Tuesday, July 31, 2012


It's been a while since I've posted on here.  In times past a week's absence from this blog usually meant another 8-11 months of no posting.  Not so this time.  I was out of town on vacation last week, sans internet, and since I've been back I've been overwhelmed with catching up on work.  Today I planned to post, but a headache that formed about 10:00 AM has been with me all day.  I don't get headaches too often, but when I do, they're doosies.

I also have what I consider to be a healthy fear of medicine, so after the Advil I took at noon (which did nothing) I've been medicine free until The Mrs. talked me into taking some Exedrine Migraine (which did all kinds of stuff) about an hour ago.  I'm starting to feel better.  

Being so overwhelmed with work, I knew I couldn't just leave today and take the day off due to the headache, so I searched out a couch at the church that I could lay down on and just shut my eyes for a while so I could get back to it.  Two hours later (!) I woke up, wondering if anyone at the church had seen me napping (I was the only one in the building when I fell asleep, so I'm hoping not!).  The nap didn't cut it, however, and my head was still pounding.  This evening basically consisted of me sitting on the couch, rubbing my head in between bouts of nausea due to the pain.  To top it off, both kids are sick too, and Ferg even went in to urgent care tonight (ear pain, 103 degree fever, and his left eye was red - nothing to be too concerned about, it appears).  It's now 11:06 PM and the pain in my head is just now starting to abate.  

Saturday, July 21, 2012


This weekend marks Riverview's 125th anniversary.  In 1887 Riverview Baptist Church began its ministry in West St. Paul.  It's a church whose heritage and ministry run deep in this area, and several families have been a part of the church for generations.  This weekend we are celebrating with a concert by Over and Back, and then a special anniversary worship service on Sunday, including a special anniversary choir (featuring the one and only Josh Tompkins on piano), and a special message from former Riverview pastor Doug Radke, with a lunch to follow.  Invitations have been extended to all people who have been a part of, or impacted by, Riverview's ministry throughout the years.  I expect there will be several people in attendance.

This all got me to thinking about how a person, couple, or organization should celebrate anniversaries.  Throughout Riverview's process of celebrating our 125th I've felt the temptation to slide into a mindset that essentially says "Look at us!  Look at how much we've done for the past 125 years!  Look at what we've accomplished!  Look at how great we are!"  This is absolutely an unhealthy way to remember special days and occasions.  It's totally man-centered and even idolatrous.  It fails to give God his due glory for all of the great things he has done.  I think this holds true with any kind of anniversary - even wedding anniversaries.

This was essentially the problem at the Tower of Babel.  Mankind said, "Look at us!  Look at how great we are!  And we've got this gigantic tower here to prove it!"  Considering all the family connections and heritage in West St. Paul that Riverview enjoys, it would be easy to say, "Look at us!  We've got a great church here, and here's the building to prove it!  And here are some photos of my great, great grandfather laying tile in the sanctuary in 1961.  We wouldn't be here if it weren't for him!" While I certainly won't demean the contributions of those who have gone before us to the ministry of Riverview throughout the years, to focus on ourselves, or even on those precious and God-loving people who have gone before us (even our relatives) would be to miss the point completely.

Riverview Baptist Church is what it is, and it has done what it has done in the community and in the hearts and lives of the people it has impacted over the years, only by the grace of God.  It is his story we are invited to be a part of.  We have not written our own story called "Christianity: The Riverview Years."  No, God is the mover and shaker of our church's history, and he gets all the credit for it.  If we celebrate ourselves, our own efforts, or even those who have gone before us, it is nothing less than idolatry.  To be fair, I'm not suggesting this is the way people at Riverview are marking their 125th birthday, nor am I saying it is wrong to fondly remember those who have gone before us, but I am saying that the trap of idolatry is a very easy one to fall in to, and I think it is something we always need to be on guard against.

So then, how should we regard special days that mark special occasions and anniversaries?  As usual, we look to scripture for the answer, and I think we see some instructive material about how to mark special days and occasions that celebrate the past.

In what has become one of my favorite books of the Bible, the book of Joshua describes the Israelites are entering the Promised Land, and as they do so they must forge the Jordan River.  As the people are about to cross the river, God commands the Levites to take the ark of the covenant and stand in the midst of the river.  As they do so, the water ceases to flow, and the people cross the river and go on into the Promised Land by walking on dry land.  After the event, God tells Joshua to pick 12 men - one from each tribe - to gather one stone apiece from the river where they crossed and place them on the land.  The purpose of the stones?  Education.
When your children ask in time to come, "What do those stones mean to you?" then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord.
So what's the purpose of the memorial?  To exalt God; to show his power; to magnify his character and nature; to show his sovereignty and providence.  I like how what the people are to tell their children that the water of the river was "cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord."  The natural follow up question to such a story by a child might be, "How did you do that?"  The obvious answer being, "We didn't.  God did!"  What a testimony to the greatness of God!  This is what memorials and anniversaries are for: to testify to the greatness of God.  Riverview needs to look back on its 125 years of existence and ask, "How did we ever make it this far?"  And then as quickly as we ask, we need to answer ourselves, "We didn't.  God did!"

Another example that we see in scripture is in Exodus 12.  The Israelites find themselves in slavery in Egypt, although they are on the brink of freedom.  God has pronounced his final plague on the Egyptians - the plague of the death of the firstborn.  He has given his people a means of escape, however, by commanding them to paint the blood of a lamb on their doorposts, causing the angel of death to "pass over" their dwelling and spare the firstborn.  This event, of course, becomes an annual tradition (a memorial or anniversary, if you will).  God says:
"This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast."
Why keep this as a "memorial day"?  What's the point?  Why does God want his people to keep the passover?  So they can get together and have a good meal with each other every year, or maybe to congratulate themselves for remembering to paint the lamb's blood on their doorposts?  Nope.  God wants them to remember the passover so they remember his faithfulness and mighty power in delivering them from slavery.  We likewise remember God's faithfulness and mighty power in delivering us from the slavery of sin in sending his Son to die for those who would believe the gospel.

All memorials and anniversaries are primarily about God: his goodness, faithfulness, and power.  To celebrate them in any other way or for any other purpose would be to fail to give him the glory he is due.

Again, does this mean we can't remember those who have gone before us, and the things they have done, and the tile they laid on the sanctuary floor?  No, but I think we need to remember them in the context of what a great and powerful God did through them to accomplish his sovereign purposes.

So then, I hope we can all repent of our tendency to put ourselves and our own accomplishments first, and instead give God the glory he is due for his faithfulness and providence in our lives.  This is my prayer for Riverview as we look back on 125 years of ministry, and as we look forward to the future.

Josh Garrels

Alright, this post will be rather unlike most of the usual stuff you'll see on this site, but the more people that can get plugged in to Josh Garrels' music, the better.

Josh Garrels is a Christian folk-rock singer that I learned of several months ago (right before Thanksgiving of 2011) from Bob Kaufflin's fantastic blog.  Kaufflin linked to Josh's site by saying that it was some of the most unique Christian music he had ever heard.  That got me interested, so I checked it out.  Turns out Garrels' latest album, "Love, War, and the Sea In Between" was available for free, so I took advantage.  I'm glad I did.  I've been listening to him since then and have also downloaded one of his other albums and some additional singles.

The music is something like a mix of folk rock and hip hop, as weird as that may sound.  The lyrics are phenomenal, theologically rich and masterfully penned.  He writes things in ways that would never occur to me.  Here's a sample from "Farther Along."  You can listen to the whole song here.

