Wednesday, December 28, 2005
When I saw The Fellowship of the Ring a few years back, I said, “That was the best movie I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if it should have been made.” That’s the tension that I feel with movie adaptations. Why? It is because the pictures my imagination gave me while reading the book are inevitably muddled by the pictures on the big screen. Having said that, we own all three extended Lord of the Rings DVDs, and I’m glad we do. I’m content to live with some tensions, I guess.
With that glimpse into my movie angst out of the way, back to the Narnia movie.
I found the casting to be very good. I read several reviews before I saw the movie, and I agree with some of the opinions and disagree with others. Movies are very subjective things. I thought the casting of the children was excellent. Liam Neeson as Aslan’s voice was fine, though, like his appearance, he wasn’t nearly awesome enough. No one could be, I suppose. The White Witch was a bit soft, I thought. Most of the creatures were good – the beavers were a bit small (see The Magician’s Nephew, the smaller talking animals got bigger and the larger ones grew smaller). Tumnus was too big and too young, I thought, but was very well done otherwise. The tree people were all wrong.
The liberties taken with the story were not bad, considering, though the ‘Hollywooding’ of the action was a little lame at times. Mostly, they did very well. I recognized several lines from the books, though some of my favorites were missing. I don’t know why they skipped some, though others were dropped for PC reasons. One part that I found very touching in the book was when Aslan asked the girls to put their hands in his mane so that he could feel their touch. The book makes it clear that the girls would not have dared without an invitation. This was missed in the movie – the girls just reached out on their own. The sense of healthy fear here contrasted so well with the post-resurrection romp (also missing in the movie) that Aslan had with Susan and Lucy.
Have I or will I talk about this movie from the pulpit? No, not at all. Will this be a great breakthrough opportunity for Christians to evangelize their friends and neighbors? No, probably not. There are, of course, points of contact here that can be launching pads for Gospel conversations. That is good. We can enjoy this piece of art with thankfulness, but we shouldn’t press it beyond its limitations as an evangelistic tool.
There is much more that could be said, but I’m going to leave it at that. We all enjoyed the movie very much, and I’m glad that we went to see it. Recommended.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
I won’t be posting much, if at all, over the next few days, so I hope my readers have a wonderful Christmas week. BTW, my site meter says that New Lumps is over 500 hits now. Probably less than half of those are by me checking for comments – I’m making progress.
Friday, December 23, 2005
At the end of our time there, I was growing restless, and perhaps more than a little ambitious. My wife and I both felt that it was time to move on to a bigger community and a bigger church. I expressed this to our Regional Director, and he agreed. We were content to stay there until the right church opened up for us.
At this time, a new pastorate was my only option. School or missions or anything else was not on the radar. However, I knew, deep down, that I was running on empty. I felt like a sponge that had been wrung out. As I studied for my messages, I found that I was often uneasy with the commentaries I was reading and I knew that my theological knowledge was weak. There were new cultural challenges on the horizon that I didn’t understand; words such as ‘postmodernism’ and ‘pluralism’ were beyond me. Still, I thought that getting into a new situation would make everything better.
One fine spring day I was very restless. I just had to get out of my office and go for a walk. I went down to the Barriere River and walked along the bank, praying aloud, accompanied by the sound of the rapid water. I was talking at God, insisting that He resolve this frustrating restlessness. I told Him exactly the church situation I wanted and the timetable that I desired. I never heard an audible voice, but I was overwhelmed with an impression that God was telling me to sit down and shut up. I did. I found a big rock a few feet out in the river and sat on it and just stared at the water for a while.
I had a theological lesson while looking at that river. As I tried to focus on any one part of the river, it would immediately change. I’d see a whitecap, but then as soon as I saw it, it was gone. I thought about the vastness of God and His many attributes. When you try to meditate upon any one of His perfections, you are carried along to rejoice in His many other perfections. He is beyond comprehension. Also, I thought about the source of all that water (even in this small river). Where does it come from, how does it keep on coming, seemingly without end? God truly is without end. He is the everlasting Source of all things. We can never exhaust His supply. I had many thoughts like this about God as I sat in silence. It was very rich and satisfying. I was no longer talking; I was listening – meditating on biblical truths about God.
On the way back to the church, I felt at peace with our future. God could take care of it. However, I did have one more niggling thought. Our B.C. regional convention was coming soon. I felt that I would have the answer to our future after that meeting. I thought I would meet a board chairman or someone who would point me to my next church. I didn’t take this as a promise, it was just a feeling.
A few weeks later, I left our convention disappointed. There was no revelation, no hopeful conversations, and no choice vacancies in area churches. I wasn’t upset with God, because I hadn’t taken this impression as His voice, but I was still sad.
Convention was held at Northwest Bible College that year. It was the 60th anniversary of NBC and they were handing out tapes from the banquet. The speaker was D.A Carson and the title of his message was something like, “Where is Theological Education Going in the 90s?” I knew who Don Carson was, having heard him speak 10 years earlier at Basic Baptist Beliefs in Vancouver (1985). They gave me the tape at the door as I was on my way to my car to drive home to Barriere. I didn’t think anything about it. I wanted to pout in silence for a while.
Almost half-way home after some time complaining to God again, I remembered the tape. I put it in, listened to it, and then listened to it again. I knew then that I was going back to school, but sometime later; preferably in at least a year. Perhaps by then, the conviction will have passed, I thought. I really didn’t want to go back to school. I’m not a natural academic, and we really could not afford it.
By the time I got home, I had successfully suppressed this conviction that I needed to go to seminary. It wasn’t until days later that Juanita said, “Have you considered going back to school?” that I had to revisit this possibility. I hadn’t talked to anyone about that tape and its convicting message, not even Juanita. My wife’s question blew me out of the water. I knew I didn’t want to go to school, and I was sure that Juanita didn’t want to either. I knew then that I had to pursue this further.
Our next step was to seek out valued mentors in our lives, including our parents. My dad wasn’t crazy about the idea, but he was supportive. Everyone else encouraged us strongly to head for school. When I protested to my former college president, Dr. Doug Harris, that I couldn’t afford it, he said, “If you’re going God’s way, He pays. If you’re going your own way, you pay.” Sometimes God’s provision looks a lot like a student loan, I guess, but it all worked out very well.
