Saturday, April 28, 2007

my blogging days was over

And just like that, my blogging days was over. I had blogged for 1 year, 6 months, 13 days, and 6 hours.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

favorite recent quotable

I picked this up from the Jollyblogger (David Wayne) who thinks it may have come from John Frame ... etc.. Regardless, I like it ...
Frame said that truth does not equal precision, nor does precision equal truth. Something can be vague and still true. I don't take this to mean that vagueness is to be preferred over precision, if something is spoken with precision then we err if we make it vague. At the same time, something can be vague and still be true.

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when and why should you give

iMonk provides some practical guidelines for those anxious to follow the Biblical command to give generously. I tried to pick a few key points but couldn't decide so I copied his list as is.

1. The Biblical teaching on compassion for the poor, justice and generosity are well-established and crucial for a life of following Jesus.

2. The establishment of deacons and of guidelines for who is a “widow” indicates that the early church was aware of the issues that arise when Christians must make judgments regarding benevolence. I Timothy 5:3 and 5:16 indicate some are “truly” widows and others are not.

3. Paul condemns those who refuse to work, yet still seek to eat. The existence of such verses as 2 Thessalonians 3:10 and 3:12 make it clear that the church knew what a freeloader was. Notice Paul’s defense of himself in 2 Thessalonians 3:8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. Consider the ethical background of that statement: It is wrong to receive support as charity when support from work is possible.

4. I have experienced aggressive, convincing panhandlers in many situations. I have seen many people standing at interstate exit ramps and elsewhere with signs saying they want work. I am as moved by the needs of truly deserving people as anyone, perhaps more so.

5. For several years I did inner city mission projects and worked closely with ministries in inner cities such as Chicago, Boston and Louisville. I learned a lot, and my responses to those people changed as a result.

-Aggressive panhandlers are almost almost professional beggars. Many times they are active and wanted criminals. In the right place with the right approach, they can make several hundred dollars a day. (A seminary class I was in proved this. Students lived on the streets for 24 hours and begged for money and food. The results were amazing.)
-Local police and ministries are almost always familiar with these people. Asking them to come with you to a “Help” Ministry or to a police officer will quickly reveal what is actually going on.
-Aggressive panhandlers have very similar stories involving traveling, ill relatives, hospitals, gas, car repair, being lost, babies, etc.
-Aggressive panhandlers will almost always turn down the invitation to buy them a meal. They insist on quick cash.
-Ministries that deal with this are very clear: Don’t give money to aggressive panhandlers. Report them. They hurt the real work of mercy ministry in a community.

6. Another group of people asking for help will be alcoholics and drug addicts. Again, they almost always insist on cash, and generally will refuse to be taken to a shelter, ministry or police station. It is important not to allow an alcoholic or addict to use Christian compassion to further their addiction. True compassion is to put them in touch with help.

7. Dave Ramsey tells the story of working with his church’s benevolence ministry. They put three guidelines into place for all people asking for financial or food assistance. 1) Work an hour or two at the church. 2) Meet with a member of the church to make out a budget. 3) Attend one church service. Ramsey says that over 95% of persons asking for financial help did not return when these guidelines were given to them. This is a good indicator of the actual makeup of most benevolence requests.

8) If a person does not believe that prudence and wisdom need to accompany generosity, consider this situation: John and Jenny are at the movies. They come out and a panhandler asks for $20 for gas. Jenny gives it to him and they skip dinner together. The next day, Jenny and John are enrolling in college. A panhandler meets Jenny on the steps of the administration building and asks for $2000 to fly to his mother’s funeral in the Solomon Islands. Jenny has the money in her checkbook. Should she write the check?

If not, why not? If prudence and wisdom should come into play with $2000, then it should also come into play with $20.

9) Money given to aggressive panhandlers is money that can’t be given to the truly poor. Go to any ministry that deals with people who are truly poor. They will tell you that almost none of those poor people would be on the streets begging in America today because of the dangers, the criminal element and so forth. Addiction, mental illness, con artists and criminal intent are on most of America’s streets. The truly poor will be known to local shelters, ministries, schools and social workers. There are many opportunities to give to families and children who truly need the money and would never be begging on the streets with a story such as we commonly hear from panhandlers.

10) Every situation of compassion also has elements of wisdom. My son recently asked me for financial assistance to attend a writer’s workshop. I am not going to automatically give him the money in the name of Christian compassion. I am going to be a good steward and a good manager of what God has given me, and ask questions before giving. This is true at every level of giving. I receive hundreds of appeals every year. Dozens of students and missionaries ask for my support. (Many of them make far more than I do!) I am very, very selective about who I give to, and I ask many questions before giving. I believe this is God-honoring, as much as the generosity itself.

11) Jesus’ words are meant to underline the compassion and freedom of the Christian. Our generosity is an important expression of our discipleship. At times, we need to give with much less than perfect knowledge, and at times we need to obey the Spirit as he gives opportunity. But we are also to know the “streets and highways” where we are, and we are not to volunteer to be robbed as a witness. Aggressive panhandlers like Sundays, and they like Christians. We need to give them a dollar, a coupon and a brochure for the local “Help” office. We need to give to the truly needy a gift that will make a difference in their lives.

12) The parallelism of verse 42 is important as “beg” and “borrow” relate to one another. The one who borrows is making a promise to use wisely or even to repay. It is the neighbor in need, not the panhandler, that Jesus has in mind, I believe. The poor are our neighbors, but the person actively seeking to abuse another’s charity elicits a different response.

13) Apply the parenting test. If your child got $50 from grandma, would you tell them to give it to anyone at school who said they needed it? Or would you want some wisdom, prudence and stewardship to follow their compassion?

14) I know I sound like Scrooge, but I really think stewardship is not just pure generosity. Generosity is an essential component, but it needs to be tempered by prudence, wisdom and good judgement.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

macarthur on church spectatorism

John MacArthur posts another awful yet great article at Pulpit Magazine. This one is on how churches are filling will those who are spectators rather than servants.
That’s why Scripture portrays the church as a body—an organism with many organs (1 Corinthians 12:14), where each member has a unique role (vv. 15-25), and all contribute something important to the life of the body. “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it” (v. 26).

I can’t read that verse without thinking of Dizzy Dean. He was a Hall-of-Fame baseball pitcher, whose career peaked in the 1930s. His 1934 season has never been excelled by any pitcher in history. Dean won thirty games that year, a feat that hasn’t been repeated since (though Dizzy himself came close, winning 28 games the following year). But in the 1937 All-Star game, he took a hard line drive off his toe, and the toe was broken. It should not have been a career-ending injury, but Dean was rushed back into the lineup before the fracture was completely healed, and he pitched several games favoring the sore toe. That led to an unnatural delivery that seriously injured his pitching arm. The arm never fully recovered. Dizzy Dean’s major-league career was essentially over in four years.

Something similar happens in any church where there are non-functioning members. The active members of the body become overextended, and the effectiveness of the whole body suffers greatly. Even the most insignificant member, like a toe, is designed to play a vital role.
The point is great - if you want people to grasp the Biblical mandate that we are all servants, then we need to treat them this way. Each member is significant and each one has a role. This is exactly Frank Viola's point in that we need to be "one-anothering" each other. Short of that, the body suffers.

Unfortunately MacArthur's prejudices cause him to see this problem in the seeker-sensitive movement as opposed to the truth which is that it is both a cause/effect to the way most are doing church these days. We need a radical change and that doesn't look like the church the way MacArthur would have it. It looks like a variety of gathers in which overall, every member of the community finds and expresses their role in that.

