Friday, April 26, 2013

Celebrating Rejection

My church, Riverview Baptist, is in the midst of a search for a new youth and young adult minister.  We posted a position description on three prominent websites about three weeks ago, and have since been receiving several resumes from prospective candidates.  Just this week we paired down the candidates list, removing those who, for whatever reason, would not move on to the interview phase.  I had the somewhat unhappy task today of sending out rejection letters to these candidates.

I had never written a rejection letter  before, so I did a little research on the internet to see what I was dealing with.  I found some helpful advice, and even some templates, but all of these were written from a man-centered business philosophy.  They were full of language like, "We appreciate your skill set, but..." or "You would make a great asset for a company, however..."  And then the letter would go on to suggest that the person would be a great addition to another company, or that maybe they could apply for a different position in the same company, or maybe a similar position at a later date.  The letters all concluded with apologetic language that made me feel sorry for the person being rejected.

I decided I didn't want to write a letter like that.  Rather, I wanted to write a letter that I would want to read and be encouraged by if I were the one being rejected - one that communicates what needs to be communicated, but also points the reject (sorry for the term) toward the sovereignty of God in all things - even job applications.  So here's what I came up with for the closing line of my rejection letter:

"We continue to pray that God will use you for great things in his kingdom as his plan for your life unfolds."

The Christian should be able to handle rejection, or the unexpected, or perhaps the undesirable way things turn out much better than the non-believer.  As Christians, we believe that God sovereignly ordains all things, and that there are no accidents, and that everything that happens is God's will, and that his will is what is best for us - even when his will is somewhat difficult to accept.

There's a simple formula to remember when considering how we know what is God's will and what isn't.  It's like this: if something happens, it was God's will; if something doesn't happen, it wasn't God's will.  Seems simple, I know, and it is, but think about it: God always gets his way.  God's will is always carried out.  God doesn't ever end up frustrated because things didn't shake out the way he thought they would.  No, everything that happens, happens precisely because it is exactly what God wanted to happen.  So to those of us who have received a rejection letter in the past, and when we receive one in the future (because everyone does), take heart: it was not God's will that you have that job.  How do I know that?  Because if it was God's will, it would have happened.

(Note: there is a difference, however, between God's perfect will [what he righteously desires] and his permissive will [what he allows].  The two are not the same, and should not be confused, but an explanation of these differences is beyond the purview of this post.  Either way, the point that Christians can celebrate - sometimes in tears, and sometimes in joy - whatever happens remains valid)

In this sense, the believer can celebrate rejection.  Not that it feels particularly good to be rejected, but we can at least have some comfort in the fact that God is doing things, and for whatever reason, in his infinite wisdom, this wasn't one of them.  We can also rejoice in the reality that God does what is always best for us, both now (in the rejection) and in the future, whatever it may hold.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Why I Won't Drink the Climate Change Kool Aid

As I write this, my state sits in the clutches of its third unseasonal April snow storm.  At the same time, it is also Earth Day across the country.  These two factors seemed to be enough to motivate me to write a post about my thoughts about global warming, climate change, or whatever they're calling it these days.  I've written on the topic before, but this will probably be my most thorough explanation of why I just don't buy the hype.

As I reflect on it, I find that the reasons I don't believe that we're doomed to destroy the planet fall into two basic categories: theological reasons, and what I'll call "natural" reasons (more on that in a minute), or basically, some problems I have with the way the science behind the climate change debate is conducted.  But first, two basic theological reasons that I don't buy the climate change theory that I'll discuss very briefly:

1. The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof.  In other words, God owns this place, so he gets to say what happens and doesn't happen.

2. Mankind cannot destroy anything without God's permission to do so.  The idea that human beings could thwart God's plan for the earth is the height of arrogance.  If you wanted to say that God is allowing human beings to destroy the earth, then we can start to have a conversation, but I think that conversation ends pretty quickly (see below).  Some theologians, like Tim Challies, don't buy the climate change theory, but argue that human beings have nonetheless failed in their duty to responsibly take dominion of the earth.  I don't necessarily agree, but at least we have a place to start.

Now onto some of my "natural" reasons.  It should be noted that I am willing to be corrected on any of my conclusions listed below.  I am certainly no scientist, but I think I have at least a knowledge of how science works, and this is where most of my doubts about climate change come on the scene.  If I am wrong about my thinking on the points below, please feel free to contact me.  I'm sure there are many who might charge me with oversimplifying the situation or making unfair generalizations or misunderstanding the way climate science works.  That may be, and I'm open to correction.  So here they are:

1. All predictions of environmental doomsday scenarios have failed to come to pass.  So many people have been declaring the end of the earth due to man-made climate change for the past 40 years, and have been subsequently wrong, that I don't think it's unreasonable to place as much credence in their prognostications as I would in Harold Camping saying the world was going to come to an end in May of 2012.

