Thursday, May 31, 2007

Liking the term "Evangelical" less and less

Thinking out loud here (as a blog allows), combined with recent personal observations and studies, I have been questioning whether I really qualify as an evangelical. Don't get me wrong, if "evangelical" is defined as one who believes faith in Christ is the only way of salvation and the bible is inspired, inerrant, and authoritative, then I am an evangelical. However, based on popular culture's (TIME Magazine) identification of who the "Top 25 Evangelicals", I see little connection between me and almost all of them.

Consider these names, with no offense meant against these individuals- Rick Warren, Douglas Coe, Charles Colson, James Dobson, Billy and Franklin Graham, Ted Haggard, Bill Hybels, T.D. Jakes, Tim and Beverly LaHaye, Richard Land, Brian McLaren, Joyce Meyer, Richard John Neuhas, Mark Noll, J.I. Packer, and Jay Sekulow. These are just 16 of the people identified as the "Top 25 -most influential- Evangelicals". Seriously? These folks are what is considered evangelical? It strikes me that none of them are listed for their commitment to Sola Scriptura (the Bible alone) or Solus Christus (Christ alone), but for their seeming political and cultural sway in America. Certainly J.I. Packer is a faithful defender of these reformational principles and one of my heroes. Mark Noll is also a sound representative of historical Christianity. Land and Colson have certainly made solid statements supporting biblical and Christological commitment. But there are few on the list that qualify as defenders and promoters of the historic Christian faith. Again, I mean no offense against any on the list, I'm just wondering how I fit, since I have always called myself an evangelical.

Perhaps what irks me the most is Rick Warren being listed at the top. Praise God for whatever has been done for the honor and glory of Christ through Rick Warren's ministry, however, his statement about a "second reformation" (a subject I am very passionate about), showed dangerous ignorance, especially if it reflects what most evangelicals think:

"I’m looking for a second reformation. The first reformation of the church 500 years ago was about beliefs. This one is going to be about behavior. The first one was about creeds. This one is going to be about deeds. It is not going to be about what does the church believe, but about what is the church doing".

Warren is seriously wrong. The first reformation, very simply, was about authority (the bible or the pope ?) in order for the people of God to live for God's glory. There was never a separation between creeds and deeds for any of the reformers! Sure, there are many other issues that came up during the remarkable 16th Century Reformation, however, the most practical issue was determining man's locus of authority. I say practical because the matter was directly linked to our deeds (again, Warren seems to think there is no connection between creeds and deeds- very telling, very dangerous). The first reformation was about a rediscovery of God's authoritative Word so our lives could be lived for the glory of God. The Scriptures were released from their inaccessibility in a Josiah-like rediscovery and given to the whole church. The first reformation was about right thinking (orthodoxy) producing right actions (orthopraxy). WE NEED THIS AGAIN TODAY!

Warren epitomizes what is wrong with modern Evangelicalism- he assumes we (evangelicals) know doctrine well but just don't live it out. I would contend we do not know doctrine well and that is why we are NOT having a serious impact on our culture.

Why would I suggest we do not know our doctrine well? Besides my personal interactions with many different believers from several "evangelical" denominations and churches, just look at the "Top 25 Evangelicals". Most could not be classified as trained biblicists: one is a heretic (T.D. Jakes- does not believe in the Trinity), and one is a Roman Catholic (Richard Nehaus). Of the group Time magazine enumerates, only Richard Land, Mark Noll, and J.I. Packer can be considered trained, studied, learned biblicists. The 16th Century Reformation was led by trained pastors and theologians, not pop icons. I have great respect for several of the people on this list and do not challenge the notions that God has used them for his glory in some way or that they have an important role to play in leading Christians and culture, I only point out the relative lack of biblical prowess among those who are considered leading evangelicals. James Dobson has some helpful pointers for family life and parenting, but his dependence and on secular psychology ought to be challenged more. Billy Graham seems to be a wonderfully godly man, however his consistent refusal to speak in biblically absolute terms regarding the fate of those who do not trust in Christ has long been troubling to me. Tim LaHaye can certainly help write top-selling "Christian fiction" (what kind of genre is that?), however he is in no way to be considered a biblical scholar. Frankly, his brand of eschatology has caused a wide level of pessimistic, separatistic practices by churches who believe "it's getting worse and worse", basically according to God's plan for the end times. Bill Hybels, Ted Haggard, Joyce Meyer? Wow. These are the leaders of the American evangelical Church? I really do wonder how long this label "Evangelical" can be used and still mean something. The label "new evangelical" or Neoevangelical has been batted around to describe some of the people mentioned in Time's article. Maybe such a label is more helpful? I don't know. I think "evangelical", for most people in America, means right-wing conservative who goes to some kind of "purpose-driven" mega church.

When I read who popular culture identifies as "Top Evangelicals", quite frankly, it saddens me. Evangelical has been reduced to having a big church, best selling self-help books, or seemingly great political influence and friends in "high" places. I'm none of those things, don't want to be, and never will be.
While popular with many (and hated by others), Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Knox weren't these things either. They did garner large crowds, distribute lots of books, and exert certain political influence, but did so with a constant focus and emphasis on the glory of God, a commitment to the bible and teaching sound doctrine. I assure you, none of them got rich doing these things. They really believed the Scriptures were all we need for life and godliness. They believed faithful exposition of Scripture would be the catalyst for changing not only the Church, but the world. All were willing and ready to die for reformation. Why are names like Sproul, Piper, MacArthur, Zacharias, Chapell, Frame, Pratt and Mohler not mentioned in such a group? I think this is telling.