The timetable changed as well. By the time we had sought counsel and decided that school was the right course, it was already August. A September start was impractical, but we thought it was best to jump right on it. I resigned from the church, and three weeks later we were living in a basement suite in Pitt Meadows. Juanita began teaching piano and working on her A.R.T.C (piano certification) and I was attending Northwest Baptist Seminary at Acts.
Looking back, I am very thankful for the timing that God providentially worked out. My two most influential professors wouldn’t have been there had we waited much longer. As I’ve said before in my blog, I am particularly thankful that I had an opportunity to study under Dr. Steve Wellum who is now at S.B.T.S. in Louisville, KY.
Now, did God speak to me? No. Do I think that I or anyone else made these things happen by revelatory spiritual gifts? No. Do I think that God’s hand guided things and caused our conviction, the counsel of others and the timing to come together just right? Yes I do. This story is an example of, “We see God’s hand after the fact.” That’s how providence works.
I believe that God is actively involved in our lives and that He speaks to us. He speaks infallibly in His Word. That is our anchor. However, prudence and godly counsel of mentors, family and friends and the wisdom found in good books are gifts of God as well. These temporal blessings are in no way at the same level as the Word of God. Regarding my story, I would not say, “God told me to go to seminary.” There was nothing flashy, nothing miraculous, nothing weird that went on in this whole process.
This has been my longest post yet, but I have probably raised more questions regarding what I believe than I have answered. I will do another post on my convictions regarding the so-called sign gifts in the New Testament very soon, Lord willing.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
- How ‘bout them Oilers? That was a wild and woolly game with Vancouver last night (December 21, 7 to 6 for us). I haven’t followed hockey closely for years, but my son became a fan this fall, so we listen to as many games as possible (no TV, but we enjoy hearing them).
- The media is on again this year about the debate regarding political correctness, i.e. ‘Merry Christmas,’ or ‘Happy Holidays. I think the whole media debate is a reflection of slow news this time of year. If I wish someone Merry Christmas and they are offended, they need to lighten up. I would be happy to have a civil discussion with them and let them agree to disagree with me. Conversely, if I am wished, ‘Happy Holidays,’ I just smile and say, ‘Thanks, and Merry Christmas to you too.’ We Christians ought to quietly live as Christians before our pagan society so that they ask the reason for the hope that we have. By all means, we should be thankful for the opportunities we may be given to talk about Christ at Christmas, and we need to capitalize upon them. However, we’re not doing the cause of Christ any favors by making cultural mountains out of molehills. Christians are too quick to cry out as victims in our pagan society. We are not going to win back any ground by bleating about how misunderstood and abused we are in relation to our world at large. Time spent in bemoaning our losses in the ‘culture war’ would be better spent positively working for the Kingdom in God-ordained ways. End of rant – for now.
- We heard a story on the radio yesterday which claimed that Albertans spend an average of $1200-1300 per person on Christmas. Yikes! I guess we’re really out of the loop. Our poor children! We only spend about a 100xs more than my parents did (and we did very nicely, thank you very much, mom!).
- I am going to enter the cessation / continuation debate regarding spiritual gifts soon. I’m going to begin with a personal story about how God has spoken to me. People who know me well have heard me say that the three most dangerous words in the church are, ‘God told me.’ I’ll leave the tension unresolved for now.
- We’re going to Edmonton for Christmas. My mom was going to come here, but since she broke her hip, we’re going there after church on Sunday (no, we’re not mega, no, we didn’t cancel).
- We’re planning to see The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe on Boxing Day with another family (13 of us total – we bought our tickets ahead of time). I’ll post my thoughts when I get a chance.
- We finally bought a photo editing program. Once I learn it, I could be dangerous. You’ve been warned.
Time to head for bed. It’s almost 10 pm.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
These days of driving and celebrating have put a damper on my blog posting, but, otherwise, all went well. We are very thankful for our church family. I will try to post later. Now it is time to have supper and enjoy an evening with the family at home.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Here’s a little teaser:
Now, just pause over this thought—that Christ did not crown himself, but that his Father crowned him; that he did not elevate himself to the throne of majesty, but that his Father lifted him there, and placed him on his throne. Why, reflect thus: Man never highly exalted Christ. Put this then in opposition to it—"God also hath highly exalted him." Man hissed him, mocked him, hooted him. Words were not hard enough—they would use stones. "They took up stones again to stone him." And stones failed; nails must be used, and he must be crucified. And then there comes the taunt, the jeer, the mockery, whilst he hangs languishing on the death-cross. Man did not exalt him. Set the black picture there. Now put this, with this glorious, this bright scene, side by side with it, and one shall be a foil to the other. Man dishonoured him; "God also exalted him." Believer, if all men speak ill of thee, lift up thy head, and say, "Man exalted not my Master; I thank him that he exalts not me. The servant should not be above his master, nor the servant above his lord, nor he that is sent greater than he that sent him."
Friday, December 16, 2005
To be missional is to be outward focused as a church rather than inward focused. It is to discover and meet the practical needs of the community that our local church serves, and thereby have an opportunity to share the gospel. So far so good. How can we not agree that it is important for the local church to be a culturally significant force in its community? We do have social obligations to the lost and dying world around us. We are called by Christ to care for the poor and needy and to bind up the wounds of the suffering.
My bias against this word is that it appears to come out of a philosophical stance that wants to minimize the offense of propositional truth and the assertion of the certainty of the gospel in our ‘postmodern’ times. Underlying this new word may be an agenda to redefine the church along 'practical' lines. I know that not everyone who uses this word wants to reorder the church along seeker sensitive / postmodern / pluralistic lines, but there are many that do want to redefine the church in non-biblical ways.
The Western Church of our day needs change desperately. Our problem in the church is not that we are merely too focused on ourselves, but that we have not been focused on the right things, namely, glorifying God by defining the church according to His Word. We need reformation – a change back to the Word-centered, God-glorifying, gospel-proclaiming center. If an undisciplined, untaught, truth-doubting, worldly church desires to reach out with the love of Christ, what message will it be taking to the lost? My fear is that the 'missional' focus may take us down the liberal 'social gospel' path once more.
