Sunday, July 24, 2011

The View from the Champion's Club

Beetz and I will be celebrating our 8th wedding anniversary this Tuesday, July 26.  That also happens to be the day that we will be leaving for our week long vacation, hindering our ability to celebrate the occasion.  So in an attempt to mark the occasion (and, let's face it, to have fun and be treated like a VIP!) I managed to score two tickets to the Champion's Club at Target field.

The Champion's Club is an elite section of seating at Target field that is not available for single game purchase.  The only way to sit in the Champion's Club is to buy an entire season package of seats, or to know someone who has.  Needless to say, my road to the Champion's Club was through the latter.

My cousin Kirk has a couple sections of seats in the Champion's Club, so a couple months ago I gave him a call and asked if he could hook me up.  Much to my surprise and delight, he was able to do so, and at a huge discount from face value, for which I am eternally grateful.

My dad made a trip to the Champion's Club with Kirk last year, and I heard all about the glories brought about by this section of seats: all-inclusive food, service, cushy seats, valet parking, and more.  So after that, I knew that the Champion's Club was an experience that I had to have.

I decided to ask Kirk for CC tickets for Betsy's and my 8th anniversary, and to surprise her with the tickets.  I made her wear a blindfold in the car on the way to the stadium so she wouldn't know where we were going.  When she took the blindfold off and saw the entrance to the club, she said, "No way!"  Her reaction was exactly what I was hoping for.

Bottom line: the Champion's Club was a great experience.  The food was amazing, the service was second to none (and it was really cool having my car parked by the valet, even if it was a piece of junk compared to the Ferraris and Porches parked nearby), the seats were great (closer than I think I've ever been to the players before), and it was a great time.

Another thing I did for our anniversary was to purchase a score board message, expressing my undying love for the Mrs.  Because we all know that nothing is true unless it's plastered on the jumbo-tron. That was pretty neat too, and Beetz really liked it.

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Picture of Repentance and Restoration

If you don't know who C.J Mahaney is, he's the president of Sovereign Grace Ministries - a network of churches that seeks to plant more churches and bring them to maturity.  We sing many of the worship songs produced by Sovereign Grace Music - the worship arm of SGM - at Riverview.  Having learned about SGM a few years ago, I have really appreciatee SGM's vision for ministry, their theology, and the way they operate.


This past week a friend told me that Mahaney was stepping down from his role as president due to some issues with personal sin.  This took me aback, so I decided to investigate it to learn more.  Below is a copy of Mahaney's explanation of events, the reason for his departure (a leave of absence), and his plan for repentance and reconciliation for what he has done.  May I have the kind of humility that he expresses here if and when I am confronted for my sin.


Take note of this: the man does not try to justify himself; he does not try to give his side of the story.  Rather, he admits that he has sinned, and his utmost desire is to repent and restore the broken relationships that have been caused by his sin, which in my opinion, shows the quality and validity of the man's faith.  This is the point of church discipline!  It's refreshing (dare I say exciting?) to see it work, and to see the wonderful fruit brought about by it.  Take a look at Mahaney's letter below.  Also, read about the restoration that took place between Mahaney and someone that he had sinned against here.  It's a story of an amazing work of God.


Why I'm Taking a Leave of Absence
By C.J. Mahaney

With a few potential exceptions, I will be taking a break from updating this blog for a while, and I want to share with you the reasons why and entreat you for your prayers while I am on leave.
Over the last few years some former pastors and leaders in Sovereign Grace have made charges against me and informed me about offenses they have with me as well as other leaders in Sovereign Grace. These charges are serious and they have been very grieving to read. These charges are not related to any immorality or financial impropriety, but this doesn’t minimize their serious nature, which include various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment, and hypocrisy.
I believe God is kindly disciplining me through this. I believe I have by the grace of God perceived a degree of my sin, and I have been grieved by my sin and its effects on others.  I have had the opportunity to confess my sin to some of those affected in various ways by my sin. And I am so very grateful for their forgiveness.  But I want to perceive and confess any and all sin I have committed.  Although my experience of conviction has already started—and this is an evidence of God’s mercy—I’m sure there is more for me to perceive and acknowledge.  Even with the charges I disagree with it has been beneficial to examine my soul and ask for the observation of others.  And I am resolved to take responsibility for my sin and every way my leadership has been deficient, and this would include making any appropriate confessions, public or private.  Most importantly I want to please God during this season of examination and evaluation.
So here is what I am going to do. I’ve asked to take a leave of absence in order to give time to considering these charges, examine my heart, and receive the appropriate help from others.  With the guidance of the SGM board, I would also hope to pursue reconciliation with former pastors of Sovereign Grace during this leave. I have stepped off the board and I will not be the President of Sovereign Grace Ministries during this period of examination and evaluation. In order for me to receive an objective evaluation in relation to these charges the board is securing the help of a third-party ministry that has no history of relationship with SGM. With counsel from that ministry, the board will determine the appropriate steps I should take going forward.   After processing these findings, the board will determine the appropriate steps I should take going forward.  This leave of absence will also help remove any impediment to the panel’s exploration that could potentially arise if I remained in my current position, and it will enable me to fully cooperate in the process. 
Just so you’ll know, I have also contacted David Powlison and Mark Dever and asked them to review the charges and provide me with their counsel and correction. I have enlisted them to serve me personally during this time and to ensure this process of examining my heart and life is as thorough as possible. And for the past year I have been the recipient of Ken Sande’s correction, counsel and care. That, I am grateful to say, will continue. And as you would expect I will continue to meet with the appropriate men on the board of Sovereign Grace and benefit from their correction, counsel, and care as well. I am deeply moved as I reflect on how rich I am relationally and I am humbled by the time these men are willing to spend serving me and Sovereign Grace.
My friends, I would greatly appreciate your prayers as I continue to walk through this process.  Please pray that God would give me the gift of sight where I have been blinded by my sin and others have been adversely affected by my sin. Pray that I will be convicted and experience godly sorrow resulting in reconciliation where necessary and adjustments to my heart and leadership. Thank you for praying in this way for me.
One more thing. For the past 5 years or so I have become increasingly aware of certain deficiencies in my leadership that have contributed to deficiencies in Sovereign Grace Ministries’ structure and governance, the lack of a clear and consistent process of conflict resolution and pastoral evaluation, and the number of former Sovereign Grace pastors who are offended with me/SGM.  I have met with some and by God’s grace there has been reconciliation with men like Larry Tomczak (I wish I had recognized and repented of my sin against him years ago).  This brings great joy to my soul.  In other cases, appeals for mediation have thus far been declined, but I’m hopeful this process will facilitate further reconciliation.  But beyond this, there are still issues that need to be addressed and fixed in our family of churches. And I bear a primary responsibility because it has happened on my watch and under my leadership. I have resolved that I and the Sovereign Grace team can’t effectively lead us into the future without evaluating the past, addressing these deficiencies, improving our structure, and as much as possible pursuing reconciliation with former pastors. So during this leave of absence I will not only devote all the appropriate and necessary time to the independent panel and the charges but also to doing what I can to identify where I have failed to lead us effectively in relation to pastoral evaluation and conflict resolution.
My friends, though my soul can be easily overwhelmed as I contemplate my sin and its effects on others, I am also resolved to examine my heart, address the past, and play my role in preparing SGM for a future of planting and serving churches.  And given the mercy of God portrayed in the gospel my heart is filled with hope that his good purpose for us will come to pass and cannot be frustrated. I trust there will be much grace to tell you of at the end of this process.

