Friday, September 29, 2006

into each life a little rain must fall

So, I got to go to the Cardinals game tonight at the NEW Busch Stadium.

The Cardinals "magic number" was at 4. Either a Cardinals win or a disAstros loss would lower it. I got neither ... still 4.

I had never been to a game at the old Busch Stadium where the Cardinals lost. Every single time I drug my bad self to the friendly confines of Busch Stadium over my illustrious baseball watching career I came home with a "winner."

Not tonight, just the sting of getting decisively beaten. I knew we were in trouble when the Cardinals were down 8-0 after 2.5 innings. Only the postgame White Castles brought any consolation.

My record at the new Busch Stadium ... 0-1.

I'm afraid to go back.

P.S. Although they did not finish strong, the Cardinals did finish the season as champions of the National League Central Division, for the 6th time in 7 years (2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006). Congratulations, Redbirds!

AND they won the National League pennant!

AND they won the World Series!

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Did you hear what I said? I will WALK beside Him in the Kingdom of Heaven!

In an attempt to unpack the Kwan of our salvation, we have looked at JUSTIFICATION and SANCTIFICATION. We turn our attention now to GLORIFICATION.

Soteriology is the theological term for the study of "salvation." Biblically, salvation is not something we do, but that God does, although we have certain responsibilities in the process.

Three Aspects of Salvation
Of course, in describing being saved, we must ask, "Saved from what?" This is the question answered over three entries, for there are three aspects of our salvation. There is a sense in which Christian salvation is past, present, and future all at the same time. Also, all He justifies He sanctifies and ultimately glorifies.
PAST ... I have been saved from the penalty of sin. (JUSTIFICATION)

PRESENT ... I am being saved from the power of sin. (SANCTIFICATION)

FUTURE ... I will be saved from the presence of sin. (GLORIFICATION)

The Baptist Faith & Message (2000) notes that, "Glorification is the culmination of salvation and is the final blessed and abiding state of the redeemed." It is the last installment of our salvation and the one that is our glorious future, conformity to the image of Christ (Rom 8:28-30). In fact, this is a certainty for all those He's justified; they will undoubtedly be glorified. This is seen in v.30 where glorified is seen in the past tense, meaning that in God's mind it's as certain as if it had already happened. This completion of our salvation occurs upon Christ's return (Heb 9:27-28).

Three Effects of Glorification
There seem to be at least three effects of glorification mentioned in Scripture.

First, there is the glory of God. We see that we will share in His glory (Rom 8:17) and that God's glory will be revealed in us at glorification (Rom 8:18).

Second, we will receive glorified bodies. We will have a body like Christ's (1 Jn 3:2). We're not sure exactly what that will look like, but we recall that after His resurrection Christ could eat, His body resembled His previous body, and that He could move through walls. For sure we know that our lowly bodies will be transformed like His (Phil 3:20-21).

Third, upon glorification there will be the absence of evil, disease, sin, death, etc (1 Cor 15:51-57). We will be imperishable and immortal (1 Cor 15:52). There will be no more death, no more sin (1 Cor 15:55-56).

When Christ returns, He will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body. Then every child of God will be made like the Son of God (1 John 3:2), that is, all Christians will receive glorified bodies like His. No more will they have the limitations they now experience in their “lowly” bodies, which are humbled by disease and sin. Their resurrected bodies will be like Christ’s, and their sanctification will be completed.

Anticipating Glorification
What should a Christian's attitude be toward glorification? Biblically, it is our motivation to work for the Lord (1 Cor 15:58). We should not sit back and take our glorification for granted. It should not give us an excuse to coast, but should be our motivation for serving Christ.

Second, the prospect of glorification should give us encouragement (1 Thes 4:13-18). No matter how bad things get down here, there's more ahead. Our home is not here, but in heaven. We are to be encouraged and encourage each other regarding the salvation that awaits us, our glorification.

As Christians, we need not fear death, for in death our situation improves. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:6-10). Our physical bodies will die, but death is not feared since we will receive an even greater body. We live for Christ and death is gain for us (Phil 1:21). The following story helps to illustrate our confidence in God's plan of salvation and its culmination in glorification.

While walking in the field one day with my two young sons, a bee from one of my hives made a beeline for the elder boy and stung him just above the eye. He quickly brushed it away and threw himself in the grass, kicking and screaming for help. The bee went straight for the younger son and began buzzing around his head. The next thing I knew he too was lying in the grass, yelling at the top of his lungs. But I picked him up and told him to stop crying. “That bee is harmless,” I assured him. “It can’t hurt you. It has lost its sting.” I took the frightened lad over to his elder brother, showed him the little black stinger in his brow, and said, “The bee can still scare you, but it is powerless to hurt you. Your brother took the sting away by being stung.” Then I explained 1 Corinthians 15:56 by telling them that the sting of death is sin. But our Elder Brother the Lord Jesus hung on the cross and took the sting out of death by dying in our place. Since the law demands satisfaction only once, death is powerless to hurt us if we accept the work of Christ in our behalf. The unbeliever is filled with fear because he must face God with his sin. But for us, death’s sting is gone; it was left in Jesus. Death may still buzz around and scare us at time, but it can no longer harm us.
It's an amazing thing to think about really, somewhat overwhelming and very hard to believe. To have a resurrected and glorified body. Where the lame will walk and the blind will see. Some can't believe it.

