Thursday, May 31, 2012

Free Album Alert!

I really try hard not to double-post on any given day (sorry, Sten-Erik) but when there's free music on the line, all my rules on blogging go out the window.

Four years ago, Phil Wickham released a live recording called Singalong and then gave it away for free (sorry, you probably have to pay for it by now). That album didn't leave my car's CD player for months. The beauty of the album lay in its simplicity: Wickham's voice and acoustic guitar (both funneled through a heavy dose of reverb) and a choir of attendees are the only thing you'll hear in the entire recording. The voices in the crowd are much more emphasized here than on your average live recording, and this immediately drops you in the middle of the worship experience. In fact, four years later, I still find this CD

So while you probably can't find Singalong for free anymore (at least not legally), Phil has just released the sequel: Singalong 2, recorded live on March 30th at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, CA. The formula is the same: Wickham + acoustic guitar + audience = best free album you will find this summer. Get it while it's still free!

Reading Bonhoeffer: Life Together, Part 4/4

New York, New York: HarperOne (1993). 122 pp.
Also see part 1, part 2 and part 3.

Chapter Five: Confession & Communion

This chapter was painful in potentiality and conviction. How rare it is to hear of this being lived out well. Sin separates. Not only the sinner from God, but the sinner from the community. Sin drives us to isolation, and “the more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation.” We desperately need the light to shine on our sin, yet we work so hard to ensure that never happens. I’ve often wrestled with the so-called “office of the keys” but Bonhoeffer explains well its value and meaning in this chapter. “Confession is conversion…Confession is discipleship.” This is a hard teaching, but one that rings true. On page 118 and following Bonhoeffer brings up the excellent question – “To whom confess?” Aye, there’s the rub. To find a brother or sister who lives a lifestyle of confession and repentance in the way Bonhoeffer addresses here is difficult. I’m left with the question of how can we create this atmosphere within our churches?

Bonhoeffer’s closing thoughts are on the Lord’s Supper, and its reality as an occasion of joy, looking ahead to the time when the church will truly be united. “As the members of the congregation are united in body and blood at the table of the Lord, so will they be together in eternity. Here the community has reached its goal. Here joy in Christ and his community is complete. The life of Christians together under the Word has reached its perfection in the sacrament.” And so, we come full circle. For Bonhoeffer, the church invisible will never be fully understood until we are gathered together in the eschaton. But until that time, the visible expression of the church gathers around these two essentials—Word and sacrament.

Attached is an outline of Bonhoeffer's beautiful little book, and some questions for consideration. I encourage you to take the time to wrestle through his thought and be willing to ask yourself the tough questions.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Attitudes to avoid, actions to adopt

“Religion begat prosperity and the daughter devoured the mother.” Kent Hughes explains Cotton Mather’s quote by saying that when a person comes to Christ by faith and is born again, his life is turned upside down. Old bad habits are replaced with new good habits of faith and love and hard work and gratitude. He becomes a better worker and manager of resources as he lives out the Scriptures, which results, often, in economic prosperity. The tragedy is, in many cases, “new prosperity and material wealth devour the same Christianity that gave them birth — especially in the second and third generations.”

This is why Paul gives a stern warning to all who are “rich in this present age.” By the way, if you are tempted to stop reading because you don’t think you are rich, consider this. The average household income in Alamance County is around $45,000 per year. That income is in the top 1.72 percent worldwide, which means we are richer than more than 98 percent of the world. What should we do about it? According to Paul, there are attitudes to avoid and actions to adopt.

Avoid being arrogant. It just goes with the territory that those who have look down on those who don’t have. If you live in a house, you look down on those who live in a trailer. If you live in a trailer on your own land, you look down on those who live in an apartment! And so it goes. But we are commanded in Scripture to put away arrogance and a haughty spirit. After all, “what do we have that we did not receive?”

Avoid trusting in uncertain riches. The more we have, the more we have to fight against finding our security, and even our sense of self-worth, in our possessions. This deadly downward spiral never ends well and can only be corrected through repentance and acknowledging God as the owner of everything, including the very breath in our lungs. He alone is worthy of our trust.

The actions to adopt begin with this simple command: “do good, be rich in good works.” I know a dear lady who used her income and her nice home to show hospitality to people she knew who did not know Christ. She would invite several couples over for dinner and a conversation about things of faith. I know a couple here in town who own several properties that they invite people going through difficult trials to live in for a while, as they teach them to manage their money and their lives in a way that is healthy and productive. You know people like that as well. Are you one of those people who live on less so that you can help others who have legitimate needs?

