Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Grumbling Problem

"Grumbling begets grumbling. When we complain we are only practicing for our next complaint. Today in prayer, confess any constant grumbling in your own life and seek to find peace in Jesus Christ." - Peter Kennedy, Daily Devotional Email, August 31, 2010.

Today's devotional email hit home pretty squarely. I know that I should not complain, but I'm so very prone to it. The above quote from this morning's devotional was great. I pray that I would not be practicing for my next complaint as I go into the day, being content and seeking to serve in my new job.

“Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns; I am thankful that thorns have roses.” – Alphonse Karr

God’s Word:
“Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” – James 5:9

“These men are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.” – Jude 1:16

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Best Kept Secret?

What exactly, according to author John Dickson, is “The Best Kept Secret in Christian Mission”?

After reading his new book with the same title and subtitled, “Promoting the Gospel with More than Our Lips,” it seems the best kept secret is that there are many, many ways that every Christian ought to be able to greatly contribute to the mission of evangelism.

In Dickson’s own experience and analysis, some Christians are more gifted with evangelism than others, and in his case, are sometimes hindered by methods of formalized training. In fact, this is one of the reasons why I was initially skeptical about the concept of the book in the beginning. I kept wondering what else could be said about promoting the gospel outside of what so many scholars and authors have already said? And I was also in doubt about any real secrets that could be shared that didn’t come across as gimmicks or seeker-sensitive clones. However, on both accounts Dickson easily quenched my skepticism and relieved my doubts.

The first two chapters (The One and the Many: Why Get Involved in Mission? and The Many and the One: The Challenge of Pluralism) lay the groundwork for his basis for writing the book. After reading those two, I was hooked and knew I had much to read and learn. By far, my favorite chapters are: Chapter Eight, What is the Gospel? The Message We Promote, and Chapter 12, A Year in a Life of the Gospel: Bringing It All Together.

Just as Mr. Dickson states, “The immediate goal of evangelism is to introduce people to the Jesus whom the gospel proclaims” (pg. 139). Christian evangelists often do this better when discussions and relationships develop naturally, rather than in the forced, monologue fashion of the most popular evangelism training programs. In chapters three through seven, he discusses in detail the many ways that non-evangelism efforts help promote the gospel message: prayer, finances, living beautiful lives, being a “friend of sinners,” and doing good works (mercy ministry). While it is not uncommon to find articles and books written any one of these methods, Dickson ties each activity directly back to our shared mission of sharing the gospel message.

Chapter Eight, titled “What is the Gospel?” was the stand out chapter for me and is one that I would commend to every reader with a passion or interest in evangelism. Academically rigorous and eminently practically, this chapter lays out the meat and potatoes of what it is to introduce people to Jesus. In what seemed to be a revolutionary idea at first reading, he asserts that the Gospel narratives uniquely recount a full gospel message. While all of the scriptures point to the Jesus and the gospel message, only in the four Gospel narratives do we have the full account of Jesus’ life, his miracles, his deity, his fulfillment of prophecy, his earthly credentials as the messiah, his resurrection and his ascension told together. Furthermore, the grand themes of such things as: sin and judgment, forgiveness and atonement, the doctrine of grace, and the call to repentance are all brought into sharp focus by direct encounters with Jesus by the four. In other words, the Gospels are not just warm up acts for the Book of Acts and the letters of Paul, but given as Gospel accounts. For most, this chapter will seem somewhat revelatory upon first reading, but, I predict, will soon be considered as both a matter of fact and godly wisdom.

My only criticism with the book is that I think it could have possibly benefited from better editing. I have two main reasons for drawing this conclusion. First, there are a handful of places where the author has written somewhat self-consciously, in a way that almost sounds like personal notes to the editor. For example: on page 116 he tells us that he has chosen to indent the lines of a quotation from 1 Corinthians 15, and on page 111 he apologizes for managing to write seven chapters before considering defining what the gospel is. Quote: “I will more than make up for this oversight by the inordinate length of this chapter.” These types of comments seem misplaced, given the high degree of academic acumen characteristic of the rest of the book.

The second reason for desiring improved editing is that I think the overall flow of the book would make more sense if it were reorganized, with chapter eight closer to the beginning (perhaps at chapter three) and with more fluidity among the remaining chapters. At present, nearly all of the chapters read as stand-alone pieces. If taught as a class, this works to book’s advantage; however, I do think there is a great opportunity to better explain and introduce up front how each element builds upon the others and integrates into the larger mission of evangelism.

All of that said, I loved this book and give it 4.5 out of 5. I would strongly recommend to friends, pastors, lay leaders, and anyone at all who has an interest in introducing the lost to our Lord and Savior, Jesus.

