Friday, August 31, 2007

Daily Devotions - Friday, August 31, 2007

The fear of the LORD prolongs life,
but the years of the wicked will be short.
Proverbs 10:27 (ESV)


For centuries explorers have searched for the mythological "fountain of youth". According to legend, this fountain holds the secrets of life. By some accounts, its waters bring healing and prolong life. By other accounts, one sip of its watery nectar grants immortality. In ancient times, dishonest but cunning peddlers would sell bottles of water reported to be from the actual Fountain of Youth. Sincere, but naive, kings and nobleman (the only ones who could afford such items) paid dearly for what amounted to normal H2O.

Can you imagine the value of such a fountain today? Billionaires fly all over the world to the best hospitals, all to add a few years to their life. The poor cram into the hospital emergency rooms. Though they have no insurance, the seek some remedy that would allow them to gain a few years. The impoverished in other countries feebly travel to distant clinics, all in the hopes of adding some amount of time to their lives. If the Fountain of Youth were found, it would be an incredible discovery and the richest treasure known to man.

However, Christians have always had this "fountain" (though many of them fail to realize it). Yahweh claims that those who fear him are granted prolonged life. Jesus also tells us in the New Testament that he offers us "abundant life", and "eternal life". Not only will God prolong our life here, He grants us eternal life with Him.

The questions is, what is this access to life worth to you? Jesus asks only one payment: namely, that you give your life to him. Will you bow the knee to the Savior? He paid with his life, that you might have life.

The water from that fountain is the sweetest, indeed.

Prayer,

Merciful Father,
You have granted me life through your Son,
my Savior.
Take my life,
that I might have eternal life with you.
Take my life,
that I may have abundant life with on earth.
Take my life & prolong it,
that I might praise your name
for just a moment longer.
Amen.

Daily Devo - Thursday, August 30, 2007

Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes,
so is the sluggard to those who send him.
Proverbs 10:26 (ESV)

The statue to the left was sculpted in 1851 by Frederic Lord Leighton. Originally created to be on display at the Royal Academy, the statue depicts a grown man just awakened from sleep.

Sleep is wonderful, and in fact, very healthy. Long ago, one of my spiritual mentors told me that sometimes one of the most spiritual things you can do is take a nap. Often we become so overworked and over stressed that sleep becomes as necessary as it is holy. This is advice I have passed on to many others.

When the bible refers to sluggards, it is not talking about those who need or require sleep. It is referring to people who are lazy. The sluggard may be someone who holds a steady job, but in their heart they are lazy, self-indulgent individuals.

A few years back in Seminary I met a younger gentleman who was just beginning his first year. I worked in the school's bookstore, and we quickly built a friendship. Being a few years ahead of him in the program, he would come to me for research tips and general questions. "Seminary", he said, "is really tough, and I don't know what I'm doing". Then he asked for some help on an upcoming paper.

I didn't mind helping, and quickly led him to several important resources. He returned with more questions, unable to understand what the resources where saying. I read through the important passages for him and provided him a written summary. Again he returned, citing difficulty writing his paper. I gladly sat down with him and helped him form thoughts into words. Only after the project was complete did it dawn upon me that perhaps I crossed a line, and that his paper was really more my ideas than his own.

The next week he appeared again, and the week after that. For 6 weeks this practice went on, until I finally identified the real problem: the man was a sluggard. He was too lazy to do his own work, and too lazy to learn how to do it.

Do you realize that God values hard work? No, it won't get you into heaven--faith in Christ alone will do that--but born-again believers do bring honor and glory to God when we work hard. A lazy Christian is a scourge upon the Church, and a shameful thing for the local body.

Brothers and sisters, work hard for the glory of your God.

Prayer

Merciful Father,
Grant me opportunities to work for your glory.
May I recognize in each task an opportunity
to serve you. You are my master.
All the works of my hands are performed
soley for your service.
Amen.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Commentary Review

The JPS Bible Commentary series is written by distinguished Hebrew Bible scholars organized under the Jewish Publication Society. In preparation for my upcoming sermon over the book of Jonah, I purchased Uriel Simon's JPS commentary on the book of Jonah.

I found Simon's perspective truly valuable, and he has influenced my thinking tremendously regarding Jonah's message. I greatly appreciated being able to access centuries of Jewish commentary tradition, as Simon interacts heavily with the Jewish commentators that have preceded him. On the whole, Simon is rather conservative in his approach. He is, however, open to a non-historical view of the book--which he nevertheless regards as sacred text.

The commentary also deals extensively with the Hebrew text. One unique feature of the work (and I assume, the entire series) is that it is written in 'right-to-left' fashion, as does the Hebrew language. Thus, the "last page" of the commentary is really the first page. This does get annoying after a while, but that only demonstrates how much I've lost of my Hebrew skills.

The work is also unduly short (by far, the shortest of the series thus far). At less that 60 pages, I feel Simon could have done far more. However, the 60 pages are well written, and Simon rarely wastes words.

Also, one should keep in mind that this commentary is utterly devoid of a Christian perspective. It's value does not lie in its Christological interpretations. For that, I would recommend the NICOT volume. The value of this commentary is that it offers Christian scholars and pastors a rare look at scripture through the eyes of a Jewish interpreter.

_________________________________________________________

[Following information taken from another website]. The Jewish Publication Society of America was founded in Philadelphia in 1888 to provide the children of Jewish immigrants to America with books about their heritage in the language of the New World. As the oldest publisher of Jewish titles in the English language, the mission of JPS is to enhance Jewish culture by promoting the dissemination of religious and secular works of exceptional quality, in the United States and abroad, to all individuals and institutions interested in past and contemporary Jewish life.

Over the years JPS has issued a body of works for all tastes and needs. Its many titles include biographies, histories, art books, holiday anthologies, books for young readers, religious and philosophical studies, and translations of scholarly and popular classics. It is perhaps known best for its famous JPS Tanakh, the translation of the Hebrew Bible in English from the original Hebrew. You can find more information about JPS by visiting their website.

Is Jonah a Whale of a Tale?

[This post is written as a supplement to the upcoming Sunday morning sermon on the book of Jonah. The author is firmly committed to the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture.]

In scholarly writings, the historicity of the book of Jonah has long been debated. While some within the non-historical camp have attributed the book to an author who wrote the work as if it were history, most have attempted to explain it from the standpoint of a parable (or a midrash). The historical camp of scholars have generally interpreted it as true history, and strive to explain each detail.

Question: Is the denial of Jonah's historicity a denial of the inerrancy of Scripture?
Answer: Not necessarily. The question isn't whether or not we can trust the message of Jonah, but rather whether or not the book of Jonah is intended to be taken as true history. For example, it isn't a denial of biblical inerrancy when one says Jesus' parables are not true historical accounts. Most understand that these are simply stories intended to convey a moral message. The real question is whether Jonah is to be viewed as a parable, or as a factual account. Neither answer rejects inerrancy.

