Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Lot In My Lap

Today was the big day: the day the people of Riverview voted whether to extend a call to me to be the next pastor of Riverview or to look elsewhere.  After a spirited business meeting, the vote was taken and the measure passed by a significant margin.  The church's constitution states that a pastor must receive 75% of a congregational vote in order for a call to be extended, and the results came in well over that mark.

The agenda for the meeting allowed for questions and comments from the congregation as to the motion to be voted upon with me being present in the room, and then a second period of questions and comments from the congregation without me being present.  After that, the congregation would vote.

There were several people who spoke, and I was very encouraged by each and every one of them.  Although some of the comments expressed concerns about me becoming the senior pastor, I believe they came from a thoughtful and prayerful attitude, and were generated with my best interests at heart.  To that extent, I am grateful that the people of Riverview thought clearly and considered me in their thinking.  Truly, I am generally grateful for all who expressed concern.

When I recruit people for volunteer ministry positions at Riverview, I generally send them a letter telling them about the need in the church, and how we've arrived upon them as a potential candidate to fill the volunteer position.  I always end the letter by stating that regardless of their decision to volunteer in this capacity or not, we will rejoice what what they decide to do or not do.  Because if a person has come upon a decision prayerfully and with introspection, the decision they come to has been arrived upon through God's guidance.  And any time people are seeking God in their decision making, it's a winning situation.

To this extent, I was fine with whatever decision the congregation made.  Certainly being the senior pastor of Riverview is something that I am desiring to do, and something I think that I am able to do.  But if the people came to the decision that I am not the best fit for Riverview at this time through a well-thought, prayerful process, then I would rejoice in that decision.  That being said, I am glad that the vote came out the way it did!

I was also humbled by all of the people who spoke up in support for me in the position.  By God's grace, I will be able to live up to everything you said about me.  Please pray for me to that end.  Thank you.

Two comments in particular stood out to me, and interestingly enough, neither of these comments were particularly positive or negative toward extending a call to me.  One comment I thought was very wise, but perhaps not very Baptistic in the sense that Baptists are known for their congregational government - that is, the congregation is king - they have the final vote.  This commenter said that she had decided to trust the church's leadership.  The Deacons and the Church Council (in addition to the recommendation of the regional minister) had unanimously recommended me as a candidate for the position.  She was choosing to trust that the leadership came to their recommendation thoughtfully and prayerfully, and she was choosing to follow their recommendation.  While I affirm congregational church governance, I think there is wisdom to this thinking.  As Baptists, we elect and approve leaders whom we believe are gifted in such a way as to occupy leadership positions.  It is reasonable (and biblical) to assume that these folks are thinking well and biblically when it comes to decisions and recommendations like these.  I thank God for people who are humbly willing and able to submit to their leaders.

The second comment that I thought was very helpful at the meeting had to do with the encouragement of one member to the congregation to submit themselves to God's decision, whatever that might be.  The encouragement was for the congregation to realize that God is sovereign, and that the outcome of the vote would be an indication of his will, and that we should accept it as his will and submit to it.  This is wisdom, and I was thankful for the admonition to us all to submit ourselves to God's authority.

At the end of the day (which it is, 11:30 PM as I write this) God is sovereign, and he seems to have directed the people of Riverview in a certain way.  If God allows, I will bear this responsibility and have the distinct honor and privilege of leading the people of Riverview as their pastor.  May he strengthen me to that end.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

On the Eve of the Vote

Today marks the day before the day of the vote that the people of Riverview will cast to determine whether or not I will be the next senior pastor.  It's been an incredibly long month of waiting, between the time when the announcement was made to the congregation that I would be the first candidate they would consider, until now.  There has been a lot to consider, to ponder, and to think about.  In a very real way, I'll be glad when the vote is over - regardless of the outcome.

One impression I have had over the past month is that I am unworthy of the ministry.  I am such a sinful man, and my own growth in holiness seems so painfully slow at times.  Who am I that I should be called to the ministry?  The answer is, I'm a nobody, and I don't deserve anything, let alone the ministry.  There's nothing about me that's any good or that is inherently useful for being in the ministry.  But I guess that's the point, and it's what I have to keep telling myself.  It's only by God's grace that any of us do anything.  And so I attribute anything about myself that might be useful for gospel ministry to God and his wisdom and grace.

Also over the past month, there have been two verses in particular that I have been meditating on: "The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps." (Proverbs 16.9) and "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD." (Proverbs 16.33)  In our representative republic we feel like we have so much control over the process of selecting our leaders.  We think we make the decisions, and people do what we say.  But that's not true - God is the one who makes the decisions and determines rulers and kings and leaders.  The same is true of our Baptist polity - we believe the congregation is king - they make the rules, select the leaders, etc.  But the same is true of congregational government: God has the final say.

Whatever happens tomorrow, the decision will be the Lord's, whether the vote comes out positively or negatively.  And since he loves me and is working all things together for my good, I can rejoice in whatever happens.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Sovereignty of God In Salvation

God chose, before the foundation of the world, those who would be delivered from slavery to sin and those who would be condemned (Romans 8.28-30, 9.11-18).  This election was not based on any merits of the elect, but on grace alone (Ephesians 1.4-6).  Although all people deserve God's just punishment (Romans 3.23), God chose some to whom he would give the grace of repentance and saving faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sin before the world began.  This act of election is an unconditional act of grace (Ephesians 2.8-9).

All people in the world are privileged to enjoy God's grace given to human beings.  This grace is common, and is sufficient for daily life.  Considering their sinful and fallen nature, all good things that human beings enjoy are works of God's common grace (Psalm 145.9).  Saving grace, however, is reserved for those whom God had predestined to believe the gospel (Ephesians 2.5, 8-10).  This grace is irresistible to those whom God has predestined, and is sufficient for the application of Christ's redeeming work performed on the cross for the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1.20).

Repentance and Faith
Repentance and faith are gifts of God's grace given to believers and are necessary for salvation.  Repentance is the act whereby a human being forsakes his or her desire for sinful tendencies as empowered by God (Acts 3.19, 26.20, 1 Corinthians 16.22).  Those things loved in the sinful nature are forsaken for those things of a regenerated nature (1 Corinthians 5.9, 1 Thessalonians 2.4).  Faith is God-given grace to believe the message of the gospel for the full forgiveness of sins.  Through faith, God empowers individuals to believe that Christ's sacrifice is sufficient for justification and salvation, and that Christ's death and resurrection has secured for the believer all promises that are due to him or her through the act of being reconciled to God (Ephesians 2.8-9).

Justification refers to the standing sinners have before God after having had their sin paid for through the substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross, having been declared not guilty on account of grace through faith in Christ (Romans 3.20, 28).  God justifies the ungodly by faith and not by works (Romans 4.5, Galatians 3.24).  God reckons as righteous and acceptable in his sight those whom he has granted the grace of faith, by which sinners are united to Christ, whose perfect righteousness is alone satisfactory for full justification (Romans 3.25, 1 John 2.2).  This justification is a working of God alone, and is not merited by any works or deeds done by the justified (Ephesians 2.8-9).

Regeneration and Sanctification
At the moment of salvation, the sinner is given a new heart with new desires for the things of God.  This too is an act of God, and is not motivated or inspired by human desires or works (Titus 3.5).  This does not mean, however, that the sinner becomes to ally and perfectly righteous in his or her earthly life (Romans 7.15-17).  Rather, God works in the heart and mind of the converted through his Spirit to bring about an ever-increasing level of righteousness in daily life (Romans 8.13).  That is, the believer's slavery to sin is broken and his or her sinful tendencies and desires are progressively weakened through the power of the Spirit (Romans 6.20-22).  This reality calls the believer to become an active participant in God's battle against sin in his or her life, and to rest assured in the eventual victory over it.  While regeneration is an immediate reality in the believer's life, the process of sanctification is life-long and will continue unto death. But God will continually provide the believer with grace upon grace so that the believer can and will persevere through this battle with sin.  In this sense, the process of sanctification is divine and human endeavor; the individual is empowered by God to fight sin and pursue holiness.

When a believer dies, he or she is made perfect and holy; the process of sanctification having been completed.  The believer is taken to heaven to be with Christ and bask in his glory (Philippians 3.20-21).

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Remember This:

"The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord." (Proverbs 16.33) And, "Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand." (Proverbs 19.21)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Sovereignty of God Over the Nature and Purpose of Humanity and Over Sin

The Image of God
God created human beings in his own image (Genesis 1.27).  That is, God created human beings to love and enjoy him in perfect fellowship, without sin, being in some sense like God and representing God (Genesis 1.31).  Male and female were created in the image of God, and together fully reflect the image of God (Genesis 2.8, Ephesians 5.22-33).  It is this fact - that they have been created in the image of God - that makes human beings unique in all of God's creation, and makes their value as created beings distinct from other elements of creation.