Another beef that I have with this word is that it subtly diminishes the words 'mission,' 'missions' and 'missionary.' It is popular to say that our towns and cities are mission fields, but we need to be precise in our definitions. Traditional missions are suffering, in prayer and financial support and in the recruitment of career missionaries. The word ‘missional’ will not serve the cause of cross-cultural, international missions (which, admittedly, can occur on Canadian soil through Canadian Churches).
Do we need to shift the church to a more community needs focus as first priority, or do we need to shift the church back to a gospel focus as first priority? That is the question. There are many resources that I could reference on this topic, but an easy place to start is a brief article by Tim Challies, Evangelism – The Chief End of Man?
In conclusion, let me make a modest proposal: Let’s biblically define and obey the old words before we make up any more new words.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
In that post, I wanted to underline the fact that is so often missed today: The gospel comes to us from outside of us. It is rooted in historical acts, acts of God on earthly soil as God the Son took on human flesh.
The gospel is not about what we do, but rather what Christ has done. Some may ask, “But doesn’t this encourage moral laxity and permissiveness?” Good question. The Apostle Paul anticipated this objection: What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2 ESV – if you are not familiar with the context of this passage, just quit reading this post and go read Romans 6. Or read all of Romans. That would be much more profitable than reading this blog).
There are implications for the gospel. Again, let us not miss that these are God wrought implications, for His glory. If we are saved by God, we will bear fruit. God saves, but we are called to respond.
The first response to the gospel is conversion, that is, repentance and faith. These actions are first gracious gifts of God, but they result in a concrete, observable change in our lives. This is how the Christian life begins, but the change is drawn out though our entire earthly pilgrimage. This is also known as sanctification (there is a positional sanctification for the believer as well – see, for instance, 1 Corinthians 6:11 – but I’ll save that for a future post). Sanctification means, “to be made holy.” We are counted righteous in Christ by faith in His person and work, but we are to grow in holiness practically as we live our Christian lives.
I very much appreciated Iain H. Murray’s Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography. The section that stood out to me particularly was Edwards dismissal from his Northampton Church after – what was it, 27 years? (I’m too lazy to dig out my book to confirm that time). The key issue in this conflict was Edwards growing conviction that there must be some evidence of regeneration in order to admit a candidate for membership. Understanding true biblical conversion will always cause us to be ‘fruit inspectors’ of our own lives and others under our care. This is the duty of discipleship, including church discipline (BTW, Murray said in a 9 Marks interview that he was experiencing a similar challenge in ministry in Australia at the time he was writing the Edwards biography).
Becoming a Christian is not simply a matter of praying a prayer or making a decision. It is a work of God, a transformational work that will show evidence – however faint and shaky at times – of a real change in nature.
This is what the New Lumps theme is all about. We are declared to be new in Christ by grace, but then God calls us to live as those who have died to the old sinful nature. We are saved so that we may walk by the Spirit, bearing fruit for God’s glory (Galatians 5:19-25).
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Why am I writing this? I have a scanner. I have a blog. Hmmm . . .
I worried about copyrights, but these comics are 20 to 25 years old. I think there is probably a statute of limitations. If the author (or his lawyer) contacts me, I’ll quit. This will be random, anyway. I don’t have time to scour old mags for comics. I already spend too much time blogging.
The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ has come to save sinners. It is a proclamation from God that He will justify the ungodly (or ‘wicked,’ Romans 4:5) because of the work of Christ. We receive this salvation as a gift from God through faith.
The Apostle Paul established the first things as, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
A small child can understand the teaching that God sent Jesus to take the punishment for the bad things that we do so that we don’t have to suffer the punishment ourselves. However, some points of clarification are in order as we share this good news, even in our churches. Why? Unbelievers in our culture are usually biblically illiterate; they need even the most basic concepts defined. Also, believers in churches often are not taught that the gospel is for Christians too.
Hearing the Gospel is how we believe in the first place, but unless we have a steady diet of the gospel, we are in danger falling into the ditch of works-righteousness on the Christian journey. The ditch on one side is self-righteousness, the idea that we are Christians because of our performance. This performance mentality takes many forms: sincerity, spirituality, good works, looking back to a particular prayer, etc. The ditch on the other side is despair. I have heard many times, “I can’t be a Christian because I can’t get control of my thought life,” or “I can’t tame my temper,” etc. When we look to our inward life or outward performance for our justification, we are foolish.
We must emphasize that the gospel is outside of us and comes to us, it is not something that we conjure up in our head or heart, it is something that is proclaimed and believed. Or not. Paul’s first things were historical realities. Likewise, John stressed the physical reality of Christ in History (under Pontius Pilate, as the creed says) as the basis for our salvation.
The greatest need of the human race is reconciliation with God. In Adam, all sinned. We add our own sins to that pile. Our Creator / Owner is holy, and sin is detestable to Him. God is angry with us. Furthermore, all the evil and dysfunction we see in the world has its root in our alienation from God because of sin. Man is God’s enemy, unless God does something about that. We can’t, we won’t. There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. (Romans 3:10-11 NKJV).
The Good News is that God has done something. He sent His Son to be the Saviour of the World. God initiates reconciliation with those He calls. He justifies those who trust Christ as Saviour and confess Him as Lord.
Before I wrap this up, I’d like to define one more word, Justification. Justification is God’s declaration, “Not guilty.” We have broken God’s law; we have actively rebelled against His holy rules. Christ took the judgment of that disobedience upon Himself on the cross – the wages of sin is death. That is why Christ died, to satisfy God’s justice in light of our sin, to suffer the consequences of our sin so that we will not be condemned.
The second aspect of justification is often overlooked in contemporary evangelicalism. If our sin is taken away, we still have a problem. God’s holiness demands not only that we be clean, but that we are actively righteous. If we simply have a clean slate, we are still in big trouble. God commands that the positive demands of the law be satisfied.