A double amputee, Lieutenant Dan couldn't believe it. He expressed his disbelief to Forrest:
They say if I take Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior, then I will walk beside Him in the Kingdom of Heaven. Did you hear what I said?! I will WALK beside Him in the Kingdom of Heaven!

Hard to believe, sure, but it's true. It's certain. Those in Christ are justified, sanctified, and glorified, for that is the kwan of our salvation in, through, and because of Christ and Christ alone.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Oh, we got both kinds. We got Country and Western.

During my children's sermon today I showed the children two pictures for their identification, one of a hospital and one of an army.

I then proceeded to ask them if the church is more like an army, following Christ as we help His kingdom advance against the kingdom of darkness.

Or perhaps a church is to be more like a hospital, a place where people who are sick come when they need help getting better.

Of course, I presented them a fasle dichotomy, but they didn't go for it. They caught on and said a church should be both, not either or but both and.

Yes, a church should be a place not where the healthy are called, but sinners, for it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick (Luke 5:31-32). As agents of God's grace/peace, we who have experienced it, long to see it experienced by others.

Similarly, we are in a spiritual battle (Eph 6:10-18; 2 Cor 10:3-5). Christ doesn't want to get any reports that we're holding our position. We are advancing constantly and we are not interested in holding onto anything, except the enemy.

It seems to me that such metaphors can be helpful, especially when evaluating where a church is in relation to these two concepts, tasks. A church is unbalanced if only striving in one area or the other.

At times, we see the creation of a distinction without difference (e.g., country AND western), making a bifurcation where there isn't one. However, in this scenario, the opposite is at work if two aspects which should characterize the church are allowed to be split into an either or choice.

Friday, September 22, 2006

They're nihilists, nothing to be afraid of. They won't hurt us. These men are cowards.

I heard a song on the radio today by Alanis Morissette, the lyrics of which I found ironic since I'd been doing some reading in Ecclesiastes.

An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the next day
It's a black fly in your Chardonnay
It's a death row pardon two minutes too late
And isn't it ironic...dontcha think

It's like rain on your wedding day
It's a free ride when you've already paid
It's the good advice that you just didn't take
Who would've figures
-Alanis Morissette, Ironic
This portion of the song labels as ironic events that seem cruel or unfortunate where the good is tainted by the bad, so that life cannot be fully enjoyed. The song expresses a perception that life is filled with disappointments that lead one to be disillusioned and potentially feeling disenfranchised.

This postmodern observer expresses ideas similar to that of Solomon.
I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. -Ecclesiastes 1:12-14 (ESV; unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are from Ecclesiastes)
Surely, Solomon the most wise on the planet could figure out the world and comprehend God's ways so that he could sleep at night and have confidence in the universe's mechanics. Right? Not so much. In fact, I think it's his wisdom that leads him to see all as vanity from our human perspective, since His ways are not our ways and His thoughts not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).

From the human perspective, life can be a real beat down, even for the wise.
So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.
-Ecclesiastes 2:17 (ESV)
As God has designed and runs His universe, He has ordained that human life be a mixture of pleasure and pain, happiness and hardship. For example, there's "a time to be born, and a time to die ... a time to weep, and a time to laugh" (3:2, 4).
I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (3:10-11)

Just from observing the world apart from knowing by faith that God is running it, naturally leads one to see meaninglessness.
In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. (7:15)
I'm reminded of Kant's approach to the question of whether or not the course of human history was one of progress, regress, or no distinguishable pattern. He maintained that one had to operate "as if" the world was in a state of progress, despite evidence that might appear to the contrary.

But the postmodern mind is not apt to do so. If nothing has meaning, then morality indeed becomes relativistic or at a minimum community derived, dictated. Why not become a Nihilist? If there's no benefit to "doing good," then why not succumb to Nihilism?
There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity. And I commend joy, for man has no good thing under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun. (8:14-15)

It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As is the good, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. (9:2-3)

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them. (9:11-12)

We've all seen the bad guys win and sometimes cheaters do win and nice guys often do finish last. God may bless you with a long life after many years of lacking sleep and mass consumption of bacon, or you could be in the fittest of shape and a health nut and get hit by a car. God in His providence determines our time (Heb 9:27), and only a fool plans the future without recognition of God's authority (Luke 12:16-21).
So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity. (11:8)
Should God grant you many days, enjoy the time in which to serve Him and steward your body and resources well, but recognize no guarantees.
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity. (12:8)
It's certainly easy to look at the world and see it as chaos and the height of instability, but Christians know life is worth the living just because He lives, because He holds the future.

