Sunday, December 30, 2012

Thus & Such, Vol. 15

In honor of the New Year's holiday, I decided to compile a short list of New Year's related articles and tidbits.

1. "Another year is passing away.  Thank God.  Not only for the massive amounts of unquantifiable grace we have received from him, but also because we are one year closer to the passing away of this partial age and all of its incumbent sorrow and weariness."  Take a look at what we can expect "when the perfect comes."

2. There are plenty of lists this time of year that detail numbers from the previous year.  Here's one that is less than typical, which is probably what makes it interesting.

3. "As this year ends, the question I am asking is: Where was God when so many good things happened this past year?"  This is one of the most fascinating articles I read during 2012, and it was only published a few days ago.  Most people ask, "Where is God when bad things happen?"  This article asks, "Where is God when good things happen?"  After all, we certainly don't deserve good things, so why does he allow them?  It's a very profitable thing to think through.

4. " we anticipate the coming of 2013 I want to write an open letter of sorts that focuses on the most important realities in the world.  And the addressee of my open letter is you."  Read this.

5. The Gospel Coalition recently published a list of their most widely read articles of 2012.  The number one article is the best treatment on homosexuality that I've ever read (and posted to several times on this site).  Check out the list.  Lots of good reading here.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Keeping Christmas out of Christ

Around this time of year you tend to hear this phrase a lot: "Keep Christ in Christmas," or "Jesus is the reason for the season."  And a lot of people get upset about the "war" on Christmas, which is supposedly waged by secular society removing the phrase "Merry Christmas" from its collective vernacular and replacing it with "Happy holidays."  Christians become upset because they feel that the religious significance they have placed on the holiday is being removed, and that the religious significance of the holiday is slowly being choked out of our culture.  Whether this is true or not is beside the point for my purposes.

A few weeks ago our small group was talking about our favorite Christmas traditions.  One of the group members grew up in Papua New Guinea, where Christmas was celebrated minimally, if at all.  Those dutiful Christians would celebrate the holiday by worshiping together at a local church, and then the holiday was over.  No gifts, no tree, no music, no cookies or family get-togethers - just going to church to join with other believers in celebration of the miracle of God become man.  

This description of a "celebration" of Christmas really resonated with me, and it caused me to reflect on how our culture really and truly celebrates Christmas as a cultural holiday primarily, and how some segments of it do all they can to sprinkle a little Jesus on top.  And when enough Jesus isn't sprinkled to pacify what might be our feelings of religious guilt, we cry foul.  

Take this example: in November my wife and I considered ways to engage our children in the spiritual significance of Christmas this year.  We decided on a very cool Advent calendar that we would do each night with our kids, reading from the Bible, talking through the passage, and praying together.  This, we decided, was apparently enough to offset the overwhelming amount of materialistic and self-centered messages that our kids would receive.  After all, we wouldn't want them to think that Christmas was just about presents and food, would we?  WE HAD TO KEEP CHRIST IN CHRISTMAS!  What we were actually endeavoring to do was to offset the cultural influence of Christmas on our children with the spiritual significance of Christmas.  To be sure, it is a difficult struggle.

As I reflected on this, it seemed strange to me.  Why do we have to fight so hard to keep Christ in Christmas?  Shouldn't it be the other way around?  I would think that if we were observing the holiday rightly, we should have to work at keeping Christmas in Christ.  In other words, our focus during the Christmas season is on the cultural stuff of Christmas: trees, presents, food, family, etc.  Now, there's nothing wrong with these things to be sure.  It's just surprising to me that we think of Jesus after all of that stuff, and then we have to make special arrangements to fit Jesus in somewhere, such as making a point of going through a devotional Advent calendar each night.

Imagine that you lived in a culture that didn't celebrate Christmas - at least not in the American style of celebrating it.  You didn't have a Christmas tree, you didn't exchange gifts with anyone, and you didn't sing carols or bake cookies.  Would you really have to fight about keeping Christ in Christmas?  Would you have to go searching for the perfect Advent devotional to keep your kids engaged in the spiritual significance of the holiday?  Certainly not.  You wouldn't have to fight to keep Christ in Christmas, because he would already be in his rightful place.  If my kids never became accustomed to having a Christmas tree or presents, I wouldn't have to endeavor so hard to make sure that they remember the "reason for the season." 

I would like to suggest that the idea of "keeping Christ in Christmas" is painfully backwards.  What we need to do is keep Christmas out of Christ.  That is, we need to start and finish our Christmas celebrations and remembrances with Christ.  Any remembrance of Christmas that does not center on Christ then seems to me to be a matter of trying to balance the scales between spirituality and worldliness.

Am I saying it's bad to have a Christmas tree or presents?  No, I can't say that, because the base of our Christmas tree is currently chock full of presents, and I can't laud a standard that I don't follow.  I guess it's just something good to think about: how much of my Christmas celebration is culturally motivated, and how much is spiritually motivated?  

Is it possible to "do" Christmas in a way that is Christ-focused and Christ centered?  I think it is, but that's up to each family to decide, and we should definitely not go around judging people based on their level of cultural Christmas-anity.  

But from now on, I'm going to try to keep as much Christmas out of Christ as I possibly can.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Theology of Worship

After having developed a biblical set of guidelines for how Christians should regard dressing for church, the Worship Music and Arts Committee worked on developing a theology of worship that will help guide the church in planning and thinking about worship.  I'm very glad the church has gone this direction - that of finding out what the Bible says about particular topics and then conducting ourselves accordingly.  As I did with the dress code, I'd like to publish the Worship Music and Arts Committee's theology of worship here:

A Theology of Worship for Riverview Baptist Church
1. We believe our worship is reserved solely for God, and God alone (Psalm 29.2, 148.1-13, Romans 11.36, Revelation 19.10, 22.9,).  God is the subject and object of worship – it is about him and for him.  God is the only one worthy of our praise.  As the Creator God, he alone is deserving of the worship of his creation (Psalm 29.3-10, Revelation 4.11).  Therefore, we will focus on praising only the Lord in our worship and will offer up a suitable and appropriate sacrifice of praise to his name.  Our motivation for worship will be his pleasure, resulting in our own fulfillment and enjoyment. 

2. We believe that God’s glory and our celebration of it in worship should be the focus and goal of all life and ministry.  Worship is the primary purpose for which God created human beings and is therefore our highest endeavor and greatest fulfillment (1 Corinthians 10.31, Isaiah 43.6-7, Matthew 22.37, 1 Peter 4.11).  Therefore we will give worship careful focus and attention in the life of this church.  We will relate all of our activities to it and to the goal of magnifying the glory of God.

3. We believe that our worship is acceptable to God in and through Christ our High Priest.  We come to God clothed in his righteousness and by his worthiness (Hebrews 8.1-2, 10.19-22).  Therefore we will exalt Christ in our worship.  Moreover, we will not assume that our worship is made acceptable to God by any other means (such as excellence in worship or style of worship). 

4. We believe our worship is enabled, motivated, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  As God, the Holy Spirit deserves our adoration and praise as much as the Father and Son, yet he chooses to glorify not himself but rather point us to Christ and thus lead us to the Father in worship.  The Holy Spirit motivates us for worship in assuring us of our standing by grace and filling us for the work of praise (Philippians 3.3, John 16.14, Romans 8.14-17, 1 Corinthians 12.3, Ephesians 5.18-19).  Therefore, we will exalt Christ in our worship by the power of the Holy Spirit, and address our weaknesses by enlisting the Spirit’s help in enabling us to desire, pray to, and worship God.