Paul then says to us we should be “ready to give, willing to share.” It is sad that though Americans have the largest incomes in the world, we also saddle ourselves with the most debt. As Dave Ramsey says with a smile, “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t even like!” Why not put yourself in a position where you are ready to give by getting out of debt as quickly as possible, while at the same time beginning to give to the work of your church, to global missions, and to local needs?
Don’t get devoured by your own prosperity. I believe that those who learn to give will one day be met in heaven by the beneficiaries of their giving. That is worth the sacrifice.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Reading Bonhoeffer: Life Together, Part 3/4

Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
New York, New York: HarperOne (1993). 122 pp.
Also see part 1 and part 2.

Chapter Three: The Day Alone

This was a sobering chapter. “The Christian community is not a spiritual sanitorium.” Here we are exhorted to beware of community if we cannot be alone, and to beware of aloneness if we cannot be in community. “We recognize, then, that only as we are within the fellowship can we be alone, and only he that is alone can live in the fellowship.” (77) This paradox proposed by Bonhoeffer deserves additional thought.

The guidelines for our time spent alone as proposed are helpful. Meditation, prayer, and intercession are worthy pursuits that embrace both our personal relationship with the redeemer and our corporate responsibility to our brothers and sisters in the church. I appreciated the emphasis placed on the value of this exercise, and its use: “…the strength of aloneness and the strength of the fellowship is solely the strength of the Word of God, which is addressed to the individual in the fellowship.” (89)

Chapter Four: Ministry

We are a sinful people, and even when pursuing seemingly altruistic purposes we tend to be driven by our own agendas and desires. The conversation on page 91 concerning how we naturally tend towards jockeying for a position of superiority over our brother brought to mind what Bonhoeffer had to say about our nature on page 31. “The essence of human community of spirit is darkness … It is the deep night that hovers over the sources of all human action, even over all noble and devout impulses.”

Another trend in some of our larger churches is to engage in pew-sitting, not bothering to use our gifts for the good of the body. After all, we have paid staff to do that type of thing. Bonhoeffer rejects this spiritual complacency. “In a Christian community everything depends upon whether each individual is an indispensable link in a chain.” (94) We are all part of one body, and we all need each other to function properly as the body of Christ. When 90% of the body is sitting idle allowing the other 10% to do the work, we have severe dysfunction. This reminds me of something I heard a professor at DTS say: “If 10 people in your large church didn’t show up one Sunday, would your pastoral team start desperately searching for them? Or would it go unnoticed? How about if you woke up one morning and 5% of your vital organs were gone? That’s the analogy.” 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Book Review: How Good Is Good Enough? by Andy Stanley

Tim Keller defines defeater beliefs as any culture's "'common-sense' consensus beliefs that automatically make Christianity seem implausible to people." If I may be so bold as to add to the wisdom of Tim Keller, I would suggest that any belief that makes Christianity unnecessary or inconsequential would fall into such a category as well. And of all the beliefs that make Christianity unnecessary or inconsequential, there is perhaps none more common than the one confronted in this book: "all good people go to heaven".

In How Good Is Good Enough?, Andy Stanley spends the first two thirds of the book dismantling this defeater belief, clearing the way for a clear and compassionate gospel presentation. The dismantling of the "good people go to heaven" belief is surprising simple, primarily because it is so often assumed and so rarely analyzed. The frailty of this assumption is quickly revealed as Stanley begins measuring it against a few questions (the first of which is the title of the book).

Consider. How do you know when/if you're good enough? According to whose standard of goodness? Jesus? Buddha? Mohammed? And if God is good, shouldn't he have communicated a little more clearly that standard and where exactly the cut-off line is? And the kicker in my mind: no matter where the line is, what do you say to the poor sap who falls below that line by one measly good dead? That he missed the cut-off for heaven and is now in hell because of one white lie? One errant word? One stolen piece of candy as a child?

To put it another way: if a passing grade is 3.0, what do you tell the schmuck who scores a 2.999? "Sorry chump, to hell with you and Hitler and Pol Pot"."All good people go to heaven" is often touted as a much fairer option against the Christian view of the afterlife. Yet, like a good apologist, Stanley shows that this approach to eternity fails at its own test of fairness and equality.

I can't decide if How Good Is Good Enough? is a really short book (92 small pages) or a long gospel tract, but either way it's well worth adding to your library so that you are ready to loan it or cite it next time someone says "Well that's great if Christianity works for you, but I'm just trying to be a good person".