Still I get hard pressed on every side
Between the rock and a compromise
Like the truth and a pack of lights, fighting for my soul
And I've got no place left to go
Cause I got changed by what I've been shown
More glory than the world has known
Keeps me ramblin' on

Skipping like a calf loosed from its stall
I'm free to love once and for all
And even when I fall I'll get back up
For the joy that overflows myc up
Heaven filled me with more than enough
Broke down my levee and my bluff
Let the flood wash me

And one day when the sky rolls back on us
Some rejoice and the others fuss
Cause every knee must bow and tongue confess
That the Son of God is forever blessed
His is the kingdom, and we're the guests
So put your voice up to the test,
Sing "Lord, come soon"

Here's another sample from his song, "Sweet River Roll."  The images in this song are amazing.  Listen to/watch it here.

It's like the water in the valley, submerged totally
Yet all the children rally around the safety of their shallow beliefs
Let's swim against the current out and into the deep
But first I pray the Lord for my soul to keep
That price payed was not cheap as I stand knee deep in his blood
We're knee deep in his blood

See, I choose to refuse the regulated rhetoric of someone else's rehearsed ideals
In place of a real living commitment, hell no
We put the rock in the water and it made cement
We put the water with the wheat and then we made it ferment
Shine light through the rain and a spectrum represent
We're pumping water through the veins and the brain's content
Went down to the river following providence
Old man, under water gonna die when he repents
Old man, under water gonna die when he repents

One final example, and then I'll shut up about the musical genius of Josh Garrels.  My favorite song of his is called "Rise."  Listen to it here.

Take courage, sons, for we must go under
The heart of darkness and set them free
But don't lose heart when you see the numbers
There's no measure for the faith we bring
It's given us to overcome
If we run where the Spirit calls us on
The greatest things have yet to come
With the dawn we will rise

Though they may surround us like lions
And crush us on all sides
We may fall, but we will rise
Not by my might or my power
Or by the strength of swords
Only through your love, my Lord
All we've lost will be restored

Another thing that drew me to Garrels' music was that he was giving away his most recent album.  It was downloaded more than 125,000 times and he was subsequently named Christianity Today's best artist for 2011.  How does the guy make a living when he gives away a phenomenally successful record?  Garrels tells the story like this: he was finishing the album but had yet to lay any of the vocal tracks, due to an illness that caused him to lose his voice for an extended period of time.  He recalls crying out to God to restore his voice as money was getting tight and he didn't have an album to sell.  He says that he felt God lead him to trust him - both for the completion of the album and to provide for him in the wake of a lack of funds.  Garrels said God led him to give away the album for free for one year and to trust him with everything - a year of jubilee, so to speak.  So that's what he did.  Turns out God provided by boosting Josh's notoriety, thereby increasing sales of previous albums and attendance at concerts.  Money was not an issue.

Unfortunately, the album is no longer free (the year of jubilee has ended) but you can still get his latest album, "Love, War, and the Sea In Between" for a good price and support one of the most innovative Christian musicians on the scene right now.  Go get it.  You won't be disappointed.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Why Homosexuality Is Not a Civil Rights Issue

I like Voddie Baucham (pronounced Vo-dey Bau-kum).  He has a great way with words and is a fantastic preacher.  He's also black, and he does a magnificent job of approaching racial issues with a biblical and theological perspective.

In this really good article he takes on the notion that "gay is the new black," and the subsequent assertion that homosexuality and the issues that surround it (like gay marriage) are civil rights issues, which Baucham persuasively argues against.  This is definitely worth reading.

Perhaps the best part of the article is the conclusion that Baucham comes to.  Although there are many logical arguments against homosexuality in general and gay marriage in specific, and although there are mountains of statistical and social data that back up the Christian position, these are not what we must appeal to when addressing these issues.  Rather, as Voddie says, "It is very important for those of us who oppose the idea of same-sex "marriage" to do so not because we wish to preserve our version fo the American Dream, but because we view marriage as a living, breathing picture of the relationship between Christ and his church, and because we know that God has designed the family in a particular way.  While the design of the family promotes human thriving, the testimony points people to their only hope in this life and the next.  As a result, silence on this issue is not an option."

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Olympic Debauchery

I really enjoy the olympics.  I could watch it all day, even if a lot of the events I like aren't televised, and even if it's the monotony of gymnastics.  It's still fun when it's the Olympics.  Plus, now in the age of the internet you can see almost all of the events online if you so desire.  I love competition; I love sport; I love seeing our athletes represent our country on the world stage.

That being said, my love for the Olympics died a bit today.

One of my Facebook friends posted this article on his page this evening, explaining how the Olympic Village quarters in London will be stocked with an ample supply of condoms.  The article goes on to talk about how the two plus weeks the athletes stay in the village are usually packed with raucous parties and casual sex, even casual sex out in the open, according to Hope Solo.  Great.  That's great.  Now when I watch the olympics this year, I'll be thinking about who our athletes have shacked up with the past night before they stick that landing, run that race, or swim, or whatever.  Not what I need to be thinking about.

And this information is in addition to the rash of recent pictures I've seen of virtually ever American Olympic team from this year posing nude in some goofy picture of them covering their goods with their hands, arms, or appropriate sporting equipment (I won't link to those pictures, for obvious reasons).  Why?  Why do Olympic athletes need to pose nude?  And what kind of moral compass do these athletes have that tells them posing nude is a good (let alone necessary) thing to do?  Why?  WHY?  What does this add to the sport?  To the competition?  To my experience as a spectator?  Not to mention the fact that I'd like to watch the games with my kids.  Thankfully they're too young to read articles on the internet and peruse sports news sites where they might see a nude picture of our once-proud American athletes.  But some day they won't be too young.

I was really bummed when I read that article about the athletes' propensity for casual sex during the game, and have been increasingly disappointed with every nude picture that has been released of our athletes.  But maybe I shouldn't be bummed.  After all, the pagans are acting like pagans, as Todd Friel says.  Why are we surprised?  Isn't this exactly what Romans 1 tells us is going to happen?  Yes, it definitely is, but I guess I'm bummed that it's so much in the public eye.  Part of me wishes that if these people were are going to be so debauched to sleep around every chance they get and pose nude for whoever'd like to see their naked bodies, that they'd at least have the decency to do it behind closed doors and not expose it to the news media so that I can enjoy the purity of the Olympics, even if it's just a pipe-dream.  After all, ignorance is bliss, as they say.  But another part of me wonders if that's just catering to my own idealistic way I want the world to be, with complete disregard for the way things actually are.  If Olympic athletes are sleeping around but not exposing their actions to the public, it doesn't make it any less sinful and debauched.  But do we need to know about it?  I don't think so.  I mean, really: are we really that debased as human beings?  Are we really that uncontrollable that we have to have sex with anything/one that moves?  Really?  You people can't control yourselves for two weeks?

All things considered, I wouldn't be surprised if the tales of casual sex that are reported on in the media are actually the exception rather than the rule.  That is, for every debased athlete that wants to get busy, there are probably a dozen that are satisfied to simply compete and enjoy their time on the international stage.  It's a shame that the actions of some have brought a bit of a black cloud on the games.  I still plan to watch the games (at least as much as I am able), although I have to admit that my attitude toward them will be different this year.  And I'm struggling with this: is that right?  Am I right to be bugged by this, or is it just the way of the world, and I need to reform my overly idealistic view of the world's morality?

I'll have to ponder this.

