Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"God and Sinners Reconciled"

We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

- The Apostle Paul (2nd Corinthians 5:20b-21)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Is God Trying to Tell You Something?

Is God is trying to tell you something? Honestly, no, he is not.

Here's why...

Think about it: Christians who claim that God is "trying to tell them something" are making a mockery of God's ability to communicate. Such language is basically saying either one of two things:
1) God wants me to know something but he is unable to bridge the communication gap
2) God's ways of communication with us are highly mystical as if God is playing some sort of game and we're trying to come up with the right answers.

Christians have seemingly embraced mystical answer in making such a claim. As Greg Koukl so convincingly points out in this transcript: "God does not try" because God cannot fail to do (or say) what he wants. Koukl states:
Many have bought the idea that optimal Christian living involves "experiencing God" in a special manner: hearing His voice and getting special directives or assignments from Him. For those who say, "I don't hear God," the rejoinder is often, "He's been trying to talk to you, but you weren't listening."

Most people use the phrase innocently, I believe. However, like many phrases that become popular and are passed around among Christians (like the common cold) such is not consistent with Scripture. (Pointing out such inconsistencies is something Greg Koukl does quite a bit and he's quite good at it.) Koukl says of his view that nowhere in the Bible does God attempt to speak where he is not heard - not obeyed, yes, but never not heard.

Interested in more on this topic? Get the audio for Greg Koukl's talk entitled "Decision Making and the Will of God" (unfortunately it's $9.99 to download.)

Monday, December 08, 2008

A Hybrid Hope

"A Hybrid Hope" was the sermon title yesterday at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit with 3 SUV's parked behind the pulpit. [Link to current church webpage on the topic.]

Is this where churches go from here?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Paper Dot Com

Problem: How do I say "I read it in the paper" when I actually read it online?

The whole range of terminology related to "in the paper" feels uncomfortable at best when referring to one's perusing of the online edition of the local news. Interestingly, the phraseology seems to always be taken to be in reference to the town or city paper of one's locality. If a person living in Texas reads something in the New York Times, the seemingly appropriate terminology for mentioning something read therein is a reference to the Times and not just "in the paper" because "in the paper" carries with it the assumption of being local.

With the internet, though, the problem is partly the universality of "the paper." For news junkies, the ability to view all the major papers quickly on one's computer is great. However, the local side of reading the paper is at risk, and the way one refers to any news read online is troubling. I do not wish to clarify every time I make reference in conversation of something "in the paper" that I actually read it online. "I read it online" carries little weight since a person can read practically anything online.

Proposal: "Paper dot com" as in "I read it in the paper dot com." "Paper dot com" then would mean that I read it on the local website of the local newspaper.

Of course, according to this article, not too many paper readers actually do read the paper online. Even with declining numbers of paper-paper readers, there is no great shift to electronic editions. So, it may all be a lost cause.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

My Book in Print

My book is finally available in print! As a "spare time" writer, I wrote Dolor for Misdeeds over the course of about a year while in graduate school (I guess I should have been studying more.) After much work (and time) the novel is finalized and available as a paperback.

The story is about Jake, one of Louisville's favorite sons, who finds himself on the brink of success at the same moment that the discovery of human remains brings his secret to the surface. The book opens with the uncovering of the evidence and the devastating news for Jake who has tried to blot out the past incident from his memory. His career and marriage are suddenly in turmoil. Answering to a curious detective proves tough, but even as his legal problems begin to mount an even more dangerous foe arises seeking his own brand of justice.

Dolor for Misdeeds can be purchased by going to the website www.dolorformisdeeds.com or by visiting Amazon.com. The list price is $9.99. A coupon for $2.00 off is currently available for purchases from the publisher using the coupon code YE79YDUT at checkout.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Christmas Movie Quotes Quiz 2

Here's the sequel to my Christmas Movie Quotes Quiz of 2005. This one should prove slightly more difficult. Try to guess the Christmas movie for each of the following quotes:

1. Close your eyes...! And think of snowflakes and moonbeams and whiskers on kittens...

2. I wish I had a million dollars... Hot dog!

3. Fella, if you can hear me, I'm just looking for your identification. As soon as I find out who you are, I'll give you a lift back to the mall.

4. I could show you letters that would open your eyes. No, you probably wouldn't understand what's in them. They're written by a type of man so far superior to you it isn't even funny.

5. I couldn't believe my own ears. Tinker Toys? She'd never buy it.

6. Hey, Kids, I heard on the news that an airline pilot spotted Santa's sleigh on its way in from New York.

7. Blast this Christmas music. It's joyful and triumphant.

8. Just because every child can't get his wish that doesn't mean there isn't a Santa Claus.

9. Hocus-Pocus explained the situation to Santa, who as you know, speaks fluent rabbit.

10. Ma'am, I'm eight years old. You think I would be here alone? I don't think so.

Click here to see the answers.

New for 2009: The Christmas Carol Quiz

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

We Agree on Something

Merlene Davis of the Lexington Herald-Leader titles her column "What if 52 percent voted not to let blacks drink at the fountain?" in a piece aimed at the reaction of voters to gay marriage proposals on the ballot.

Looking at all of this from a different angle, we should ask: Can a vote of 52% make something right or wrong? If it's a tax increase, then democracy seems a reasonable way to decide whether the tax increase should be allowed. However, would a vote of 52% also make murder legal? Actually, the vote would be couched in different terms: the vote would be to outlaw the prosecution of murder...voters would not be voting about whether murder was right or wrong, voters would be voting about whether the prison system and the taxes involved should continue to go to supporting the legal system, or something like that.

I agree with Davis that a 52% vote should not decide such matters. If gay marriage is ethically right, then voters should not be making such a decision. The irony is that in a world of relativism with no absolutes, it is often public opinion which is asked to determine what is permissible. But when public opinion backfires in this system, many cry "foul."

So then, where does a society derive its basis for right and wrong?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

January Weather in November

As Lexington continues to feel like January, I found some interesting data from local NBC weather man, Bill, on his blog. While he is no James Spann when it comes to the blog, he provides some interesting data on Lexington's average temperatures looked at by decade. As you can see, our current decade is extremely average.

1) 1930’s 56.6 degrees

2) 1950’s 56.0 degrees

2) 1990’s 56.0 degrees

4) 1940’s 55.8 degrees

5) 1920’s 55.7 degrees

5) 2000’s 55.7 degrees

7) 1980’s 55.5 degrees

8) 1910’s 55.2 degrees

9) 1970’s 55.0 degrees

10) 1900’s 54.9 degrees

What I find almost as interesting is that Bill gives no commentary on these numbers. Of course, if numbers speak so loudly, nothing else has to be said. He writes: "It’s not conjecture…it’s just the raw numbers."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Church Signs

"We Are Soular Powered by the Son"
(recently spotted church sign)

Church sign "posting" is apparently its own genre of comedy, or marketing genre, or something. The church sign has become so famous for its "catchy" phrases and puns that there's even the church sign generator website.

I saw the above "We are soular powered..." sign near my home last week. I took a camera-phone picture but it didn't turn out so well. Nothing against the particular church or any other church that has displayed this particular statement. It's the church sign in general that is a sore spot with me.

Churches really need to ask "What purpose is our sign fulfilling?"

I can think of three groups of people who read the sign: 1) people who go to that particular church, 2) people who go to a different church, and 3) people who do not do church.

1. If your sign is for people who go to your church, spare the rest of us and print your slogans in your bulletin. Put your meeting times on your sign, or something helpful for "outsiders."

2. If your sign is for other churches' people, then you must be attempting to woo them over to your church with your marvelous signage. Splendid. How about just handing out some cash? (It's been done...)