5. We believe that worship is the privilege of all of God’s people.  Every individual plays a vital role in the corporate worship of the church (Psalm 79.13, 107.32, Romans 12.1, 15.5-6).  Therefore, we will encourage a whole-hearted participation in every way possible: by seeking to enhance the physical environment for worship through the use of artistic, seasonal, and orderly decorations; by carefully selecting music for worship so as to encourage participation while maintaining biblical and theological integrity; by encouraging participation in corporate prayer; by encouraging participation in the Lord’s Supper on a regular basis, etc.

6. We believe that the heart attitude of the worshiper in response to and participation in worship is of more importance than an external response and participation in worship (1 Samuel 16.7, Hosea 6.6, Mark 12.33).  Therefore the elements of our worship will aim at encouraging a response in the heart of the worshiper rather than being concerned with external responses to the form, style, or structure of worship.

7. We believe that worship should promote the unity and edification of the church.  The church is, by divine design, a diverse group of disparate, saved sinners who can be unified in the Spirit (Romans 15.5-6, Ephesians 4.1-6).  Therefore, we will exult in our diversity and seek to learn from one another various expressions of worship.  We will strive to keep the health of the whole body in mind when it comes to innovation or change in worship.  We will not seek to promote personal agendas or preferences in worship, but prayerfully and deliberately seek the good of the body as a whole.  We commit to considering one another’s needs before our own and to look beyond self to our corporate identity in Christ (Romans 12.10, Ephesians 5.19-21, Philippians 2.2-3, Colossians 3.12-17, Hebrews 10.23-25).

8. We believe that the word of God is the best means of knowing and being able to declare truths about God in worship (Psalm 138.2, 2 Peter 1.21).  God has revealed himself and his glorious deeds through inspired scripture (Psalm 56.4).  We respond to God’s self-revelation in his word in worship (Psalm 56.4, 138.2 150.2).  Therefore, we will hold the word of God as central in our worship.  That is, we will read the word publically, pray according to the word, hear the word preached, sing songs according to God’s revelation in scripture, be obedient to the word in the administration of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as acts of worship, be obedient to the word in receiving financial gifts as an act of worship, and allow the word of God to provide the context and motivation for our worship and to enrich and inform our worship.

9. We believe that there is freedom in style in worship.  We believe this for the following reasons: 1) God exists in a triune community – the ultimate expression of unity in diversity (Genesis 1.26, Mark 1.9-11).  2) The church is itself blended – it is composed of people from all races, nationalities, ages, backgrounds and temperaments (Galatians 3.28).  3) God loves diversity – this is seen in his works of creation and in the world of people he has made (Ephesians 5.18-19, Revelation 5.9-10, 7.9-10).  4) The New Testament does not prescribe a particular form or style for worship in the church.  This absence of detailed guidelines suggests that God allows for considerable freedom in worship style (John 4.23).  We further believe, however, that Christians are not to do that which God forbids in the name of worship or freedom (Deuteronomy 12.4, Exodus 20.4-6, 1 Corinthians 10.14-22).  Therefore, we commit to draw from a diversity of stylistic influences from within and outside the church while maintaining obedience to scripture.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Thus & Such, Vol. 14

This installment of "Thus & Such" will have to do with the recent grade-school shooting in Connecticut.  I would encourage all people, Christian or otherwise, to shut off the news, open a Bible, and take a theological look at this situation, and all evil that happens in the world.  God is speaking through this occurrence, and we need to know what he is saying.  To help in that process, I submit the following articles.  I could try to write something of my own, but these folks - much smarter than I - have already penned some thoughts that are worth our consideration as we try to see God in this and all events in life.

1. How Does Jesus Come to Newtown?  "Mass murder is why Jesus came into the world the way he did."  

2. A Lesson for All from Newtown "Murdering a human being is an assault on God.  He made us in his own image.  Destroying an image usually means you hate the imaged.  Murdering God's human image-bearer is not just murder.  It's treason - treason against the Creator of the world."

3. How do We Respond?  "We shouldn't turn our heads from this atrocity, but square up our shoulders and look right at it with eyes wide open.  God's children are called to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn, and we do both with great hope in the promises of God.  It's tempting to want to avoid the horror of such an event, but I believe our Father wants us to see a glimpse of what he sees and feel - for a moment - what he feels.  He knows something about the loss of a child."

4. Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting "...we long for something to make sense, some order or rule or regulation that could prevent such tragedy.  And we would take that remedy to our hearts in an instant.  Oh, if only... We would cling to its promise of keeping children safe, especially children, innocent children now lost 12 days before Christmas.  Oh, if only there was something.  And we would still be left with the horrible truth that we cannot wish or govern away."  (Note: this is not a particularly Christian article, nor is its author a Christian, but the article makes a great point: there is no government regulation for human depravity.  There have already been many calls by those in political and social realms for reforms, laws, restrictions, etc. in order to prevent something like this in the future.  This is an impossibility.  No matter what happens, people will always be evil.  I believe this is an important thing to keep in view when considering events like this.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Thus & Such, Vol. 13

1. "...if God answers my prayer for my son to be a follower of Christ, people will hate him.  People will absolutely, unquestionably be repulsed by my son."  This quote from this very good article reminds me of a sermon delivered by Paul Washer where he told an auditorium of youth something to the effect of, "I don't want for you what your parents want for you.  They want cars, houses, and security.  I want you to go and die on the mission field."  I want my kids to be hated by the world.

2. What a good and easy way to share the gospel with people online?  Here you go.  It's the latest media effort by Living Waters.

3. Check out these cool Facebook timeline cover photos.  Some good stuff here that would make for a cool poster.

4. "I would say that if you don't believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you're really not in any meaningful sense a Christian."  Although Christopher Hitchens was an atheist and absolutely mocked and hated everything I am as a Christian, I liked him.  Why?  Because he was intellectually honest, and was willing to examine evidence and arguments in the conversation on faith.  This very interesting article details how he thought that if you were going to believe something, believe it.  Don't be squishy.  And don't pervert the historically held beliefs of a religion and still claim to identify with it.  In this sense, he and I are very much alike.  I wish he were still alive, primarily so he could have more time to repent and believe the gospel, but also because his intelligent thinking served to move the dialogue forward.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Gospel Story

I've posted before about Steve Saint and the accident he went through, and also some of the videos that he has released that have described his journey thus far.  I just saw this most recent video he released (below).  What a magnificent picture of the gospel.  In the video, Steve describes how at church one morning, since he was not able to stand and walk to the front of the church to receive communion, his son and Mincaye (his father's murderer, with whom he has reconciled) pushed him in his wheelchair to the front of the sanctuary to receive communion.  He says that it's a story that no one would believe unless it were true, and it is.  Why?  Only because of the power of the gospel.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

On Hiatus

It's been a few days since I've posted here, and its going to be a few more before I post again. My computer is pretty much dead and unusable, forcing a brief hiatus from posting until I can replace it (which may be a while, considering that I'm not necessarily overflowing with money at the moment). And writing blog posts on my iPhone is less than ideal, so I guess that means less blogging and more Angry Birds for me.

Friday, December 7, 2012

What's Going on with Billy Graham?

Towards the end of the most recent presidential election cycle, it was reported that Billy Graham had removed Mormonism from his website's cult directory.  This happened reportedly after Graham met privately with Mitt Romney, presumably for the purpose of securing Graham's nomination.  Knowing that Graham maintains sway over many evangelicals, it makes sense that Romney didn't want to be portrayed to them as being a member of a cult.  Thus the removal.  I posted briefly about this incident when it occurred.

Unfortunately (for the gospel) it turns out that the negative speculation surrounding this event was well founded, as this statement from Franklin Graham confirms that the motivation for the removal of Mormonism from their "cult page," and now the subsequent removal of the cult page altogether, is to not offend people or call them names.  Franklin Graham says that he can't see preaching the gospel and name calling (which is what he considers labeling certain beliefs and people as "cults") going together.  He has therefore removed the page.