The Purpose of Humanity
Since God lives and exists in perfect relationship with himself, needing no other relationship than that which is perfected int he godhead, he had no need to create human beings.  He therefore created human beings for the purpose of glorifying himself (Revelation 7.9-10).  This glory is made evident through the ways God relates to his created beings and the ways in which they praise him for his glorious deeds (Psalm 78.4).  Through his interactions with human beings, God shows himself to be kind, merciful, forgiving, just, loving, etc. (Exodus 34.5-7, Psalm 18.25, 107.1, 145.9), bringing glory to himself through the display of these attributes.  Even through God's just judgment of sin (and sinners), God is shown to be great in that he rightly deals with evil (Psalm 7.6 89, 27-29, Hebrews 10.30).

The Nature of Sin
Sin is any and every thing that is contrary to the nature and will of God.  It is the inclination of human beings to act and think independently of God's will and revelation (Genesis 3.6, Romans 3.23).  Sin separates the offender from the Holy God (Isaiah 59.2).  Through the Fall, the entire human race was plunged into sin and is hopelessly lost in it (Romans 5.12, 1 Corinthians 15.22, Romans 6.23).

God does not tempt or force human beings to sin (James 1.13).  Rather, he allows human beings to follow the desires of their sinful, fallen hearts.  God is sovereign over humankind's sinful activities, however, in that he chooses to allow, or not allow, sinful activities to take place (John 19.10-11, Acts 2.22-23, 4.27-28).  In this sense, while God remains sovereign over sin, he cannot be accused of having sinned or being evil himself, and human beings bear the full responsibility for their sin.

The Fallen Nature and Effects of Sin
Although God created human beings as morally upright (Ecclesiastes 5.29), they were led away from the truth of God's will and revelation by Satan (Genesis 3.1).  Having been given freedom by God, in allowing themselves to be deceived, they chose to act against God's word and therefore declared their independence from him.  In this sense, human kind fell from their state of sinlessness and fellowship with God (2 Corinthians 11.3).  All human beings since Adam and Eve, therefore, in some mysterious way, have inherited a sinful nature and similarly suffer the consequences of such a nature, namely separation from God int he spiritual sense (Romans 5.8, Hebrews 11.6, Isaiah 64.6).  All people have been corrupted by this nature and are totally depraved, enslaved to sin, and unable to overcome its effects and control by their own power (Isaiah 64.6, Ephesians 2.8-9).  The physical result of this fallen nature is that of death, sickness, and decay (Genesis 3.14-19).  All suffering, therefore, is a result of the fallen nature of human beings (Genesis 3.16-19, Romans 5.12)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Empty Hosannas

Kevin DeYoung writes this short but interesting bit regarding what we commonly say of the crowd that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on what we regard as Palm Sunday.  DeYoung says that many preachers imply that the same crowd that shouted "Hosanna!" on Palm Sunday would go on to shout "Crucify him!" only five days later, illustrating mankind's tendency to fall away.

But, DeYoung says, a more careful look at scripture shows us that the people who shouted "Hosanna!" were a uniquely different set than those who shouted "Crucify him!" later in the week.  The gospel of Luke says that the people shouting and singing as he rode in on the donkey were "the whole multitude of his disciples."  Mark 15 says that many of his disciples were looking on as this was happening, indicating that they were a large portion of the proceedings, or at least instigators of the celebration.  John 12 says that the people waving palm branches and celebrating his arrival were those who had seen Jesus do miraculous signs and wonder, such as raising Lazarus from the dead.  Surely these people were regular followers of Jesus.

In contrast, those who shouted for Jesus' death were not his followers, but the Jews of Jerusalem, including the Pharisees and others.  These were not Jesus' regular followers or disciples.

DeYoung quotes commentator R.T. France: "There is no warrant here for the preacher's favorite comment on the fickleness of a crowd which could shout 'Hosanna' one day and "crucify him' a few days later.  They are not the same crowd.  The Galilean pilgrims shouted 'Hosanna' as they approached the city, the Jerusalem crowd shouted, 'Crucify him.'"  

OK, the point is made: those who shouted "Hosanna!" were not the same as those who shouted "Crucify!" and so it is probably unwise to use this as an example of how easily people fall away.  But here's my question: is it really better to have been one of the ones who shouted "Hosanna" than it was to be one of those who shouted "Crucify!"?  Not much, I don't think.  Allow me to explain.

It's clear that those who shouted "Hosanna" did not have a grasp of who Jesus really was in truth.  Rather than the Messiah who would take away the sins of the world, they believed him to be a conquering Messiah who would restore the glory of Israel, setting them up as rulers on earth.  They didn't believe Jesus' kingdom to be a spiritual one built in the hearts of men, but a physical one built through rulers and powers.  This is made even more evident if, as DeYoung asserts (and I think he's correct), those who welcomed him into the city were made up of his disciples.  In fact, his disciples were the ones who were potentially most confused on this issue!

Why were the people shouting "Hosanna" when Jesus entered the city?  Many, if not most, had an inaccurate idea of who Jesus was and what he had come to do.  Did they love Jesus?  Yes, but mostly for what he could do for them, namely restoring the kingdom to Israel and reestablishing their rule of power in the world.  And because the thought of getting the goods through Jesus excited them so much, they responded in praise for their "king."

Do we not see this same level of commitment to Jesus in our day and age?  People who will ascribe their allegiance to Jesus not because they love him or have been changed by him, but because they believe that such an allegiance will be advantageous for their own personal agenda.  In other words, people love Jesus because of what he can do for them - just like those who shouted "Hosanna" as Jesus entered Jerusalem.

So it's true that those who shouted "Hosanna" on Palm Sunday were not the same who shouted "Crucify!" on Good Friday, but I'm not sure this is much better!  May my own "Hosannas!" be uttered with a true heart of love for who Jesus really is, and not just because of what he can do for me.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Influences that Influence our Influences

In yesterday's post I began to talk about the notion that religious instruction is akin to brainwashing.  I began by pointing out that we all see the world based on what we've been told and taught, and by what we have observed.  I then linked to an article which is provocatively titled, "I Want My Kids Brainwashed."  The author recounts accusations she has had from unbelievers that she is brainwashing her children by putting them through religious instruction.  But, as she concludes, it is a good thing that her children a "brainwashed" (a better term would perhaps be "indoctrinated") with the Christian faith, considering all of the other philosophies out there by which to be brainwashed.

This is an important point when it comes to how we see the world and evaluate truth claims: each of us starts with a context - a set of lenses, if you will - and through these lenses we interpret the reality around us.  There is no one on the earth who does not have his or her own set of lenses.  As I said yesterday, we are all "brainwashed" with some sort of framework through which we see the world.

This reality tends to render the accusation that Christians brainwash people as null and void, because even leveling the accusation "Christianity is brainwashing" is, in itself, the result of some sort of contextual brainwashing - particularly the secular kind that believes religion to be brainwashing.  In other words, one cannot make the claim "You have been brainwashed" without having been brainwashed himself or herself.  This is what I was trying to explain in yesterday's post: we cannot examine the process of having been influenced, without being influenced.  

So then, if we are all "brainwashed" to see the world and evaluate truth claims in a certain way, then how can we ever know the truth?  I would argue that such a standard exists in the word of God.

"But," you say, "you've admitted that your analysis of truth claims is inherently biased based on the ways you've been influenced as a child and adult!  How can you be objective when evaluating the truth claims of the Bible?"

I can't.  The best I can do is to know my own biases and presuppositions as well as I can, and to eliminate them as much as possible when I analyze evidence and make conclusions.  I will always have my specific set of lenses that I will look through when I see and observe the world, truth claims, etc.  But the more I know I have those lenses on, the better I can realize when they might be leading me to believe something "just because that's what I've always believed."

Also, through this imperfect process we look for a source of truth upon which to build our lives that is transcendent, trans-cultural, and timeless.  I would argue that the Bible is that source of truth, and blows all other philosophies or worldviews out of the water.  Even our biased interpretations of the Bible are better versions of "brainwashing" than the world has to offer, such as those mentioned in the article linked to above.

In conclusion, I would agree with the article to which I've linked that brainwashing is indeed a good thing.  In fact, you can't even be alive without having been brainwashed to some extent.  The question is not, "Should we brainwash our children?" but rather, "With what philosophy should we brainwash our children?"  There's no escaping it.

That being said, I would obviously reject the notion that we should not engage our brains and critical thinking skills when evaluating truth claims.  We should not believe things just because we've been told them over and over, or just because that's what we've always done or believed.  That would be brainwashing, and that's not profitable for anyone.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Differentiation of Self

It's somewhat common to hear those critical of organized religion level the accusation of brainwashing toward those who practice a faith - particularly Christianity - and particularly when it comes to educating children in the basic tenets of the faith.  In other words, there are some who feel that teaching and propagating the Christian faith is akin to brainwashing - people only believing what they believe because they've been told to believe it often enough that it just becomes a part of their reality, disassociated from any critical or reasonable thought.