R.C. Sproul Jr. has been credited with making this observation- An evangelical is a fundamentalist that wants the respect of modernists, and sells his soul to get it. He has a point.

Maybe I'll snap out of this, but for now, I just don't like what the label "evangelical" has come to mean. I don't know if I am one.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Gobbler down

Nathan and I hunted most of the day today and I finally put the "swahili" (a redneck term for a quick, clean, kill) on an old gobbler. I say "finally" because there are only 3 days left in the Kansas turkey season and they get tougher to hunt this late in the season (getting shot at for 6 weeks can make a creature a bit skittish). The Eastern/Rio hybrid turkey was a 3 year old with a 10-plus inch double beard. I have never harvested a double-beared tom before, he's definitely going on my wall somewhere. Wild turkey meat is very good eating also. Heat up the frying pan!

The hunt unfolded in classic afternoon turkey hunting fashion. We hiked wooded ridgelines calling in to draws until we got an old bird to gobble at us. At 1:35 we struck a lonely tom and knew we had a shot at calling him in. We set up the decoys and got ready. It was Nathan's turn to film, so I was up to shoot. As things go when hunting on cattle land, right when I was working the gobbler and getting him fired up, the whole herd of cattle decided to feed through our position. I thought we lost the tom. Then, five minutes after Nathan chased off the cattle, we heard our gobbler again. Sure enough, instead of coming the direction we had hoped, he came in behind us, from the thick wooded valley. We slowly turned around at the trees we were set up at and right after I called from that position, my turkey let loose with a fierce "gobbbbbblllllleeeeee". Very cool. When they are close enough to hear the rattle in their throat, you know it's almost showtime.

I finally caught a glimpse of his red head (when they are excited, their heads fill with blood and they look bright red-it's supposed to impress the ladies) as he made his way toward our position. It turns out he wasn't alone. He had two "satellite" gobblers hanging out with him (big toms often will have a couple lackeys trail them all the time). Nathan saw one of the other gobblers and put the camera on him, thinking it was the one I was going to shoot. He didn't see the big boy I was aiming to put the smack on. Anyways, I fired and killed the gobbler while Nathan had the camera on one of the smaller birds. He thought I missed, and kept telling me where they were running so I could take another shot (the other birds started running away after I shot the lead bird). I told him I crushed the gobbler, then he realized he had the wrong bird on film! It was no problem, that's the way filming a turkey hunt goes, it's very tough. We still captured the essence of the hunt. Great fun to watch later.

Tomorrow were going to a different place to try and call a lovesick tom in to shotgun range. My turn to film, Nathan's up to shoot.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Word from the Prince of the Puritans on Mortifying Sin

In one of his great works on sin, John Owen expounds greatly on several directives to aid believers in the killing of sin in their lives. While reading Owen can be cumbersome given his Latinised spoken style, however, it is most definitely worth the effort.
Two guiding principles:
· Mortification is only for believers and is ultimately caused by the Spirit who indwells us.
· Mortification of sin can only happen when a person is a believer and with sincerity and diligence applied.

Nine particular directions suggested by Owen for the Mortification of Sin:

1. Consider the dangerous symptoms which attend your sin
2. Get a clear sense of the guilt, danger, and evil of the sin
3. Load your conscience with the guilt of the sin;
4. Get a constant longing for deliverance from the sin in question;
5. Consider whether the sin in question is rooted in your nature and heightened by your constitution;
6. Consider the occasions in which this sin raises its ugly head most often;
7. Rise up mightily at the first signs of the sin
8. Fill yourself with thoughts that lead to a healthy self-abasement (think upon God’s greatness)
9. Do not speak peace to yourself until God speaks it (How to rightly have peace)

“The difference between believers and unbelievers as to knowledge is not so much in the matter of their knowledge as in the manner of knowing. Unbelievers, some of them, may know more and be able to say more of God, his perfections, and his will, than many believers; but they know nothing as they ought, nothing in a right manner, nothing spiritually and savingly, nothing with a holy, heavenly light. The excellency of a believer is, not that he has a large apprehension of things, but that what he does apprehend, which perhaps may be very little, he sees it in the light of the Spirit of God, in a saving, soul-transforming light; and this is that which gives us communion with God, and not prying thoughts or curious-raised notions”. (Owen, The Mortification of Sin, p.117)

Friday, May 25, 2007

Guess their Eschatology (Installment #1)

Based on these quotes, what would you guess is the author's view of the culmination of human history?