3. If your sign is for people who are not part of a church already, then the sign must be some misconceived attempt to get these people in the door. Is a cheap, pun-filled slogan going to accomplish this? And if so, what expectation have you created for what they will find inside?

Of course the unbelieving world thinks very little of the church, and its no wonder. Why do local churches insist on adding to the mockery from the world by so trivializing their own existence? When Jesus tells his followers that they will be hated by the world just as he was hated by the world, I do not think he was referring to their church signs.

How can anyone take a church seriously when all they ever see is a joke?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Government & Health Care

I broke down and watched Sicko a few nights ago. Interesting. Despite my difference of opinion on many issues, I've always found Michael Moore's work intriguing going back to when I first watched Roger and Me in the early 90's. Even with Sicko, I do not fault him for selecting facts for his advantage - he's trying to prove a point. Seriously, though, does anyone watch Sicko and believe that Moore has presented all the facts available to him?

Few can argue with a straight face that our current health insurance system works the way it should. I certainly do not pretend to have THE answers to fixing insurance costs, medication costs, or the problem of how to help the uninsured. However, when we consider the options for making health care affordable (or free) there are several stumbling blocks in plain view:

1. The Driver's License and Motor Vehicle Department. I don't know how it is where you live, but these are rarely efficient and usually quite painful. During my time in Birmingham, AL, I frequented one in Homewood where lunch breaks, computer failures, lines, and an utter lack of communication and proper signage made the "enterprise" a circus - nothing against those who work there. Now in Lexington, KY, I was disappointed on my first trip to find that they still do not accept payment by any kind of debit or credit card but require an ancient, paper form of money.

2. VA Hospitals. Ask any doctor who spends part of their time in the VA and they'll likely tell you that the VA cannot compete with the other local hospitals. I'm sure there are exceptions, but in general these are the most out-of-date, inefficient facilities to be found - nothing against those who work there. My few trips into VA facilities has felt amazingly similar to my experience in the former Soviet Union.

3. Congress itself. Can you say "negative approval rating"? And we want them to run our health care systems? (Like George Costanza being your latex salesman..."I don't think so.")

4. The Post Office. Okay, so this is fairly competent sometimes. But why do you have to send your envelope with "extras" if it actually has to arrive at its destination? (Nothing against those who work there...and, btw, my mailman, Doug, is super...) However, headlines just this week show that the U. S. Postal Service is heading to a $2.8 billion loss for 2008.

I'm certain that there are some positive examples out there of government-run agencies which are efficient, technologically up-to-date, breaking even budget-wise, and glowing examples of what your government can do for you...any come to mind?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ethics in a Vacuum

"Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake."

According to this WP column, this "slogan" is a new advertising campaign by atheists in the D. C. Metro. Wow!

Making reference to such "ethical" practices usually associated with riding the Metro such as giving up one's seat for a pregnant woman, the article points to the work of the American Humanist Association to get "their message" out.

In case the irony does not strike you, take some time to watch Tim Keller's "author talk" at Google.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

10 Reasons the Vols Should Hire P. F. as Coach

10 Reasons the Vols Should Hire 'P. F.' as their New Head Football Coach:

[Since the season is still under way, the true identity of 'P. F.' should remain under wraps.]

1. P. F. is a Tennessee guy. He has previously played and coached at Tennessee. His heart is not just about money and winning at all costs - it is about the Vols and the Big Orange Nation.

2. P. F. has 17 years of head coaching experience in the toughest division of the toughest conference in college football.

3. P. F. has a national title to his credit. How many other available coaches can say this?

4. P. F. has proven to be one of the best recruiters in college football. He has consistently brought some of the nation's highest rated players to a fairly off-the-map location.

5. P. F. has run a program which, by all appearances, has stayed out of the kind of infractions other big schools have dealt with. While some have criticized his handling of disciplinary action with players, he has been fairly consistent and has sent several extremely talented players packing for rules violations.

6. P. F. has one of the highest winning percentages among any active head coach (in the aforementioned toughest division of the toughest conference.) While P. F. may not be Bobby Bowden or Joe Paterno, he has demonstrated some similar resiliency in his time as a coach.

7. P. F. has never suddenly left his team in the middle of the night for a 'better' offer. (Okay, maybe there haven't been those kinds of offers...)

8. P. F. has put countless players into the NFL. In fact, the NFL has come to view P. F.'s soon-to-be-former team as a good place to scout for talent.

9. P. F. already hates Steve Spurrier and is hated by Steve Spurrier.

10. P. F. will become available when his duties expire with his former team later this month after a game against Kentucky, and he would likely work for below market value (he might even work for free since he is coming off a $6 million buyout.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Taxation and Representation

Thinking a little more about the call for increasing taxes on wealthier Americans (by revoking current tax cuts which have them paying only 35%)...

Shouldn't those who pay more taxes have more votes in a democracy where "no taxation without representation" is supposed to be true?

If a person pays 35% of his earnings in taxes, shouldn't he get 20% more representation in the government than the person paying only 15%?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tom Eblen and his "Educated Ideas"

Tom Eblen of the Lexington Herald Leader explains to his readers that "educated ideas" such as the ones which would advocate a certain approach to taxation are superior to the uneducated ideas of those opposed. While Eblen throws around the reference to EDUKASHION in a completely irresponsible manner, let's only worry about his tax ideas here.

First of all, we would all like to pay less taxes on our income and thus take home more money, correct? Is this an educated or uneducated position? (Or patriotic?)

Eblen argues that a "return" to the taxes of 2000 prior to President Bush's tax cuts are superior to our present day's taxes. A quick glance at the tax schedule shows that across the board everyone paid MORE in 2000.

A brief visit to http://www.moneychimp.com/ shows the differences quickly and succinctly in the tax breakdown. The numbers that jump out from both is not necessarily the changes that have taken place, but rather the extraordinary difference in the percentage that the higher income brackets are paying.

The Actual Numbers:
In 2000, those making $0 to $26K were taxed at 15%, $26K to $63K were taxed at 28%, $63K to $132K at 31%, $132K to $288K at 36%, and $288K and above at a whopping 39.6%.

In 2008, those making $0 to $8k are taxed at 10%, $8K to $32K at 15%, $32K to $78K at 25%, $78K to $164K at 28%, $164K to $357K at 33%, and above $357 at 35% (still some "whopping" big percentages for those last two brackets.)

What if everything we bought at the store were priced according to our income in such a way that those making $100,000 were charged 20% more for a soft drink than those making $10,000? While that's only 20 cents on a soft drink, it could be thousands of dollars on a car or house.

If Eblen wants to advocate a Robin Hood type of taxation which increases the tax burden on the wealthy while easing it further on the poor, then he should be allowed to advocate such a position, but he should call it what it is: charity.

If Eblen wants to argue for this position because of compassion and out of a need for financial equality, fine. However, to point his finger at Kentucky and make the issue one of being educated and uneducated while he fails to present the real numbers behind what he is proposing is deceptive. To further disguise socialistic economic principles behind the mask of education is seemingly an intentional misleading of his readers.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Terrorist Wine

Main Street in Lexington was closed this morning because of a box of wine on the sidewalk.

Putting their Homeland Security funding to good use, emergency officials responded in force.

I feel safer.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Old Time Religion

Unfortunately, I'm not making this up. I took this pic just down the street from our house.

