Cor. 15:35–49). Believers, therefore, have no reason for despair in the face of death (1 Thess. 4:13–18).[6]

(Paradise, Luke 23:43, 2Cor. 12:4, Rev. 2:7)
Acts 7:59, Stephen dying.
Paul’s expectation, Phil 1:21-24, 2 Cor 5

[1] L.M. (1996). Death. In D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer & D. J. Wiseman (Eds.), New Bible dictionary (D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer & D. J. Wiseman, Ed.) (3rd ed.) (267). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
[2] Moore, R. D. (2003). Death. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen & T. C. Butler, Ed.) (406). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
[3] L.M. (1996). Death. In D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer & D. J. Wiseman (Eds.), New Bible dictionary (D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer & D. J. Wiseman, Ed.) (3rd ed.) (265). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
[4] Moore, R. D. (2003). Death. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen & T. C. Butler, Ed.) (405). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
[5] Moore, R. D. (2003). Death. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen & T. C. Butler, Ed.) (406). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
[6] Moore, R. D. (2003). Death. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen & T. C. Butler, Ed.) (406–407). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Debate on marriage:

I recently shared two messages on the definition of marriage.  
You can find audios, mp3, here, and video here.

Monday, May 20, 2013

To Rad or not to Rad, apparently, that is at least one of the questions.

There has been a profitable, I think, conversation going on about books like Crazy Love and Radicals.  A couple of younger friends of mine brought the conversation my way.

Here is an article in Christianity Today:
Here is Ed Stetzer commenting on and interacting with that article:
And here is Ed interviewing Francis Chan:

I remembered an older conversation, with Francis Chan, that overlaps with this one.  Since it came pre-controversy, at least this controversy, it is worth thinking about:

The main reason I am putting this post up, though, is so I can post one of my young friend's email's.  I think my former intern, Daniel Cook has some things to say that are worth considering.  The rest of this post is from him.  I post it with his permission.

I read the books mentioned in the article (Crazy Love, Radical, Not a Fan...). I did enjoy the books, but I took them at their purpose, and I know others that take them whole-heartedly beyond what their purpose is. I also read the article in CT, and I actually really liked it and agreed with it. 

First, let me say why I liked the books. As mentioned in the article, these books speak to the many Christians we all see in church who attend one service on Sunday morning at least 2-3 weeks a month. They are not involved in serving in the church or are only involved in minor serving roles. We all have a desire to see people fully embrace and grow in their faith and truly experience it. These books speak to that desire and to our own desire to grow in our experience and spiritual maturity. These books seem to also be well-recieved by the youth and young adults who long to be part of something bigger and see themselves becoming major players, even heroes of the faith. 

This is where I agree with the article. I want my teens to desire to be a part of something bigger, to see the big picture of the Kingdom of Heaven. See an excellent book that discusses this "The Explicit Gospel" by Matt Chandler. However, what that role in the Kingdom looks like is what I take issue with. Whether Chan admits it or not, many youth (and adults) will take these books a little too far and will not be satisfied with taking a role in the kingdom that is any less than a successful evangelist, political figure for social causes, front-lines warrior for social justice, inventor of the cure for cancer... What happens when many do not reach that role? What happens to the ordinary people like myself. 

I will illustrate this in two ways from personal experience. For most of my life until right before I graduated high school, I wanted nothing more than to be an officer in the military. Around 12 years of age, I settled on fighter pilot. Every decision I made from then on was taking me towards becoming a fighter pilot in the US Air Force. I was on the mailing list for the Air Force Academy at 12. I joined the Civil Air Patrol (auxiliary of the Air Force). I got advice from active and retired Air Force servicemen. I had Embry Riddle Aeronautical University as my backup. I read books.... I found out however that only 1% of the entire Air Force actually fly any aircraft whatsoever. That means that 99% of all those who serve in the Air Force are actually acting in support to the pilots who actually do the flying. Yet in all the promotional posters they only show the 1%. Most do not aspire to be a mechanic, cook, or other seemingly mundane worker in the Air Force. What's more, I found out that many who joined the Air Force also worked all their lives to become pilots, but they ended up taking different roles. I talked to one fighter pilot who never wanted to be a pilot, but was in the right place at the right time and was approached by an officer who invited him to be one. I think these books rightly promote becoming the 1% of "pilots," but don't really talk about the reality that most of us will be in the 99% category. What's more, it doesn't really demonstrate the virtue of serving where you are at and being content in being in that 99%. I see very often that people volunteering in my own church don't feel needed or important because they are serving in a minor role like the nursery or just following kids from station to station during VBS. Also, I see the negativity on church boards when they feel like we aren't making a big difference as a church. But we are making a difference in many lives in small (or even unseen big) ways. 