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Every Christian 

This book was a free review copy provided by Multnomah Books.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Be Assured: None Has to Climb Alone

  The story of Junior Seau’s suicide is still reverberating in the sports world. The all-Pro NFL linebacker who played for 20 years took his own life a few weeks ago, and no one really knows why. The best guess is that football was Junior’s life and he simply did not know how to live without it. That may be it. If so, it leads to another question, one repeated over and over by players and coaches who were good friends of Junior Seau: “If he was struggling so badly, why didn’t he tell me? Why didn’t he tell somebody?” Former quarterback Dan Fouts perhaps said it best: “With all tragedies, there are lessons to be learned, lessons that must be learned by all of us. The lesson here is, if you need help, get help. It’s out there. All you have to do is swallow your pride and ask for it. We all need help at times.”
    That story reminded me of a lesser-known event from 2005. Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, at 19,500 feet. Larry and Mary Warren spent seven days climbing that mountain, but they almost didn’t make it. The last day of the climb was to begin at 10 p.m. and end the next afternoon at the summit. Larry asked why they would be climbing in the dark, not able to see where they were going. The guide answered, “Because if you could see where you were going, you would not climb!”
    With only five hours to go to the summit, the guide had to make a decision. Some in the group were slowing the others down. “I will separate the group into two, so that you can all keep up your pace and get to the top.” Larry said the guide separated the 12 climbers into a group of 10, and a group of two: Larry and Mary! Seems they were slowing down the pack just a bit.
    Two guides remained with Larry and Mary, and the others raced ahead toward the summit. Larry said that the last five hours were grueling, and he was praying that Mary would quit so he could quit with her. Finally, with three hours left, Mary was done. “I can’t go any further,” she said to the guides. “Can you go for 30 more minutes?” the guide asked. Mary agreed she could, thinking that the summit was a half-hour away. “He used that same line about five more times!” Larry said, but it worked to keep them motivated and moving.
    With only an hour to go to the top, Mary was completely worn out. That’s when the guides did for the Warrens what we all need when it seems we cannot go on. Larry said, “One went in front of us and Mary held onto his backpack. The second went behind her, pushing her on the back, and I came behind the second guide and held on as these men literally pushed and pulled us up the mountain! Yes, we kept walking … we did our part … we did the best we could, but it was the strength and determination of these experienced guides that helped us make it to the top.”
    All of us need a push or a pull to get through difficult times; life itself can be a tough climb. That’s why the Bible says, “God composed the body … (so) that the members should have the same care for one another.” We need each other.
    If you need help, and we all do, ask for it. None of us has to climb alone.

The Explicit Gospel: Called to be faithful, not fruitful

As I am reading The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler, I thought I'd share some quotes that I liked:
"Isaiah, then, is not called to be fruitful but simply to be faithful. And, in fact, he's told he will not be fruitful. The priority God charges him with is not success but integrity. He is sent to proclaim a word to the people who in the end can see but not perceive, who can hear but not hear.

"One of the things we don’t preach well is that ministry that looks fruitless is constantly happening in the Scriptures. We don’t do conferences on that. There aren’t too many books written about how you can toil away all your life and be unbelievably faithful to God and see little fruit this side of heaven. And yet God sees things differently. We always have to be a little bit wary of the idea that numeric growth and enthusiastic response are always signs of success. The Bible isn’t going to support that. Faithfulness is success; obedience is success.

"What we learn about God’s call to Isaiah provides a strange sense of freedom. A hearer’s response is not our responsibility; our responsibility is to be faithful to God’s call and the message of the gospel. No, a hearer’s response is his or her responsibility. But one of the mistakes we can make in our focusing on individual response in the gospel on the ground is to lose sight of God’s sovereign working behind our words and actions and our hearer’s response. Receptivity and rejection are ultimately dependent upon God’s will, not ours." (pp. 74-75)
The Explicit Gospel is currently on sale at the Westminster Bookstore: $9.89 (45% off list price).

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Reading Bonhoeffer: Life Together, part 2/4

Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community. By Dietrich Bonhoeffer. New York, New York: HarperOne (1993). 122 pp.

Chapter Two: The Day with Others

This chapter reminded me of what Luther has been attributed as to having said – “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours of my day in prayer.” Bonhoeffer’s comments about the beginning of the day represent a shift in thinking for me. I tend to evaluate the day in terms of how much I must do. The idea that “for Christians the beginning of the day should not be burdened and oppressed with besetting concerns for the day’s work” (43) is foreign to me.

One question that I wrestled with in this chapter are the statements made on pages 45-46 regarding the Psalter as being the prayer book of Jesus Christ. Although I can see this on one level, I have to wonder if that is unnecessary allegorizing. That said, I resonate with the significance of embracing the Psalter in our personal and corporate prayer life—it is the prayer book of the church.