Question: Does the book of Jonah present itself as a historical, factual account?
Answer: Yes and no. The book never identifies itself as a parable or story (but again, most fictional stories do not). However, in the New Testament Jesus' stories are clearly introduced as parables. The opening words of the book of Jonah are almost identical to the opening words of the other minor prophets. Thus, there is no clear "mark" within the book that it is intended to be taken as a fictional story.

However, when compared to other historical works within the bible we do see clear differences. Esther, for example, is full of names, dates, historical facts (state wide taxation, etc), and appeal to outside historical documents (Chronicles of the Kings of Persia & Media). Jonah, by contrast, is utterly devoid of such detail--almost as if the historical and realistic detail is subdued in order to emphasize and intensify the theological detail. In terms of biblical historical works, Jonah is clearly different from the rest. If it is an historical work, it is an "odd" one.

Question: Wasn't it proven than someone could be swallowed by a whale and live?
Answer: Those scholars in the non-historical camp have argued for centuries that no human could survive in the belly of a whale. They took this as proof of the books fictional character. In the late 1800's (or early 1920's, by some accounts), a sailor of a large whaling ship was thrown overboard during the pursuit of a sperm whale and thought drowned. After harvesting the whale, its stomach was cut open the next day (in later versions of the story it was expanded to 3 days) and the group found the missing sailor---unconscious but still alive. The story has been widely repeated by a number of conservative Christian writers, including Bernard Ramm, Harry Rimmer and the creationist Henry Morris; and also in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary on Jonah and the IVP Bible Dictionary. Sadly, it appears the story is entirely false, and was proven to be so shortly after it first emerged. (look here for a deeper study into the whale story).

However, it should be noted that the historicity of Jonah does not rely on the truth of this modern-day account. As one who believes in the miraculous, I have no problem with the whale story. In my mind, this does not suggest the story is meant to be seen as fiction.

Question: Didn't Jesus believe the story of Jonah was true and factual?
Answer: Again, we don't really know. In Matthew 12:40, Jesus said,
"For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Sadly, this doesn't really prove our case one way or the other. While this is language similar to what we use when talking about historical events, it is also language we use when speaking about literary, non-historical events. For example, if carrying a heavy load down a step incline, I might say, "I'd better be careful, or else I'll fall and break my crown just like Jack". This doesn't mean I believe the story of Jack and Jill is literally true. It may simply mean I see an analogy between the two.

Question: Haven't most Christian scholars and theologians throughout church history taken the book of Jonah as historical?
Answer: Yes. Writing against the Marcionite heretics,
St. John Chrysostom stated,"For tell me, was Jonah in the whale's belly a mere appearance? Nay, thou canst not say so. Therefore neither was Christ in the heart of the earth such". The earliest commentaries seem to take Jonah at face value (though there is some evidence that at least a few of the patristic scholars took a non-literal approach). However, the patristic scholars are troubling because they interpreted the text through the grid of allegory. That is, they sought the symbolic meaning behind every literal passage. While not necessarily a denial of the literal, in application it meant discussion on the literal aspects of the texts was ignored.

Question: How should we view the book of Jonah

Answer: There seems to be four main options:
#1 - The work is entirely fictitious, though the author intended the reader to take it as history.
#2 - The work is entirely fictitious, and the author intended the reader to take it as a parable.
#3 - The work is completely historical and reliable. The events actually happened as stated.
#4 - The evidence is unclear. It could be either #2 or #3, but it wouldn't change the message.

The first is not an option for evangelical Christians. Not only does it reject the inerrancy of Scripture, I do not think it handles the evidence correctly. It is a bad conclusion based on based scholarship.

The second is indeed a valid option for Christians, but I do not think its case has been as strongly made as is sometimes claimed. The fact is there is very little evidence to suggest the book was originally meant to be taken a fiction. This option, however, is bolstered by the fact that the book doesn't seem to neatly fit into any known biblical category of written history. Also, there seems to be clear exaggerations within the text (a common and intentional feature in parabolic stories)--such as Jonah taking 3 days to walk across Ninevah (conservative explanations that the Bible really means a group of cities requires insertion of an idea not found in the text, and is frankly a bit too creative for my tastes).

The third option is also quite strong. As mentioned above, it suffers from the fact that Jonah doesn't really fit the pattern of historical narrative. It is strengthened, however, from the fact that the book begins in a virtually identical way to all the other Minor Prophets. Therefore, from the onset the book seems to present itself as factual history.

The fourth option is perhaps the preferred. I do not think this is a question that can be answered satisfactorily. However, due to the lack of clear evidence to the contrary, I personally hold to option #3. To me, the opening lines to the book "tip the scale" in favor of an historical, factual reading.

Question: Does my choice of options affect the book's meaning?
Answer: With the exception of #1 above, none of the choices affects the books message in any meaningful way. Whether one views this book as a parable intended to convey a message from God, or as God sovereignly arranging historical events to present his message, the message remains the same.

Whether parable or history, the book is pointing you towards its message. I think we should listen.

Daily Devo - Wednesday, August 29, 2007

When the tempest passes, the wicked is no more,
but the righteous is established forever.
Provers 10:25 (ESV)*

There are storms in life that are unavoidable.

...a mother lost her job due to cutbacks, and the family now faces loosing their home.

...a young couple rushes to the hospital. Something is wrong with her pregnancy, and doctors tell her the baby might be lost.

...a college-aged girl is raped on a date. When she builds up enough courage to report the incident, the police officer suggests it is simply a case of "after-sex remorse" and refuses to investigate.

...a grieving mother loses her adult daughter to cancer, and is left with two impaired grandchildren to raise.

The word "tempest" above could also be translated "storm", "Hurricane", "whirlwind", or even "tornado". It refers to a violent, swirling, destructive force that destroys everything in its path. Notice, the verse doesn't say that only the wicked will endure storms. Everyone will, even Christians. As long as we live in this world, we will experience storms that threaten our very existence.

But storms can be survived, if one has the proper foundation. For those who refuse to trust in God, they literally "disappear" into the storm. In other words, the storms of life consume them. They are destroyed spiritually, emotionally, and perhaps even physically.

Yet, the storm is not all-powerful. It can be survived. Those who trust in the Lord have been given a strong foundation. Yes, the storm still rages on. But like the big, bad wolf at the house made of bricks, all it can do is 'huff and puff' and threaten. The house is never coming down.

Fellow believers, your house is built on the rock of Jesus Christ. It cannot be cracked or shifted. In the face of your storms, remember who you are---and trust in the Great Builder.