Since the Savior's advent in our midst, not only does idolatry no longer increase, but it is getting less and gradually ceasing to be. Similarly, not only does the wisdom of the Greeks no longer make any progress, but that which used to be is disappearing. And demons, so far from continuing to impose on people by their deceits and oracle-givings and sorceries, are routed by the sign of the cross if they so much as try. On the other hand, while idolatry and everything else that opposes the faith of Christ is daily dwindling and weakening and falling, the Savior's teaching is increasing everywhere! Worship, then, the Savior "who is above all" and mighty, even God the Word, and condemn those who are being defeated and made to disappear by Him. When the sun has come, darkness prevails no longer; any of it left anywhere is driven away. So also, now that the Divine epiphany of the Word of God has taken place, the darkness of idols prevails no more, and all parts of the world in every direction are enlightened by His teaching.
- Athanasius (293-373 AD)
I will shake heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the dry land; and I will move all nations, and the desired of all nations shall come." The fulfillment of this prophecy is in part already seen, and in part hoped for in the end. For He moved the heaven by the testimony of the angels and the stars, when Christ became incarnate. . . . So we see all nations moved to faith; and the fulfillment of what follows, "And the desired of all nations shall come," is looked for at His last coming. For before men can desire and wait for Him, they must believe and love Him.
- Augustine (354-430 AD)
Before God there remains nothing of which we can glory save only his mercy, by which, without any merit of our own, we are admitted to the hope of eternal salvation: and before men not even this much remains, since we can glory only in our infirmity, a thing which, in estimation of men, it is the greatest ignominy even tacitly to confess. But our doctrine must stand sublime above all the glory of the world, and invincible by all its power, because it is not ours, but that of the living God and His Anointed, whom the Father has appointed King, that He may rule from sea to sea, and from the rivers to the ends of the earth; and so rule as to smite the whole earth and its strength of iron and brass, its splendour of gold and silver, with the mere rod of his mouth, and break them in pieces like a potter's vessel; according to the magnificent predictions of the prophets respecting His kingdom (Dan. 2:34; Is. 11:4; Ps. 2:9).
- John Calvin (1509-1564 AD)

David was not a believer in the theory that the world will grow worse and worse, and that the dispensation will wind up with general darkness and idolatry. Earth's sun is to go down amid tenfold night if some of our prophetic brethren are to be believed. Not so do we expect, but we look for a day when the dwellers in all lands shall learn righteousness, shall trust in the Savior, shall worship thee alone, O God, and "shall glorify thy name." The modern notion has greatly damped the zeal of the church for missions, and the sooner it is shown to be unscriptural the better for the cause of God. It neither consorts with prophecy, honours God, nor inspires the church with ardour. Far hence be it driven.
- Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892 AD)

The Scriptures, both of the Old and New Testament, clearly reveal that the gospel is to exercise an influence over all branches of the human family, immeasurably more extensive and more thoroughly transforming than any it has ever realized in time past. This end is to be gradually attained through the spiritual presence of Christ in the ordinary dispensation of Providence and the ministrations of His church.
- A. A. Hodge (1823-1886)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Revenator has fallen (video below)

AP Wire- Coming out of dodgeball retirement after five years, the Revenator's comeback ended Tuesday night at 9:28 in to his high stakes dodgeball match against the 30 students who make up the 7th and 8th grade of Westminster Christian Academy.

The Revenator started strong launching rockets and dodging incoming balls, however, the larger playing area (in his day, the games were played in an area 2/3 the size), age, physical decline, and a funny "pop" noise he heard in his decrepit elbow (the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz had less creaks and groans in his joints...), made defeating the younger, more plentiful Westminster students a tall order for the aging dodgeball legend. Revenator appeared winded as he gathered balls and set up for several attacks on the retreating youngsters. He voiced disappointment regarding the unwillingness of the students to go "toe to toe" with him at the center line, however most experts saw this as a smart strategy to wear down the declining, once dominant, dodgeball hero.

The final play came at 9:28 in to the match when Chandler Riley caught the Revenator's ball, something unheard of "in the day". To add insult to injury, the class ganged up on the fading dodgeball hall of famer and pummelled him mercilessly on more than one occasion. One observer noted, "this is so watch such a legend of this sport be abused and humiliated by these classes..". Another bystander remarked, "He should have stayed retired, now his legacy is tarnished...poor guy".

So, the name that once struck fear in the hearts of WCA students is now chuckled at much like the notion of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Sadly, the usually verbose Revenator could not be reached for comment after the match or this morning.

Disclaimer: While respecting the production company's freedom of creative license, the owner of this blog does not believe Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman in the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Baptism Thought

We have had the blessing of baptizing six people over the past three Sundays at Redeemer. Before last Sunday's baptism, I did some personal re-reading on the subject and thought this quote from Berkhof worthy of sharing-

Strictly speaking, only the Word and the sacraments can be regarded as means of grace, that is, as objective channels which Christ has instituted in the Church, and to which He ordinarily binds Himself in the communication of His grace...They are in themselves, and not in virtue of their connection with things not included in them, means of grace. Striking experiences may, and undoubtedly sometimes do, serve to strengthen the work of God in the hearts of believers, but this does not constitute them means of grace in the technical sense....The Word and the sacraments are in themselves means of grace; their spiritual efficacy is dependent only on the operation of the Holy Spirit...

The mystics stress the fact that God is absolutely free in communicating His grace, and therefore can hardly be conceived of as bound to such external means. Such means after all belong to the natural world, and have nothing in common with the spiritual world. God, or Christ, or the Holy Spirit, or the inner light, work directly in the heart, and both the Word and the sacraments can only serve to indicate or to symbolize this internal grace. This whole conception is determined by a dualistic view of nature and grace...[The rationalists] thought of the means of grace as working only through moral persuasion, and did not associate them at all with any mystical operation of the Holy Spirit. In fact, they placed the emphasis more on what man did in the means of grace than on what God accomplished through them, when they spoke of them as mere external badges of profession and (of the sacraments) as memorials. The Arminians of the seventeenth century and the Rationalists of the eighteenth century shared this view.

--Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology

Sunday, May 20, 2007

What is he thinking?