Graham says, "If I want to win people to Christ, how can I call them names?"  Like what?  Mormon?  Is that derogatory?  No, it simply describes who the people are and the belief system they ascribe to.

Graham's website defined a cult as "any group which teaches doctrines or beliefs that deviate from the biblical message of the Christian faith.  It is very important that we recognize cults and avoid any involvement with them.  Cults often teach some Christian truth mixed with error, which may be difficult to detect."

To be sure, religious groups classified as cults according to the definition above are not a part of orthodox Christianity, and therefore do not have any eternal, effectual, salvific value.  Or, in other words, they don't save.  Wouldn't you think it'd be important to have a clear idea of the identity of such groups?  I would.  But apparently Franklin Graham seems to think that such distinction amounts to "name calling."

Billy Graham's media representative chimed in by saying "Mr. Graham's calling is not to pass judgment, but to proclaim the biblical truth that Jesus is the only way to heaven, allowing every individual and group to fall along that plumb line."  What's ironic about this statement about a commitment to not judging people, and citing Jesus as the only exclusive way to God is, in and of itself, judgmental.

Moreover, the Bible is replete with instructions to call out those who do not preach and/or teach the truth, and to have nothing to do with them.  It even calls out false teachers by name at points.  Why?  Because these false teachers and false religions were leading people astray and into hell.  Isn't that worth calling a spade a spade?  Isn't that worth a potential offense?  I think it is.

But more than that, it must be understood that the gospel is, by its very nature, offensive.  You don't need to call anyone names or single anyone out.  The gospel does that all by itself, and it does it very well.  But still, Graham's media rep said that if Graham were to do or say something that would alienate an audience, he wouldn't be able to reach them.  In my opinion, the gospel itself alienates an audience.  In fact, the Bible tells us that it is foolishness to those who are perishing.  Of course it alienates!  Of course it divides!  That's what it is designed to do.  If the gospel is designed to offend the hard-hearted sinner, then any attempt to soften that offense is unwise and unloving.  To pretend that we have to repair bridges or water down the truth so as not to offend is anti-biblical.

The problem with what the Billy Graham folks have done is not so much a relational or PR problem, but a shift in understanding of the purpose and nature of the gospel.  Moreover, it's a bait and switch method of evangelism that seeks to befriend people and find commonality with them so as to win their friendship before giving them the hard news of repentance and faith.  It's dishonest.

God knows the great work that Billy Graham has done through his obedience to the Great Commission.  It's a shame to see his ministry lose its integrity.  But then how do we explain Franklin Graham?  He's also done some amazing work, which my own church just participated in through Operation Christmas Child.  Hopefully we can chalk this and other recent Billy Graham blunders to his old age.

John MacArthur aptly commented on the situation thusly: "We have no right to redefine salvation in our own terms in order to be popular or in order to be accepted.  True and historic Christianity has never been confused about what it means to be a Christian."

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Thus & Such, Vol. 12

1. "Despite biblical precedent, few Christians understand or practice Sabbath as a regular part of life, and consequently, neither do their children.  Christian parents bear the responsibility of teaching our children the value of rest, through our words and through our actions"  One of the trends we see in the church nowadays is that people are becoming increasingly busy in life.  Maybe not the smartest thing for families to do, according to this article, when it comes to physical and spiritual health.

2. What has Rob Bell been up to?  Part of me says, "Who cares?"  Although I suppose it's important to know where he is at all times.  It won't be long until he cooks up another batch of heresy for the church to devour.  Read about his life post "Love Wins" here.

3. " spite of our long history and tradition of tolerance, I am finding myself increasingly intolerant - specifically, of the theology and practice of many evangelical Christians."  This piece was referenced on Wretched Radio recently.  I've posted before about the irony of tolerance, and how the fact that people who embrace tolerance as the main tenet of their worldview yet fail to see this irony is mind-numbingly ignorant.  Well, maybe this is some good news?  Although it's certainly got plenty of bad news to go with it.  People are beginning to see the hypocrisy of tolerance.  That's good news.  The bad news is, they don't care.  Read the article, and prepare to have your head explode.

4. "Total depravity is a reality, both taught in Holy Scripture and experienced in life, with important implications not only for pagans but also for Christians.  Very often we think of this biblical doctrine in connection with those who are unregenerate, or with regard to Christians before their conversion, but we reflect less frequently on the depravity which still infects those who have been saved by grace and reborn of the Spirit."  Do Christians still sin?  To what degree?  Am I still just as bad of a sinner as I was before I was saved?  Good questions.  This article has some good answers.  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Have a Beer with Jesus?

I was listening to the Wretched Podcast today, and they did one of their entertaining and provocative "Iron Criticizing Iron" segments.  The topic for this installment was whether or not the song "Beer with Jesus" gets a thumbs up or a thumbs down.

This segment on Wretched consists of Todd, Tony, usually David (the Chocolate Knox), and sometimes either Joey or Joel, talking about the theology of an issue.  Sometimes, as is the case in this instance, they'll talk about a pop culture issue, and determine whether or not it's theologically sound, something Christians should participate in, etc.

Like I said, this time they analyzed the song "Beer with Jesus," and talked among themselves about whether the song was profitable (in a spiritual way) or not.  Here's the song, and you can read the lyrics here.

If you read the lyrics or listen to the song, you'll find that 95% of the lyrics are good and sound.  The singer talks about asking Jesus some good questions, admits he's a sinner, and expresses a desire to grow in holiness.  Nothing wrong with that.  The crux of the song is the fact that he's having "a beer with Jesus."  Is Jesus someone with whom one could have a beer?

Before we get into what the guys on the show thought about the song, and what I think about the song, I think we need to affirm that drinking alcohol is not a sinful activity.  Alcohol is a morally neutral substance.  It is neither right nor wrong, bad nor good.  It can be used sinfully, and it can be used rightly (more on that in a minute).  A biblical case against alcohol as a substance cannot be soundly made, at least in my opinion.  But certainly when it comes to the misuse of alcohol, the Bible is full of all kinds of warnings and wisdom that we should take heed of.  All that to say that I don't think the song can be tossed out simply because it connects Jesus to beer.  Now onto Wretched's analysis.

One of the guys immediately gave the idea of having a beer with Jesus a thumbs down.  Again, not because of the beer, necessarily, but because he believed Jesus to be too high and holy to have any kind of beverage with.  That is, is Jesus really a buddy that I could have a beer with, or is he a high and holy God who sits at the right hand of the Father, the one to whom angels bow and cry, "Holy, holy, holy!"?

I think this is a good thought.  The resurrected Lord is certainly the Lord of holiness and transcendence.  He is higher than we can ever imagine.  He demands the respect and worship of all peoples, and every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.  That doesn't sound like a drinking buddy to me.  On the other hand, however, there are ample scriptures that affirm Jesus' nearness.  That is, although he is indeed high and transcendent, he is also meek and lowly - able to come down to the lowest depth to rescue lost sinners.  After all, Jesus dined with tax collectors and sinners, and he called those who follow him his "friends."  No doubt he shared some wine with them and answered their questions.  Would he not do the same for me?  I think he would.  One of my favorite hymns is "No, Not One!" which states, "No friend like him is so high and holy; and yet no friend is so meek and lowly."  I think this is a good description, and presents the real dichotomy we face when thinking about how we relate to Jesus and vice versa.

Tony, the resident Lutheran on Wretched, gave the song a thumbs up.  He said the singer was asking genuine questions, was open and honest and humble, and that since beer is not inherently sinful, that Jesus would indeed have such a conversation and enjoy a beer with someone.