Another interesting topic was the treatment of worship. “Where the heart is not singing there is no melody, there is only the dreadful medley of human self-praise.” As I sat in church a few weeks ago, I looked around the room as the worship team was “leading” the singing. They sounded amazing. So amazing, in fact, that despite the words being on the screen, I could see no one in the congregation actually singing. It was a concert. A concert of praise? How can it be when the people have been rendered voiceless? I couldn’t help but think it was a celebration of the talent on the stage rather than the church bursting forth in praise for their King. This performance aspect has become embedded in the DNA of our churches. Is this beyond recovery? What can we do to bring things back to a corporate expression of worship as opposed to a selective celebration of talent?

Friday, May 18, 2012

An Egregious Gap

What is your church doing to serve the disabled community? I heard some eye-opening statistics recently. Did you know that according to a recent study 41.3 million people in this country are classified as disabled? That's slightly less than 1 in 7 - here in the southern states, the number is closer to 1 in 5!

With that number in mind, consider the fact that 53% of individuals with a disability do not attend a local church in any form. A large part of the reason for this is that very few American churches (less than 15%) have an intentional program of any kind that is geared to service individuals with disabilities.

What a disservice! Not only to the disabled community, but to everyone in the church. There is great power present when individuals with disabilities minister. "When the people who in the world's view who have reason to curse God instead give Him praise, there is great power in their testimony." (Daniel Thompson)

It's not simply having a "ministry" for the disabled in your community - it is allowing those with disabilities to use their gifts and abilities to serve and minister in the congregation as well! I heard an incredible quote the other day from Jerry Borton, the head of the Joni & Friends office in the Philadelphia area. I apologize in advance for any errors in relaying this quote - if they are present, they are mine - not Jerry's:
"To not allow a person with disabilities to use their gifts is like asking them to be a "guest" in the house of the Lord forever. We want to be a part of the body, using our gifts. ... The body just isn't complete ... I don't lack the resources to do whatever God has called me to do. He created me the way that I am as an intentional creation. He can use our disability as His platform to speak His grace, not only in our lives but in the lives of everyone we come into contact with."
Thank you Jerry, for opening my eyes - I pray that the church will see this huge opportunity to minister not only to those with disabilities, but to all of God's people through those with disabilities!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Why Can't Homosexuals Marry the One They Love?

Alan Shlemon with Stand To Reason addresses this question:
When you take an honest look at the marriage law, it turns out that there is nothing unfair about it. Homosexuals have the same rights and the same restrictions as heterosexuals. For example, there is no legal right granted to a heterosexual that does not apply in exactly the same way to every homosexual. Both can marry in any state. Both can marry someone of the opposite sex. Both can receive the benefits that come with legal marriage. Heterosexuals and homosexuals are treated alike.

There is also no legal restriction for homosexuals that does not also apply in exactly the same way to every heterosexual. Neither one can marry their sibling. Both are prohibited from marrying someone already married. They can’t marry a child. And neither has the freedom to marry someone of the same sex.

The marriage law applies equally to every person, whether they are homosexual or not. Everyone is treated the same.

Homosexuals cry foul, of course, because the kind of person they are legally entitled to marry is not a person they love. They believe this is a restriction that is limited to them. But it’s not. There isn’t a person in the United States that has unfettered freedom to marry anyone just because they love them.
Read the rest of the article in which Alan explains why this is right and fair.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

