Saturday, September 29, 2007

Free (well...almost) CD on Apologetics

Interested in defending your faith? Here is an offer to receive a CD of a very famous debate between Dr. Bahnsen (Christian theologian) and Dr. Stein (atheist philosopher). It only costs 2 cents! The offer is legit (I ordered it), and is perhaps one of the best defenses of Christianity ever recorded. Simply fantastic. Bahnsen takes his place within a long chain of defenders of the faith. I heard this a few years ago in Seminary and was deeply impacted.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Older Fundamentalism -vs- Younger Fundamentalism

I recently found an excellent article comparing older and younger forms of Fundamentalism. I highly recommend you read his entire post. The author lists several defining characteristics of what it means to be a fundamentalist*, and offers a helpful comparison between the differences of older fundamentalist versus the younger fundamentalism we are now seeing.**

I thought this second list was particularly helpful, and have decided to reproduce it here:
  • The older generation held primarily to the KJV of the Bible; we hold to multiple version, landing on the NKJV, NASB, and most generally (now), the ESV.
  • They always give an invitation; we generally don’t.
  • They preach topically as often as they preach expositionally; we preach almost exclusively in an expository manner.
  • They hold to closed communion; we hold to open communion.
  • They have tended to write off entire genres of music as wicked because of some wickedness within the genre; we tend to evaluate each piece of music as independent from a particular genre.
  • They tend to prefer “pastor-ruled” or “congregational-ruled” churches as the government of choice; we tend to prefer “elder rule”.
  • They tend to be “tee-totalers” when it comes to alcohol; we tend to hold to a “moderation” point of view.
  • They tend to be Arminians; we tend to be Calvinists.

* Note 1: One minor disagreement: He includes "baptism by immersion" as a core belief in Fundamentalism. Historically, Methodists and Presbyterians were part of fundamentalism (and at one point made up the majority).

* Note 2: I still maintain that it is unwise to continue to use the word "Fundamentalist". I almost never use this word to describe myself, as it has been almost universally tainted negatively by the militant legalistic element within the camp. I tend to use the words "conservative" and "evangelical" together. I hope more younger fundamentalists drop the F-word, and think ultimately they will be forced too by both sides (the militant element to their right, who objects to their use of the term; and the evangelical element to their left, who misunderstands the implications of the term).

What's Your Favorite Bible Version

A new poll has been added to the left side bar (for the next 2 weeks). Let me know what is your most favorite bible version out of those mentioned on the list (KJV, NKJV, NASB, NRSV, ESV, NIV).

Vote today!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Pastors Gone Wild - Case #006

A new series highlighting the odd, bizarre, funny, or perhaps even heretical behavior of those who claim the title "pastor".

Case #006 - The Case of no Puppy Power for Pastor

Do you remember the cartoon Scooby-Doo? Scooby-Doo was a lovable canine, though cowardly to the bone. In later episodes, Scoopy had a nephew side-kick ("Scrappy") who was his polar opposite. Whereas Scooby-Doo was rather large, Scrappy was very small. While Scooby-Doo was a prone to fear, Scrappy was fearless. The cartoon program was enjoyed by millions. Who wouldn't love these two adorable puppies?

Apparently, there is at least one pastor who is not too fond of cute little doggies. A clergyman in Florida was arrested last year after witnesses reported him throwing puppies into the woods from the back of his pick-up truck and allegedly leaving them to die. "He was just chucking them", the witness said.

Man, it's hard enough to be a pastor without this junk. As it is, only 58% of Americans think clergy have high or very-high ethical standards (see poll). If we keep this up, we will be ranked at the bottom with car salesman and snake-oil peddlers.

I can hear it now: "Billy, do you want to come to Sunday school with Mommy today?" Billy responds by bursting into tears. While protectively holding onto to his little puppy, he cries: "No Mommy, don't make me. I don't want Pastor to kill my puppy, too!"

I'm afraid we must, Billy. Also, next week we launch a new program of stuffing cats into sacks and throwing them into the river. [note to pastors: this may adversely affect the willingness of your congregants to have you visit them in the hospital].

Do you have a "Pastors Gone Wild" tale? Submit your stories to Please read the Submission Rules page before submitting a story. Your name, and a link to your site, will be included if the web owner uses your submission.

Daily Devotions Pic

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Persecution in India

Hindu Activists in India Attack Pastor and Family; Burn Down Church

LUCKNOW, India – A pastor and his family were attacked by 150 Hindu activists as they were traveling to their church in Bhadwadi village.

After accusing Pastor Virendra Singh, 50, of converting people to Christianity and severely injuring him, the attackers – believed to be affiliated with the Vishva Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteers’ Organization) – burnt their church, which had gathered more than 500 believers at the time of the incident.

"The 500-600, who were present in the church, ran out panicked, crying with fear. They somehow managed to help the sick believers escape from the church," reported the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), a human rights advocacy group based in Bangalore.

Religious books, Bibles, Christian literatures, musical instruments, and other items, however, were completely destroyed.

Singh – who had been traveling Sunday with wife Bhavana Singh, 45, and daughter Rushali Singh, 14 – told GCIC that he was thankful to God for saving them from the attack, which left them with just few injuries and scars.