For instance, if you could imagine standing before God and hearing the question, “Have you loved me with all your heart, soul and mind and have you loved your neighbor as yourself?” How would you do? Jesus said that all the law hung on these commandments (Matthew 22:37-40). I know that I would be silent and ashamed were it not for the active righteousness of Christ. The Gospel announces that Christ is our righteousness. This is why Jesus didn’t just arrive on the earthly scene as an adult, ready to die on the cross. Throughout His life, he fulfilled all righteousness for His people.
The Gospel is about God: God’s holiness; God’s sovereignty over all that He made; God’s love for His people; God’s justice; God’s wisdom; God’s mercy and grace and God’s glory. This is so that no flesh should boast before Him (1 Corinthians 1:29).
The Gospel is big. Really big. It is Genesis to Revelation, it is Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:15) to the New Creation. We who live on this side of the resurrection have a great honor to see how God has reconciled people to Himself through Jesus Christ. My little post does not do the gospel justice, of course, but I hope it is an encouragement for someone to reconsider the centrality of the gospel in the life of the church. May we never grow tired of hearing, reading, singing and speaking the old, old story.
P.S. Dan made a comment on my last post, reminding me of John Piper’s new book, God is the Gospel. I read the introduction online (available by clicking the title in this paragraph), and I was moved to worship our Sovereign, gracious Lord!
If we are believers, the follow up to that should be, how can we communicate the gospel to this generation? That leads to, what is the gospel? If we get the answer to this question wrong, we will be found useless for the Kingdom of God before we even begin.
Christians should be practical and not waste their time in ivory tower pursuits. However, being able to correctly answer the question, “What is the gospel?” is not an ivory tower pursuit. Even pastors – maybe particularly pastors – have assumed that professing Christians know the gospel without working through the implications of getting the gospel right – or not.
Several years ago, Shane Rosenthal from the The White Horse Inn radio program interviewed 60 people at a large Christian booksellers association event (they recently talked about this on their 15th anniversary program). The question was simple, “What is the gospel?” They got one right answer. Virtually all the answers were works-righteousness oriented; that is, the gospel is about what I do to earn acceptance with God. Remember, this is not a random survey in the big city; this is a Christian booksellers association.
R.C. Sproul said that he had to pull his car over to the side of the road when he heard that program because he was overcome with grief (Speaking of R.C. Sproul, I heard him say once that if everyone who called themselves a Christian in the USA would take the time to read Romans, just once, that there would be a revival in the land).
As Christians, we ought to take the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 12:2 seriously, because they are God’s Word: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
How can a proper understanding of the Gospel transform the culture? It would be sad if the church was asking that question, but it is even more distressing that it is not even asking that question. The power of the Gospel for the salvation of everyone who believes (Romans 1:16-17) is the only hope the world has for cultural transformation from God’s perspective. What other perspective ultimately matters?.
The answer to political corruption, moral decay, relativism, child poverty – you name it – is found in the transforming power of the Gospel. It is only the church that has this transforming, redeeming message. While every Christian will affirm that the gospel is important, in much of Christendom, the gospel is practically dismissed as people focus on peripheral issues.
The gospel is too often assumed. I have heard leaders say, “We have a strong doctrinal foundation, but what we need to work on is relationships in our churches.” Replace ‘relationships’ in that sentence with church growth strategy; political influence; youth programs; relevant worship or whatever trends are in vogue at the moment, and you will see the heart of the evangelical problem: The gospel is not central.
So, what is the gospel?
Monday, December 12, 2005
It’s not late, but I’m pooped. I set myself an ambitious outline for blogging this week, but not tonight. I downloaded a message by Sinclair Ferguson on the New Perspective on Paul that I need to transfer to my MP3 player for the gym tomorrow. I’m looking forward to that. Thanks, Ian. I really appreciate Dr. Ferguson and I’m sure I’ll hear a solid presentation on this subject.
I move around some MP3s I’m going to grab a book (I’m reading the Deliberate Church by Mark Dever) and head for bed.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
I grew up in a Christian home, I’ve been a Christian for nearly 30 years and a pastor for 15 years. As I prepared and preached this week, I was overwhelmed with what Christ did when he came from the highest place in the universe to the very lowest place; even death on a cross.
While I was preparing, I remembered something I heard a long time ago, “If something defies description, let it.” I was tempted to take that advice. Describing the humiliation of the Son of God is beyond what I could ever manage, but it is my responsibility as a servant of the Word to try to explain the Gospel to my people. A couple of things stand out from my study this week:
First, the word ‘obedience’ as it relates to Christ is staggering. How could the one who created all things for His pleasure, the perfect, eternal Son of God learn anything, let alone obedience? This makes Him sound like some kind of servant.I explained Christ’s obedience in terms of His position as our New Adam. He, through His obedience, did exactly the opposite of what the first Adam did. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19 ESV). All who look to Him for salvation will find that He is their new representative, their Champion (I appreciate the section in John Pipers’ book, Counted Righteous in Christ on this passage). By God’s grace and power, we that trust Christ will be made like Him because He became like us.Christ learned obedience through what He suffered. God knows everything, but Christ learned in the flesh all the things that people experience. He even experienced death for us. He continues to have that knowledge as He intercedes for us in Heaven.
Secondly, when God tells us in His Word that He loves us and cares for us, we only need to look as far as the Incarnation and the cross to see that these are not idle words. The love of God radiates from the Gospel. No one could have made up this story. It has the ring of truth because it is true. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV).
We read Isaiah 52:13-53:12 in two parts as our Scripture readings today (52:1-6 before our time of silent confession and 53:7-12 before the message). Meditation on the person and work of Christ is our highest occupation because it leads to God-exalting worship and humble obedience to our Servant King. We will never fully understand the mystery of the Incarnation, but may we never tire of this glorious pursuit!
Truth be told, I usually lobby for a tree from the grocery store lot, but that's just because I'm lazy. Really, getting a tree from our friends' place couldn't be much easier, so I'm happy.
My wife is happy with me this week: I put up some Christmas lights on the house, I put the snow tires on the van and we got a tree. After our Edmonton shopping day tomorrow, we can let Christmas come.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Besides this, there are a lot of things that I would love to post on, but I just don’t have the time. Blogging was supposed to be good therapy. I write to get things off my mind, but I find that one thing leads to another and I end up with more things on my mind.