Prayer

Merciful Father,
In you,
we survive the storms of life.
In your Spirit,
we are granted comfort during the tempest.
In your Son,
we are built upon a rock no whirlwind can move.
May we trust in you.
Amen.



* All Scripture taken from the English Standard Version.

Fractured Foundation #4: HISTORICAL IDENTITY - PART 1



FRACTURED FOUNDATIONS (Areas in Which Baptist Churches Must Grow):

#4: Historical Identity - Part 1


"Doctrine divides!" That's the popular belief of our culture today, as its sails on the shifting sea of modern day relativism. Our generation shouts out, "It doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere." Throughout our history as Baptists, many Baptist movements have proclaimed the same mantra. Yet, the Bible portrays a very different message. According to sacred scripture, there are such things as "damnable heresies" (2 Peter 2:1) - heresies that damn the soul.


A famous saying, usually attributed to Augustine, states that “in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity”. The problem, however, lies in determining which doctrines are essential. For centuries the church has struggled to determine those beliefs that are non-negotiable. In other words, what must one believe in order to be a Christian? Thus, while all doctrine is important, some doctrines are more important than others. Throughout history, creeds and confessions have been valuable tools at summarizing true, faithful, and orthodox doctrine that defines true belief.


No Creed but Christ. According to some, the Baptist movement has long distanced itself from creeds and confessions. Some point to John Smyth, the historical founder of the Baptist movement, who took exception to the church enforcing creeds. He believed that, "Christ only is the king, and lawgiver of the church and conscience." Others point to the Southern Baptists, who in 1845, when the Southern Baptist Convention was founded, refused to write a statement of beliefs saying they would follow, "No creed, but the Bible." However, both John Smyth and the original SBC did write confessions of faith (The SBC called it The Abstract of Principles). Baptists – from the very beginning – have been a creedal people.


Since heresies of all forms continually plague the church, some sort of common understanding of orthodox doctrine is necessary. While the “no creed but Christ” mantra may protect us from the tyranny of religious institutionalism, it leaves us virtually unprotected from those “wolves in sheep’s clothing” that would distort the faith of the church.


Is There a Difference Between "Creeds" and "Confessions" - Some Baptist historians say yes, others say no. For instance, read this quote: "Baptists have always been a confessional people and not a creedal people," said Leon McBeth, distinguished professor of church history at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. "A creed excludes, and a confession includes. A creed tells you what you must believe, and a confession affirms what you do believe".

However, this simply isn't the case. Local congregations exclude those who do not adhere to the church's statement of Faith, and Creeds are inclusive to all who believe them. While McBeth is a fine historian, he is splitting hairs on this issue.

"No Creed But Christ" is a statement used to either hide ignorance or heresy. Heretics love it, because it gives them full, unquestioned access to the sheep within God's kingdom. Fools love it because they are allowed to become their own master's--being subject to no authority save their own depraved, uniformed thinking. Frankly, the Baptist "distinctive" of Individual Soul Liberty is utter nonsense--as it is defined by many today. We are to submit to human authority, however, never at the expense of Scriptural truth. Creeds and Confessions are indeed fully authoritative documents. However, they are authoritative only insofar as the truly represent Scripture. The Southern Baptist Church is a perfect case study of the odd intertwining of creedalism and anti-creedalism. They have written a Confession of Faith, but do not require its individual churches to adhere to it. As such, it is a meaningless document that has lost all power to teach and instruct the people of God.

Baptists have a proud heritage of being a creedal people. But, they also have a strain that has rejected creeds and confessions. For the movement to regain a true sense of biblical fidelity, it must reclaim its place within the creedal tradition.

In part two, we will examine several historical baptist confessions and creeds.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Daily Devo - Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What the wicked dreads will come upon him,
but the desire of the righteous will be granted.
Proverbs 10:24 (ESV)

Remember me? I'm your dirty little secret. I'm that thing that you love and hate all at the same time. The thing that you indulge in, but are terrified that someone might find out. I have the power of ruining your reputation. I can ruin your marriage. I could destroy your relationship with your children. I could get you fired. I can make all those that you love turn away from you in disgust. I have complete power over you, because you keep giving me that power. I am not content with staying a secret. I will own all of you, eventually.

Remember me? I'm the desire of your righteous heart. You dream about me and think about me throughout your day. In me you see the very face of God. I am the presence of Yahweh Himself, as well as the deep reservoir of His blessings. I am His holy Will, and His perfect Word. You delight in my presence, and eagerly anticipate fully receiving all I have to offer. You live and minister in this fallen world because I have asked you to, but your heart's true home could never be away from me. I seek to restore your broken soul, and bring healing to your relationships. I exist to make you a better father, mother, brother, sister, and servant. Ultimately, I exist to make you an esteemed child of God. I am not content with staying a dream. You will have all of me, eventually.

Which voice is talking in your ear?


Prayer,

Merciful Father,
May I hear only one voice.
Remove that hideous, foul voice.
Its sound is horrid, and its message perverse.
But that sweet voice that flows from your throne
is indeed a lovely fragrance. It offers hope,
and is a balm for my self-inflicted wounds.
I love that voice, but most of all I love you.
Amen.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Sometimes It Just Happens

Fellow Pastors,

We have all preached lousy sermons. In fact, despite our best planning it seems impossible to avoid occasionally repeating that practice. Remember that old maxim from seminary about the three different types of sermons:

(1) the one you plan to preach
(2) the one you actually preached
(3) and the one you wished you preached".

Last night what I planned to preach, and what I wished I preached, was miles away from what I actually preached. (Long ago, I posted a similar article, but it bears repeating).

Honestly, it wasn't due to lack of study. I knew the passage and translated it myself from Greek. I even parsed the verbs and performed a diagrammatical analysis just for the heck of it. I explored multiple commentaries, even including the ancient church fathers (Chrysostom's writings on Matthew are excellent, and far more insightful than most modern commentaries).

As I sat in the front pew before the sermon I was fully confident that this was going to be a dynamic sermon.

Ahhhhhh! Now many will guess the issue was one of pride. Perhaps it was, but honestly the sermon was bathed in prayer. My intention was for people to better know God, and understand his word.

But then something happened. If your a pastor, you know exactly what I am talking about. When I opened my mouth to begin speaking I realized this was going to be a horrible sermon. Just then! Not before! Only at that moment did I realize I was going to bore myself to death. Worse yet, I made the horrible mistake of thinking that if I just kept talking I could dig myself out of my self-made hole. My poor people had to endure going 10 minutes over (now 40 full minutes of mind-numbing, zombie-inducing, please-Father-let-it-end, sermonic terror). A seasoned pastor isn't one who never preaches a bad sermon, but he is one who knows when to let his people out 10 minutes earlier instead. One old expression I love (but seemed to ignore) says, "If your not hitting oil after 20 minutes, quite boring".