2. The sample size is too small.  Human beings have only been studying weather patterns for about 130 years.  In other words, we've only been conducting scientific experiments on the earth and on weather patterns for a comparatively very short period of time.  If we go with the generally accepted supposed age of the earth as being 4.54 billion years old (which I don't, but I'll use that number for the sake of this argument), then that means we have been observing the earth and weather patterns for only 0.000000028% of earth's history.  Do we really think that that sample size is large enough to make solid conclusions?  How in the world do we know that the patterns we are observing today are extraordinary?  We don't.  We can't.  So then, to make up for this little glitch, climate scientists speculate on what they believe weather patterns, average temperatures, and ice core depths of the past were like.  But how can they do that with any certainty?  I understand how they can hypothesize on what trends of the past were like, but this is not hard science.  It is theoretical at best.  It's based on what I'll call "historical science" that just can't be proven.  In a sense, it seems as though the scientific method has gone by the wayside.  

When I was a kid, one of the major subjects of discussion in all of my elementary science classes was that there was a hole in the ozone layer that was going to allow the sun to seep in and fry us all.  Well, that never happened.  And come to think of it, when's the last time you heard anyone talk about a hole in the ozone layer?  I think it was some time around sixth grade.  Why don't we talk about it anymore?  Could it be the science that precipitated the hole-in-the-ozone doomsday scenarios was flawed?  We better make sure we know what we're talking about if we go around telling people the sky is falling (pun intended).  And before the hole-in-the-ozone hysteria, there were warnings about the coming ice age.  Did I miss it?  Why didn't that happen?  And who is going to apologize for working us up into a frenzy over what science had so clearly (cough) predicted?

In more recent years the acceptable term has been "global warming."  But now that term has been put on the shelf in favor of "climate change," because now science doesn't support a warming, but a "change" (note how the word "change" is vague enough to encompass any anomaly - more on that below).  We got all worked up about global warming, but apparently that's off the table now.

3. All evidence is analyzed with a bias.  No matter what a person is studying, he or she brings to the table a certain set of presuppositions and preunderstandings.  This is true of any kind of science.  We are all influenced in certain ways that color the way we see evidence and data.  In my experience, this is  especially true of climate science, if for no other reason than the incredible external pressures climate scientists have placed on them.  Therefore, I find their analyzation of evidence and subsequent conclusions to be at least somewhat suspect.

4. All evidence is analyzed with a political agenda.  I am wary of scientific conclusions produced by men and women whose means of making a living for themselves is dependent upon their findings supporting a certain conclusion.  Peoples' jobs and political careers depend on having climate studies turn out a certain way.  Can someone really be objective under such circumstances?  I have no evidence of how often this occurs, but I know that it does occur.  And just the reality that this happens on even an irregular basis should be cause for concern about the validity of the findings of climate change science.  To top it off, the media puts a spin on the findings that will bend them even more toward their own political agenda.  Who can we trust?  I don't know for sure, but I think it's wise to take climate change reports with a healthy dose of skepticism.

5. All evidence supports the climate change theory.  It's interesting to me that no matter what the whether is like, you can find someone who bangs the climate change drum saying that such weather is proof of man-made climate change.  That's what Paul Douglas does in this article, one of the goofiest ones I've read on the topic.  It was written during the heat wave of the spring of 2012.  In it, Douglas says this: "It's 85 in March.  What will July bring?  It's as if Mother Nature seized the weather remote, clicked America's seasons on fast-foward, turning the volume on extreme weather up to a deafening 10.  This isn't even close to being 'normal.'"  Well, Mr. Douglas, if memory serves, July of last year was decidedly within the limits of normalcy.  It was not the apocalypse you thought it would be.  And what about this year?  It's the evening of April 22 as I write this and we're expecting 5-9 inches of snow overnight.  How do you explain that, considering that one year ago it was the exact opposite?  Or how do you explain the winter of 2011 which was exceedingly average?

The way I see Douglas and other climate change theorists explaining it is quite simple: all evidence points to climate change.  Why is it so hot?  Climate change.  Why is it so cold?  Climate change.  Why is it snowing so much?  Climate change.  Why have there been so many tornadoes recently?  Climate change.  Why is there a drought?  Climate change.  Why are we having this seasonably average weather?  Climate change.  Why is it that when we have seasonably average weather, no one uses that as evidence against climate change?  Climate change is a position that is seemingly supported by all evidence, which again, makes me suspicious.  The use of all evidence - regardless of how it seems to support or disprove the hypothesis - seems incredibly dishonest to me.