After Sunday’s attack, the pastor will for the second time be registering a case against the activists. On Sept. 7, Singh had requested police protection after receiving death threatens from the same activists.

Lessons Learned in my First Year of Ministry: Lesson #8 - Poor Pastors Have Pretty Knees

This post is part 3 of a 10 part series of the most important lessons I have learned in my first year of ministry. My original plan was to publish 1 post every 3-6 days, but the last several weeks have been murderously busy.

Previous Posts in this series:

Current Post:

Lesson #8: Poor Pastors have Pretty Knees

Two places are dangerous as a young pastor seeks to define what it means to "be a pastor". The first is the Seminary, and the second is the bookstore. Don't misunderstand---both places are vital for shaping one's mind. In fact, I am a traditionalist in the sense that I believe pastors should be seminary-trained (or the self-made equivalent) and be avid readers (with a large, growing pastoral library). A pastor who doesn't read isn't worth spit, and one should be cautious of ministers who have never deeply studied systematic theology, historical theology, and biblical exegesis. Yes, yes...the snobbery is highly evident.

The problem arises when pastors come to believe those places (Seminary & bookstore) are the places where our concept of ministry is formed. Seminaries (at least good ones) train men to be rigorous in the exercise of their minds. Many (mistakenly) come to believe that ministry is primarily instilling seminary-level biblical data into the minds of their parishioners. Bookstores (at least bad ones) sell the latest ministry fads and success-stories. Men walk out thinking the latest Emergent Village nonsense is what it truly means to be "church", or that a minister should be defined by John Maxwell's maxims.

In my first year of ministry I have never been more impressed by the power of prayer---and I kick myself for not spending more time in it earlier. My book collection will still be read (with the same intensity as before). I am still very thankful for my Seminary training and consider it indispensable to ministry. However, the power and passion for my ministry is located in my life of prayer. This is the most exciting aspect of my ministry. A pastor who doesn't pray is just a talking bobble-head. He lacks the Spirits power to change lives, and he is a passionless shell of a Christian who lacks compassion, life, and wisdom.

I have come to believe that one way of sorting out a "good" pastor from a "poor" pastor is to look at their knees. I yearn to have calloused knees, made thick and ugly from holding my weight for hours each day. Perhaps, if the Lord sustains me, I will develop a limp because my knee joint has worn away from staying in this rather unnatural position of prayer. That is a pastoral-life well lived. According to one saying, "pastors who don't spend two hours in prayer each day are not worth a dime a dozen".

The Church's first pastors (the Apostles) understood the power and value of consistent, time-consuming daily pray. In fact, the church's first deacons (or "proto-deacons" for you exegetical purists) were appointed because the Apostles felt their prayer lives were being compromised.

Can you imagine that today? What if your pastor came to the congregation and said, "We need to hire an associate because I want more time to pray each day". You would think he was crazy, and might even consider firing him. This is just an indication of how we have turned biblical spirituality upside down. We have majored in the minors, and have turned the true-majors into peripheral matters in our life of faith.

When I pray as a pastor
.....I recognize I am completely dependent on God.
.....I recognize I am His servant, serving His Bride.
.....I grow in my love for His sheep, as I pray for each by name.
.....I find it easier to forgive
.....I preach better, because I talk my sermons through with my Lord.
.....I develop a deep compassion and care for my community.
.....My own sin is exposed and laid bare.

Pastors, check your knees. Poor pastors have pretty knees.

"Pray often; for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge to Satan".
- John Bunyan

Back in Business

My laptop is fixed, programs (mostly) reinstalled, and plenty of gigs to work with--all thanks to the massive efforts of my friend/neighborhood computer wizard. Posts will be returning later on today.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Closed Due to Technical Difficulties

Sorry for the lack of posts this past week. My laptop fried, and it is currently being fixed. Until then, I am living as if in prehistoric times.

Luckily, I downloaded J.I. Packer's lectures on the Puritans (given at Southern Reformed) onto my iPod just before the crash--so I have something redeeming to listen to.

Give me a few more days, and hopefully I'll be back up to speed.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Pastors Gone Wild - Case #005

A new series highlighting the odd, bizarre, funny, or perhaps even heretical behavior of those who claim the title "pastor".

#005: The case of the angry female calvinist

For centuries pastor's have played a valuable role in helping couples overcome marital problems. While the professional counseling movement has "invaded" what was the church's traditional territory, the pastor is still seen by many as an important source of reasoned and wise biblical and practical insight.

However, it seems at least one pastor is in need of her own counseling. A female pastor of a Reformed church has been sentenced to two-years participation in a violence education program after slashing her husbands arm to the bone with a kitchen knife.

It appears hubby was chatting it up with someone in on online chat-room (while sitting at the kitchen table) when the wife became enraged and carved up his arm like it was a Thanksgiving turkey.

Personal application: Recently I bought the new model iPod nano. I was listening to it at the dinner table, when my wife gave me "the look" (i.e. which clearly communicated this thought: "put it away now or there will be consequences"). Having already read the above news story, I decided it would be wise to obey.

