Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My Son "Reads" Philippians 2.5-11

It took Ferg about two weeks to get this one down. This one was a bit more difficult for him for some reason. It took him forever to get the words "humbled" and "obedient."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The 10 Plagues of Egypt: More Proof of Global Warming

What? Well, kind of. My sister sent me a copy of this article which describes how a group of scientists believes they have come up with a theory about how the 10 plagues of Egypt could have occurred naturally, and it begins with climate change. Not the climate change that’s touted these days, but rather a regional climate change. I encourage you to read the findings for yourself, but let me simplify it for you. The theory goes like this: the land of Egypt was once very wet and fertile. But after a while, things got very dry, which caused the Nile River to become infected with Burgundy Blood Algae, which gave the river the appearance of having turned to blood. The Blood Algae choked all the frogs out of the river, which then made a mass exodus (pun intended) onto dry land. But of course the frogs couldn’t survive on land, so they starved and died. Dead frogs produced flies and gnats, which spread disease to both humans and livestock. Meanwhile, a volcano roughly 400 miles away erupted, producing lightning, fiery hail, and darkness from the volcanic ash. As for the death of the firstborn, that’s easily explained by a fungus that could have been present in grain supplies. Since firstborn children always got first dibs on the food, they were the first to die. There you go. All ten plagues explained scientifically and wrapped up in a nice little package! And no need for a supernatural being!

But wait a minute. It’s just not that easy to explain away God, which to be sure, is what this study is trying to do. There are, in fact, several problems with this theory (which, remember, is unproven and unprovable). Here are just a few of the ones that I see:

1. The first gripe I have is with the title of the article. It’s ridiculous: “Biblical plagues really happened, say scientists.” Oh thank goodness the scientists have finally told us that we’re not all idiots for thinking the plagues are actual historical events! Where would we be without the scientists?! As if they are the only authority on what actually happens in the world. As though it’s not true until they say it is. Who do they think they are, the history police? Granted, this isn’t a gripe about the theory, but rather about the arrogance of those involved.

2. This article is so full of improvable speculation it’s ridiculous. Basically the only thing they know “for sure” (but even this is not without questions – how could they possibly know for sure without having been there? There’s certainly at least a little guess work going on.) is that the reign of Ramses preceded an extreme dry period in Egypt’s history. This fact alone then leads them to connect the dots about the 10 plagues of Egypt. But there is no way to prove that the Nile River was choked with the Burgundy Blood Algae that the article references. Nor is there any way to prove that said algae led to a massive frog exodus, which in turn led to flies and lice and disease, and so on and so forth. It’s all speculation.

3. Here’s the biggest problem with this whole study: the scientists in question have, in a sense, validated the historical record of the account in Exodus. The Bible says there were ten plagues in Egypt, and they have “confirmed” it (I hesitate to use that word). In other words, they have shown that the biblical account is accurate. The problem for them then becomes, what about the validity of the other parts of the plague narrative? In other words, if they believe that some parts of scripture are true, don’t they then have to believe that other parts are true as well? If not, how do they pick and choose which parts are true and which aren't? Just those that are "provable?" This has significant implications within the plague narrative, and also with scripture as a whole. For example, two times within the plague narrative it is expressly stated that the Hebrew people were exempt from suffering the consequences of particular plagues (flies and the death of livestock). How does science explain that? Don’t forget that science has confirmed the plagues’ place in history. How then does it explain that the Hebrew people were completely unaffected? It can’t. The only explanation for that is a divine one. My point is that if one part of the plague narrative is true, shouldn’t all of it be true? You can see how this becomes sticky when we consider the rest of scripture as a whole. More on that in a minute.

But couldn’t God have used natural means for producing the plagues? I mean, what’s really so bad about God sending Burgundy Blood Algae to the Nile to give it the appearance of blood? Couldn’t God have orchestrated all of those events to work with each other to produce the plagues we read about in Exodus? Maybe, but I don’t think that’s the way God works, for a couple of reasons: 1) that’s not what scripture says (it says the water turned to blood, not water that looked like blood. The appearance of blood wouldn’t have been miraculous – the actual turning of water into blood is pretty astounding!); and 2) it completely misses the point of why God sent the plagues in the first place. What? Didn’t God send the plagues to get Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go? Not primarily. Exodus 7.5 says, “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.” The purpose of the plagues was to open the eyes of the Egyptians to the reality of God, which would consequently result in the release of the Israelites. Again, in Exodus 8.22: “But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where my people dwell, so that no swarms of flies shall be there, that you may know that I am the Lord…” What’s God’s purpose in setting apart the Hebrews from the plague of flies? To protect them? Not primarily. The purpose of protecting the Hebrews from the plague of flies was so that the Egyptians could see that God is, and that God’s purposes are always accomplished. The protection of the Israelites was simply God’s means of showing his greatness to all those who were watching.