Rambling statements, mental lapses, beginning of a story while forgetting what that story had to do with anything, having a congregant read a verse that had nothing to do with my message, poor logic sequence of points, shaky applications. Vague statements. It was bad. Preaching is a nasty little demon, and one which is very difficult to subdue. Yet, my people endured. They politely smiled, and were full of sympathy and grace. I love them for their wonderful and loving spirits.

As I lay in bed that night, I asked my wife what she thought of the sermon. Naturally outspoken, she has learned to be more reserved in offering her sometimes crushingly-honest opinion. Wisely, she returned the question back to me, and I told her I thought it was one of the worst sermons I've ever preached.

She replied, "I couldn't agree more".

Amen, and goodnight.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Falwell's Legacy

I have not posted anything on Jerry Falwell, partly because so much had already been written about him withing the blogging community since his death. Christianity Today ran a brief article about the man, and accounts of his life and work have appeared in numerous publications.

Yes, Jerry Falwell was a hated man. The liberals loathed him and thought of him as a militant fundamentalist, and the extreme fundamentalists loathed him and thought of him as a compromising liberal. Well, if the two groups I can't stand hated him, then the enemy of my enemies must be my friend.....

Actually, I have long respected Dr. Falwell. Yes, he held some positions that I do disagree with. Sometimes his policies seemed to be far too much "pro-war" (though in fairness, Falwell repeatedly stated he was never pro-war). One incident that I thought was particularly shameful was Falwell's signing of a missile. Even if one believes our country has a right to defend itself (which it does), and even if one believes our country has a duty to ensure peace throughout the world (which, to a limited degree, it does), it is inexcusable for a pastor to glorify killing by signing his name to a weapon intended to kill image bearers of God. As pastors, though we may believe war is necessary, it is still something to be mourned. Falwell was far too militaristic.

Still, Falwell was a strong advocate of good Christian citizenship. While the "moral majority" experiment was fundamentally flawed (i.e. trying to secure a Christian ethical base within a country that has rejected the Christian theological foundation), he rightly stressed the need for Christians to be active in the political arena.

Falwell also was a man of mercy and compassion. He war wasn't just against liberalism. It was against poverty, drug use, homelessness, teenage runaways, and so much more. Though rarely recognized, he was in effect a protestant Mother Theresa.

This leads me to what I believe is Falwel''s real legacy. No one has captured the true spirit of Falwell better than Larry Flynt. Yes, THAT Larry Flynt. The Larry Flynt of Hustler fame.
After Falwell's death, Flynt wrote the following:

“The Reverend Jerry Falwell and I were arch enemies for fifteen years. We became involved in a lawsuit concerning First Amendment rights and Hustler magazine. Without question, this was my most important battle – the l988 Hustler Magazine, Inc., v. Jerry Falwell case, where after millions of dollars and much deliberation, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in my favor. My mother always told me that no matter how much you dislike a person, when you meet them face to face you will find characteristics about them that you like. Jerry Falwell was a perfect example of that. I hated everything he stood for, but after meeting him in person, years after the trial, Jerry Falwell and I became good friends. He would visit me in California and we would debate together on college campuses. I always appreciated his sincerity even though I knew what he was selling and he knew what I was selling. The most important result of our relationship was the landmark decision from the Supreme Court that made parody protected speech, and the fact that much of what we see on television and hear on the radio today is a direct result of my having won that now famous case which Falwell played such an important role in.” –Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler Magazine

There is much evil in that quote, as to be expected from Flynt. But there is something in there that is startling, and very, very Christ-like. Though Falwell staunchly defended the Judeo-Christian ethic, and was uncompromising on that point, personally he was a kind and gracious man. Larry Flynt recognized this immediately when meeting him. He couldn't help but like the man.

Jerry Falwell's true legacy was that he was committed to people just as much as he was committed to truth. He embodied the gospel. Certainly it was a gospel with flaws, but the true gospel nonetheless.

Friends, staunchly defend the truth.....but love people in the process. If people don't like you when they meet you, it's not because you are a great defender of the faith...it's because your a jerk. Christ's love is also a truth that we are called to defend, and to live, before the eyes of a pagan world.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

New Books Arrived

Today I finally received my shipment from Desiring God Ministries. I took full advantage of the $5 per book deal that was offered several weeks ago. Here are the titles:

1. Sex and the Supremacy of Christ
2. The Supremacy of God in Preaching (replacement copy)
3. When the Darkness Will Not Lift
4. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (replacement copy)
5. God is the Gospel
6. Preaching the Cross
7. When I Don't Desire God: How to Fight for Joy
8. Battling Unbelief
9. Suffering and the Sovereignty of God
10. A Godward Life
11. Taste and See

I also ordered several booklets:

1. Gravity and Gladness on Sunday Morning
2. TULIP: The Pursuit of God's Glory in Salvation
3. Why We Believe the Bible
4. Biblical Exegesis
5. A Baptist Catechism
6. What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism
7. Prayer, Meditation, and Fasting

All these books, and realistically no time to read them. I am hurriedly trying to get through Bavinck's Prolegomena, and probably shouldn't start anything else until that is finished. I think first up will be "God is the Gospel", probably followed by "When the Darkness Will Not Lift".

Blessings

Disturbing Political Result

Another blogger led me to an online survey meant to determine my political standing. I was very surprised by the results, and frankly question them. Regardless, here they are:


CandidateTotal Score
Democratic Party61.39 %
Republican Party46.52 %

CandidateTotal Score
Joe Biden70.25 %
Chris Dodd66.46 %
Sam Brownback65.82 %
Dennis Kucinich63.92 %
Hillary Clinton60.44 %
Barack Obama59.81 %
John Edwards59.18 %
Bill Richardson57.91 %
John McCain56.01 %
Mike Huckabee54.11 %
Mitt Romney51.58 %
Ron Paul48.73 %
Duncan Hunter46.52 %
Rudy Guiliani45.89 %
Tom Tancredo43.35 %
Fred Thompson41.14 %

Some of this comes from my position on environmental issues, my openness to a limited form of universal health care, my aversion to the Republican party's aggressive stance against illegal immigration, and the fact that I lean left-of-center on tax issues. I am aggressively anti-abortion. Still, why Joe Biden? That's insulting, and I'm WAY too close to Hillary. But, as you can tell by the percentages, I don't really fit any of the candidates. Perhaps I should run.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Pastors, Preach the Prophets

I am taking a bold step. I've decided to challenge myself and my congregation by preaching a 12-part sermon series through the Minor Prophets.

Yes---"doom-n-gloom" and all.