It's highly unlikely that you will figure the universe out or understand why God did/allowed what He did in your life. You may search in vain for meaning, even with your 20/20 hindsight. Yet, God has made a promise of working all for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28). However, just don't suppose you'll be able to figure that out, nor should you be disheartened. Afterall, we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7).

That's why we're not nihilists, because we know the universe has meaning because He is working out all things in accordance with His good pleasure (Eph 1:11). An omnipotent and benevolent God in charge is a source of comfort, as we trust in spite of our understanding.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (12:13-14)

So, we fear God and do what He says; that is our duty. It is hard, but that's the nature of faith, confidence in the unseen (Heb 11:1).

Akin to what Tennyson said, ours is not to reason why; ours is but to do and die. If into the Valley of Death rode the 600, then we too can go through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, fearing no evil, for God is with us (Ps 23:4).
Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
Life has a funny, funny way of helping you out
Helping you out
-Alanis Morissette, Ironic
What telling lyrics ... Life has a funny way of helping you out. Note the perception of intentionality.

A more "modern" perception might be one of random events in accordance with natural laws, but not as a supernatural force (life personified) influencing mundane experiences. Instead of a nihilistic perspective that eliminates external intentionality, the song instead expresses dissatisfaction with the way things are (done). The observer is perplexed, much as Solomon expressed.

It's enough to make us want to throw up our hands in disgust or confusion at times, but the secret is greater faith, not the ability to see.
I hear men praying everywhere for more faith, but when I listen to them carefully, and get to the real heart of their prayer, very often it is not more faith at all that they are wanting, but a change from faith to sight. Faith says not, "I see that it is good for me, so God must have sent it," but, "God sent it, and so it must be good for me." Faith, walking in the dark with God, only prays Him to clasp its hand more closely.
-Phillips Brooks (1835-1893)

Because of our faith and trust in God, we are not cowards. We face each day with an awareness that pain reminds of the grace we have in Christ, that He took our ultimate pain on the cross, and pleasure reminds of the infinite pleasure that awaits those who are justified.

P.S. If you're up for some fun, scope out this video, but only after watching the one above first.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The toilet seat's up, man!

We go to school to learn and we get degrees which are meant to symbolize that we know something, but where do learn about the opposite gender?

It's been said that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Yet, I'm not inclined to think we can better understand one another from an astronomy class.

The running joke is that men just don't understand women, husbands just don't understand their wives, etc. We learn pretty early on to put the toilet seat down, but other tidbits of information elude us. Yet, husbands in particular are obligated to live with their wives in an understanding way, so their prayers are not hindered.

Since we don't want that, let's try to increase our understanding.

For your edification and/or enjoyment, I submit some points from a list I came across of things men need to know about women.
  1. Jewelry. Now you always know what to get her for a last-minute gift.
  2. A girl would prefer to get a $100 gift from Tiffany & Co. than a $500 gift from Fortunoff. Why? Because her friends will ask where she got it.
  3. Women always want to believe what you’re saying is true.
  4. What do women really want in bed? More blankets. They get colder than men.
  5. The average woman kisses 79 men before getting married.
  6. Women who are obsessed with their dogs also like to keep their men on a short leash.
  7. The most painless way to end an argument: Let her win.
  8. When a woman tells you her problems, she does not want you to offer solutions.
  9. Women ingest about half the lipstick they apply, which means they eat approximately one to three sticks per year.
  10. Women often buy shoes a size or two small because they’re in denial about the size of their feet—which they can’t stand.
  11. About half of all brides will lose a good friend over a ridiculous bridesmaid squabble.
  12. On a first date, women never order what they really want to eat.
  13. A good but flawed man is a fixer-upper gem, and women love nothing more than home improvements.
  14. All women think they’re smarter than their partners in some significant way.
  15. Once in a while, let her pick the movie and don't complain about it.
  16. Ugly girls like to hang out with pretty girls because it makes them feel like they're more attractive. Pretty girls hang out with ugly girls for the same reason.
  17. The minute she decides she’s even mildly interested in you, she starts making mental pictures of what your kids would look like and imagining her first name with your last.
  18. Female serial killers tend to use poison rather than guns or knives.
Ladies are there some other things we need to know about women, for your sake and our own?

Monday, September 18, 2006

You have got to buck up, man. You cannot drag this negative energy in to the tournament!

Sometimes folks are not a part of the solution, but part of the problem.