Psalm 128

Here's the latest psalm I've had the privilege of working with during our Summer of Psalms series at Riverview.  It's a loose arrangement of Psalm 128 from the Genevan Psalter.  I'm not going to post the recording of this one, because the recording really doesn't do it justice.  Kerry Glewwe did a great job singing it, and the band did really well playing the music.  Here's the sheet music for the arrangement I came up with if you want to plunk it out on a keyboard, and here's the original version from the psalter.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Church Membership

Here's a really good article by Matt Chandler on the biblical nature of church membership. What's the big deal about church membership, you may ask? Well, Chandler makes a good case from scripture that church membership exists in order to accomplish the following:

1. Encourage and enable Christians to submit to spiritual authority.
2. Receive spiritual care and encouragement from people in spiritually authoritative positions.
3. Keep each other accountable and restore fallen brothers through church disciplinary procedures.
4. Use church discipline and accountability to keep the church pure and undefiled.
5. Track growth - both physical and spiritual.
6. Creates a means for addressing physical and spiritual concerns within the church.
7. Creates an avenue for providing for and ministering to church members in need.
8. Keeps the body spiritually accountable to one another.

The list could go on quite a bit further, but that's pretty much what Chandler covers. Good stuff. If you're at a church and not a member, join up! It'll be good for you, both as a person and as a follower of Jesus.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Road to the World Series

Haha. I was putting together the children's bulletin for this week at Riverview and came across this maze. Each week we include a maze in the bulletin which I usually pull off of Google. I trim down any outward components to the maze to make it pretty generic. I got this one, cropped it down, and then realized that there was no solution to the maze. Hence the joke about going through the maze to get the cubs to a world series title. Haha.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Psalm 127

Here's the latest installment of our Genevan Psalms at Riverview this summer. Actually it's not the latest installment, as we've used two others since my last "Psalms" post. But it's the latest one that I've had an influence on, anyway.

For this Psalm, the idea was to have a men's group sing it. Kerry Glewwe and I worked on some syncopation and parts that deviated a bit from the original, mostly just to jazz the arrangement up and give it some life. Kerry came up with most of the parts. Then we included Eric Moteberg in the mix, and this is how it came out.

Psalm 127 by fatsjoel

We toyed around with a bunch of different ways of singing the psalm: a round, phrase extensions, modulations, etc., but in the end, time constraints forced us to keep it relatively simple. We ended up taking turns with the melody on the first verse, breaking it up into parts for verses 2 and 3, and then going back to the first verse again in unison, but also raising the melody up a step. I'm beginning to get an appreciation for the language of the psalms (ever tried to sing the word "quiver"? It ain't easy!). As is usually the case with live recordings, I thought it sounded better when we sang it than the recording makes it sound, but oh well.

The lyrics are below, and you can compare our arrangement to the original here.

UPDATE: You can also see a video of the rendition here.

Unless the Lord will build the house
It's builders toil in useless pain
The city's keepers watch in vain
Unless the Lord, it's cause espouse
No enterprise shall have success
Unless the Lord decides to bless

'Tis vain to waken in the dark
To start one's daily enterprise
And slave till night to realize
One's sustenance by endless work
For God, his gifts on us, will heap
To his beloved he gives sleep

Lo, sons are precious gifts from him
The body's fruit is his reward
The sons of youth like arrows guard
The man whose quiver's full of them
He shall be mighty in the gate
No foes shall enter his estate

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Too Loud

I really dig this picture.
I took it during the Kaposia Days parade, which goes right down our street. Jamie was on the curb with a bunch of other kids from church, trying to collect as much candy as he could from the people in the parade. At one point, a group of guys on motorcycles came driving by in circles. They were pretty loud, and Ferg seems to have an aversion to even semi-loud noises recently. He thought the motorcycles were cool, but he wasn't much of a fan of the loud exhaust.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Potato Gun

Grr. This is one of those things I wish they had when I was a kid. Or maybe they did, but if they did I have never seen one before.

I bought two of these today at the Kaposia Days carnival. It's a potato gun. A little hand held piece of plastic that, when shoved into a potato, removes a small piece of the potato as a projectile and uses air pressure to shoot the "small fry" at whom or whatever you wish. I love it. It's incredibly fun and addicting to use. On the walk home from the carnival I just kept shoving it into the potato and shooting it at the kids. They loved it. It doesn't hurt at all, and it's a lot of fun. All one needs to use the thing is a potato, or other hard vegetable (like carrots, although I haven't tried anything but a potato yet). It probably shoots 20 feet or so. I had the whole potato pretty much done by the time we got home.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Almost (saved)

I really dig this. The guy's definitely got a way with words, and theology for that matter. It's kind of like Def Comedy Jam: Christian Poetry Style. What? The transcription is below, but you really need to hear him recite the poem to get the full effect.



one of the most dangerous terms in English diction
if it could be translated into audio it would sound like
pbb-bb-bb-bb from the saxophone of Lisa Simpson
two words designed and strategically combined
to form the biggest oxymoron in the history of mankind
ALL-MOST

But see, as far as the world's concerned, you could live your life vile
and could almost get away with murder if you have a nice smile
you could almost meet folks just to almost sleep around
and stop at your local clinic while you almost had a child.

See, "almost" is no stranger to Satan. Here's proof:
he only tells lies when they're almost the truth
and it's amazing in our incompleteness we find complacence
but if almost is one of Lucifer's many traits
then we are inadvertently good Satan impersonations

But on the contrary, Christ did his job fully
and he proved he was God when he died on the cross like it was his duty
and to pardon my iniquities that I commited rudely
he resurrected from the grave just to tell death to excuse me

But excuse me, this is your life and that's something I can't impose on
but your body is God's home which was a loan about to get forclosed on
See, an almost Christian looks right but lives wrong
Can't stand the conviction in Romans so they sit down to be comforted in Psalms

Never understood worship but loved to sing songs like I surrender all. . .MOST
Cuz it's far to expensive for you to spend your life on something that doesn't appeal to your five senses
see, nowadays, Christianity is like a Louis rag--
no function or use but we just rock it cuz it's stylish
not righteous, but right-ish

So now all God sees is a pile of Ishmael's when he intended for Isaac's
and we're moved by how we feel so we're saved when we feel like it
so technically we've never really been saved we merely tried it.
So no wonder why we're never sold out when we return it after we buy it

Now let me break it down because you need to beware
that your life could lack the very standards that need to be there
Cuz on that final day of judgment while God's receiving his heir
will he say, Son, well done or [spits] medium rare!

Because even by worldly standards it would be highly insane
to start spending all of your money days before you almost get paid
like parents, you wouldn't send your kids to a school that's almost safe
and ladies, would you really date a man who claims he's almost straight?

And this is the very thing about God that we all try to get around
but his standards are like between two mountains--no middle ground
so a halfway life is unprofitable to you
cuz after all the Sunday service, Bible studies, and prayer meetings
and everything that goes between, God will say I never knew you

But that's not even the worst part of living your life as neutral
it's that you were once arctic but it is your warmness that is causing him to spew you
and this is the very thing that had me
I was bound and held down by the unforgiving gravity of my spiritual reality
I was a Christian, or at least I portrayed the fantasy

With a filthy personal life but a "God bless you brother, how you doin' sister?" personality
I was a male enveloped by guilt because I was stamped a sinner
I said I was a male enveloped by guilt because I was stamped a sinner
My message couldn't be received because I didn't represent the sender yet I was almost delivered

Till that one day when I totally, absolutely and completely surrendered
I took heed to a modern prophet who proclaimed it was time for change
now I'm no longer bound to sin point-blank off the chain

You can ask Umar Abdul Mutallab, he'll tell you the same--
you don't almost go to jail when you almost blow up a plane
like you don't almost go to hell when you almost get saved

Despised the cross that he was slain and thus the cause for which he came
but don't worry i'm almost done, but before i leave this stage
we have all worked in sin and death was minimum wage
I said we've all worked in sin and death was minimum wage
but if it wasn't for Christ we would have almost got paid

Monday, June 20, 2011

You Can Do Anything You Put Your Mind To

My dad emailed me this video. Along with the web address he (my dad) said, "'Amazing' and 'inspiring' only begin to describe this guy." That's for sure. It just goes to show that you can do anything you want to do if you want to do it badly enough. It also goes to show that "disabled" and "special needs" are relative terms. Pretty cool. Maybe this dude will come and do my brakes.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Bartholomew

Our household lost a member today. Bartholomew, our eldest cat, went to wherever cats go when they die. He had been sick for a while now, and it finally got to a point where he just needed to be done. For about the past two months we've noticed that he had slowed down a lot, and was losing weight. At first we just kind of chalked it up to his age, although we've never been sure just how old he was.