Moral of this story: Wives, technology, and family meals are a potentially lethal combination.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Daily Devo - Friday, September 14, 2007

"Mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance."
Jude 2 (NIV)

If America is defined by anything, it is our incredible abundance. The early settlers were amazed at the seemingly endless natural resources, and foreign countries (England, France, and Spain) quickly positioned themselves to become the chief beneficiaries of such wealth (and, also went to war over the new continent). Today we grow more food than any other country in the world, produce more automobiles, and quite literally hold the world's wealth. We have gidgits and gadgets, shiny cars, and beautiful homes (comparatively).

But, most Americans have never possessed the three little words "mercy", "peace", or "love". As humans, we yearn for someone to show us true mercy, to experience true peace, and to be in a relationship marked by true love.

Mercy forgives our faults.

Peace overcomes our pain and offers renewal.

Love unconditionally accepts us.

With all our abundance, and all our wealth, we cannot buy these three ideals. They come only from a relationship with the living God through Jesus Christ. His mercy, peace, and love endures forever.

Merciful Father,
We experience these three things in you.
The mercy you offer through Christ,
the peace granted to us by the Spirit,
and the love your Son demonstrated to us on the cross.
In our wealth, we are the poorest of men.
Yet, in my poverty, I possess the greatest riches in the world.
Thank you, and amen.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Daily Devo - Thursday, September 13, 2007

"Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James,
To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ..."
Jude 1 (ESV)

Usually when we read Bible book introductions we skip past the preliminaries. After all, the author wrote the letter for a purpose, and we want to jump down to the "real" message. Sadly, we often miss precious gems of biblical truth when we ignore the opening words.

At the very beginning, Jude indicates that he is--above all--a servant of Jesus. Jesus is his Lord, Master, and Savior. How many of us actually live this out in our daily lives? A slave, by definition, lives every moment of his life for his master's pleasure. Whether waking or sleeping, a servant exists for one purpose: to make his master happy. For Jude, every moment of his day was filled with the desire to make Jesus smile. Think about what you were doing 10 minutes ago: would your actions or thoughts at that time bring a smile to your Savior's face?

Jude goes on to define believers as those who are being "kept by Jesus". So often we have a desire to move "past" the good news of Jesus Christ. We think of the gospel as something we do to "get saved", and then we move on to bible study in order to "grow" in our faith. Jude shows us that this thinking is utter nonsense. We never get past the gospel. The gospel saves us, sustains us, develops us, guides us, and ultimately we usher us into the very presence of God. Like a little child, we constantly need to hold Jesus' hand if we are to progress.

Today, serve your master and never let go of his merciful hand.

Merciful Father,
Thank you for the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
Keep me in his hands, and grant me the faith
never to let go. May I please my Lord on this day.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Rules regarding "Pastors Gone Wild"

It appears the "Pastors Gone Wild" series is a big hit (according to the tracker, anyway). Several of you have emailed me stories for inclusion. Thanks, and I encourage everyone to keep sending them to me. Here's the rules:

1. There will only be 1 per week. I know I started out with 3 or 4, but I don't want this series to get out of hand. "Pastors Gone Wild" will only appear on Wednesdays. If I start getting a lot more source material I may increase the frequency.

2. Unless the story includes a link (news article, etc), I will not use it. They must be verifiable. I cannot use undocumented stories.

3. Absolutely no stories involving sexual indiscretion will be used, nor stories involving the abuse of children. This series is meant to be lighthearted and humorous.

4. Stories must be of Christian ministers (broadly speaking). Though I might include a really good rabbi story, don't bother sending stories about Hindu priests or Muslim clerics, or Moonie clergy, Mormon pastors, or other non-Christian stuff. Keep it within Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox (and maybe Jewish) circles. I had to turn down a really good story about a Moonie pastor who had an illegal shark-smuggling business on the side---it killed me, but a man has to know his limitations.

5. I will cite your name and link to your site (if you have one) unless you specifically request that I do not.

Have fun hunting for stories.

Pastors Gone Wild - Case 004

A new series highlighting the odd, bizarre, funny, or perhaps even heretical behavior of those who claim the title "pastor".

#004 - The case of the would-be king

"All the world's a stage,
All the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts..."
- Shakespeare

When Shakespeare penned those venerable words, I don't think he envisioned Pastor Donnie Brannen of Savannah. The Southern Baptist pastor apparently puts on one mean Elvis impression, and has decided to take his show on the road (see news article here). What started out as an attempt to impress his (now) wife on their first-date, quickly turned into a side hobby and even a small business.

It seems people love watching a pastor 'getting jiggy with it". Though Donnie enjoys pretending to be the King of Rock-N-Roll, he says that he is not really a big Elvis fan. As of now, Pastor Donnie has no plans to leave the ministry for a career in Vegas. Too bad, because I would certainly pay to watch this show. A pastor who can 'bust-a-move' like the King is worth any admission price.

But don't think this pastor doesn't have his standards. At a recent event a heckler shouted: "You need to shake your hips more". With the best Elvis voice he could muster, Pastor Donnie replied: "Darlin, I'm a Southern Baptist pastor. This is as much as I shake."

Dance on, pretender to Elvis' throne, dance on.