Is church a place where we can encourage one another or merely criticize to make ourselves feel better? It can often be easy to see the problems of others, but harder to see ourselves as part of the problem and not the solution, wreckers instead of builders.

I shared this with our church not too long ago and thought we might all benefit from it. My hope is that we all either are or at least strive to be builders in the church, building up one another and the body, as opposed to wreckers.
As I watched them tear a building down
A gang of men in a busy town
With a ho-heave-ho, and a lusty yell
They swung a beam and the side wall fell.

I asked the foreman, “Are these men skilled,
And the men you’d hire if you wanted to build?”
He gave a laugh and said, “No, indeed,
Just common labor is all I need.”

“I can easily wreck in a day or two,
What builders have taken years to do.”
And I thought to myself, as I went my way
Which of these roles have I tried to play?

Am I a builder who works with care,
Measuring life by rule and square?
Am I shaping my work to a well-made plan
Patiently doing the best I can?

Or am I a wrecker who walks to town
Content with the labor of tearing down?
“O Lord let my life and my labors be
That which will build for eternity!”

Some folks are just negative and their negativity spreads like a cancer, tearing down and wrecking the lives of others. But the fruit of the Spirit entails, among other things, joy and joy is encouraging and contagious.

Do you spread the joy of the Lord, by which others are built up? Or does your negativity and bitterness beat others down? Do you build up or tear down? Who or what will you build up today?

Friday, September 15, 2006

The one constant through all the years has been baseball.

Major League Baseball is having a Hometown Heroes contest where you can vote for the "most outstanding player in each club's history," your favorite among the all-time greats.

Like you, I'm only concerned with the greatest among the Cardinals, though I did vote for some others from some other teams just so they didn't feel bad about national apathy.

So, the following is the selection of Cardinals. All except Pujols are the the baseball Hall of Fame and on the St. Louis Walk of Fame, but if Albert keeps it up, he'll join them on both.

Lou Brock (OF) - Brock was stolen from the Cubs in what has to have been one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history. Recognized as one of the most gifted base runners in baseball, Lou Brock helped to revolutionize the art and science of this element of the game as he totaled 938 stolen bases during his 19-year career. A six-time All-Star selection, Brock also accumulated more than 3,000 hits to help lead the St. Louis Cardinals to three National League pennants and two World Series championships. Although his stolen base records have been eclipsed, the National League honors each year’s stolen base leader with the Lou Brock Award.

Bob Gibson (P) - Over 17 seasons with the Cardinals, Bob Gibson won 20 games five times and established himself as the very definition of intimidation, competitiveness, and dignity. One of the best athletes to ever play the game, the ex-Harlem Globetrotter posted a 1.12 ERA in 1968, the lowest figure since 1914, and was named the National League Cy Young Award winner and Most Valuable Player. Known as a premier big-game pitcher, Gibson posted World Series records of seven consecutive wins and 17 strikeouts in a game, and was named World Series MVP in 1964 and 1967.

Stan "the Man" Musial (OF/1B)- After 22 years as a Cardinal, Stan Musial ranked at or near the top of baseball's all-time lists in almost every batting category. The dead-armed Class C pitcher was transformed into a slugging outfielder who topped the .300 mark 17 times and won seven National League batting titles with his famed corkscrew stance and ringing line drives (.331 lifetime batting average). A three-time MVP, he played in 24 All-Star games. He was nicknamed "The Man" by Dodger fans for the havoc he wrought at Ebbets Field and was but one home run shy of capturing the National League Triple Crown in 1948.

Albert Pujols (OF/1B) - Consistenly referred to as one of the greatest young hitters of all time, Pujols finally won a NL MVP Award after coming so close every year he'd been in league (4th, 2nd, 2nd, and 3rd), the first to win since Willie McGee in 1985. This former unanimous Rookie of the Year endears fans with his humble demeanor and team mindset on top of his prowess with the bat (.331 career batting average). He's having another MVP-caliber season this year and may well be on his way to his first Gold Glove Award at first base. Signed through 2010, if he keeps this up, there's no telling just how great this Cardinal could be.

Ozzie "the Wizard" Smith (SS) - Known as “The Wizard of Oz,” Ozzie Smith combined athletic ability with acrobatic skill to become one of the game’s great defensive shortstops. The 13-time Gold Glove Award winner set major league shortstop records for assists, double plays and total chances. He would develop into an offensive weapon, finishing with over 2,400 hits and 500 stolen bases. His ninth-inning home run won the fifth game of the 1985 National League Championship Series. As Jack Buck said, "Go crazy, folks!"

Write-In Vote: Jay Hanna "Dizzy" Dean (P) - subject of the 1952 movie, The Pride of St. Louis.