While I don't particularly find anything wrong with having a beer, and I think I can be persuaded from scripture that Jesus would come down to my level to "have a beer with me," I think I ultimately have to give the song a thumbs down.  The reason for this is the role that alcohol has come to play in our society.  As I said earlier, I don't think alcohol is inherently sinful in and of itself, but it must be recognized that the vast majority of alcohol use in our society is sinful.  That is, people in our country mostly abuse alcohol, or use it as an escape.  In fact, you could probably safely assert that alcohol has an overwhelmingly negative reputation in our society.  This is why I, although I don't think drinking is sinful, pretty much stay away from alcohol altogether.  I might imbibe once in a while, but my regular pattern of life is to leave it aside.

But why not partake if it's not sinful?  My reasoning is this: because of all the damage that alcohol has done to our society, and because of all the relationships it has played a part in ruining, and because of all the people in our society who continue to struggle with addiction to alcohol, I have chosen to not endorse it as a regular part of life.  Can you drink and not sin?  Of course!  But I would caution anyone who drinks to do so carefully.  Everything we do speaks to those around us.  I, for one, don't want to send a message that I either approve of or am indifferent to the massive detrimental effect alcohol has had on our society.  In my opinion, drinking alcohol can communicate that message, and that's something I don't want to be a part of.

That being said, I think I would not rule out the idea of Jesus having a beer with an unrepentant sinner who is under conviction and seeking truth.  In that case, alcohol might be a part of that person's context (maybe even sinfully), and so having a beer with Jesus might work.  But even then, if beer was a main part of a person's sinfulness and rebellion, would Jesus condescend to the level of participating with someone in something that is a sin issue for them?  I should think not.

This is why I ultimately give the idea of having "a beer with Jesus" a thumbs down.  In our context, I can't see Jesus having a beer simply because of all the damage beer has been responsible for.  In other contexts, however, where the damage of alcohol is less pervasive, and where the responsible use of it is more culturally acceptable, I think it would make sense.  That is, the idea of Jesus having a glass of wine with a French person singing is probably more acceptable than the idea of him having a beer with an American.  Why?  Because our cultures view alcohol differently.

Look at the lyrics again.  If you replaced "have a beer" with "take a walk" throughout the song, I'd have no problem with it, although the context of the song certainly wouldn't make sense (not too many jukeboxes out on nature paths).  But the concepts are the same: a humble sinner inquiring of the Lord.

Let's just leave the beer out of it.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Blessing of a Burglary

A couple weeks ago The Mrs. and I both had busy days.  It was a Saturday, and we were both running here and there, doing errands, taking the kids places, grocery shopping, going to church, and so on and so forth.  By the time we were both home, we had both parked our cars outside the garage, assuming that there would be more errands to run later in the day.  As it turned out, neither of us ended up going anywhere for the rest of the day, and neither of us remembered that our cars were parked outside.  We almost always park our cars in the garage, and very seldom leave them outside overnight.  We figure we have a garage so we might as well use it.

The following morning, which was a Sunday, I sped off to church at about 7:30 AM.  The Mrs. came later with the young'ns.  As I met her at church, she said she was "having issues."  What were the issues?  It turns out that, sometime during the previous night, someone had jimmied her car door open and went through some stuff.  They ended up taking a purse-like bag that was on the seat (which, oddly enough, was filled with her Children's Church materials).  But other than that, nothing else appeared to be missing.  We counted our blessings and went on with the day, contacting the police that afternoon just to let them know of the break-in.

At lunch that afternoon, The Mrs. asked me to purchase some 1X8 boards for a craft project she had for her kids at school.  She asked me to cut the boards into one foot sections, which I said was no problem. After lunch, I went to the lumber yard, secured the wood, and took it home.  A quick change of clothes after arriving at home found me out in the garage with the wood set up on my sawhorses.  I went to the shelf that held my circular saw, but noticed something strange: it wasn't there.  Neither was my jig saw. Neither was the case for my cordless drill.  I spun around and looked throughout the rest of the garage.  Huh.  My table-top bandsaw was also missing from its perch.  A quick perusal of the rest of the garage revealed that there was other stuff missing too - a lot of stuff.  In addition to the missing power tools, two of my toolboxes were gone, one containing miscellaneous hand tools, the other containing all of my socket wrenches and sockets, which are probably my most commonly used tools.  Needless to say, the thieves walked away with quite a haul.  Over $500.00 in tools.

After doing all the necessary work with police, and finding out that my homeowner's insurance deductible was more than $1500.00, the words of Matthew Henry came to mind: "Let me be thankful, first, because he never robbed me before; second, because although he took my purse, he did not take my life; third, because although he took what I possessed, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed."

I've used this quote before in some of my sermons.  Now I got to live it out.

As I pondered Henry's words, I began to realize how much of a non-event this robbery was to me.  I really didn't care.  It's not that I enjoyed being robbed, but more that I realize that the stuff that was taken from me is...well, just stuff.  I don't judge the value of my existence by the stuff that I have.

This morning my mom brought up the burglary to me again in conversation.  It wasn't until she mentioned it that I realized I hadn't even thought of the event pretty much since it happened.  I also realized that I'm not really bitter about being robbed, nor do I necessarily miss the stuff that was taken.

It should be noted that this would not have always been my typical reaction.  In the past I most likely would have responded in anger and resentment, wishing to exact vengeance upon those who would dare to steal from me.  This time, I'm just kind of like..."Meh."  What's happening to me?  I suppose one option is that I'm just becoming increasingly cold and calloused as I get older.  The other option, and what I think is actually happening, is that I'm growing in holiness.  God is increasingly growing in me a desire for eternal things, and as a result, I value and desire temporal things less and less.  This is the process of sanctification.

I'm glad I got to have this experience.  In a very real sense, the burglary was a blessing.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thus & Such, Vol. 11

Wow.  It's been a week since my last post.  I need to get back on the horse!  To make up for the recent absence, here's a longer edition of "Thus & Such."

1. While I greatly appreciate the works and ideas of Charles Spurgeon, as has been noted on this blog several times in the past, I have sometimes felt that he takes significant liberties in the ways he reads and applies scriptures.  Many of his sermons (which are quite long) are based on a single verse, or even a portion of a verse.  How does he glean all of that insight from just a few words?  Is he ignoring the context of the verse?  It doesn't seem to me that he can be exegeting and applying the text rightly in such a narrow view.  Here's an interesting article that talks about this trend.  Apparently I'm not the only one who has noticed this.

2. Several months ago, a Facebook friend and I engaged in a conversation on abortion.  He sent me an article to read and then respond to - one that he thought would stimey me.  At the time, I responded to the article by saying that dependency didn't determine whether a being is human or not.  After all, someone dependent upon medical equipment or medicine is no less a person because of that dependency, and neither is a baby in the womb who is totally and completely dependent on the mother.  While this is true, I like Scott Klusendorf's response to the argument better.  The argument for abortion espoused by the author of the article is "The Violinist" argument, which is probably the best argument for abortion out there.  Take a look at the (long) "Violinist" article, and then Klusendorf's response.

3. Looking for a good Advent devotional?  Here's one for you to check out.

4. When we read the Bible, we are reading a translation.  This presents all kinds of interpretive issues, and the translation we read matters.  In Bible translations, there are two general categories: formal equivalence, and dynamic equivalence.  A formal translation is more literal (like the NASB or ESV), and a dynamic translation is less word for word and makes more of an attempt to communicate concepts and ideas.  It has been my experience that those in academia are moving more toward dynamic equivalent translations, for reasons that I don't understand.  In this article, Bill Mounce makes a brief argument for using what he calls a "natural language" translation, which to me, sounds a lot like a dynamic equivalent translation.  As much as I respect and appreciate Bill Mounce, I can't agree with him on this.  In fact, I don't see how what he says has any effect on the translation of scripture.