Daily Devo - Wednesday, September 12, 2007

"The mouth of the righteous
brings forth wisdom,
but the perverse tongue
will be cut off".
Proverbs 10:31 (ESV)

How can you tell who is truly wise? If you turn on the television that is a host of competing voices claiming to offer sage advice. Morning news channels showcase a variety of professionals, while daytime talk shows offer a parade of so-called experts. The evening news, presenting itself as even more distinguished, exhort the words of political & financial analysts.

Professional Counselors and Psychologists offer their perspective, which is generally different from the perspective of Psychiatrists. Social Workers and Teachers come at life from their own unique point of view, whereas University Professors constantly preach from their own soap box. The local farmer, or business owner, believes he (or she) has discovered a 'down-to-earth' style of wisdom, while the area pastors boldly claim to be the possessors of true wisdom. Even your favorite uncle, and least favorite cousin jump in and offer their own versions of wisdom.

In an age of competing voices, how can we determine who is truly wise? Proverbs tries to simplify the problem for us. It basically tells us not to try to recognize wisdom, but instead look for something else: righteousness. According to Proverbs, only those who are righteous possess wisdom, so if we find a righteous person, we have also found a wise person.

Who in your life is marked by the Fruit of the Spirit? Who is kind, and patient, and grace-filled? Who is slow to anger, and never holds a grudge? Who love God with their entire being, and loves everyone around them---even their enemies?

Find that person, and learn from them. They possess the wisdom you seek.

Merciful Father,
Grant me the eyes to see the wise around me,
grant me the humility to learn from them,
grant me the perception to see
that all wisdom originates in you,

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Daily Devo - Tuesday, September 11

The way of the LORD is a stronghold to the blameless,
but destruction to evildoers.
Proverbs 10:29 (ESV)

We live in a world where evil continually haunts us. Either the news is filled with evils committed on a small scale (the rape, abuse, or murder of an individual), or on a large scale (terrorist attacks, genocide, war).

As I read through Proverbs this morning this verse (the next in line for my Daily Devo series) struck me. In the midst of so much evil, in what sense can we say that the way of the Lord is a stronghold? Christians around the world are being imprisoned and slaughtered. Christians in our country are being ridiculed and marginalized. Isn't this a reason to become pessimistic?

God responds to that question--I believe--with a very resolved "NO!" Even within the presence of evil He calls upon us to experience an unshakable joy. How is this possible?

We can experience unshakable joy because our sovereign God is unshakable. Evil doers can destroy our bodies...they can destroy governments...they can destroy armies...they can even destroy the entire physical world. But who can destroy the all-powerful Lord? My joy is not based on my material comforts, nor is it based in the freedom I enjoy in this country. My joy is based on the reality of God, and the knowledge that I shall live in his presence for all of eternity.

As the psalmist declares,
"Some trust in horses,
some in chariots,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God."
(Psalm 20:7 ESV)

No evil doer will ever breach His heavenly walls. For now, let them tear down governments...let them destroy humanity...let them rob our very lives. Our joy will forever remain untouchable.

Merciful Father,
Fill me with the joy of your presence.
You are my stronghold,
you are the author & protector of my joy,
and my joy is forever in you.

* All scripture is taken from the English Standard Version

Monday, September 10, 2007

Pastors Gone Wild - Case 003

A new series highlighting the odd, bizarre, funny, or perhaps even heretical behavior of those who claim the title "pastor".

#003 - The case of grizzly adams

[Note: this story is neither odd, bizarre, nor heretical---it is amazing, and perhaps even cool].

Some pastors are tough as nails. I've met some downright battle-hardened, stone-faced, fist-clenched, stare-you-down pastors in my (short) time, but I think Pastor Tom Patmor of Alaska is the toughest of the bunch. It seems he was attacked by a female grizzly bear (called a sow) and he decided go Mike Tyson on her. No, he didn't bite her ear off, but he did get into a fistfight with the bear! (Read story here).

Now, I'm not saying Pastor Tom is mean (the townsfolk really seem to like him). I'm sure he's a really nice guy---BUT, I'm quite sure I'd never pick a fight with Pastor Tom. A guy who takes on a grizzly would have me for lunch!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Pastors Gone Wild - Case 002

A new series highlighting the odd, bizarre, funny, or perhaps even heretical behavior of those who claim the title "pastor".

#002 - The case of the puffed up pastor

Pastors, are you tired of those long, ugly business meetings where everyone questions your decisions and authority? Sick of feeling like an "employee" of the church? Do you want devoted followers who obey your every command?

Well, then your in luck. Apparently, an Hispanic pastor (now in Miami) has solved challenges to his leadership by claiming to be Jesus Christ reincarnated (see news article here). Yes, that's right. He has come to correct our understandings and reveal that the much biblically maligned Antichrist is, after all, one of the good guys. Forgot what the bible actually tell us about the Antichrist, because according to Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda ("de Jesus" not his birth name, by the way) he is the Antichrist and has come to replace the Jesus of New Testament times. He also teaches his followers that there is no such thing as sin, that they can do no wrong in God's eyes, and that Jesus of Nazareth is no longer to be worshipped (he's got that spot now, he claims). Followers boldly have tattooed on their arm the number 666, which "Pastor" Miranda actually believes to be a holy number.

Wow...this guy must really hate to have his authority questioned. So much for the old fashioned method of pastoring when the clergy actually sacrificed themselves for the flock.