This was a book review in conjunction with the Koinonia blog tour of the following: The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission: Promoting the Gospel with More Than Our Lips [Hardcover] by John Dickson  (Forewards by Alister McGrath and Ravi Zacharias)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

An Excellent Primer on Islam

For anyone interested in a great primer on Islam from one of the premier Christian experts on the subject, I would commend Dr. James White's short presentation here. This presentation was given at a recent conference on apologetics called, "2010 God and Culture Conference on Apologetics".  It's a great 50 minute listen, found at this link.

National Crisis of Delayed Adulthood

Two articles shared by 9 Marks recently confirmed what I've been noticing for some time, in my extended family circles, in the workplace, and in the church. I wanted to capture the links and share them here, for my own future reference, but also just in case the handful of people who still care about what I post haven't seen them yet. So here ya go:

Why are so many people in their 20s taking so long to grow up? at The New York Times. The author calls the 20's a "Black Box".  Here's a good quote that the guys at 9 Marks pulled out:
"One-third of people in their 20s move to a new residence every year. Forty percent move back home with their parents at least once. They go through an average of seven jobs in their 20s, more job changes than in any other stretch. Two-thirds spend at least some time living with a romantic partner without being married. And marriage occurs later than ever. The median age at first marriage in the early 1970s, when the baby boomers were young, was 21 for women and 23 for men; by 2009 it had climbed to 26 for women and 28 for men, five years in a little more than a generation. . . . We’re in the thick of what one sociologist calls “the changing timetable for adulthood.”
Along the same line, Acts 29 is featuring a BootCamp for wannabe church planters. The event is not for wannabe men. Like the Marines, Acts 29 seems to be looking for "A Few Good Men." Great! 'Cause the two of the most important career fields where those entering the ranks are nearly always 20-somethings are 1) pastors and 2) military officers. We cannot afford to have Bans (or Moys, as I prefer) doing those jobs. But here is a great call to service by Acts 29 in Seattle, which looks really encouraging and promising:
Seattle Bootcamp: For Men who aren't Boys

Quite a Find

Added a new site to my feed reader today: "Ivman's Blague: one French professor's humorous and serious perspectives on life…"
Lots of funny things and uplifting humor on all sorts of topics.
Just a few recent favorites (there are so many more to recommend):
Is It All Geek to You?
Dog Owner Look Alikes
Attention Grabbers
Yet More Signs
Do You Understand Economists?
Connection VS Closeness

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Inception: Analogous to Life without Christ

Elyse Fitzpatrick's take on the movie inception (via a comment at The Gospel Coalition;s blog):
"'Inception; is one of the very few movies that I actually paid to see twice...

The dream world of Inception is sadly analogous to life without Christ: unfulfilled longings, unrealized dreams, selfishly using those you truly love, stealing from those you should serve, striving endlessly and never having the assurance of anything…no matter whether your totem keeps spinning or not. Life without Christ is a free fall into despair and Inception, if nothing else, makes that really clear…while it chillingly amuses the masses…including me."
[Oh, and he's definitely awake at the end of the movie, not still dreaming :)]

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Enemy of Pride

HeadHeartandHand wrote a great article on pride back in March of this year that I thought I'd post here as a good caution and reminder to myself and the supposedly 20 or so visitors per day who visit here (???) It was originally written to pastors, but most of it can easily apply to all Christians in whatever vocation or season of life we find ourselves. It seems especially helpful to me as I prepare to start an exciting and promising role in my brand new position on Monday.

The Particular Causes of Pride

• Public gifts. As your gifts are exercised in public (unlike those with more private and unseen gifts and ministries), they are more likely to be recognized, admired, and praised.

• Official status. As many of God's people respect and honor the "office" of pastor (sometimes regardless of who fills it), you may be inclined to think it is you they respect and honor.

• Man-centeredness. When people are blessed under your ministry, they will often attribute it to you rather than to God.

• Worldly ideas of leadership. You see yourself as "in charge of all these people," rather than their servant.

• Inexperience. The Church is quite unique in how it places untested and inexperienced young men into positions of the highest responsibility without going through the "humbling school of hard knocks." Having never been led, they sometimes do not know how to lead.

• Misunderstanding of call to the ministry (your vocation). Paul did not see ministry as a prize he had earned. For Paul, it was as much a grace, an unearned gift, as salvation (Eph. 3:8).

The (Pastoral) Consequences of Pride

If you fall into pride there will be serious consequences in your ministry (vocation).

•  You will start depending on your gifts rather than on God.

• You will become impatient with your less gifted brethren in the ministry or eldership.

• You will become thoughtlessly insensitive to the traditions and customs of the past.

• You will resist personal criticism and mature counsel.

• You will become discouraged and discontented because "I deserve better than this crowd!"

• You will regard yourself as above the small/dirty jobs in the congregation.