Sometimes the church sign is just a little too revealing - even in unintended ways.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fathers as Spiritual Leaders

"Family Integrated Worship" is an approach to Christianity and the church which emphasizes the centrality of the family, especially the parents' roles in the spiritual formation of their children. As I have written on a couple of other occasions on this topic, one aspect of family integrated worship is that the family attends the worship gathering of the local church together. The backbone of this family-styled worship, though, is located behind the closed doors of each individual family, which is one of the reasons I believe there is so great a hesitation among many to embrace family integrated worship as at least a viable alternative to age-segregated church.

Problem 1A: Men

Men struggle to be spiritual leaders. One of the main thrusts of Promise Keepers in its heyday was urging men to step up as leaders and fight against their natural (and often sinful) passivity. It seems that numerous books exist on the topic of being a "better" Christian man/father/husband. There's nothing wrong with striving for such things, but the real point of the issue would seem to be found at the obvious center: a knowledge of God.

Being a true spiritual leader in the home is not merely natural. A man cannot lead and teach in things for which he has no depth of understanding - and here's where I think many flee from spiritual leadership. It is easier (unfortunately) in many local churches to be a recognized leader in the church than it is to be a true spiritual leader in the home. Men who know their spiritual limitations (and we all have limitations) are often inclined to shy away from being discovered. For instance, a man who is not comfortable with his knowledge of the Bible may run from biblical conversations in order to keep from being found out. However, a man can serve on a church council and help make spiritual decisions without directly showing his theology (or lack thereof.) However, in the home a man cannot pretend with his wife and kids to be something he is not.

The kind of involvement in the spiritual lives of one's children which a family integrated approach calls for can be overwhelming. Personally, I know it is certainly not easy to spend time in God's word daily, let alone to call one's family together for even a few moments. (Hey, I'm a fairly new father - I know I don't have all the answers.) A growing spiritual life is really the starting place for us all - one does not need a degree in theology.

I often recommend J. I. Packer's book Knowing God because I think it is simply the strongest and most thorough book dealing with the matters at hand. I would rather a man read Knowing God than 10 men's books from the Christian bookstore, because ultimately the source of real leadership is that of an overflow of the heart of the man. Even still, Packer's book is just a summary of what a man should be constantly gleaning from the pages of Scripture.

Finally, I really appreciate the advice of a former pastor of mine who encouraged us to keep our family devotionals reasonable. With much grace he advised us to set our expectations small and not beat ourselves up if everything did not always work out. Sound advice, I believe.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

"Family Integrated Church" by J. Mark Fox

Family Integrated Church: Healthy Families, Healthy Church provides the church today with some timely and challenging insights into the idea of churches which promote spiritually healthy families. Pastor J. Mark Fox's book provides us with an experience-rich account of a church that has made the family a priority over and against today's trend to age-segregate the church.

Though published before Voddie Baucham's book, Family Driven Faith, Fox's book really works best as a follow-up to Baucham's arguments for a church based upon the spiritual leadership of fathers and mothers. Fox's book is a broad and gracious look at the local church using his own local congregation and experiences as a case study in which he admits many shortcomings and failures along the way, providing something of a blueprint for a local church to make the family the center of Christian life and experience. Fox fleshes out the way that fathers have a responsibility before God for the instruction of their own children and makes the connection to how leadership is biblically described for the local church. Without being overly critical, Fox really hits at a dangerous fact: the void of true spiritual leadership in the home and in the church.

As Fox admits in his book, the transition from age-segregated gatherings to a more family-integrated approach among their congregation had more to do initially with pragmatic needs than biblical conviction. I find this aspect particularly interesting in light of the perceived difficulty of any particular church "transitioning" from one structure to another. However, as his book demonstrates, attitudes and structure in a local body of believers can change, and sometimes such changes are brought about by God in ways we do not expect.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Family Integrated Christian Worship

While the phrase "family-integrated worship" seems to have become a very specific label for a very specific kind of local church, the larger concept is one worth much thought for all churches and all believers where we find ourselves in 2008. [See my earlier post on Voddie Baucham's Family Driven Faith.]

Family-Integrated Worship refers to the practice of fathers and mothers worshiping with their children both in the home and in the church. The backbone of this "ground-breaking" concept is that fathers (first) and mothers are to be the primary spiritual leaders in the lives of their children. (Maybe ground-breaking in Deuteronomy 6; you decide.)

Today's blueprint for "doing church" has become the only way people expect evangelical churches to operate. Disagree? Just consider how great an expectation is in place that when you show up at a church event there will be a nursery to care for your infant and a children's program to pacify your school-age child and a youth event to entertain (uh, I mean, instruct) your teenager.

Such an age-segregated approach to the local church is a fairly recent product of current thinking. Certainly there are some good and helpful aspects of different programs and structures which churches have adopted over the past century or so.

By contrast, the main thrust of a family-integrated approach looks amazingly simple and straightforward. If families are together in the worship gathering of the church, not only is the gathering of the church not split up artificially all over the place, but the parents are able to directly interact and be involved in the lives of their children.

Is it easy? No and Yes. Taking personal responsibility for the spiritual life of one's children is a daunting task. However, in light of what is at stake, is there anything more important in this life? On a purely practical level, is there anything more basic than taking personal responsibility for your own children? Instead, we've mostly come to view being gathered in worship as something only for the adults who need to be unhindered by any distractions which children may bring to the gathering. (Such a view of children sounds close to that of the world around us, does it not?)

Many people have asked me about Voddie Baucham's book, Family Driven Faith, and many of the questions have been loaded with skepticism. Baucham's book solidly builds the case for the place of the family in Christianity, beginning in the home and spilling over into the church. My answer to many is: First, read Baucham's book - he explains all of it 100x better than I ever could. Second, I like to challenge people to think about how their modern ideas of church have become so ingrained that everything else is simply unthinkable. We live in an age of program-driven churches. Maybe programs aren't the answer...

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Consumer UN-Confidence

The current economic roller coaster is certainly something of which to take note. While I am not anything of an economist or a financial advisor, I am an average citizen who takes money and personal financial planning quite seriously. So I am intrigued by the media's frenzy over consumer confidence and the dark clouds that seem to indicate that we'll all be living on bread and water in cardboard boxes by this time next year.

There is a legitimate survey performed to determine the average consumer "feelings" about spending. I do not doubt the results of these.

What I doubt is how most of us arrive at our "confidence." Shouldn't our ability to spend be based upon our monthly budgets, and our bank ledger? The answer, in the United States, has clearly been "no" for a very long time. Buying and spending is apparently so Credit Card driven (read "ruined") that there is no logic to begin with when it comes to so-called consumer confidence.

Listening to financial gurus speak on TV the past few days about "how to deal with this financial crisis," their ypical advice sounds pretty much like any good financial planning advice for anytime: spend less than you earn. Is this such a revelation?

As for how much confidence typical buyers ought to have for everyday things: if you have the money and you've planned for it within the budget: BUY IT with cash and slay your credit card.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Lifeway Hides the Women (Pastors)

I found this news about Lifeway's "hiding" of the magazine 'Gospel Today' under the sales counter (by request only) interesting on several fronts. The magazine's cover and feature article is apparently about women who are pastors, with five women on the cover who fill the role of pastor.

While the discussion over women in ministry is and will continue to be a hot-button issue in evangelical churches, Lifeway's choice is interesting to me in a much broader light.

Lifeway is notorious for its slick marketing and sales of a wide range of products ("Christian bookstore" is only a part of what these stores should be known as). A typical Lifeway store carries so many items on its shelves which are arguably antithetical to what the Bible calls the church and Christians to be that one must be in shock that Lifeway is actually "hiding" anything at all.

