Thursday, June 28, 2007

Super Size Me

I finally got around to seeing this movie. I've got to say that it had a fairly profound impact on me. I serve as the director of a ministry helping people overcome gluttony for God's glory. However, somehow seeing all this on film made things hit home even more deeply.

There were two particularly poignant parts in this movie for me. One was where he interviewed a very overweight 14 year-old girl named Victoria. They had just seen Jared of Subway fame give a motivational talk. The problem with Jared's talk is that he lost weight by making a decision not to be such a glutton anymore. This poor girl was choking back tears as she explained that it's not that easy. I think Ephesians 2 would bear this out.

Another was with the editor of Reason magazine who told a story about a dinner party. He said that someone was allowed to criticize a smoker for the damage he was doing to his own health and the smoker just had to take it because he knew the guy was right. However, there was also a very obese woman at the table and no one said anything to her. Very interesting.

My theory is that we don't address gluttony because it's a sin we can't hide. I was pretty good at hiding my sexual sin, but my belly was out there for all to see. Now that I go to a seminary filled with baptists I can see a double-standard in action. I see a lot of men who would not be seen dead drinking alcohol. However, many of them clearly have no problem taking thirds at the potluck. I don't want to condemn these guys because we all have sin, but I do think that it should make us all examine our legalism.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

My Little Man

We brought home little Noah yesterday. It's been an exciting couple of days. He hasn't shown a ton of personality yet other than wanting to sleep. However, when he is awake and his eyes are open he seems rather thoughtful. Maybe I'm projecting, but it seems like he is going to be a bit more physical than Lily and it also seems like he is going to be less outgoing.

I think I've been a bit more teary-eyed as I held him in the hospital. I really would have been OK with a boy or a girl, but now I see why everyone thought that I would want a boy. It really is great to have him. I guess some of it is a selfish desire to leave something of a legacy. Another is that I am overwhelmed with the duty to raise him as a man of God as much as I possibly can. I realize that Noah's salvation is up to the Lord, but I'm going to do all I can to talk to him about Jesus.

Of course, I'm also going to talk to him about Indians baseball and Ohio State football. They aren't quite as important, but they will get some play :)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Glad to be a Dad

Today is Father's Day and I'm enjoying it. I had some time to get a few things done this morning. Amanda took Lily away for a little while so I could get some more reading done for a paper I'm working on. We're going to have lunch in a bit. I'm going to take Lily to the baseball game tonight.

Nothing deep today. I'm just glad to be blessed with a family.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Conversation

My apologies for not blogging more this week. I'll get back on track if I can.

Here is the bottom line of what is important to me:
  • No one is perfect because of sin
  • God is perfect
  • Imperfect people cannot approach a perfect God
  • There has to be a penalty for sin
  • Jesus was that penalty for sin offered to the world
  • God sees us as perfect if we turn away from our sin and follow Jesus
  • Those of us who are now seen as perfect can approach God
There it is. That is the gospel as I would explain it in its most basic form. There is a ton of stuff in each of those bullet points, but that's as far down as I can boil it without changing it, I think. If you haven't bought into this, please consider it. I won't get into all the details of how I think the mechanism of salvation (the ordo salutis as we learned in Systematic Theology) works, but do consider this if you haven't.

Why do I bring this up? One reason is that it is a good reminder for me. Another is that I get sickened with all the stuff I see online. Basically, the blogs I frequent seem to be more interested in being right than in being loving. We can be both, but I think that the church takes enough heat for its stance on being right. It doesn't need help with that. Instead, let's focus on getting down to these core truths.

In other words, I don't want to make my life mission about converting Arminians to Calvinism, though I think that would be great if they did. They think I have a flawed reading of Scripture as I think they do. It's a question of hermeneutics, and that's another whole area of discussion.

I'm not going to make my life mission about looking for heresies in the church, though there is some value in that. If you're into that, please check out this site or this one. It's good to hold the church accountable, but what are we doing in our own churches and our own lives?

I'm done with my phase of being worried about being more right than someone else. I know what I believe. If Scripture tells me to go in a different direction on something then that's what I intend to do. There is a lot of junk out there that needs to be avoided (i.e. the whole Word of Faith movement), but there is also some good in places like Rick Warren's work.