One of the main ideas imparted to me during my seminary education was that of differentiation of self: the idea that in order to better understand reality and other people, one must be able to step outside of one's self and see how one has been formed and influenced by culture, family, relationships, religion, etc. Why is this important?  Because there are many things that you and I believe to be right and true, not necessarily because those things are right and true, but simply because that's what we've been taught or have observed our entire lives, and we've never questioned those beliefs.  In other words, we've been brainwashed in some areas of our lives and understanding, albeit unintentionally and without any kind of malicious intent.  It's just a natural product of being linear, cultural beings.  We repeatedly observe the world in a particular way, and we make conclusions about reality based on those observations, and moreover, we assume that our observations and subsequent conclusions are normative, or that they are prescriptive for all people in the world.  In a very real sense, we are all brainwashed.  And the teaching of self-differentiation states that the more we can identify this unintentional brainwashing, the more sensitivity and tolerance we will have toward those who have observed the world in different ways (because of cultural influences) and have come to different conclusions about reality (worldview).

This concept was the foundation of spiritual formation philosophy at Bethel Seminary.  The more we know ourselves in truth and why we think/believe the ways we do, the more we can grow in our knowledge of truth, understand why others envision God in the ways they do, and engage in dialogue with them through which we can all grow spiritually.  I believe there are several good elements of this philosophy, but there are also at least two very significant problems.

The obvious problem with this practice is the propensity for truth claims to be seen as a simple byproduct of cultural persuasion: in other words, you only believe Idea X to be true because it is a product of your culturally/religiously influenced observation of the world.  In this sense, no one can be absolutely sure of any truth claim, because our understanding of truth is suspect due to our heavily influenced way of seeing the world.  Nor can we condemn any ideas as being absolutely  false, since our reasons for doing so can always be called into question, due to our unseen, yet formative, persuasions.  This is one of the basic tenets of postmodernism.

A secondary problem with this practice is that it seems to me to be self-refuting.  Differentiation of self intends for us to do our thinking about life, relationships, truth, and the world with as good a grasp as possible on the propensity for our influences to color our thinking and interpretation of truth claims.  But the problem I see is that the process of self-differentiation is, itself, subject to those same influences.  In other words, if my influences color the way I see and believe truth, then those same influences change my ability to discern those influences.  Yes, I realize it's a bit of a mind bender, and it's also something of an infinite regression.  Put simply, it's akin to the reality that the claim "There is no absolute truth," is a statement of absolute truth.  The two cannot both be right.  In the same way, we can't discern our influences without have that process be influenced by external factors.

So then, we can conclude that everyone examines truth within a social, cultural, societal, religious, ethnic, etc. context, and these factors shape the way we think about truth claims and determine what is true.  In a sense, these influences "brainwash" us into seeing the world in a particular way.  But is that a good thing or a bad thing?  And what about the claim of critics of Christianity that Christians are brainwashed, and that they brainwash their children?  Are they right?

I'll try to tackle these questions in a subsequent post.  I've been thinking about these issues because of some stuff that has come up in my personal life recently, and also because of this article that was just published today on the Gospel Coalition website.  It makes some great points on some of what I've said here, but I want to comment more on it at a later time.

Bad Church Sign: If You Like to Gamble...

"Bet on the man riding on the donkey."  (This followed the church's Palm Sunday worship times.)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Because They're Pink and Gooey

Bad church sign of the week, in anticipation of Easter: "Jesus loves his 'peeps.'"

Monday, March 31, 2014

A People On Mission

In my last post I shared some remarks that I gave to the people of Riverview as they consider me as a candidate for the church's role of Senior Pastor.  That post detailed some of my own personal history with Riverview and with her people.  This post deals with what I see as the most pressing concerns for Riverview's continued ministry.

Riverview is a people on mission: to bring people to faith in Christ, bring Christians to maturity in Christ, worship and live to bring praise to Christ, and to support the work of Christ locally and globally.  This statement of mission - clearly defined by the people of this church and by the word of God - has been our cause and purpose for more than the last 10 years.  By God's grace, it will continue to be our sole and guiding focus as we push on in life and ministry in the future to the extent that we are obedient to the word of God and are empowered by his Spirit.

While the question of what our mission is can be answered rather readily, the question of how we go about achieving it is a different one altogether.  For may years the people of Riverview have sought to be faithful to God's call upon them and achieve its mission by offering their time, energy, finances, creativity, wisdom, and prayers in order to be obedient to the call of God upon their lives.  It is my prayer that as our church moves forward, we will continue this legacy of faithfulness to the mission and to innovate and commit ourselves in whatever way God would deem necessary to partner with him in carrying out his purposes on the earth.

But the primary way that I believe we achieve our mission is by being obedient to God and his word.  Through our obedience we are able to worship God rightly and we are able to partner with him to carry out his purposes on the earth and in our homes and communities.  Through obedience to his word we bring praise and honor to him, we preach the gospel to the lost - both at home and abroad - and we grow in our love for one another and for the Lord.

How do we go about the task of bringing people to faith in Christ, growing believers in maturity, worshipping rightly, and preaching the gospel at home and abroad?  By knowing God, knowing his word, and doing it.  This, too, is how we define our success - not by measuring how many people we win, or by our weekly attendance, or by any other man-made rubric that indicates supposed success or failure - but only by the degree to which we are faithful to what God has told us in his word.

With that understanding in view, as we look together to the future of Riverview's ministry in West St. Paul, there seem to be several areas in which our church has stood strong throughout the years, and it is these areas in which I believe we must continue to stand, resolute and resolved.

Worship - There is no higher calling than worshipping the one true Creator God.  God's glory and our celebration of it in worship should be the focus and goal of all of life and ministry.  Worship is the primary purpose for which God created human beings and is therefore our highest endeavor and greatest fulfillment.  As we go forth, let us be known as a people who give carefully focus and attention to worship, and relate all of our activities to it and to the goal of magnifying the glory of God.

The Supremacy of Scripture - We live in a cultural context that is increasingly hostile to the word of God, and to those who would hold it as being authoritative in matters of life and doctrine, and we will be tempted to marginalize the supremacy that God's word has in our hearts and lives.  Only the Bible, and its message rightly preached and understood can effect lasting personal and cultural change.  In light of this reality, we must be sure that we are motivated in what we say and do by the word of God and through the power of his Spirit.  As a people who uphold the word of God, we have the opportunity to speak prophetically to our culture and to the world.  May we do so with Spirit-empowered love and boldness.

Spiritual Formation - I am grateful that Riverview holds the Bible as supreme when it comes tot he process of spiritual growth.  This is why at our church we endeavor to equip our people to hear, understand, respond to, and apply the word of God in accordance with a biblical worldview.  This happens a variety of ways and in a variety of contexts.  Our desire is to be a people who are humble and teachable before the word of God, always growing in our ability to grasp God's truth and grace, no matter our age or life circumstances.  We hold the Bible as being central for all education nd formation efforts, and seek to know it so that we will not be tossed about by every wind and wave of doctrine.  This process is not taken on individually, but as a community, as we encourage one another and help each other grow in our grasp of biblical truth, wisdom, faith, and love.  As we grow, we show Christ as our ultimate treasure.  Let us continue to be a people who holds the Bible as preeminent, and who push hard toward the appropriation and application of truth so that we might become more and more like Jesus and less and less enslaved to sin.

Prayer - Prayer has been and is an essential part of life at Riverview.  Through it we show our dependence on God's grace and mercy in our church, family, and personal lives.  As we look to the future, may our corporate sense of urgency in prayer mark us as a people who are constantly dependent upon God through our persistent and earnest prayers for the good of others and the glory of God.  May everything we do as a church be soaked in prayer so that all may see it is God's strength that provides the victory, and that his glory is the end of our prayers.

The "One Anothers" - There are more than 40 "one another" commands in the New Testament that mark the relationship that believers are to have with one another.  The ways that Christians love and treat one another is not only a sign that we know and love God, but is an incredible witness to the unbelieving world regarding the supernatural nature of the church.  We are a band of disparate sinners who have been radically transformed through the Holy Spirit, and one of the greatest signs of this transformation is by following the "one anthers."  May the world see us loving one another, an d in so doing see the glory of Christ.

Equipping and Training - God commands the church to train up believers int he working of their spiritual gifts for the benefit of the church and the world.  These gifts are given so that believers may grow in their faith and maturity, and to be equipped for ministry in and to the church, and in and to the world so as to fulfill the church's purpose of bringing glory to God through its obedience to him and to be obedient to the Great Commission.  May we be a church who is faithful to equip and train its people to do the work that God has called us to do.