But as time went by, we noticed that the weight loss didn't stop, and he was getting skinnier and skinnier, which is significant, because he was a BIG cat. Over the past two weeks he literally became skin and bones. And over the last week, I don't think he was eating or drinking. I tried to give him some milk on Tuesday night (something he would usually kill for), but he showed no interest. He was also having trouble standing up, and his walking was kind of strange too. To top it off, he would lie around in the weirdest places. Last night I found him lying in the kitchen, with his face right up next to the kitchen cupboards. I'm not sure if he knew where he was. He may have been losing his eyesight too. His eyes had sunk very far back into his head. Kind of creepy looking, actually. I asked the vet today what could have caused that, and she said it was probably due to dehydration.

But through all of this, Bartholomew remained in good spirits. He never seemed to be in any pain. He could still walk well enough to get up and down the basement stairs (although his appearances upstairs were few and far between; he had pretty much been living in the basement for the past two months). He even kept purring, even up till the minute he died. Because of all this, we originally decided that we would just let him go naturally. If he wasn't in pain, why not just let nature take its course? Turns out watching something slowly die is not a very pleasant experience.

Earlier this week I was sitting with him late one night, and he just looked haggard. I decided that I would take him in to be put to sleep on Thursday, which is my day off. My plans changed last night, though, as I sat with him again, and he just looked miserable (it was at this time that I became pretty certain his vision was almost gone). I decided to take him in first thing today (Wednesday) and to just let him be done with life. He was ready.

Before I left I took Jamie aside and told him that I was going to take Bartholomew to a special hospital for kitties, and that he wouldn't be coming back. He was going there to die. Jamie looked sad, but said he didn't want to pet Bartholomew or say goodbye. I can understand that. Over the past couple of weeks, since the time that I first told Ferg that Bartholomew was sick, Jamie has wanted to pray for him every night before bed.

We went to the vet at 9:00 this morning and went to the room designated for this kind of thing. Barth and I sat in the room while the doctor got ready. He sat next to me on the couch, purring, while I scratched the underside of his neck, which was his favorite. After a while the doctor came in, and I put Barth on the table. He lied down without any protestation, which was another sign of his deteriorating condition (nobody tells him what to do!). They shaved a bit of hair off the inside of his right hind leg, and slowly injected whatever it is they use to put cats to sleep. He was gone within a minute.

What is affecting me the most about his death was probably the fact that Bartholomew was one of the first things that Beetz and I "did" after getting married. He's about the one thing that has been with us throughout our entire marriage so far. So I wasn't just putting a pet to sleep. I was putting to rest something that's been a part of our lives and marriage for the past seven plus years. It's almost as though Barth symbolized something about our marriage (I know that sounds weird, and maybe even sappy, but that's the best way I can think to describe it).

After Beetz and I got married we decided we wanted a pet, and she had a cousin who was looking to get rid of a cat. So Bartholomew first came to live with us while we were still living with Beetz's parents. I remember that when he first came to our house he ran immediately into our closet and refused to come out. But we were able to lure him out with some Ready-Whip. He liked whipped cream.

Bartholomew's original name was "Meowzer," which neither Beetz nor I cared for. We decided to rename him, and to give him an obscure name. We were going through names one night, and Betsy came up with Bartholomew. It stuck.

We were told that he was "around 7" when we got him back in 2003. He had been with us for almost 8 years, so I guess that made him "around 15." While certainly not overly aged, I guess around 15 is a good run for a cat.

He was famous around our house for his condescending attitude and his propensity to hiss at us. But still, he was a lot of fun. I used to play with him by walking my fingers toward him, which he hated. He would his and bat at my fingers with his paws, and even try to get my hand in some kind of a death grip so he could bite me. I don't know if he was actually annoyed or if he was just having fun with me. I like to think he was having fun. I was.

I was also probably his best friend in the house. He would always want to sit with me, and he'd sit on my lap and then head-butt my chin to get me to pet him. Sometimes it got annoying, but I'd pet him right now if I could. He also enjoyed sleeping on my chest while I was asleep, although I didn't enjoy it at all. I don't know how many times I woke up in the middle of the night with his extremely loud purring literally right in my face.

We gave him the nickname "Barfy" for reasons that you can probably guess. He had a very sensitive stomach, and even though he liked milk and whipped cream so much, his stomach couldn't handle it. He'd puke it up within a few hours. In fact, he puked a lot. Hence the nickname. It was a common occurrence for us to come home from somewhere and find a pile of barf on the floor. Even though we'll miss him, we certainly won't miss his puking!

This is one of the last pictures of Bartholomew that we took, taken probably a few days ago. I wanted to get one last shot of him with the kids before he went.

Since Barth was a long-haired cat he tended to get a lot of knots in his hair. Because of this we actually got him shaved a few times while we had him. They always gave him the "lion cut." This basically means that they shaved everything on him except his mane, his paws, and the tip of his tail. I don't think he liked it much, but it was pretty funny looking.

Bartholomew was also the subject of some of the de-motivational posters I've made over the years.


This one features both of our cats - Bartholomew and Martha. The caption is in reference to a bit of an inside joke between Beetz and I.

Martha is now lying in the middle of the living room floor as I type this. I wonder if she's wondering where Bartholomew is. They were never really buds, but who knows.

Thanks for the memories, Bartholomew.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Psalm 124

Each summer at Riverview, Pastor Wick preaches on the psalms. This summer he'll be covering Psalms 124-134. After next summer he'll have preached through all 150 psalms. Pretty cool.

Anyway, for this summer's series, I proposed that we somehow integrate the Genevan Psalter into our worship. I found this website a couple years ago (which I've posted about before) which has a lot of info about the Genevan Psalter, and even free recordings of each psalm, as well as the sheet music for each psalm. I've even done some research on the psalter, as well as on Reformation era worship music, so being a nerd, this site was a treasure trove for me.

If you listen to any of the recordings of the psalms, you'll quickly realize that many of the tunes (composed in the 16th century) don't really lend themselves too well to corporate worship. They're actually more of a chant style than anything else. So I figured that if we were to have soloists sing the psalms in our worship services, we'd probably have to do a bit of rearranging.

This past Sunday was the first of our summer psalms series, so I figured I'd put myself out there and be the guinea pig to see if arranging these psalms for solo performances would work out. I think it went well. A recording of my arrangement is below, as well as a recording of the original arrangement from the psalter. I didn't alter any of the words, and I tried to incorporate as much of the original "melody" (if it can be called that) as I could. It's not the greatest recording, considering it was recorded live in church, and I'm not sure what that sound is in the beginning. See what you think.

My arrangement of Psalm 124
Psalm 124 - Credit by fatsjoel

And here's the original version from the Genevan Psalter.