In the end, we need to study to show ourselves approved. All this fighting among the body of Christ has got me a little down.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Why Emerging Matters

I'm listening to an old podcast of a lecture on the so-called "New Perspective on Paul". Basically, it examines the claims of this new perspective and explains the merits and problems with it. I won't get into the details, but suffice it to say that I'm convinced that the traditional reading of Paul is just fine.

This lecture was delivered at a conference at Mars Hill church in Seattle, which is pastored by Mark Driscoll. Driscoll takes heat from both sides of the emergent aisle because he is thoroughly reformed in his theology and takes stands for biblical truth, but he also is known as the "cussing pastor" who is not afraid to talk about drinking beer. The more I read about Driscoll the more I like him. I'm looking forward to listening to an interview with him here.

There was a great quote in the Q & A at the end of this lecture. Someone was asking about the whole emergent thing. The distinction is that Mars Hill tries to be "Emerging" while not giving in to being "Emergent". The difference is that emergent is more postmodern and is much softer when it comes to truth. It is much more tolerant of other faiths and it seems like it won't try to shove gospel down people's throats. Emerging, on the other hand, refers to being willing to get into the culture in order to share the gospel. The point was that we have no problem understanding that we need to learn Italian if we're going to be missionaries in Italy. Shouldn't we understand something about American culture if we're going to be missionaries in our own country? The quote was that if we fail to do this "we are just Amish in regular clothes". That's not how I want to be.

This thinking has really shaped me over the last 18 months or so. I think that it has made me much more gracious in my speech with people who disagree with me. However, it does set up a constant internal struggle. I used to just wave the sword of the Word of God around with great confidence that it would cut where it needed to. I basically lived a paraphrase of the Marine Corps motto of "kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out". Now, however, I'm learning to be a bit softer in my orthodoxy. I still have opinions on most matters of Systematic Theology (though I haven't decided about eschatology). The difference is that I'm not quite as eager to go to the mat over the fight anymore. This is also why I don't get so worked up when I hear that the church is trying to use a movie like "Evan Almighty" to reach people. Do I think it's ideal? No. I think we need to exercise great care whenever we interact with the culture.

I understand that some missions organizations will come behind other organizations to "clean up" the theological errors of the previous ones. I learned that there are some Pentecostal organizations who work overseas not to convert new believers, but to convert the already new believers into Pentecostals. As much as I disagree with the Methodists I don't think I'd try to do that. If I planted a church where they had already sown I suppose that would be the end result since my preaching would be Reformed, but my goal would not to be primarily to correct the wrong thinking of the Wesleyans.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Dealing with Postmodernity

I have to write a paper for my Missions & Evangelism class. The professor gave us a few ideas in the syllabus, but I decided to strike out on my own with a fresh topic. I'm trying to find a way to fill 10-12 pages with how the Emergent Church defines "missions" or "missional". As with everything Emergent, it is difficult to pin this down.

Right now I'm reading D.A. Carson's Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church. I think this is considered one of the standards for the "straights" in this discussion or "conversation", if you prefer. By "straights" I of course mean those who cling to the traditional way of identifying oneself as an evangelical.

I'm only about 100 pages into it, but so far it seems to be fairly balanced. On the other hand, I read a lecture given by Scot McKnight at Westminster Theological where he made a good point. McKnight identifies himself with the Emergent movement and asks that we read some of their own literature before passing any kind of judgment on it. As I'm learning, original sources are always good. I certainly wouldn't want an Arminian trying to explain what I think about Calvinism.

The problem is that I may have to buy some of these books that I'm reading about. My local libraries just don't have much about this stuff. I'm going to email one of my pastors about this too. He once preached a great message on postmodernity, so perhaps he can help me. I will certainly update the blog as I form more opinions about this.