5. Despite early cooling from La Nina, 2012 is on track to become one of the top 10 hottest years on record..."  Hmm.  That's an interesting sentence, especially considering that the "record" is only about 130 years old.  Sound like a lot?  Not when compared to the supposed age of the earth, allegedly more than 4 billion years old.  That means we have observable, scientific data for .0000000325% of the earth's history.  Do we really think this is enough data to come to scientific conclusions about global warming?  Apparently the United Nations does.  I don't.

6. Here's an interesting back and forth between a supposed poetic interviewer and the Apostle Paul.  I'm not a big fan of poetry, but this is pretty cool.

7. What's wrong with the church?  Here's a good example.  It turns out that people only come to church to hear "inspiring" sermons, and if the pastor doesn't deliver, the people will leave.  In my opinion, don't let the door hit you on the way out.  This article is chock full of thoughts and ideas that clearly reveals what is wrong with the church in America, primarily that the people in the churches aren't actually Christians, and would therefore rather have their ears tickled than be convicted by biblical truth.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ride Along

About six weeks ago I officially became a chaplain for the West St. Paul and Mendota Heights police departments.  Pastor Wick suggested I join him and five other local ministers as a police chaplain, and I gladly obliged.

Police chaplains in these jurisdictions basically do whatever they can to help the officers, with their primary duty being death notifications and counseling people who have experienced the loss of a loved one.  In other words, if there's a fatal car accident, or if the police are called to a scene where a death has occurred, they will call the chaplain on duty and he or she will come to the scene to help out in any way they can.  Usually this just means being present for the people involved, thereby freeing up the officers to get back to their jobs.  From what I hear, there are three or four "call-outs" every quarter or so.  I have yet to be called.

A secondary duty of the chaplains is to get to know and support the West St. Paul and Mendota Heights police officers.  One of the best ways to do this is to go on ride alongs, or in other words, hang out with an officer while he's on duty in his squad car.  I got a chance to do this yesterday.  It was my first such ride along, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, and enjoyed my time with Officer Todd Rosse.

Truth be told, I was a little nervous leading up to the ride along.  I had never been in a police car before, plus I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  What would I do if we got into a "situation?"  I guess it would be a trial by fire kind of experience.  It turns out my trepidation was uncalled for, as Officer Rosse basically just drove me around his jurisdiction and told me about himself, and what it's like to be a cop.

There were a few times where my heart started beating a bit faster, though.  One time we were driving through a pretty crowded parking lot, and there was a unseemly character staring down the squad car pretty intensely.  "Looks like that guy is eyeballing me," Officer Rosse said.  He quickly ran the plate of the car, and the computer came back saying it belonged to a female whose license was suspended.  But because it was a man in the vehicle, and no female was present, we didn't make a stop.  Plus, I guess simple knowledge of a suspended license isn't enough to stop someone.  There needs to be some kind of infraction.

Another time we were driving down a road and the dash-mounted radar gun pegged the oncoming vehicle as being 15 miles per hour over the speed limit.  Officer Rosse quickly made a U-turn and floored it.  But we were too late.  By the time we reached the top of the next hill, the car was gone, presumably having turned to the right or the left before it was back in our field of vision.  Needless to say, I had some adrenaline pumping!

The only other item of interest from the ride along came toward the end of the night, as we observed what appeared to be some teenagers sneaking around a building.  We went around the block and pulled up slowly to try and see them.  Turns out they were sneaking up on some friends with water guns.  No harm done.

All in all, it was a great experience, and I look forward to my next ride along, and to whatever ways I can serve these great people in our police departments.

Thus & Such, Vol. 10

1. "Something very important and very weird is happening to the book rightnow: it's shedding its papery corpus and transmigrating into a bodiless digital form, right before our eyes.  We're witnessing the bibliographical equivalent of the rapture."  How has the way we read books changed over the years?  We don't read from scrolls anymore, we read books.  But instead of books, now we're reading tablets and computer screens.  I attended a lecture once by a professor who had studied the different ways we read the Bible, both from ancient and modern times.  He said that this generation is the first in history to regularly read the words of scripture along with advertising at the same time.  Don't think it affects you?  Think again.

2. Staying on a book theme for this installment, here are four reasons why men don't read books.

3. "Great educational programs combine academic study with real-world application."  This is oneof the lines that introduces an article on conducting auditions for church worship team members.  I've always said that one of the least important things about playing with a worship team is knowing how to play an instrument.  There is so much that is vitally more important.

4. What's the dirtiest place in your house?  Don't blame the toilet seat.  Think kitchen.  Read here and be grossed out.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thus & Such, Vol. 9

1. "Such thinking misunderstands evil....The 'evil' in our nation is not he result of dirty politics.  The 'evil' that we are pushing back against isn't found on the other side of the aisle.  It is found in our hearts."  Here's an interesting article that explains why we should think twice before using fear mongering as a means of communicating a message.

2. "Farewell, and God be with you till we meet again on Resurrection Morning, beseeching God that our family circle will be unbroken."  What a legacy!  Here is a letter that a dying man wrote before he died, which was discovered by his children years later.  May I live to write a letter such as this to my own children.

3. "...this is the beginning of the end for the anti-marriage equality movement.  They long ago began to lose in the courts and state legislatures.  now they have begun losing at the pools.  This battle may go on for years, but there is no longer any doubt about the outcome."  Same sex "marriage" is a forgone conclusion in our country.  The question is not "if," but rather "when."  Read this article to learn more.  

4. "How do you discern - of the hundreds of things you could do today that would bless people - what to do?  You stay with the Lord every morning; you go deep with him in his word; you pray like crazy for guidance; and then you do your best."  There's always more to do.  How do you know what to say yes to and what to say no to?  John Piper talks about that in this video.  Although his comments are directed toward pastors, they are definitely applicable to all walks of life.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thus & Such, Vol. 8

1."...evagnelicals' influence is waning.  Conservative Christian ideas are failing to shape the broader culture.  More than 3,500 churches close their doors every year, and while Americans are still overwhelmingly spiritual, the institutional church no longer holds the sway over their lives it once did.  The sweeping impact of globalization and the digital age has marginalized the church and its leaders."  Is America becoming an "evangelical disaster?"  This article analyzes some data and makes some interesting points about the last election.  

2. What should Christian worship be like?  Here's a list, although it's certainly not exhaustive or comprehensive.

3. "There's a memory seared into my mind from when I was twelve years old.  I was watching from the backdoor of our home as my father brought out an axe.  Laying prostrate on the ground was a three foot tall intricately designed statue of Buddha carved from wood.  The axe went flying through the air over my father's shoulder landing with a loud thwack!  The first stroke severed the statue's head.  Another thwack!  Then another.  Pieces of red wood went flying all over the yard.  Finally, all that was left were indiscernible remnants of what was once our family idol.  This scene also gave me a lasting impression that life for my dad and our family would never be the same.  Here's an interesting reflection on what it is like to be raised in a family that worshiped literal idols, and then what it was like to leave that practice.

4. "I want to discuss one passage of scripture that vexes the problem of alcohol with great passion.  It is the subject of Christ and his relation to alcohol while here on the earth.  Most specifically, I want to ask the question of whether Christ, during the miracle at the wedding of Cana in John 2, turned teh water into wine, unfermented grape juice, or something else.  Did Jesus really turn water into wine?  Does it matter?  What does it say about the Christian's attitude toward alcohol?  This is a very good treatment of this miracle.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Love Your Neighbor As Yourself...Or Else

Each week or so I receive an email from Relevant Magazine that contains links to articles from their website or from the most recent issue of the magazine.  I subscribe to Relevant as a last-ditch attempt to stay up to date on pop culture, both secular and Christian (I've found that most attempts to remain "relevant" after getting married and having kids go by the wayside, so I guess my subscription to Relevant Magazine is my only hope).