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evel knievel jumps crystal cathedral

Well not exactly, but apparently there's quite a lot a of excitement over Knievel's testimony at the Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral this past Palm Sunday. After years of resisting God, Knievel described how the indescribable happened during Daytona Bike Week this March. With his testimony, another big change happened, Schuller broke from the script and hundreds responded to a call for repentance and baptism. Cool.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

mac on intimacy with christ

True to his nature, John MacArthur does both an excellent and a horrible job with his recent post at Pulpit Magazine, Intimacy with Christ. The excellent part of his analysis is exposition of Scripture. MacArthur identifies five elements in relationship to intimacy with Christ - faith, worship, prayer, obedience, and suffering.

The Intimacy of Faith - from Phil 3, MacArthur teaches that Paul had sought to earn God’s favor by legal obedience. But he came to realize that the law sets a standard he could never meet. And so he scrapped all his own works of righteousness as if they were filthy rags (cf. Isa. 64:6). This does not mean that he ceased doing good works, of course, but that he gave up trusting in those works for his salvation. Instead, he put all his faith in Christ—and was clothed in Christ’s perfect righteousness instead of his own imperfect works.

This is the doctrine known as justification by faith. Scripture teaches that our sins were imputed to Christ, and He paid the full penalty for them in His death. Now Christ’s own righteousness is imputed to us, and we receive the full merit of it. Without this reality we could enjoy no relationship whatsoever with a holy God.

Moreover, justification by faith—because it means we are clothed in Christ’s own righteousness—establishes the most intimate imaginable relationship between the believer and his Lord. It is an inviolable spiritual union. That’s why Paul often described believers as those who are “in Christ.”

In other words, all true intimacy with Christ has its basis in faith. In fact, no relationship with Him whatsoever is possible apart from faith (Heb. 1:1). As the apostle Peter points out, we love Him by faith, even though we have not seen Him (1 Pet. 1:8).

The Intimacy of True Worship - In Hos 6:6 the Lord says, “I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” That verse means we should not imagine that worship consists of rote acts of religious ritual—like sacrifices, burnt offerings, and other ceremonies. Instead, we need to realize that real worship is grounded in the true knowledge of God.

If we want God to delight in our worship, we must think rightly about Him. The very essence of idolatry consists in wrong thoughts about God. And conversely, true knowledge of God means knowing Him as He is revealed in Scripture.

To put it another way, sound doctrine, not liturgy and ritual, is the litmus test of whether our worship is acceptable.

Right thinking about God is therefore essential to true intimacy with Him. Anyone who would know Him intimately must know what He has revealed about Himself. And again, this does not mean we should seek some mystical knowledge about God. All we can know with any certainty about God is what is revealed in Scripture. Those who would know the true God in the true way must therefore seek to be thoroughly familiar with His Word.

The Intimacy of Prayer - Jesus himself taught us to seek intimacy with God through private prayer. Prayer is where the worshiper pours out his heart to God. And Jesus Himself stressed the importance of private prayer: “when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret” (Matt. 6:6).

He was confronting the practice of the Pharisees, who loved to pray publicly, for show. Jesus was not teaching that prayers should never be offered publicly, for there are obviously times when Scripture calls us to corporate prayer.

But the true Christian seeking intimacy with God will pray most often, and most fervently, in private. The true audience of all our prayers is God Himself. And if we understood what an incomprehensible privilege it is to be invited to come boldly before His throne of grace, we would surely spend more time there, pouring out our most intimate thoughts, fears, desires, and expressions of love to Him.

The Intimacy of Obedience - Jesus said to the disciples, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (Jn. 15:14). Thus Christ Himself made obedience to Him an absolute requirement for true spiritual intimacy.

Let no one claim intimacy with Christ whose life is marked by disobedience rather than submission to Him. Those who refuse to obey Christ as Lord cannot claim to know Him as a friend. Scripture plainly declares that He is Lord of all (Acts 10:36), and He is therefore entitled to demand our allegiance to His Lordship.

As a matter of fact, those who withhold that allegiance are His enemies, not His intimates (cf. Jas. 4:4). That’s why true intimacy with Him is utterly impossible without unconditional surrender to His divine authority.

The Intimacy of Suffering - Returning to Phi 3:10, we note once again what kind of intimacy with Christ Paul was seeking: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.”

Of course, we easily understand why Paul wanted a share in the power of Christ’s resurrection. But why did the apostle desire to know the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings and be conformed to His death?

We can be certain that Paul had no perverse love of pain and suffering. Elsewhere he testified how he repeatedly besought the Lord to deliver him from a “messenger of Satan” that was like a thorn under his skin (2 Cor. 12:7).

In the midst of that experience Paul discovered that God’s grace is sufficient to see us through all our sufferings. Moreover, God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness (v. 9).

But - throughout this article, and per his pattern, MacArthur insists on deviating from exposition. He somehow concludes that in the knowing of Christ, Christ is not allowed to speak to us and to desire such is to desire the mystical and prove that one does not truly know Christ. MacArthur missing the whole point of Scripture and of what it means to know Christ. He outlines the basis perfectly but fails in the result. To know Him is to commune with Him. Scripture illustrates how God interacts in space, time, history. God hasn't stopped. The canon is closed but God is not.

I thank God that as His sheep, I know Him, He knows me, I hear His voice, and I follow Him - Jesus, John 10.27 and I thank God for good exposition of His Word by men like John MacArthur to help provide a basis for this "knowing".

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tongues - only evangelistic?

Continuing in the theme of my last post, here's another Sam Storms article addressing the notion that tongues are only evangelistic. The first argument dealt with is that the exercise of tongues in Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost, “resulted in thousands being saved.”
Actually, Acts 2 says no such thing. People did indeed hear “the mighty works of God” from those who spoke in tongues, but their conversion did not come until Peter openly proclaimed the gospel in vv. 14-36 (especially vv. 22-36). Acts 2:37 explicitly says that when the people “heard this,” i.e., Peter’s proclamation of the person and work of Jesus Christ, that they made inquiry about how to be saved. ... The fact is that tongues is never used evangelistically anywhere in the NT. This isn’t to say it could never be used in this way, only that the NT does not conceive evangelism as one of its functions. [It is argued] that tongues in 1 Corinthians resulted “in confusion and problems in the church.” This is only partially true and therefore somewhat misleading. The problem in Corinth wasn’t tongues but the immature, prideful and ambitious abuse of tongues on the part of the Corinthians. Let’s never forget that tongues is a good gift that God conceived and bestowed on his church for its edification. The problem is never one of any spiritual gift per se, but rather of those who misunderstand and misuse what God has graciously provided.
The rest of the article deals with this and other misconceptions in more detail. Definitely worth reading if you're confused regarding the purpose of tongues.

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tongues - only human?