6. Climate change is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  What I mean by that is this: if the doomsday scenarios do come to pass, climate change proponents can wave their finger in our faces and say, "Told ya so."  but, if those scenarios do not come to pass, "evidence" will either be put forth to support a different scenario, or climate change proponents will pat themselves on the back and congratulate themselves for saving the world with their dire warnings.  They can't lose.  Either way, they win.  If the world ends, they were right.  If the world keeps spinning, they were the heroes that inspired us all to change our ways (even though there is no evidence of such a thing).  Ironically enough, this seems to me like a very unscientific place to find oneself, especially when one is constantly trumpeting the virtues of science.

So there you have it.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Thus & Such, Vol. 26

1. Will God interfere with our free will?  Yep.  Here's how I know.

2. Here's a very good and very important piece that talks about why the church must continue to speak out in the same-sex marriage conversation, and must continue to call the world (and the church) to account.

3. Speaking of same-sex marriage, during the debate that took place in this state throughout the last election cycle, I and many others were accused of using a slippery slope argument by asserting that if gay marriage were allowed, polygamy wouldn't be far behind.  Turns out our fears were, and are, justified.  The only question is, what will it be after polygamy?

4. As a Sunday School teacher and worship leader I can attest to the sometimes frustrating reality that people show up late for church.  It's interesting: I bet they don't show up late for work or school, but apparently showing up late for church is no big deal.  Anyway, off my soapbox, here are some good reasons why it's important to be on time for church.  I'd like to add one to them quickly, regarding the effects of timeliness on children: children learn from their parents what is important.  They know it's important to be prompt for things like school and work.  I wonder what kind of impression they get from their parents when the family routinely shows up late for church? (oops, got back on my soapbox there, sorry)

5. R.A. Dickey spent a year with the Twins a few years ago, but was promptly traded to the Mets.  Since then, he's torn up the league.  He's also a Christian guy with a great testimony.  Here's a piece that CBS news did on him.  Good stuff.

6. This planet is populated by seven billion people.  Seven billion.  That's a lot.  Ever wondered what that number looks like?  Now you can see it.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Thus & Such, Vol. 25 (Kermit Gosnell Edition)

WARNING: This edition of "Thus and Such" touches on some very important, but very graphic subject matter.  Reader discretion is advised.

There's been somewhat of an internet buzz in recent days about a murder trial that is taking place as we speak that the mainstream media won't touch with a 99 1/2 foot pole.  One Kermit Gosnell is accused of one count of murder and seven counts of infanticide.  Why won't the media touch it?  Because Gosnell is an abortionist, and his abortion clinic was a literal house of horrors, with blood and body parts littering the hallways and rooms.  Not to mention that it can be shown that Gosnell specifically targeted minority and low-income women, and performed abortions on babies who had been born alive and shown to be viable (killing babies outside the womb)  This man is a butcher, the likes of the most vile mass murderers this country has ever known, and the media won't touch it because we all know that abortion is a safe, positive thing...right?

Educate yourself.  Get to know this man, his craft, and the horror that is abortion.

1. Learn all about Gosnell and the trial by watching this very important 21 minute documentary (warning: graphic images).

2. Read this article: The Monstrous Abortion Trial the Media Don't Want You to Know About.

3. "It would rain fetuses.  Fetuses and blood all over the place."  This is a quote from one of Gosnell's staffers.  This staffer claims that he saw at least 100 babies born alive and then killed.  We've forgotten what belongs on Page One.

4. "Where are we at when a child born into this world can be executed and the fathers and mothers and leaders of that society are not shaken to their bones with disgust?  Where is "Rachel weeping for her children?"  "Refusing to be comforted because they are no more."  The Story You May Not Have Heard.

5. Why hasn't the media run this story?  Why don't we hear anything about it?  Trevin Wax nails it in this article, giving 8 reasons for the media blackout on Kermit Gosnell.  

6. Take a look at this, and consider speaking out in whatever way you can: How You Can Shame the Media Into Covering the Kermit Gosnell Abortion Trial.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Goliath's Head

I'm in the process of rewatching some talks by Doug Wilson that he gave at the Desiring God conference last year.  I was privileged to attend the conference in person, and it's nice to be able to re-ingest the things that were said there.  One of Wilson's ideas struck me as profound this time through.  He says:

The gospel means that you are privileged to carry the weight of your sin around the same way David carried Goliath's head.  The weight of your sin is cut off, and the only weight you ought to feel is the weight of victory.