God's refrigerator art of motherhood

  A little boy said to the girl next door, “I wonder what my mother would like for Mother’s Day?”
    She said, “You could decide to keep your room clean and orderly, and go to bed as soon as she calls you. You could brush your teeth without having to be told, and quit fighting with your brothers and sisters, especially at the dinner table.” He replied, “No, I mean something practical.”
    On the eve of Mother’s Day, I offer three practical gifts from Scripture. These are part of God’s refrigerator art, if you will, pictures of faithful motherhood.
    In Psalm 128, the mother is pictured as a fruitful vine in the very heart of the house.
    The godly mother has a central place of responsibility in the home that, though she may not see it through diaper pails and dishpan hands, will bear fruit for generations to come.
    In 1 Samuel 1, the mother is pictured as the greatest intercessor her son would ever know. It was Hannah’s prayer that touched the hem of God’s garment, and it was Hannah’s spiritual influence on Samuel that shaped and prepared him to fulfill God’s calling on his life.
    A London editor once submitted to Winston Churchill a list of all those who had been Churchill’s teachers. Churchill returned the list with this comment: “You have omitted to mention the greatest of my teachers — my mother.” And Charles Spurgeon said, “I cannot tell you how much I owe to the custom on Sunday evenings while we were yet children for Mother to stay home with us, and then we sat around the table and read verse after verse and she explained the Scriptures to us. Then came a mother’s prayer; and some of the words of our mother’s prayer we shall never forget even when our hair is gray.” I don’t know if there is a more powerful force on this earth than a mother’s prayers for her children.
    In 2 Timothy 1, the mother is pictured as a woman of genuine faith. Apparently Timothy’s father was not a believer, but God worked through his mother and his grandmother to give him a sound foundation. Is there anything more precious to a mother than genuine faith?
    The man who would become the most beloved companion of the greatest missionary the world has ever known learned the Word of God as a young child on his mother’s knee. She had genuine faith, not the wishy-washy easy-believism that so many in the church subscribe to today. Genuine faith impacts every person it touches.
    Consider Susanna Wesley, who was the youngest of 25 children and who gave birth to 19 herself. Eleven of her children died in childhood. Her husband left her for a time, even serving extended sentences in debtor’s prison. O, how God used Susanna Wesley to give away her faith to her children. As each child turned 5, she tutored them in the alphabet and then, beginning in Genesis, she taught them to read, word by word, from the Scriptures.
    “I wonder at your patience,” her husband Samuel once said. “You have told that child 20 times the same thing.” “If I had satisfied myself by mentioning it only 19 times,” Susanna Wesley answered, “I should have lost all my labor. It was the twentieth time that crowned it!”
    I am thankful for the mother who raised me, and for the wife and mother I love and live with.
    Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who serve so faithfully. You are a gift that could never be repaid in this lifetime.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Substance of Calvinism

When the debate over Calvinism and Arminianism comes up, it can often lead to intense vitriol. I think this conversation is a good example of how to defuse what can quickly become and intense wrangling over theological terms and concepts. It is a good way of 'taking down the daggers' as it were.

If you are a Calvinist, like me, this is a good example of how to be winsome in our defense of it.

A conversation between Charles Simeon and Charles Wesley on Dec. 20th 1784

Simeon: “Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions... Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?”

Wesley: “Yes, I do indeed.”

Simeon: “And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?”

Wesley: “Yes, solely through Christ.”

Simeon: “But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?

Wesley: “No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.”

Simeon: “Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?”

Wesley: “No.”

Simeon: “What, then, are you upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?”

Wesley: “Yes, altogether.”

Simeon: “And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?”

Wesley: “Yes, I have no hope but in Him.”

Simeon: “Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things where we agree.”

quoted from J.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God pp13-14.

I don't totally agree with Simeon if he means that we should set aside differences. However, I think this is a good way of pointing out a key emphasis in Calvinism is that salvation is all a work of God. Some Arminians agree with that even if they parse the specifics differently. For those that claim Calvinism makes God into a devil, I think this conversation is quite instructive about the intentions, purposes, motivations and heart of Calvinism (without reference though of the texts that support this position).

Friday, May 11, 2012

Reading Bonhoeffer: Life Together, Part 1/4

Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community. By Dietrich Bonhoeffer. New York, New York: HarperOne (1993). 122 pp.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer had a life that in some respects seemed straight out of a New York Times Bestseller novel.[1] His writings and sermons have had a lasting impact on the church with such depth that belies the fact that he was taken from this world at the young age of 39. The book at hand was written in 1939 while Bonhoeffer was teaching at an underground seminary, just six years before his death. Due to the brevity of this book, I will offer some observations and comments from each chapter as four different blog posts.

Chapter One: Community

In the first chapter Bonhoeffer provides two sides of how one should properly understand Christian community. First, we are to understand Christian community as being in and through Christ. Second, Christian community is a Divine reality and sustained by the love of God in Christ. Like Zizioulas,[2] Bonhoeffer sees ecclesiology as inextricably intertwined with eschatology. The fullness of the church cannot be fully understood until God’s people are gathered up. Until that time, the visible purpose of the church is to gather together to share God’s Word and sacrament.

This purpose becomes all the more significant as we follow Bonhoeffer’s argument through this first chapter. It is only through the Word of God spoken that salvation comes. When one is asked, “‘Where is your salvation, your righteousness?’ he can never point to himself. He points to the Word of God in Jesus Christ, which assures him salvation and righteousness.” (22) In Bonhoeffer’s view, the preaching of the word is essential. We need brothers to speak living Word in witness to us. “The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.” (23)

Bonhoeffer also speaks about church leadership and methodology. I wonder what many of our Western evangelical churches would do with what is said about the strategies employed by men on page 32: “It is true, in so far as these are devout men, that they do this with the intention of serving the highest and the best, but in actuality the result is to dethrone the Holy Spirit, to relegate Him to remote unreality.” This serves as a sobering admonishment to all of us as we meet to come up with a “vision” and a “plan” for the church.
[1] And in fact was, thanks to Eric Metaxas. See
[2] As discussed in John Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1985).