I've posted before about some of the issues I have with the magazine - particularly about how it is consistently left-leaning in most areas.  But sometimes the articles are informative and worth the read, if for no other reason than to practice confronting ideas and beliefs that I personally find to be unsatisfactory.

This week's Relevant email had a bunch of articles whose titles piqued my interest, so I followed the links.  A couple of them had to do with the election (pre-election, that is - like how to vote in the election that was held last week - I guess that's what you get from a bi-monthly publication: information that isn't necessarily current or up to the minute).  One article from this category caught my eye: "5 Reasons I'm Voting This Year."

The article details the five reasons that Nick Price has found to be valid enough to inspire him to vote in the 2012 election (hopefully these reasons are valid for every election for Nick, and not just this one).  Looking over the list, I can see a few nuances I'd make to Nick's list, and ways that I might state things differently.  But in general, I think it's good...until you get to reason number 4.  Nick says the fourth reason that he was going to vote in this past election was that it would enable him "to give voice to the voiceless."  He cites Isaiah 1.17 in support of his reasoning, and says, "Throughout scripture, especially in the prophetic books, those who have power and a voice are encouraged to speak up on behalf of those who do not."  Amen.

Nick goes on to say, however, "As such, I enter the voting booth not only with my own interests in mind, but also the interests of those less fortunate than myself.  In this way, voting takes on a corporate dimension as I give away the power that I have to the powerless - voting for what serves the marginalized and oppressed, and using my voice to amplify the voice of those who are usually silenced.  I believe that in this way I also put into practice Jesus' call to love my neighbor as myself.  So I try to vote specifically with the interests of my most disadvantaged neighbors in mind.  I see my role as speaking up and pleading their case to those who are in power."

The sentiment described above is one that is increasingly common among younger evangelicals.  I agree with this sentiment in the sense that it speaks to those who truly have no voice, such as the unborn, or to those who are truly and unjustly on the fringes of society.  The ideas espoused by Price, however, have become more commonly associated with a stream of evangelicalism that believes that a more liberal social agenda should be implemented in order to stand in the gap on behalf of the oppressed and effectively "give voice to the voiceless."  In a very real sense, this stream believes that government serves as a means by which Christians can fulfill the second-greatest commandment (love your neighbor as yourself), by way of voting for politicians who will establish and vote for programs that are intended to defend the poor, give relief to the oppressed, and serve those on the margins of society.  This belief, in my opinion, represents a severe lack of understanding of scripture, however, and exposes why the evangelical vote in this country has tended toward the left in recent election cycles (it should be noted that I do not know if Price himself subscribes to this ideology, but there have been many who have said something similar to what he has said above, and have used this idea to support a liberal social agenda).

Certainly all Christians agree that followers of Jesus are required (if by no other means than by their association and identification with Him) to defend the cause of the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give relief to the oppressed, and fight for justice.  But not in the sense that it is a law that a Christian must keep in order to be a Christian.  Indeed not, as we are saved by grace, and not by loving our neighbors as ourselves.  If this were the litmus test for a faithful Christian, we would certainly all fail.  Instead, we love our neighbors as ourselves because we have been saved by Jesus - because he first loved us, and because his Spirit empowers us to be able to love others.  On this point we can definitely find agreement.  The question is, how do we do these things?  It is my opinion that accomplishing these things through government is a flawed, dangerous, and unbiblical way to go about it.  But rather than talk about what the government should be doing, or what the church should be doing, I want to think for just a minute about the implications of having the government be the enforcer of people loving their neighbors as themselves.

The second-greatest commandment says that we love people as ourselves by...well...loving them.  And loving them genuinely.  While obvious, this is important to understand.  Consider the fact that the Bible does not commend those who love their neighbors out of duty, or obligation, or as a means of being noted by others.  Instead, the Bible commends unforced sacrificial giving and loving.  There is a significant difference between the two.  In fact, the difference is so significant, that scripture details the former as leading to death, and the latter as leading to life.

If we choose to believe that the second-greatest commandment is fulfilled by way of the government then - other than voting - we have no say in the matter.  The last time I checked, taxes are required of every American who owns property, collects an income, etc., and that tax money goes to programs that voters have implemented via politicians to help the poor, clothe the naked, etc.  If we believe that Christians fulfill the second-greatest commandment through the government, then I, as a taxpayer, am not emotionally or spiritually invested in its fulfillment.  I am simply doing what the government requires me to do.  There is no love or concern on my part to speak of.  We will "love our neighbors as ourselves" whether we like it or not.

Forced charity is not charity at all.  And love isn't love if it is forced.  Instead, whatever care or concern we give to the marginalized by way of the government is actually born out of violence.  This kind of thinking seeks to (knowingly or unknowingly) do violence to those who would not love their neighbor as themselves, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, help the poor, etc.,  After all, what will be the fate of those who do not want to help the less-fortunate and subsequently evade their taxes?  They will be prosecuted and imprisoned.

You cannot use the government to force people to love the marginalized; you cannot use the government to defend the cause of the oppressed.  In fact, if you do use the government (or any other means) to force people to "love" others, then what you have isn't love.  The best you can do is have an authority structure (in our case, the government) bully people into following a set of rules (paying taxes) that allegedly benefits the less fortunate.  This is the same kind of thinking that Jesus condemned when he called out the Pharisees: they bullied people into following religious rules under the threat of condemnation if the rules weren't strictly adhered to.

So then, asserting that we should elect government officials, representatives, and leaders for the purpose of fulfilling the second-greatest commandment is, in my opinion, a biblically untenable position to take.  Moreover, it has the potential to be spiritually damaging (maybe even damning?).  Unfortunately, however, it is one that many evangelicals have adopted and have brought with them into the voting booth.

Note that I am not asserting that we should not pay taxes, nor am I saying that paying taxes to support programs that clothe, feed, house, and relieve the marginalized is wrong or sinful.  In fact, the opposite is true.  I am saying, however, that using the government to fulfill what is perhaps an idealistic interpretation of biblical mandates (such as the notion that the second-greatest commandment is fulfilled when I vote for candidates with a liberal social agenda) is misguided at best, and does real spiritual and physical damage at worst.

Monday, November 12, 2012

5 Year Olds, and the Doctrine of the Trinity

Ever had one of those questions from your kids that you have no idea how to answer in a way that they will understand?  I had one of those tonight.

Jamie said that no one could do the things that God could do.  I affirmed this notion, and said that neither he nor I could do things like God does.  Then I said to him, "Only one person can do the things God can do.  Do you know who that is?"

"Who?" he answered.

"God!"  I said.  "Only God can do the great things that God does."

"Oh.  What about Jesus?"

"Well, Jesus is God, so Jesus can do those great things too.  Remember, Jesus is God's Son, so Jesus is also God," I explained.

"Oh," Ferg replied.  "So there are two Gods?"

Uh oh.

"Well, no, Jesus and God are the same.  They are two distinct persons, yet the same one God."

"Oh," Jamie answered, feigning complete comprehension.

How do you explain to a five year old that God is three distinct persons, yet one God?  When you figure it out, let me know and I'll have the "trinity talk" with my five year old.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Thus & Such Vol. 7

1. Post Election 2012 Debriefing.  By Dan Philips.  Good and encouraging thoughts for those struggling with the results of the election.

2. "The tragedy of the 2012 election is that in this land of the free and home of the brave, many people were not allowed to vote.  Their voices were silenced.  Their votes were not cast.  Their opinions not expressed.  Why?  Because they were dead."  Here is an interesting reflection on one of the effects of abortion on this country for the past 30+ years.