If you prove that the plagues naturally occurred, you remove from them their purpose: “that you may know that I am the Lord”. But that’s what this whole thing is about. In explaining the plagues through natural means, no one has to “know that I am the Lord.” You see, people hate God by nature, and they love to shake their fists at him. And they certainly don’t want to have to turn from their sins, because they love them. What’s their only option then? Explain God away, and try to show that he has not moved in history so they don’t have to deal with reality. That’s all this is. It’s people who are afraid of the reality of God trying to alleviate their fears. If only they could learn from the plagues what the Egyptians learned from the plagues: “I am the Lord.”

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Idol and Drug of Ministry

I just learned this morning that Pastor John Piper is taking an eight month leave of absence from pastoring Bethlehem Baptist church in Minneapolis. During this leave of absence he will be doing no preaching, writing no books or articles, and will not be doing any pastoring of any kind. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Piper, and much of my own theology has been informed by his own influential work. As I look to my bookshelf, I count 13 unique titles that bear his name as the author. In fact, one of the best, most influential books I have ever read was by John Piper: "Let the Nations Be Glad!" It's a fantastic work on missions and the church. I can't recommend it highly enough. I was therefore a bit stunned to hear that Piper was taking a leave of absence, and hoped that he had not fallen into the sin which ensnares so many in the ministry.

It turns out that the reason Piper is taking a leave of absence is that his ministry has turned into somewhat of an idol to him. Piper has previously blogged about the difficulties of being a "celebrity" preacher, and the dangers of dealing with the potential pride that such a status might bring. In the letter and sermon Piper presented to his congregation, he states that his ministry has tended to take priority over his family and marriage. Piper says that he not only needs to work on his marriage and family life, but that he needs a reality check - how will he handle himself if he's not involved in ministry? In other words, it sounds like a serious dose of self-examination. In his sermon, Piper explained it this way: “What will happen to John Piper when…there will be no prideful sipping from the poisonous cup of international fame and notoriety? I need to find that out.”

I have to say that I - and probably any other minister - knows what John Piper is dealing with, although not so much in what it feels like to be a celebrity preacher. Ministry isn't a profession - it's an all consuming passion. This is not to say that ministry is a more noble profession than any other, but that I believe ministers are so called to ministry in that they can never be satisfied in doing anything else but ministry. Personally, I cannot fathom not being a regular part of ministry. Even if, for whatever reason, I wasn't employed in full time ministry, I would have to do something in ministry, even if it was on a strictly volunteer basis. I love it too much. I desire it. I live in it. I breathe it. I sleep it. I love God's church, and I want nothing more than to serve it with the gifts he has given me. Piper said pretty much the same thing about his preaching ministry in his latest sermon: “I want to preach so bad I can hardly stand it. I love what I do…but that’s not what it’s about.”

Put bluntly, ministry is craziness. It's unscheduled, impromptu, and unpredictable. There's meetings, phone calls, rehearsals, events, emergencies, and a host of other things outside of the regular 9-5 work week. It can get out of control really quickly, and it can be difficult for families to live with ministers because of the demanding schedules and craziness that comes with the territory. So I can understand how Piper's ministry and family lives may have gotten mingled together. Ministry can definitely be an idol for some, and I can see how it could be for Piper, but for me it's more like a drug. It keeps me going and keeps me busy. It's my passion and my way of life. It's how I do things. The danger for me, then, becomes overdosing on that drug and losing focus - both on the purpose of my ministry at the church, and on the main ministry and mission field of my life: my family. It's also dangerous in that at times I can just be focused on being busy instead of the real work of ministry. Sometimes ministry is dangerous because the busyness of it becomes the end goal - how do we know something's being accomplished? Because we're working on it and we're busy! Not true. It's a dangerous and addictive way of doing things.

But if anything, the formation of my family in the past couple of years has only strengthened my dedication to my family. Although I have such a zeal for ministry, it is only eclipsed by my desire to be with and minister to my family. Several months ago I realized that my job schedule was pretty much taking me from my home and family 3-5 nights per week. It was tearing me up. I had to resign from a couple boards and committees to ensure that there was time for me to be with my wife and kids, and I don't regret it a bit. In fact, I think I might still be a bit too tied to my ministry and not enough to my family. I may need to even take further steps.

Praise God that I don't face the temptation of international notoriety. It must be unbearable at times. Praise God that he has so worked in John Piper as to expose his sin. As a man that many look up to, including myself, we need to keep him (and all ministers) in prayer.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Christian Support For Obama Declines

I can't remember where it was in my daily business that I ran across this article, but I found it interesting, and the Barna group usually does a good, reliable job at statistics. There's no date on the online version of the article, but I find it interesting that it's making its way around the web the day of the health care bill signing, even though health care gets but a small paragraph of attention in the article. The research was obviously done before the current bill was even close to being passed.