A rather colorful way to describe victory in Christ.

Monday, April 8, 2013

I Blew It

When it comes to sharing their faith, most Christians get nervous.  It's a difficult task to be sure.  After all, it's not easy to know exactly what to say or how to explain things or answer questions.  Plus a lot of Christians might feel they are being invasive or rude by sharing their faith with a stranger out of the blue.  We usually think that if someone wanted to know about our faith, they'd ask.

Other times people open the door and practically invite you to share the things of God with them.  I had one of those times today.  And I blew it.

A woman called the church office today and asked if we "did baptisms" at our church.  I must admit that the question caught me a bit off guard, so I answered hesitantly, almost questioning: "Yes?"

She then said, "Are you a non-denominational church?  I'm not sure what kind of church you are, whether you're Catholic, Presbyterian, or whatever."

"We're a Baptist church," I answered.

"Oh, OK," she said.  "I just need to get my son baptized."

By this time I had pretty much pieced together what she was driving at.  At first I didn't realize that she was not affiliated with our church in any way.  I didn't realize she was "baptism shopping."

"Uh, how old is your son?" I asked.

"He's seven months old," she responded.

"Oh.  Um, we don't baptize infants at our church.  Just children and adults who have professed faith in Jesus.  You'll need to contact a different church."

"OK, thanks," she said, and hung up the phone.

After I hung up the phone, I was still reeling a bit from what had just transpired in that short conversation, but I definitely knew on thing: "You blew it!"

What a perfect chance to share the gospel with someone!  Here was this woman, telling me that she was going to engage in a spiritual activity, and I had the chance to share with her the meaning of baptism, and why we believe it is performed on believers and not on infants.  I had a humongous foot in the door to open up a spiritual conversation with her, but what did I say?

"You'll need to contact a different church."


But this wasn't the only fail I've had recently in the evangelism department.  This past January Riverview participated in Project Home with another local church, in which we helped to provide emergency housing for those in need.  Here again, I had a golden opportunity to provide a reason for the hope that lies within me, but here again, I blew it.

As the Project Home "host" for the evening, I was instructed to tell the residents that their last chance for a smoke break was at 8:30 PM.  So at about 8:20 I went around and asked everyone if they smoked, and if so, they should take their last break now.  I found a couple people in the lounge area talking and asked, "Do you all smoke?"

"Yeah," one lady answered.  "Everybody here smokes.  You probably wouldn't know what that's like though, since you're a good Christian."

I then proceeded to tell her that no, I was in fact not a good Christian, and that's why I need Jesus.  I'm actually a very bad person with none of my own goodness, and that before God, I am a filthy sinner deserving God's judgment.  I have broken his law.  I have acted in ways that are an affront to God's nature and authority.  I deserve hell.  But God, being rich in mercy, even when we were dead in our trespasses, sent forth his Son to live a perfect and sinless life.  He took all of the sin that I had committed onto himself and paid the penalty that belonged to me by dying on a cross.  God crushed his own Son instead of me.  And Jesus proved he was God and that the sacrifice was sufficient by rising from the dead.  He has regenerated me and given me a new heart and new nature, so that now the sins that I once loved, I hate, and the things I once hated, I love.  So no, there is nothing good about me except the alien righteousness that was imputed to me through Christ so I can now come before God as clean and pure.

Actually, I didn't say any of that.  Instead, I gave a nervous chuckle and said they needed to take their last smoke break of the night, to which the woman and her companion said they already had.

I missed another opportunity to share the gospel that was served up to me on a tee.

If nothing else, these examples are good reminders for us to thank God that the eternal destinies of people do not rely on our efforts.  Instead, God is sovereign over how, when, and if people will hear and believe the gospel.  If it were all up to me saying the right words at the right time, then pretty much everyone would be damned to hell, because I'm flawed.  I don't make the most of opportunities, and I don't say the right things.  So praise God that he does his work even if and when I botch it and blow a chance to share the gospel with someone.  And it's also a good reminder to keep our eyes and ears open for every chance to share the good news.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

He Knows How I Feel

I had somewhat of an epiphany this afternoon as I was preparing my comments for this week's communion service.

I grew up in a very loving family.  My parents and sisters and I were very close when I was a kid, and remain so to this day.  In fact, some of the best times I can have are with my family.  I enjoy them, and they (I think) enjoy me.  I thank God for my family.