Sorry for the title, I just couldn't think of another one. Back in November, Sam Storms wrote an excellent piece regarding some of the debate regarding tongues and I thought it was worth highlighting portions of it. This article is primarily addressing those who argues “the Bible only knows one kind of tongues. . . . That kind is supernaturally-acquired human languages.” Storms writes,
The argument of ... cessationists is that modern manifestations of “tongues” have been shown not to be human languages and therefore are not the same as what we read in the New Testament. I have a few comments in response ... Acts 2 is the only text in the NT where tongues-speech consists of foreign languages not previously known by the speaker. But there is no reason to think Acts 2, rather than, say, 1 Corinthians 14, is the standard by which all occurrences of tongues-speech must be judged. Other factors suggest that tongues could also be heavenly or angelic speech.
The balance of the article expands on those other factors.
To begin, if tongues-speech is always in a foreign language intended as a sign for unbelievers, why are the tongues in Acts 10 and Acts 19 spoken in the presence of only believers? Note also that Paul describes various "kinds” or “species” (Thiselton, 1 Corinthians, 970) of tongues" (gene glosson) in 1 Corinthians 12:10. It is unlikely that he means a variety of different human languages, for who ever would have argued that all tongues were only one human language, such as Greek or Hebrew or German? His words suggest that there are differing categories of tongues-speech, perhaps human languages and heavenly languages.

In 1 Corinthians 14:2, Paul asserts that whoever speaks in a tongue "does not speak to men, but to God." But if tongues are always human languages, Paul is mistaken, for "speaking to men" is precisely what a human language does! If tongues-speech is always a human language, how could Paul say that when one speaks "no one understands" (1 Corinthians 14:2)? If tongues are human languages, many could potentially understand, as they did on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:8-11). This would especially be true in Corinth, a multi-lingual cosmopolitan port city that was frequented by people of numerous dialects. Moreover, if tongues-speech always is in a human language, then the gift of interpretation would be one for which no special work or enablement or manifestation of the Spirit would be required. Anyone who was multi-lingual, such as Paul, could interpret tongues-speech simply by virtue of his educational talent. Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians 13:2, Paul refers to "the tongues of men and of angels." While he may be using hyperbole, he just as likely may be referring to heavenly or angelic dialects for which the Holy Spirit gives utterance. Gordon Fee cites evidence in certain ancient Jewish sources that the angels were believed to have their own heavenly languages or dialects and that by means of the Spirit one could speak them (Fee, 630-31; see Hays, 223). We should also take note of the Testament of Job 48-50, where Job's three daughters put on heavenly sashes given to them as an inheritance from their father, by which they are transformed and enabled to praise God with hymns in angelic languages. Some have questioned this account, however, pointing out that this section of the Testament may have been the work of a later Christian author. Yet, as Forbes points out, "what the Testament does provide . . . is clear evidence that the concept of angelic languages as a mode of praise to God was an acceptable one within certain circles. As such it is our nearest parallel to glossolalia" (185-86).

The fact that tongues are said to cease at the parousia (1 Corinthians 13:8) leads Anthony Thiselton to conclude that it cannot be angelic speech, for why would a heavenly language terminate in the eschaton (see his First Corinthians, pp. 973, 1061-62)? But it would not be heavenly speech per se that ends, but heavenly speech on the part of humans designed to compensate now for the limitations endemic to our fallen, pre-consummate condition. Some say the reference in 1 Corinthians 14:10-11 to earthly, foreign languages proves that all tongues-speech is also human languages. But the point of the analogy is that tongues function like foreign languages, not that tongues are foreign languages. Paul's point is that the hearer cannot understand uninterpreted tongues any more than he can understand the one speaking a foreign language. If tongues were a foreign language, there would be no need for an analogy. Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 14:18 that he "speaks in tongues more than you all" is evidence that tongues are not foreign languages. As Wayne Grudem (Systematic Theology, 1072) notes, "If they were known foreign languages that foreigners could understand, as at Pentecost, why would Paul speak more than all the Corinthians in private, where no one would understand, rather than in church where foreign visitors could understand?" Finally, if tongues-speech is always human language, Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 14:23 wouldn't necessarily hold true. Any unbeliever who would know the language being spoken would more likely conclude the person speaking was highly educated rather than "mad."

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thank god

[Jesus] loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. - John, Revelation 1.5-6

There's a wideness in God's mercy like the wideness of the sea;
there's a kindness in his justice, which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good;
there is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in his blood.

For the love of God is broader than the measure of the mind;
and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful, we should take him at his word;
and our life would be thanksgiving for the goodness of the Lord.

Frederick William Faber, There's a Wideness in God's Mercy

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Friday, April 20, 2007

robertson declares himself winner in 2008

Robertson Declares Himself the Winner of the 2008 Presidential Election.

RobertsonIn a bold statement that has upset many the Reverend Pat Robertson, founder of the 700 Club and the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), has claimed victory in the 2008 Presidential election.
"Today, I would like to formally announce that I will win, and therefore have won, the election." Said Robertson at a press conference. "The people have spoken."

During the press conference Robertson, speaking in the past tense, gave a detailed account of how he had received the Republican nomination unanimously, "destroyed" Democratic opponent Jonathan Edwards in two live debates, and finally won the election with 67% of the popular vote and a majority of the votes from the electoral college.

Robertson furthermore, in light of what he called "unstoppable truths," called for all campaigns to end and the 2008 election to be canceled.

"God told me that I was going to be elected to the office of President of the United States. There's no stopping it. Canceling the 2008 election would save our country a lot of time and money, not to mention headaches."

Robertson campaigned unsuccessfully for the 1988 Republican nomination for president, but has since been very involved in politics.

[taken from tominthebox via todd rhodes]

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spiritual gift of dodgeball

Charlie Parker's spiritual gift is dodgeball!


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interviews with worshippers

Worship Together, aka New Song Cafe, has published a series of interviews with various artists on YouTube. Here's a sample of Yesterday, Today, and Forever by Vicky Beeching. If you love contemporary worship music, it's worth a visit.

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god's best life now

Nakedpastor got me laughing again ... theologically sound with a sense of humor ... it doesn't get better.

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Sorry - that last post wasn't cool enough ... here is Stringfever again with Bolero ... sehr toll.

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history of music

Yes, I'm still here. I've been very busy and the next few weeks don't look like they will be any better. But for your viewing pleasure, here's Stringfever bringing you the History of Music.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

sober times for baptists

According to St. Louis Today, the Missouri Baptist Convention has toughened its alcohol policy for people who receive money from the organization to start new churches.

Individuals who help found new churches were already required to sign a statement agreeing to abide by the organization's policy on alcohol consumption. Some of the new language requires those who receive money from the convention to go a step further and "teach the strong Biblical warnings of the consumption of alcohol for all Christians."

I keep getting in deeper and deeper trouble. According to the Pyro guys I believe in a leaky canon because I speak in tongues and prophecy. Jerry Falwell just called me a heretic because I'm a Calvinist. And now I can't get money from the MBC because I drink alcohol. I sure hope no one finds out about my cigars.


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Sunday, April 15, 2007

gilmore on a boat

I was catching up on some Pink Floyd today and caught these interesting videos of David Gilmore's houseboat recording studio.

And then there is just Gilmore playing.

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reflecting christ

"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins," - Hebrews 10.24-26

Building on this (as well as 1 Cor 12, Eph 1.22-23; 4.1-16), Frank Viola states, "From man's perspective, the purpose of the church meeting is mutual edification. But from God's perspective, the purpose of the gathering is to express His Son. We gather together so that the Lord Jesus can manifest Himself in His fulness. When this happens, the Body is edified."

Again, Viola demonstrates both perceptiveness and lack of perceptiveness. I like his point that too often we think about spiritual things backwards. If we would focus, as he suggests, on expressing Jesus, then by definition the body would be edified. We wouldn't then get into the trap of trying to create programs to pump up the body when the real issue is the absence of the Holy Spirit. Too many "churches" are simply corpses propped up by programs of men.