One thing I do know, it is unwise to summarily dismiss anything because it smacks at all of "Emergent". They do make some good points, which Carson concedes. However, I certainly don't want to have to prepend "post-" on everything that describes my theology either :)

Saturday, June 09, 2007

A Wartime Walkie-Talkie

Chapter 2 in Piper really hits home for me. Piper tells us that we should look at prayer as a “wartime walkie-talkie” rather than a “domestic intercom”. The problem is that we become so enamored with our comfort that we lose sight of the fact that we are in a spiritual war as we see in Ephesians 6. God uses prayer to carry out His will and we often waste this incredible resource.

I think about my own prayer life. I do make a point of making some “kingdom prayers” regularly. I pray for our country and the direction it is going. I pray for my church and the ministry with which I work. I pray that my family and coworkers would come to a saving faith in Christ. I also pray for the missionaries that we have the privilege of supporting.

However, do I demonstrate a true zeal for these prayers? Do I really understand just how difficult it is to pack up your life and move to New Zealand as a woman we support has done? God is using her ministry to do some powerful work with college students in New Zealand. These are eventual leaders who will hopefully take the gospel to the countries in the Pacific Rim. Am I really passionate for the work she does? Similarly, we sponsor the young man who is now the director for Campus Crusade at USC. Right now he is leading a short-term missions team in Japan. Sure, I give lip-service to praying for him daily, but is it commensurate with the importance of reaching the lost people he and his team meet? I find that it is much easier to sign checks than it is to wrestle with God in prayer over the work that these people do.

These thought papers have forced me to take some hard looks at how I'm living my life. I keep a very tight schedule between family, work, school, and ministry. I try not to waste time on frivolities, but of course I have distractions. Some of these distractions may even be good since God does mandate some rest. While most of what I do is good and kingdom-focused I also need to make sure that my time is spent in such a way that I maximize it for the kingdom. It would be great to see my family and friends come to a saving faith in Christ. It is good that I pray regularly for that. However, I also need to keep a much larger focus and have a zeal for that larger focus. Remembering the seriousness of the spiritual war we fight is a vital part of maintaining that zeal.

Friday, June 08, 2007

America -- Where is the Passion?

Last night's discussion got me thinking about the state of the church here in the United States. I think about how precious the Word of God must have been to men in the Pre-Reformation era if they were willing to face martyrdom in order to get it in the hands of the people. I cannot begin to imagine how hard it must have been for Gregory in Croatia to be excommunicated from the church because he believed that the Bible had to be in the hands of the people. Similarly, I am struck by the passion shown by those in the 2/3 world as they now comprise the majority of missionaries. They certainly do not have the money that we do, yet they have a passion for missions that puts us to shame. I can only think that this passion comes from not only reading the Bibles they do have, but also really believing the commands in what they do read.

Meanwhile, as I look around my house I see more Bibles than I have time to regularly read. We have paraphrases, literal translations, and dynamic equivalents. We have study Bibles to guide our theology and our living. I suspect that just about everyone who belongs to a self-named “evangelical” church owns at least one Bible. The problem is that it is like pulling teeth to get most of us to read our Bibles regularly.

Conversely, there are people in parts of the world who are willing to die for owning just a tiny part of Scripture. Yet those people are reading what they have and cherishing it as if they really do believe that the Bible is God communicating to them. I find it quite humbling to see countries like India with little money but such a passion for missions that they would even send missionaries to the United States. As a country we appear to be so spoiled that we do not appreciate the freedom we have to read and discuss what God saw fit to preserve for us over these many millennia.

For me, the application for this is in my ministry and in my personal life. Am I really searching for wisdom as “hidden treasure” as Proverbs 2:4 calls it? I take the time to read the Word, but do I really search for the hidden treasure? I think I could do much better with this. I also realize that studying for seminary does not really feed me like devotional reading, which removes another excuse. For my ministry I see the need to preach the value of the Word with even more fervor. Getting upset about how people in this country neglect the Word will do nothing unless I use what little influence I have to encourage people to spend more time. We need to recapture the passion shown by men who believed to their graves that getting the Word into people's hands was the most important thing. I want to be a part of that awakening.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

A House of Prayer

I don't think that I ever gave proper thought to the fact that Jesus refers to the temple as a “house of prayer for all the nations” in Mark 11:17. This is one of those verses where I tend to read it very quickly because I am already familiar with the story. I understood this simply as Jesus showing zeal for the holiness of the temple.