3. "A church operates more like a family than a store.  If we miss this, then we will always have dissatisfaction towards those who are trying to love and help us."  Are you a Christian Consumer?  Find out here.

4. "This a good day to reflect upon what God has done for you, as the price he paid for your freedom also didn't come cheaply."  Here's a thoughtful reflection for Veteran's Day.

5. Our small group Bible study this past week talked a bit about issues surrounding disabilities in children and adults, and particularly in a church setting.  One of the questions we talked briefly about was whether or not people with severe cognitive disabilities have the capacity for understanding the gospel, and if not, what happens to them at death?  Will God hold them accountable for the deeds done in the body, even if they don't even have a grasp of their own existence?  This question is not unlike the question as to whether or not infants go to heaven at death.  Thankfully, there are some very helpful articles out there that I sent along to our group members.  I thought I'd post them here as well: the first article is Albert Mohler's biblical explanation as to why he believes that all aborted babies are, in fact, among the elect.  The second article is an explanation of Old Testament verses that suggest that children who die in infancy go to be with God.  The third article is the same as the latter, except that it looks at New Testament verses on the same subject.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Is the Church to Blame?

NOTE: It has come to my attention that the video embedded below keeps switching to whatever video the Wretched channel has most recently posted.  This means that it's not the video I refer to in the post.  To see the video referenced in this post, go here.

The following is from Todd Friel, of Wretched Radio and TV.  The video is basically him expounding on the idea in the text below.  It should be noted that this sentiment and video could have and should have been shared regardless of who won the election.

Little Johnny just threw a rock through his neighbor’s window.  Is the broken window the problem? No, it is a result of Johnny’s actions.  What caused Johnny’s behavior? Johnny thought it would be fun to smash ol’ Mrs. Hildebrand’s window.  Where did Johnny’s thinking come from? His beliefs; instead of believing his parents, he believed that rotten friend of his who goaded Johnny to, “Throw it, throw it.”

Bad results come from bad actions which are the fruit of bad thinking which is the result of bad beliefs.  If you ever witness a bad result, you can be assured that it is merely a consequence of bad actions, thinking and ultimately, beliefs.

That is why President Obama is a problem, but he is not the problem.  THE problem in America today is the church.  Permit me to persuade you.

  • If a liberal church focusses on the environment, who are they inclined to vote for?
  • If a progressive church defines marriage as “anyone who is committed to another person,”  do you suppose they will vote red or blue?
  • If a prosperity church focusses on healing and free money from God, who do you think they will pull the lever for?
Surprise, liberal, progressive and prosperity churches voted overwhelmingly for Barak Obama. Why? They are bad churches with bad teachers delivering false teachings resulting in heretical beliefs which inspire wrong actions that deliver horrific consequences.

Might I suggest, if we want to reclaim America we had better reclaim the churches first.  

The result of strong, healthy, Biblical churches is strong healthy faith which changes rotten thinking into righteous thinking which produces holy behavior generating good consequences.  If you don’t like the results of this election, don’t blame Mitt, the Republican Party or Chris Christie.  Blame the church.

But don’t stop there.  Instead of abandoning ship, doing home church or church shopping every Sunday, dedicate yourself to a local church to: fix it, serve it, fund it, cleanse it, help it, support it or reform it if necessary.  If we focus less on Washington and more on our local churches, the nation will be better off.

Please note: we should not clean up our churches in order to have more conservative political leaders, but that will ultimately be the result of strong, healthy local churches.  Besides, Christian church activism is what Jesus commanded, not political activism.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

God's Good Design in Disability

I had the opportunity to lead some folks from Riverview to Desiring God's conference, "God's Good Design in Disability."  That's a strange title, you might think to yourself.  How can disability be good?  The word alone implies that something is broken or off: dis-ability.  Four speakers, however, provided what I thought was a convincing, biblical case for why disabilities are good things.

The first thing you will need to believe in order to accept that disabilities can be and are blessings from God is the general idea of God's sovereignty.  The Bible says over and over again that God is the main "mover and shaker" in the universe.  That is, nothing happens outside of God's purview.  He controls everything, either by directly causing things to happen, or allowing things to happen.  The point is, that nothing happens without his direct stamp of approval.  There are no accidents - there are no tragedies, even - that he is not directly involved in, including disabilities.

How can we say that, though?  How can a good, kind, and loving God cause people to have disabilities?  Well, in one sense, the question is flawed.  We inherently assume that disabilities are necessarily a bad thing, and we form this opinion based on our observations of the effects they have on the people who have them.  We see cognitive abilities diminished; we see physical capacities hindered, and we automatically form a judgment that says these conditions are inherently bad or evil.  And if we affirm that God is indeed sovereign, and that he designs and distributes disabilities to whom he will, we then have a problem: how does God remain good and yet assign certain disabilities to people?  But if we look to scripture a bit first, I think we get a different outlook.

Scripture affirms over and over that everything God does is good and right (Psalm 145.17).  God is never wrong in his judgments, nor does he ever do anything that is sinful, unfair, or unjust.  This means that everything that happens to us in life that might look difficult, trying, or hard, is actually good.  After all, if it is from God, it is good, regardless of whether or not we view the circumstances as being positive or negative.  Anything from God is good, precisely because it is God who has caused it to happen.

Moreover, scripture also teaches that everything God does to us and for us is for our good (Romans 8.28).  He does not vindictively smite us or cause us unnecessary harm or difficulty.  God always does that which is good, and good for us.  Does this mean life isn't hard?  Does this mean tragedies don't happen?  Does this mean that suffering from a disability isn't heart-breaking?  Certainly not, in any of these cases!  But it does mean that, even if difficult, those things God brings into our lives (such as a disability) is ultimately good because it is from God.

So in the most basic sense, we have a perspective problem: we are viewing life through a temporal set of lenses that limits our understanding of how certain pieces of life contribute to an eternal whole.  Our lenses only let us see the past and the present - we have no knowledge of the future, nor how the past and present will effect the future.  God does see the future, of course, and so the things that he puts into our lives are their to accomplish his good purposes for us and for his glory.

This is a hard concept to "get" to be sure, but it is one that essential.  And, of course, the notion of God's sovereignty is not limited to disabilities, but to all aspects of life.  When we face difficulties and trials of many kinds, we can consider it pure joy, because God has given us those trials for our good: to develop in those who love him a steadfastness in the faith that would be unattainable had we not been afflicted (James 1.2-4).  Does God have a good design in disability?  Absolutely.

The four speakers also participated in a panel discussion in which they fielded questions on the topic of disability.  Two questions were rather thought provoking:

1. How can people with sever cognitive disabilities that limit their understanding of the gospel be saved?

2. Will people with disabilities be rid of their disability in heaven?

The answer to the former question is based on what I've written above about God's goodness and sovereignty.  In one sense, we cannot have a definite answer for whether or not people with cognitive disabilities that preclude them from believing the gospel are saved, or how they are, if indeed they are.  But we can say this: God is always just, and his decisions are always right.  In other words, God will never do anything that is wrong, including condemn those whom it would be unjust to condemn.  If it would be wrong for God to condemn a person with a cognitive disability that limited his or her understanding or ability to believe the gospel, then we can be sure that God will do no such thing.  The trick is that we can't know whether or not it is wrong - we simply trust God to be faithful to his word that says he always does that which is right and good.  For me, this answer is a satisfying comfort.