On the other hand, Viola missed it by using the word "meeting". He continues to talk about the Church as a meeting and then compounds his frustration by limiting the meeting to the Sunday morning liturgy.

Yesterday I had "church" several times. I started the day with my wife discussing what our future in Christ looks like. We then joined some friends to go to low income housing to give out Tuna Helper. Before going out we prayed, we discussed what the Kingdom of God looks like, we talked about why Ambassadors of the King were gathering in the cold rain to do what we were doing. While we gave out this Tuna Helper we prayed for a few of the families/individuals and we offered some other simple forms of help. Later in the day some friends gathered at Quiznos to "break bread", talk about what God was doing in our lives, and discuss things we might do in the future to share His love. That evening we had a beautiful couple and their children to our home. We shared our dinner table with them, shared stories of our lives, and discussed our love for Christ and how he is leading us to begin a new small group together. We talked about our value for worship and the Word of God - how we want to include these values in this new group and how we want to ensure that whenever we gather together, that all members participate and share with the group out of their own gifting.

So when I went to bed last night, I thanked God that I was able to "have Church" all day long. Frank Viola should continue to challenge us to not get comfortable with what most are doing on Sunday morning but he would do better to remind us that the key reason for that is that that is not "Church".

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imma heretic

Yep - I've gone full circle. Randy no-blog, in spite of my tongue-talking, promoted me from "heretic" to "in-error" to "misguided". But now Dr. Jerry Falwell, has placed me among Bunyan, Owen, Whitefield, Spurgeon, Carey, Boyce, Mell, Dagg and Lloyd-Jones ... oh, and Randy no-blog.

In his chapel message at Liberty University this past Friday, Falwell said, "We are not into particular love or limited atonement. As a matter of fact we consider it heresy."

Phil Johnson (a fellow heretic), wrote eight articles explaining Why I Am a Calvinist. The series is worth reading if you are at all confused and open to hearing some Scripture that might "offend" you comfort zone. Here's his summary.
You might be one of those people who doesn’t want to be referred to as a Calvinist or an Arminian. But the fact is, if you are a Christian at all, you do already affirm the fundamental principle in every one of those truths. You already know in your heart of hearts that you weren’t born again because you were morally superior to your unbelieving neighbors. You were worthy of God’s wrath just like them (Eph. 2:1 3). According to Ephesians 2:4-6, it was God who quickened you and showed you a special mercy—and that is why you are a believer. You already know that in your heart. You don’t really believe you summoned faith and came to Christ in your own power and by your own unaided free will. You don’t actually believe you are morally superior to people who don’t believe. You therefore must see, somewhere in your soul, that God has given you special grace that He has not necessarily shown everyone.

You also believe God is absolutely sovereign over all things. I know you do, because you lean on the promise of Romans 8:28. And that promise would mean nothing if God were not in control of every detail of everything that happens. If He is not in control of all things, how could He work all things together for good?

Furthermore, you pray for the lost, which means in your heart, you believe God is sovereign over their salvation. If you didn’t really believe He was sovereign in saving sinners, you’d quit praying for the lost and start doing everything you could to buttonhole people into the kingdom by hook or by crook, instead. But you know that would be folly. And you pray about other things, too, don’t you? You pray that God will change this person’s heart, or alter the circumstances of that problem. That’s pure Calvinism. When we go to God in prayer, we’re expressing faith in His sovereignty over the circumstances of our lives.

You even believe God operates sovereignly in the administration of all His providence. You say things like, “If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (James 4:15)—because in your heart you believe that God works all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11), and nothing happens apart from His will.

Nothing is more biblical than these doctrines that are commonly labeled Calvinism. In a way, it is a shame they have been given an extrabiblical name, because these truths are the very essence of what Scripture teaches. The very gist of Calvinism is nowhere more clearly stated than in the simple words of our verse: “We love Him, because He first loved us.”

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

the church is not promoting health

Frank Viola accurately makes the following charge.
... the institutional church is essentially a nursery for overgrown spiritual babes. Because it has habituated God's people into being passive receivers, it has stunted their spiritual development and kept them in spiritual infancy. (The incessant need for predigested, dished out spiritual food is a mark of spiritual immaturity -- I Cor. 3:1-2; Heb. 5:12-14) ... The church has claimed the ground of a believing priesthood. But it failed to occupy that ground!
As before, I certainly agree with that charge but not necessarily on the same basis as Viola and certainly not with the same solution. One does not have to look far to see that most "believers" see Christianity as a "spectator-sport". Viola points to lack of participation in the Sunday service as evidence of this. I point to daily living.

While I can agree that our Sunday morning forms in part promote this unhealthy behavior, I do not see this as the cause. One could even argue that the problems we see on Sunday morning are more of the symptom rather than the cause. Frankly, even if we attained Viola's vision of Sunday morning, if day in and day out, moment by moment, we are not both proclaiming and demonstrating the Kingdom of God, then we are falling short.

We need the mutual edification, etc., that he calls for every moment of every day.

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baptism not necessary

Johnny Mac is doing what he does best, expositing Scripture, today on the topic of whether or not baptism is necessary for salvation. The short answer, "no".
Perhaps the most convincing refutation of the view that baptism is necessary for salvation are those who were saved apart from baptism. The penitent woman (Luke 7:37-50), the paralytic man (Matthew 9:2), the publican (Luke 18:13-14), and the thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43) all experienced forgiveness of sins apart from baptism. For that matter, we have no record of the apostles’ being baptized, yet Jesus pronounced them clean of their sins (John 15:3—note that the Word of God, not baptism, is what cleansed them).

The Bible also gives us an example of people who were saved before being baptized. In Acts 10:44-48, Cornelius and those with him were converted through Peter’s message. That they were saved before being baptized is evident from their reception of the Holy Spirit (v. 44) and the gifts of the Spirit (v. 46) before their baptism. Indeed, it is the fact that they had received the Holy Spirit (and hence were saved) that led Peter to baptize them (cf. v. 47).
I'd add that these folks probably didn't understand TULIP either. ;- )

I'll put off further comment since I'm hopeful that MacArthur will later post why baptism is right for believers. For now, you can reference baptism a la Nacho Libre or baptism a la Piper.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

imonk and johnny mac

When he is expounding scripture, Dr. MacArthur is at his strongest. This book contains an excellent study of portions of the book of Jude. Those familiar with Dr. MacArthur’s skill as an expositor and his strong commitment to stay close to the message of scripture will be pleased with this book. Dr. MacArthur does mention that he has covered the Biblical material elsewhere, but this book is more pointed towards the issues of postmodernism, relativism and the emerging church.

When Dr. MacArthur leaves his specialty of exposition, he is a different writer, one far less commendable.

- iMonk, Review: The Truth War by John MacArthur

I must say that I share this view. I learned a lot from MacArthur over the years and still do from Team Pyro and Pulpit Magazine. I can point to no other group who so consistently "nails it" when doing Bible exposition. One wonders why they feel such a strong need to leave exposition and deliver content far below their demonstrated capability.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

religion in the church

Nakedpastor just posted this excellent piece on taking our religious selves to church. If you've been reading my blog, you know that I have recently been challenged with the question of "how we do church". I think Naked hits at least one of the nails right on the head when he says, "once we get within the walls of a church, we become something we are certainly not". We have this notion of what church should be. This notion is sadly too often informed by our tradition rather than the Spirit. We then condition ourselves to be less than we are designed to be.