The lyrics of Psalm 124:
Let Israel now say in thankfulness
That if the Lord had not our right maintained
And if the Lord had not with us remained
When cruel men against us rose to strive
We'd surely have been swallowed up alive

Yea when their wrath against us fiercely rose
Then would the tide o'er us have spread its wave
The raging stream would have become our grave
The surging flood, in proudly swelling roll,
Most surely would have overwhelmed us all

Blest be the Lord who made us not their prey
As fromt he fowler's net a bird may flee
So from their broken snare did we go free
Our only help is in God's holy name
He made the earth and all the heav'nly frame

Kerry Glewwe stepped in and added a harmony vocal. My sister Susan was on the violin. I played my acoustic and sang the melody. I don't usually get nervous before I sing/speak/preach anymore, but this time was different. This was the first time I had ever done any finger picking on the guitar while singing at the same time (at least for an audience). So I was a bit nervous. Thankfully the chords weren't too bad, and there weren't any barre chords, so I was able to get through it without too many goof-ups. But to make matters even more uncertain, when I came out onto the platform during Pastor Wick's closing prayer, i noticed that my tuning pedal wasn't on (and if the pedal isn't on, you don't get any sound). It automatically turns on if and when an instrument is plugged into it. A quick check of my cords confirmed that my guitar indeed was plugged in, so the battery must have failed at some point during the sermon. So, while Pastor Wick was closing the sermon in prayer, I quickly turned off my amp, unplugged my guitar from the pedal and went straight into the amp. Thankfully it worked.

Overall, I thought using the psalm added nicely to the worship service, and I look forward to arranging more of the psalms throughout the summer.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Hypocrisy of Abortion

Just read this article on abortion. I don't want to say the abortion argument is old or stale, because the fight against the taking of life can never get old. Nevertheless, the arguments are out there, the evidence is out there, but people won't listen. It shows how hypocritically inconsistent our society is. Here are a couple inconsistencies this article pointed out:

1. We say that a woman should have rights over her own body, but we disregard the rights of the unborn child.

2. We charge people with two counts of murder, and we mourn and record to separate deaths in the event of a death or murder of a pregnant mother, but we do not consider the unborn baby to be worthy of life when it comes to abortion.

3. Doctors and scientists are constantly coming up with new ways of treating premature babies in order to save their lives, even when they are extremely early, while we tend to think that the earlier the better when it comes to abortion.

4. The law holds dead beat dads accountable - forcing them to fulfill some of their parental duties, but fathers have no say over whether or not their partner can/should have an abortion.

5. Our society (rightly) condemns racism, yet it seems as though abortion clinics have a significant target market: minorities. A large number of abortion clinics are located in low-income, minority neighborhoods.

At the very least, abortion advocates need to admit to these inconsistencies. How are they explained? Am I misunderstanding them? Is there a reason why we consider unborn babies to be life in some instances and not others? Or are we really just that hypocritical? I think a little honest societal self-examination would reveal that abortion is really just a matter of convenience. Babies take up a lot of time and resources and commitment. So our country is pro-life when it's convenient.

What is the pro-abortion answer to these inconsistencies? I suspect there isn't one.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

If You Erase Hell, You Don't Have a Gospel

Francis Chan has joined the conversation about hell, spurred on by Rob Bell's "Love Wins." In the book, Chan apparently looks at the scriptural view of eternity and "the things we've made up." Take a look at the video introduction that Chan gives. It's pretty good. Chan has said some things in the past that haven't sat well with me, but he's also said a lot of stuff I agree with. Most notably from this short clip, when talking about things like hell or eternity, Chan says that people often say things like, "I could never believe in a God that..." or "My God doesn't..." fill in the blank. Chan notes that when people say things like this, they're actually subverting God's knowledge with their own reasoning. In other words, they're saying that they know better than God (or, as Ray Comfort would say, they've fashioned a god in their own image - one that is acceptable to them). But, like Chan says, God's thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are his ways our ways. So when something like hell doesn't seem to make sense, we need to remember that that's to be expected for a lot of theological topics. God simply doesn't think the way we do (you can read the Relevant Magazine interview with Chan here).

I first heard of Chan's literary endeavors by way of the Huffington Post. John Shore, their religion blogger, wrote this post completely slamming Chan "and his ilk" for their views on hell. Shore says that in reality, all anyone who talks definitively about hell is doing is fear mongering. They're just trying to get their way by using fear. Shore says that most people who reject Christianity do so because of the doctrine of hell - they can't believe in a God that would submit anyone to eternal punishment. Shore further argues (using "flawless logic") that, since Christians can't have certainty on an issue like hell, and since a Christian can be wrong about hell and still go to heaven, and since the doctrine of hell turns of so many would-be believers, then "evangelicals should shut-up about hell."

There are an immensity of flaws in Shore's so-called "flawless logic." First, it assumes that John Shore's understanding of hell is universal. He makes conclusions based on what he believes and applies them to everyone. Admittedly, this is hard to get away from in any argument, considering we all have our own beliefs and think and operate out of them. Even conclusions I draw about hell (as you will see further down this post) are based on my own beliefs (but I think I have good reasons for believing them). So to ever insist that your thinking is "flawless" is arrogant and almost certainly incorrect, to say the least.

Secondly, it presupposes that a person can be wrong about the existence of hell and go to heaven. This is a significant theological presupposition. Can a person not believe in hell and still rightly believe the gospel? My first inclination would be to say that no, a person cannot be truly saved without believing in hell. To not believe in hell and eternal punishment for sin would be to not fully understand the gospel. If Jesus came to earth to die and save sinners from God's wrath and eternal punishment for sin (which, admittedly, is my own theological presupposition, but is one that is shared by orthodoxy and history), then believing in hell is part of believing the gospel. If there's no hell, then why do I even need to be saved? For a better life? For inner peace? Nope. None of those things pan out (using flawless logic, of course). And what do I need to be saved from? Why do I even need a Savior? A little bit of logical thinking through scripture and the logic of the gospel demands that hell be a reality. The gospel doesn't work - nor is it worthy of believing - if there is no hell.

Thirdly, Shore implies that Christians should preach a palatable message to the masses, rather than something that might turn them off. According to Shore, since people are so turned off by the doctrine of hell, we shouldn't say anything about it. Well, the problem with this is that the gospel, by nature, turns people off. Again, I think I have orthodoxy, tradition, and history - let alone scripture - on my side here. Nowhere in the Bible is the gospel described as something that is easy to accept. It essentially tells those who would believe it that they've pretty much been wrong about everything in their life up until now, and that they are worthless sinners, deserving of eternal punishment. Who wants to hear that? That's not much of a warm and fuzzy! The good news though, of course, is that Jesus came and died to take the punishment you deserved so that you could live forever with God. But in order to believe that good news, you first have to admit to and believe the bad news. Believing the gospel takes an inhuman amount of humility, so no, it's not easy to hear, and yes, it absolutely turns people off. But to tweak the message to make it easier to receive is to distort the meaning of it. Yes, people are turned off by hell. That's kind of the point.

Another thing that got me about Shore's article is that it did exactly what so many people criticized conservative evangelicals for when Rob Bell's book came out. There were an incredible amount of Bell supporters that blasted anyone who dared critique Bell, his book, or his ideas before the book actually came out. There were people accusing others of attacking the man without engaging in edifying debate, and not hearing him out before condemning him. Well, it looks like that rule only goes one way, considering Chan's book won't come out until July. Hey liberals: since you're so concerned with hearing people out before they're criticized for their ideas, I'd like John Shore's head on a platter, please. Oh wait, that's not going to happen.

I wish that someone would write a book talking about the essential nature of the doctrine of hell to the overarching message of the gospel. That's what we need to understand. Actually, such a book probably already exists, but it most certainly wasn't written by a hipster in Christian pop culture, so it will therefore get absolutely no attention. That's a shame. But we don't really need Rob Bell, Francis Chan, or anyone else to write a book for us about hell. God already took care of that. Let's read that book and come up with some ideas about hell. What we read should cause us to think seriously about hell. What I like about Chan's approach is that it takes this topic seriously. He says that if there's even a possibility of hell, we've got a lot of thinking and praying to do, which I think is a good suggestion.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Why We Do Family Nights

Desiring God posted this article from 1983 by John Piper. It's called "Toward a Theology of Church Picnics." In the article, Piper explains some of the theological reasons for getting together as a church outside of regular church hours just for hanging out.

While I didn't articulate them to the church as well as Piper does in this short article, these are the exact reasons why we hold a Family Night ministry at Riverview.