As a minister who is baptist, I would only recommend a fraction of the books on the shelves in Lifeway to begin with, and I would strongly caution most people about reading a percentage of the books there. Most people place too much trust in the title "Christian" on the sign of any Christian bookstore, and then they go in expecting everything on the shelves to be sound. (If you're looking for something good to read, ask your pastor or check one of these lists for starters - and btw, most of the books on this list will probably not be on the shelf of a typical Lifeway store - try ordering them from CBD - www.christianbook.com - or, Amazon, if the price is better.)

The problem is not with Lifeway drawing a line as to what they will put on the shelves. The problem is that Lifeway has been all things to all people for so long that when Lifeway decides to draw a line many of its customers are going to cry "foul."

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Idolatry "Gospel"

D. A. Carson writes a very stirring and sobering conclusion to some thoughts concerning the vision of God's glory returning to dwell among his people in Ezekiel 43 (from Carson's Oct. 10 writing in Vol. 2 of For the Love of God):

“The Gospel is not admired in Scripture primarily because of the social transformation it effects, but because it reconciles men and women to a holy God. Its purpose is not that we might feel fulfilled, but that we might be reconciled to the living and holy God. The consummation is delightful to the transformed people of God, not simply because the environment of the new heaven and the new earth is pleasing, but because we forever live and work and worship in the unshielded radiance of the presence of our holy Maker and Redeemer. That prospect must shape how the church lives and serves, and determine the pulse of its ministry. The only alternative is high-sounding but self-serving idolatry.”

At least for American Evangelical Christianity, this truth is sorely missing in the gospel being presented by the usual suspects. The man-centered "gospel" of personal happiness and self-improvement is in stark and horrible contrast to the main purposes of this God-centered and God-initiated reconciliation presented on the pages of Scripture.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

True Spirituality in the Moment

[Since moving, I have been more than a little sparse in writing. No bold promises to change that, though, as life is wonderfully busy.]

I've been reading Francis Schaeffer's True Spirituality on and off for a while now. As with all of Schaeffer, the book is excellent. At the end of the second section of the book, Schaeffer very pointedly hits the apex of his development of the Christian life. I quote at length this amazing passage:

We accept Christ as Savior at one moment and our guilt is gone on the basis
of the value of the finished work of Jesus Christ. But after we become
Christians, the moments proceed, the clock continues to tick; and in every
moment of time, our calling is to believe God, raise the empty hands of faith,
and let fruit flow out through us.
Now we have spoken of faith, so let us pause here. Living in the second
half of the twentieth century, we must keep on saying what faith is, in the
biblical sense. Christian faith is never faith in faith. Christian faith is
never without content. Christian faith is never a jump in the dark. Christian
faith is always believing what God has said. And Christian faith rests upon
Christ's finished work on the cross.
The reality of living by faith as though we were already dead, of living by
faith in open communion with God, and then stepping back into the external world
as though we are already raised from the dead, this is not once for all, it is a matter of
moment-by-moment faith, and living moment by moment. This morning's faith will
never do for this noon. The faith of this noon will never do for supper time.
the faith of supper time will never do for the time of going to bed. The faith
of midnight will never do for the next morning. Thank God for the reality for
which were were created, a moment-by-moment communication with God himself. We
should indeed be thankful because the moment-by-moment quality brings the whole thing to
the size which we are, as God has made us.
This being the case, it is obvious that there is no mechanical solution to
true spirituality or the true Christian life. Anything that has the mark of the
mechanical upon it is a mistake. It is not possible to say, read so many of the
chapters of the Bible every day, and you will have this much sanctification. It
is not possible to say, pray so long every day, and you will have a certain
amount of sanctification. It is not possible to add the two together and to say,
you will have this
big a piece of sanctification. This is a purely mechanical solution, and denies
the whole Christian position. For the fact is that the Christian life, true
spirituality, can never have a mechanical solution. The real solution is being
cast up into the moment-by-moment communion, personal communion, with God
himself, and letting Christ's truth flow through me through the agency of the
Holy Spirit.

This idea of Schaeffer's is both freeing and difficult. At least at some point, we all find ourselves desiring a formula for "success." We want to boil it all down to a certain number of minutes reading and studying God's Word and a certain number of minutes in uninterrupted prayer. We want to attend the right number of gatherings with other believers. We want to know how many verses we need to memorize.
It is freeing to think that none of this formulaic thinking is right. At the same time, what Schaeffer is pointing toward is much, much more difficult. Rather than compartmentalizing our spiritual lives, we are to live by faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus all day long, evey day. We complain that spending a significant amount of time in God's Word is too difficult, but such a commitment is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to living our faith in Christ.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Beneficial Global Warming

Record low temperature recorded in Lexington

Fortunately, the effects of global warming kept Lexington, KY, (and other areas, I'm sure) from freezing temperatures in the middle of August. Despite all the hot air, a record low of 53 (F) was recorded. Hopefully the apparent ice age we are entering will be somewhat offset by global warming.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Coffee Thief

Half-ton of premium coffee beans stolen in Hawaii - Weird News - Wire - Kentucky.com

It's hardly a case of "sticky fingers" when it is a half-ton of anything. If you're going to be a thief, you might as well steal something of measure.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Small Print Revision on AIDS

This story is not exactly making headlines, so I thought it would be worth pointing to the FRC Blog which sheds a little light on some new admissions about the spread of HIV/AIDS:

Heterosexual AIDS Pandemic Won't Happen

I'm not suggesting that AIDS is not a problem that needs great attention. However, the energy and resources devoted to handling AIDS treatment and AIDS research has apparently been blown out of proportion as compared with the need concerning cancer, heart disease, and other leading causes of death.

The release of the World Health Organization statement has scarcely been covered. A Google News search brings up less than 70 news articles around the world. Compare that number to the more than 2,800 articles on the latest news about the Guitmo Prisoners, just for a little perspective.

Monday, June 02, 2008

According to Cornell Scientist David Pimentel, turning corn into fuel is most costly in terms of resources than it is worth. He is quotes in this article as saying "Abusing our precious croplands to grow corn for an energy-inefficient process that yields low-grade automobile fuel amounts to unsustainable, subsidized food burning."

Here are a few of the facts:
  • One acre can produce enough corn to make 328 gallons of ethanol. The gas used to produce this corn before being converted is about 140 gallons. At prices at the time of his analysis, the cost per gallon of ethanol (still in the raw form of corn) would already be $1.05.
  • In processing, 131,000 Btu are needed to produce one gallon of ethanol. The energy value of one gallon of ethonal stands at only 77,000 Btu. Result: negative Btu's.
  • For the average car to travel 10,000 miles in a given year using ethanol, 11 acres of corn must be harvested.
  • For every car in America to use ethanol for a year, 97% of our land must be used to grown corn.

Rolling the Hurricane Dice

In this AP article, we learn the fascinating secrets behind hurrican predictions:

Here's the intro:

Each April, weather wizard William Gray emerges from his burrow deep in the Rocky Mountains to offer his forecast for the six-month hurricane season that starts June 1. And the news media are there, breathlessly awaiting his every word.

It's a lot like Groundhog Day - and the results are worth just about as much.

So, how many hurricanes should we expect in the Atlantic in 2008? Roll your own dice (use 5 for good measure) and you can publish your results.

I came up with 11 named storms.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Might as well translate some Bible...

Awilum.com points out the problems with the Wiki Bible translation (everyone invited to translate a portion!) Of course, such an approach seems to fit perfectly with our age where all views are supposedly equal. Why limit this project to those who know some Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek - all you need are some Strong's numbers, right?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

No One Ever Is To Blame

Childhood lead exposure linked to adult crime - USATODAY.com

Cain killed Abel because of exposure to lead. We'll all have to rethink our theology and philosophy.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Vatican: It's OK to believe in space aliens.