Frank Viola is challenging this by reminding us that it is not right to put new wine in old wine skins. However, based on the above, I am more convinced than ever that comparing the old wine skin to Sunday morning services in the western world is the wrong analogy. He's on the right track in terms of something needs to change but I don't think he has the right target in his sights. I think the target is the people of God, the true church, that somehow equate what they do on Sunday as being the Church. We need to change that paradigm. As Naked points out, we are somehow able to do that at other times, why not on Sunday? Why, when we think of Sunday, do we feel a need to and then ultimately do come up with some special, modified behavior that is not reflective of who we are during the week?

This is the change that must be targeted. I fear that Viola focusing on the problem from the tact he has chosen will only result in another set of problems.

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we need to die

Will at One Thing I Know posted his sermon Dying So That We Might Live. Here are some excerpts and thoughts.
While preaching a minister asked his church, “Who wants to go to heaven?”
Everyone held up their hands except one young boy.
“Son, don’t you want to go to heaven when you die?”
“Yes sir, when I die, but I thought you was gettin’ up a load to go now.”
The truth is that the words "I'm willing to die" are easier to say than do. Of course there are some things we are willing to die for - or at least claim we are willing to die for. The real question is what are you willing to live for and are you willing to live in a way that is dead to yourself?
Robert Capon says, “Jesus solves the world’s problems by dying." And unless we are willing to see our own death as the one thing necessary for our salvation, we will never be able to enjoy the resurrection, even though Jesus hands it to us on a silver platter. If we refuse to die, we will cut ourselves off from ever knowing the joy of his grace in us...
Jesus modeled how to live a life dead to Himself which included submitting to the point of physical death.
James Forbes ... The church can’t rise because it refuses to drop dead. The fact that it’s dying, he said, is of no use to it whatsoever: dying is simply the world’s most uncomfortable way of remaining alive. If you are to be raised from the dead, the only thing that can make you a candidate is to go all the way into death. Death, not life, is God’s recipe for fixing up the world. And we, as individuals and as church can choose to die, because we believe that Jesus specializes in bringing the dead to life again.
So the truth is that we are dying regardless. We can choose to hang onto our lives (or forms of church or fill in your favorite point) but in doing so we live lives that are less than we ought and in the end, we still die. Or we can choose to die now and live life in Christ Jesus. Then, and only then, can we have abundant life. The Kingdom is come now and will only become more complete. But we must first die. Are you trying to live or die?

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the body versus the head

Nakedpastor continues to deliver excellent theology in a single cartoon frame. If you haven't added him to your daily reading I'm concerned about your salvation.
Jaunt 1

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training fleas

"Coincidentally", as I am doing some reading challenging the way we think about church, I saw this PS2 video about training fleas. I think that too often Christians allow tradition to lock them into a wrong paradigm on what Church is about.

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phil johnson has gone charismatic

Phil Johnson has posted Here's Mud in Your Eye examining Jesus' startling behavior recorded in John 9.6-7. This is the story of the blind man healed by Jesus on the Sabbath. The interesting piece is that Jesus used mud made from dirt and His own spit. I love this comment by Johnson.
It's remarkable that the blind guy submitted to such a remedy. If you go to a charismatic optometrist and he proposes something like that as a treatment for your nearsightedness, my advice is to find a cessationist doctor.
Charismatic or not, isn't this how most (if not all) of us would respond? Too many of us simply dismiss all things supernatural or that doesn't fit within the closed-system of a world that we have created in our minds. But beyond that, there are a number of us that claim to be open to all that God wants to do yet our love for Scripture and our fear of error has closed our hearts to anything we haven't yet read in the Bible. In fact, I'd venture to say we are closed to a lot of Bible stuff.

I like this caution from my friend Robert Ivy in his excellent post on which way Scripture points.
It is curious, then, how some cessationists claim that charismatics err in making much of the Spirit while cessationists make much of a work of the Spirit.
As we read, meditate, devour, pray over Scripture, are we seeing it as a text book with formula, historic facts, tips for living, prophecy, warnings, etc? Or do we see it as a God breathed inerrant communication from God pointing back to God?

When read wrongly, we get tangled up in Scriptures such as John 9. When read properly we realize that there is likely some "spittle" coming our way. Johnson did a nice job with this text.

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easter for the postmodern

The bodily resurrection of Jesus isn't a take-it-or-leave-it thing, as though some Christians are welcome to believe it and others are welcome not to believe it. Take it away, and the whole picture is totally different. Take it away, and Karl Marx was probably right to accuse Christianity of ignoring the problems of the material world. Take it away, and Sigmund Freud was probably right to say that Christianity is a wish-fulfillment religion. Take it away, and Friedrich Nietzsche was probably right to say that Christianity is a religion for wimps. Put it back, and you have a faith that can take on the postmodern world that looks to Marx, Freud and Nietzsche as its prophets; you can beat them at their own game with the Easter news that the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Those who celebrate the mighty resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, therefore, have an awesome and nonnegotiable responsibility. When we say "Alleluia! Christ is risen!" we are saying that Jesus is Lord of the world, and that the present would-be lords of the world are not. When we sing, in the old hymn, that "Judah's Lion burst his chains and crushed the serpent's head," are we ready to put that victory into practice? Are we ready to speak up for, and to take action on behalf of, those even in our own local community, let alone farther afield, who are quietly being crushed by uncaring and unjust systems?

Are we ready to speak up for the truth of the gospel over the dinner table and in the coffee bar and in the council chamber?

- NT Wright, in Grave Matters. Christianity Today, April 1998

Alleluia! Christ is risen!


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michael card redefines worship

Michael Card redefines worship in Today's Christian, The (Broken) Heart of Worship
We must never lose sight of the fact that all these laments flow from that first faithful response in Job 1:20, "then he fell to the ground in worship." They are all connected to that initial act of worship by the threads of lament that weave together the fabric of the entire book. Job stubbornly insists on maintaining the dialogue with the God who, for a while longer, remains infuriatingly silent. He continues to offer up to Him all his suffering, his suicidal groanings, his confusion and hurt, even his own deep disappointment with God. He has come to the desperate understanding that there is no other place to take them but to God. They are the only offering he has left. He cannot lose now because he has nothing left to lose. Despite his heartbroken and heartbreaking accusations against God—that He no longer sees or cares—Job sees with a crystal clarity provided by suffering that he simply has no place else to go.

Today we would ask Job to leave all these negative emotions at the church door. They are not appropriate to, nor do they fit inside the narrow confines of our definition of, worship. And so, likewise, those of us who have nothing else to offer but our brokenness find the door effectively closed in our faces. It cost Job everything to teach us this lesson. It is time we learned it.

Worship is not only about good feelings, joy, and prosperity. If this were true, then according to this modern American understanding of worship, the poor have nothing to say, nothing of value to bring to God. While Jesus would pronounce a blessing on those who mourn, we in modern congregations often pronounce a curse. Those who "labor and are heavy laden" can find no place in our comfortable churches to lay their burdens. We reason, "Who could possibly conceive of a God who would want to receive such worthless, empty offerings?"