I need to unload a few thoughts in point form in order to get my mind back. I still have to finish my sermon for tomorrow and a mind is a good thing to have when doing sermon preparation:
- Together for the Gospel or Shepherd’s Conference? Both are far away (and therefore expensive), so plan C might be ‘Edson.’ LA is cheaper, but the speaker lineup in Louisville is even more appealing to me than the extraordinary cast that will be in LA (no John Piper or CJ Mahaney in LA). Thanks for the comment, Dan. You’re the one responsible for this new conundrum (I’m still leaning to Louisville, if possible, partly because I’d like to get caught up with Dr. Steve Wellum at SBTS, my theology professor when I was at ACTS.
- Wolves in Sheep’s clothing vs. Sheep in Wolf’s clothing (this phrase lit off an interesting discussion regarding plurals, possessives and apostrophes in our living room – I think I have it straight now). I have been thinking about a follow-up to my Tabletalk cover and brief commentary that I posted a few days ago, but I haven’t managed it so far. Appropriate and inappropriate compromise for the Christian is a huge topic. Let me just say that we ought to be sheep in sheep’s clothing and leave it at that for now (thanks for the comment, Patti).
- Cessation vs. Continuationism. These will be new terms for some, I’m sure, so I’ll have to define them . . . someday. For now, let me just say that they relate to spiritual gifts, particularly the controversial ones. Every Reformed leaning blogger will be commenting on Tim Challies’ most helpful posts on this topic, and I’m no exception. Challies is always a must-read, and this is a series that I am going to recommend to several people – some of whom don’t know a blog from a dog. Tim has wisely and humbly asked Sam Waldron and Wayne Grudem for interviews on this hot topic. I’m going to weigh in on the issue of spiritual gifts next week, Lord willing, after I read Tim’s interview with Wayne Grudem, which is still to come.
- Our church has been going through a major issue this year and we just had a meeting regarding the continuation of church discipline for an individual. This is still way too close to home for my church and everyone involved, so I’ll leave that alone. What I do want to post on, arising from this situation, is the question of the Bible’s silence on many matters in particular discipline situations and what this means for the church. This year has been a workout for my ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) from a very practical standpoint. I would like to post some thoughts on this very practical theological issue.
Okay, I think that’s it for now. I’ll try to intersperse a little humor and a few pictures with the serious stuff, so I’ll hope you’ll stay tuned.
My ‘Word for the Week’ post on ‘dissipation’ left an unresolved chord. How do we avoid wasting our lives? What is the secret to getting rid of the yeast of malice, wickedness, dissipation, debauchery and profligacy? How do we get it together?
Again, we must focus on what God has done for us in Christ. Our comfort and security is found in His power to save and keep: . . . he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25 ESV).
In Colossians 1, we read that in Christ, all things hold together. For those without hope, who have plunged into a flood of dissipation, Christ, and only Christ, can put them back together. Even as Christians, if we are deceived and begin to rely again on works of the law for our right standing before God, we will find our lives coming apart at the seams.
Our greatest need is reconciliation with God through Christ. God calls his people to Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we who were dead are made alive and united to Christ forever. When speaking on behalf of His sinful people before the Father, Christ was heard. His righteous life, propitiatory death and the vindication of His resurrection are the reason that we may boldly come before the throne of grace. Justification and adoption into God’s family is by God’s grace through faith in Christ. This is the pinnacle of human significance, hope and wholeness forever.
So much of modern evangelicalism is sold out to moralism and individual spirituality. I was just talking to a friend who is having a very hard church finding a church that actually preaches the gospel. There are pockets of reform – I’m pleased to see the number of doctrinally sound bloggers out there, for instance – but there is much work to be done in terms of calling God’s people back to the centre.
God did it all, salvation is of the Lord. Only God can knit together the scattered bones of His people and breathe life into them. What a privilege it is to preach to those bones and watch God work through His Word and power.
Friday, December 09, 2005
(Mohler, Jr, R. Albert, The Primacy of Preaching, in Feed My Sheep, Don Kistler, General Editor, Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2002, Page 17-18.)
Thursday, December 08, 2005
1. The act of scattering; dispersion; the state of being dispersed; as the dissipation of vapor or heat.
. . .
4. A dissolute, irregular course of life; a wandering from object to object in pursuit of pleasure; a course of life usually attended with careless and exorbitant expenditure of money, and indulgence in vices, which impair or ruin both health and fortune.
Example (from Webster): What! Is it proposed then to reclaim the spendthrift from his dissipation and extravagance, by filling his pockets with money? (I’ll resist the urge to run off on a political editorial here).
Dissipation. What a good word to explain human sinfulness. In our rush to simplify English vocabulary, we are losing some rich and descriptive words.
When people do not have the fear of God before their eyes, they do not hold onto the truly valuable things. Sex, money, spiritual experiences – whatever serves for momentary pleasure – is wrenched out of its God-given context and scattered to the wind; this is what the pagans do (even many that would consider themselves Christians).
While the goal of the worldly pleasure-seeker is satisfaction, when they live for themselves, they are throwing God’s good gifts to the wind; they are wasted, lost, dissipated.
I began thinking about this word because I was reflecting on 1 Peter 4, particularly verse 4: They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you (NIV. Instead of dissipation, other versions have debauchery, ESV; excess of riot, KJV; join in with the old gang, The Message ;) ).
My BAGD Lexicon allows for ‘dissipation’ as an option for defining asotia in 1 Peter 4:4. Strong’s Concordance suggests that this word may be a negation of sozo, ‘to save,’ that is, ‘not saved.’ Hmm. I’d love an expert opinion on that. BAGD doesn’t mention this word relationship. I am not a Greek scholar – I just have a couple of rusty semesters from seminary a decade ago (sorry, Clint).
I was thinking about this word as I was driving to Edmonton yesterday with my family. What led me to post on this subject however, were the thoughts that came to mind as I sought to identify dissipation in our culture. Yes, the usual suspects of money and sex are prime examples of pagan dissipation, but what about the big picture?