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Homosexuality and the Evolution of Progress

The web is abuzz with responses to President Obama's statement regarding his position on homosexuality. Although in are day it is never far from discussion, it seems that in a number of ways and in a number of venues the topic has recently risen to the attention of many. With that in mine, I am reposting an short essay that was written by a pastor friend of mine named Davis Duggins. Pastor Davis is the Pastor at the Berean Bible Fellowship Church in Stroudsburg Pa. He posted this earlier today on facebook and I think it deserves a wider audience. I post it here with his permission.

I commend to you this essay by Pastor Davis.

The President’s statement on same-sex marriage stirred quite a bit of discussion this week. In many ways, his “evolution” mirrors the changing views of society.

In 1996, I was part of a smaller debate in Oak Park, IL. Municipal officials in that Chicago suburb were discussing a registry for same-sex domestic partners. Our community was one of the first in the nation to consider such a “progressive” step.

At a local hearing, I spoke out against the plan. I said such a registry would represent a major shift for government – no longer tolerance of homosexuality but endorsement. My comments were quoted briefly in the Chicago Tribune and on the local TV news. I suppose I was the token conservative included for balance.

A lot has changed in 16 years. Today the debate is not just same-sex registries or even civil unions. Today we are discussing marriage itself. 

The proponents of same-sex marriage say it’s a matter of equality and civil rights. Some even claim it’s a matter of moral necessity. They say the rest of us shouldn’t worry. Homosexual marriage is no threat whatsoever to heterosexual marriage. Besides, they point out, we heterosexuals don’t have the best track record for marriage ourselves. Who are we to tell other couples they shouldn’t be married? 

I’m not convinced. The radical changes of the past 16 years seem incredibly reckless to me. Are we so sure of ourselves, so confident in our moral superiority, so contemptuous of the past, that we are ready to experiment with this most basic of human relationships?

I’m not convinced that all sexual activity is equally beneficial.

I’m not convinced that all family structures are equally nurturing to children.

I’m not convinced that Biblical moral standards are no longer relevant.

I’m not convinced that the government has the right to expand the boundaries of marriage.

Some things are strengthened when boundaries expand. For instance, music often thrives when artists combine various styles and instruments. Other things, however, are weakened by expanding boundaries. If my concept of color blends green and red, you will say I am color-blind. I have lost something beautiful because I cannot see the distinction.

What makes us so sure that we won’t lose something by expanding the boundaries of marriage? No past society has pushed the boundaries this far. What if those old-fashioned boundaries are actually beneficial? What if they preserve something beautiful? Are we ready to risk that?

If marriage is nothing more than a contract between two people who love each other, then maybe same-sex marriage makes sense. But marriage aims higher than that. It’s something better and more beautiful. Marriage is supposed to be the union of two opposites, a partnership that combines the unique strengths of both genders. It creates a synergy that no other relationship can match. 

As a Christian, I see marriage as part of God’s creation pattern (Genesis 2:21-25). It was God who made us male and female. It was God who designed the synergy of marriage. It was God who instituted the rules governing sexual relationships. He gave us those rules for our good, to protect the beauty of marriage. Societies flourish when they honor marriage and define it by the Creator’s standards.

So no, Mr. President, I do not think your evolution on this issue is a sign of progress. I think it lowers our view of marriage and therefore weakens society.

Proponents of same-sex marriage claim that it poses no risk to the rest of us. What they fail to understand (or purposely ignore) is how much social norms affect individuals. If our society accepts homosexual marriage as the moral equivalent of heterosexual marriage, it will change the way individuals think about sexuality, relationships, the role of government, and even our Creator. Those changes will hurt us all.

by Rev. Davis Duggins.

3 Things We Should Expect in Going to Church

Jared has been challenging us a bit on the church and whether we should love it or leave it. I'm a big fan of the loving the church. If we love Jesus, how can we not come to love his bride? In fact, 1 John has quite a bit to say about loving the body as a mark of truly belong to Christ and loving others.

I would submit to you that many people love the idea of the church but it is quite another thing to actually love the people in the church in a way that is sacrificial and keeps no records of wrongs in a 1 Corinthians 13 like manner. I have, over my time as a pastor, encountered people who claimed to be filled with love but actually have a lot of trouble loving the church in a manner that is expressed by consistent attention to her and the people within her. In short, it is often to easy to cut and wrong when loving people actually becomes hard work. It is often easier to leave and start over. But is that the most Christ-like thing to do?