I can see a new seminary course: "Practical Church Management 101: The Art of Claiming to be Divine as a Means of Effectively Managing a Congregation". I think I'll call my Alma mater and try to sell the idea.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Pastors Gone Wild - Case 001

A new series highlighting the odd, bizarre, funny, or perhaps even heretical behavior of those who claim the title "pastor".
#001 - The case of the naked priest

Though this news is a bit old, check out the story of the priest who jogs naked. Apparently this priest, who claims to sweat profusely if wearing clothing, decided to begin jogging in his birthday suit in the wee hours of the mourning. :o) Police officers were not exactly sympathetic with his "excessive-sweating" excuse, and rightfully so. about your bad decisions. While I don't think its fair for people to automatically link this situation to the notorious child-sex abuse scandals that have plagued the Catholic church over the last decade (as many in the blogging community are doing), this behavior is still 'odd' to say the least.

Still, the priest is leaning on historical precedent. The Romans built public bathhouses where business was conducted in the buff. Also, the men of the city would exercise together naked. They were, of course, completely pagan and prone to excessive sexuality (that knew very few boundry lines). The Romans also generally crucified people nude, though they made exceptions for Jews (who thought nakedness shameful), and generally crucified people with a loin-cloth within Judea.

Perhaps our priest friend should have followed the Jewish heritage of the church on this issue. Pagan Rome will get you into trouble every time.

Lessons Learned from My First Year in Ministry

This post is part 2 of a 10 part series highlighting lessons I have learned in my first year of ministry. It was difficult to reduce the list to just 10 (actually, I believe my initial list exceed 20 lessons). If I feel energetic enough, I may post (without explanation) the additional 10 items at the end of this series.

I should note that a series such as this has its own "sensitivities". It is perhaps more revealing that it should be regarding the situation in which one is pastoring. However, this particular series is intended to encourage and identify with other young men in the pastorate, which does require a certain level of transparency. Of all the lessons in this series, #9 is perhaps the most tender.

Previous Posts in Series:
Lesson #10: Never Punch Out

Lesson #9: They had to hate someone, it might as well be me.

Jesus had to deal with a lot of difficult people. Zealots, Pharisees, Sadducees, Roman officials, a disgruntled disciple, irrational crowds...the list goes on. Most of these were outside his "movement", others were within it, still others were deep within his inner circle.

Some people just choose to be angry. In my own context, this has come (to a small degree) from "within", and to a much larger degree from those "without". When compared to what Jesus went through, my own difficulties are very mild in comparison.

As a pastor, I have come to see dealing with difficult people as part of my sacred calling. Ministry is not performed in a vacuum. Rather, it is enacted upon a stage built upon the foundation of utter depravity. Ministry is truly the "front lines" of biblical spirituality lived out on earth. A minister can no more complain about the presence of angry & bitter people than a marine can complain about the presence of enemy fire. Such difficulties are part of the reason our position exists.

Being on the 'front lines' (as it relates to dealing with angry people) means of course that the vast majority of believers do not have to. Just as the marine enduring enemy fire enables the common citizen to live in relative safety, so the minister being abused by bitter people helps shield the sheep from their ravenous attacks. I have come to the conclusion that such people have hate and bitterness in their very nature. Thus, they are "wired" to hate. If it wasn't me, it would be someone else...perhaps someone too weak to endure it. Praise God that in his sovereignty he has chosen & equipped ministers to 'take a bullet' for his Bride.

Think about that! Jesus is so in love with his Bride (the Church), that he willingly died for her. Furthermore, he has called certain individuals to also put their lives on the line (through his power) for her sake (and to Jesus, the Bride is worth the discomfort, even when it is the Bride who is doing the abuse). In other words, we are to love the sheep---even the sheep that bite!

Yet how should the minister deal with difficult people--even difficult Christians? Here are some general lessons I am learning:
  1. Realize you can't please everybody (John 5:31). Even God can't do that! People will remain unconvinced of your love for them, despite your best efforts.
  2. Some people are so ill-tempered that your only option is to have nothing to do with them (Prov 22:24; 29:22; ).
  3. Refuse to play their game (Matt. 22:18). Learn to say no to unrealistic expectations. Confront them by "telling the truth in love."
  4. Never retaliate (Matt. 5:38-39). It only lowers you to their level.
  5. Pray for them (Matt. 5:44). It will help both of you. Let God handle them.*
Perhaps the most important verse regarding this issue is found in Romans 12:18. It states, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all" (ESV). While it is true that the manner in which we interact with difficult people can soften the situation (Prov. 15:1), it is also true that this is no guarantee. Paul recognizes this reality when he states "if possible" and "as far as it depends on you". Some people will just choose to be angry, obstinate, and disgruntled. It is beyond my power to keep this from happening, but within my power is the ability to live in a peaceable manner amongst those are ill-tempered.

Pastors, the next time someone in your church gives you a difficult time, mentally make the "sheep sound"" bbbbaaaaaaa! It helps remind me how precious this difficult, hate-filled, bitter person is in the eyes of God. It also helps me remember this Christian brother(s) or sister(s) is not the enemy, even though they are trying to make themselves that. It is my duty to love them--though sometimes we must love them "at a distance" (see point #2 above).