There is also always a question of labels: "born again" verses "evangelical" verses "committed Christian." It's hard to keep everybody straight, let alone trying to understand how these specific groups feel about the president and his job performance so far.

If I were asked to participate in the study, I would have responded that President Obama has pretty much performed his duties in the manner that I expected him to, if I were to recall my predictions before the election took place. I guess I'm a bit surprised that so many Christians (evangelical, born again, or otherwise) have been so taken off guard by his job performance so far. What did they expect? It seems to me that President Obama has pretty much done what he said he would do (at least in some arenas - others have yet to be determined), whether I agree with him or not. In other words, you've got to give the guy credit for sticking to his guns.

69% of American Christians are at least "dissatisfied" with the president (note: this is not just Christians who voted for him, but Christians in total), and 25% of Christians have been surprised that he is more liberal than they expected. It's interesting to note that two thirds of all Americans feel that the president has met their ideological expectations of him.

Considering that 42% of born again Christians voted for Obama, which translates to 40% of the electorate, then that means that there are a boatload of Christians who aren't getting from President Obama what they thought they were getting, and as a result, they are dissatisfied with him. But if indeed Obama has not acted out of character in his decisions and policies thus far in his presidency, and if the actions that he has taken were foreseeable (which I believe they were), then, quite frankly, a lot of Christians goofed - big time.

I'm not calling Obama's politics into question here, although I certainly have vehement disagreement with them. What I am calling into question is the American Christian's ability to be biblically discerning in the voting process. What frustrates me is not so much that Christians voted for Obama, but that they voted for him blindly, seemingly without examining what the ramifications of what a President Obama would be. Perhaps they got caught up in his celebrity; perhaps they were persuaded by his superior oratory skills; perhaps they just did what their friends were doing. None of these are wise reasons to vote for anyone. In fact, the Bible warns against all of these as reasons for following or trusting someone.

Let me reiterate that I'm not saying that voting for Obama was sinful or evil. What I am saying is that doing something - that is, anything - without sound biblical counsel and discernment is unwise and dangerous. I'm also not saying that being biblically discerning would have necessarily lead someone to vote for John McCain, or against Obama in some way. We just need to know what we're doing, why were doing it (according to scripture), and what the ramifications for our actions will be. If you wanted to vote for Obama, fine, but let's know why he is the right choice biblically. The same thing applies to a vote for McCain. This is where a lot of conservative Christians fail: voting for a republican candidate simply because he is a republican, which lacks just as much discernment as someone voting for Obama because of his celebrity.

This applies to all circumstances - not just politics. And when we realize the ramifications, we must pray, perhaps repent, and learn from our mistakes.

Friday, March 19, 2010

I'm Glad I'm Not The President

If I were ever present at one of those town hall meetings that presidential candidates are so fond of, I have a question I would really like to ask one of them: "Why in the world would you ever want to be president?" Seriously, I can't think of a job I'd rather not have. A good case in point is the health care reform that's probably going to be forced through the house on Sunday. Right now our country is more polarized than perhaps any other time in history. We're basically split down the middle, and the two sides are pretty far apart. I can't imagine leading a country in this state.

The health care reform issue is a perfect example. It is a totally polarizing issue - you're either on one side or the other - and the country is pretty split on it. No matter what President Obama does, he's going to be hated by one side or the other.

Don't get me wrong, I'm totally against health care reform. I want the government to stay out of my life as much as it can. But can you imagine being one of the people "in charge" right now? No thanks.

Changes Coming

This blog really needs a facelift. There's only one problem: I'm clueless as to how to do it. This is why I have a sister who's good at these kinds of things. I think I'll get her to do it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Idolatry On Sunday Mornings

I just ran across this series of articles by Bob Kauflin. I can't recommend it highly enough, both for those involved in leading and conducting worship and for those sitting in the pews. Bob Kauflin is a songwriter and worship leader that works out of the Sovereign Grace network of churches. I have very much appreciated his work in songwriting, and we use several of Sovereign Grace Music's songs at our church.

Kauflin asserts that there are several idols that are being worshiped in American churches on Sunday morning - often ignorantly - along with the worship of the one true God. These idols aren't carved images or statues, but rather tend to be other elements of American worship. Kauflin identifies music, tradition, creativity, experience, liturgy, biblical knowledge, biblical ignorance, musical excellence, results, reputation, and relevance as potential idols that can draw our worship away from God. Kauflin confesses that he is guilty of worshiping each of these things before God at one point or another, and I must admit the same.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

My Son "Reads" Psalm 23

It took Ferg about a week to get this down.

Getting This Going Again

I guess it's time I start keeping up with this blog again. There are a few links here and there to this blog, and it looks pretty bad if my last post was from 10 months ago. Plus, it's pretty bad that all of the information on my profile was out of date. It didn't even have the birth of my daughter 8 months ago! According to my profile, I only have one kid. So the profile has been updated, and I'm off again.