I think the book of Philemon here is can be quite instructive. Philemon, who has living for the Lord and committed to the body, regularly refreshing the people of God was called to do the hardest thing yet and actually love a brother in cross who had wronged him. He was called to forgive and welcome Onesimus as a Christian brother after being stabbed in the back when Onesimus ran away as a slave. 

This is not the time or the place to get into a detailed exegesis of Philemon. I will point out that Onesimus running away was probably more akin to a trusted employee skipping town after plundering the company safe, not like a Southern slave running North around the time of the Civil War. 

I recently preached from Philemon as part of a 'vision' series for my church. What is interesting to me is how Paul remarks that Philemon often 'refreshed' the hearts of the saints and of Paul and then he is asked to do the Christian thing and forgive Onesimus.

Paul opens his letter with the following:
4 I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, 6 and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. 7 For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.
With the phrase 'sharing of your faith,' Paul doesn't have evangelism in mind here but I think rather it is the communion or fellowship that comes from the faith. He wants the 'fellowship/sharing of the faith' to become effective. This 'fellowship' is becoming effective has Philemon refreshes the saints but will also become effective as Onesimus is welcomed by Philemon.

That said, I think there are three things that I should expect then in going to church:

1. I am going to hear God's Word and worship Him. --to do this properly I have to be gathered with other saints in some way. Hearing God's Word and worshipping Him is not something I should only do by myself.

2. The saints are going to refresh me. --I should expect that there is something that should happen in the body that cannot happen without loyal, regular participation with the body. If fellowship is going to refresh me it has to go deeper simple friendship.

3. I am going to refresh other saints. --I should go to church with the expectation that I will love and invest in the lives of others. This means putting back into the church with my spiritual gifts. This means sacrificially love for the benefit of others so that they may become spotless and clean as I serve them. Think of how Jesus washed the disciples' feet and ask yourself do I love my church that much?

Our fellowship in the faith will not become effective unless we lock arms with fellow believers in the local expression of the body of Christ. It can be tough and hard at times. It can be easier, at times, to leave. But if Christ is patient with his body, seeking to clean them up and constantly forgiving them, how much more can we who are his children be committed to making the sacrifices that love entails in order to be true disciples and share in the fellowship of Christ's love. 

I think the question should be how do we make our fellowship more effective?

What does it say about the effectiveness of our sharing of the faith if we are quick to leave when it comes to our grievances or those who have wronged us?

What is the hardest thing God has called you to do in order to love Christ's body?

I'd love to hear your comments, maybe your thoughts will encourage others to love even when love is tough.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Why I Love My Church

Antioch was born on Mother’s Day in 1987, and the five families who formed the core knew that God had called us together to be a church. We also thought that we were the church that this county had needed all along. At least, that thought probably crossed my mind because of my years of experience and my unfathomable wisdom as a 29-year-old. Sigh. Anyway, we started Antioch like a house afire. We had a clothes closet, a door-to-door evangelism team, a children’s ministry, a discipleship program, a prayer ministry, and much more. God smiled and was very patient with this little group.

Fast-forward 10 years, and we were in the middle of an outreach to the college campus. We had been faithful to come when he called and work where he sent us. We had baptized 67 believers, 20 of those being college students. We had seen students come to the service we called Celebration and say, out loud, “I have never liked church. It’s boring.” Then, the next thing you know, they were coming and bringing their friends every Sunday. We had heard them say, “I don’t think I will ever get married, much less have children.” But then they hung around us for a while and drank the Antioch water. By the time they graduated, many of them had spent time in our homes, had become a part of our families, and were excited now about having families of their own. We started the church looking at programs. He turned our eyes back to him and to people, to Dads and to Moms. We were trying to figure out a way to attract people to a place. The Lord turned our hearts in a different direction and has helped us turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. He has helped us open our homes to the lost and bring them into the family. He has taught us how to worship him with all our hearts, and how to treasure the Word of God as our daily bread.

God has built a spiritual family at Antioch for his glory, and as the Psalmist said, “This was the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” He has used this family to give birth to others, as we have been able by God’s grace to plant two churches and are “expecting” again this summer. We have also been able to assist in dozens of other church plants around the nation.

If Antioch has a “life verse,” it is Revelation 3:8. “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.”

We are 25 now as a church; what does the next 25 years hold? We don’t know, but our prayer is that the Lord would use us in any way he chooses to bring glory to the name of Jesus Christ. It is by his grace that we continue to live and act in the truth that we have a little strength, because that means we have to depend on his unlimited power. It is by his grace that we have kept his word. It is by his grace that we have not denied his name.