But Job desperately clings to such a God, one who encourages us to offer everything to Him, every joy and every sorrow. All our broken hearts. All our contrite spirits. Because He is worth it.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

the fear of the lord

"It seems to me, the closer I get to Jesus, the more sin and self I see in me. Now, it's not that the sin wasn't there before, it certainly was. It's just that I am able to see it so much more clearly now than I ever did before. The good news is, however, that I'm able to catch that sin more quickly and make the appropriate faith choices to relinquish it to God." - somebody

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in the church meeting

Frank Viola quotes Watchman Nee from The Normal Church Life.
In the church meetings' each one hath a psalm, hath a teaching, hath a revelation, hath a tongue, hath an interpretation' (1 Cor 14:26). Here it is not a case of one leading and all others following, but each one contributing his share of spiritual helpfulness. . . Nothing is determined by man, and each takes part as the Spirit leads. It is not an 'all man' ministry, but a Holy Ghost ministry. . . An opportunity is given to each member of the church to help others, and an opportunity is given to each one to be helped. One brother may speak at one stage of the gathering and another later on; you may be chosen of the Spirit or help the brethren this time, and I next time. . .Each individual must bear his share of responsibility and pass on to the others what he himself has received of the Lord. The conduct of the meetings should bear the burden together, and they should seek to help one another depending upon the teaching and leading of the Spirit, and depending upon His empowering too. . . A church meeting has the stamp of 'one another' upon it.
This is a build on Viola's premise that every time the church gathers it is for mutual edification (1 Co 14.26, He 10.24-25, Ro 14.19, 1 The 5.11, He 3.13-14). To this I have to say a hearty Amen! ... but I also have to cry foul. These are my small group verses. I think Viola is making the same mistake as many others do regarding our Sunday gatherings. Everyone I know (or whose opinion I value) is at least a little bit dissatisfied with what we do on Sundays. Each person then finds their gift area in Scripture and then says, "see, this is what we should be doing on Sunday."

I think we are all wrong. Our problem is that while we know that form follows function, we have this huge elephant in the room called Sunday morning worship a la Western World and it simple doesn't fit anything we find in the Bible. So we try to force our favorite aspect of daily Christian living into that and it simply will not work - or it will work at the expense of other aspects of daily Christian living.

The verse in Hebrews used by Viola makes the daily living point clear. "... exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today ...'" I don't know Greek but I bet that cannot be turned into "wait for Sunday".

Net - I'm with Viola in that we have so diluted what "Sunday" is about that I suspect it is not effective at anything - well, actually, I think it effectively teaches some wrong things (but that's a separate post). I do not agree with him that it should become what he has so far suggested. His point is a mark of everyday Christian living and not a prescription for the Sunday morning liturgy.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

rethinking the wineskin ... or church as it were

0966665708.01. Bo2,204,203,200 Pisitb-Dp-500-Arrow,Topright,45,-64 Ou01 Sclzzzzzzz Aa240 Sh20 My dear friends Andrea and Tassos are challenging my thinking on how we do "church". They have sent me Frank Viola's Rethinking the Wineskin: The Practice of the New Testament Church and Pagan Christianity: The Origins of Our Modern Church Practices. Both books should be interesting but I'm in a period of "low reading". My work load is unusually high these days and fortunately I am not doing much travel right now. But the latter is where I get most of my reading done.

Anyway, I will try to blog my thoughts as I read and because of that, you might find me shifting as I work through this as well as being a bit disjointed. Feel free to comment and contribute to my growth.

I must admit that my start point for this material is a bit biased. I presume I will agree with most things Viola will critique about the Church but I will differ in that I do not consider what happens on Sunday as Church. My thinking is that what we see in the western world on Sunday mornings is one of the things that Church does but if I had to pick a meeting as representative of "church", then I'd pick the small group setting.

Even that is difficult because I would not define Church as a meeting or place but if put in a corner, it would be the weekly small group meeting. Sunday "services" then become optional - important, but optional.

I see the key issue with our meetings as one of confusing the intent. We have created the "Sunday morning culture" and in an effort to prop that up, we have lost sight of why we are together both at that time and at other times. So I'm excited to read what Viola has to say.

In his opening chapter, The Church Meeting, Viola starts by deconstructing the four "typical" reasons given for the church meeting.
  1. corporate worship
  2. evangelism
  3. hearing sermons
  4. fellowship
On worship, Viola rightly reminds us that worship extends beyond our meetings and that it is more than the singing of songs. His conclusion is therefore worship is not the chief aim of why we come together. Of course argument can be extended to say that this is the only reason we come together. That is, we come together as a response to who God is and what He is doing. Net, Viola provides a good reminder of what worship is not and thereby sets straight a large numbers of believers but he hasn't completed the conversation regarding worship in the corporate setting.

On evangelism, Viola rightly reminds us that the majority of evangelism in Scripture occurred outside of the corporate setting and that Paul teaches that the church gathering is primarily for believers. Again I say AMEN - great reminder. Too many wrongly think that the Church is the Sunday gathering and further that error by recognizing the western culture norm of non-believers showing up at those meeting. They cannot resist the opportunity to "witness" to those and in their zeal completely lose sight of what the Church needs.

The next point is on the manner of sharing the teaching of the Apostles. Viola suggests that "preaching" by a special speaker is not normative in the regular gathering but reserved for special meetings. I'm not completely convinced at that same time I completely agree that we have abdicated all teaching to the paid speaker and taken away from the believer all responsibility for learning and teaching. This is very wrong. But I'm not as concerned as Viola about the format of the experience on Sunday morning because I liken that to the special meeting and not the primary gathering that he is dealing with.

Finally comes the point regarding fellowship. As with the above points, I agree with the concern. Fellowship is a value. It is an outflow of all that we do as believers. We do not gather for fellowship but as we gather, fellowship happens. I have been part of many "committees" charged with how to increase the fellowship at the church gatherings and I am sickened by the suggestions. They ultimately evolve to abandoning the true purpose of our gathering and substituting this with potlucks, name tags, welcome centers, etc.. It's unbelievable how far a well-intentioned believer will go once they forget why they are there.

So - I'm looking forward to the challenges Viola offers. Feel free to join in my learning.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