Didn't Matthew McConaughey's character in Contact already determine this? Yes, Palmer Joss was that wonderful theist in the movie who, by his own admission, could not be celibate to be a priest. A great quote of Joss from IMDB: "You could call me a man of the cloth, without the cloth."

On the larger scale, don't you find it interesting that mankind always seems to set up some scientific line in the sand which will disprove the existence of God, and yet that line in the sand is always another step away.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Walking Away From Grace

"Is your experience of grace so light that you can walk away from the cross?"

The question is from the 'May 1' reading of D. A. Carson's For the Love of God (Volume Two.) He is writing chiefly about Hebrews 6 but is also alluding more broadly to the theology of other New Testament writers John and Paul.

A little background...

By "experience of grace" Carson is referring to conversion to Christianity or at least what appears to be conversion to Christianity, and by "the cross" he is speaking of the whole of the biblical account of the most important event in the record of Jesus - his death on the cross to pay for the sin of mankind and his subsequent resurrection. While Jesus is the basis for Christianity, it is the "cross of Christ" which is the very purpose of his humanity.

Back to Carson's question...

The question serves strongly in communicating on many levels the true grace of God as it concerns any person and his or her experience of coming to understand and know the significance of what Jesus has done and the way in which one is accepted "in Christ" by faith - by simply (yet truly) believing. At a deeper level, the question appears to be rooted in the larger teaching of the Bible of the inconceivably great glory of God. In the book of Exodus Moses is spoken to by God in the burning bush. Could Moses have simply ignored this with apathy? For the Apostle Paul, the resurrected Jesus appeared to him suddenly and left him blind for a period. Could Paul (already a theist) have simply walked away and shrugged off his encounter? For the John the Apostle, he had known the person of Jesus for a long time and then seen the death and resurrection firsthand. Could John have walked away with ease? There are others in the Bible who will not believe even if they see one raised from the dead.

Carson's question bears repeating as any person would consider that they have come to trust in the person of Jesus Christ: Is your experience of grace so light that you can walk away from the cross?

People walk away from Christianity every day. Why? The reasons are countless but ultimately the reason has to be that they never had a true "experience of grace" in the first place. The weight of the truth of the gospel is so overwhelming for the one who gains a true taste of what it means to have forgiveness and life in Jesus that it is difficult (I'd even say "impossible") to find any person who has truly come to understand the meaning of this who can ignore the truths of who Jesus is and simply walk away.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

How the rich and famous do the Kentucky Derby | courier-journal | The Courier-Journal

How the rich and famous do the Kentucky Derby courier-journal The Courier-Journal

Overheard on the News

I did a double take with my ears this morning when listening to the news report from the Wall Street Journal (XM Channel 166.) The update was concering the 0.6% growth in the economy as reported. However, the follow up on the report was something to this effect: "But it is still up to the American public to determine whether or not the economy is in a recession."

Clearly numbers mean nothing. Instead, we live in a culture more driven by opinion - and opinion poorly shaped by the media, at that. Maybe I just do not understand higher economics...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Playing Politics

This "pact" below is a better version of what I have been saying for some time about the presidential race and the next President. Lost in the polarization of the past 18 years in politics is the respect that we should have for the President of the United States. No matter now much I may disagree with him (or her), I disagree more fervently with the kind of extreme rhetoric which has been employed by those opposed to the political decisions being made.

My Non-Derangement Pact if Barack Obama Wins the Election conservativeintelligencer.com

HT: TruePravda

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Is This a Problem?

Study: Single parenting costs billions - Life- msnbc.com

Since the cost is to the federal government and the taxpayer, some "fix" has to be discovered.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

How Much for Some Christianity?

Since you're not doing anything productive, go read TruePravda's "God as Commodity."

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Pike Place Roast

As Starbucks continues to try to find itself the latest attempt involves going back to the original with Pike Place Roast. I had a cup Tuesday, another Wednesday, brewed some at home Thursday morning as well as another from the store this afternoon. Not bad. Even more than the flavor of this new 'old' coffee, I do like Starbucks' supposed return to the basics. Time will tell if it is successful.

I don't look for any of this coffee, though, anytime soon.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Executive Experience and the Presidency

Here's a chart showing the executive experience of U. S. Presidents prior to becoming president.

For some time I've been thinking that the position of Governor is a greater experience for a would be President than other political offices. I had also wondered how many former Presidents were Generals.

The chart is interesting - I'm not going to pretend to be able to give deep analysis. Just a few observations:
  • John Kennedy was the last President to have had only experience deriving from the Senate
  • Prior to JFK, the previous President to have had not executive experience was Abraham Lincoln
  • 4 of the last 5 Presidents had experience as Governors
  • Eisenhower was the last General to become President

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Stem Cells: Adult Variety

What the mainstream press does not like to cover:

http://www.frcblog.com/2008/03/patients_first_current_adult_s.html (video at Family Research Council of real live people who have been medically helped by adult stem cells.)

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Call to Ministry (Part 3)

[Read Part 1 and Part 2]

I heard a statistic a few years ago that the number of ordained Southern Baptist ministers was several thousand more than existing Southern Baptist churches. I’ve found no way to verify such information, but I would not be surprised if such a ratio is correct. Whether true or not, the relationship of the local church to the process of ministers becoming ministers has certainly evolved into a shapeless process in some denominations in our era.

What does it mean to be “called to ministry”? One of the things which D. M. Lloyd-Jones develops in his book Preaching and Preachers is that with some young men the appeal of the position of pastor is likely to cause them to want to be in such a role in the church. A person who is zealous for the Christian faith is not necessarily to pursue a “career” in Christian ministry. The tendency, of course, is to push anyone who has any great interest in studying Scripture and pursuing a devout Christian life into full-time ministry. Shouldn’t such a pursuit of the Christian life be true of every Christian man?

At least in the Baptist tradition, the authority and autonomy of the local church has backfired creating a culture where the church’s role in forming ministers and sending them into the ministry has been minimized. Churches often take a very passive role in the formation and evaluation of those who might be qualified for Christian ministry. As I mentioned before, the usual method is that a man or woman approaches the pastor in order to announce to the church that he or she is called to the ministry and seeks the church’s approval. For most, the very fact that this person has been called to ministry is enough – no further evaluation is needed. In many cases, then, the most important thing the church will do in the process is to sign a form giving their approval for the ministry candidate to go to seminary, to into missions, or serve in some other capacity.

Of course, today you can be “ordained” via the internet because the meaning of being ordained is completely subject to whatever religious organization is in question. So one of the real problems in our society today is that there can be little, if any, recognition of what an official ordination should be (or even if there should be such a thing.) One of the things I learned in doing some searching on the topic was that historically the place of ordination has held a rather low position in Protestant churches since the Reformation. Wm Lloyd Allen’s article “The Meaning of Ordination” is helpful especially in provided an historical context for the practice. As one could imagine, there is a danger is viewing those who are “ordained” as some higher religious figure which can confuse one’s understanding of the role of a pastor as compared to that of a Catholic priest or a Jewish priest. That, however, is another discussion.
Allen writes:

The original Baptists in the first decade of the seventeenth century defended
the equality of each member of the body of Christ against the historic claims of
clergy privilege made by the bishop led Anglican Church. These earliest
Baptists formed congregations of baptized believers who covenanted to share
equal authority and responsibility in the body of Christ.

The role of the modern-day seminary may have also played a role in taking the church off course as it relates to ordination and the role of ministers in ministry. There are many great advantages to attending seminary, and I am a firm advocate of such an education for most who would desire to pursue Christian ministry. (Seminary is not for everyone, though, and should not be a requirement for a man to serve the church.) Especially pertaining to serious study of biblical languages and classical theology, the collection of skilled instructors at a seminary cannot be matched by private study or in most cases reproduced in the local church setting.