I am no political pundit so I expect some kind of reaction from you political junkie-type readers, however Jimmy Carter's recent criticism of President Bush makes me sick. Never mind what you think about George Bush and his job performance, it isn't right for a former president to speak in the way Carter has spoken about Bush. I understand the First amendment. If congressmen and citizens want to diss the President, that's their right, but former presidents ought to conduct themselves as statesmen, not as desperate commentators CNN or Al Jezerra might want to hire. If Jimmy Carter had been a solid, effective president, it still would not be right to castigate the sitting President. The fact is, however, the very statement Carter made about Bush (that Bush is the worst in history regarding foreign relations) is more demonstrably true of him. The old "if you live in a glass house, you shouldn't throw rocks" adage definitely applies here.

I am just old enough to remember American hostages in Iran for 444 days while our President stumbled and bumbled around. I was young, but I remember being embarrassed by how wimpy Jimmy Carter was. I honestly do not remember anyone speaking positively about Carter's presidency. I lived in a relative hotbed of the Democratic party and I know for a fact that many died in the wool Dems voted for Reagan because of Carter's ineptitude. Political leanings aside, he was a weak leader and poor President. Specific to his recent criticism of Bush, the late ultra liberal Senator from my former state, Daniel Moynihan, said it best concerning Carter and his view of the world- "Unable to distinguish between our friends and our enemies, he has adopted our enemies' view of the world." Most shockingly, I have recently read in 1990 and 1991, as the first George Bush was assembling the Gulf War coalition, Carter wrote secretly to Margaret Thatcher, Fran├žois Mitterand, Mikhail Gorbachev, and several others, asking the U.N. Security Council not to back Bush! In my view, his actions were treasonous. Further, he had a genuine admiration for Yassar Arafat and a seeming disdain for Israel. Avoiding the whole Israel-Palestinian conflict debate, I will only say that supporting and even affirming a terrorist like Arafat is just mind boggling. No one in America would have been safe with Carter as President for long. His election was an unfortunate pendulum swing from the Nixon era. The record on Jimmy Carter is clear, especially as it relates to his "leading" in the area of foreign relations. Five years ago, after Carter successfully campaigned for a Nobel Peace Prize (what joke that was...North Korea was swindling everyone with a smiley Carter standing by, once again) Jay Nordlinger wrote a piece on Jimmy Carter worth reading, Carter has only shown his true colors more vividly since then.

What was he thinking? Why is he embarrassing the office of President like this? Why is he embarrassing America by saying the things he is saying? I can recall no former president's saying the kinds of things he does about our sitting president. Clinton comes close at times, but it is usually in connection to an attack on his administration, but who's really surprised by that?George Bush Sr. has taken the proper role of statesmen after leaving office. In my view, George W. Bush maintains an incredible level of composure in the face of constant, fierce, criticism. I am thankful he does his best to honor the office by not getting in a tit for tat type of dialogue with his detractors. But Carter? What is he thinking?

Friday, May 18, 2007

Dodgeball Hero

This video clip demands an explanation lest you think I am some kind of psycho.

In 1997, when I came to Redeemer, our school (Westminster Christian Academy) had just 23 students. They needed a P.E. teacher so yours truly volunteered. I told our headmaster that I had soccer coaching experience and that was about it. I was very up front about what I would teach- when the weather was good, we would play football, kickball, or soccer outside. When the weather was bad, we would play dodgeball inside. No tumbling, circuit training, parachute exercising, skipping, long-jumping, esteem-building lame stuff from me. I taught P.E. at Westminster for 4 years. We played an enormous amount of dodgeball. It was awesome.

The school went from 23 students in 1997 to over 110 students in 2001. At the end of the class dodgeball games I would challenge the entire class to a game. I would try to beat 20 or 30 students alone. It was lots of fun and became the stuff of legend. One particular highlight happened my last year of teaching when I taunted the older students (our school goes up to 8th grade) to a game while I played in a wheel-chair! I actually beat them. They haven't stopped talking about that. Parents even needle me about that stunt to this day. Westminster has long since hired a real PE teacher (I even hear she doesn't encourage head shots...what kind of whimpy generation are we training?).

Anyways, I've been "retired" from dodgeball for over 5 years. I think I made a short, one night comeback 3 years ago during a youth lock-in, but otherwise, I've been enjoying dodgeball retirement for some time. A couple weeks ago, one of the parents who remembered the "Pastor Tony Dodgeball days", asked if I would play one last game against our 7th graders and outgoing 8th graders during the 8th grade graduation celebration night. I was reluctant at first, due to my lack of dodgeball physical conditioning (one hates to destroy his legacy...see Joe Louis against Rocky Marciano...), however, my competitive side began to get the best of me and I accepted the challenge. Since it was revealed to the students that I would be taking them on in one last game, it has become apparent there are many in the 7th and 8th grade classes who participated back in the day and would love to get a shot at me now that they are older and more skilled and I am past dodgeball prime.

Despite the high likelihood that I will get pummelled, I allowed our youth pastor, Brian Hough, to make a video montage of me to taunt my competition and hype the event (scheduled for next Tuesday night). It is pretty humorous, so take it the way it's intended.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

It's all downhill from here...