But while this may have been and is the case, my family has never excelled at communicating their affection for one another.  We were never a hugging family.  That is, there was little to no physical contact between us.  Hugs were very few and far between, and there would never be any kissing - no way.

Moreover, we were never the type to tell one another "I love you," on a frequent basis.  In fact, not really at all.  Now that I think about it, I can't remember the last time I told one of my parents that I loved them, nor can I remember the last time they said as much to me.  I think the last time I hugged my parents was at my wedding...almost 10 years ago.

For all intents and purposes, this setup has suited me just fine.  I've always been somewhat of a hands-off kind of guy, and I'm not much for sentimentality just for the sake of it.  And for the most part, this approach to communicating affection in relationships has served me well...until I got married.  Turns out the Mrs. wants to be told "I love you," more often than once every ten years.  Imagine that!

Although my family was, and remains, very reserved when it comes to communicating affection for one another, there has never been any doubt that that affection exists.  Of course we love each other - it just usually manifests itself in sarcasm and friendly ribbing more than it does in hugs.  You could say that we don't need to hug or say "I love you," because the emotions communicated by those displays is just assumed between us.  We all know how we feel about each other.  There doesn't seem to be any need for anything else.

As I prepared for communion this afternoon, and was reflecting on some texts I was looking at, it dawned on me that I sometimes treat my communion with God like I treat my family.  In other words, sometimes I neglect prayer or meditation or self-examination because I assume God knows how I feel about him and about myself.  When I have sinned and feel convicted, I can have the tendency not to address the issue in prayer because, meh, he already knows how I feel.  Why do I need to tell him?  Why do I need to talk to him about it?  He already knows my thoughts before I share them with him; he already knows I feel convicted and want to change.  What's the point of bringing it up and making a big deal over it?

I think it's likely that I sometimes approach my prayer life and self-examination in this way because of the way my family approached intimate issues, which as described above, was virtually non-existent.  I never felt the need to tell my family how I felt about them because, meh, they already know how I feel about them.  Could it be that I sometimes neglect prayer or self-examination because, "Meh, God already knows how I feel"?  I think it is, and I'm surprised it's taken me 32 years to see this connection.

To be sure, this is not a good or positive trend in my spiritual life.  Does God know how I feel?  Of course.  Does this preclude me from communicating my affection for him and coming to him in those times when I am convicted of sin?  Absolutely not.  God tells us to commune with him in prayer.  Why?  So he can get some new information on us he doesn't already have?  No, he already has that information.  Then why pray?  Because it is a sign of dependency on our part, because it demonstrates obedience, and moreover, it serves to cause us to be introspective and look for how God might be moving in our lives.  God doesn't "get" anything out of our prayers.  He doesn't need our prayers, but he wants them.  He has a desire to commune with us in prayer and in his word and in times of meditation and introspection in order to make us more like Jesus.  The purpose of prayer is not to change God, but to change the one praying.  To neglect these times would be unwise, and even sinful.

Don't get me wrong: I don't blame my parents or sisters or anyone else for my issues with intimacy with God.  But it is a good indicator of how influential our upbringings, experiences, and family dynamics can be when it comes to how we think and feel about God.  I grew up in a very affection-less family scenario, and there are times when my walk with God is rather affection-less too.  It is highly unlikely the too are unrelated.

So does God know how I feel about him?  Yes.  Do I need to tell him I love him?  Do I need to bring my cares and concerns and convictions to him?  No, at least not in the sense that I need to do so in order to make him aware of them.  But in another sense, yes, I do need to bring them to him for the sake of how the process of my bringing those things to him communicates my trust in and obedience to him.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

He Is Always Just

My previous post has got me thinking about an issue that came up during a recent conference I attended on the sovereignty of God and disability, hosted by Desiring God.  It was a phenomenal conference that examined several aspects of disability through a theological lens.  One of those aspects was how God judges people with disabilities.

There are certainly several cognitive impairments that people can suffer from that might limit said person's ability to understand the gospel, or even make it impossible for them to understand the gospel.  How does God judge these people when they die?  I've been thinking about this because one of my wife's special ed. students passed away unexpectedly this morning.

In one sense, we can have somewhat of an emotional reaction to the thought that God would judge someone who is not physically or mentally able to appropriate the content of the gospel message for himself or herself.  How could God hold such people to such a standard?  Certainly such a practice would be unfair at best, and cruel at worst.  I certainly wouldn't want to submit to - much less love - a God who would judge a person as guilty because he or she couldn't comprehend the knowledge that could lead to their innocence.