Could the Western fascination with eastern religions (albeit quite superficial in most instances) be a reflection of a culture of dissipation? Isn’t the goal of Buddhism, Hinduism and New Age spin-offs ultimately a form of dissipation? Ceasing to exist as an individual and being absorbed into the cosmic – whatever – that is Nirvana!
In secular paganism, the trend to scatter cremated remains seems to speak to this philosophy of dissipation, while the Christian instinct to bury bodies and treat them with respect speaks to a hope of resurrection. I don’t mean to offend here, cremation vs. burial is not my point here, but rather what the scattering may represent to people without faith in Christ.
Many people believe that this physical dissipation after death is all that there is at the end of life. God declares that there will be a resurrection of everyone, not just believers (Daniel 12:2), and all people will stand before God’s throne of judgment.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Look at the wide eyes – not wide with fear (which would be appropriate), but wide in naïve optimism (check out his left ‘arm’ position if you doubt my assessment of his cheerful confidence). There is a little worry here, but it’s drowned by his self-satisfaction at fitting in so well: “My how brave I am, look how I’m engaging the culture. Not like those inauthentic fundamentalists back in the sheep fold.”
When we fraternize with the wolves, we like to think that we’re the ones doing the influencing. Even a brief glance at church history – modern or ancient – demonstrates the foolishness of this myth of influence.
Monday, December 05, 2005
In November 1932 then-president [Leonard B.] Job shared these words with Ithaca College students, and they ring true today: "Education is what you have left after you have forgotten all you have learned." In this fast-paced and radically changing world of today, the capacity to keep learning and to process new information and knowledge will make you all successful and effective professionals and citizens throughout your lifetimes.
“Education is what you have left after you have forgotten all you have learned.” When I first heard this (from Dr. Dressler at NBTC, 20 years ago), I laughed because I thought it reinforced my bias against the seeming futility of all the needless stuff I was expected to remember and work through. What did memorizing historical charts from the Ancient Near East and learning a buzillion figures of speech from the Old Testament have to do with being a pastor?
Dr. Dressler did not explain what this quote meant. He used to start the class with pithy sayings to get our gray matter engaged. This quote nagged at me. Dr. Dressler was let go from Northwest just as I was beginning to appreciate his wise approach to education. He didn’t fit in with the new NBTC (which, by the way, is no more).
It took me until my third year of Bible college to understand that the purpose of education is not to supply me with the information I need to do the work of ministry, but rather to teach me to research, think critically and discern effective ways of using my time. It grieves me to think of all the wasted time in my earlier school years (though another relevant quote is, “Youth is wasted on the young.” George Bernard Shaw). The wheels of maturity grind slowly. I’m still learning the truth of this advice. It certainly didn’t become fully formed when I was twenty.
The value of good education – not just skill learning – is that it will make you teachable, flexible and grounded in the main things. This does not just apply for ministry training.
Alberta is facing an employment crisis – good help is hard to find in our booming economy. If you talk to any employer, you’ll hear that what they long for are people who are quick thinkers, teachable and have integrity (punctuality, loyalty, honesty, etc.). The skills they can teach. It is the character and ability to think that is the most valuable commodity.
Christians, more than any others, must recover this valuable perspective on education. It is a critical way that we can shape the culture rather than simply follow it and react to the changes that are so prevalent.
In future posts, I will certainly revisit this topic and include links to articles and books that relate to this subject.
Right now, I have to get off my bottom and put the snow tires on the van and put up some Christmas lights. Monday is my day off. You know how that goes.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
In my introduction, I emphasized the frequency of the fear response in Scripture, even in the Christmas story. Even a glimpse of heavenly glory is enough to cause mortal man to fall on his face.
Christ, being fully God, one with the Father, took on a human nature, with all the attributes of God and man being found in one person. The fact that God Himself would come down to us as a bondservant to pay our ransom, our sin debt of death, is astonishing. May we never cease to wonder and worship God for the mystery of the Incarnation.
What I stood out to me this week in my preparation is that the Incarnation of Christ ought to change our perspective on the fear of God. The Incarnation resolves the tension between two kinds of fear: dread fear and holy fear (or faith fear). Or at least it should for Christians. I referenced Hebrews 12:18-29 to point out that fear is not an Old Testament concept only. In fact, the author of Hebrews points out that the stakes are much higher for failing to submit to Christ than they were for the Children of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai. This is because Christ is God’s Final Word (Hebrews 1:1-3).
What makes the difference is faith in Christ; faith that comes only by hearing the Gospel (Romans 10:17); faith that draws near to God and bows in worship. This is the humility of faith that causes the wise man to humble himself before God so that he might be lifted up in God’s time (1 Peter 5:6, compare James 4:10). Dread fear recoils from God and flees from Him. It says, like the Children of Israel, “Do not have the LORD speak to us again!” (Exodus 20:19).
I launched into an aside about the fear of man as well, which sometimes masquerades as a dread fear. Dread fear may cause us to flee to the cross. Fear of man turns us inward and is utterly futile.
There is an apparent contradiction between, The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10) and perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). Understanding the difference between the dread fear of condemnation and the fear of faith resolves this difficulty.
Dread fear is entirely appropriate for unbelievers. In fact, if we love our neighbor, we must present God in His holiness to them so that they do fear Him and desire – by the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word – to repent of their sin and turn to Christ for salvation.
For Christians, however, fear is joyful and exhilarating. We dare not be presumptuous, but if we are in Christ, we may follow Him boldly and with confidence to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).
Before I do that, a few preacher points come to mind:
- After weeks of thought, many hours of preparation, a full manuscript and not enough prayer (usually), the only comment you get on your sermon will be about something you said off-the-cuff.
- Sermon curiosities: The more you thought you nailed the sermon, the less response you get. The more you thought you really blew it, the more likely someone will mention how significant your message was to them (or, at least, some off-the-cuff comment in that sermon).
- None of this gives a preacher license to be slothful in preparation. We must study hard, prepare well and pray earnestly for God to move.
- It is God that is responsible for His Word. It is the height of presumption to think that our words will change hearts. We must be faithful stewards of the Word of God and then watch Him work.