Last year, when I turned 35, it dawned on me that I am no longer young. It's not that I'm necessarily old, but I'm definitely not young any longer. On Saturday I went to the KC Wizards game and noted only one player on both rosters who is older than me. Watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs (with considerable duress, due to my Sabres collapse) I have found only a handful of players who are over 35. Today while reading a Fox Sports article about aging baseball players Randy Hill wrote the following:

At the unintentionally tender age of 35, many representatives of the male human fraternity reach a stunning physical crisis. This encounter often seems to occur overnight, creating the need for spotter assistance so the subject can stand upright. The bedroom mirror — which was transformed from ally to ambivalent bystander during those early 30s — officially has become the enemy. It suggests that your once-stellar physique now is falling apart with the unmistakable sprawl of a haphazardly engineered taco.

Bottom line- it's all downhill from here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Near Death Experience? A reflection on my "accident" one year later

On the one-year anniversary of my roll-over accident I will post a revised version of a newsletter article I wrote which briefly considers the concept of a "near death experience".

Ephesians 1:11 In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will…

Last year, the early morning of May 15, Nathan and I were driving to our usual turkey hunting location in southeast, Kansas. We have taken this trip well over a hundred times in the past five years, however this morning things turned out differently. While traveling South on 69 Highway, shortly after 167th street, a family of deer was standing in the road. Traveling at 70 miles per hour and having no advanced warning, my low beams were the first thing to make them visible I could either hit them head on or try to avoid them. Experts say you should
hit them instead of swerving to miss. Instinctively, I tried to miss them. I dodged to the left and corrected back to the right in order to stay out of the ditch-like median, the truck began to fishtail hard to the right, slide backwards and sideways off the road at a high rate of speed. The truck immediately began to roll violently. Most of the windows broke out and I could see the cab crushing in. Nathan was in the passenger seat and I lost sight of him. We rolled two
and a half times before slamming into a rocky embankment upside down and uphill from the road. Words cannot describe what fear I experienced when I wondered if Nathan was still alive. I remember yelling to Nathan right away “You all right ?…are you O.K.”? I’ll never forget hearing him reply“Yeah, I’m O.K.”. Man was that a relief, still I couldn't see him, the roof was crushed in and we were upside down in the dark.
There was glass everywhere. I kicked my door open, undid my seat belt and kind of fell out. Nathan's door was jammed shut (see the pictures) so he crawled over to my side and out.
We stopped at the door of the upside down, destroyed, truck and hugged, praising God for His mercy.

We left the scene of the accident with no more than a couple scratches. The police officers and paramedics that responded to the incident called it a “near death experience.”

As the days, month, and now year have passed, I have gone over this “near death experience” concept countless times. The apparent contingencies busy my mind. If we would have gone off the road 30 yards on either side of where we actually went off, we would have died by slamming into either the rock wall on one side or the huge trees on the other. We rolled into the only gap we could hit and not be killed. Instead of all the glass falling directly on us, it fell down to the ground because the truck landed upside down. There are dozens of “what ifs” and processing them all has been the biggest challenge. I won't kid you- I have re-lived that accident every day since it happened. I drive slower at night and I have had dreams about having similar accidents.
As I have contemplated the situation theologically and meditated upon God’s Word, I am once again impressed and convinced of God’s absolute sovereignty. Ecclesiastes 3:23 says“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted”. God has such a time appointed for each of us.

Simply put, this “accident” was not our time. This is not a mechanical or cold reality to me, instead, I take great comfort in God’s sovereignty. He will take me to be with Himself, for His glory, exactly when He wants to. Why should I fear? I am saved for eternity in Christ Jesus. I could not be safer than in God’s care.

The first answer to the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism captures this truth “That I, with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head…

Yes, this event has given me a greater appreciation for time with my wife, children, and church family. Humanly speaking, I want to be here for my family and church for a long time and I praise God for his preservation of Nathan and me through this violent crash. Still, I am greatly relieved that God is sovereign over all things even if it would have meant our death. He ordains (causes to come to pass) all things and circumstances for the magnification of His glory.

Seemingly random events, down to the rolling of my truck on the side of Highway 69, are determined by God, not chance. God determines the outcome from the very beginning of all things according to his pleasure. Even the creation of the wicked and events of calamity are of the Lord (Proverbs 16:4; Isaiah 45:7). Paul captures this truth in Romans 11:36 "For from Him, through Him, and to Him are all things".

I rest in the hands of my loving Father, He always does what is right and best whether I understand it at the time or not. In actuality, we were not really “near death”, there’s no such thing in the plans of a sovereign God.

Romans 11:33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Hit the Deck!

Reading my friend's blog brought back a great memory. I will post his entry below. Back a few years we had the fun of co-leading our summer VBS program for 4-6th graders. He tells the story better than I could:

Hit the deck!

I was on staff as a "Youth and Family Ministerial Intern" at a former church. Each summer I would take a week off of my full time job and spend the time helping with VBS. What ended up happening is that the younger kids would all do an out of the box type VBS curriculum and the pastor and I would take all the older kids ourselves. I think we had 4th, 5th, and 6th graders and we were responsible for the high school helpers. That's right, T, me, and an entire room full of 30 or so hyperactive, sugar-fueled grade school kids. Those who know either me or T know that this is a recipe for wild times. We really wanted to have some cool crafts. No macaroni covered cigar boxes for us. We wanted to make an impact. We were cool and wanted to make sure the kids had a thorough understanding of our coolness. Honestly, the younger kids couldn't wait to get up to our class.