My second illustration, (sorry this is a long message) goes back to my college days at ABC. At the end of the year, they would give out awards in chapel. Some of them were to encourage spiritual maturity and involvement. These awards always went to the students that seemed to pray the most and loudest during chapel on National Prayer Day, who went on missions trips during the summer to exotic places, and who did as the books described it, "radical" things. Than there were people like me who had to work a full-time job plus overtime during the summer in a worldly construction-job environment in order to pay for college. People like me who did ordinary things were not viewed as "spiritually on-fire." However, the greatest spiritually growing times in my life were those times where I was just an ordinary guy working with ordinary unsaved guys and being salt and light. During one of those summers I led a hispanic man to Christ and handed out half-a-dozen spanish Bibles and tracks at their request to legal and illegal immigrants from South America. My bosses talked to me frequently about faith. I was of the only representatives of Christ that they came into contact with, and I earned their respect. 

In summary, I enjoyed the books and think they make good points. But the CT article also points out weaknesses or areas that are overlooked by these books. I agree wholeheartedly with the CT Article and think more Christians need to hear that message too.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Face of Evil:

(I posted this over at STTA, but it is one of those that kinda fits both places, so I am posting it here as well.  Maybe somebody else will find it that way.)

What does the face of evil look like?
We see it all around us, but most often we see it in silhouette, if you will.  In fact, often as we sort through the aftermath of grotesque wickedness, like the law-enforcement investigators in Boston, we see the horrendous aftermath, but we don't see the face that perpetrated the crime.   

The fact is, evil wears different masks:  They are found all across the spectrum from the distortion of extreme righteousness, so called, as was the case with evil on that first Good Friday, all the way to the just out-and-out, unadulterated badness, that too often stalks our streets.  
The Bible is clear that evil is here.  The Devil is not merely a personification; he is a real, spiritual person, Satan, Lucifer, the Dragon, and he gets around, and gets a lot done.  In the book of Job, he describes the territory he has marked with his foul scent:  "I've been 'roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.'"   (Job 1:7)  In the New Testament he is described as the "Prince of the Power of the Air."  (Ephesians 2:2)--no more localized than the air we breath.  He is not the evil opposite of God.  He lacks, for instance, the omni attributesomnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence. He does get around, though, he is cunning and powerful, and he does have help.  His network is so widespread and effective that John says "The whole world lies in the power of the wicked one."  (1 John 5:19)    Not only are these spiritual entities busily spreading evil, you and I, the Bible makes clear, have evil in our core, and in the same way that the physical ecosystems of our world are degraded, the moral spiritual realm is polluted.  (Read Romans 8, and Ephesians 2:1-10 for both description and hope.  An evil tempter, tempting people with a propensity to sin, in a world that is skewed in an evil direction--there is a recipe for a mess.
Carnage, like that in Boston, gets our attention and causes us to cry out for answers:  

"Where is God?"

As to the last question, I assert that God is both here, with you, and in Boston.  The Bible teaches that He doesn't take coffee-breaks.  Look herehere, and especially here to see some things I have written after past tragedies.

The face of evil is sometimes sanctimonious, at other times on fire with raw hatred.  It often is heavily colored with selfishness.  If you look around the eyes you can detect deception.  Ironically, and in a way that troubles me the mouth on the face of evil is often seen to be grinning.  

I guess what troubles me most about thinking of the face of evil is I sometimes see it looking back at me from the mirror.
It's STTA.