Complementarianism for Dummies

Ever heard the term "complementarianism"?  Don't be surprised if you haven't.  Complementarianism is a theological position that I hold to that delineates the ways in which men and women reflect the glory of God in ways that are unique to their gender, and in a complementary way.  This view asserts that God has specifically designed the two genders for certain roles and responsibilities in society, the home, and even the church.  The complementarian position stands in contrast to egalitarianism, the view that men and women are equal in every way and that their are no God-given, gender specific roles or functions for men and women.  In fact, egalitarianism asserts, gender roles are interchangeable between men and women.  The difference between complementarianis and egalitarianism is an incredibly important issue, and is one that the church would do well to sort out at the local level.

Here's a really good, brief description of complementarianism called "Complementarianism for Dummies" that I'd like to recommend to you.  Unfortunately, given our culture's hyper knee-jerk reaction to any kind of supposed gender discrimination, not to mention the gender confusion perpetuated in our society by those who would seek to eliminate any kind of gender distinctions between men and women, positions like the complementarian one are not readily welcomed in the public square - especially when those positions are derived from a commitment to the Bible.  Often times complementarians are pigeon-holed as being discriminatory, chauvinistic, sexist, and patriarchal.  Nothing could be further from the truth, however, and this short description of the position helps to clear up a lot of the common misunderstandings about complementarianism.

Perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of complementarianism is that males bear the responsibility of holding positions of authority within the home and the church.  What is commonly misunderstood about this aspect of complementarianism is that the authority men bear is not the kind of authority that permits them to rule over women, or that women are somehow less valuable than men, or even that men somehow rank higher than women in some kind of preconceived authority structure.  Rather, complementarianism asserts that the authority men have in the church and the home is "not the right to rule - it's the responsibility to serve."  Or, as Doug Wilson has said, "Husbands if you want to preach the gospel to your wife, then you have to die."

Anyway, rather than me doing a poor job of summarizing the position in this post, I recommend you read the article.  (Note: for other good, brief descriptions of complementarianism, see here, here, and here.  And here's a typical egalitarian response to complementarian views.)

It should be noted that this is a difficult issue, and that good, God-fearing Christians differ on this topic and remain brothers and sisters in Christ.  This should not be something that unnecessarily divides the church.  Rather, it should be an issue we can discuss openly and honestly with each other as we wrestle through it in scripture.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sinful Prayer

I follow Charles Spurgeon on Facebook, which is interesting, considering he's been dead for about 125 years.  Anyway, one of his posts from today caught me: "There is enough sin in the best prayer that was ever prayed to secure its being cast away from God...but God looks upon the prayer as being presented through Christ, and he forgives all of its own inherent faultiness."

Good stuff.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My Version of an "A la Carte"

With a nod to Tim Challies, I present my own version of an A la Carte, although it won't be daily as it is on Tim's site.  I have no idea how he gets all of the content for his site.  It seems like it could be a full time job to maintain it.  It's the only blog site I read every day.  I recommend you do too.

Anyway, what follows is four articles that I've read recently that I either thought were quite good or made me think (two of which I came across on Challies' site).  I had originally saved the articles as ones that I'd like to refer to, think through, and blog about in the future, but after some of them have been sitting in my inbox for a couple weeks now, it's time to admit I don't have time to do that and just post them for anyone who might be interested.  So here goes.

Should Christians Refuse to Pay Taxes When They Are Used to Finance Abortions?  This is the question asked by R.C. Sproul Jr., and his answer is "yes."  Put simply it's a matter of obedience to scripture (which commands us to pay taxes and obey the authority of the government).  Coming from a Reformed point of view, I would add that we do so in full confidence that all things are governed by God, and even the government does nothing without his allowance or say so.  Check out the article.

It's Not a Job When it's Ministry.  So says the author of this article.  I'm not sure what I think about this one, but at least it's got me thinking.  I do think it's inaccurate to elevate ministry vocations over secular or non-ministry vocations (and for the record, I'm not sure this article does that).  I guess I would say that all jobs are ministry jobs, whether they're in a church or not.  Take a look at it and see what you think.

Why Disabilities?  This author examines disabilities and talks about them in light of sin and God's good design.  Most people, including Christians, fail to understand mental and physical disabilities in light of God's sovereignty.  This is a good place to start thinking about it.

A Biblical Theology of Motherhood.  This is easily the longest and most technical of any of the articles, but it is no less very thought provoking.  Ever though about the role of mothers in the meta narrative (big picture) of of scripture?  Me neither.  I have now, and I'll continue to ponder it in the coming days.

12 Reasons Why You Should Join a Small Group

Here's an article I wrote for the August Newsletter at Riverview.  We'll be launching a small groups ministry this September at Riverview, so I figured it'd be appropriate to try to provide some motivation for people to join a group.  Here are 12 reasons I thought of that make joining a small group something worthwhile. 

1. You can become more like Jesus.  As you study the Bible and have biblical fellowship with other believers, spiritual growth happens; growth in holiness happens; becoming more like Jesus happens.  Being a part of a small group is a good way of taking an active part in your spiritual growth process and becoming more and more like Jesus and more and more free from sin.

2. You’ll be able to pray for people in ways you normally wouldn’t.  You can only pray for people as deeply as you know the person.  In a small group you’ll get to know people and how you can pray for them more specifically.  Plus, as people get to know you, they can be praying for you in specific ways as well.

3. You’ll be able to utilize your spiritual gifts.  Don’t know what your spiritual gift is?  Joining a small group could be a good way to find out!  If you do know what it is, a small group is the perfect way for you to be able to put it to good use.  It’s also a good way to be served by others as they use their gifts!

4. You can help other members of your group carry their physical and spiritual burdens.  We all go through difficult things in life, like the loss of a job, illness, death of a loved one, financial difficulty, fear, doubt, questions, etc. and it would be nice to have someone to help us go through those things.  In a small group you can help others when they need it, and they can help you.

5. You’ll be able to share your spiritual experiences with others.  How is your walk with Jesus going?  Good?  Not so good?  Whatever it is, the more we share with one another, the more we can celebrate in the good times and encourage one another by sharing our struggles with sin and doubt in the down times.

6. You can confess your sins to others.  Scripture tells us to confess our sins to one another.  Most of us don’t do that, though, probably because there isn’t anyone we know well enough that we’d feel comfortable confessing to.  In a small group you’ll be able to cultivate relationships over time and take them to a deeper level that makes confessing sins not only possible, but rewarding and encouraging as you receive assurance and encouragement from your fellow group members.

7. You’ll be able to serve other people in practical ways.  We all have physical and spiritual needs that can be met by others.  In a small group you’ll not only have the privilege of serving others, but you’ll be able to be served by others as well.

8. You can connect what you hear at church on Sunday to the rest of your life throughout the week.  Each week we’ll be looking more in depth at the scripture from the sermon preached during the previous Sunday’s service.  Pastor Wick is writing special study guides based on his weekly sermons for our small groups to go through together.

9. Riverview people are interesting and cool.  Riverview is full of all kinds of different people from all sorts of backgrounds and walks of life.  In a small group you’ll be able to establish and deepen relationships with people God has uniquely made and is forming into his likeness.

10. There might be food.  Your small group can decide if, as part of the meeting time, you want to eat together.  Maybe pot luck style, or maybe pizza.  Either way, you could get a good meal!