One year the theme had something to do with outer space. 30 some kids, two guys with a bit of a wild streak, what craft would make more sense than to let all the kids build model rockets all week and then launch them on the last day? Makes perfect sense. Kids and class B explosives. What could go wrong? The kids were wide eyed and ecstatic when they heard what the project was going to be. I went to Hobby Lobby and purchased several small model rocket kits. We spend the week with spray paint, razor blades, balsa wood and decals. This was building to a frenzy. I can't begin to convey to you how excited the kids were. The tension was palpable. Word got out, parents were whispering, the other helpers were curious and launch day was approaching. When it finally arrived there was so much excitement you would have thought Bush was speaking at the Southern Baptist Convention. The first two kids placed their rockets on the launch pads, we wired up the engines and began the countdown. The mothers who were helping with the younger kids came up to watch. There were more than a few raised eyebrows. The countdown commenced... "3, 2, 1, fire!"

I should take a moment to explain something about inexpensive small rocket kits. Small things can affect how they fly. They only weigh a few ounces. If someone were to glop on too much paint, put too much weight in the nose cone, little things like that can have a huge impact on performance.

The rockets hissed. One of them shot heavenward. The other one had an issue. It went about six feet in the air, seemed to hover a bit, then went horizontal and began to screech toward the old church building about four feet above the heads of the gathered throngs. Young girls screamed. Young boys cheered. The raised eyebrows furrowed. I will never forget the look that T and I gave to each other. Overland Park, we have a problem.

Being a quick thinker, T decided we would have emergency "Hit the Deck" practice. "When I yell 'hit the deck' you all need to see how fast you can drop to the ground and cover your heads." We practiced a few times... went well - problem solved. About that time we noticed the small break off group of children who had been chasing the one rocket that went heavenward. It began plummeting toward the earth again. I should note that inexpensive small model rockets don't have parachutes. The rocket hit the ground and the pointed nose buried about 3 inches into the hard ground.

"New plan... you all have to stay in one spot until AFTER the rocket lands." I could just see the kid with a rocket buried in the top of their skull. Not good on a resume. Other than the risk to life and limb it was a wild success. there were several occasions when the hit the deck practice paid off.

Of course we learned our lesson. The next year's theme was something about castles or medieval times. "We should build catapults." "That would be sweet." "All the kids could build little ones and then for fun we could build a great big life sized one." "Yeah, with 4 garage door springs and 2x12 lumber." "This is gonna be awesome!"

What could go wrong?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Could the Pope be reading Reepicheep?

Not a chance. But I wish he was.

Still, the timing is interesting. Just after posting my blog about the RC Church needing to exert more disciplinary accountability in her membership ranks, the Pope scolded Mexican politicians who were part of legalizing abortion in the heavily Roman Catholic Mexico City. Actually, he did more than scold, he gave authority to the local bishops to excommunicate pro-abortion politicians...kind of. Good for him. Sort of....

The problem with the Pope's letters to the various regional bishops is their "non-binding" authority. It is basically up to the local parish priests whether to exercise discipline or not. So, the Pope's letter is merely a recommendation or suggestion. Very close to useless. All bark, no bite.

Just today, one news source noted that five of the current presidential candidates (Giuliani, Kucinich, Biden, Dodd, and Richardson) are Roman Catholics, yet in defiance of their church, are in favor of (and thus, promote) abortion. Many other legislators can be added to this group. Apparently, in 2004, before becoming Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger sent a letter to American bishops, similar to the one he just sent to their Mexican counterparts. Note this excerpt from a Foxnews article today-

Donohue said that Pope Benedict, before becoming the leader of the Catholic Church, issued a letter during the 2004 presidential campaign that said bishops have the right to withhold communion from candidates who say they support abortion. The letter was nonbinding, and it is up to the leaders of the individual archdioceses across the country to enforce the Church's position.

What authority does the Pope have in the RC church? I know the doctrinal answer, but really, what authority does he practically have. Non-binding resolutions? How worthless. Talk about no teeth. Back to my original postulate- there is a reason the RC Church has so little effect on culture. Obviously I disagree with the very office called "Pope", but if I did believe He was Peter's successor, I guarantee Peter would not be sending "non binding" letters. Just read what Peter said to the Jews in Acts 3 & 4.

I wish the Pope read Reepicheep.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Pastoral Calling

This picture of "Father Guido Sarducci" has virtually nothing to do with biblical pastoral calling...just couldn't resist putting a picture of him on my blog.

As part of my doctoral studies I have been reading quite a bit about the pastoral ministries of the first and second generation reformers. While I draw great strength from the testimony of their lives and ministerial practices, I observe their ministry context was very different from mine. Calvin didn't have a building project to help oversee, he took over a sweet cathedral. Luther's audience, while not formally educated, could listen to sermons that were routinely an hour long or more, attention spans were quite a bit longer in the 16th Century. While I'm sure Theodore Beza heard occasional excuses for absence from his parishioners, there were no such entertainments as "The Lake", NFL football, or various youth activities and sports leagues to serve as an excuse for not being in the Lord's House on the Lord's Day. One 35-40 minute sermon per week by the pastor would have appalled most, if not all of the reformers. Zwingli preached twice on Sunday and three more times during the week. His preaching was expositional, doctrinal (like all the reformers) and lengthy. I'm sorry, that just wouldn't fly with today's modern evangelicals, even those who claim to be reformed. Simply put, times are different. I understand that.