- Preaching is widely misunderstood. Sadly, this appears to be the case in many church pulpits, let alone in the pew and society at large (see my last post, Classical Preaching).
Before I go for that Sunday nap, I’ll see if I can actually get to my Sunday Sermon Summary post that I set out to do over an hour ago.
Dr. Dressler was tough on us, particularly in our third year preaching class (some students even called him Dr. Death. Shocking). He took us straight to the Bible, assigned us a passage and then left it up to us to go home and study to find the one word that captured that passage. Only one word. The right word. That was hard. Then, we had to do an exegetical (from the text) outline of that passage that was textually defensible in every point and sub point. We were marked on that outline. Our marks fell in large chunks if we imposed ideas on that outline (and thus the text) that were not in the text. Next, we had to take that sermon and do a homiletical outline. That is, we had to make it user friendly for the congregation – well balanced and pleasantly worded. We were marked on that too – not only on content (it, too, had to be biblically defensible), but on the artistic value, if you will.
I don’t think any of us received great marks in that class (at least I know I didn’t), but the lessons we learned about God’s Word, preaching and ourselves were extremely valuable. Youthful pretensions died a slow death in Dr. Dressler's classes.
One day, after class, one of the students asked Dr. Dressler a question that we had all been discussing, “Where can we go to hear preaching like this?” When asked, Dr. Dressler just laughed (much to our surprise). He said, “No one actually preaches like this. It’s too much work.” Whoa. Did he ease up on us in class after that? Ha.
Soon after that class, I watched a dumb 80s chick flick called White Nights with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines. I don’t remember much about the movie, but there was a scene where Hines and Baryshnikov danced side by side. The dance was in Hines’ genre, but seeing the superior level of skill and grace that Baryshnikov displayed was astounding when put beside Hines – no slouch himself. I’m no dance critic – I’m the farthest thing from it - but even I could see that there was no contest. Baryshnikov was effortless and in total control of his body. As I watched that, I thought about what Dr. Dressler was doing in preaching class. He frustrated us greatly – drove us crazy – because we just couldn’t get what he was requiring. But he did us a big favor by demonstrating to us the seriousness of the preaching task. This was an introduction to classical training for preaching.
In music, writing, theatre, preaching or any other discipline, hard work put into classical training gives the practitioner wide latitude within his or her area of expertise. For instance, a classically trained pianist will be able to excel in the performance of popular music just as Baryshnikov was able to move most impressively in jazz dance (or whatever it was that Gregory Hines was renowned for doing). Reaching for the highest standards of faithfulness in terms of what God’s Word actually says will benefit the preacher even in the (occasional) topical sermon.
Dr. Dressler gave us a very lofty goal. He knew that if we kept that target in our sights, we would serve our churches more effectively, even when we fell short of those targets.
Do I preach up to those standards now? Not a chance, though some weeks are closer than others. Do I think in terms of these classical categories of theme, exegetical and homiletical outline? Yes I do. More than that, I know that no matter how much time I have to preach week by week, I’ll never reach the high goal that Dr. Dressler set for us in that class – a goal that was high because it demonstrated a great reverence for the Word of God. Even though I don’t give the exegesis (particularly) the time it deserves, I am thankful for his emphasis that God’s Word is the changeless, sufficient standard - a bottomless well of wisdom and truth.
Thank you, Dr. Dressler, for your high standards. You instilled in at least some of us a great appreciation for the Word of God and preaching. Even though, in my case, it took a few years for the significance to sink in.
Friday, December 02, 2005
The roads were slippery and the traffic was slow today in Edmonton. Winter is really with us now. That’s to be expected. Bah humbug.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
So, with evangelistic thoughts rattling through my brain and no one else in the gym, I turned to the TV (hey, you don’t expect me to work out on the treadmill in silence, do you?). This is a brand new gym and I hadn’t touched the TVs – I didn’t have a clue how to find a channel on the satellite system. There was a country music video channel on, so I just left it. The first song was something about muddy tires. Whatever. The second song was really, well, way beyond suggestive, but in a PG kind of way, if you know what I mean. You’d have to be rather out of it to not get the message (my kids read this, so I’ll quit there). I don’t know the artist or the title of the song, but what struck me was the juxtaposition of pagan desires and redemptive language. This is nothing new in popular music, of course.
One phrase in particular got my attention; something about washing away their troubles through their romantic encounter. Washing implies dirt. There were several references to problems and conflict in this song – this couple in the song had known each other for quite some time, apparently. Things were not going very well. What was the solution? Well, you know.
Is this a realistic way to find redemption? Is this a long-term solution to relationship difficulties? On the other hand, can we solve life’s problems by the other compulsions in our society, like attaining the perfect – or better – body through diet and exercise? What about a better job, a new truck (I’m in Alberta, remember), a bigger house? Drugs, alcohol? A new TV series? All of these things are part of the treadmill of finding satisfaction, meaning and joy in life. Most people are content in their lives and don’t reflect on the futility of their life pursuits. At least not until a crisis arises (see Ecclesiastes).
My last post was on postmodernism. Most people don’t know or care about these “isms.” They do care about popular music and the worldly pursuits I have listed in the previous paragraph. Once in a while, though, philosophy sneaks into pop culture, even on CMT.
People know that they are out of sync with one another. There is a universal wrongness in this that is much bigger than they can comprehend. That is why they appeal to words like “wash” and “save.” In pop music, we even come across appeals to Jesus (often with the icky adjective “sweet”). The appeals to religious language usually come in order to prop up human effort or confirm human goodness. They are rarely appeals for grace, nor are they intended to give glory to God (compare Romans 1:21).
Much of the evangelical church is having a love-in with postmodernism: “We must embrace postmodernism because this is where the world really is.” The truth is that the Big Things haven’t changed. We’re still battling the world, the flesh and the devil. The Big Things are the holiness of our Creator God and the sinfulness of man. When Paul had an opportunity to speak to Felix and Drusilla, He didn’t debate the influence of various philosophies upon the culture, he spoke about righteousness, self-control and the coming judgment (Acts 24:25). Truth is still truth. God is always sovereign. It is in unregenerate man’s nature to run from God – but no one can hide.