The theme verse for our Family Nights (at least this summer, and perhaps on into the future) is 1 Thessalonians 3.12 - "...and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all..." In my opinion, the only way you can really "increase and abound in love for one another" is if you spend time with people and get to know them. Yes, Sunday mornings offer a bit of this kind of interaction, but not really enough. A lot of the interaction that takes place between people between Sunday School and the service pretty much takes place on the surface.

I think just getting to know each other is a huge part of our ministry at Riverview. The more we know each other, the more we love each other, the more united we become in Christ. So yes, there are some pretty deep theological reasons for having a church picnic.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Everything Dies

Had an interesting experience today with the Ferguson. Our eldest cat, Bartholomew, made a rare appearance on the main floor of the house this morning. I was getting dressed, and Ferg saw him come into the room. He seemed excited, and he went to play with Bartholomew (which usually tends to be kind of rough), and I said, "Be careful with him, he's sick. He's going to die soon."

While I don't know this for certain, I'm pretty sure that Bartholomew is on his last legs. We've noticed that over the past month or so, he's slowed down a lot. And he's lost a ton of weight. He used to be an absolutely gigantic cat - not just in girth, but in height too. Very lion-like (especially when shaved like this). Now he's just skin and bones. He spends most of his time on a chair in the basement, just taking it easy and sleeping. Other than that, he doesn't appear to be in any pain, and he's in good spirits. He still comes up to me and wants to be petted, and he still purrs like crazy. If he were suffering at all we'd definitely take him to the vet, but for now everything seems to be OK - he's just slowly going down hill, which is to be expected with a cat his age.

Anyway, we have been talking about Barth's impending demise for a few weeks now, even around the kids. We haven't held anything from them. That's why I unabashedly told Ferg, "He's sick. He's going to die soon." It's nothing different than what we've told him the last few weeks. But this morning, something must have clicked in Ferg's head when I said this, because he got an incredibly sad look on his face, and the tears slowly started to fall. I gave him a hug, and then he went to see Mom and give her a hug too. Rather than get into a sin and death talk, we just decided that for now he should know that things eventually die. And we made sure to let him know that this is part of the way God has made the world. Things die (and pretty soon, we'll begin talking about why they die). He seemed to be able to accept that.

Eventually the tears went away, the cat went back down into the basement, and everything was hunky dory again. It's interesting to see how much kids can understand.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Cosmic Treason

Todd Friel has a great illustration to flesh out the severity of sin. He says that the severity of sin is dependent upon the one against whom the sin is committed, and the consequence for the sin follows likewise. In other words, when one offends someone with very little authority, the consequences are less severe. But when one offends someone of a higher authority, the punishment is greater. His illustration follows thusly:

If I lie to my child, what can he do to me? Nothing. He's a child! If I lie to my wife, what will happen? I might sleep on the couch. If I lie to her again, she might leave me. If I lie to my boss, I could get fired. If I lie to the government, I could go to jail.

In each circumstance, the offense is the same, but the severity of the sin (the level of offense taken) changes based upon whom the sin was committed against.

The same is true with God. We often times will justify "small" sins by saying they are no big deal. When we do this, we put God int he place of our "child." It's not a big deal, and he won't care. And why would he get angry about such a small thing? But what we're missing is who and what God really is: the Creator of the universe and absolute Moral Lawgiver. to him, all sin is detestable and deplorable, no matter what size (or how insignificant we might think it is).

I "like" Desiring God on my Facebook page, and they quite frequently post quotes from several reformed theologians and pastors throughout history. Today's quote from Jonathan Edwards was quite relevant, and I though, profound: “Any sin is more or less heinous depending upon the honor and majesty of the one whom we had offended. Since God is of infinite honor, infinite majesty, and infinite holiness, the slightest sin is of infinite consequence. The slightest sin is nothing less than cosmic treason when we realize against whom we have sinned.”

"Cosmic treason." Wow. When see God for who he is, as Edwards says, "of infinite honor, infinite majesty, and infinite holiness," sin is a big deal. And it shows us all the more how glorious the gospel is. God forgave me of cosmic treason.

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Biblical Model For Marriage?

A couple weeks ago in one of my seminary classes someone mentioned a "biblical model for marriage" during a class discussion. This ignited some fireworks amongst the students, but especially amongst the teachers (there are two teachers for this class: a main teacher and a co-teacher). In general, I think their sentiment could be summed up by saying they didn't think there was any evidence for a singular "biblical" model for marriage. The co-teacher said that the "biblical model for marriage" that she saw most prevalently in the Bible was one of polygamy. After all, it seems like everyone in the Old Testament had several wives. This doesn't seem to jibe with the modern Christian belief that marriage is between one man and one woman, so how do we explain that (it should be noted that she said this in somewhat of a flippant manner, to show how supposedly ridiculous it is to suggest that the Bible would actually insist on a particular model for marriage, and to ostracize those who would believe that they have discovered it)? The professor stated that "I can't find a biblical model of marriage that I can get excited about." His sentiment was based on the fact that pretty much every time you can see a marriage in the Bible, it's screwed up: David, Solomon, etc.

But I think this line of thinking is, to say the least, really uninformed, not to mention completely fallacious in its attempt to discount the idea that marriage is designed by God to be between one man and one woman, which, to be sure, was the intention of my teacher(s). Especially the bit about polygamy being the supposed biblical model for marriage. Just because polygamy existed - even amongst the Old Testament saints - does not mean that it was a God-ordained model for marriage. God did not give his "rubber stamp" of approval on those who had many wives. In fact, God said that having many wives would lead to sin and difficulty. So just because many, if not most, of the folks in the Old Testament had several wives, it doesn't mean that God condoned their actions. In fact, coupled with what Jesus says, it would seem that a lot of those OT saints were living in perpetual adultery. Just because people practiced polygamy didn't make it God's "design" for marriage, or even OK.

In Matthew 19 Jesus says that Moses allowed the Israelites to divorce their wives because they had hard hearts. In other words, because they were sinful - prideful, lustful, and selfish. Divorce was not God's ideal for marriage, and it still isn't. It was permitted by Moses, however, because the people were hard hearted. So, using my professor's line of thinking, is God OK with divorce because the Israelites practiced it? No. Does the fact that divorce took place in the Bible nullify an ideal biblical design for marriage? Certainly not. To suggest that it does would be ignorant.

I would argue the same for all deviations from what I believe is the God-ordained plan for marriage: one man and one woman, for as long as they both shall live. Anything other than this, while perhaps culturally acceptable (or is made acceptable by a hard-hearted generation) is not the ideal. This would mean that all of the Old Testament saints that had multiple wives were not following God's ideal design for marriage.

This gets interesting when we look to other cultures, however. In some cultures, women are completely dependent upon men for their livelihood. They won't eat or have anywhere to live unless they are married to a man who is able to provide for them. So, when a woman's husband dies, she may be forced to marry her dead husband's brother or some other relative just so she can survive. So in some cultures, polygamy can be used as a means of providing for the needy and showing compassion. Maybe this was part of the reasoning of the Old Testament saints, as well. I don't know.

But I think we can still say that this is not God's ideal for marriage. Yes, widows are being provided and cared for, and yes, it is a cultural system in which polygamy is used almost as a means of compassion. Does that mean it isn't sin? I don't know. God will judge that. But I believe it still stands that this is not what God intended.

When my professor said he couldn't find a biblical model of marriage that he could "get excited about," based on the screwed up marriages of people like David and Solomon, he similarly lacked perspective about marriage and the people involved in it. David didn't screw up his marriage because God's plan for marriage was flawed. David screwed up his marriage because David was a fallen, sinful human being. Solomon didn't take 700 wives and 300 concubines because God's plan for marriage wasn't good enough. Solomon took all those women because Solomon was selfish, prideful, and lustful. In every case where marriage doesn't "work," the problem is not the institution of marriage - it's the sinful, fallen people in the marriage. The fact that people in the Bible screwed up their marriages doesn't prove that God's design for marriage was/is wrong. It only proves that the people in the marriage were sinful people!