murphy on technology

Murphy's Technology Laws
  1. You can never tell which way the train went by looking at the track.
  2. Logic is a systematic method of coming to the wrong conclusion with confidence.
  3. Whenever a system becomes completely defined, some damn fool discovers something which either abolishes the system or expands it beyond recognition.
  4. Technology is dominated by those who manage what they do not understand.
  5. If builders built buildings the way programmers wrote programs, then the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization.
  6. The opulence of the front office decor varies inversely with the fundamental solvency of the firm.
  7. The attention span of a computer is only as long as it electrical cord.
  8. An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less until he knows absolutely everything about nothing.
  9. Tell a man there are 300 billion stars in the universe and he'll believe you. Tell him a bench has wet paint on it and he'll have to touch to be sure.
  10. All great discoveries are made by mistake.
  11. Always draw your curves, then plot your reading.
  12. Nothing ever gets built on schedule or within budget.
  13. All's well that ends.
  14. A meeting is an event at which the minutes are kept and the hours are lost.
  15. The first myth of management is that it exists.
  16. A failure will not appear till a unit has passed final inspection.
  17. New systems generate new problems.
  18. To err is human, but to really foul things up requires a computer.
  19. We don't know one millionth of one percent about anything.
  20. Any given program, when running, is obsolete.
  21. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
  22. A computer makes as many mistakes in two seconds as 20 men working 20 years make.
  23. The faster a computer is, the faster it will reach a crashed state.
  24. Nothing motivates a man more than to see his boss putting in an honest day's work.
  25. Some people manage by the book, even though they don't know who wrote the book or even what book.
  26. The primary function of the design engineer is to make things difficult for the fabricator and impossible for the serviceman.
  27. To spot the expert, pick the one who predicts the job will take the longest and cost the most.
  28. After all is said and done, a hell of a lot more is said than done.
  29. Any circuit design must contain at least one part which is obsolete, two parts which are unobtainable and three parts which are still under development.
  30. A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that works.
  31. If mathematically you end up with the incorrect answer, try multiplying by the page number.
  32. Computers are unreliable, but humans are even more unreliable. Any system which depends on human reliability is unreliable.
  33. Give all orders verbally. Never write anything down that might go into a "Pearl Harbor File."
  34. Under the most rigorously controlled conditions of pressure, temperature, volume, humidity, and other variables the organism will do as it damn well pleases.
  35. If you can't understand it, it is intuitively obvious.
  36. The more cordial the buyer's secretary, the greater the odds that the competition already has the order.
  37. In designing any type of construction, no overall dimension can be totaled correctly after 4:30 p.m. on Friday. The correct total will become self-evident at 8:15 a.m. on Monday.
  38. Fill what's empty. Empty what's full. And scratch where it itches.
  39. All things are possible except skiing through a revolving door.
  40. The only perfect science is hind-sight.
  41. Work smarder and not harder and be careful of yor speling.
  42. If it's not in the computer, it doesn't exist.
  43. If an experiment works, something has gone wrong.
  44. When all else fails, read the instructions.
  45. If there is a possibility of several things going wrong the one that will cause the most damage will be the one to go wrong.
  46. Everything that goes up must come down.
  47. Any instrument when dropped will roll into the least accessible corner.
  48. Any simple theory will be worded in the most complicated way.
  49. Build a system that even a fool can use and only a fool will want to use it.
  50. The degree of technical competence is inversely proportional to the level of management.
  51. Any attempt to print Murphy's laws will jam the printer.

another reason to buy an ipod

445618364 92Afb0AdebiPod's can save your life! This iPod saved the life of Sergeant Kevin Garrad of the 3rd Infantry Division. Ok, his vest probably helped too but this makes for a better story.

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the man in the arena

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

-- Teddy Roosevelt, “The Man In The Arena”
Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, France, April 23, 1910

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

keller on the gospel

Here is Tim Keller's Redeemer Vision Paper #1, The Gospel: Key to Change.

The Greek term “gospel” (ev-angelion) distinguished the Christian message from that of other religions. An 'ev-angel' was news of a great historical event, such as a victory in war or the ascension of a new king, that changed the listeners’ condition and required a response from the listener. So the gospel is news of what God has done to reach us. It is not advice about what we must do to reach God. What is this news?

God has entered the world in Jesus Christ to achieve a salvation that we could not achieve for ourselves which now 1) converts and transforms individuals, forming them into a new humanity, and eventually 2) will renew the whole world And it is good news in three important ways.
1. The gospel is the good news of gracious acceptance. Jesus lived the life we should live. He also paid the penalty we owe for the rebellious life we do live. He did this in our place (Isaiah 53:4-10; 2 Cor 5:21; Mark 10:45). We are not reconciled to God through our efforts and record, as in all other religions, but through his efforts and record. Christians who trust in Christ for their acceptance with God, rather than in their own moral character, commitment, or performance, are simul iustus et peccator- simultaneously sinful yet accepted. We are more flawed and sinful than we ever dared believe, yet we are more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope at the same time.

Without this unique understanding of grace-salvation, religions have to paint God as either a demanding, holy God who is placated by back-breaking moral effort, or as what C.S. Lewis calls ‘a senile, old benevolence’ who tolerates everyone no matter how they live. The problem is that if I think I have a relationship with God because I am living morally according to his standards, it does not move me to the depths to think of my salvation. I earned it. There is no joy, amazement, or tears. I am not galvanized and transformed from the inside. On the other hand, if I think I have a relationship with God because the Divine just embraces us all, no matter what how we live— that also does not move me to the depths. I simply have the attitude of Voltaire, who, on his deathbed famously said, “Of course God forgives—that’s his job.” Any effort to take away the idea of Christ’s substitutionary atonement and replace it with a moralism (i.e., being moral, working for others, imitating Jesus) robs the gospel of its power to change us from the inside out.

The gospel is, therefore, radically different from religion. Religion operates on the principle: "I obey, therefore I am accepted". The gospel operates on the principle: "I am accepted through Christ, therefore I obey." So the gospel differs from both religion and irreligion. Not only can you seek to be your own ‘lord and savior’ by breaking the law of God (i.e., through irreligion), you can also do so by keeping the law in order to earn your salvation (i.e., through religion). A lack of deep belief in the gospel is the main cause of spiritual deadness, fear, and pride in Christians, because our hearts continue to act on the basis “I obey, therefore, I am accepted.” If we fail to forgive others--that is not simply a lack of obedience, but a failure to believe we are saved by grace, too. If we lie in order to cover up a mistake--that is not simply a lack of obedience, but a failure to find our acceptance in God rather than in human approval. So we do not ‘get saved’ by believing the gospel and then ‘grow’ by trying hard to live according to Biblical principles. Believing the gospel is not only the way to meet God, but also the way to grow into him.

2. The gospel is the good news of changed lives. Paul says to Christians, ‘your life is hid with Christ in God’ (Col 3:3), and in numerous places he says that we are now ‘in Him.’ This means, on the one hand, that the Father accepts us in Christ and treats us as if we had done all that Jesus has done (cf. Col 3:2a). But this is also means Christ’s life comes into us by the Spirit and shapes us into a new kind of person. The gospel is not just a truth about us that we affirm with our minds, it is also a reality we must experience in our hearts and souls. For example, In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 Paul wants the people to give an offering to the poor. He says, “I don’t want to order you. I don’t want this offering to simply be the response to my demand.” He doesn’t put pressure directly on the will (saying ‘I’m an apostle and this is your duty to me!’) nor pressure directly on the emotions (telling them stories about how much the poor are suffering and how much more they have than the sufferers). Instead, Paul vividly and unforgettably says, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). When he says ‘you know the grace’—he uses a powerful image, bringing Jesus’ salvation into the realm of money and wealth and poverty. He moves them by a ‘spiritual recollection’ of the gospel. Paul is saying, ‘Think on his costly grace. Think on that grace until you are changed into generous people by the gospel in your hearts.’ So the solution to stinginess is a re-orientation to the generosity of Christ in the gospel, where he poured out his wealth for you. Now you don’t have to worry about money—the cross proves God’s care for you and gives you security. Now you don’t have to envy any one else’s money. Jesus’ love and salvation confers on you a remarkable status—one that money cannot give you.

Paul does the same thing in Ephesians 5:25ff, where he urges husbands to be faithful to their wives. What is the point? What makes you a sexually faithful spouse, a generous-not avaricious- person, a good parent and/or child is not just redoubled effort to follow the example of Christ. Rather, it is deepening your understanding of the salvation of Christ and living out of the changes that understanding makes in your heart—the seat of your mind, will, and emotions. Faith in the gospel re-structures our motivations, our self-understanding and identity, and our view of the world. Behavioral compliance to rules without heart-change will be superficial and fleeting. The gospel changes your heart.

3. The gospel is the good news of the new world coming. The plot-line of the Bible is this:
1) God created the world,
2) The world and humanity fell into sin and decay,
3) But God sends his Son to redeem the world and create a new humanity, and
4) Eventually the whole world will be renewed. Death, decay, injustice, and suffering will be all removed.