The picture that we see of God in scripture, however, is not like the one described above.  Instead we see a God who will judge each one according to his deeds (Rom. 2.6, 1 Peter 1.17).  In other words, God's judgment is personal, and takes the unique circumstances of the person into account.  God knows ever detail about every person, and his judgment is rendered accordingly.  God does not make far-reaching, sweeping judgments on groups of people, but on individuals.

Secondly, we see that their is a degree of judgment, based on the amount of "light" a person has been given.  In Luke 10 we see Jesus condemning cities of his day for rejecting the truth that they had been exposed to as a result of his preaching and miraculous works.  He says that it will be better on the day of judgment for wicked cities of old who had never seen or heard him than it will be for those who had seen and heard him but nevertheless rejected him.  So God holds some people to a higher account than he does others, seemingly based on the amount of truth he has exposed them to.  Because of this, I believe that people who have never read the Bible, heard about Jesus, etc., will be held to a different standard than those of us who are swimming in revelation.  I think this applies to people with cognitive disabilities that could impede their comprehension of the gospel message.

But what comfort is there in that?  OK, people who can't understand the gospel won't be judged as severely, but they'll still be judged.  Not much consolation there for those with friends and family members who suffer from such impairments.  But there's one thing we have failed to mention thus far, and that is God' s unquenchable sense of justice.

When we think about God's justice, we usually think about the pouring out of his wrath on deserving sinners, or on his Son as he died on the cross.  But another part of God's justice is his relentless commitment to give people what they deserve.  God will never give someone something they don't deserve.  He will never unjustly punish someone, nor will he ever award someone who is unworthy of it.  God always does what is right - always.

What does this mean for people with cognitive disabilities who may not be able to understand the gospel in its entirety and could seemingly "miss" some of the necessary ingredients for salvation?  What it means is that God will always deal fairly with those people, taking into account their personal situations and circumstances that influence the way they think and understand.  This should be a remarkable comfort for all of us who are touched by disability: we may not know exactly how God will judge people with disabilities, nor do we know to what standard he will hold them accountable, but we do know that what he will do with them will be fair, just, good and right. 

This is a remarkable and praise-worthy reality.  It might not be so if God were a vindictive or vengeful or angry God.  But no, he is in fact, a kind and good God who delights in showing mercy.  Therefore his justice is always good, and that includes when his justice interacts with people who have disabilities.

One of the speakers at the conference I referenced earlier told a story about his severely disabled adult son.  His son is non-verbal and wears adult diapers.  To the best of his ability, his father has explained to him the gospel, his sinful condition, and his need for a Savior.  Does the son understand the message?  Has he fully comprehended the truth about sin, righteousness, and judgment?  The speaker explained that he frequently asks his disabled son, "Where is Jesus?" and his son points toward the sky.  "Where else is Jesus?" the father asks, and the son points toward his own heart.  This is all the assurance this faithful father has that his son has indeed appropriated the truth of the gospel for himself. The speaker told us at the conference, "Although that might seem rather tenuous at best, to me his pointing at the sky and at his heart in answer to the question 'Where is Jesus?' says, 'Jesus Christ is forever at the right hand of the father interceding on behalf of the saints!'"  I think that's a good assessment!

There are some questions that we can't and won't have answers to.  But the things we do know about God can provide assurance and comfort and hope in times and periods of uncertainty.  We may not know what is going to happen, but we do know that we have a God who is good and kind and delights in showing mercy who is sovereignly ordaining all things!  This is our hope, and we rest comfortably in that hope, in spite of doubts and difficult questions.

Unrelated Things (That Are Somehow Related)

Today was an interesting day.  Most days are, but this one even more so.

Thursday is one of our "school days," which means that Ferguson goes to preschool for two hours and fifteen minutes.  This morning, as we were getting dressed and ready for school, I got a call from the Mrs.  She seemed a little verklempt on the phone, and she quickly explained that one of the students in the special ed. department where she works had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly from what appears to have been a seizure.  The student was not in her class, but was one that she worked closely with on a regular basis.  Knowing that I am a police chaplain for two different local departments, she asked if there was anything I could do to help the family, and I told her I could look into it, but probably wouldn't be able to until some time after noon.  More on that in a minute.

So the kids and I finished getting dressed and we went to school.  After dropping the Ferguson off at his class, Han and I made our way to church for Ladies' Morning Out, where I teach a class of ladies about the names of God.  This week's name that we were studying happened to be Jehovah Rophe - "The Lord My Healer."  A part of my lesson was about the difficult truth that God chooses sometimes not to answer our prayers for healing in the ways that we would like.  Sometimes he allows the ailment or injury to continue and linger on.  While this may be the case, it is also true that whatever God does is for the good of those who love him and have been called according to his purpose.  So if God doesn't answer our prayers for healing, we can take heart that God is doing something good for us.  We may not know what it is just yet, but it is a reality that we must trust.