Pastors, they had to hate someone--praise God that it is us.

* Some of these principles are based on an online article written by Rick Warren.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Going to the Nations...

Look at the following map. The dots indicate places around the world where people accessed my blog (yes, it is a little creepy that the internet can automatically track where you are at when using your computer).

Can you imagine how the world would have been different if Calvin, Luther, Spurgeon, Edwards, Augustine, or Aquinas had instant access to people all over the world? Their ideas took years to spread. Before the invention of the printing press, ideas would take scores, if not hundreds, of years to spread and take root. What if great evangelists like Whitefield had this access?

Yet, in God's soveriegnty he has given this access to simple people like me. Sadly, I am no Whitefield or Luther--they have been granted 10 talents of silver to use for God's glory. Still, perhaps I too will bring honor to my Lord. May my single talent of silver increase that His name may be praised.

Fractured Foundation #4: HISTORICAL IDENTITY - PART 2

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

#4: Historical Identity - Part 2

[I felt my discussion on the creeds needed another post. Hope it helps clarify my position].

As you can see from the cartoon to the right, there are many who devalue the Church Creeds and Confessions. Claiming the principle of Sola Scriptura, they claim creeds have no value and no place in the life of the church. Worse yet, they see the creeds as something that keeps people from the Word of God.

Interestingly enough, Calvin and Luther would have recoiled at that thought. In their writings and sermons, they regularly appealed to the ancient creeds, confessions, and other writings of the early church leaders. In fact, they took great pain to show that they were (as opposed to the Catholic church of their era) the true successor's of the theology of the ancient creeds. Still, some of the more extreme anti-creedals even suggest that Calvin & Luther were wrong, and should have ignored the creeds all together.

What the anti-creedals don't seem to understand is that church history, the history of doctrine, and the history of exegesis belong to the "hermeneutical circle" (i.e. the process of interpretation) in which the text of scripture is carried forward, interpreted, and shown to be significant in the present. The history of the church (in its events, but particularly in its development and awareness of theology) provides a connecting link between us and the text.

To view this from another angle, all would agree that the Bible is "living and active". Now, what does this mean? Of course, it refers to the inherent power of the Word of God. But, it also refers to the inherent "movement" of Scripture. Most would agree (except for some die-hard anti-intellectuals) that the New Testament cannot rightly be understood without a thorough knowledge of the Old Testament. Just the sheer volume of quotes taken from the Old Testament alone (within the NT) prove this. The New Testament was "birthed" within a specific "theological context"; namely, the theology of the Old Testament.

Just as one must move backwards to understand Scripture, one must also move forward to understand and apply it. The biblical message is not a message from the past that sits on a self somewhere, waiting proper moment to speak and then, having spoken, returning to its self until such time as it may again prove useful. If that were the case, the Bible would be just another reference book. Instead, the biblical message is and has always been a message situated in the present life of the religious community.* The Bible is not static. It is not frozen within a particular culture and period of time. It is 'living and active", which means it is alive and working among us in our contemporary context just as it has been at work in the cultures and times of the past. Why, then, would we ignore the impact of the Living Word in the past? As Spurgeon once said (paraphrase), "it is odd that we think so highly of what the Spirit is telling us, but think so little of what the Spirit has told others". Spurgeon was writing directly to those in his day that devalued the past traditions and creeds of the church.

Oddly, those who devalue or demonize the creeds have no problem standing up on Sunday morning and preaching "Thus saith the Lord" from their pulpits. They have no problem speaking authoritatively on Scripture, but somehow believe it is wrong to listen to voices from 1,800 years ago that do the same. It is no wonder that heresy abounds today. From the legalism (which is another gospel) within Fundamentalism, to the anti-trinitarianism within some versions of Pentecostalism, to the humanism within many mainline groups, heresy is having a 'hay-day'. All appeal to Scripture, yet all completely ignore the Church's great creeds and confessions.

The question is not whether or not to give a place of importance to the Church creeds, but rather what type of place to give it. In some traditions, the creeds and confessions of the church are actually placed above Scripture in terms of authority (e.g. some versions of Catholicism). In others, Creeds are placed next to Scripture, assigning each equal status. Both of these are fundamentally flawed, and are not compatible with the Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Instead, church tradition (creeds, confessions) need to be given the highest possible place of prominence directly under Scripture. In other words, Scripture is categorically higher and always will be, but the Creeds and Confessions are put in the highest possible place of prominence that a human writing can hold. They are not authoritative within themselves, but rather get their authority from the higher category (Scripture). They are true only insofar as they accurately represent that higher category.

The Protestant sola scriptura is absolutely essential if the power of the living and active Word is to be unleashed within our contemporary context. However, the Catholic emphasis on tradition is also important (still essential, but categorically secondary to sola scriptura).

The Word that spoke to the heart of mankind 2,000 years ago also spoke 1,000 years ago, and 750 years ago, and 250 years ago....and it continues to speak today. Who are we to silence it's voice in any time?

(I postponed an overview of the various creeds and confessions. That will be coming sometime next week. Also, I haven't forgotten about the other "Fractured Foundations". A few more are in the works....just trying to find the time).