Missions - As John Piper has famously said, "There are only three kinds of Christians: those who send, those who go, and those who are disobedient."  Riverview's heritage of global involvement in missions as both a "sending" and "going" church is strong.  our goal should be to maintain that strength in sending people to preach the gospel among the nations, to submit willingly when God calls us to "go," and to strengthen our resolve to continue doing so in every way possible.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same
Riverview is about to experience one of the most significant changes a church can undergo.  If the Lord allows, I am willing to bear the responsibility and have the honor of serving as the Senior Pastor of this church.  That being said, I don't foresee many changes on the horizon at Riverview, inasmuch as our hearts are in line with the word of God and what he has called us to do.  Indeed, if we need to change, let it be the kind of change that pushes us more toward holiness and obedience.  Otherwise, our history, our legacy, and our current testimony of God's grace in our lives has set our course.  May God grant us the grace of obedience to follow him in all things.  

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Heritage of Faithfulness

Today was a big day.  After our regular church service we held a congregational informational meeting to roll out a plan of succession between Dave Wick, our outgoing pastor, and myself.  The plan would have me taking over as Senior Pastor at Riverview in April of 2015.  The church will vote on the proposal in about a month.

For the meeting, I was asked to share some thoughts about my "vision" for the church if I were to become the Senior Pastor, which I did.  But, I figured, it's hard to talk about the future without first looking at the past.  For me, that's a unique experience, given that I was born into Riverview Baptist Church.  What follows here is the section of my remarks entitled "A Heritage of Faithfulness."  There's another section entitled "A People On Mission" but I'll save that for another post.

Throughout Riverview's history there are ample evidences of the work that God can do through a people dedicated to his word and to partnering with him in ministry to one another and to the world.  This legacy of faithfulness - both of God and the people of Riverview - is one that we can and should fight to preserve.  "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12.1-2)  The saints who have gone before us have testified to the greatness of our God.  Let us do the same.

Additionally, my life is a testimony to God's grace manifested through the obedience of the people of Riverview.  I was born into this church 33 years ago and have benefited from this community in every way conceivable.  It was the people of Riverview who built in me the foundation of my faith as a young child, teaching me the Bible and calling me to respond in obedience, and then continuing that education as I grew physically and spiritually.  It was the people of Riverview who showed me what a community of faith really was, as I was able to observe them ministering to one another and to my family.  It is the people of Riverview who now live alongside me, as I raise my own family and bring my children up in the fear and admonition of the Lord.  It is the people of Riverview that I see investing in my own children today, as they invested in me so long ago.  It was the people of Riverview who walked alongside me as I grew musically, which has become such a significant part of my adult life.  It was the people of Riverview who encouraged me to seek God's will for my life in using it to serve him in full time vocational ministry.  It was the people of Riverview who financed my seminary education, investing in my theological training and enabling me to be obedient to the call of God upon my life.  And it has been the people of Riverview who have allowed me to serve them vocationally for the past 10 years.  

Unlike many ministers who stand up to preach on a Sunday morning, when I shake hands with people as they leave the sanctuary, I get to shake the hand of my first grade Sunday School teacher; I get to shake the hand of my former pastor; I get to shake the hand of my best friend's mother and father; I get to shake the hand of the man who has been a mentor to me since I was a teenager; I get to shake the hand of the woman who taught me in Vacation Bible School when I was a child; I get to shake the hands of people my own age who grew up alongside me at Riverview.  I get to shake the hands of elderly saints who have watched and prayed for me throughout my journey; I get to shake the hands of people who have invested their own time, energy, and prayers in me since the day I was born.

This is a privilege afforded to a very few ministers, and I am unspeakably blessed for having been a part of the community at Riverview.  Indeed, I would not be the man that I am today were it not for my brothers and sisters at Riverview.  It is my desire to continue to foster the spirit of faithfulness that has been so evident int he overarching history of Riverview, and specifically for the past 33 years of my life, so each of us can serve the Lord to the extent of the measure of the faith that he has given us.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Statement of Faith: Homosexuality

This post includes some of the content from the "Current Ministry Issues and Challenges" section of my statement of faith paper.  Considering that I spent my last two posts talking about homosexuality, I thought it might be beneficial to provide a more theological angle as well (which I hopefully achieve in other postings on the topic as well).  So I'm jumping out of the order in which my paper is written to accommodate this post.

Current Ministry Issues and Challenges - Homosexuality
The issue of homosexuality is difficult because of its hotly contested political nature, and therefore should be handled carefully and theologically by the church.  As I see it, the culture's acceptance of homosexuality as a morally acceptable way of life is a foregone conclusion, and so the church's task is to determine how to biblically respond to homosexuals and to the culture at large.  Although sin is sin (James 2.10), some sins have special social relational, and cultural ramifications that stigmatize those who fall prey to such sin, and can also stigmatize the church in its response to such behaviors.  It is to the church's benefit to wisely analyze such issues biblically before speaking on them.  In the book of Acts we see the apostles addressing moral and spiritual issues not through political or social action, but through the preaching of the gospel in the public square (see, for example, Acts 2.13-40, 4.2, 4.8-12, 17.16-31, 22.1-23.11, 24.1-26, 26.1-29).  Therefore our message to the culture at large concerning this issue should be biblically based, theological, and gospel-centered.

Homosexuality is a sexual perversion that deviates from God's design for sexual activity.  All sexual activity outside the bounds of the biblical prescription of one man and one woman in the context of marriage is sinful (Matthew 5.27-28, 19.4-6).  The condemnation of such sin by the church, however, must be followed up with the good news of the gospel as well - that all sin, including sexual sin, can be repented of and forgiven by grace through faith.  Homosexuals, idolaters, drunkards, thieves, adulterers, the greedy, and swindlers are all welcome to come and be washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 6.9-11).  This is the message that the church should be trumpeting as it engages in the conversation about homosexuality.

Moreover, I believe the church should be leading the charge in the protection of the sanctity of marriage, namely as being between one man an done woman for life.k  This battle is fought on the homosexuality front, but can also be extended to encompass the issue of divorce.  Christians should not be adamant regarding the definition of marriage for societal or cultural reasons, or to preserve an idealistic tradition of marriage, but instead should fight for a biblical definition of marriage primarily for theological reasons.  Not only is the physical prescription for marriage one man and one woman for life, but the roles played by t he man and the woman in marriage carry theological weight as well.  Marriage necessarily images the gospel and the relationship between Christ and his church - Christ playing the part of the husband, and the church playing the role of the wife.  Husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.  Wives are to submit to their husbands as they do to the Lord (Ephesians 5.22-23, Colossians 3.18-19).  Gender, and the role it plays in marriage, is vitally important to the theological message of the gospel.  In short, the theological implications of marriage are diminished (at best) for obvious reasons when marriage is redefined to include a sexual union between two people of the same gender, or when a blind eye is turned to those who are contemplating divorce, or struggling with the effects of divorce.

All homosexuals who repent of their sin and believe the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit should be welcomed into the church and granted full fellowship amongst the body, in the same way that all sinners of every stripe are given such privileges (1 Corinthians 6.9-11).  As with all sin that is repented of, the fruit of repentance from homosexuality may take different forms, such as celibacy, or a total transformation, complete with new sexual desires.  The only thing that can be said in certainty is that the Holy Spirit grows each believer in holiness according to the measure of faith that has been granted to them, and enables them to battle against sin (Romans 6.22).

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Cool Your Jets, Man Pt. 2

I posted yesterday about how language changes and evolves over time - words that perhaps were offensive at one time no longer are, and vice versa.  And some words that were used frequently fall out of use.  For example, my high school biology teacher told me once that if something was really cool, back in his day they would say that it was "ducky" (my mom confirmed that "ducky" was a common word several years ago).  And if he and his friends saw an attractive girl they would say she was "teal" (I'm guessing as to the spelling of that word).  Now I don't know about you, but I have never heard those words used any time recently.  Those words have fallen out of use.

Similarly, cultures determine what words are acceptable and which aren't.  For instance, once when I was in Jamaica (a mostly English-speaking culture) I learned some of the words they use regularly that have never become commonly used in America.  For example, if a Jamaican thinks something is really cool, he says it is "bashmint" (at least that was the word when I was 17 or so - things may have changed since then).

For the most part, changes in the ways words are used happen organically.  That is, it happens naturally.  There's no Word King that is handing out rules about which words are acceptable and which aren't, or which ones will be used or not used.  At least until now.