Don't get me wrong, while I tend to be an "against the grain" kind of guy, I too am a child of the modern age of entertainment (see Postman's book, Amusing Ourselves to Death- a must read) and constantly fight the temptation to be lazy in my studies and negligent in my pastoral duties. Only by God's grace am I able to be faithful, at any level, as a shepherd of the sheep for whom Christ died. Still, I have to admit, coming out of seminary I was a bit naive thinking I would spend most of my time preaching, praying, administering the sacraments, and encouraging the brethren. Praise God, I do get to do these things, but I also find myself constantly struggling to make time for these key functions as so many "non pastoral" activities are constantly busying me. I wonder if Richard Baxter would have been considered a "Vision Caster" or if his ministry was "Purpose-driven"?

For what it's worth, I want to share some sage advice I received from an older, wiser, minister that has helped me greatly over the past 5 years in particular. He told me to never forget my pastoral calling involves these five practices:

1. Preach the Word and administer the sacraments
2-Love the people
3-Pray down heaven
4-Equip the elders
5-Promote family worship and religion

These practices define pastoral calling. They have helped me maintain focus time and time again. They even help me realize that ministry is largely contextual. My ministry context is different from the great reformation-era pastors, however, I can seek to emulate the timeless, biblical practices these gifted men lived out. I think these five principles of pastoral calling do just that. They are on my wall, right next to a great picture of my wife and kids, I look at both every day.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

To plant or not to plant?

This is Dad with the boys last Summer during our last trip to my parents home (the house I grew up in) in Grand Island, New York. They are in Dad's thriving garden admiring God's greatest fruit- the tomato.

Heading in to a new week I have a very important task that is being threatened by the forecast of rain virtually every day.

It is of utmost importance that I get my tomatoes planted by this Thursday, my day off. As I write, lightning is striking and the ground is saturated. My garden sits waiting, even yearning, for tomatoes to be placed in it's soil. In Kansas, waiting to plant tomatoes much past the first week of May can lead to problems as it gets wickedly hot by late June. Your plants must have fruit before the hot spell or yield will be way down.
Yield way down = inability to make many batches of sauce.
Inability to make many batches of sauce = one cranky Tony.

My father, with his wisdom and experience concerning such matters, planted his tomatoes (13 plants!) last week, so he is ready. Too much rain won't be good for his crop either, however, he has many years of experience in dealing with such conditions, he'll be able to nurse his plants through the excessive moisture. This is his first tomato crop in Kansas, having just moved here last Fall. He's excited because of the long growing season we enjoy in Kansas, compared to Western New York. He has done a great job quickly establishing a raised garden in his back yard. He is an expert at mixing a soil that grows massive tomatoes. Now that he lives close, I'll have a chance to learn from the master. He also grows his tomatoes from seed- no Wal-mart nursery for him. He has several "Italian" tomato plants that supposedly come from the Old Country- or so his best friend Jimmy Aronica says (can you trust a guy whose nickname is "The Fox").

Dad gave me some pointers on how to plant my tomato plants even if it does rain all week, however it's just not the best way to do it. A man must be serious about his tomato planting, or he ought not do it at all.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Waiting to die?

Check out this story which just appeared today from Reuters:

Mourning man lies in own grave, and waits to die

PATNA, India (Reuters) - Hundreds of people are flocking to a remote village in eastern India to catch a glimpse of an old man who has spent six years lying inside his own grave waiting to die as he mourns for his wife, officials said.

Basanta Roy claims he is 103 and spends his day clearing weeds from the grave and lying in it. Belonging to a Hindu caste who bury their dead, Roy dug his grave close to his wife's after she died in the late 1990s.

"He cleans his grave every day and waits for his death, which seems to be eluding him," said Shyam Narayan Ram, a senior government official from Jharkhand state.

How sad this story is- a person literally waiting to die. Do you think Christians can "live" life in such a way?

A few passages of Scripture come immediately to my thoughts and help give proper perspective and encouragement when tempted to despair:

Psalm 34:8 Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it more abundantly.

John 15:11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

More Accountability Needed

I have always been bothered by the lack of ecclesiastical discipline exercised by the Roman Catholic Church. High profile politicians (John Kerry and Rudy Giuliani, for example) have been allowed, by the Church, to call themselves Roman Catholic, while promoting views and practices that oppose "their" church. Only in a few cases has the RC Church exacted any discipline on her members who defend to such sinful practices as embryonic stem cell research and abortion. I have long marvelled at the deafening silence of the RC Church as it relates to our own governor's (Kathleen Sebelius) advocacy of abortion rights. The lack of discipline exercised by the RC Church, particularly here in the United States, is one of the reasons it has become a non-factor in the political and legislative arenas. Still, having said all that, I was pleased to read the following today:

Senator Claire McCaskill Disinvited From Daughter's High School Commencement Over Stem Cell Debate

ST. LOUIS — Sen. Claire McCaskillwas disinvited from speaking at her daughter's Catholic high school commencement because her positions on abortion and embryonic stem cell research are at odds with those of the church.
Students at St. Joseph's Academy in the St. Louis suburb of Frontenac wanted to have McCaskill speak at their graduation this month, McCaskill spokeswoman Adrianne Marsh said Tuesday.

But the offer was rescinded last week. The senator was told by the school that the decision came from St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, Marsh said. Marsh said the senator, a Catholic, understands that her positions supporting abortion rights and stem cell research are different than those held by the church, but she's made peace with them.

The Democratic senator had seen the chance to speak at commencement as a special opportunity because her daughter is one of the graduates, McCaskill said in a statement.
"I'm disappointed that the Archbishop has made this decision. It does not diminish my respect and admiration for St. Joseph's Academy, their faculty, and students."