At least in Baptist seminaries, all that is required as it pertains to the student’s home church is a letter or recommendation. Once a letter is attained, the seminary student is then completely free to move to seminary and pursue an education free of his home church. While seminaries do require that students are attending of a church in the local city where the school is located, this is a soft requirement at best.

For Baptist churches, though, ordination is not linked directly to seminary. The local church may ordain whomever the congregation chooses to ordain, for better or worse. As stated before, this creates a great disparity in understanding about what it means to be ordained to the ministry, and no local church can rely too heavily upon what another church has decided in terms of ordaining a minister.

Called to ministry? I find it unlikely that individuals are “called” outside of their involvement with their local body of believers. I do believe strongly that individuals are called to serve God in the ways in which God has gifted them. Such calling by God is worked out in many ways which do not need to be mysterious, but really seem to be quite obvious and logical many times. A healthier view of the entire process is one which closely involves the church in helping individuals decide how to pursue using the gifts with which God has gifted them.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Spiritual Gifts Word Find

Spiritual Gifts Word Find from the Kentucky Baptist Convention Website.

The description: "This fun activity will help you learn more about spiritual gifts! "

(I could not possibly make this kind of stuff up!)

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Missions and Golf

I've seen and heard of these "fundraising golf outings" before, but I saw a church sign this morning which was announcing their church's Missions Golf Tournament. I just cannot square in my mind how a form of recreation like golf (which I enjoy) is honoring to God in our desire to participate in giving to missions. It just seems to me that the mandate to support the work of the spread of the gospel should be enough for Christians to give sacrificially. I could be wrong...

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Book: The Appeal by John Grisham

The Appeal had little appeal. The story was a fairly interesting at points, but seemingly written more like a documentary than a novel. The plot was vintage Grisham overall, but ended by fizzling out.
I am a character-driven reader of fiction, so I was disappointed. While there were certainly numerous colorful characters wrapped up in the intricate plot, none were personal. There was no Rudy like we found in The Rainmaker and no Mitch McDeere the likes of The Firm. I won’t remember any of the characters’ names in another week or so because none of them seemed to come to life at all.
I’ve always liked Grisham’s books, and I am not trying to write an overly critical review (& this is hardly a review.) However, I was disappointed in this book. The novelette which Grisham released a few months back, Playing for Pizza, had a much more developed and colorful main character, Rick Dockery.
Some aspects of the plot of The Appeal I did find intriguing:
· Critical picture painted of the church’s involvement in politics
· Grisham’s continued insistence that the church is inconsistent by being against abortion and in favor of the death penalty
· The understanding the book develops of the relationship between big money and the legal system and politics

In a funny sort of way, I can see this book being a better on the big screen than it was on the page. I think I recall that Grisham was done with allowing his books to be movietized, but I don’t think he has anything to lose with this one.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Call to Minstry (Part 2)

[See the previous Call to Ministry (Part 1)]

Around 1997, in the midst of a conversation in which someone mentioned that I was going into the ministry, one man asked me pointedly, “Have you answered the call to the pulpit yet?” To my knowledge he was asking whether I had responded in my church to the ‘altar call’ by going forward and making public God’s call in my life to the ministry. I stumbled around the answer.

At that time, I had been in an ongoing conversation with two of the ministers in my church about my desire to pursue ministry and to attend seminary for education and training. God had been tuning my heart (I believe) to desire to serve in Christian ministry and I was preparing to move away to attend seminary. Had I received a call? Had I heard some audible voice? Had I arrived upon some verse of Scripture and removed it from its context to make it “mine” and claim it was given special meaning by God for me in that moment?

I am not exactly certain how the church has arrived at this present state and the expectations we have for those who would enter the ministry. It is common, though, for the expectation to be established that there is a mystical call to the ministry which one must “experience” before moving ahead. I wonder if this way of thinking has been carried on since the era of the traveling tent meeting revivals of the 2nd Great Awakening of the early 1800’s. Much of today’s commonly used language in giving “invitations” can be pointed back to this era, but it is only speculation on my part as to the origin of the language of being called to ministry.

Closely related to this is the way that the phrases “God told me…” and “God revealed his will…” and “God led me…” are tossed around with relative ease in Christian circles. Greg Koukl (Stand To Reason) deals with the use and misuse of such spiritual “trump cards” today in a three part series of talks entitled “Decision Making and the Will of God” (available only by purchase at www.str.org.) Koukl strongly argues for the place of common sense and sound reasoning coupled with a person seeking God in his or her life as the basis for decision-making. Koukl pokes fun at the typical way in which people are supposedly “seeking God’s will” and are inclined to watch for small “clues” like license plates and subliminal words to put together the larger puzzle known as GOD’S WILL. As Koukl points out, it is somewhat silly to think that God’s will is hidden and that we have to somehow sift through little pieces of information which must be translated or else we are in danger of missing these clues and thus being “out of God’s will.”

Koukl similarly points out that the subjectivity of any person defending any decision which he or she makes by saying "I've prayed about this and God is leading me to ______________" produces a completely unchecked and unchallengeable statement in the church. When a minister makes a decision to leave a church, he inevitably will say "God has led me to this decision." If you are a minister, try that on the other end: tell a prospective church where you would like to serve that hasn't called you for an interview that God has led you to be their pastor. (They just might "call" you, but don't bet on it.)

Going back to Ortberg’s article as well as Manley’s writing on one’s call to ministry, both suggest that there is to be no “special” call which separates those who are to pursue Christian ministry as a career and those who are Christians who pursue other "callings" in life (there we go using that term again.) The objection may be raised that such a view is unspiritual and too, shall we say, practical. Does a teacher make the decision to become a teacher based on what he or she desires to do for a career and what they are gifted in while the minister is to pursue a call with some sort of blank slate waiting for God to give him a sign? Taking it a step further, are we to separate to such a great degree the position of "pastor" within the church body to say that he and he alone is "called" by God while all other members of the body and their absolutely vital roles in the body are relegated to their personal choice and current availability? (One must evidently be "called" to preach, but most churches will accept just about any warm body to teach the children's educational classes in the church. Talk about inconsistency...)

Does God guide individuals in their decisions? I think we should conclude that God absolutely does guide and direct people’s lives. However, the manner in which people try to make a formula which would spit out the answer should be questioned. I have encountered individuals who would seem to think that God may send them to do something which goes completely against their common sense and ability to think rationally. Someone who is highly allergic to cats is probably not meant to be a veterinarian. Likewise, someone who cannot teach is probably not called to be a teacher, at least not with their present ability.

In all of this, I believe the role of the church has been relegated to a meaningless position in the call to ministry. (Especially in the autonomous ways of Baptist churches.) Presently, it seems that a majority of the time an individual approaches the church and announces that he or she is being called to full-time ministry. (I guess having a bi-vocational ministry call is a separate and different calling.) What seems to be markedly absent in such a scenario is the counsel of the church. Any role in recognizing the spiritual gifts of those within the church today seems to have been removed from the church as a whole and placed upon the individual who is to wait for the call. (Again, we would agree that many other roles in the church body are fulfilled because we actively pursue people who we consider gifted in these areas.) Would a gathering of spiritual leaders in the church who wanted to encourage a young (or older) man to pursue the ministry because of the abilities they have witnessed in his life be sufficient to be called guidance from God? It would seem that such a statement should be much more weighty than a sudden feeling of restlessness that a somewhat pious young man determines to be the call of God in his life to the ministry.