A few days ago I read this fascinating article about how the word "homosexual" is falling out of use in major print publications, such as the New York Times and Associated Press outlets, which are very influential and set the standards for other publications.  Turns out that some very influential people have made an unofficial rule that the word "homosexual" is now offensive.  More than that, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has a whole page of words and terms that they have, in their supposed sovereignty, deemed to be offensive when it comes to talking about gay people or homosexuality in general (no offense intended).

Why not use terms like "homosexual," "gay lifestyle," or "sexual preference?"  Because they apparently suggest that homosexuality and the behaviors that accompany it are somehow undesirable or only center around sex, rather than the whole person.  You can read all about the terms they find offensive and why here.  But I'm just not buying it.

As I read the descriptions of why they believe certain terms to be offensive, I find some significant logical holes, filled in with some monumental assumptions about homosexuality in general, and about specific topics within the overarching conversation, such as gay marriage.  In other words, they like the terms they have selected better than the more commonly used ones they find offensive because the cherry-picked terms are more conducive to the promotion of their beliefs and ideals.  So then, rather than let culture determine which words are usable and which are offensive, they're letting their agenda drive the use of language regarding homosexuality, and forcing it on the culture.

The product of this language engineering is to make homosexuality more culturally and socially acceptable.  If people can begin thinking and speaking in terms that are dictated by the movement, they'll begin thinking like the movement.  The old words they used to use that probably carried a more realistic (however blunt) connotation with them no longer influence thinking, and the words that are more palatable to the agenda promoting them drive the society's thinking on the issue.  Words have meanings, and those meanings are important because they help us communicate and comprehend ideas.  The more we can bend the meanings of words to be conducive to our side of the argument, the more we will be able to persuade the public to think the same way we do.  It's a fascinating and effective tactic.

On a related note, a few months ago Thabiti Anyabwile wrote an article called "The Importance of Your Gag Reflex When Discussing Homosexuality and 'Gay Marriage'" (warning: this article contains very frank talk about homosexuality and anatomy).  In it, he argues that Christians should revert back to a more basic and blunt way of talking about homosexuality.  He suggests that we use terms that bluntly describe anatomy and sexual acts as a way of reminding the culture what homosexuality is really all about.  Pastor Anyabwile has taken more than his share of flack for this article, and somewhat rightly so, I think.  I'm not very easily shocked anymore, and even I was taken a bit aback by how he describes the homosexual lifestyle.

That being said, I think he is on to something: our culture wants to tame the reality of what happens within the homosexual lifestyle (again, no offense intended), and this example of GLAAD trying to decrease the usage of words like "homosexual" is evidence of just that.  The reality is this: words have meanings, and those meanings communicate ideas.  And know this: there are people out there trying to shape our culture by dictating the meaning of words, and there are enormous societal and religious consequences involved.

In my previous post, I argued that Christians should have no part in the process of offensive words becoming inoffensive.  We are to focus on wholesome talk that builds up, not on making filth words so common that they become acceptable.  But in this instance, I think Christians should make a point of using words that have been deemed offensive (at least by GLAAD and many media outlets), because if we choose to use more tame descriptors, the culture will be all the more inclined to embrace a lifestyle that we know is destructive to people, both physically and spiritually.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Cool Your Jets, Man Pt. 1

Words change.  The way we talk changes.  The meanings of words change.  Even within my short 33 years of life words have come into common usage, and gone out of common usage.  Words that were offensive at one time no longer are, and new offensive words have been created.

When I was in third grade, The Simpsons were just beginning to be all the rage amongst my peers, and Bart Simpson Tshirts were the thing to have.  I begged my mom to get me a Bart Simpson Tshirt, even though I had never seen an episode of the show at that time (The Simpsons was not allowed in my home).  For some reason, my mom seemed more open to the idea of wearing a Simpsons Tshirt than allowing me to watch the show, but the only shirt I could find had a slogan that she deemed inappropriate and disrespectful.  What was it?  The shirt had a picture of Bart on it, with a speech bubble that said "Cool your jets, man."  That was it.  Inappropriate and disrespectful.  Nowadays we would scoff at the idea of someone saying "cool your jets" as being disrespectful.

Also back in those days, another word was coming into common usage: sucks.  As in "That sucks," or "It really sucks that winter is lasting so long."  Even in my formative childhood years, the word "sucks" was marginal at best when it came to being allowable in common language.  It was seen as coarse and crude, and to harken back to Bart Simpson, is what made his character somewhat edgy: he said "sucks" without a second thought.  Those days are long gone, however, and it's very common to hear the word "sucks" in everyday speech - even from children.  If I'm being honest, I must confess that this word has become a regular part of my vernacular as well.  I don't consider it to be crass or vulgar, but a regular way of expressing disappointment.  That's the way our culture has used the word, and so - right or wrong - that's what it means.

In more recent times, there's another word that was commonly considered crass and vulgar that has made its way into common parlance: "p*ss."  Why didn't I write the word out in its entirety?  Because I still consider it to be crass and vulgar.  That's a word I don't use, mostly because I just think it's a disgusting word.  The culture disagrees however, and "p*ss" is a commonly used word.  It's quite common to hear someone say that he or she was "p*ssed off" and not even give it a second thought.  But even though the culture has considered this word to be OK for common use, I can't bring myself to say it.  I just don't like it.

Our culture dictates what words are usable and what words aren't.  We determine together what words are off limits, and what words are usable, simply by our willingness to use them in common speech.  There's nothing inherently evil or offensive about words.  After all, they're just a combination of letters that form a word.  Their implied meaning is what we find offensive, and that meaning is attached to the word.  Hence, some words are off limits because they are just too offensive.

You can observe this pattern in movies you see too.  It used to be that the Effenheimer was not allowed in a PG-13 movies, but nowadays you can expect at least one.  The F Bomb is becoming more and more culturally acceptable, and so we allow it more frequently.  Or just turn on the TV.  Things that used to be unheard of in TV dialogue are now common place.  It's not necessarily good or bad - it's just the way it is.  My kids will grow up using words that would have gotten my mouth washed out with soap when I was their age, but they are common to them.  It's just the way it is.

Christians, however, are instructed by the Bible to allow no unwholesome talk to come out of their mouths.  In other words, we take the temperature of the culture, determine what the culture finds to be crude or unacceptable, and make a conscious effort to avoid those words.  I would further argue that we do the same with those words that are on the edge of vulgar - we don't want to use words that might be considered vulgar either.  When in doubt, err on the side of wholesome.

What I think this implies is that Christians are not to be forwarding the cultural acceptance of crass words.  We realize that the acceptance of some words into the common vernacular is a natural process, but we don't want to add to it or speed it along.  The culture is going to do what it is going to do with the meaning and acceptance of certain words.  Christians should be focused on using words to preach and to build up, not words that push the envelope and actually speed up the process of their acceptance and use.

This understanding of how words work and change in culture, and how they become offensive or inoffensive is beginning to play a significant role in the continuing discussion about homosexuality in our society.  Except our culture isn't the one determining what words in this conversation are allowable and which aren't.  Instead, those determinations are being made for us, and we're being force-fed a cultural change when it comes to how we talk by people who are tailoring words to fit their agenda.  It's a sneaky game, and one that appears to be working.

But this post has gotten long enough.  More later.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Sovereignty of God in the Working of His Holy Spirit

God's work through his Holy Spirit has been a constant process throughout history, beginning with creation (Genesis 1.2), further as detailed in the pages of scripture, and still today in gifting and working through the church (Romans 8.9-11).  Throughout the Bible the Holy Spirit either softened or hardened God's people in their experience with him (Romans 8.7-8), spoke through the prophets (1 Samuel 12.6), and inspired the writing of scripture (1 Peter 1.21).  God gave his Spirit to the church through the promise of the Son, giving it gifts and continuing to work in the hearts and lives of the redeemed (1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4).

The Holy Spirit has worked int he past to produce the written scriptures and works today to illuminate the scriptures, enabling human beings to hear, understand, apply, and live the word of God (1 Corinthians 2.10-16).  Through this process, the Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin (Psalm 119.12, 18), reveals the righteousness of Christ (John 16.14), and provides motivation for transformation, and desire for righteousness through admonishment and teaching (John 2.27, 14.26, 16.8, Ephesians 1.18).  Without the work of the Holy Spirit, all people would be dead in trespasses and sins.  Indeed, there is no way to see and believe the truth of the gospel of Christ apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.

At conversion, the believer is baptized in the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12.13).  That is, the believer is indwell by the Holy Spirit, who enables the believer to bear spiritual fruit, and make him or her more like Christ (Galatians 5.22-24).