Archdiocesan spokeswoman Anne Steffens said, "The decision was not made by the archbishop." She said he wasn't part of discussions on the matter.

The president of St. Joseph's Academy, Sister Michaela Zahner, said she made the decision to rescind the invitation to McCaskill after receiving a call from the archdiocesan education office.
She was told of an archdiocesan policy that forbids providing a public forum for speakers who do not hold to truths as they are presented by the Catholic Church. Zahner said the policy clearly reflects Burke's position.

I would only ask for more wide-spread disciplinary actions on the part of the RC Church toward it's members, especially those who are in positions that have influence in promoting wickedness. Not allowing such people to speak at graduations is a start, but how about excommunication if there is a refusal to repent of such positions?

I am appreciative of the pro-life efforts of many Roman Catholics. Frankly, I wonder how many people would be picketing the various abortuaries across our country if it weren't for Roman Catholics, not to mention the many counselors serving at various crisis pregnancy centers as well. This is a case of the leadership letting down it's people. If you analyze the RC pro-life movement, it's largely promoted by "regular" priests and many lay people. The RC hierarchy in the U.S. has largely been inactive regarding the official discipline of members who support and promote such wickedness as embryonic stem cell research and abortion. Eventually this lack support in the form of formal ecclesiastical discipline will demoralize the troops who are keeping the pro-life issue ever before our culture.

The Bishops, Archbishops, Cardinals, and Pope need to apply much more accountability to the members of the RC Church.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Combatting the Calvinist Virus

I came across a blog entry by Nate Casebolt that gave me a good smile:

My fellow Evangelicals:

It is with a deep and abiding sense of responsibility that I offer this public statement. As you may know, the esteemed Dr. Ergun Caner recently alerted usto a virulent strand of theological plague that threatens all our churches. The technical name of this virus is Voluntatem Dei, more popularly known as Calvinism. Common symptoms include, but are not limited to:

-fewer, shorter, or non-existent altar calls
-narrower parameters of baptism
-elevated levels of expository preaching
-shallow interest in the latest Christian fads
-accumulation of old theological texts
-heightened indignation at popular worship
-obsession with tulips

Early detection is key to fighting Calvinism. Presymptomatic signs include increased interest in Romans 9 and Ephesians 1. If you suspect a preliminary infection of Calvinism in your church, follow these steps immediately:

1. Quarantine the affected Christians from other church members. Unfortunately, you can't kick them out of the church right away (We need their votes and money), but you can tell them to shut up or face church discipline. Don't let their weak excuses about "Bible study" and "the truth" shake your resolve. Logic and reason are one of Calvinism's most insidious routes into the church, and you must limit exposure to the best of your ability.

2. Isolate the affected Christians from Puritan books. John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Spurgeon are particularly crucial to deny your church members. Popular contemporary authors in the Reformed tradition are R.C. Sproul, John Piper, and John MacArthur. Other contemporary writers include C.J. Mahaney, Steve Lawson, Ligon Duncan, an obnoxious Old Gray Dog, and Sinclair Ferguson. Other authors should be avoided just as strenuously; this list is not exhaustive.

3. Inoculate the affected Christians with hyper-Calvinists. Tell them of hyper-Calvinists -- ones who keep demanding a clear, unequivocal answer to the question: For whom did Christ die? As part of the isolation process, don't let them know about churches pastored by any of the authors listed above or anyone who does know how the Bible answers the aforementioned question. It won't do to let them know of loving, growing, evangelistic Calvinist churches.

4. Inject heavy dosages of anthropocentric theology. Begin by hinging God's actions on man's choice. Tell your patient it would be immoral for God to let anyone go to Hell without a completely libertarian choice. Then tell them God doesn't want to love robots, and that a totally libertarian will was God's greatest gift to man. Make God's salvation completely contingent on man's response. Again, isolate your patient from Calvinist mutterings about God's free choice, His self-defined righteousness, or His use of means in the accomplishment of His will.

5. Feed the affected Christians a steady dose of Evangelism. Make altar calls, decision cards, revival week, aisle-walking, and hand-raising equivalent to apostolic evangelism in the minds of your patients. Then hammer away at Calvinists who don't do these things for lacking evangelistic zeal. Again, isolate your patient from examples of Calvinists who call for repentance in ways you don't approve.

6. Bring down the affected Christian's expectations. If they want to talk about Greek, call them elitists. If they bring up church history, make up your own. And if they mention exegeting John 6, divert them with an alternate interpretation of a completely unrelated verse in an entirely unrelated context. Gradually ease your patients away from the biblical text, and remind them that knowledge puffs up, but Evangelistic love edifies.

In the end, no measure of success is guaranteed. Despite your best efforts, you might lose some of your church members to Calvinism. If that happens, the best thing you can do is cut them loose. If you don't actually throw them out of your church, create such an atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia that they leave of their own accord. Let them join a Calvinist church if they wish. Leper colonies have their place.

Finally, be aware that the greatest threat comes not from your own church members studying their Bibles and reading Reformed writers. If you're leading your church responsibly, you have them so busy with the latest program and so involved with the latest Evangelistic crusade that they don't have time for indepth study and meditation. No, the greatest threat comes from other Calvinists infiltrating your ranks and releasing their deadly toxin among your church members.This is biological terrorism. Treat it as such, and show no mercy to Calvinists who would threaten your church with an outbreak of 'Tulip's Disease.'