We need to also note that for all the ways that people can goof up or not follow God's design for marriage, there are an equal number of ways to bring about forgiveness and restoration to marriage and to the lives of the people involved. There is always hope. There is always the opportunity for repentance and forgiveness. And I would also argue that this is part of the genius of God's design for marriage. When people work through the difficulties in marriage in order to conform it more to what God desires for it, it shows the value of the institution.

I'm not claiming to be an expert on what the Bible says about marriage, and God knows that my own hard heart confounds his ideal for my own marriage. But what I do know for sure is that pointing to the polygamy of the Old Testament as proof that God does not have an ideal model for marriage, or that unsuccessful marriages show that God's design is flawed, are arguments that lack serious historical and biblical perspective.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Prayer for Memorial Day

OUR FATHER GOD, as we look back on our nation’s history, we can see that your hand has been upon us and has provided us the blessings of life and liberty. This is no more evident than when we think of those who have given their lives fighting to preserve the freedom that you have given us.

We thank you, O God, that you used the lives of men and women to preserve our freedom – even to the point of death. May we not forget their sacrifice and your goodness.

Thank you, O Lord, for the ones who have died to protect our freedom here. And thank you even more for your kingdom, which can never be threatened by any enemy.

We long for the day of your righteous judgment, when you shall settle disputes among nations, and when swords will be beaten into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks; when nation will no longer take up the sword against nation, and when we will no longer train for war.

Until then, may we honor the memory of the fallen, and may we live in the light of your mercy. AMEN.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Where Does the Bible Come From, Dad?

Tonight during our bedtime routine, I was singing the "Matthew 5.8" song from Seeds Family Worship with The Fergeson. I asked him what he thought it meant that, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." He didn't know what it meant, which didn't surprise me. So we talked about that a bit. Then I told him that "blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God" is something that Jesus tells us in the Bible.

Then he asked, "Where does the Bible come from, Dad?" This caught me a bit off guard, just because it seemed to come out of left field, but I told him that the Bible is God's message to us. He had people write it down so we could read it. "Oh," he said.

Then the next question really caught me off guard: "How is God going to put the Bible in our mailbox?" Huh? In our mailbox? Then it hit me. Earlier tonight I told Jamie that I ordered a new storybook Bible that would be coming in the mail in a few days. He was really excited for it to come so we could read it.

So I told him that we were just waiting for the Bible to arrive at our house but, in a way, God was putting the Bible in our mailbox. No matter how we get it, we get it from God. He seemed OK with that answer. It was pretty cute.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Strange Tension of Biblical Social Justice

Social justice is a hot-button issue on Christian university campuses, it seems. In both my experiences at Sioux Falls and Bethel seminaries, it would seem that a deep concern for social justice issues is the trend (and I mean that in the purest sense of the word, unfortunately). In my experience over the last several years, most students' ideas of what social justice is usually translates to liberal politics, or as Phil Johnson puts it (at right):

But a little deeper thought about what social justice looks like in scripture should give us a bit of a different perspective. I've been thinking about this issue for a while, mostly because I am faced with it as the popular trend whenever I go to school. Most of my professors seem to feel that social justice concerns are the primary issue the church is facing right now, and specifically that the church, quite frankly, sucks at it (although I've dispelled this myth here and here). My "deeper thoughts" about this topic have centered around two areas: social justice for the world, and social justice for Christians.

First of all, we can certainly affirm that God values social justice. He does not like oppression or inequality, or poverty, or unfair laws, etc. He values freedom, equality, fairness, and charity. This is observable in scripture in a myriad of ways. In Amos 5 God refuses to receive the sacrifices of his people precisely because the rich were walking on the backs of the poor. There was no fairness, no equality. The rich got richer, and the poor got poorer. So because of this, God basically cuts his people off. In Luke 4 Jesus proclaims that he has come to the world to set the captives free, liberate the oppressed, and bring good news to the poor. Even a cursory glimpse of his life and ministry shows how he reached out and ministered to the least of these. John the Baptist instructs those who participated in his baptism (particularly the tax collectors and Roman soldiers) that one of the main behavior modifications that should be present as a result of their repentance is fairness and equity in their dealings with others. To be sure, social justice issues are big deals to God and his people.

Over and above God's valuing of social justice is his command to his people to pursue social justice causes as well. We are to have the same attitude as Jesus, our example, and stand up for the cause of the oppressed and the captive, and those who have been treated unfairly and unjustly. This is where many of my professors and classmates would say the church has dropped the ball (although, again, this is not true). And the typical belief of these folks is that the government needs to pick up where the church left off.

The interesting thing, when it comes to social justice for believers, however, is that it would seem that it is something that we are not supposed to pursue for ourselves. In other words, scripture seems to say that when we are treated unfairly, or are taken advantage of, or are held in inequality, we are not to try to rectify our situation in the same way that we would for those oppressed people of the world. For example, what would Jesus have me do if I, as his follower, were treated unfairly in some way? Would he have me demand fairness for myself? Would he have me stand up for my rights? That's certainly not what Jesus did when he was "oppressed" (to put it lightly). Instead of standing up for his rights, Jesus suffered. He took what was given to him. He didn't fight to be treated fair, or even with justice, and it seems to me that scripture teaches Christians to not demand justice for themselves.

Why not? I think part of the answer is that our satisfaction - our joy - is not found in justice or fairness for ourselves, or our "rights." Rather, our satisfaction and joy are found in God. Therefore, when our rights are trampled on and when we are treated like garbage, and when the wicked flourish while we waste away, we can remain satisfied, knowing that we belong to God.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus famously says that if a person (presumably one of his followers) is struck on the face, he should offer the other cheek as well. What? You mean he shouldn't confront the guy and say, "What gives you the right to treat me so badly? I'm going to report you to the authorities!" Similarly, Jesus says that if someone demands your robe, you should offer him your tunic as well? "Huh? Why? It's my tunic, for crying out loud! The guy isn't entitled to my robe, let alone my tunic!" Jesus also says that if someone asks you to go with him one mile, go with him two. Jesus said this because there was a Roman law that stated a Roman soldier could legally require anyone to carry his armor for up to one Roman mile. Jesus is saying that instead of demanding your rights be respected, and that the Roman soldier had no right to ask you to take his armor for any distance, instead, submit to him and and suffer. That's pretty radical, and it's part of the counter-cultural-ness of being a follower of Jesus. I would even dare to say that part of being a Christian is sacrificing your rights and gladly putting up with unfairness and inequality.

So there's at least some tension between the kind of justice we are to give others, and the kind we are to demand for ourselves. How do we balance standing up for justice for the oppressed and yet not demand it for ourselves? There's a significant line that needs to be walked that, when crossed, could lead to selfishness and pride. It's also an interesting paradox that fits nicely with Jesus' words about the last being first, and that he who would be great must first be the servant of all. Maybe when it comes to social justice issues, the point is that we put ourselves low by not demanding our rights, while standing up for the rights of others.

I've only just begun thinking about this, so sorry if my thoughts are a bit disjointed and hard to follow! At the least, it's given me something to think about and flesh out further as time goes on.

My Translation of the Beatitudes

My translation assignment for this week was Matthew 5.1-12, the Beatitudes. Here's a link to the NASB and ESV if you'd like to compare. The more I'm learning about translation, the more interesting it becomes to read the main English translations of scripture to see how and why they translated the text the way they did. I'm still a beginner at translating Greek, but I think I'm getting better.