Also, I told the ladies about how God sometimes heals people through death.  There are some prayers for healing that God does not answer this side of the grave.  Instead, he heals a person by allowing them to die and go to be with him, where there is no sickness, no cancer, no injuries or ailments.  This is the ultimate form of healing, as my friend Al Ahlquist told me one time before he died of pancreatic cancer: "Death is the ultimate form of healing."  It's a difficult truth, but one that we must come to terms with: sometimes God heals through death.

After lunch the Mrs. called and asked what I could do as a police chaplain to see what was going on with the family of her now deceased student.  I've been on a death notification call before and have a bit of experience with some of the processes around how the police and coroner's offices handle sudden deaths.  The Mrs. relayed that the child's father had been in contact with some people at the school and had implied that he could really use some counseling.  I ended up calling the city's police department and getting ahold of the chaplain that was assigned to the case.  He assured me that he would get in contact with the father and talk to him and perhaps even point him to a local church or ministry that could minister to him in this time of need.  I was glad that someone was able to help him, and that it turned out to be the same chaplain he had worked with when it was discovered that his child had died tragically.

The day before all this happened I had told the kids that we would go to the church to practice riding bikes in the parking lot.  We told the Ferguson that we were going to start trying to ride his bike with the training wheels off - a proposition that he wasn't necessarily excited about, but seemed willing to try.  Needless to say, the kids were looking forward to when Mom would return home so we could go bike riding.  The Mrs. returned home from work after an understandably long and heavy day, especially after telling the other students about the tragedy, but she sucked it up and we all piled in the car after loading up the bikes.

We got to the church and immediately had the Ferguson start trying to ride without training wheels.  He had the usual difficulties that kids have doing such a thing, but after a while he got the hang of it.  Pretty soon he was riding long distances like a champ, although he was still a little shaky.  His pride and joy were overflowing as a result of being able to ride his own two-wheeler!  It was a blast to see him get the hang of it, and then to really enjoy the fact that he was able to do what he was doing.  What a privilege for a parent.  We celebrated with supper at a local restaurant.  Below is a a short video record of the process.

In many ways, our day today was a dichotomy between the difficulties of death and the joy of life.  Combine that with the fact that my head was already full of all kinds of thoughts about death, sickness, and healing.  All of the news about death in our day today, combined with seeing the triumph and joy in my child's eyes as he learned to ride his bike presents a stark contrast that can make your head spin.

One family in the city mourns the tragic loss of a seemingly healthy teenage child, while another (mine) celebrates a new experience and triumph in the life of their child.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Thus & Such, Vol. 24

This edition of Thus & Such will be comprised of only 1 link, although that link will take you to dozens of other interesting articles.

For the past several weeks, theological and ministerial heavyweights, Doug Wilson and Thabiti Anyabwile have been having a back and forth regarding the issue of American slavery, racism, and racial insensitivity.  Doug Wilson authored a couple of booklets several years ago that attempt to provide some retrospective biblical and theological application to the Civil War and the race issues that led to it.  Anyabwile, an African American pastor, took issue with much of what Wilson had to say in those booklets, and the two graciously and lovingly "duked it out" (I hesitate to use that phrase, because their interactions were charitable and edifying in the best ways possible) over these issues.

I have been following Doug Wilson for at least a couple years now, ever since the "Collision" documentary was released (I've posted on that documentary here).  I have since found wilson to be a brilliant man, theologian, and wordsmith who is second to none.  When I recommend Wilson to others, I often say that I can feel myself getting smarter with each word I take in.  His writing is witty, concise, and packs a powerful punch.

I know less about Anyabwile, and my knowledge of him is basically limited to a blog posting on the Gospel Coalition site every now and again.  After reading his back and forth with Wilson, I have a new respect for him as a theologian and pastor.

Needless to say, the issue of race is an important one, and is also one that can get out of hand rather quickly, and is also one that is need of being addressed by the church.  I'm happy to say that both of these godly men handled the issue and each other with grace and love.

So check out this long list of articles by both men (a brief synopsis of each posting is available here too).  Like me, I think you'll find yourself learning how to better think logically and biblically.

Thus & Such, Vol. 23

1. Here's one of the more fascinating things I've run across on the internet lately.  I spent quite a bit of time scrolling through this scale model of the universe, down from the smallest particle to the largest galaxy.  Isaiah 66.1: Thus says the Lord, "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool."