Furthermore, the Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to members of the church for the edification of the body (Acts 4.31, Romans 8.14).  These gifts serve to build up the church in areas of ministry, service, fellowship, and teaching (1 Corinthians 12).  While I do indeed believe that the Holy Spirit gives gifts for the edification of the church, I do not believe that the miraculous gifts (healing, miracles, tongues, etc.) are in effect for today.  Rather, I believe these gifts to have been given to the apostles and members of the early church for the propagation and verification of the preaching of the gospel.  This is not to say that I believe that miracles, hearings, tongues, etc. have ceased, but that the specific gifting of individuals to perform these acts has ceased.  I believe this is the pattern that is observable throughout scripture and especially the New Testament, particularly in the book of Acts.

Friday, March 21, 2014


Yesterday I was the "Special Feature" at Riverview's Ladies' Morning Out ministry on Thursday mornings.  I had the kids come with me and they watched a video on my computer in my office while I was doing my thing.  When I was done I came and collected them and we left.

This morning, however, I came into my office and noticed that three post-it notes were stuck to the table on my desk.  Apparently the video didn't keep their attention and they wanted to draw.  Hence (click to enlarge):

The two seemingly handlebar mustachioed creatures on the left are new to me.  I've never seen either of my kids draw them before, so I'm not sure what they are, or who it was that drew them.  But they don't look very happy.

The center drawing is Jamie's signature: a penguin (yes, that's a penguin).  Apparently the penguin lives on a hill under a tree, and it's a bright sunny day.

The third picture is Hannah's signature: a cheetah (yes, that's a cheetah).  The text seems to read "HANNAHSBut."  Here's what I think happened: Hannah drew the cheetah and wrote her name above it, hence the "HANNAH."  Her big brother came along afterward, and added the "SBut."  I assume he meant for it to say "HANNAH'S (a) But(t)" but due to his limited spelling and grammar capabilities, was only able to get out "HANNAHSBut."

Aside from one of my children calling the other a butt, it was an amusing start to the day.

UPDATE: This morning The Mrs. asked Hannah about the cheetah picture with the text on it.  Hannah said that the text says, "Hannah and Spot" (the name of the cheetah) although all she got out wast "HANNAHSBut."  I guess in her mind, "Spot" is spelled "sbut."  I guess I'll cut her some slack.  She's only 4 after all!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Sovereignty of God in the Revelation of Jesus Christ

The sending of Jesus Christ into the world - both as a means of self-revelation and as the means of redemption for the world - was part of God's plan and not a reaction to unforeseeable events (Romans 5-6, Galatians 4.4).  Before the foundation of the world, God fully intended to send his Son to earth as his means of redeeming creation (Galatians 4.4, John 3.16).  Jesus' purpose in his earthly life was to be obedient to all that his Father commanded him to do (John 4.34, Romans 5.18-29), fulfilling all Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah (Psalm 22.1, Isaiah 7.14, 53.5-12, etc.).

The Humanity of Christ - In his incarnation, Jesus took on a fully human form (Philippians 2.6-8, Hebrews 2.17), being born of Mary and conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1.34-35).  Jesus became fully man, while yet remaining fully God (Luke 2.52, Philippians 2.6-7).  Being fully human Jesus therefore experienced human emotion, was subject to human needs (hunger, thirst, physical pain, etc.), suffered the effects of living in a sinful, fallen world, and even faced the temptations of such a world, but remained without sin (Matthew 4.1-2, 6, 19.34, Hebrews 4.15).

The Deity of Christ - Although he was fully human, Jesus is also fully God, a combination which remains a mystery to the natural mind (John 1.1).  We know, however, that Jesus was indeed fully human yet fully God through severe set of biblical data: he claimed to be divine (Matthew 11.27); he provided evidence of his divine nature through miraculous works and deeds (John 14.9, Matthew 4.23-24); he taught as one with divine authority, such as had never been heard before (Mark 1.22); his knowledge of future events (Luke 9.22); his glorification (Luke 9.18-36); his ascension; his power over demons (Mark 5.1-13), etc.

The Atonement - The atonement refers to that work of God whereby the debt of sin was canceled through the death of Christ on the cross (Ephesians 1.7, Colossians 1.14).  In so doing, God satisfied the just requirement of his holy wrath and accomplished salvation for all those who would believe (Galatians 3.13, Romans 5.9).  The death of Christ was necessary for the sake of satisfying God's justice, as he could not let sin go unpunished (1 Peter 3.18).  Through the atonement, the sins of all those who would ever believe were paid for, and Christ secured their salvation, interceding on their behalf (Hebrews 4.14, 9.24).

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Filled With a Sense of "Ugh."

I've been off of Facebook since the middle of October, and I've talked about it here and there.  I look at my wife's account every once and a while and am stunned at how uninterested I am in any of the content therein.  This is not to speak disparagingly about the digital company The Mrs. keeps, but is more accurately a commentary on how meaningless and shallow and unworthy of my time I have come to believe Facebook is (again, I'm not trying to call anyone who has a Facebook account meaningless or shallow).  I've toyed with going back to Facebook, albeit with a much more focused intention (such as using it strictly for ministry purposes), but I can't even bring myself to do that.  Just the thought of reopening my account fills me with a sense of "ugh."  It's kind of hard to explain.

But in the time I've been off of Facebook I've had time to reflect on what it was like for me to be connected to social media, or even more simply, connected to digital devices such as computers, phones, iPads, etc., through which we access Facebook, games, and other digital services.  I've come to realize that people today simply spend a lot less time thinking.  There's no downtime for their brains anymore.  If you're bored, you plug in to something - even if it's something mindless.  Other times, we're programmed to be plugged in to two things at once.  Think about it: have you ever "watched" a movie while also being on your phone or computer or other digital device?  I know I have.  And it's not just during movies.  Seems to me like people are plugged in most times, regardless of whatever else is happening.

As I've already said, it's been my observation (I'll speak for myself) that because of this I spend a lot less time just sitting and thinking.  It used to be that when I worked around the house or did chores I would do it without any kind of distraction.  Nowadays I do it while listening to Wretched podcasts.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, but if you work around the house or do chores without something in your ears, you have time to think - time to reflect.  For the most part, I (and I think it's safe to say "we") have lost that time.  We don't reflect much anymore, because we're listening to someone pontificate on our favorite podcast.  And we don't observe and think anymore, because we've got our noses buried in screens.

All of this came to a new reality for me today as I was preparing this week's middle school Sunday School lesson, focusing on Philippians 4.8: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."  The point of the lesson is that what we put in our minds influences our thoughts, and in turn influences our actions.  The admonition of the lesson is to evaluate what you put in your mind: is it God-glorifying?  Will it build you up?  Will it cause others to stumble?  And so on and so forth.  The secondary intention of the lesson is to encourage kids to be filling up their minds with praiseworthy things, as delineated in Philippians 4.8.  Put simply, if we're filling up our minds with bad input, we'll have bad thinking, which will manifest in bad actions.  But if we fill up on the things of God and think about those things, our behavior will be God-glorifying.

But here's the problem: since we have our faces glued to screens, and since we're constantly engaging our minds in what I'll call mindless activities (such as browsing a Facebook feed, playing an online game, etc.) we don't have any brainpower engaged in thinking about things, let alone good and godly things.  I would argue that technology and things like Facebook are morally neutral.  That is, they don't cause us to sin directly, and they don't have to be used in sinful ways.  And even if we are using these good gifts of God in non-sinful ways, they're still locking our minds onto whatever it is they are showing us, thereby diverting our mental capacities away from thinking about anything useful.

It comes down to this: you may not be using Facebook or digital devices and services to do sinful things or fill your mind with bad input, but you're almost certainly not using these things to think about stuff listed in Philippians 4.8 either.  But then again, maybe you are.

I guess I'll just speak for myself.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Sovereignty of God as Displayed in His Character and Nature

The Attributes of God
God constantly purposes to act in sustaining the universe (Ephesians 1.11, Colossians 1.17), and this activity reveals to us his character and nature in several different ways.  God has, in his sovereignty, allowed human beings to have at least some knowledge of who he is and what he is like in a personal manner.  in this sense the extent of God's revelation of his character and nature to human beings is determined by his will and wisdom (Deuteronomy 29.29).  God has revealed these attributes through a variety of ways.  These attributes include, but are not limited to faithfulness (Deuteronomy 7.5), goodness (Psalm 52.1, 106.1, 107.1), love (1 John 4.8), mercy (Exodus 34.6, Deuteronomy 4.31), grace (Romans 3.24), holiness (Leviticus 19.2), righteousness, and justice (Deuteronomy 32.4.  Human beings can and do experience these attributes of God on an a finite and incomplete level.