And having beheld the crowd, he went up into the mountain, and having sat down, his disciples came to him. And having opened his mouth, he taught them, saying, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Blessed are the ones who are mourning, because they will be encouraged. Blessed are the meek, because they will inherit the earth. Blessed are the ones who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness, because they will be fed. Blessed are the ones who are merciful, because they will be having mercy. Blessed are the clean in heart, because God will appear to them. Blessed are the peacemakers, because they will be called sons of God. Blessed are the ones having been persecuted on account of righteousness, because the kingdom of heaven is of them. You are blessed when they may reproach and persecute you and say all evil against you, having been liars because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because your wage is great in the kingdom of heaven. For thus they persecuted the prophets before you."

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Whirlwind Weekend

A month or so ago I got an email from Camie Treptau, director of Village Creek Bible Camp, asking if I would be willing to put together a group of guys to come and lead worship at this weekend's Men and Boys retreat. Camie had been asking us to lead worship for this retreat for the past two or three years, and there was always some reason why we weren't able to do it. I asked the guys in the band this year, and everyone was able to go. The only sticking point was that just a few days before I received the email from Camie, Vern Hildebrandt had asked me to preach at the Dakota County Jail for our church's turn in the jail ministry rotation on the same Sunday of the retreat weekend, which I agreed to do. I made preparations for both, however, making sure that the band could cover for me not being there.

So the preparations were made, and Ferg and I headed out for camp on Friday afternoon. Jamie loves the camp, and he usually asks me at least once a week if we can go there. He was really jazzed about being able to go. But this time, he was really whiny ("Are we there yet?"). I encouraged him to just sit back, relax, and try to take a nap, which he did.

Being down at camp was busy. We had zero time to rehearse our sets before we went down to camp, so we spent a significant time rehearsing in the indoor chapel. So coordinating that, while trying to connect to the speaker for the weekend to make sure everything fit together, while trying to manage a three year old was rather taxing. Add onto that that I never sleep well at camp. My body just doesn't like camp beds. So sleep was at a minimum.

On Saturday we got to do some fun camp stuff, and Ferg went nuts, doing all the camp stuff he could do, including the trampoline. At one point he actually said in amazement, "I'm flying!" I like to watch him have fun.

But by Saturday night it was time for us to leave, as I had to be on my way to the Dakota County jail by 8 AM Sunday morning. We left the camp at about 8:40, and got home at around midnight (I drove a little slower because I was overly paranoid about hitting a deer). After unpacking my stuff and getting everything settled at home, it was 1 AM before I went off to bed.

I woke up at 7 AM the next morning and headed to church to unpack my amplifier and guitar and put back the stuff I borrowed from the church for the retreat. Then it was a 25 minute ride to the jail.

I've been to the jail several times, but never to preach. Usually I go along as the musical talent. There are a few songs that we like to sing for and with the inmates, and they seem to really enjoy it. I think they just like something to break up the monotony of prison life. Either way, I think they are blessed by it, so it's well worth the effort.

Doing ministry (or anything, for that matter) at the jail is quite an involved process. As soon as you get there you have to put your ID into a metal box that someone on the other side of dark glass checks, to make sure you're clean. Sometimes the prison guards have even wanted to search our guitar cases and instruments before we are allowed into the jail. But then again, sometimes you move right through as if you were just entering a high school or something. This time it was pretty easy: we just showed our ID's and they brought us right through.

This time our team consisted of three people: myself, Vern Hildebrandt, and Mario Castillo. If you know Vern, you've never really truly seen him in his element until you see him "working" the crowd of prisoners. Vern goes to the jail each Wednesday also, to lead a Bible study. He has an incredible heart for the prisoners.

The jail service takes place in the gymnasium (which is interesting - the Dakota County jail actually feels more like a high school than it does a jail - the doors all look the same, and there are even classrooms down the hallways, and even a gym; but I've never seen the cells where the prisoners stay - maybe I just get to see the good side of jail!). About 80 guys came to "church" today.

The guys show up in different groups, depending on their security level, and by the time we were supposed to start, one of the guards informed us that one of the groups had gotten held up in the medical wing - guys were still getting their meds and would be late to the service. He asked us if we just wanted to start anyway, or wait for them. Vern said we should wait for them, and he asked me what we could do to kill some time. I grabbed my guitar and asked if anybody there liked bluesy, gospel music, to which most of them replied positively. So I was able to teach them one of the songs my band does, "Walk With Me." They loved it. They sang along great. It was a lot of fun. Then I sang "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" for them too, which I think they liked.

After we started Mario Castillo gave his testimony. Mario also has a great heart for ministry to the prisoners, and he has a powerful testimony of how God has worked in his life. Mario has some good ministry ahead of him.

Then I got to preach. I must confess that as I was preparing what I was going to say earlier in the week, I was a little nervous. What does one say to a group of 80 prisoners? Most of these guys are pretty hard looking, and have been around the block a few times to say the least. I pretty much couldn't have less in common with them! I concluded that the most important thing was to just be myself, and not try to be someone/thing I wasn't, and to just deliver the gospel as I knew it.

The Gideons have supplied all the prisoners with Bibles, but most of the guys are completely unfamiliar with scripture, so I made sure to have page numbers ready for them to look up the passages I was talking about. And then I just basically gave them the law and the gospel, by way of the Romans Road. I have no idea if anything got through to them, but I suppose that's why I leave God to do the work. I can only pray that they will repent and believe, just like I'd pray for anyone else who's ever heard the gospel.

Our time was over by 9:45 and the men all went back to their cells while Vern, Mario and I hoofed it back to WSP to make it to church before the service started. I came into the service completely unprepared - nothing ready for announcements, and I totally forgot to tell the worship team about my absence from rehearsal. But everything went smoothly, which was nice.

By the time I got home from lunch, I could barely keep my eyes open. I hadn't fully recovered from the lack of sleep and energy expended at camp, and I was coming off a totally new experience of preaching at the jail. I was wiped. By 2:00 I was dead to the world on our living room couch. Two hours later I awoke, having slept more soundly than I had even the previous night.

And now I'm writing this post, having completed a couple hours of homework that is due this week. It was a busy and fun weekend, but I'm not sure I could do it all the time. Oh well. It was worth it.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Interesting

We translated Matthew 18 for Greek class tonight, and an issue arose that I was previously unaware of. In Matthew 18 Peter asks Jesus how many times he is to forgive his brother. Peter seems to suggest that forgiving his brother, 7 times at the most, would be adequate. Jesus responds by saying in verse 22: "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven." (ESV)

The most common interpretation of this verse is that Christians are to forgive those who wrong them 490 times before they hold a brother's offense against them. The point that Jesus is making is that Christians are to forgive their brothers always. He uses a big number to communicate the fact that forgiveness is supposed to be the standard, not holding a grudge or taking revenge. Jesus was most definitely not saying that Christians should have a checklist and count the number of times that Christians forgive their brothers and sisters until they've reached 490. He's being overly dramatic. Because if you're counting the number of times you've forgiven someone, you haven't really forgiven.

The trick is that, in Greek, there is no way of expressing multiplication. The Greek in verse 22 literally reads "hebdomékontakis hepta." The first word means "seventy times" and the second word means "seven." In all other places where numbers are communicated in New Testament Greek, numbers in multiples of ten are communicated by saying "seventy and seven," which seems to be the case here. So the translation, "seventy times seven" (as in multiplication) is most likely not accurate. Rather, Jesus probably meant "seventy and (plus) seven" giving us a total of 77 times that a Christian should forgive his brothers.

Here's how some modern translations render the verse:

NIV: Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

NASB: Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

ESV: Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

KJV: Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

TNIV: Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

77 is a lot less than 490, but Jesus' point is the same: how many times should I forgive my brother? Answer: a lot of times. In fact, don't stop. Always forgive.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Even So, Come Lord Jesus

Pastor Wick and I once joked that the only people on earth who don't want Jesus to come back (aside from people who aren't Christians) are seminarians: we've invested so much into this educational process that we can't fathom not being able to complete it and use it in the ministerial world. While it's obviously tongue in cheek, there's some truth there. Seminary is a lot of work, and sometimes that work entails sitting in your seat, keeping your mouth shut, and putting up with the ridiculous crap you hear from your profs.