11. It’s convenient, and it will fit into your schedule.  Small groups will be able to decide what day and time work best for them to meet.  Mondays?  Thursdays?  Fridays?  That’s up to your group.  5:00?  6:00?  7:00?  Again, that’s up for the folks in your group to decide.  How many times a month should we meet?  2? 3? Every week?  Whatever works best for you and the people in the group.

12. There’s a small group meeting near you.  Our small groups will be located throughout the area in which our members live, so chances are that there’s a small group meeting somewhere near where you live.  

Monday, July 16, 2012

I Stood a Mendicant of God

I posted a few weeks ago about Steve Saint and his bad accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down.  He has since undergone surgery to relieve the pressure on his spinal cord and the paralysis has somewhat abated.  Here you can see how he has begun to regain some of his movement and strength in his limbs.

I've also talked on this blog about how much I appreciate Steve Saint and his insatiable appetite to be an innovator for the mission field.  The guy comes up with new inventions that help missionaries preach the gospel and do what they need to do on the mission field.  We need more guys like Steve Saint holding the rope for those going down into the well.  Actually, it's probably more accurate to say that Steve is not just holding the rope, but he's making a better rope.

Here's the latest update on Steve's recovery from his accident, produced by his company, I-tec.  This man's resolve and attitude throughout this process is inspiring and encouraging.  Rather than lamenting, or even learning to adapt to his new condition (let's face it: his life is forever changed; he's a 60+ year old guy who sustained a spinal cord injury - he won't ever be the same or be able to do those things he had done before the accident), he is instead looking for what God is doing in him through this accident. As you can see in the video, he's discovering things about himself and about God that he would have never known had he not been injured.  In a sense, the injury has been a blessing to him. Watch this video.  It's worth your six minutes.

The poem that Steve recites is as follows:

I stood, a mendicant of God, before his royal throne
and begged him for one priceless gift, which I could call my own.
I took the gift from out his hand, but as I would depart I cried, 
'But Lord, this is a thorn and it has pierced my heart. 
This is a strange and hurtful gift which thou hast given me.' 
He said, 'My child, I give good gifts. I gave my best to thee.' 
I took it home, and though at first the cruel thorn hurt sore, 
As long years passed I learned at last to love it more and more. 
I learned he never gives a thorn without this added grace:  
He takes the thorn to pin aside the veil which hides his face.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

God's Word in the Bariai Language

Here's one of the coolest things I've seen in a while.  It's a video of the Bariai people of Papua New Guinea receiving a copy of the New Testament in their own language for the very first time (you'll need to download the file to watch it).  Steve and Carol Jean Gallagher, whom Riverview supports as missionaries, have been working on translating the Bible for the Bariai people since 1993.  19 Years!  That's how long it has taken them to learn the language and translate the New Testament in its entirety, in addition to Genesis and Exodus.  What an amazing feat.

Think about this: there is at least one Bible in almost every house in America.  Probably more than one, even.  Most people don't read them, and those who have them almost certainly take them for granted - even Christians.  And here, these people halfway across the globe receive God's word in their own language for the first time.  They parade it through the village, dance around it, and sing songs!  What an amazing sight to behold!  May God bless Steve and Carol Jean for their faithfulness to this translation ministry, and brining God's word to a people who otherwise had no access to it.

The new Bariai Bible was dedicated last weekend on July 7.  Here's a brief written update on the translation project and the release of the new Bible from Steve and Carol Jean:

Saturday and Sunday, July 7 and 8 were great days of celebration for the Bariai people and for us.  On Saturday boats were loaded with the Bariai scriptures containing Genesis, Exodus, and the NEw Testament.  The boxes of books were loaded on a motorboat, but a representative copy was carried on a  special canoe paddled by men in traditional decorations, singing traditional songs.  With great honor, it was taken to the next village.  After being off-loaded, the books were paraded through the village and up the hill to the church.  There the priest declared that the church approves this translation of the scriptures for use and encouraged people to read it.
On Sunday morning, the Bibles were officially blessed by the priest during the church service, and he read a letter of endorsement sent by the bishop.  Again, he told the people that they need to read it and follow it.  We're thankful for his encouraging endorsement.  
The service was followed by a few speeches, a little rain, and then clear weather for feasting, dancing, and singing.  About 100 people bought copies of the scriptures, along with four audio scripture players.  

In my opinion, this is some of the most exciting work the church is doing: sending people out to preach the gospel and make God's word available for all who would like to read it.  Be praying for Steve and Carol Jean, and the kingdom impacting work they're doing on the other side of the world.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

It's Official

I got my diploma in the mail today.  I'm now officially a Master of Divinity.  My seminary schooling has officially come to a close.  It should be noted that I had a lingering feeling that this day would not come...at least not yet.  You see, I had transferred from Sioux Falls Seminary where I attended graduate school online for two years.  Unbeknownst to me, however, the Association of Theological Schools (the outfit that accredits seminaries in the U.S) requires that a seminary student complete a certain percentage of his or her degree on campus, and not online.  This forced me to transfer to Bethel Seminary in St. Paul (or, I suppose I could have moved to Sioux Falls).

The transfer process was anything but smooth.  Sioux Falls was on a semester schedule, whereas Bethel was on the quarter system.  This meant that my credits transferred over in strange ways, to say the least.  For example, my four semester credits at Sioux Falls were worth something like 4.5 quarter credits at Bethel.  Also, since Sioux Falls required certain courses that Bethel didn't, and vice versa, some of those classes didn't transfer over as core credits, but rather as elective credits.  This meant that when I started at Bethel all my elective credits were filled with transfer credits from core classes at Sioux Falls.  This also meant that I could not have a concentration at Bethel. The way Bethel does M.Div degrees is they allow students to have an area of concentration in their degree - a field of study that, although they haven't earned a degree in it, they've concentrated their studies on the field while doing their M.Div.  I didn't get this opportunity due to the goofy transfer process.  There was also a requirement from Bethel that said I needed to take a certain number of classes at Bethel in order to receive a degree from them - a requirement that I barely met.

To make matters worse, it seems that most educational institutions are rather snobby when it comes to their own courses.  For some reason, they feel that their course offerings are better than those of other schools - even when the classes are the same.  For example, my hermeneutics coursework from Sioux Falls didn't transfer to Bethel because they wanted me to take hermeneutics from them.  This was true of some of my Old and New Testament coursework as well.  Guess what: there's really not that much difference between schools.

To top all that off, my senior year at Bethel required an amazing amount of additional work when compared to my other three years in seminary.  I had to complete a statement of faith (a requirement for students starting graduate school prior to 2009, which I was), and also a professional internship.  The internship process through Bethel was interesting, as I had already done several supervised ministry courses through Sioux Falls.  I appealed my case to a wonderful guy named Greg Meland, the supervised ministry director at Bethel.  Fortunately, he was acquainted with Ron Sisk, the supervised ministry director at Sioux Falls and was able to have a talk with him and exempt me from one of the internship requirements.  This didn't relieve all the stress, however, as Greg isn't the greatest at email communication, so I was never really sure that my coursework was being received, or that I had indeed met all the internship requirements...until now.

Even during my last few weeks of school, and for about the past month, I've had a nagging feeling that there would be some little requirement that I had either forgotten or overlooked that would prevent me from receiving my diploma, even though I technically graduated.  These fears were alleviated today, however, when my diploma showed up in the mail.

Now I just need to decide which wall of my office to hang it on (or which file folder in my file cabinet to shove it into!).