Considering that God is an infinite being and human beings are not, their ability to grasp the character and nature of God is limited (Isaiah 40.13, Romans 11.34).  God manifests several attributes that human beings are not able to fully comprehend, such as independence.  Unlike humans, who require such things as water and oxygen and even physical contact to exist, God is completely independent (Psalm 121.4, Acts 17.25).  He does not require anything to exist.  God is also eternal in that he has no beginning and no end (Psalm 90.2).  All other created beings (and even matter itself) have a beginning and end.  Therefore our knowledge of God's eternality is limited.  God is furthermore omnipresent int hat he exists everywhere (Psalm 139.8, Jeremiah 23.23-24).  He is not limited by space.  This means that God exists in all locations at one time.  Additionally, God possesses all knowledge in the universe (Psalm 147.4-5, 1 John 3.20).  This knowledge includes all physical and spiritual knowledge about every thing and every one that has ever existed.  God displays his attributes to the created order through his infinite wisdom and omnipotence (Psalm 78.4-7).

The Trinity
God is one God, living and existing in three distinct persons for all eternity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Deuteronomy 6.4, Isaiah 46.10).  God the Father exists as the eternal One, and all things flow from his being.  God the Son exists eternally, without having been created (John 1.1, Colossians 1.14-17).  God the Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son in an eternal state (1 Corinthians 2.10-11).  While the trinity is not specifically detailed in scripture, the concept is referenced several times throughout the Bible.

The Works of God: Creation
God created the universe and everything in it from nothing (Genesis 1.1).  HIs creative activity is brought about by the power of his word (Genesis 1.3).  God's purpose in creating arose not out of need for fellowship with an external being (such as human beings, as he was content with the fellowship he enjoyed with himself), but for the purpose of bringing glory to himself (Acts 17.25).  The created order exists to glorify God in whatever way it exists (Psalm 19.1).

I believe the biblical account of creation to not be so much a matter of how the universe came to be, but rather an account testifying to its Creator.  This Creator created the earth in perfection, patterning all life around his existence and making all life dependent upon his sustaining power.  That being said, I find the notion of creation having taken place in six literal, 24-hour days to be most natural reading of the creation account.  The pinnacle of God's creation is human kind, being made in the image and likeness of God himself.

The Works of God: Providence
God works to sustain and maintain all things in the universe by his power.  He is not passive.  God is continuously at work in his creation.  Indeed, he is ever watchful over his creation, and the movement of his hand in creation is constantly visible (Isaiah 46.9-10).  There is nothing that exists that is not continually sustained by God's power or outside of his controlling influences (Proverbs 16.33).  God is eternally watchful over the universe, and continually acts within creation to bring about his purposes.  This includes forces of nature (Job 37.6-13, Mark 4.39-41), the personal lives of human beings, the political intentions of rulers and nations (Proverbs 21.1), and even activity at the molecular level (Colossians 1.16-17).  All this God does for the sake of his glory and purposes, yet doing so justly, without ever being culpable for accusations of sin or wickedness.

Because God is intimately involved in the sustaining of the universe, he is therefore omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent (Job 38-40).  In his wisdom, God foreknows and ordains all things that take place in the universe, to the extent described above (Isaiah 14.24).  Furthermore, he possess all knowledge of events in the universe that have taken place, are currently taking place, and will take place.  As the all-powerful God, he is able to work and move within the universe as he pleases.  Nothing in the universe is exempt from feeling the effects of his far-reaching influence.  For God to be able to affect his desired outcome in any circumstance, he must also exist in all places at the same time.  Therefore, God is constantly aware of the needs, desires, and goings on of his creation, and is able to act within it as he pleases (Genesis 16.13).

The Works of God: Redemption
Redemption refers to God's plan of salvation for not only human beings, but for all of creation (Romans 8.22-23).  God is continually at work within creation in order to redeem it - to bring it back to the way that it was first created (Romans 8.19-20).  God's redemption of the pinnacle of this creation - human beings - is God's divine purpose for creation in order to receive glory for his work of redemption. T hat is, God foresaw the fall of humankind into sin - the separation of human beings from relationship with God - and planned to bring about redemption through Christ for the purpose of his own glory (Ephesians 1.4, 1 Peter 1.20).  God gives human beings freedom to determine right from wrong.  This freedom necessitates a plan of redemption on God's part, as human beings have, in their freedom, chosen to put themselves in the place of God and decide right and wrong.  Therefore God, before the foundation of the world, created a means of redemption through the sending of his Son to live a perfect life and die a sinner's death to pay the price required to redeem all those who would believe.

Furthermore, God has a plan of redemption for creation, which is likewise fallen as a result of sin.  God's plan of redemption includes the redemption of those physical realms that have been affected by sin through this same process.  Human beings enter into this plan of redemption for creation by agreeing with God in his desires and purposes for creation.

The Works of God: Angels and Demons
God created an order of spiritual beings called angels to serve him and do his will (Psalm 148.1-5, Colossians 1.16).  The work of angels consists of total obedience to God, minister to the saints, and bringing glory to God.  Other angels, called demons, through deliberate choice, fell from their heavenly position (Revelation 12.7-9).  They now tempt individuals to rebel against God (1 Timothy 4.1, 1 Peter 5.8), but only to the extent that God allows.  All demons are destined for hell because of Christ's victory over sin (Hebrews 2.14, Revelation 20.10).

Sunday, March 16, 2014

4 Pitfalls of Ministry to Children and Teenagers

What follows was part of the content of our most recent "By the Way…" seminar for parents at Riverview Baptist Church.  The seminar focused on some of the spiritual dangers facing children who grow up in the church, and how parents need to be aware of the potential for these dangers so as to modify their discipleship accordingly.

1. Familiarity and Sincerity Vs. True Faith
If you visited the White House and said, "Let me in, I know Barack Obama, and I need to talk to him," Secret Service would probably have you swept away to a secure location before you knew what hit you.  But if Barack Obama emerged from the White House and said, "I know this man," then the whole situation is changed.  Similarly, the question for would-be believers isn't just "Do you know Jesus?" but is also "Does Jesus know you?"

The negative answer to the latter question appears to be the unfortunate situation of some hypothetical characters in Matthew 7.21-23.  These folks claim to know Jesus, and even claim to know him on somewhat of an intimate, personal basis, as demonstrated by calling him, "Lord, Lord."  This repetition is a signal to the reader that these folks really, truly believe themselves to be close to Jesus.  The only problem is that what they think they are is not what they actually are.  Although they claim to know Jesus, Jesus does not reciprocate.  Instead, he says he never knew them, which means that these people have deceived themselves into believing themselves to be Jesus' followers when they were not.  A significant focus of this passage is not only what these people did/didn't do to disassociated with Jesus, but also the reality that their familiarity with Jesus and sincerity of their misplaced belief led them to believe that they had a spiritual status they in fact, did not.

This is something that parents need to watch out for: does my child know about Jesus (even enough to do things in his name?), or does my child know Jesus?  Is it possible that my child has a set of knowledge about Jesus and is familiar with who he is both as man and as God, and what he has done on their behalf, but has no true faith?

2. "Family Faith"
Matthew 3 and John 8 describe two unique encounters that John the Baptist and Jesus both have with Pharisees.  In each instance the Pharisees self-identify as "children of Abraham," insinuating that their heritage qualifies them as members of God's family.  Not so, declare John and Jesus.  One does not belong to God because he or she is of a certain bloodline.  Nor does one belong to God because of a certain cultural or ethnic heritage.  Instead, those who believe and act as Abraham believed and acted belong to God (of which the Pharisees did neither).

Parents need to be aware of the possibility that their children might identify with the Christian faith simply because it is what their family has always done.  The Pharisees of the first century said, "We have Abraham as our father."  21st century children of Christian families say, "I'm a Christian because everyone in my family is a Christian.  Of course I'm a Christian!  It's the way I was raised."  Both the first century Pharisees and 21st century children are wrong.

3. Emotional Manipulation
In 2 Corinthians 4 Paul renounces cheap tricks and deceptive ways of teaching and ministering the gospel because he knows that such teaching is phony and does not contain any real substance.  It turns out false teachers of his day were cunning and using "underhanded" methods in how they taught, persuading people to be moved by something other than biblical truth.

A sad but very real trend in modern evangelicalism is to play on people's emotions in order to affect a desired result, such as coming forward during a service, being baptized, making a "commitment," pray a sinner's prayer, give money, or whatever.  Some of this manipulation takes place, I believe, intentionally, while other forms are more unintentional and innocent.  But innocent as it may be, it has the propensity to lead our children astray, and to lead them to do things they might otherwise not do if they were thinking clearly.

There are numerous examples of this happening throughout the church every week.  Furthermore, churches and Christian camps unwittingly play upon people's emotions as a regular part of their ministry methods and practices.  It's time to wise up and realize that how we do and say things in ministry is just as important as what we do and say in ministry.

Parents should always be pointing their children toward the truth, while navigating emotions wisely and with the knowledge that emotions can lead us (and our children) astray.  They are not infallible.