(Aside: as I typed that last sentence, the prof for this class just said, "I can't find a biblical model of marriage that I can get excited about.")

Well, I can safely say that I am once again looking forward to the return of Christ. In fact, if he would come back before I have to go to this ridiculous "Self in Community" class again next Thursday, that would be ideal.

So here's a prayer request: Lord, please come back for the sake of your glory (and my sanity), if at all possible, before 8:00 PM next Thursday. Amen.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A No Hitter!

Got to hear baseball history on the radio tonight. Francisco Liriano tossed a no-hitter against the hated Chicago White Sox.

I left Greek class at 6:58 tonight and got to my car by the time they announced the starting lineups. The Twins haven't been doing too well this year, and Liriano has been struggling in particular, so needless to say, I wasn't expecting much at the start of the game. After the Twins failed to do anything in the first inning, I remember being disgusted when Liriano walked the first White Sox hitter he faced. "Here we go," I thought to myself, expecting the White Sox to break it open in the first inning (as Liriano has been having a hard time not giving up runs in the first so far this year).

When I got home, the fam was playing out in the yard. I turned on the radio in the garage and left the door open so we could hear the game as we played. Beetz and I played catch while the kids went down the slide and played in the sandbox. By this time, Jason Kubel had hit a solo home run in the fourth inning to make it a 1-0 game. This would turn out to be the winning run.

I took a break from the game to put the kids to bed. We sang some songs and read some books, and then it was bed time. After this, I got my laundry ready and went downstairs to put it in the wash and to take a shower. A couple years ago I bought myself a small radio that I could listen to in the basement while I was working or doing whatever. I brought the radio into the bathroom with me and listened to the game while I showered.

After a shower and a shave, Liriano had made it through 6 innings without allowing a hit. I went upstairs to find the Mrs. watching "The Voice," so I picked up my computer and "watched" the game on mlb.com. One new feature they have on their "gameday" presentation is brief live video looks (which is really cool for those of us who don't have the option of watching the Twins games on TV). With two outs in the 7th inning they gave a live look into the game and I got to see Danny Valencia make an incredible play at third base to save the no-hitter. It was fantastic.

I told the Mrs. that if Liriano kept the no-no on into the ninth, we were turning the TV off and the radio on. She agreed. I called friends and family to make sure they were tuned in to potentially witness history.

The ninth inning came, and mlb.com broke into the video of the game live, so I got to both watch the ninth inning and hear Gordo call it (man, I'm going to miss him when he's gone). Gordo called the third out thusly, "And a liner right to Tolbert at short! He's done it! Liriano has done it! He has a no-hitter!" It was awesome.

The Twins are really stinking it up this year, but that's OK. I just love baseball. And to be able to see this was really cool.

Monday, May 2, 2011

My Thoughts on bin Laden's Death

Lots of posts on Facebook about the death of Osama bin Laden yesterday and today. Last night when the news broke, I don't think there was even one status update on my wall that didn't address the bin Laden situation. Most people expressed joy and elation when they heard that bin Laden had been killed. There was a lot of talk about how it had been a long time coming.

My own reaction was initially one of surprise. When I saw the flasher at the bottom of the TV screen (interrupting Celebrity Apprentice!) indicating that a special announcement from the president was coming up, I had no idea what it was. When I learned that bin Laden had been killed, I was initially really surprised. I didn't expect that to be the announcement.

My second reaction was one of gladness. I was glad that he was dead. I was glad that his reign of terror, so to speak, was over (although it will no doubt be carried on by countless thousands), and that lives will no doubt be spared as a result of his demise.

Some of my friends on Facebook posted scripture. I saw Proverbs 24.17-18 quoted a few times: "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the LORD see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him." My pastor quoted Matthew 26.52: "...all who take the sword will perish by the sword."

All this got me thinking about how a Christian should respond to the death of a wicked person, such as Osama bin Laden. Should we rejoice? Should we be sorrowful? Should we say, "It's about time"? I don't think it's as simple as Proverbs 24.17-18. We need more theology than just what those verses offer in order to formulate a right response to the death of a wicked man like Osama bin Laden.

Then I stumbled on these two excellent pieces, one by John Piper, and one by Justin Holcomb of Mars Hill, Seattle. Both pieces masterfully bring out excellent biblical points on how God views the death of the wicked and how Christians should view the death of the wicked. I highly recommend them.

So how should a Christian respond to the death of Osama bin Laden? Here's what I think:

1) We should praise God that we haven't suffered the same fate. I mean this both in the physical and spiritual senses. I am every bit just as evil as Osama bin Laden. My heart was just as rotten, I had the same potential for unspeakable evil, and I deserved the same fate. But by God's grace, I did not fall into such wickedness, and, also by God's grace, I have been forgiven of my sin. Christ took for me the punishment that Osama bin Laden is experiencing at this very moment. So let's praise God that he extends grace to those who will receive it, and that he extends mercy.

2) We should long for the salvation of those who do not believe. The thought of anyone entering the eternal torment of hell should scare us. I don't want anyone to go to hell - not even Osama bin Laden. God is not willing that any should perish, but that all come to repentance and faith, and that includes bin Laden. But all those who do not come to faith will be judged. That alone should fuel our preaching endeavors.

3) We should be glad that God's justice and righteousness have been served. In sovereignly ordaining the death and judgment of bin Laden, God exercises his justice and righteousness. He punishes evil where it is found. He shows no favoritism. He remains faithful and true to who he is. This is good news.

4) We should be glad that God has removed such evil from the world. The Bible is full of examples of how God removes (or kills) people who are exceedingly wicked from their position, or even their life. Such removal can allow peace and justice to flourish. Let's pray that's the case with bin Laden's death.

5) We should not be glad that bin Laden is in hell (see #2).

6) We should not feel that bin Laden is getting what he deserves without remembering why we have not gotten what we deserved (see #1). Such thinking would be, I believe, judgmental and sinful.

7) We should not think that God vindictively killed bin Laden (see #3). God works within his justice and righteousness, not out of spite or vindictiveness.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Atheist Chaplains

Would you ever go to an atheist for spiritual council? Probably not. That, however, is what several atheists would like to see happen in the military.

This article reports that several atheists are lobbying to have atheist chaplains in the military to offer support to atheist troops. But, from what I understand, military chaplains don't necessarily counsel soldiers in their particular faith, but in the professed faith of the soldier seeking counseling. So how could an atheist chaplain council someone in his or her faith, if said atheist chaplain had no faith whatsoever? If it sounds like it doesn't make much sense, it doesn't.

The article goes on to say that the atheists want atheist chaplains in order to "win official acceptance in the military." The only problem with that is that atheists already have official acceptance in the military. How don't they? They aren't discriminated against for their lack of faith. Nor are they prohibited from any type of military service in any way as a result of their lack of faith.

What's really behind this is that the existence of atheist chaplains will allow atheist groups to be able to publicly promote their beliefs (or lack of beliefs) and distribute literature. So it has nothing to do with faith (obviously) but more of an abuse of the chaplaincy, if you ask me. If you just want to be a chaplain to get yourself out there, you shouldn't be a chaplain.

But what's interesting about this is that if atheists truly feel the need to promote their worldviews (and counsel those who adhere to them within the context of such a worldview) then their views, it seems to me, must be identified as a faith group. Any and all worldview of faith system is guided by principles of belief and not fact, making every worldview a matter of faith. And certainly atheists hold beliefs that others don't, even if they are beliefs that state that beliefs are useless and ignorant (and they are beliefs, and don't let anyone tell you different), so what they think and believe is unique to itself, making it a matter of faith. So if atheists want to be chaplains in order to promote their beliefs and to counsel fellow atheists, go for it. They just have to admit that their supposedly faithless way of seeing the world is actually brimming over with faith (just faith in nothing).