Christians fear the Minor Prophets (at least, those Christians who actually know what the Minor Prophets are). The language of the prophets is harsh, cutting, and direct. They prattle on about things that you and I shrug off. Forever they cry "repent", and promise the judgment of God if they are not heeded.

Yet there is also a message of profound joy, hope, salvation, and mercy in the prophets. Believe it or not, this is really their main message. Hidden within the rough exterior and sharp words is the tender soul of a man concerned for the welfare of his world.

Yet preaching the prophets can be difficult. The message of the books sound roughly the same, and if done poorly the congregation will soon tire of the theme. However, preachers do not have the liberty to be creative to the point of losing biblical fidelity (though, let's be honest, this has never really been a concern of either conservative or liberal pastors--however, it should be to us).

Pastors, I would urge you to preach the prophets. Below I mention several sources helpful for understanding the prophets. I have decided NOT to post a list for each book. Rather, for this post I will concentrate only on works that cover all 12 of the Minor Prophets.

I have found the following sources very helpful:

1. Sweeney, M.A. Berit Olam: The Twelve Prophets, 2 Volumes. (Liturgical Press).

This is a Catholic publication, but quite honestly it doesn't really seem to surface that much. The aim of this particular series is literary analysis. While Sweeney looks at each individual book, he also notices the "whole". He understands that the 12 were intended to be read as one literary unit, with one main message. Therefore, each book is also analyzed according to its function within the larger unit. An excellent resource!

2. Dever, Mark. The Message of the Old Testament. (Crossway).

Pastor Dever has here collected a series of sermons covering each book of the Old Testament. One sermon per book! It was this series that originally sparked my desire to do something similar...though perhaps more limited in nature. I have found his sermons on the Minor Prophets very helpful. In fact, I have taken what he refers to as the "Twelve Eternal Questions" and used them for my own sermons. For each of the Minor Prophets, Dever "asks" the book one eternal question. The sermon is then shaped around the answer to this question. One hint of warning: keep in mind that Dever is preaching to an affluent, highly educated Washington D.C. crowd. This comes through in his sermons (where he freely quotes everyone from Camus to Nietzche). I also tend to disagree with his analysis of the books, though these disagreements are usually minor in nature. In general, I take little from his actual content, though his sermons have greatly blessed me personally, and I consider this a MUST HAVE resource.


3. Chrisholm. Handbook of the Prophets (Baker Books).

An an excellent summary of the the author, background, and message of each of the Old Testament prophetic books (including the Minor Prophets). A helpful place to begin for each of the twelve books.

4. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol XIV - The Twelve Prophets (IVP)


This is a mixed bag. While on the one hand it sheds fascinating light on the Early Church's exposure to, opinion on, and application of the Minor Prophets, in most congregations quoting never-heard-of church fathers is probably not a great idea. I cannot promise you'll find much sermonic content from this book, but it will greatly expand your appreciation of the Prophets, and of the church fathers. (FYI - I also am using the volume on Matthew in preparation for my Sunday PM messages. I find much in that volume that I can bring into my sermons).

5. McComiskey (Editor). An Exegetical & Expositional Commentary on the Minor Prophets - 3 Vols (Baker Books)

An excellent collection of resources. Conservative, evangelical, with an eye for the pastor. Yet, the volumes are also scholarly and unafraid to go where the textual evidence leads them. This is also a MUST HAVE resource. I rely on this work heavily.

6. English Standard Version

Perhaps this one might surprise you. I just wanted to make another plug for the ESV. In my opinion, it is unrivaled in accuracy and readability. In order to study these books thoroughly, it is important you have the best Bible version on the market. Buy a copy, photo copy the pages of the Minor Prophets (**is that legal???**) and write all over them. I actually enlarge the pages as big as I can and paste them up in my office. That way I keep the words of my text before my eyes throughout the week.

Few People Bother to Read

According to a recent Fox News poll, over 27% of the American population read no books in 2006. Nothing. Zip. Nada. Not even a comic book.

Look at these other statistics:

* Less than 5% of the readers read a classical work.

* Of the readers, the average woman read 9 books.

* Of the readers, the average man read 5 books.

* Democrats read more than Republicans (I'll let you draw your own conclusions).

* Those who never attend religious services read nearly twice as much as those who say they attend regularly.

* Southerners have a lower reading percentage, but those who do read tend to read more books than those in other regions--mostly religious books and romance novels (wow, so much for discernment).

* Less than 5% of those surveyed read poetry.

Josh's Comments: On this issue, Evangelical and Fundamental versions of Christianity are on equal footing. The former dumbs down the gospel to make it more appealing to its audience. It willingly sacrificed the gospel on the altar of cultural relevance. The later dumbs down the gospel because it never acquired an intelligent grasp on the gospel in the first place. At least on this issue, Evangelicalism has committed the greater evil.

An entire culture is sinking in the muck of stupidity. The church must rise above this and call its people to the glorious task of the "renewal of the mind". On this score, those church's standing in the Reformed tradition have done more for the church than any other Christian movement.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Looking Ahead

My schedule will probably not allow me to actively post anything until Tuesday. Daily Devo's will resume late Tuesday night.

As for other upcoming posts this week, stay tuned for the following:

1. The next edition of "Fractured Foundation" - this time looking at the Baptists and their self-awareness (or lack thereof) with the larger historic church.

2. A retraction of a previous "Fractured Foundation" - I'll save which one for later, but I am tweaking my position slightly.

3. Recommended resources for pastor's who wish to preach through the Minor Prophet.

Stay tuned...

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Daily Devo - Sunday, August 19, 2007

"Doing wrong is like a joke to a fool,
but wisdom is pleasure
to a man of understanding."
Proverbs 10:23 (ESV)

I love watching movies. I don't really watch much TV (actually, I almost never do). However, I'm always up for a family friendly video, an old-fashion Western, or even a contemporary action movie.

Yet, over the past several years I've noticed something happening to me as I watch movies. Simply put, there are many types of movies I no longer find entertaining. In fact, some types of movies I previously thought wonderful I now find distasteful, and even revolting.

I have become particularly sensitive to movies in which people are killed (which is just about every action movie ever created). Yes, I know the arguments: "It's only acting", "It's not real, but it depicts reality and we need to know it". Blah, blah, blah.

You see, when I watch someone being blown on the screen away all I can see is that we have made the slaughter of the Image of God an entertainment. Look at the rise of horror movies. Slaughter, blood, gore, twisted evil of every variety---and our Christian culture flocks to these movies. How is it that we, as Christians, have come to delight in such evil? It has become a thrill, a rush, a joke---and we have become no more than a fool before our God.

"BUT IT ISN'T REAL" someone may scream. Really? Sometimes I think our imaginations, which are simply the canvas of our hearts, are the "truest" part of us. Do you delight in evil? No, you say. Take a close look at what you find entertaining, and then think about that question again.