4. Moralism
The Old Testament is replete with examples of people following the letter of God's law but completely disregarding the spirit.  What does that mean?  It means they technically did everything right on the outside, but the inside was still rotten to the core.  These people appeared to be very moral, but inside were completely depraved.  They were well behaved sinners.  And the Jews of the New Testament didn't fare much better: Jesus compared to them whitewashed tombs were full of rotting corpses on the inside - they did the right stuff, but inwardly were sinful and wicked.

One danger of teaching the Bible and spiritual things to children is that they can interpret the Bible as moralism - a guide for living morally.  While the Bible does lead us to righteousness and away from sin, any kind of moral change in a person that is not rooted in Christ is damnable.  Parents should attempt to discern if a child's change in behavior is based on real transformation or on a misplaced desire to obey rules.

So what can parents do?
There are several things that parents can do in recognition of these dangers when it comes to ministry in churches and Christian camps.

1. Get to know your child's teachers and pastors.
2. Get to know the curriculum your child is learning.
3. "Test" your child to see where he or she is at spiritually and emotionally in their spiritual awakening/growth process.
4. Ask questions!  Find out how your children are processing what they hear and learn.  Don't settle for one word answers or "Sunday School answers."
5. Be involved in what they are learning.  Throw yourself into the lesson material during the week and at home.

No system is perfect, and God is still sovereign.  He will do what he will do.  But as parents we are charged to care for our children's spiritual growth and discipleship.  It behooves parents therefore to know what dangers exist in ministry to children and to walk with their children through this process.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Sovereignty of God in His Revelation of Himself

The next installment from my statement of faith has to do with revelation, answering the question: "How has God revealed himself to his creation?"

God's Means of Revelation
Revelation is the means of God's self-disclosure of himself to his creation, particularly human beings.  God so reveals himself to his creation for the purposes of making them aware of his presence, producing an awareness of righteousness and sin, and revealing the way unto salvation.  I believe that God reveals his character and nature to humankind through four distinct ways:

a) God reveals himself to humankind through what has been created (Romans 1.20).  Through the creation it is made evident that an all powerful creator God exists, and so, all people have knowledge of God.

b) God reveals himself through the law having been written on the hearts of human beings (Romans 2.15).  The knowledge of a universal moral law supposes the existence of a Universal Moral Law Giver, namely God.  Through this means of revelation all human beings have a knowledge of righteousness and sin, and the Righteous Judge.

c) God reveals himself through scripture.  Through scripture God reveals his character and nature, the fallen state of humankind, how he interacts with his creation, and what he expects from human beings.

d) God reveals himself through Jesus Christ.  As the second member of the triune godhead, the incarnation of Christ clearly and visibly reveals God to the creation (John 12.45, 14.9).  In Christ we are able to observe God's glory and his character and nature (Hebrews 1.1-3).

All human beings are given at least the first two types of revelation (creation and the law), and many are also exposed to the revelation of scripture.  I believe that God, in his sovereignty, is able to perform his redemptive work through any combination of these four means of revelation (that is, he is able to redeem those who have no access to scripture or the Bible).  Furthermore, I believe all human beings to be accountable for their own personal response to the level of revelation that God has given them (Luke 10.13-14, Ezekiel 33.8-9).

God inspired the writers of scripture to communicate the precise message he intended to put forth, but while not violating the personality, style, context, etc., of the human author (Psalm 19.7, 2 Peter 1.21, Acts 4.25).  The message of scripture was written to a specific audience in a specific time in history, and located in a specific geographical region.  It was also, however, written as universal truth for all people throughout time, culture, race, language, etc. (2 Timothy 3.16-17)  Careful work on the part of the interpreter must be done in order to differentiate between the two.  While the meaning of scripture is grounded in history and remains constant, its application varies on an individual basis.

Scripture is the ultimate authority regarding the testing of truth claims.  It is sufficient and free of error in matters of doctrine and conduct (2 Timothy 3.16), and is therefore trustworthy.  As the word of God, scripture is to be held in high esteem, and is worthy and capable of holding the Christian's trust for all matters of life.  We are able, indeed expected, to examine all matters of doctrine and conduct against scripture to determine what is true and what is right.

The Bible is without error in its original manuscripts (Proverbs 30.5, Psalm 12.6).  It is precisely the message that God intended to communicate through its human authors (Matthew 5.18, John 10.35).  Its translation and interpretation may contain false information, however, which lead the interpreter to errors in understanding and application.  In all cases error never rests in scripture but in the interpreter.

God enables those who would seek to understand the Bible to do so (Romans 10.17, 1 Corinthians 2.12-16, Hebrews 3.7).  Understanding of the scriptures, beyond a mere intellectual understanding, is impossible without the aid of the Holy Spirit.  The aid of the Spirit is necessary for overcoming several factors that might limit understanding such as: cultural differences between the reader and the original audience, the particular hermeneutic of a religious group or sect, limited interpretive abilities, and, of course, sin.  Furthermore, the Spirit empowers those who have been enlightened to the truth of scripture to be able to continue in further understanding as well as to believe, apply, and live out the truth of the Bible (Psalm 119.34, Luke 24.25, Ephesians 1.17-18).

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Whitewashed Daredevil

Today was a great day to go sledding: 40 degrees and sunny.  It was warm enough that the kids didn't have to dress too heavily in order to go sledding.  The local hill we frequent had a nice sized jump which, of course, Jamie had to try.  Here's the result of his first go at it with some decent speed while his sister looks on from a distance.

Oddly enough, Jamie is somewhat of a daredevil when it comes to more extreme ways to have fun.  He's more than willing to take risks, and when those risks result in injury, unlike most kids, he doesn't let that stop him from taking even more risks.  He does things at age six that I've never done in my life because I'm too much of a wimp.

This demeanor of his is interesting, because in most other areas he's more timid and simple.  But show him something risky and potentially dangerous or challenging recreation, and he's right there to do it.  Like my sister says, most young kids have a dangerous side to them, but once they get hurt they usually wise up and grow out of it.  Not my kid.

For example, his complaint about the high dive at the community swimming pool is that it's not high enough.  I guess he'd prefer one that's twelve feet tall in instead of the 8 or 10 foot one that is there.  And this six year old is insisting that he wants to try water skiing this summer on Uncle Matt's boat.  We'll see about that one.

In the mean time, maybe I should get him some skydiving lessons.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Statement of Faith: Integrating Motif

Recently I posted a portion of the biographical information I included in my statement of faith paper.  The statement of faith was a requirement for my graduation from seminary as well as for my ordination through the North American Baptist Conference.  Thankfully, much of the work I had to do for these two requirements overlapped, and I was able to use most of the work I did on this project for seminary throughout my ordination process.

Inasmuch as my statement of faith might benefit the church, I've decided to post portions of it here from time to time, starting with the "integrating motif" of my statement of faith.  What is an integrating motif?  An integrating motif is an overarching theme that unifies my theology.  Or in other words, what is the big idea behind my theology?  Find out below.

Having considered many of the great doctrines of the faith, and even those written about in subsequent posts, I have come to conclude that no doctrine has impacted my overall theology more than the doctrine of the sovereignty of God.  Thus, I have endeavored to make this doctrine serve as the unifying thread throughout this statement of faith.

Sovereignty can generally be understood as referring to supreme power, and being free from any external control or influence.  In reference to God, this means that God is the one who is ultimately sovereign, is the ultimate authority in the universe, possessing all power and control over the affairs of the universe, and is not swayed by any outside power to do other than he pleases.  The assumption of this statement is that the identification of God as the sovereign of the universe is an essential, theologically unifying understanding.

In regards to theology, an understanding of the sovereignty of God aids the believer in understanding how and why God orders the affairs of the universe so as to bring about God's purposes in any and all realms of spiritual and physical life.  And so the theology reflected in this statement of faith will follow those lines.  All things in this statement assume that God is working and moving for his own purposes, to accomplish his own ends, according to his own will, for the sake of his own glory.

The goal of God's sovereignty is God's glory.  That is, God so purposely ordains all matters to unchangeably come to pass for the sake of his glory, praise, and honor. God ordained the creation of the world for the sake of his glory (Isaiah 43.6-7); God created human kind and controls their affairs for the sake of his glory (Romans 9.17, 2 Kings 19.34); God maintains sovereignty over sin and its effects for his glory (Isaiah 43.25, Psalm 25.11, Romans 9.22-23, 1 Samuel 12.20-22); God sent his Son for the sins of the human race for the sake of his glory (John 7.18, 12.27-28, 17.1); God brings human beings to saving faith for the sake of his glory (Ephesians 2.5-8); God has revealed himself to human beings for the sake of his glory; God grows believers in holiness and spiritual maturity for his glory.  The list goes on.  Suffice it to say, all things that have been, are now, and will be, God has brought to pass so that he might take pleasure in all he has done.