Friday, July 13, 2012

Six Degrees of Sovereignty

The title of this post refers to the so called "Six Degrees of Separation," whereby one can connect himself or herself to anyone by way of relationships with six other people.  My post refers to the sovereignty of God, however, and not separation, or even Kevin Bacon.  Actually I got to thinking about all of the things God must have planned and enacted in order for something to come about.  God does things throughout history that have the exact ramifications he desires, even if it is just one small link in a chain that extends for centuries.  In other words, God had this exact moment in mind when he did X, Y,  and Z centuries ago.  He knew exactly what would happen, and exactly what a particular decision or event would lead to.  I've thought about this in a couple of different ways today, one of which is personal and another was shared by some friend's at tonight's Bible study meeting.

Exhibit 1: I got to thinking about this this morning at Norm Glewwe's funeral.  Earlier this week I had been talking to my mom, who was particularly sad about Norm's passing.  Norm and his wife Barb were some of my parent's first friends at Riverview when they started coming to the church almost 40 years ago.  In fact, my mom said, they may not have even stayed at Riverview had it not been for their friendship with Norm and Barb.  This got me to thinking about how many things were "riding on" the relationship that my parents had with the Glewwes when they first attended Riverview.  Basically my whole life was influenced and formed by Norm Glewwe's faithfulness to befriend my parents and make them feel welcome at Riverview.  Had he and Barb not befriended my parents almost 40 years ago they may have gone to another church, befriended other people, and my life's story would have unfolded in a completely different manner.  This wasn't dependent upon Norm, though, but on God's sovereign choice.

It's easy to overlook these small details as coincidences or things that "just happen" (I mean, people hit it off and become friends, and as a result go to church together - what's the big deal about that?).  That is, we can often think that small things like someone befriending someone else and their subsequent attendance at a particular church just happens.  Not true.  God had it planned that way.  Speaking for my own life story, God intended that Norm and Barb befriend my parents, that they join Riverview, have kids, and that their third child grow up to become a minister in that very church.  How many things did God have to nail down in order for that to happen?  Certainly more than six.  It must be an astronomical number of things that God orchestrated to bring me to where I am today.  And God used Norm Glewwe in that process.  Praise God for that.

I mean, if you look at the numbers, it gets pretty crazy pretty quickly.  God had to give Norm the exact life experience he had in order to bring him to a place where he was at Riverview when my parents came, down to the mundane details of making sure Norm's alarm clock went off at the right time that morning, and that he drove a particular speed to get to church on time.  God had to orchestrate my parents' lives in such a way as they came together, got married, and eventually visited Riverview, where they then met Norm and Barb.  To think that God had a hand in the minute details of every little thing in the lives of those people, and in the lives of the people they interacted with, and in the lives of the people they interacted with, and so on, and so on, becomes a process that I can't wrap my mind around.

Exhibit 2: A couple in our Bible study have been trying to buy a house for some time now.  They recently found one they liked in Northfield that was a bit out in the country.  Northfield is a good distance from the church and the rest of their Bible study friends.  When I first heard about their intentions I was a bit worried: would they continue to come to Riverview?  To Bible study?  I certainly didn't want to sever relations with them.  They resolved to continue to attend Riverview and Bible study in spite of the distance they would have to travel.

Time went on and it turned out that the house deal in Northfield fell through, so this couple had to search elsewhere.  They ended up buying a house in South St. Paul, very close to where they currently live.  This also means that they're basically within five minutes of the church and their Bible study friends.  Tonight at our small group meeting they shared that they wanted to praise God for his provision of a house for them, and that they have realized that their not getting their first choice of the house in Northfield was God's sovereign direction and blessing on their lives.  They shared that, even though they resolved to continue attending Riverview and Bible study with people from the church, that they probably wouldn't have done so, just because of the challenge of traveling all that way.  They saw this as God telling them they needed to be at Riverview and to continue with their small group.  Also, by living in South St. Paul they'll be close to all their friends and family.

Two things here: first of all, how many things did God have to do to make that house in Northfield fall through to force the couple to look for another house?  Imagine what he had to do, literally throughout history, in order to make this house not work out for this couple, thereby keeping them close to the people who care about them and who are in the process of growing with them.  God must've been involved in the lives of the real estate agents, loan officers, other buyers, etc.  All of this God did to bring this couple to where they are today.  It's mind-boggling.

"Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand."  Proverbs 19.21.  There are so many reasons to praise God for his sovereignty, and I unfortunately miss many of them simply because I'm not looking.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The 17 Most Misused Verses in the Bible

I recently heard about this book that lists seventeen verses that are supposedly the most commonly misused verses in the Bible.  By "misused" the author is implying that the interpretation and subsequent application of these verses is very often incorrect.  Here's the list.  I've posted it in the ESV, and it should be noted that some of the misinterpretations come from other renderings of these verses, like the NIV.  It should also be noted that there isn't consensus about what the "proper" interpretation and use of these verses are.  People will differ on that for as long as there are Christians on earth.  The point is, though, that the proper study and interpretation of scripture is of the utmost importance (check out this neat article for some info on proper interpretation).

Matthew 7.1
Jeremiah 29.11-13
Matthew 18.20
John 14.13-14
Romans 8.28
2 Chronicles 7.14
Colossians 1.15
1 Timothy 6.10
1 Corinthians 10.13
Proverbs 22.6
Philippians 4.13
Exodus 21.23-25
James 5.15
Acts 2.38
Proverbs 4.23
Proverbs 29.18
John 12.32

Time, space, and my enthusiasm for typing do not allow me to comment on the proper and improper uses of these verses, so let me just comment on the ones that I think are most significant, and the ones which I think I have personally misused in the past.

Matthew 7.1: "Judge not, that you be not judged."  People tend to take this verse out of context and use it to imply that Jesus means that it is wrong to ever make a judgment against someone, or to ever say that a person's point of view or belief system is incorrect.  This is absolutely not the case, as we all make judgments about people every day.  In fact, you've probably judged dozens of people and situations today alone.  What this verse is getting at is religious hypocrisy, which is made evident by the context.

Matthew 18.20: "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them."  People tend to most often misuse this verse in prayer.  They affirm God's presence and supposed willingness to hear their prayer based on the fact that they are praying with at least one other person.  I always chuckle when I hear someone mention this in a prayer (is that bad?): "Father, we know you are here, because you told us that where two or three are gathered in your name, you are there with them."  "Whew!" I think to myself.  "Thank goodness it's not just me, because if it was then I guess God wouldn't be here."  That's just not the case.  God is everywhere.  Even with people who are by themselves.  When you look at this verse in context you'll find that Jesus is actually talking about church discipline - when two or three people are gathered together to bring a brother or sister to repentance, there he is with them.

Jeremiah 29.11-13: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.  You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart."  More often than not I hear verse 11 used out of context by itself, apart from verses 12 and 13.  You tend to see this verse on graduation cards, and people tend to give this verse to people who are going through a particularly hard time.  This verse is also commonly used as a "life verse," or in other words, a verse that people "claim" as being something like the theme of their lives.  The only problem with this philosophy is that this verse wasn't written to 21st century Christians.  Instead, it was written to exiled Jews as they were lamenting the fact that God had delivered them over to their enemies.  In verse 10 God says that before the people see the fulfillment of the promise made in verse 11, the people have to endure 70 years of exile.  70 years!  How often do people who quote this verse as a means of encouragement think about that?  I certainly wouldn't want to wish a graduate 70 years of hard life before their welfare, future, and hope kick in.