In the end, I absolutely believe in the providence of a sovereign God in all things. But how are God's ways to be identified and discussed? While I do not take the following list as absolute, certainly these are a few of the things for one to consider:
  • Are you a believer in and follower of Jesus?
  • Do you have a strong and comprehensive knowledge of the Bible (probably not true of any newer believers)?
  • Have you demonstrated faithfulness in the Christian life and even in the opportunities for ministry so far?
  • Do you have skills in the specific areas of ministry that you desire to pursue (such as teaching or explaining the gospel)?
  • Do others verbally and clearly affirm that you have the skills to serve in this ministry?
  • Do you want to? (Yes, I do think that the desire of one's heart should affirm his decision, but there are obvious dangers in relying on one's feelings as most who in pastoral ministry would tell you that there are many days in which they find themselves wishing they were doing something different because of the nature of their work and service.)

Such an evaluation as this one might be essential for clear thinking for the individual who is considering Christian ministry and also for the church who is seeking a pastor. One who describes a fantastic experience of a call to ministry but is unable to demonstrate that God has equipped him for such a role might need continue to weigh his options with the God-given reasoning and understanding he possesses.

[In 'Part 3' I plan to examine a few additional, related topics - one being the manner of ordination to ministry, another being the number of ordained ministers in existence in our American society, and a third being the active roles of local churches in training and teaching those who would be entrusted with a role in ministry.]

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Christian Cruise

What should one make of the phenomenon of the Christian cruise?

By Christian cruise, I am referring to the "floating conference/vacations" which feature one or more prominent Bible teachers and sometimes a musician or group and which is promoted to Christians who have the money but may not be taking a trip to the Holy Land this year. (Okay, so I've already shown my hand a little there in my description.)

I received a new one in my inbox today from Ligonier Ministries featuring, of course, R. C. Sproul. The ones that I seem to receive news about weekly usually feature David Jeremiah, who must do all of his public speaking on boats, and many other extremely photographic people. The other most-recent one in my inbox features Jerry Vines, Johnny Hunt, and some other "celebrities." Everyone's invited and the package starts at $795.

[Excuse me...I'm feeling a little sick.]

[Okay, I'm back.]

Okay. I enjoy going to great conferences and know that they can be extremely helpful, challenging, and refreshing in one's Christian life. So, I'm asking myself if the Christian cruise is basically the same thing, just that you stay on a boat instead of in a hotel...and you visit tropical or Alaskan places in your free time instead of museums and coffee shops...and you live, eat, and sleep in your own little utopia for a week or so.

The whole idea seems so removed from the reality of both real life and the church. The notion looks so much like the world but with a Christian twist on it that I cannot help but think of other things like all those Christian t-shirts that look like other name brands but have some silly Christian lingo instead or of the attempts to create Christian theme parks and Christian communities and so on and so forth.

Maybe I'm way off base here. Maybe I'm just jealous or something. Maybe my views are just too narrow (yes, I'm against church league softball, too, but it's hardly worth arguing about.) Maybe if I were invited to be one of the featured speakers on one of these cruises I could enjoy being paid to hang out and preach my favorite sermons next to Johnny Hunt, James Merritt, and Bobby Welch (some prominent Southern Baptist guys with nice hair and nice suits, in case you don't recognize the names.) Don't hold your breath.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Call to Ministry (Part 1)

An article by John Ortberg at leadershipjournal.net brought me to a topic which has often been brought up not only for my life personally but in the lives of several friends and also several within the church where I serve. Ortberg touches on the commonly held views today of a "calling" in regard to ministry which is so often described in very sudden, mystical, and vivid terms. Even among people who have a fairly sound theology concerning God's speaking through Scripture tend to promote such a view that being called to ministry is the one time in life in which a real, audible-but-not-audible, voice of God speaks in some sort of direct revelation. The article, God's Call Waiting, does not necessarily debunk the notion so much as establish that such is not absolulely the norm, as Ortberg, a pastor, identifies for his own life and experience.

Ortberg writes
"But I never got marching orders. Partly, I think, it may have been because God knows that I will grow much more as a person if I have to figure things out and exercise judgment and make a decision and accept responsibility than if I just got a postcard and followed directions. Another reason may be that I don't think God separates people into "pastor" groups that have to get calls and "non-pastor" groups that are call-free."

Nearly all churches, many seminaries, and many mission organizations today place such a high emphasis on "calling" that other skills with which one may be gifted are only secondary. An expectation has developed in this regard which seems to be something of a product of our times and Christian culture. I have often used an article by Basil Manley, Jr., written over 100 years ago to bring peoples' thinking back to a strong point of reference. The lengthy article by one of the founders of The Southern Baptist Seminary, is titled "A Call To the Ministry." In Manley's detailed description, nowhere does he refer to a moment or some mystical instance in which a man is called by God to the ministry. Rather, Manley focuses on the abilities that God has granted to each person and the way in which each person should employ these. Some should employ their gifts of learning, communication, and piety in the faith to the ministry; some should pursue other "careers" equally in serving God and with a biblically-founded, gospel-centered purpose.

Manley does clearly debunk the "mystical" call to ministry as he writes:
"To make the call to the ministry consist in some supposed indubitable, irresistible, divine afflatus, of which no evidence is found except the confident impressions and assertions of the candidate, is clearly to open the door to all kinds of extravagance, imposture, and fanatical abuses. Nor is it sustained by a single passage of God’s word."

Wow! How many pastor search committees and seminary admissions offices act in agreement with that statement?! Manley suggests, rather, that the call to ministry should be quite logical and in keeping with common sense as to one's abilities.

I think that many would agree that the language we use is misleading at best. However, a paradigm and an expectation has been established that requires ministry candidates to claim such a call or else forfeit what makes them credible in the eyes of many. In addition, the language of "God is leading me..." has become the spiritual trump card especially for those in ministry or pursuing a position in ministry. (I will explore this aspect more in Part 2.)

Against the backdrop of such a system, Ortberg's practical explanation of his experience and "calling" is helpful.

Friday, March 14, 2008

"Family Driven Faith"

Book: Family Driven Faith by Voddie Baucham.

Rarely do I read a book that challenges my thinking to the extent that Family Driven Faith has over the past week or so. Coming from a fellow Southern Baptist, I did not expect anything too drastic from Baucham. In fact, halfway through the book I was mostly in a mode of appreciation for Baucham's well-presented arguments for family worship and discipleship. But then the book picked up steam...

Baucham's arguments move in the latter half of the book (and especially the final two chapters) to the church and how the church is failing to be biblical in its approach to families. He makes a strong case for what he terms a "family-integrated church" which is more about men being the kind of fathers they need to be than about youth and children's programs.

As Baucham admits, though, such an approach by pastors to the church is likely to get them fired in an age that is so enamored with programs, events, and "professional" nursery care. The idea of families worshiping together not only in the home but also in the gathered worship of the local church is so absent from today's Christian thinking that the suggestion is staggering (and, according to Baucham, not often well received.)

Why is such a biblical idea not palatable? I think it is because it requires something of men that is noticeably absent in most men: a real spiritual life - a true walk with Christ.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Homeschooling: The Only Wrong Answer

Dr. Al Mohler: Overt Hostility toward Homeschoolers

Once again, for the liberal, all views are equally valid except the view of the conservative.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Change of Southern Baptist Climate

This week a group supposedly representing the Southern Baptist Convention (I am still unclear as to their identity) released a statement on global climate change entitled "A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change." As far as I can understand, the main author of the declaration is a seminary student. The declaration comes with 46 signatures.