Prayer,

Merciful Father,
Teach me to take no delight in evil,
regardless of its form.
You are God, and you are good.
May I only delight in you.
Amen.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Daily Devo - Saturday, August 18, 2007

"When words are many,
transgression is not lacking,
but whoever restrains his lips is prudent."
Proverbs 10:19 (ESV)

Let me first say that this verse is a preacher's nightmare. As someone who was hired to "speak", this verse causes 'fear and trembling'.

But can this verse really be true? I'm afraid it is (...and I say this from first-hand experience). If a person speaks long enough, eventually evil will come out.

I once spent much time with an older gentleman who was entering into advanced stages of Alzheimer's disease. The disease wore away at his natural inhibitions (i.e. our natural "common sense" that helps us refrain from doing or saying things we or others find objectionable). Even though this man lived a life of faithful to God, and was an example to many, his last years were spent voicing his sexual fantasies and making suggestive comments to the nursing staff. Everyone patiently understood and graciously dealt with the situation, and few would blame this man for his words & actions. Yet, his words revealed something that was deep inside his heart. As he lost his inhibitions, his heart was finally revealed.

While few of us are as extreme in giving a voice to the sin in our hearts, sin has a way of finding an exit. It refuses to stay hidden deep within us. It wants all of us. The tongue is a most useful organ for sin. Sin knows the more the tongue is used, it is only a manner of time before it will escape.

Remember the last time you lost your temper? ...told a lie? ...participated in gossip? ...laughed at, or even told, an off-color joke? In all of these instances, your tongue allowed your heart to escape.

Guard your heart, and hold your tongue. If you do these things, you are on the path to true wisdom.

Prayer

Merciful Father,
You created my tongue to bring you praise,
and to edify others.
I have defiled it,
and thereby brought
dishonor to you.
Teach me to hold my tongue.
Amen

Friday, August 17, 2007

Daily Devo - Friday, August 17, 2007

"The one who conceals hatred
has lying lips,
and whoever utters slander
is a fool."
Proverbs 10:18 (ESV)


Anger is one of those emotions that few people handle with moderation. As with much else in life, expressions of anger usually fall between two extremes.

On one extreme is the person who has never learned to express their feelings. They bottle up their anger inside, usually due to fear or feelings of inadequacy. They have never learned to set appropriate boundaries in life. The more they are abused (verbally, physically, emotionally, etc), the more they cave inward...literally being eaten from within by the poisonous anger & depression that is never released. While our compassionate hearts might go out to such persons (and well they should), we must remember that Scripture calls this deceit. They are lying to everyone around them, lying to God, and lying to themselves. Scripture calls on them to be open and honest with their anger.

On the other extreme is the individual who explodes in anger. They are easily provoked, and take little effort in controlling their tongues. Sometimes they even try to sound noble, making statements such as "at least you know what I think". While there is nothing inherently sinful in expressing (or even feeling) anger, they make anger an abomination because they unleash personal, vicious attacks on others. They make accusations, call names, and bring unwarranted charges. Their anger becomes a sword with which to attack others.

Scripture isn't afraid of anger. Yet, it does call on us to feel and express anger in God-honoring, healthy ways. If your in one of the two extremes mentioned above, then anger already controls you. Take control of it again...express your anger...but do so in ways that bring opportunities of healing and restoration, not in ways that cut and destroy.

Prayer

Merciful Father,
It is foolish of us to deny our anger.
May we be angry but not sin.
Grant us the courage to throw off the controlling
yoke of anger.
Give us the wisdom to express it in ways that
bring honor to your name.
Amen.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Daily Devo - Thursday, August 16, 2007

"Whoever heeds instruction
is on the path to life,
but he who rejects reproof
leads others astray."
- Proverbs 10:17 (ESV)


America is founded upon the principle of 'rugged individualism'. Historians and supporters of American culture are quick to point out the many benefits this cultural ideology has produced--and to a large degree they make many good points.

Yet there is also a dark side to rugged individualism. As the image to the left indicates, we tend to view those who follow instructions as "dumb", or at the least someone who should not be admired. We admire the rebel, the man who 'pulls himself up by his boot straps', the individual who takes charge of her own live. Our history is full of this type of sentiment. The old idea of "Go West, Young Man" (i.e. make your own way in life) is still strongly among us.

Yet again, Scripture has a different view--and it turns this world upside down on its head. The Bible says it is the wise person, not the fool, who listens to instruction. The fool insists that God only speaks to him, the wise know that God speaks through others.

Are you open to instruction, or are you usually the one who 'has all the answers'? Listen, heed, learn---and be wise.

Prayer

Merciful Father,
Protect me from my own foolish heart.
Even more, protect others from my utter foolishness.
Grant me opportunities to be instructed by others,
that I may be wise, for your glory and honor.
Amen.

Spurgeon Conference for Pastors

Lord willing, I plan on attending the Spurgeon Conference (which I only just discovered a few days back). Of special interest is a speaker (I think the founder) of Soli Deo Gloria publications, along with a traveling bookstore of sorts. It looks wonderful.....Reformed, Baptistic, and deep.

One downer: Men only. I generally prefer conferences that are also open to pastor's wives.

The conference is in beautiful Northern Michigan--about 1.5 hours from my house. Hope many of you can make it.

Check it out: http://www.spurgeonconference.org/about.htm

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Daily Devo - Wednesday, August 15, 2007

On the lips of him who has understanding,
wisdom is found,

but a rod is for the back of him
who lacks sense.
Proverbs 10:13 (ESV)


Have you ever watched a Mr. Bean episode? The British comedian is absolutely brilliant. He is a throw back to the silent film days, relying on slapstick humor, mannerisms, and sheer oddity to create a laugh. What makes Mr. Bean so funny is his original and goofy methods for handling the seemingly trivial affairs of daily life. In short, he does what no "thinking" human being would ever do.

Whereas the Mr. Bean program indicates that such "fools" are very rare, in reality it is the wise person who is in fact rare. Wise men and women seem to have an understanding about them. They live life like it were a dance, and their movements are as graceful as they are precise. Fools, on the other hand, crash through life like a drunk driver--unable to avoid disaster. They are individuals of limited understanding and unlimited problem-making.

Search for people in your life who are wise. Sit at their feet, and heed their counsel.

Prayer

Merciful Father,
All understanding and wisdom comes from you.
Bring counselors into my life,
men & women to whom you have granted these things.
May I hear them, only to better hear you.
Amen.