Jim Elliot once said, “Wherever you are, be all there.” That’s good counsel for a church and for any follower of Jesus. I am thankful to have been part of such a teachable, loving church for a quarter-century.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

An Unconquerable Marriage

I hate to cry. So that part of me apologizes for sharing this video with you (lest your response would be the same as mine). But the rest of me delights to share this video with you; a humble and humbling picture of what a marriage grounded in Christ can be. Invincible. Unconquerable. Christ-exalting.

The Story of Ian & Larissa from Desiring God on Vimeo.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Book Review: Arminian Theology

Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. By Roger E. Olson.
Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic (2006). 250 pp.

Baylor University professor of theology Roger E. Olson tackles the daunting task of clearing up misconceptions held by those in the so-called Reformed tradition regarding Arminian theology. After a lengthy introduction in which he gives a quick overview of traditional Arminianism, he launches into what is essentially his Top Ten List[1] of misconceptions others hold regarding his theological tradition. In this introduction the fundamental divide between the two traditions is made apparent. Terms like “cooperation” and “nonresistance” are attributed to the pre-salvation individual as they move from darkness into light. (p 36-6) The prevenient grace necessary for this “cooperation” is not salvific in and of itself. In this we can start to see where Calvinists often run with these ideas and come to associate Arminianism with some form of Pelagianism.

Olson fills a much-needed gap in accurate understanding – not just for Calvinists, but also for those in his own tradition! Misconceptions abound, as Olson illustrates throughout his book with different anecdotes from both sides of the theological aisle. The organizational structure of the book makes it more than just a one time read. Rather, it serves as a handy reference as different topics come up in a theological discussion. Each chapter addresses one significant myth. In this regard, each chapter stands alone. One potential downside for the individual reading the book cover-to-cover is that this creates a fair amount of repetition. Olson himself acknowledges this in his introduction. This “downside” however, is a strength of this book. One does not have to read the entire book to understand Olson’s argument. The information needed to understand each chapter is contained within each chapter.

One area where I take issue with Olson would be in his use of the phrases: “Arminians of the heart,” and “Arminians of the head.” He lumps those who give Arminianism a black eye into the “Arminian of the head” category, e.g. Finney, Limborch, and others. The implication here is that Olson, and others of his persuasion “get it” in a way that other theologians have not. Although the tone throughout Olson’s work is commendably irenic, this phraseology does serve as a bit of a spiritual jab against those of us who do not “get it.”

The best chapter in the book would be the 2nd myth concerning a hybridization of Calvinism and Arminianism. This so called “Calminianism” is not a coherent theological system. This chapter does an excellent job explaining why this hybrid is not possible. “Of course, if we do not care about logic, then we inhabit an artificially constructed Calminian house built on sand.” (p 68) This chapter alone is worth the price of the book. That said, on page 73 Olson displays the fundamental theological mistake[2] of his system. Quoting Fritz Guy, Olson affirms that “[i]n the character of God love is more fundamental than control.” Throughout Olson’s book there are statements that demonstrate this idea of elevating the love of God above all other attributes. This inappropriate elevation of one attribute of our Triune God is where the rational for the primary error of Olson’s system can be found.

This book was an immensely valuable read. Much that has previously simply been assumed has been clarified in my thinking regarding Arminianism. Although I feel as though Olson is defending his position using a theologically modified vocabulary[3], he has done a great service to the church by laying out these myths in a helpful format. This was theology done well. He did not resort to ad hominem attacks, or turn the tables and exploit the “myths” of Calvinism. He exhorts us to discuss this respectfully, with love, and without assumption. We should “strictly avoid attributing beliefs to adherents of the other side that those adherents explicitly reject.” (p 243) Even though many in the reformed camp infer that Pelagianism may appear to be the logical conclusion of Arminian thought, to force that heresy on those who do flatly reject the claims of Pelagius would be unfair. They may be demonstrating a lack of understanding of the weight and logical conclusion of their thought, but their ignorance is preferable to heresy![4]

[1] Although he gives no credit to either David Letterman or his network, I’m sure the omission is purely an oversight.
[2] In my humble opinion…
[3] His definitions of grace, predestination and election have been subtly modified in order to make his theological system more coherent. Essentially it seems as though his position is one based more on “taste” than biblical thinking. The implications of scriptural passages such as Romans 9 don’t appeal to his theological “taste,” so this is where he lands.
[4] This statement is intended as a generalization, not as the backhanded insult it may appear to be on the surface – many would say the same thing about Calvinism.