Well, these are certainly all outstanding players and it's tough to decide the most outstanding of the oustanding, not to mention other elites in Cardinals history. But, there can be only one ... and that one is Bob Gibson. James would disagree, arguing for Stan "the Man" and I can see why. Like Gibson, Musial was also among the 30 voted by the fans in '99 to the All Century Team. Seen by many as Mr. Cardinal, Musial holds most of the team's records and is its most popular player.

But Gibby was just so dominant and nasty on the mound. I remember reading his book, Ghetto to Glory, and being amazed at his rags to riches story. He was such a great athlete, awesome at fielding his position (9 Gold Gloves) and even a great basketball player. He overcame the segregation and discrimination of his era in the bigs and excelled in a system still reluctant to black players, all the while shining brightest in big games.

How about this for stepping it up on the big stage? In 1967 World Series he went 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA, three complete games and 26 strikeouts as the Cardinals beat the Boston Red Sox, earning him MVP honors. The following year he posted a 1.12 ERA for the season. During one stretch, he surrendered two earned runs over 95 innings! He won the Cy Young Award and NL MVP. So extreme was that 1968 ERA that baseball lowered the mound three inches the following year just to give hitters a chance.

If I could have any pitcher for a big game where I really needed a win, nobody would suffice but Bob Gibson, described by his catcher as lucky.
"He's the luckiest pitcher I ever saw. He always pitches when the other team doesn't score any runs." -Tim McCarver

(FYI - Cardinals All-Stars and Hall of Famers who played for the St. Louis Cardinals)

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

The word itself makes some men uncomfortable.

Calvinism ... Why is it such a big deal? Why is it growing in popularity? Why does this frighten and/or frustrate so many, particularly within my SBC circles?

With a group of pastors & future pastors this weekend, I had the opportunity to discuss the cover story in the September issue of Christianity Today magazine, "Young, Restless, Reformed: Calvinism is Making a Comeback--and Shaking up the Church."

Overall I really liked the article. I liked that it identified John Piper as a leader in the movement's popularity, first because I think it's true and second because I think he goes against the grain of the plethora of straw man arguments and caricatures of Calvinists (e.g.,deceptively describing hyper-calvinism and putting that description on Calvinists). He is not arrogant. He does evangelize. He's profoundly interested in missions. His Christianity is not an emotionless intellectual orthodoxy. He's passionately consumed with a love for a God who works all things according to His purpose (Eph 1:11-12). And that inspires people. And that is just biblical Christianity.

Like the English Baptist Prince of Preachers, I agree that Calvinism is just a nickname for the Gospel.
"I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor."
-Charles Haddon Spurgeon, A Defense of Calvinism

Like that great English evangelist and catalyst of the Great Awakening in America George Whitefield, I agree that my theology is and should be biblically derived.
"Alas, I never read anything that Calvin wrote; my doctrines I had from Christ and his apostles; I was taught of them by God."
(quoted in Collin Hansen, "Young, Restless, Reformed" (Christianity Today, September 2006), pp.32-38.)

In this way, many don't like the label "Calvinism" as it implies (1) such an understanding of theology originated with Calvin and (2) that such an understanding of theology is dependent of John Calvin.

In the article I liked the representation of the approach that has been labeled "humble orthodoxy" with regard to what we know and how we go about sharing it. In fact, I'm excited our church is a part of a group of churches putting on a conference about such entitled, "Humble Orthodoxy."

Yet the article notes that there are some, perhaps many, that are not happy about a rise in Reformed Theology.
"Of course there is resistance to the Reform movement in the SBC. But the resistance is not based on any sound biblical/theological arguments. The argument presented in this article was the typical naive assumption that belief in unconditional election leads to laziness in sharing the Gospel. This argument belies crucial problems in the thinking of those who mount it. First of all, to say that belief in the doctrine of unconditional election stifles evangelistic ferver is historically indefensible. The modern missions movement was founded by men like William Carey and David Livingstone (Calvinists!). Moreover, the first great awakening was fueled by the evangelistic preaching of George Whitefield (a Calvinist!). Furthermore, the preacher many church historians consider to be the most prolific evangelist in history, Charles Spurgeon, was a Calvinist. Secondly, the argument betrays a false view of what should motivate us to evangelize. We should not be motivated by our own power, majesty, ability, etc. to convince and convert. We should be motivated by God's power, majesty, and ability to convert souls. He is the one who leads us out to evangelize, so that he might call his sheep into his fold, so that he might be worshipped as God, so that he might be the only one to receive the glory in redemption. He is God!"
-The Rev. M. Jay Bennett (of Providence Church and Solus Christus)

But there are some who are opposed to even a rise in theological discussions of this nature. Some see them as divisive and a waste of time. For example,
My view is that the current debate over Calvinism in the SBC is not a good thing. It is a distraction, an intramural squabble among people who are suffering from “hardening of the categories.”
Well, I'm a fan of any discussions that will drive people back to the biblical text. I so hope to see us Southern Baptists as people of the book, but too often the books we flock to our "how to" types or the "3 easy steps to ______ (evangelism, growing a megachurch, having a solid marriage, being godly, etc.)."