Now I see where that is part of it, but I also see how it really does point to missions. He was cleaning out the Court of the Gentiles, which was supposed to be a place where anyone could gather to worship. My understanding is that the various merchants perverted the practice of selling animals for sacrifice into making the temple into a flea market. The focus became money instead of Christ. This then became a barrier to true worship for all people.

I can see how this applies to our situation today. We need to remove any barriers that stand between people and God. Using this as an example, it seems that we need to first look for anything that is self-serving rather than God-serving. I do not think that there was anything wrong with selling animals for sacrifice. I can understand that Jews coming from other areas would not want to transport animals. I also can see how it would be easier for them to bring money in their own currency. However, what likely started as conveniences got out of hand. Is this something we need to examine as we open coffee shops, cafés, and bookstores in our churches? I do not think that any of these things are inherently bad, but it would seem that we should be careful lest they do become a distraction.

To clarify, I do like going to a church that has a café. I like having the option to buy a good and inexpensive breakfast or lunch when I am there. However, I also think we need to remember that church is supposed to be about coming to a place and worshiping a risen Savior. It is certainly about community and fellowship as well, but I think we need to be careful.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

God's Heart for People

I was very much struck by the line in Missiology referring to the book of Jonah as the most missional book in the Bible, but one that shows just how much of an inclusivist Jonah was. As we discussed in class, the Jews saw the Messiah as someone who would end their worldly oppression and put them in charge in this world. They would have seen Ephesians 3:6 as unthinkable because they could not conceive of how Gentiles could be included in God’s redemptive plan. Plus, they likely did not want Gentiles to be included in the plan. Nevertheless, God made them (us) part of His plan.

Before yesterday’s discussion I had never thought about the implications of Egyptians coming along in the Exodus. I suspect that this would have surprised many of the former slaves on their way to the Promised Land. Although we do not know for sure, I would be surprised if the Hebrews did much evangelizing to their Egyptian taskmasters. They probably just wanted to keep their heads down and mouths shut so they could get through each day without being beaten. Despite this, some Egyptians saw the power and glory of the Lord and decided to leave everything to worship Him.

I also think of John 4 and Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman. Jews did not speak to the hated Samaritans, but Jesus extended grace to her and offered her a way out of her sinful lifestyle. He crossed the cultural boundaries to share the gospel with her.
I look at my life and see some definite parallels with the Jews. I interact with some people that I just do not like very well. I do not think that is inherently sinful since we will inevitably get along with some people better than others. However, I do know that it is a problem if I do not share the gospel with them. I find it easy to want my friends to enjoy eternal life, but what about the people I do not like? What about my enemies? For example, before Sadaam Hussein was hanged I am not sure if I thought about whether or not someone had a chance to share the gospel with him. I think I was mostly interested in the death of a world despot rather than feeling sadness about an unbeliever dying apart from the love of Christ.

I find it pretty easy to look down my nose at Jonah’s disobedience about going to the hated city of Nineveh. However, I do not think that I am much better. I need to find ways to share Christ with the people I do not like just as much as my friends and family. And, frankly, I do not want to take my disobedience to Jonah’s level. I know that God does not physically use big fish much these days, but I also know that He finds ways to make sure that His plan is executed. Obedience is just easier.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Scope of Missions

I've decided that I'm going to post the thought papers I write for my class. This will give some idea as to what we're learning.

Our discussion about what it means to be a missionary got me thinking about the scope of the word “missions”. On one hand, we must be careful about pigeonholing the “missionary” as just being someone who leaves everything to live in the jungle and evangelize to a people who have been in complete spiritual darkness. On the other hand, is it valid for all of us to call ourselves “missionaries”? Are we, as the old saying goes, in our mission field as soon as we leave the doors of the church?