The answer to the latter question was, I thought, fascinating, and is one that people who do not suffer from a physical or cognitive disability can probably not completely comprehend.  The question was posed to Dr. Mark Talbot, who has been a paraplegic since the age of 17, after having broken his back. He explained that his disability has become so engrained in the very essence of his personhood, that he can't imagine life without being disabled.  In a sense, he knows no other existence.  For him to imagine a life in heaven without a disability, then, is something that is unfathomable.  Furthermore, he explained how so much good has come from his disability, that he can't imagine that God would, by implication, pronounce the disability as something worthless and bad in heaven.  This is a difficult thing to wrap your mind around, and I certainly wouldn't say that Dr. Talbot's opinion or anyone else's is definitive, but it's certainly something interesting to think about.

I find Dr. Talbot's answer to be interesting, because my own father has lived with a disability since he was seven years old.  Indeed, my dad's disability has become a part of who he is - even in his identity as "father."  I have no knowledge of what it's like to have a father who is not physically disabled.  It's always been there, and it's something that has just become a part of who my dad is.  Will he have a disability in heaven?  If he does, it certainly won't be considered a dis-ability, but I'm not necessarily sure what else to call it.  I almost can't fathom seeing my dad in heaven some day without a disability.  It's an idea that's completely foreign to me.

Over all, it was good to be reminded today how God works in this world, and how he is always doing what is good for us, and for his own glory.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Facebook on the Election and Voting

Lots of people voting in this election, and lots of them are posting about their experience (and trying to sway others their way) on Facebook.  Sometimes this is very good, and very encouraging - and not necessarily because these people are voting my way.  Other times people are rude jerks.  What follows is sentiment about the election and voting that I've seen today on Facebook from my friends.  These folks spoke highly, and were appreciative of, their right obligation to vote.  I don't particularly know how these people voted, but I respect the fact that they answered the call to fulfill their civic duty.  On a sidenote, a lot of these people are from my church, and I was overjoyed to see the ways in which they were analyzing the election through spiritual lenses.  Way to go, Riverview peeps!

Whoever wins, that’s my president.  I have to pray for him and wish him well.

#voting #longlines #worthit

The truth that Jesus of Nazareth was who he claimed to be has infinitely more impact on the world tomorrow than who gets elected tonight.

I did all that I could…it’s out of my hands now.  It was always in God’s though, so it will be alright regardless.

I am reminded today that this is not my home; I am destined for a better place.  Lord, guide me to that end, and no matter what today brings, that is where my hope carries me.

Praying for MN today!

In line to vote.  Too bad it’s such a crummy morning…well worth the wait!

God be with me when I head to the polls and cast my vote.  I pray that my choices will be honorable in your sight.

I have been anxiously waiting for the opportunity to vote, and finally I voted.  I felt like I had done something important, something that connects me with my fellow Americans, something that may very well impact the future of the country itself.  I do realize that I have contributed to one of the most important political races in the world.  Whoever will serve as the president, I want to pray that only God’s purpose be fulfilled.  God bless America. (posted by an immigrant who was recently granted American citizenship)

Well, this is quite an important day for our country.  I haven’t voted yet, but will in an hour or two.  I am praying that no matter what the result I will remember, “This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.”  I hope you can join me in that thought.

I went to vote today and got butterflies in my stomach.  I am so thankful for this right, thankful to the volunteers at the polling place for doing their jobs so well, and thankful for my freedoms.  God bless America.

Two Election Day Thoughts

I wish I could say these quotes are mine, but they are actually from John Piper's most recent sermon this past Sunday.  He says of the election:

"Let there be no man-exalting illusion as though mere human beings will be the decisive cause in any victory or loss.  God alone will have that supreme role."

And of he who is to be our next president, Piper says:

"Whoever the next president is, he will not be sovereign.  He will be governed.  He will be ruled.  And we should pray him, that he would know that.  He will bow his neck under the sovereign hand of Jesus Christ, Lord of all.  

A Prayer for Election Day

From Joel Beeke:

Our Father, Lord of heaven and earth, Thou art very great. We praise Thee for Thy name is above all blessing and praise. Thou canst do immeasurably above all that we ask or think. Thou hast made the heavens and all their host, the earth and seas and all that fills them, and the angels of heaven do worship Thee.
Thou hast blessed our nation with an abundance of food and wealth. Thou hast revealed Thy law and gospel in Thy Holy Scriptures. Thou hast sent Thy Son to give His life a ransom for many. Thy servants have testified to our people.
Yet, O God, our land is bathed in the blood of innocents. We have taken Thy gifts, and made them our idols. We have hardened our hearts, and listened not to Thy commandments. We have turned Thy holy gospel into a license to sin. We have celebrated that which Thou dost condemn. We are a proud nation, and Thou dost hate pride.
Have mercy, O God, have mercy upon us! Thou dost not change, and therefore Thy people are not consumed. Forgive America for its many sins. Forgive each of us for all our sins. In wrath remember mercy. Thou didst promise that for the sake of ten righteous men Thou wouldst spare wicked Sodom. O God, hear the prayers of those who delight to fear Thy name, and do not give this nation over to a lie.
Thou art the Most High, who doth rule over the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever Thou wilt. If the heart of the king is in Thy hand to turn it as Thou pleasest, certainly then Thou rulest over the votes of the people. Direct their votes, we pray Thee, to those that will govern our nation with wisdom and lead us in ways that are right. Grant to us a president, senators, representatives, judges, governors, and other officials who will do us good and not harm. Give us a government under which Thy people, Thy church whom Thou dost love, may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
Yet, Sovereign Lord, our deepest prayer is that Thou wouldst do whatever is necessary in the United States so that Thy name be hallowed, Thy kingdom come, and Thy will be done, both here and throughout the world, now and in all generations to come. Glorify Thyself in Thy church and in Thy Son now and forevermore. Amen. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

How to Pray on Election Day

On this Election Day Eve, it is indeed profitable to lift up the election process and our nation in prayer.  I have read two great pieces about praying for the upcoming election and our country: one from John Piper at Desiring God, and a piece about how to pray for the election by Albert Mohler.  Above all else (like political involvement), those who call on the name of the Lord should do so at this time, and in the days to come.  And through this process, let us examine ourselves as we examine the state of our nation and those who lead it.

Unfortunately, our system of government has led Americans (including Christians) to believe that we are the masters of our own destiny - we elect whom we want, and if we don't like someone in power, we vote him out of power.  This gives us a sense of control when it comes to government.  We believe that we have the final say.  Also, there are many American Christians that separate their spiritual and political thoughts and opinions.  This ought not to be.  These two realities, however, have predisposed American Christians to, in large part, refrain from deep prayer when considering the political realm.  Again, this ought not to be.  As the two pieces linked above make clear, there is much to be prayed about when considering our country, our leaders, and even our own involvement in the political process.

How should we pray at this time?  Albert Mohler suggests the following.  And it should be noted that these prayer requests are appropriate for all times, not just during election cycles.

1. Pray that God will bless America with leaders who are better than we deserve.

2. Pray that Americans will be motivated to fulfill the responsibilities of citizenship, yet also that we will be stripped of an unhealthy and idolatrous confidence in the power of government to save us.

3. Pray that Americans will vote by conscience, not merely on the basis of celebrity or emotion.

4. Pray that Americans will vote to defend the least among us - and especially those who have not vote.

5. Pray that God will prick the conscience of the nation on issues of morality, righteousness, and respect for marriage as the central institution of human civilization.

6. Pray that God will protect the candidates and their families.

7. Pray that the election is conducted with honor, civility, respect, and justice.

8. Pray that Americans will be prepared to accept the results of the election with respect and kindness.

9. Pray that this election would lead to even greater opportunities to preach the gospel, and that the freedom of the church will be respected, honored, and protected.

10. Pray for the church - that she would be strengthened in the truth, grounded in the faith, and empowered for witness and ministry.