There is, of course, much to be learned from others in the faith, but I fear we're too reliant on secondary sources. By the way, there's nothing wrong with that, and I encourage the reading therein, but as supplemental reading. And, in case I seemed to suggest otherwise, Calvin himself is a good read. His Institutes of the Christian Religion are outstanding, very readable, and very pastoral in tone.

But as much as I love reading in the Reformed tradition (e.g., Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Puritans, Edwards, Spurgeon, Packer, Sproul, Piper, etc.), such reading pales to the greatest of Reformers, whose words are found in holy writ. We need not allegiance to a theological system or to a tradition or to an anti-tradition or to our preferences, but to the Word of God and the God of the Word.

But, it concerns me that some will see doctrinal exploration/education in a false dichotomy with "doing" ministry, whether it be evangelism or missions or prayer or whatever. There's often an anti-intellectualism that forgets we are obligated to love God with all our mind also. Note, I say "also," because it's also the heart and our love should show up in obedience (cf. John 14:21).

But our actions are impacted by our knowledge the cognitive precedes the behavioral. Our theology should impact our actions. I think it does and is and that's one of the reasons Reformed theology is shedding some of it's detractors.
"I think the criticism of Reformed theology is being silenced by the mission and justice and evangelism and worship and counseling--the whole range of pastoral life. We're not the kind who are off in a Grand Rapids ghetto crossing our t's and dotting our i's and telling the world to get their act together. We're in the New Orleans slums with groups like Desire Street Ministries, raising up black elders through Reformed theology from 9-year-old boys who had no chance."
-John Piper quoted in the Christianity Today article

In many ways the Arminian looks on the Calvinist for the slightest evidence to support a faulty thesis that Calvinism leads necessarily to inactivity or arrogance or apathy, etc. Because of that scrutiny, those who hold to Reformed theology better be at the forefront of reaching out in their communities, sending people to do evangelism, supporting and sending missionaries, and in their passion and affection for God.

Right theology is a right understanding of God and should lead to humility. I'll leave you with one last quote from the article:
"If you really understand Reformed theology, we should all just sit around shaking our heads and going, 'It's unbelievable. Why would God choose any of us?' You are so amazed by grace, you're just crying tears of amazement that should lead to a heart for lost people, that God does indeed save, when he doesn't have to save anybody." -Joshua Harris
Can a brother get an Amen?

Calvinism ... the word itself makes some men uncomfortable. Could there be a day when the word becomes not a term of terision or dissension, but one of conviction as one is convicted by their missions zeal, love for others, and humble orthodoxy. That was once true historically and I think it can be true again, Deo volente.

Some helpful links:
What should we think of Evangelism and Calvinism by Ernest Reisinger

What we believe about the Five Points of Calvinsm (by Bethlehem Baptist in MN)

From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist Convention: What Hath Geneva To Do with Nashville? by Thomas K. Ascol

Monday, September 11, 2006

Strong men also cry.

9/11 ... It's been five years.

Do you remember? What do you remember?

As is likely true for you, I can still remember vividly how and when I first learned of the attacks of September 11, 2001. I was glued to BBC News for what seemed like days.

I remember that day, a Tuesday, thinking, "Is Dallas next?" I remember folks being afraid to go to the mall or a sporting event or really anywhere where large quantities of people would be.

I also remember the tradition rich Aggies honoring the victims and helping their families by selling t-shirts to adorn the stadium with red, white, & blue (pictures: 1 2 3), one of my greatest experiences of Aggie pride. I remember Hall of Famer Jack Buck, the long time voice of the St. Louis Cardinals, stirring my emotions once again as he read an inspirational poem he wrote before the first Cardinals game post-9/11 (one of ESPN's top 100 memorable moments of the last 25 years).

But, I remember day, weeks, or maybe more that I was leary of getting the mail due to antrax findings. I remember the heightened security and even greater angst than usual as I boarded a plane for a mission trip to Germany less than a month later. We wanted to talk about Christ with the German people, but they wanted to talk about the terrorist attacks and how we had their support and sympathy.

In some ways, I think our nation was improved by the tragedy, but, as Merlin said, "It is the doom of men that they forget." For many of us life is back to normal, though we're a little more aware and cautious. However, the events of 9/11 are still very real for our service men and women overseas.

This generation's Day of Infamy is not forgotten. Let us not forget our troops who are still very much in harm's way.