Proverbs 22.6: "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it."  This verse has unfortunately been misinterpreted as a promise rather than what it is: general wisdom.  Because people believe this verse promises that children will be Christians they are heartbroken (and feel lied to) when their child leaves the faith (or actually, never comes to faith).  Proverbs, however, are intended to be interpreted as general wisdom: things that, in general, are true.  For instance, in the Proverbs you also have verses that state that people who work hard will achieve and be successful.  Well, this is not always the case, but is generally true.  This is also the case with verse 22.6.  In general, if you train up a child in the way he should go, he will not depart from it, even when he is old.

Philippians 4.13: "I can do all things through him who strengthens me."  This is the verse that I've probably misused the most in my life out of all of the ones on this list.  This used to be my "life verse."  Whenever I faced something challenging or scary in my life, I would repeat this verse to myself.  I have since heard people cite this verse as the reason they can do certain things or reach their goals, or achieve certain ends.  For example, an MMA fighter named Jon Jones has this verse tattooed on his chest.  Is that what the verse means?  He can do all things, including pummel people in the ring (or octagon, or whatever) through the strength supplied to him by Christ?  The fact is that this verse speaks to enduring and overcoming hardship for the sake of Christ.  Unless you are enduring hardship for the sake of Christ, you're going to have a hard time applying this verse to your situation.

You'll have to check out the book to see the explanations of the rest of the most misused verses.  I should note that the author of the book also explains what he believes are the proper uses of the verses, and explains them in context.  Always a good practice.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Pray for Yourself First

Every Wednesday (most Wednesdays, at least) I get together with two or three guys from the church just to talk about stuff.  The meetings usually last an hour or so and we talk about pretty much any and everything, although our conversations usually tend toward spiritual things, which makes sense, considering that all things are spiritual things.

Today's meeting was just with me and one other guy, as the other two couldn't make it.  One of our goals is to talk about things we're struggling with, and today my friend shared that he's having a hard time relating to his mom and dad.  He's grown a lot spiritually over the past four years, and some of the conclusions and beliefs he's come to don't necessarily jibe with what his parents believe.  He's tried to talk to them a few times, but most of the conversations haven't gone very well, and he and his parents tend to just avoid spiritual conversations now because they often lead to disagreement.  Needless to say, this has led to some frustration for him, and he's struggling with how to pursue a positive relationship with his parents.

During our Family Night meal at the park tonight, I sat down with him, just to kind of conclude our conversation from earlier.  I asked him how I could specifically pray for him and his relationship with his parents.  (This is something I've been trying to do recently - ask people how I can specifically pray for their needs.  People often just give the big picture of something that is happening in their lives and ask others to pray.  Nothing wrong with that, but I'd like to know some specific details of the situation I can be praying for in particular.)  His answer surprised me and convicted me.  He said that his primary prayer request for this situation was for himself - that he be obedient to the command to honor his father and mother.

Why was this surprising and convicting for me?  Because, instead of asking me to pray that his parents wise up; instead of asking me to pray that he have the "right words" to say to his parents; instead of asking me to pray that God change his parents' hearts; instead of asking me to pray that his parents be open to the truth; instead of asking me to pray for (fill in the blank), he asked me to pray for him and the way he interacts with and thinks about his parents.  This was convicting to me in that, instead of asking for his parents' faults to be dealt with in prayer, he first wanted me to pray for his own tendency toward sin - that his thoughts and motivations toward talking with his parents be pure and above reproach, and that the methods and words he used to talk to his parents were honoring and respectful to them.

And that's the way it should be, but we so often do not consider about our own needs in prayer (at least when it comes to sin).  Rather, we tend to ask God to change or do something in the people we have issues with.  Don't get me wrong: there's definitely nothing wrong with praying for a situation like this, and asking God to open hearts, give people the "right words", etc.  But what we often don't realize is that a lot of times those issues we feel are so important might have something to do with our own heart condition and sinful tendencies.  So we tend to pray like this: "God, change that person's heart; make that person see this or think this way; change that person's behavior."  Instead of praying for other people, maybe we instead need to pray for ourselves: that God would expose any sin in our lives that might be leading to unholiness or confounding the situation; or that God would show us how to be obedient to his word and to give us faith to trust him in this situation.

I've been blessed by the conversations I've had with these guys, and I thank God for the way he uses them to grow me in holiness.  I'll definitely be praying for this guy and his relationship with his parents...and myself too.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Spiritual Gifts Vs. "Natural" Talents and Abilities

Listening to Wretched Radio during my shower tonight brought about some thinking about the topic of spiritual gifts.  This past January I taught a Sunday School class about what it means to be the Body of Christ, and one of the topics we covered (briefly) was that of spiritual gifts.  God gives believers spiritual gifts for the purpose of building up the body.  That is, God gives Christians certain abilities that they are to use for the purpose of strengthening, encouraging, and building up other Christians.  The purpose for this upbuilding is so that Christians can grow in holiness, and can unite in ministry, both in service to each other and in service to the world by means of preaching the gospel.  During the class a question was brought up about how we can differentiate between spiritual gifts and natural abilities.  My answer to this question was that spiritual gifts are those things which God gives his people for the reasons listed above, stated generally as being for the building up of the body.  These can be differentiated from natural abilities, I argued, in that natural abilities become spiritual gifts when used for the purpose building up the body.

Todd Friel presented a similar approach, but with an important twist, and I think I like his approach better than the one I gave.  He asserted that natural abilities don't necessarily become spiritual gifts when used for ministry in the church.  Instead, the use of such abilities become a spiritual gift as they are used for ministry.  Allow me to clarify.

Take music, for example: a person can develop a musical ability at a young age, even before conversion.  This talent can be cultivated and grown over the years until that person is completely proficient in a particular instrument or type of music.  Then, the person becomes a Christian and begins to use the talent within the context of the church and for the benefit and edification of members of the church.  Is music this person's particular spiritual gift?  We have to say no, because the person was "gifted" with music prior to conversion.  Scripture teaches that spiritual gifts are given at the point of conversion, so in this case, the spiritual gift in question can't be music.

But, Todd Friel argues, the ability to use music in the church could perhaps (and I think probably is) the person's spiritual gift.  There's a significant difference here.  The person would be musically inclined even if he or she were never converted.  The person's ability to use music for the building up of the body, however, can definitely be an ability that he or she doesn't have until conversion - until God has gifted it to him or her.  In this sense, this person's spiritual gift wouldn't be music, but would be using music for ministry.  This understanding holds when we consider people who are definitely musical but don't use their musical abilities for the edification of the church.  It doesn't mean they're stinky musicians, or that they're disobedient in not using their musical skills for/in the church; it just means that their gift isn't to use their musical abilities for building up the body.  God has gifted them with something else.

I think a lot of people struggle over what their spiritual gift is, and particularly when it might be related to something they've done or been good at their entire lives, like music.  Maybe we just need to reframe the ways in which we look at those things that people are already doing in the church; maybe we just need to look at what people are doing in the context of how they're using it for the body.  It might not be a matter of them gaining a completely new skill, but rather a shift in how they view their use of those talents God has already given them.  I could see this as being rather freeing for people who can't seem to find their place in the church, or how they can plug in and serve others.

As I said earlier, I like this approach, and I think it's time to start thinking about spiritual gifts in this way.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Precious in the Sight of the Lord

The title of this post refers to Psalm 116.15, which reads in its entirety, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."