A helpful video explaining the various strands of the "Emerging Church"

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Fractured Foundations #3: FANATICAL CONGREGATIONALISM



FRACTURED FOUNDATIONS (Areas in Which Baptist Churches Must Grow):

#3: Fanatical Congregationalism

For those who have been following this series of posts, you know that we have been exploring certain elements of the Baptist tradition that I suggest need to experience reformation. While within some segments of the Baptist movement there has arisen extreme, bizarre, and even heretical ideologies (such as Landmarkism), this series of posts is not designed to address these (unwelcome) new 'blots' on the Baptist landscape. Instead, I am addressing those fractured elements that were part of our original "DNA".

The third growth area is the issue of congregational government. To be Baptist, one must hold to some form of congregationalism. This is directly tied to (though not equivalent to) the doctrine of the autonomy of the local church. According to this structure, each church is locally autonomous, and therefore does not submit to any governing body outside itself. The congregation is considered the final human authoritative body, which is expected to willingly submit itself to the authoritative word of God.

So far everything sounds good. However, the problem arises when one considers the degree to which congregationalism is pressed. In other words, on which issues should the congregation deliberate, and on which issues must it submit to the decisions of the leadership.

Historically, there has always been a spectrum within the Baptist movement. Even today, there are Baptist leaders and thinkers that are all over the map on this one. It is my view that Scripture does not support an aggressive congregational form of government, but rather a congregationalism that is limited in focus and purpose.

In many Baptist churches it is believed that the congregation must vote on almost every issue. One need only think about churches that have fought over carpet color, lawn mower brands, or which flower shop to use. Simply read through the old (or even current) minutes of many Baptist churches and you will notice many silly items discussed and voted upon--and this is true of countless Baptist churches all over North America. In these churches every one has an opinion, and every issue is claimed to be something worthy of debate. "Business meetings" (a phrase I banned in my church) became places that fought over whether to give the sick flowers or a plant, which chair the visiting speaker should sit in, which color of bulletin paper is most appropriate, where the secretary should buy the office supplies, or which brand of toilet paper is best.

When something is not voted upon, the congregation (and many times the leaders) are quick to scream: "The New Testament teaches congregationalism!" Many even go so far as to claim that the Bible teaches that church government is a democracy! However, there is almost no attempt to thoroughly look into the nature of this supposed congregationalism. When one looks closely at Scripture, it is very easy to see that the supposedly "clear" congregationalism is almost nonexistent. Only a few vague references here and there.

Odd, isn't it. An entire doctrine of congregationalism supported by only a handful of indirect, nondescript biblical statements. Even if it assumed that Scripture advocates congregationalism (which I do), there is a deeper question which must be asked: "On what matters did the local church of the New Testament era vote upon?" The only answer I can find is the selection of leaders (particularly in Acts 6, with vague statements elsewhere....even the meaning of these passages are debated).

There is no recorded vote in the New Testament on any issue save the selection of leaders. It is interesting, then, that so many Baptist churches carry out what amounts to an unscriptural and excessive form of congregationalism.

If Scripture doesn't warrant such an approach, what is "feeding" or giving birth to this system? I would argue that Churches that practice excessive congregationalism do so not out of loyalty to Scripture, but rather out of an autonomous spirit that refuses to submit to human leadership (contra Hebrews 13). Insistence that the church must vote on every issue is really a declaration that one does not trust, and will not submit to, the very leaders they selected to lead them.

If the church is to be all that it is called to be, we would do well to return to Scripture's more restrained version of congregationalism.

Daily Devo - Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"The wise of heart will receive commandments,
but a babbling fool will come to ruin".
- Proverbs 10:8 (ESV)

Have you ever taken the moment to study a wise person? Of course, a lot of people think they are wise, but I am talking here of the truly wise individual.

I have noticed something about such persons that I think is amazing: they have no problem taking advice, and even orders, from others. Most importantly, they actively seek out God's commandments and apply these to their lives. They are marked by a humility of spirit. A wise person seeks wisdom, but never broadcasts that he has acquired it. Only a fool claims he is wise.

Fools, on the other hand, are people who seek to be a law unto themselves. They are stubborn. Not only do they refuse to submit to the commandments of others, but even the commandments of God.

Are you wise, or are you a fool? Perhaps the answer can be found in your willingness to submit. Do you have to be seen as better? Superior? "In-charge"? Intelligent? Or rather, do you humbly submit to your Lord, and to the people around you?

Be wise, and stop playing the fool.

Prayer

Merciful Father,
You are the storehouse and author of true wisdom.
Adam & Eve vainly sought wisdom
in order to be above all.
Grant me wisdom that I may be below all.
The glory is yours, may it never be mine.
Amen.


Monday, August 13, 2007

Daily Devo - Monday, August 13, 2007


"He who gathers in the summer
is a prudent son,
but he who sleeps in harvest
is a son who brings shame."
- Proverbs 10:5 (ESV)

Did you know the Bible teaches us the value and importance of hard work? The book of Proverbs is full of statements praising the hard worker, and condemning the lazy. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul even boldly declares that "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat" (1 Thessalonians 3:10, ESV).

Why is working hard so important? I mean, come on! We have been taught all our lives that the spiritual activities of a Christian are witnessing, bible study, worship, and prayer (ok, we can probably add fellowship too so long as Miss Betty doesn't bring that thing she calls 'casserole surprise'). Work is part of our "earthly" lives, so why would God care?

I think the reason is because he created us to find joy in work. Work isn't part of the Fall, it is part of creation. Genesis 1:15 tells us that God put mankind in the Garden of Eden "to work it and keep it" (ESV). Due to the Fall, work has become burdensome and difficult (Gen 3:17-19). What God had created to give us a sense of purpose and joy, we have turned into something to be avoided.

The writer of Proverbs, and the Apostle Paul, is calling us back to God's original intention for your life. Do you recognize that you are to bring glory to God as you enjoy working hard?

The next time you go to work, realize that when you work hard in a spirit of joy and thanksgiving you bring honor to your Lord. There is nothing more spiritual than that.

Prayer

Merciful Father,
Thank you for creating me for your glory.
May I find joy in my work duties today,
may I bring honor to your holy name.
Amen.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Severus Snape, Redeemed or Damned?

As my family and I were traveling home we made some shopping stops while driving through a large city in Michigan. I grabbed a weekend regional paper and immediately went to the Religion section (yes, I do dearly miss actually having a paper that HAS a religion section). In the process of reading, an advertisement for a local Unitarian Universalist "church" caught my eye.

Its sermon title for Sunday was "Severus Snape, Redeemed or Damned?". Now, to be fair I really shouldn't be picking on Unitarian Universalists, since they are so far outside of anything that resembles Christianity. But have things really gotten this bad for the group? We have all heard about churches that preach out of Time magazine or the US News and World Report, but when did Harry Potter become a text for a sermon? Can't the folks at All Souls Community Church (the Unitarian/Universalist congregation in question) find a suitable Hindu text? Perhaps something from the Koran? What about select readings from the latest Joel Olsteen book? At least they should preach from something that has some semblance of religion to it (oh, that would probably rule out Joel Olsteen).