The gospel then is not just about individual happiness and fulfillment. It is not just a wonderful plan for 'my life' but a wonderful plan for the world. It is about the coming of God's kingdom to renew everything. Gospel-centered churches do not only urge individuals to be converted, but also to seek peace and justice in our cities and in our world

Christ wins our salvation through losing, achieves power through weakness and service, and comes to wealth via giving all away. Those who receive his salvation are not the strong and accomplished but those who admit that they are weak and lost. This pattern creates an 'alternate kingdom' or 'city' (Matt.5:14-16). in which there is a complete reversal of the values of the world with regard to power, recognition, status, and wealth. When we understand that we are saved by sheer grace through Christ, we stop seeking salvation in these things. The reversal of the cross, therefore, liberates us from bondage to the power of material things and worldly status in our lives. The gospel, therefore, creates a people with a whole alternate way of being human. Racial and class superiority, accrual of money and power at the expense of others, yearning for popularity and recognition--all these things are marks of living in the world, and are the opposite of the mindset of the kingdom (Luke 6:20-26).

All of the above are important ‘perspectives’ on the gospel. The first stresses the doctrinal content of the gospel. The gospel is the news that Jesus Christ died and rose for our salvation in history. The second stresses the personal individual impact of the gospel. The gospel is a transforming grace that changes our hearts and inmost motives. The third stresses the social impact of the gospel. The gospel brings a new ‘order’ in which believers no longer are controlled by material goods or worldly status and have solidarity with others across customary social barriers. These three ‘perspectives’ are all Biblical and should be kept together. There is a tendency for Christians and churches to focus on just one of these perspectives and ignore the others. However they are inseperable and inter-dependent on one another.

If, for example, you stressed the social perspective to the exclusion of others, you might call loudly for social justice, but your ministry will not convert people and give them the changed lives they need to persevere in humbly serving the needs of the poor. If you stress the doctrinal perspective to the exclusion of the experiential and social, you might have a ministry that is doctrinally accurate but it will not produce changed lives, so why should anyone believe your doctrine? If you over-stress the personal perspective, you might ‘psychologize’ the gospel so that it is presented as strictly a way for an individual to overcome his or her guilt and unhappiness. But it will not get the person out of him or herself—which is what you need most to be happy. We were built by God for service. All three perspectives are necessary. This full approach to the gospel creates a church that does not fit neatly into the traditional ‘conservative/sectarian’ nor ‘liberal/mainline’ categories.

The gospel is the dynamic for all heart-change, life-change, and social-change. Change won’t happen through 'trying harder' but only through encountering with the radical grace of God.

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keller on missional

Phil Johnson thinks "Missional living as portrayed in many Emerging communities is not a legitimate substitute for real evangelism, where the gospel is proclaimed plainly and powerfully." I'm not sure how Johnson gets to "many Emerging communities" ... I can easily accept "some Emerging communities" just as I can "some Evangelical/Charismatic/insert whatever flavor you want communities".

SB at Exhibiting the Value of Knowing God addresses this well and finds it helpful to have the word missional in our vocabulary (contrary to Johnson). Here he points us to this excellent piece by Tim Keller on The Missional Church. Keller explains that the elements of a missional Church are:

  1. Discourse in the vernacular
  2. Enter and re-tell the culture's stories with the gospel
  3. Theologically train lay people for public life and vocation
  4. Create Christian community which is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive
  5. Practice Christian unity as much as possible on the local level
As always, Keller is persuasive and helpful.

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theological change

Martin Downes nails it again with this analogy.
Have you ever been waiting at a train station, sat patiently at your seat, whilst next to you another train is likewise waiting to leave? And then, as the train starts to move, for a few seconds you are not sure if your train is the one moving or if it is the next train that is starting to pull off. The way to be sure is to look at the platform. The platform after all doesn't move.

So it is in an age of theological change when definitions and doctrines are in motion. Our ultimate authority here is Scripture. This is exactly where Paul directs Timothy as he seeks to be faithful in an age of impostors and deceivers (2 Tim. 3:10-17). This is the fixed point for doctrine.
Read the rest of his post here. He closes with this line from Al Mohler ... "The drama of the gospel has not changed, but the audience for evangelical theology has changed--and not for the better."

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keller on preaching

Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City responds to Ten Questions for Expositors by Colin Adams. I expect to have several posts in the near future quoting Keller so if you are not a fan, don't drop by for awhile.

1. Where do you place the importance of preaching in the grand scheme of church life?
It is central, but not alone at the center. Pastoral ministry is as important as preaching ministry, and lay ‘every-member’ ministry is as crucial as ordained ministry. I wouldn’t make a heirarchy out of these things–they are interdependent. But pastoral ministry and lay ministry is no substitute for strong preaching.

2. In a paragraph, how did you discover your gifts in preaching?
I preached about 200 different expositions a year for the first nine years of my ministry (when I was age 24 through 33.) During that time I was considered interesting and good but I never got a lot of feedback that I was anything special. I’ve grown a lot through lots of practice.

3. How long (on average) does it take you to prepare a sermon?
I pastor a large church and have a large staff and so I give special prominence to preparing the sermon. I give it 15-20 hours a week. I would not advise younger ministers to spend so much time, however. The main way to become a good preacher is to preach a lot, and to spend tons of time in people work–that is how you grow from becoming not just a Bible commentator but a flesh and blood preacher. When I was a pastor without a large staff I put in 6-8 hours on a sermon.

4. Is it important to you that a sermon contain one major theme or idea? If so, how do you crystallise it?
I don’t know that I’d be so rigid as to say there has to be just one Big Idea every time. That is a good discipline for preachers in general, because it helps with clarity. Most texts have too much in them for the preacher to cover in one address. You must be selective. But sometimes a preaching-size text simply has two or three major ideas that are too good to pass up.

5. What is the most important aspect of a preacher’s style and what should he avoid?
He should combine warmth and authority/force. That is hard to do, since tempermentally we incline one way or the other. (And many, many of us show neither warmth nor force in preaching.)

6. What notes, if any, do you use?
I use a very detailed outline, with many key phrases in each sub-point written out word for word.

7. What are the greatest perils that preacher must avoid?
This seems to me too big a question to tackle here. Virtually everything a preacher ought to do has an corresponding peril-to-avoid. For examples, preaching should be Biblical, clear (for the mind), practical (for the will), vivid (for the heart,) warm, forceful, and Christo-centric. You should avoid the opposites of all these things.

8. How do you fight to balance preparation for preaching with other important responsibilities (eg. pastoral care, leadership responsibilities)
See my remarks on #3 above. It is a very great mistake to pit pastoral care and leadership against preaching preparation. It is only through doing people-work that you become the preacher you need to be–someone who knows sin, how the heart works, what people’s struggles are, and so on. Pastoral care and leadership is to some degree sermon prep. More accurately, it is preparing the preacher, not just the sermon. Prayer also prepares the preacher, not just the sermon.

9. What books on preaching, or exemplars of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
British preachers have had a much greater impact on me than American preachers. And the American preachers who have been most influential (e.g. Jonathan Edwards) were essentially British anyway.

10. What steps do you take to nurture or encourage developing or future preachers?
I haven’t done much on that front at all, and I’m not happy about that. Currently I meet to with two other younger preachers on my staff who also preach regularly. We talk specifically about their preaching and sermon prep.

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