* See: Muller, Richard A. The Study of Theology: From Biblical Interpretation to Contemporary Formulation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991), p 109.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Promise of Tomorrow

I ran across an article about Patrick Henry University, written by a Jewish (secular version) reporter (God's Harvard). It is a lengthy article, but well worth the read. I am not very familiar with Patrick Henry, but the school isn't what I want you to focus on. At the very end of the article (page 3), the reporter mentions a young Patrick Henry student named Sarah Chambers. Notice the reporters description of this young girl as a vibrant, intelligent, grace-filled, but still truth-grounded believer in Jesus Christ. The author of the article is almost upset that she actually likes the girl.

Imagine that...solid in belief and likable all at the same time. Isn't this how we are supposed to live? Well done Sarah Chambers. I pray a whole generation of believers like you are raised up by God.

Lessons Learned from My First Year in Ministry

Last Sunday (September 3rd) marked my 1-yr anniversary at Indian River Baptist Church. This has been an incredible year, and we have seen many wonderful things take place--including several new people coming into fellowship with us. It has also been a hard year as we have seen several leave the church, though in honesty this 'prunning' has helped us produce a healthier, more biblically-centered congregation.

Recently an older friend asked me what lessons I had learned in my first year. It was an important question, and frankly I was embarrassed I didn't have an adequate answer. Since then, I have been doing a lot of reflecting on my first year in ministry. 10 things came to my mind, and I tried my best to rank them in order of priority. My plan is to deal with one in each post.

Lesson #10: Never 'Punch Out'
Today is producing a generation of pastors who are frankly lazy. This is nothing new, and it is wrong of the older generation today to think of this as a new problem. However, it is true that today there is a boldness in publicizing this laziness for all to see. Young men come into the pastorate demanding so-many weeks of vacation or informing the church board when they will and will not work. One brilliant young pastor that I know openly stated that he refused to lead the Advent services because Christmas was his "family time". Think about that! That holiday has been a church holy day for almost 1,700 years (the church has since fired him).

Where are the new pastors who give themselves over to visiting people in hospitals and nursing homes? Where are the pastors willing to leave the house at 10:00 pm because someone is experiencing a personal crisis?

It has been difficult to balance personal and family time--very difficult. Yes, the family will suffer if a pastor doesn't find frequent ways of being "off". A wise pastor remembers that he also has a chief duty to his own family.

I have learned that ministry is not a '9-to-5' job. It is demanding, and if done correctly does not leave much time for rest. This actually is having a positive effect on me, because it is teaching me the value of the commodity of time. Time, I am coming to realize, is a precious and non-renewable resource. The demanding nature of ministry constantly calls upon me to scrutinize the use of my time. Jonathan Edwards had a personal resolution that stated (paraphrase) "Resolved, never to do anything that I wouldn't do if it were the last hour of my life". While perhaps a bit too zealous, it is nonetheless an important principle.

I think many pastors approach ministry with a '9-to-5' mindset because they have never learned the value of time in their personal lives. They wish to approach ministry the way they approach any other vocation. Therein lies the problem. Ministry is a calling, not a profession. It is not a "job", it is a commissioning. At no time does one ever "stop" being a pastor. I am a pastor when I am grocery shopping. I am a pastor when listening to music in the car. I am a pastor when attending my kid's 'parent-teacher' conference. I am even a pastor when sleeping.

Pastor's, never punch out. Or, if you do, please have the decency of never punching back in again.

Daily Pic

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Dr. Kennedy Remembered

Earlier this morning it was announced that Dr. James Kennedy died peacefully in his sleep last night. He had just announced his retirement (August 26th) as Sr. Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida--where he pastored since 1960.

Known as the "most listened to Presbyterian minister in the world", Dr. Kennedy's velvety voice nevertheless proclaimed the mighty truths of God's word.

Today we mourn the loss of a faithful servant of God. He represented the "best of" the Presbyterian church (he was part of the more doctrinally sound Presbyterian Church in America), and was a champion for biblical morality. Recently, Mark Dever cited Dr. Kennedy's involvement with Evangelism Explosion as one of the major reasons for the resurgence of Calvinism within the 20/30-something crowd.

May the Lord raise up other faithful servants like Dr. Kennedy.

Daily Devo - Wednesday, August 5, 2007

"The hope of the righteous brings joy, but the expectation of the wicked will perish".
Proverbs 10:28 (ESV)

As a young boy, Edward Mote's parents hated Christianity. They managed a pub in London, and the boy was often neglected. Despite these surroundings, eventually Edward became a Christian through the influence of a cabinetmaker to whom he was apprenticed. (As a man, he became a skilled cabinetmaker with a successful business of his own).

Mote always found time to worship God. He was especially interested in Christian music, and one day felt inspired on the way to work to write down a verse that came to his mind. His new hymn began with the words, "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness."

Not long thereafter, Mote visited a friend whose wife was terminally ill. Though she desired to sing, her husband couldn't find their hymnal. Mote mentioned the hymn in his pocket, so they sang it. The friend's wife was so taken with the hymn that she requested a copy for herself. Lying helpless in bed, the woman understood that earthly expectations are fleeting, and ultimately unfulfilling. Only hope placed in the Lord would endure.