I received an email notification tonight that Norm Glewwe, a pillar of faith and leadership at Riverview Baptist Church passed away.  Norm had been battling cancer for, I think, a couple years now, and God finally saw fit to ultimately heal him of his ailment.  I've been reflecting on Norm and his life (what I know of it at least) tonight, his ministry in the church, my own interactions with him over the years, and mostly how the process of his death has affected his family.  I've stated before how I've recently developed a friendship with Matt Glewwe, Norm's youngest son.  Matt and I grew up together in the church, although we were never friends until more recently.  We found that we had a lot in common, given that we were both false converts throughout the majority of our lives, and only more recently came to be genuinely converted.  A lot of my reflection on Norm's life and death has been in the context of my relationship with Matt.

Norm and Matt lay carpet squares during
Phase 1 of the Century 2.2 Project.  Note
Norm's bald head, as he was doing this
work during his cancer treatment process.
But I do have quite a few memories of Norm as well.  Norm was one of a few guys who volunteered to lead the Boys Brigade program when I was a young boy.  I remember him calling the boys to "fall in," and we'd all stand in our age-appropriate groups, which when they all came together, formed a square.  Norm would then call out, "Attention!" and we'd all stand at attention.  When our postures were all to his liking, he would call out "At ease," and we would relax, separate our legs, and put our hands behind our backs.  Boys Brigade was a great time for me when I was a kid.  I don't recall ever having Norm as one of my direct leaders (I think he was the Battalion leader, the group for teenage boys), but he was a big part of my Boys Brigade experience as a kid.

I also remember Norm as being a guy who was constantly involved in leadership at the church.  He served on several boards and committees, and even chaired the Church Council a few times - a position he held at the time of his death.  He definitely had a lot of experience that gave him insight into the business matters of the church.  For instance, I think I can soundly say that Riverview's recent building project would not have gone as smoothly as it did, had Norm not been a part of it.  He was a wealth of knowledge and experience, and had several contacts within the construction and architecture fields.  Even when Norm was in the midst of battling cancer, he was getting his hands dirty and helping out wherever he could.

Norm and his wife Barb also spent some time on the mission field when they were younger (Cameroon, maybe?)  Norm recently relayed a story to me about always being able to get liver to eat on the mission field.  Recently Matt and I split a portion of a side of beef with one another, and Norm offered to take the liver, since neither Matt or I wanted it.  He said that he had always had liver as a kid, and that, on the mission field, whenever there was beef to be had, all the "good" cuts were bought up quickly by the locals, leaving only undesirable parts of the animal left, like the liver.  Norm said that he always got the liver, and since he liked it as a kid, he always enjoyed in on the mission field.  Pretty soon the locals (who apparently never considered eating the liver) asked him what he was doing with it.  When he told them he was eating it, they became curious and tried it for themselves.  They soon found out they liked it, and pretty soon when the beef came in and was bought up by the locals, Norm found himself without the liver too!

Norm and Barb were the most faithful Sunday School teachers I've had as volunteers during my tenure as the Pastor of Christian Life and Growth at Riverview.  They taught the 4-6 year old Sunday School class every week up until just a few months ago when Norm's health wouldn't allow him to get up and around as much as he had previously.  Their dedication to some of the youngest kids in our church will certainly have a long-term influence on the spiritual destinies of those they ministered to.  Speaking for myself, my Sunday School teachers that I had at young ages were instrumental in the process of my coming to faith.  I believe it was the foundation that was laid in me as a child through my early spiritual education that God ultimately used to draw me to repentance and faith.  By God's grace, this will be the case for many of the kids whom Norm and Barb have taught over the past 10 years.

Norm's condition had been worsening for a while over the past few months, and I think he and his family knew that they were coming to the point of his death.  This was certainly made evident over the past two months or so.  Throughout all of this process I have had the chance to interact with Matt about what he was thinking about his dad's decline, and how he was praying through the whole situation.  Matt recently told me that he was at peace with the whole thing, and that he was actually encouraged through the process of watching his dad slowly decline, because everything he was reading in scripture about life and death screamed out hope, and served to accentuate the promises of God.  Indeed, this is truly a monumental theme in scripture, and it is one that we can all latch on to.  We are not people without a hope!  We have a faithful God who is not slack in keeping his promises.  They are so sure that we can even die in confidence.  It has been a blessing for me to be able to talk through some of these things with Matt.

As Matt and I have gotten to know each other more and more over the past few years, so have our families.  My kids know his kids.  Tonight I explained to Han and Ferg that their friend's grandpa died today.  Jamie said, "Oh no," in a genuinely concerned tone.  But then I got to tell him the good news that this wasn't the end for Norm, and that instead of living here, now he gets to go and live forever with Jesus.  We ended the conversation by praying for Norm's grandkids.

I started this post by quoting Psalm 116.15, which when examined in context, seems a bit out of place.  The psalm talks about how the world is closing in on David and he is near death.  He calls out to the Lord, and God miraculously delivers him from his near-fatal circumstances.  His life is restored, and he honors God as being the one who is able to do all things, including save him from death.  Then, in verse 15 we get this: "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."  Huh?  The whole psalm is about how God rescues David from death, and how grateful David is to God for preserving his life, and then "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints"?  How does that fit?  Here's how I think it fits:

David realizes that his life is totally and completely in God's hands - God can sustain his life, or he can take it away.  In David's case, God preserved his life and allowed him to live.  For this, David praises God.  But, had God chosen not to preserve David's life, he would have died.  I think David's saying he would have been OK with this.  In fact, if he had died, David says "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."  It's a general recognition of God's common grace, and God's sovereignty over the affairs of life.  Only when we realize that God is who he is, and he does what he does because of who he is, can we look at life - and death - and be OK with it.  Should we pray that God would preserve life?  Of course, and we should praise him when he does.  Should we curse God when he does not?  No, because God is sovereign, and if we realize that, then we can affirm that "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."  When we realize God's sovereignty and good purposes that he works out for his good pleasure, the whole ideas of life and death seem to be somewhat puny.  What is life and death compared to the sovereignty of an all-wise God?  He can and will do as he pleases, and he always does everything for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  So then, if God preserves life, we praise him; if God takes life, we praise him, and we say, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.

Verse 16a says, "O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant."  We submit and glory in God's perfect will for our lives (and deaths), and God delights in those who will trust in his word, even and especially in the dying process.  I believe Norm Glewwe was a servant of the Lord, and that his death was precious in God's sight.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Session 4

Today's morning session was brought by Cam Roxburgh, Director of Missional Initiatives for the NAB (not sure if that's his specific title, but it's something like that).  Here are some thoughts he had during his sermon this morning that I deemed as being worthy of some further pondering.

"Our methods need to change because our culture shifts.  Our message needs to change because we’ve drifted from the truth."

"Every church, a church planting church.  Every Christian – every follower of Christ – understanding that we are the sent ones." (he didn't say it, but this sounds like the vision for his arm of ministry in the NAB)

"In our vision, we’ve started with the church and finished with God.  We’ve asked, ‘What works?’ instead of ‘What’s right?’"

"That’s what being missional is all about – that you and I, in all of life, witness to what he is all about."  

"We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I?’  We ask each other, ‘Who are you?’  And through answering these questions, we’ve drifted."

"The fact that we are a chosen people speaks to our beginnings – our identity."

"Your primary identity is not in your biological family, but in your spiritual family.  Not in your father, but in the fact that Yahweh is your dad."

"The question is not ‘Who am I?’ but ‘whose are we?’"

"All of the ways in which we used to identify ourselves – our color, social status, family, etc. – are gone.  The only way we identify ourselves now is in Christ."