2. "The frontrunners in worship music do not adhere to most of the best practices that have long defined the songwriting craft."  Here's an interesting article that ponders whether modern worship music is more like good hockey or bad painting (it will make sense when you read the article).

3. In most conversations about worship, an obstacle stands in the way of understanding: you.  Whether you know it or not, intend it or not, you carry a deep well of ideas about what worship is, what it looks, sounds, and feels like.  You've built this knowledge over the years and decades of your life, adding to it each time you've gathered with the church."  What does the way you worship say about your church?  The gospel?  It communicates something, but what is it?  Check out this article.  

4. As a minister, I've often thought about the effects of my job on my kids.  My wife, a pastor's daughter, was often told as a child that her behavior would reflect - either positively or negatively - on her father and his ministry.  Here's a new take at that line of thinking, and how pastors and their families  work together to display the gospel to their churches.

5. What is the state of the Bible in 2013?  Here's an infographic that will give you all the information.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Lord My Healer

During my prep time for my upcoming Ladies' Morning Out lesson this week, I've been doing some thinking about the name Jehovah Rophe.  This name for God comes from Exodus 15, when God commands Moses to put a log into some water that was bitter in order to make it drinkable for the Israelites.  All this took place in order to teach the Israelites that if they listen to and obey God, he would keep them free of the diseases that plagued the Egyptians, "for I am the LORD, your healer" (Jehovah Rohpe).

And then, in Numbers 21, the people are grumbling against God and against Moses about the harsh conditions of the wilderness, so God sends some snakes to bite them.  As a result, several people died.  The people ask Moses to pray to God and ask him to take away the snakes.  So Moses does, but God tells him to make an image of the snake that bit the people and put it on a pole.  All those people who have been bitten, God says, can look at the snake and be healed.

This raises some interesting questions.  Why did God choose to heal the people of their snake bites in this way?  Why didn't God just "snap his fingers" and have everyone be healed?  Was there something particularly cleansing or soothing about the bronze serpent on the pole that it had some medicinal effect?

No, God wanted to show them that he alone was their healer.  They needed him.  They were totally dependent on him and owed their very lives to him.  Without him, they would die.  Looking at the bronze serpent was a reminder that God sustained them, and it was his power that healed them.  It caused them to focus on him as their healer and sustainer.

Fast forward to our day in age.  We don't look at bronze serpents to be healed.  Instead, we go to doctors.  But God is still the same as he was back in the time of the Israelites in the wilderness, and he still has the same power to heal.  God could heal us of our ailments with a thought.  Then why doesn't he?  Why do we go to doctors?

There are some more-extreme brands of Christianity that believe that patronizing doctors and using medicine is a sign of disbelief in God's power to heal.  And there are some in the less-extreme brands of Christianity (such as the evangelical tradition) that believe something similar.  If God can heal, then why don't we trust him to do so?  Is it a sign if unbelief if we go to a doctor?

No, I don't think so.  I think doctors and medicine are the "bronze serpents" of our day and age.  Just as looking at a bronze serpent was the vehicle by which God healed the Israelites in the wilderness, so are doctors and medicine the vehicle by which God heals in our time.  But we need to remember that it is God who heals, and not doctors.  Just as the Israelites were to look at the bronze serpent and realize that it was God who sustained them and healed them, so are we to visit the doctor and remember that it is God who sustains us and heals us.

I once heard John Piper say that the reason that God gave us money was so that we could show the world that money is not our god.  That's a fascinating statement, when you think about it, and I think it also applies to the way we think about healing and medicine.  God has given us doctors to show us that he is the healer, and so we can show the world that we trust in God to heal, and not in doctors.  He is the one who makes healing through doctors and medicine possible.

If we were to visit the doctor and not give a second thought to God's healing power through doctors, we would be unwise.  It is only God's power that allows doctors to be able to do what they do, and it is only God's wisdom that enables medicine to be able to perform its healing function.  If he were not sovereign over doctors and medicine, they would be powerless to help us.  Doctors have no power to heal, and medicine no power to save without the power and will of God behind them.

So then, I believe Christians can and should go to doctors and use medicine, because it is the power of God at work in their lives.  It is The Lord My Healer manifesting his power and might in this world.  That being said, to visit doctors or take medicine without a recognition of God's power and sovereignty over said doctors and medicine is unwise to the point of sin.

When we're sick, let's go to the doctor; when we feel crummy, let's take some medicine.  Let's just not forget that it is Jehovah Rophe, The Lord My Healer, behind it all.