• You will stop learning because you know more than everyone else anyway.

• You may fall into the "condemnation of the devil" (1 Tim.3:6).
The Personal Cure of Pride

Let these two phrases be the double heartbeat of our ministries.

1. I am a sinner
• Remember what I was (think on the sins you've been delivered from)

• Remember what I could be now (if God had not stopped you)

• Remember what I still am (research your own heart )

• Remember what I could yet be (if God removed His restraining grace)

2. I am a servant
• A servant of God (not independent but dependent on God for commission, authority, blessing)

• A servant of God's people (not their lord or sovereign)

• A servant of sinners (do not look down on the unsaved but get down on your knees for them)

• A servant of servants (don't compete with others but serve them)

• A servant of the Servant (who said, "I am among you as one who serves," and, "the servant is not greater than his Master.")

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tempted to Fear?

From Christ is Deeper Still,
Leaving the first kind of fiery darts — enticing and alluring temptations — we now proceed to the second kind, those that fill the Christian with fear. It is only the power of faith that can quench these fiery darts.

This is Satan’s weapon held in reserve. When alluring temptations fail, he opens his quiver and shoots these arrows to set the soul on fire, if not with sin then with terror. When he cannot carry a soul laughing to hell through the deception of pleasurable temptations, he will try to make him go mourning to heaven by this amazing attack. It is a sure sign that Satan is losing.

The arrows he shot at Job were of this kind. When God let the devil practice his skill, why did he not tempt Job with some golden apple of profit or pleasure or some other enticement? Surely the high testimony God gave about Job discouraged Satan from these methods. Satan had no tactic left but this.”

-- William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armor (London, 1964), II:91, paraphrased.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

After Prop. 8

Kevin DeYoung offers some excellent advice on our response to the overturning of Prop. 8. here.
Excerpts of my favorite points:
"It’s easy to say 'we must stand for biblical truth' or 'we must reach out to gays and lesbians' or 'we must repent of our own sins.' These are all true statements, but they are not very specific. So I’ve been pondering what in particular should Christians do?"
Here are the best of the bullets:
  • "We should not disengage... We need thoughtful, winsome Christians engaging with this issue on television, in print, in the academy, in the arts, and in politics and law."
  • "Pastors need to teach on sexuality, preferably in the regular course of expositional preaching... It’s better for congregations to develop a biblical view of sexuality as they go through Ephesians, 1 Corinthians, Genesis, and the Gospels (yes, Jesus did talk about homosexuality; see Mark 7:21)." 
  • "We need to convey that the church is a safe place for those fighting this temptation. Second to Jesus Christ and his gospel, those struggling with same gender attraction need gospel community more than anything else." 
  • "We must not be afraid to talk about homosexuality....BUT when we do speak we must do so with broken hearts not bulging veins. A calm spirit and a broken heart are keys to not being tuned out immediately."
  • "Preaching and discipleship must exhort Christians to flee all kinds of sins. If churches take sin seriously and address specific sins all the time, it will be less jarring when homosexuality is brought up."
  • "We must accept that no matter how hard we try, some people will conclude we are bigots, homophobes, and neanderthals for thinking homosexuality is wrong. Our goal must not be to stop people from viewing us in this way. We can’t control perceptions. Our goal is that those ugly perceptions do not match reality."
  • "We need some of our best theological writers and thinkers to explore the nitty-gritty issues that perplex Christian families affected by homosexuality. How should Christian families relate to loved ones who are gay? If your homosexual friend gets “married” should you attend the ceremony? ... How should parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles talk about these issues with younger children? What should a Christian do if he or she is put together with a homosexual roommate in college? These are just some of the very practical questions that pastors and families need help considering."
  • "We must be prepared to suffer. We must not revile when reviled. We must choose to love those who work at cross-purposes to God’s ways. We must be willing to be called names, discriminated against, or worse."
  • "We must put away 'hate the sin, love the sinner' and put homosexuality in the context of the Bible’s metanarrative of creation, fall, redemption, re-creation. This is one issue just screaming for the bigger picture."
  • "This is not the worst crisis in the history of mankind. Homosexuality is sinful, but God specializes in sin. Look at what he’s done with us."

On Discernment

Below is a 10 minute sermon excerpt on the topic of cultural discernment by Mark Driscoll that I found very eye-opening. Wow! I was unaware of the overt spiritual darkness found in the books teens are reading these days.

For context the whole sermon is here:

ht: challies

E. Stephen Burnett offers another point of view on this topic: Demons, Driscoll and Discernment

Monday, August 9, 2010

Commo Idol?

Tim Challies has an excellent reflection on The Idol of Communication at his blog.