Twenty years ago, I had my first summer intern experience in a church. The pastor told me about “beach ball theology.” The picture is of someone trying desperately to hold a beach ball under the surface of the water when they are chest deep in a lake. They might succeed for a moment if it’s a small ball, but it will wobble and pop up before long. Of course, when it pops up, you try to stuff it down again. Futility.
That might be an interesting mental picture, but what does this have to do with theology? Consider Romans 1:18: For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (ESV). Truth is the beach ball, sinners are the person in the lake trying to hold down what cannot be contained – for long.
Back to evangelism. The Apostle Paul used the Greek culture as a point of contact when he was in Athens, even though he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols (Acts 17:16-34). He quickly took his listeners from where they were to where they needed to be – exposed to the reality of the One True God and their need to repent and believe in the One He sent to redeem (and judge) sinners.
I need to do a better job in connecting with unbelievers in Edson. I need to prayerfully look for points of contact in their world. People are hurting and there are signs that they know that something is wrong. However, I must not confuse points of contact with the more important matters of sin and redemption, repentance and faith, grace and judgment. God is holy. Man is sinful. They need reconciliation through the Saviour. These things are universal, timeless and urgent subjects for evangelism.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
If I was smart, I would tell him to read Gene Veith’s Postmodern Times and be done with it. I’m not smart, though; not if I’m attempting a brief definition of postmodernism on a blog. This is for my 13 year old son, Josh. He has the advantage of asking me questions in person. If you have questions, buy Veith’s book.
Postmodernity was labeled as such in the philosophical world in the 60s, though it didn’t get much traction in the wider world until the 90s. There is nothing new under the sun, though, and some would call Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) an early postmodernist. There are similarities.
The word postmodernism means, “that which comes after modernism.” Brilliant, eh? However, some of the most insightful commentators have argued that postmodernity is the logical outworking of modernity. In other words, they are saying that postmodernity is overrated when it is called a new category of philosophy. That, naturally, begs the question, “what is modernity?” Well, if you are familiar with that old enemy of Christianity, secular humanism, you know about modernity.
One admittedly simplistic illustration of all this is found in the metaphor of the Copernican revolution. Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543) is best remembered for his insistence that the earth revolves around the sun, not visa-versa (don’t jump on me for not getting into the historical “rest of the story here,” this is a metaphor). How does this relate to postmodernity?
- In premodern times, truth and reality all revolved around the sun of the divine. God was the center of all things; everything else took its meaning from this center.
- In modern / Enlightenment thought, man (as in humanity) became the measure of all things – the sun of the solar system. Confidence regarding the universals of truth, beauty, scientific method and etc. were maintained because of a belief in the stability of the universe and its laws, including the exalted reason of man.
- In postmodernism, the stability associated with modernity came crashing down. The universe is not as uni (one) as modernists maintained. Postmodernism challenges the source and definition of truth asserted in Enlightenment Rationalism. The Copernican Revolution in this case moves from universal human reason to the individual within his community. Reality is defined by a million little stories instead of one grand story. This means that in literature, the focus shifts from the author to the reader. In philosophy and spirituality the center moves from the uni to the many. In science, postmodernity moves from confidence in order to the acceptance of chaos.
In one sense, postmodernity has called modernity’s bluff. The universals of Western atheistic philosophy are built upon the borrowed capital of a God-centered worldview. Without the center of God and revelation, naturalistic universals in terms of truth, beauty, goodness and reason come crashing down.
Some have argued that the postmodern movement has done Christianity a favor in exposing the hubris of modernity. This is true, as far as it goes. On the other hand, that capital modernity borrowed from Christianity (truth, goodness, beauty, etc.) is real capital. When postmodernism rejects modernity, it also rejects all true universal concepts.
Most people don’t care about philosophy, but the effects of this Copernican revolution in thinking that is taking place are real. Philosophical pluralism, the new tolerance, radical individualism and a loss of respect for authority are some of the fruits of this thinking.
There are countless examples in politics, education, entertainment and the media. If you’ve had conversations with people in the lunch room or over the back fence and you’ve been puzzled at their ability to contradict themselves with no apparent sense of concern, then you’ve witnessed the fingerprint of postmodernity. Truth, reality and morality are purely individual issues to the postmodern mind.
The church is susceptible to this yeast of postmodernity. Christians must understand the times and speak God’s truth into our shifting culture. How, then, should we respond?
To be continued.
Monday, November 28, 2005
I am thankful, however, that for our church leadership, this is a goal and a priority. For many churches today, a theological discussion of the church is not even on the radar screen. Individualism reigns in so many churches. Ecumenism, pluralism, tolerance, pragmatism and political correctness all militate against a healthy theology of the church. A church that corporately strives for holiness through a disciplined membership – in both the proactive and reactive senses of discipline – is a rare thing in Western Evangelicalism.
There is a lot of good news for the church, however. First and foremost, the church is Christ’s project, and He will not fail to bring it through all challenges successfully. I praise God for modern reformers who are modeling and teaching a new generation about the richness of a disciplined, well rounded church. I could mention a few, but Mark Dever and CJ Mahaney spring to mind immediately.
The reason I am thinking of these things is not merely academic – though thinking well and clearly about the church requires no apology. I love the church because I love the people in my church and I love seeing how unity in the truth is growing breadth and depth in people that I care about. I love how it is not me but God who is working through various servants in the church to bring passion and maturity to believers in surprising and delightful ways. I am enthusiastic about the potential for leadership development and evangelistic effectiveness in our church.
Not everyone is on side. I would be a fool if I thought our church was – or could be – perfect. We have a lot of work to do, but we’ve seen God’s faithfulness through a terribly difficult year. I believe we are poised for a new year of genuine blessing. We still have some yeast of malice and wickedness in the old lumps we’re dragging around, but Christ has done all that is necessary for us to be new lumps individually and corporately.
I pray that God will give me the humility to see the yeast in my life before I try to point out the yeast in the lives of the people under my care. However, the word is our broom and we must be bold in our humility as we speak the truth in love.
Christ loves His bride. What a wonder and a joy to be among that number. May our love for the church grow stronger and stronger as we grow together in purity and maturity.