I see this as important because we want to make sure that everyone is sharing the gospel as much as possible. If we limit the term “missionary” to those who go to a different culture then we might begin to think that because we are not doing that we can leave the evangelism to those who are. If we take the whole world as our mission field we can be overwhelmed by the task at hand instead of focusing on a people group with whom we can connect and we might not share out of frustration of not being able to reach everyone. However, as we discussed in class, we will be most effective in reaching people most like us since we can make connections more naturally and speak the same language more easily. Therefore, since we find ourselves in those situations most of the time we need to make sure that we take advantage of them. We may indeed be called to missions in another culture, but we also need to evangelize to those in our culture with whom we regularly interact.

This motivates me to think long and hard about how often I effectively share the gospel. As things stand right now I have an office full of unbelievers who could be called my “mission field”. My coworkers know that I am in seminary and I do differentiate myself in a variety of ways. I do chime in when I can offer what I believe to be a biblical perspective on some topic of discussion; however, I rarely find or make opportunities to give a clear presentation of the gospel. I feel convicted about this and see the need to prayerfully pursue more opportunities to share the gospel. To me, this is the “so what” of the fact that “everything is missions and missions is everything” (p. 28 of Missiology).

Monday, June 04, 2007

Starting the New Class

I'm looking forward to getting out of work and going to school for my class on Missions and Evangelism. It's a one week intensive with a final exam on Saturday morning. I kind of like the idea of a one week class with a final because I won't have a lot of time to forget what I've learned. I also look forward to the subject matter.

On one hand, it's kind of a no-brainer. As Christians, isn't it obvious that we are supposed to evangelize? However, based on the arguments for evangelism in my textbooks, it seems clear that not everyone is on board with what appears to be an obvious command that we've called the Great Commission. There is also much room for debate about methods. What is the best way to evangelize? How can we most effectively spread the gospel.

I will certainly write more as I learn more about this.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Being a Clevelander (II)

Last night the unthinkable happened. The Cavaliers won their fourth straight game against the Detroit Pistons to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. I will not pretend to be a big basketball fan, but I've been close enough to my mom and stepfather to get a sense of the excitement. The city has been abuzz with excitement. Couple that with the fact that the Indians went into today's game 3.5 games up on the Tigers (it looks like they'll finish 2.5 up) and you've got some pretty exciting times in old C-Town. I was happy to hear that the town didn't riot (though they might if the Cavs win the finals). That was truly an answer to prayer.

I understand that there is a blog out there called "God hates Cleveland sports". Given the history in the past 40+ years, it would certainly seem so. I don't think that it makes sense to pray for the results of a sporting event. However, I do think that God is in charge of everything. I wonder if the long championship droughts in cities like Cleveland and Buffalo have to do with breaking the cities' idolatrous relationship with their teams?

This occurred to me one day as I was stepping out of the shower. I wouldn't try to argue this with Wayne Grudem or even with my wife. It's just something I'm rolling around in my head.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

The "Wow" Factor

My pastor preached on Moses tonight. He focused on the story of Moses' life and how he became a leader. Basically, you had someone who lived for 40 years in the lap of luxury, but who ended up having to run in fear after killing the Egyptian. Then he got settled as a shepherd for his father-in-law Jethro, but God called him to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt. Moses came up with just about every excuse he could think of, but God was ready for that and countered all of them. The application for us was that we need to step up as we're called. It was a good challenge to a church that has more than its fair share of "pew warmers".

That was good, but I felt like it was sort of old news. What was better was when he talked about the "wow" factor of ministry. He's been a senior pastor for over 20 years (maybe 25). He has seen God do some amazing things in people's lives. However, he said that after a while sometimes we tend not to marvel at what God is doing because we just get accustomed to seeing His grace in action.

I can very much relate to this. I spoke to him briefly after the end of the service and told him so. I've seen so many men's lives brought back from the pit of pornography that sometimes I lose wonder at seeing another marriage restored. I've read dozens and dozens of testimonies of people losing incredible amounts of weight. It's a shame when I take it for granted that a 350 pound women completely enslaved to food can lose 35 pounds in 8 weeks and keep moving forward. People who wouldn't miss a meal (or an in-between meal snack) start fasting and loving it. Only God transforms lives like that.

This is why I make a point of praying that I would marvel at God's Word and His work. I think we all could stand to sit in more awe of what He does.