I'll leave you with the words of Jack Buck's poem, his reading of which was re-broadcast at Busch Stadium in St. Louis tonight before their game against the disAstros.
Since this nation was founded ... under God
More than 200 years ago
We have been the bastion of freedom
The light that keeps the free world aglow
We do not covet the possessions of others
We are blessed with the bounty we share.
We have rushed to help other nations
... anything ... anytime ... anywhere.

War is just not our nature
We won't start ... but we will end the fight
If we are involved we shall be resolved
To protect what we know is right.

We have been challenged by a cowardly foe
Who strikes and then hides from our view.

With one voice we say, "There is no choice today,
There is only one thing to do.

Everyone is saying -- the same thing -- and praying
That we end these senseless moments we are living.

As our fathers did before ... we shall win this unwanted war
And our children ... will enjoy the future ... we'll be giving.
Many thanks to those who are, who have, or will be fighting that our children and grandchildren might enjoy such a future.


Friday, September 08, 2006

Well, if I fake it then I don't have it.

On the heels of a post that spoke to issues of worship & styles, I thought this might be helpful for further contemplation/reflection. The goal is to recover authentic worship.

The following are links to a three part commentary on worship from Dr. R. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The Whole Earth Is Full of His Glory: The Recovery of Authentic Worship
Part 1 ... Part 2 ... Part 3:

It's imperative that we worship as He would like.
"My concern is that the issue of worship will define not only our church services, but also our theology and our beliefs about God. There is no more important issue for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ than that we worship as God would have us to worship Him." (Part 1)

Worship is something that should be of great concern to every Christian.
"Scripture makes clear that worship is something that we do, not just something we attend. It is not merely an issue for the pastor and other ministers. It is not just an issue for the musicians and those who will plan the service. It is an issue for the entire congregation, for worship is something we do together. It is our corporate and common responsibility to worship God as He desires." (Part 1)

God is holy and must be regarded as such (cf. Lev 10:1-3).
"What does the holiness of God mean? It means certainly His separateness from his creation. He is what we are not. We are finite; He is infinite. God is transcendent. God's separateness certainly reveals the difference, the infinite contrast between His moral nature and ours. Holiness also certainly refers to His majesty and power." (Part 2)

Have we trivialized God in our pursuit of user-friendly worship?
"My haunting thought concerning much evangelical worship is that the God of the Bible would never be known by watching us worship. Instead what we see in so many churches is "McWorship" of a "McDeity." But what kind of God is that superficial, that weightless, and that insignificant?" (Part 2)

Purpose in worship must transcend styles.
"Will styles change? Yes. But the worship must always be God directed. Will there be a diversity of styles in worship? Yes, but there must be one glorious purpose following this clear biblical pattern: to measure everything by the norm of scripture, in which God has revealed how He wishes to be worshiped." (Part 3)

Worship reminds us that doctrine impacts duty. Right doctrine leads to right duty (e.g., evangelism).
Worship calls for an ongoing response seen in the proclamation of the gospel, in evangelism, and in missions. If our worship is weakened, our missionary witness will be weakened as well. We will forget the God who has sent us. We will neglect the content of the message of redemption with which he has sent us. (Part 3)

Worship will be our eternal occupation and should occupy us now, our hearts & minds.
"We were created to worship God. The whole story of our redemption retells how we were created to worship God but by our sin became disqualified from that true and authentic worship. By God's redemption in Jesus Christ, we were created anew for the purpose of worshiping God. And every glimpse of heaven we have in Scripture indicates that worship will be our eternal occupation. It is for that purpose that we are being prepared even in the present." (Part 3)

Like Mohler, I think it's imperative that we strive for the recovery of authentic worship, the real thing and not the fake stuff that masquerades as worship because if we fake it, then we don't have it.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

I mean that thing is good; I wanna be friends with it.

One of my favorite verses, and most convicting, is Matthew 5:16, the context of which is the Sermon on the Mount where Christ explains to His followers that they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, explaining that light should shine.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
As I am teaching through The Sermon on the Mount with the youth Sunday school class at Providence Church, I've come across some helpful reading. One quote in particular is from a sermon on this verse by Richard Baxter, author of the superb book The Reformed Pastor.
Christ here intendeth that we must abound especially in those good works which the world is capable of knowing to be good, and not only in those which none but Christians themselves approve. If believers and unbelievers agreed in no common principles, we were not capable of preaching to unbelievers, nor convincing them, nor of conversing with them. (emphasis mine)
-Richard Baxter, What Light Must Shine in Our Works?
The key point I want to highlight is his perception that these works/deeds in question are to be of the genre that even the non-Christian would recognize them as "good" when such deeds are performed.

Christians tend to think of "good deeds" as reading our Bibles or telling folks about Jesus or praying, all of which, of course, are good to do. However, those are not actions that have any intrinsic value in the mind of the non-Christian, for he/she does not have the spiritual ability to see them as such.

However, caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, and visiting those in prison (for example) are actions which the world would recognize as good deeds. Of course, so would the Lord Jesus Himself.

What's the point of all this? Christians will get the attention of the world and channel praise to our Father in Heaven when the world sees us outdoing the non-Christians in good deeds. In other words, we must out-do the do-gooders.

There are, naturally, qualifiers like what constitutes a deed that is truly good, but we need not complicate matters to the point where we are not shining our light since there is an overlap between what God defines as good which is in the realm of what they can understand as good. To do so would mean that God is not glorified in, by, and through us.

Are Christians perceived as the most loving, the most joyful, the most peaceful, the most patient, the most kind, the most good, the most faithful, the most gentle, and the most self-controlled? They should be as they exhibit the Fruit of the Spirit.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. -Jesus in Matthew 5:16
As folks see us as agents of God's grace in the communities in which we live, they will see the difference Christ makes. They will say of Christianity, "I mean that thing is good; I wanna be friends with it."

Monday, September 04, 2006

nothing gold can stay

Steve Irwin died today in a marine accident by a stingray at age 44. He was perhaps better known as the "Crocodile Hunter." Before dying he apparently pulled a stingray barb from his own chest.

I loved his shows, even though the vast majority of my viewing was done peeking through my fingers as I had a hard time watching him pick up snakes by their tails, even though he told me they were lovely or gorgeous.

One of the most famous of Aussies will be missed, particularly by his wife Terri and his kids, Bindi (8) and Robert (2).

Some thought him nuts and/or reckless, but his corner on the market was sheer genius and his show was pure gold, but nothing gold can stay.

Friday, September 01, 2006

There are two types of people in this world: Those who like Neil Diamond and those who don't.

While Providence Church was meeting on Saturday nights at Murphy Road Baptist Church while awaiting the availability of our lease space, we were free to visit other churches on Sunday mornings. One of those mornings we took the family to worship with our friends at MRBC.

Mary Ellen and I attended the 9:45AM blended service while the kiddos were in Sunday school, but then had them in with us for the 11AM Church Contemporary service.

When we were leaving, Sarah (7) commented on the music at the 11AM service: "Daddy, can we do our music at Providence more funky like that and not so graceful?"

She really dug it and I enjoyed it as well, but I thought her descriptions were priceless. Surely there's a sermon illustration in there somewhere.

I told her we might try to funk it up some, but that many of our folks probably preferred it not so funky.

Naturally, this got me thinking about the whole issue of worship "styles" and preferences. For the most part, I think a great deal of debate on these issues comes down to preferences. Don't get me wrong, worship is to be in spirit and in truth and doctrine is huge in what we sing.

But, while I enjoy singing And Can It Be? in a very traditional sort of way with our orchestra fully in bloom, I wonder if others would prefer that same song "funked" up some.

I think sometimes we need a deep song with rich theology as our trinitarian God is magnified in all His splendor. Yet, there may be a place for a simple message to be profoundly dwelled upon with repetition. I think of those in the Lord's presence who say that the Lord is "holy, holy, holy," but yet we know that's not a 7-11 song (seven words you sing eleven times). That's often the beauty of a chorus of some of the more well known hymns.

By nature, I'm prone to be overly critical when it comes to music used in the worship of our Lord, but sometimes I wonder if I let my preferences ooze just a bit to where I don't realize that my bias is more preference driven than theologically so.

Our worship should be done before an audience of One. Thus, the most important question has to do with His worship style and what He likes. Yet, at the same time, there's nothing virtuous in not enjoying worship.

If worship is to be most pleasing to Him, it should reflect our enjoyment of it and, consequently, Him. To quote John Piper, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him."

It did my heart good to see my oldest enjoying worshiping via music that was more funky, as there was nothing suspect theologically. Music doesn't have to be old to be good, nor does it have to become bad once it's twenty years old. Just because you've never sang it before doesn't means it's bad. Every song you like to sing was at one time or another a song you had never sang before. Just because folks have been singing it for generations doesn't mean it's worthy to be sung in worship.

Much of what is written under the umbrella of Christian music today is going to fall by the wayside. There are far fewer "hits" than misses, but this is nothing new. Most hymn writers wrote tons of stuff, with typically only one or two making into our hymnals. The good stuff will last, the fluff will fade away.

Hey, if it's good, which means that God is exalted and we are encouraged on to greater love and obedience, then sing it, whether its more "graceful" or more on the "funky" side.

Sometimes there can be a great divide among people based on their music preferences in worship, similar to the great divide over how people feel about Neil Diamond.

In the words of the 90s theologian Rodney King, "Why can't we all just get along?!"

Let's not let worship preferences hinder our unity in Christ. Evaluate, discern, and sing with joy as we extol the greatness of our God in Christian worship.

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