I did find one thing humorous in their ad (I wish I had a picture). They make special mention of the "amble free parking provided". I sure there is "ample parking". When you feed your flock fluff, eventually people just stop showing up. They can get the same thing at the Country Club--and without the singing!

---Oh, and by the way, I never made it to Baker Book House. My wife wanted to go to Barnes & Noble instead (which is a horrible bookstore). However, I did relieve the pain of being in a bookstore with a bad floorplan by reading a little T.S. Eliot. I rebelled against the system by putting the book back on the wrong self when I was finished.

Back in the Saddle

The conference/camp is now over (well...it is wrapping up, but the rest doesn't really involve me). My saintly wife is now packing the family up, I have a few residual meetings, and I may have one more Q&A session. Other than that, I'm done!

My goals regarding church work for the week were perhaps set a bit high. I did exegetical work on about 6 of the the 12 minor prophets (actually, I didn't think I would even get to 6). I completed another week's worth of work on the Gospel of Matthew, but sadly made no progress on next year's Adult Sunday School class curriculum (that was wishful thinking anyway).

On the trip back home we get the perk of stopping by Baker Book House (the best Christian bookstore on the planet. Yes.....it does have all the "Christian'ish" junk like "Testimints", christian art, and TD Jake books-----but it also has a huge biblical studies section (with just about every scholarly commentary still in print), an entire section devoted to Puritan writings, another for the classics (Augustine, Law, Scougal, etc), a wonderful Theology section, and much more. Sadly, this trip isn't one of my usual trips. I'm actually going there to REPLACE a few lost books--but I'm sure I can talk my wife into letting me acquire at least one or two new ones. I would love to have Volume 2 of the ICC commentary on Jeremiah.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Book Reviews



On Again...Off Again

Well...maybe "Hardly Open" would be a better description.

On Sunday evening I will be leaving to speak at a week-long Bible camp/conference for 17-22 year olds. While I believe the facility has wireless access, I presume I will be very busy so may not be able to post daily.

I will be have the opportunity to speak twice daily, have numerous conversations with young adults, and lead daily discussion groups. Also, I'm planning on using the week to lay out the lesson plans of my Adult Sunday School class for the next year, and do much of the exegetical work for my series on the 12 Minor Prophets. I've also been a bit behind in my exegetical studies of Matthew (I like to be several weeks ahead, but I am down to just 1 week ahead).

...Sorry Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, & Richard Sibbes----I shall have no time to read you this coming week!

I may get around to posting something later on today, and possibly even tomorrow--but it is the weekend and I am a pastor, so there is no guarantee. You know how it goes.....3 sermons to polish off....a bulletin to write, print, and fold....and a newsletter to finish and take to press.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Is Pedophilia a sin from which one cannot return?

The last several days have seen countless stories in the media regarding pedophilia, particularly due to the coverage on Jack McClellan. Jack admits to having sexual attractions towards girls as young as three and has posted pictures of children on a site for fellow pedophiles. He even tells pedophiles where to go for the best chance of seeing & meeting young children (parks, libraries, beaches, playgrounds). I went to his site (which has since been taken down, but is now up again), and it was one of the most disturbing things I have ever seen. It is so thoroughly revolting that I refuse to provide a link.

If you are interested more in this story, the link above will take you to all the articles Fox News has on him.

I am more interested in understanding this from a Biblical approach. While official statistics for recidivism rate for pedophiles varies, many experts conclude it is nearly 100% (meaning in layman language, that 'once a pedophile, always a pedophile').

Yet, can we really believe this as Christians? How can we honestly believe pedophiles cannot be restored by the power of Christ? Should not churches be welcoming places for pedophiles who want help?

As someone who preaches and practices the grace of Christ, you may be surprised by my answers. (1). I do not believe pedophiles can change. (2) I am coming to believe that pedophiles will not be restored by the power of Christ. (3) I firmly believe that church is no place for pedophiles (unless it is a church only full of old people, of which there are plenty of such churches).

As someone who has counseled pedophiles frequently in the past, I am fully convinced that pedophiles are unwilling to change. Now, I am not referring to the man who has had sexual relations with a 16 year old (though that is also reprehensible). There is at least a semblance of womanhood in an older teen that makes the natural desire understandable on a physical level (though heinous and exceedingly sinful). By pedophile I am referring to the person who is attracted to young elementary girls...sometimes even toddlers and infants.

Romans 1:18 tells us that the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all manner of ungodliness. The Apostle Paul then goes on in verse 28 to say, "And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them."

In verse 24 Paul tells us that God gave them over to their lusts. Again in verse 26 we are informed that God gave them up to their dishonorable passions. Think about these statements, and then think about the nearly 100% recidivism rate of pedophiles. Is it possible that they have gone so far in their sin that it is now impossible for them to repent?

I am not suggesting that Christ's atonement is not sufficient for them. What I am wondering is if they have already received the judgment of God. In essence, I am asking if they are literally living in the judgment of God while still on earth. If so, they are "dead men walking", as it were.

If I am right, this is absolutely terrifying. People of God, guard your heart from sin. Do not travel so far down the road of sin that God willingly "gives you over" to it.

I pray I am wrong. To be honest, I am not sure about this. It is still an open question in my mind. What say you?

A Magnificent Church Building...

I can never decide my philosophy regarding church building. The "low church" part of me thinks that church building should be simple and utilitarian, enabling one to put most of the money towards missions or outreach programs. Yet the "high church" part of me marvels at the expansive structures that visibly communicate the glory of God. More and more, I am leaning towards the latter.

Check out this church, located in Columbia, South America. Click this link to find more pictures of this and other marvelous church buildings. I will definitely add this church to my list of "Things I Must See Before I Die".

[Following information taken from the blog listed above]

The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Las Lajas, or the Las Lajas Cathedral [wiki] in Colombia, was built in 1916 on a site where, according to local legend, the Virgin Mary appeared. The story goes like this: an Indian woman named María Mueses de Quiñones was carrying her deaf-mute daughter Rosa on her back near Las Lajas ("The Rocks"). Weary of the climb, the María sat down on a rock when Rosa spoke (for the first time) about an apparition in a cave.

Later on, a mysterious painting of the Virgin Mary carrying a baby was discovered on the wall of the cave. Supposedly, studies of the painting showed no proof of paint or pigments on the rock - instead, when a core sample was taken, it was found that the colors were impregnated in the rock itself to a depth of several feet.

Whether true or not, the legend spurred the building of a gothic church worthy of a fairy tale.