"We have a wonderful opportunity in the midst of a people who desperately need and want community.  We can be the people of God in their midst and testify to what he is all about."

"Do not put being right above relationships.  Do not put being right above the restoration of relationships."

"People in the world define their lives by saying their purpose is to eat, drink, and be merry.  The problem is that I’m not sure we’re that different."

"The Father sent the Son.  The Father and Son sent the Holy Spirit.  The Father, Son and Holy Spirit send us."

"We cannot understand the church unless we realize that the purpose of our whole being is to be sent."

"I’m not for the attractional church.  But I am for the church being attractive."

"The disciples introduced their friends to Jesus.  They didn’t invite them to church."

"Introduce people to Jesus.  The Lord will take care of getting them into the church."

"Missional is a renewed theological vision so that in every aspect of our lives we bear witness to a God who is on a mission."

Friday, July 6, 2012

Florida Trip: Day 4

Today was the free day of the Triennial Conference, and my family chose to go to Disney World.  We left by about 8:30 this morning and arrived to at the park around 9:00.  After paying the hefty parking fee we rode the monorail into Disney World and started riding rides, having fun, and dropping money like we had holes in our pockets.  We took 294 pictures today, all of which we obviously can't post.  But for a brief selection, see here.

Jamie and Beetz get ready to take off on Dumbo.
We started out by riding the Dumbo ride, and then went on to Winnie the Pooh.  After that we moved on to do It's a Small World, and a few others that I already don't remember (I'm totally shot).  I do remember two rides significantly: Peter Pan and Pirates of the Caribbean.  I remember the Pirates one because it was an absolutely horrible decision to have Hannah go on that.  She was really scared.  The ride was really dark and had some skeletons in it, and at one point there was a pirate ship "shooting" canons at our boat.  I think that's what freaked her out the most.

I thought the Peter Pan ride was the best one we went on all day.  You start out in a ship that's on a track, and as you go along, you can see that the track eventually ends.  I was actually kind of nervous as I saw our car moving towards the end of the track, but we weren't slowing down.  As the track ends, the ship sails up into the air and spends the rest of the ride taking you all over the place from a track on the ceiling.  It was rather unexpected, and the rest of the ride was visually stunning.

Han was really excited to see Cinderella's castle.
It was somewhere between 90-95 in Orlando today, so needless to say, everyone was really hot and sweaty as the day wore on.  One thing that Disney World does well is air conditioning: all of the ride waiting areas are air conditioned, which is kind of strange, considering that none of them are enclosed - it's just cool air going right outside (something that would drive my dad nuts if he were ever there: "We're not paying to cool down the outside!").

Considering Han's recently diagnosed illness, and since both kids were up half the night coughing last night, the day got kind of long pretty quick.  There was some whining and crying, but I think the kids enjoyed themselves well enough.  We got back to the hotel room tonight, ordered pizza, and the kids were out like lights.

Now for some of my personal thoughts about Disney in general.  All my life I’ve heard about how great Disney World/Land is, and how life-changing of an experience it is to there.  Well, I never got to have that experience – until today.  Growing up in a family of modest means, we never had the money to go on vacations to places like Disney World.  In fact, the biggest vacation we ever took during my childhood was a road trip in a 1976 Winnebago to Mt. Rushmore in the Black Hills, South Dakota.  And that was fine with me.

Needless to say, I’ve had kind of a bad reaction to all the folks who have told me how amazing Disney World is.  In fact, I’ve even had people express disbelief that I could actually be a functional human being without having been to one of the Disneys at some point in my life.  Guess what: I’m a normal human being.  My family just didn’t have the money to do that stuff.  I turned out alright.  Actually, I think I’m better for it.  I don’t want to come off as some kind of self-righteous anti-Disney snob, but I balk at the idea that an experience at Disney World/Land is an essential part of a kid’s growing up experience.

My wife, on the other hand, has been to Disney World four times and has fallen in love with it.  Contrary to the way that I was not a Disney kid, she was.  She idolized Cinderella and wanted to be a princess; she fell in love with all the characters and wanted to be Minnie Mouse; whatever.  The point is, that she is one of the folks who believes that, although it may not be essential to a kid’s growing up experience, a visit to Disney World can be a great part of a kid’s life.

Our differing perspectives have caused no small amount of marital discord and difficulty planning our activities whilst in the Sunshine State.  Nevertheless, I relented and we visited Disney World on this, our free day, from the NAB Triennial Conference. 

Now that I’ve been to Disney, I can’t say I’m too impressed.  In fact, my impression of Disney World is basically that it is a more elaborate version of Valley Fair.  Admittedly, I’m not really into amusement parks in general, or rides or roller coasters (nor have I ever been), and I was never really into Disney stuff as a kid.  Of course I knew who all the Disney characters were, but I never had the toys, stuffed animals, t-shirts, or anything else.  I didn’t even really care for the movies or TV shows that much.  I was more into riding bikes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Star Trek, and baseball when I was a kid.  So there is probably a disconnect that exists that limits how excited I can even get about something like Disney World (then again, I’m not much for Valley Fair, or even the State fair, for that matter).

One thing that did stand out to me, though, was how the good folks at Disney have seen fit to strip you down and shake every dollar you own out of your pockets.  There is a fee or charge for everything Disney.  And anything you might actually want, or even need, to buy is exorbitantly priced.  Our lunch today was from a cafĂ© that served Burger King-quality food, from which we purchased a hamburger, cheeseburger, hotdog, three French fries, and two pops.  Total price: $33.00.  It wasn’t even that great of food.  Given the price of admission, the parking costs, the food costs, and all the merchandise costs, they must be raking in an amazing amount of money there every day. 

Overall, though, it was a fun trip, and I think the kids enjoyed it (illness and lack of sleep may have hindered their ability to have as good a time as they might have were they in good health and spirits).  At least now I know what all the hype is about, and what I supposedly missed out on as a kid.  But I’d still like to go back to the Black Hills some day!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Thoughts from the Third Session at Triennial

Here are some quotes from tonight's session with Francis Chan.  I've heard several of his sermons before, so a lot of what has been said in his messages during Triennial is stuff I've heard before.  Let that be a lesson to you: don't listen to too many sermons.  Wait, that's not right.  Anyway, he's still saying good stuff, and he's contextualizing it for his audience.  Lots of good stuff to think about here.

"How like God to make the best singer in the room someone who is deaf." (said after a performance by deaf singer Mandy Harvey)

"The thing I love about Peter and John was that people knew them for their boldness (Acts 4.13).  They didn’t notice them because they were smart or educated, but because they were bold.  When I see people in America I see people that are SO educated, but are cowards."

"John Piper told me the last time I saw him that I looked great; that I looked relaxed and in good shape.  I was actually kind of offended.  Well, not offended – convicted.  When I got to thinking about it, last year was too easy.  I don’t want it to be easy – I want it to be a war."

"I don’t want to be a soldier that complains ever time someone shoots at me.  That’s just part of the deal.  That’s what we’re here for."

"I want to know that if someone were the only believer in their city, that they would walk with the Lor boldly."

"The goal of discipleship is that the disciple can stand alone boldly."

"When are you going to experience the Holy Spirit of God?  When you’re out there being a witness.  When you’re taking risks.  When does God 'come through?'  When you’re in a lion’s den.  When you’re before the authorities.  When you’re on a mountain with the prophets of Baal.  When they throw you in a furnace of fire.  It’s when we go and make disciples."

"Why was the Spirit given?  So we could be his witnesses.  So the people could know there has been a prophet among them."