Three points:

1. I've read the full text, and I have no major objections to the wording, except maybe to the degree that global warming is considered primarily caused by humans. I agree fully that Christians should be the first ones in our society to promote a biblical view of environmental concern. Reduce, reuse, recycle...and take only pictures.

2. The media seem to be picking the story up as if it is a position change for the SBC. (i.e. CNN: Southern Baptist Leaders Shift Position on Climate Change.) While I expect that this will again be an issue during the one week of the year in which Southern Baptists do have a "convention," the current document can hardly be promoted as the new view of Southern Baptists any more than if my previous blog entry suddenly had 46 affirmations from people in Southern Baptist Churches (including such "weighty" names as James Merritt.) (Yes, a resolution on Oceanic Airlines may be in the works for the next convention.)

3. The main thing: the gospel of Jesus Christ. It seems that the SBC (read: 'the dominant voices within the SBC') always wants to walk a thin line when it comes to making political statements and "world-changing" declarations on behalf of the 16 million-member-strong denomination. (There will be 6 million, maybe, in gathered worship this week - you do the math.) It completely befuddles me that any statement at all should need to be made about topics which are not central to the purpose of the SBC: to cooperate toward a unified effort in the missionary task of spreading the gospel.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

LOST Direction

Wondering where the TV Show 'LOST' is going? So do the writers.

As my wife and I were doing a little comparing of a scene from this week's episode, "The Other Woman," to the first episode of Season 3, "A Tale of Two Cities," we noticed a few things the scene where the "Others" in their little neighborhood come out and see Oceanic 815 breaking in two in the air. Here are two:

First, Goodwin incredibly changes shirts in the blink of an eye (at the 22:53 point in the program.) His original light blue shirt is from the original scene. Too bad that one was probably eaten by a polar bear or the black smoke, because he then appears in some sort of checked shirt not even that similar to the first except that maybe they both have buttons. [Watch for yourself.]

Second, Harper magically appears in the newer episode in order to be able to make dramatic eye contact even though she was previously not present in the broad shot of the scene. I know, I know - the time warp and the island's powers and all - of course this can happen.

So, the biggest question we all have can be answered: Do the writers have a plan? Judge for yourself.

Personally, I have become less frustrated by the lack of any forseeable end (or consistent plot for that matter) because I have fully adapted a philosophy of just enjoying everything as it unfolds. If LOST gets all wrapped up, what am I going to watch on TV? Dancing with the Stars?

I think that the dialogue between Locke and Ben about the lack of a plan on Locke's behalf is actually some insight into the internal wrestlings of J. J. Abrams' thinking through the show's direction.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Hermeneutics Quiz

I scored a '50' on Scot McKnight's Hermeneutics Quiz. (Take the quiz yourself if you like.) I'm not usually an online quiz taker, but then, when one is right in line with one of your favorite topics, what can you do?

The quiz is challenging in the way that McKnight makes you think about why you interpret one text of Scripture absolutely literally and another with a different approach. According to McKnight, a '50' places me just under the conservative threshold of 52. McKnight comments that the difference on the "progressive" side between a score in the 60's and one in the 90's is a great difference. The same should be said on the conversative side. Considering my own position to be a conservative one, it is interesting the way that I would be inclined to view the person who would score anywhere near 20.

I clicked on the notable persons to see what Dan Kimball had scored. He scored a 62, which places him in the moderate category (just barely, though.) I'm not sure how McKnight determines what scoring ranges are to be considered conservative-moderate-progressive, but it is interesting that the moderate category is such a slim one (53-65.)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Charles at Awilum.com is serious about education, and his latest thoughts on the problems and possible solutions is quite interesting.

Christianity Light

People who prove to be faithful, available, and teachable in churches today seem to be too few. I see many who display one or two of these qualities, but very few are fully F-A-T in their Christian lives especially as they function within the body of Christ.

Looking specifically at the area of teachability, I think this quality is essential to continuing spiritual growth. Seemingly, though, many Christians are satisfied with some level of understanding to which they have attained. It seems that many are comfortable with a very light does of biblical Christianity.

In a related area of teaching and learning, it seems that within conservative circles of Christianity, personal knowledge of God has taken a backseat among those who are interested in learning as they prefer to build up their understanding of topics which would fall more into the category of apologetics. (There is nothing wrong with apologetics, of course.) In practical terms, this person is the one who desires to substantiate his or her position as a "defense of the faith." The ability to defend Christianity and certain tenets of the faith seems to have become the primary motivation of many today. Truly knowing God is of secondary worth in many minds. I am often reminded of J. I. Packer's now famous words: "A little knowledge of God is worth more than a great deal of knowledge about him."

Many Christians display an openness and desire to learn about "hot topics" which dominate the public debates like abortion, the Bible and homosexuality, or evolution/creation. However, the desire of many Christians seems to stall at having a somewhat removed, second-hand knowledge about God that provides them with the necessary answers to questions. I liken this to knowing everything about the movies without ever sitting in the theater to watch a movie. It would be shallow to know all the facts about what films Sean Connery has appeared in and to have never actually seen any of them.

There seems to be a cultural taboo against true Christian spirituality, by which I am referring to one's personal knowledge of who God is which comes through the reading and study of God's Word, the Bible. Maybe the taboo is only perceived, but I think it is real.

I was standing in a two-story bookstore the other day peering down at the aisles and shelves of books. The view was shocking because of what stood out so clearly on all those shelves: "Idiot's Guide to ______" and "_______ for Dummies" was everywhere - the orange and yellow framed covers standing out. In seemingly every section of the bookstore the sum total was there in one of these "dumbed down" versions.

In Christianity today, it seems that what many desire is merely the dumbed down version. People do not want the Bible; they want to have a summary of it. People do not want to know God; they merely want to know enough about God to get by.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Weather Channel, Where Have You Gone?

Weather Channel Founder Blasts Network; Claims It Is 'Telling Us What to Think'

My favorite part of this article is that John Coleman not only calls out the Weather Channel concerning global warming, but that he also calls them out for all their "non-weather" shows and reporting. As I like to say, "Please tell us about the weather right now, not in history or somewhere in the future."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Rise and Fall (and Rise?) of the Coffee Giant

Starbucks is circling the wagons, and even closed all their stores this week for a few hours to "re-train" employees on making drinks...

Starbucks Promises Customers Perfection: Financial News - Yahoo! Finance

As a big fan of Starbucks, I think this could be a wake-up call for them to get back to what they do best. I have not bought into the thinking that Starbucks has declined because of too many stores. Maybe their stores have lacked some in strategic placement, but for the die hard Starbucks drinker, the Starbucks logo cannot be in too many places.

Has Starbucks lost something in the coffee-espresso business? A resounding "yes." It seems that many baristas do not really know enough about the coffee and espresso beverages they are serving. (Many also do know a great deal about their product, but it seems to be hit or miss in any given store.) I have also seen a lack of concern over the product being served. Part of this is apathy on the part of the employee. Part of this, I believe, is on the corporate level of trying to make more money with fewer employees per store.

I am certainly not a Starbucks exclusive kind of person. Here in Birmingham, though, there is relatively no competition to Starbucks. There are a few privately-owned places, only a couple of which I know to serve really good coffee and espresso (Cool Beans, OHenry's). In my experience, many of the other smaller operations do not have the brewing equipment or the quality coffee to compete with Starbucks. Some of the smaller operations create a neat environment, but for the person who enjoys great coffee, many are just lacking.

Starbucks may have just tipped the scales in the law of supply and demand, but it seems that the company has recognized that it really is their first line of products which has brought them to such heights and it is their first line of products to which they must return.

Monday, February 25, 2008