Partially inspired by her response, Mote had the sermon published, and it quickly became a favorite among congregations. His song touched something within the average Christian---a recognition of the lasting value of a personal relationship with the sovereign creator of the universe.

The joys of the world can indeed be wonderful, but they are of no eternal value to a dying woman--let alone a vibrant and healthy one. God offers a much firmer foundation.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

* Scripture taken from the English Standard Version

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Predestination at the Public School

Today my son came home from his first day back to school. As part of his mandatory curriculum, he will take band (i.e. music) class. One of the features of this class is professional musicians (or, at least professional musical instrument salespersons) will come in and "fit" him to the instrument that best matches his physical characteristics. Apparently there is a whole science behind matching person and instruments (not being musically inclined, I have no way of verifying the truth of this presupposition). I suppose this means kids with fat, short fingers won't be allowed to play piano, and kids with small lung capacity will be steered away from the flute.

As my wife was trying to explain this to me, I couldn't help thinking the following:

As humans we have no problem believing that we are "predestined" to best fit certain types of instruments, but as Christians so many refuse to believe that we are predestined in regards to our salvation.

For crying out loud, we blindly accept the fact that little Johnnie can't play the trumpet and "must" play the triangle because his physical characteristics determine it, but we refuse to believe that God determines anything regarding our relationship to him. Seems a bit inconsistent to me.

Does God Judge the Nations?

In the aftermath of 9/11 many were angered by comments from Christian spokespersons such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell for suggesting that the attacks were part of God's judgment upon America.

The majority of Evangelicals were embarrassed, many were outraged. Their anger (or bewilderment) increased when similar comments were made by other pastors in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

While I am also offended by such comments and sentiments, an honest look at Scripture amply proves that God does indeed judge the nations (yet, who promoted TV preachers to the role of "Mouthpiece of God" I am not exactly sure). While Fundamentalism is quickly becoming reduced to nothing more than hate-mongers whose concept of God is of a vengeful supreme being, Evangelicalism is sadly being reduced to 'fluffy-love peddlers' who view God as a benign, gently being who tolerates anything and everything. Scripture forcefully rejects both erroneous conceptions.

At my church, I am currently preaching through the Minor Prophets. I believe the Old Testament book of Amos speaks directly to this issue. Amos was a shepherd from the southern kingdom of Judah. The name "Amos", incidentally, means burden bearer, which is significant because this man who bore physical burdens for so many years was now called by God to carry a spiritual burden (God's message of judgment) to the nations--particularly Israel. In the first two chapters, Amos condemns 8 distinct nations (6 non-Israelite nations, and both Jewish nations).

Aram (Damascus): Merciless & cruel killing
Gaza: Slave-trading
Tyre: Slave-Trading
Edom: Merciless & relentless killing
Ammon: Killing of pregnant women & unborn babies
Moab: Dishonoring a dead human body

Judah: Disobeying the Torah
Israel: Disobeying the Torah (expanded)

Notice in the first six examples no reference is made to the Torah (law) anywhere in the prophets accusations. Certainly these nations violated most, if not all of the Old Testament law (with its 600+ laws given by God through Moses). Yet the prophet only condemns them for their "crimes against humanity"---namely, their inhuman treatment of other human beings. This is consistent with the covenant God instituted with all humanity through Noah (Gen 9), where God upholds the sanctity of human life and warns humanity of dire consequences (i.e. death) if they do not hold human life in the same regard. Because these nations--as nations--instituted policies that endorsed and promoted inhumane treatment, God punished them as a nation.

However, God people are held to a different standard. Judah (and Israel, to whom most of the book of Amos is targeted) is condemned for their failure to obey the multiple points of the law.

Our modern day self-appointed prophets of doom simply do not have the right to point to specific cases and claim God's "judgment". However, there is a general biblical principle that God will indeed judge the (pagan) nations based on how they treat human beings. The purpose of a government (no matter which political system: communism, republic, socialist, dictatorship, etc) is to promote justice and curb injustice. When governments neglect their one sovereignly-assigned duty, they open themselves up to the wrath of a justice-loving God. And yes, nations such as the United States open themselves up to God's judgment by our shameful endorsement of abortion and our tolerance of racism.

Perhaps Franklin Graham said it best. When asked if he believed Hurricane Katrina was God's judgment upon a sinful New Orleans (which Franklin described as a sinful city), he replied:

"No, I certainly don't. I would never say that this is God's judgment on New Orleans or any other place. In the scripture Jesus mentioned some men that were killed in Jerusalem when a tower fell. And he asked the question, "Do you suppose they were worse sinners than all the others in Jerusalem because they died this way?" And he said, "No." He said, "But unless you repent, you, too, will perish." (see Graham article here).

I love his answer! He maintains fidelity with the biblical principle that God does indeed judge the nations (and calls them to repentance), while maintaining a stance of humility in recognizing that he is not God's mouthpiece.

God does indeed judge the nations--and as Americans we should be afraid. Yet, I am more afraid for the Christians, because God holds us to a higher standard--and I am painfully aware that, frankly, we just don't measure up. Perhaps we should get our own house in order before we go around condemning Edom.

(See Book & Culture's recent article on this subject).