I think he is onto something with regard to our cultural view of "communication" as it is being defined by social media (facebook, blogs, cellphones, etc). And I also think that our redefined view of communication is evidenced by almost every job description written in the past 10 years. Invariably included: “excellent communicator”. In the world of office politics, (whatever is meant by) effective communication is more highly esteemed and rewarded than work ethic, project accomplishments, dependability, problem solving, or any other traditional measure of success. In some settings, "effective communication" means keeping things light, fluffy and irritatingly superficial. In some settings, it could mean not saying anything unless asked to respond. Each office culture has its own parameters for what determines "effective communication."

I’d like to work out the application of his last sentence a bit more: “words have the ability to draw people to what matters most.” I'd like that to be my goal in all of life - at home, work, church, and in the neighborhood.

A nice addition to this train of thought, I think, is JT's post on Magic and Technology

He quotes C.S. Lewis:

There is something which unites magic and applied science [=technology] while separating both from the “wisdom” of earlier ages.

For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue.

For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men; the solution is a technique.
—The Abolition of Man (reprint: New York: HarperOne, 2001), p. 77; my emphasis.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Visualizing the Christian Life

So how should we visualize the Christian life? -- excerpt from Eugene Peterson's "Spirituality for all the Wrong Reasons".

In church last Sunday, there was a couple in front of us with two (noisy young) kids. Two pews behind us there was another couple with their two.. kids making a lot of noise. This is mostly an older congregation. So these people are set in their ways. Their kids have been gone a long time. And so it wasn't a very nice service... But afterwards I saw half a dozen of these elderly people come up and put their arms around the mother, touch the kids, sympathize with her. They could have been irritated.

Now why do people go to a church like that when they can go to a church that has a nursery, is air conditioned, and all the rest? Well, because they're Lutherans. They don't mind being miserable! Norwegian Lutherans!

And this same church recently welcomed a young woman with a baby and a three-year-old boy. The children were baptized a few weeks ago. But there was no man with her. She's never married; each of the kids has a different father. She shows up at church and wants her children baptized. She's a Christian and wants to follow in the Christian way. So a couple from the church acted as godparents. Now there are three or four couples in the church who every Sunday try to get together with her.

Now, where is the "joy" in that church? These are dour Norwegians! But there's a lot of joy. There's an abundant life going, but it's not abundant in the way a non-Christian would think. I think there's a lot more going on in churches like this; they're just totally anti-cultural. They're full of joy and faithfulness and obedience and care. But you sure wouldn't know it by reading the literature of church growth, would you?

But many Christians would look at this church and say it's dead, merely an institutional expression of the faith.

What other church is there besides institutional? There's nobody who doesn't have problems with the church, because there's sin in the church. But there's no other place to be a Christian except the church. There's sin in the local bank. There's sin in the grocery stores. I really don't understand this naive criticism of the institution. I really don't get it.

Frederick von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree. There's no life in the bark. It's dead wood. But it protects the life of the tree within. And the tree grows and grows and grows and grows. If you take the bark off, it's prone to disease, dehydration, death.

So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something alive. And when you try to have a church without bark, it doesn't last long. It disappears, gets sick, and it's prone to all kinds of disease, heresy, and narcissism.

In my writing, I hope to recover a sense of the reality of congregation -- what it is. It's a gift of the Holy Spirit. Why are we always idealizing what the Holy Spirit doesn't idealize? There's no idealization of the church in the Bible -- none. We've got two thousand years of history now.

Read the whole thing; it's great! "Spirituality for all the Wrong Reasons".

ht: Gospel-Driven Church

Saturday, August 7, 2010

29, Crush Catalyst, Serving Single People

Carolyn McCulley, interviewed by Mark Dever of 9 Marks

"The interview covers Carolyn’s personal background, her early disdain for the church, her conversion, her love of the gospel and the church, her background in journalism, her thoughts on racial reconciliation and social justice, and her work at Sovereign Grace Ministries. They also discuss book writing, relationships, singleness, how pastors can help serve single women in their churches, gender roles and distinctions in the church, feminism, human trafficking, persecution in Pakistan, gender roles in the home, family productivity, recommended authors, blogging, and her book projects (in that order)." Go to the MP3 now>>>

Predestination Made Silly

This reminded me a little bit of our fellowship time before prayer and praise a couple of Sundays ago. A Westminster MDiv student came to visit at the family's house where we were meeting, and a few of us started getting into all sorts of questions concerning elements of predestination. Our young seminarian handled himself quite well, and I was left wondering why it is that I really, really like to have every question answered to complete satisfaction - unlike my more baffling friends and relatives who are quite at ease with just accepting that they may never know, this side of glory.

In any case, this video made me laugh at the end, 'cause it hit kinda close to home for me:

Small Groups Gone Wrong pt2 from Blueprint Church on Vimeo.