Saturday, September 29, 2007

I'm Proud of the U.S. Women's Soccer Team

The U.S. Women's soccer team has been virtually unbeatable in international play for several years. Heading in to Thursday's World Cup semi-final against Brazil, the U.S. team was undefeated in 51 straight international matches.

Brazil is a powerhouse this year, arguably fielding it's best team ever. The U.S. team didn't look it's strongest en route to the semi's, but could hardly be thought of as underdogs against the Brazilians.

This is where it gets strange. U.S. Coach, Greg Ryan, decided to swap his 25 year-old, stellar goalkeeper, Hope Solo- who hadn't allowed a goal in the tournament since the first game (she shut out the next three teams she played)- with 36 year-old, past her prime, Briana Scurry the day before the Brazil game. The U.S. team lost 4-0, a thumping of sorts in soccer.

There's no doubt in my coaching mind- Ryan made a huge mistake. I am not sure if the U.S. would have won with Solo in net, but two of the four goals were weak. A lack of confidence in your keeper compounds mistakes which leads to more goals against. The game would have been tighter with Solo in net. Ryan messed up big time.

So, why am I proud of the U.S. women's team?

After the game, Solo did something she should have never done- she publicly criticized the coach for the decision to yank her in favor of Scurry- but worse yet- she criticized Briana Scurry (a two-time World Cup champion goalie and consummate team player) in the process. In a television interview, Solo said- "It was the wrong decision, and I think anybody that knows anything about the game knows that,,,There's no doubt in my mind I would have made those saves. ... You have to live in the present. And you can't live by big names. You can't live in the past." The last statment is a reference to Scurry and her past World Cup performances. Hope Solo dissed her teammate in public. Teammates don't do that.

Despite losing the semi-final game, there are two more consolation matches to be played. The U.S. team collectively agreed that Solo could not remain part of the team for these two games and thus she will be sent home early. I'm proud of this decision, it's the right one.

U.S. team captain (and one of the all time greats in women's soccer) Kristine Lilly spoke on behalf of the team who voted to send Hope Solo home. Their decision to have Solo removed from the team for the rest of the tournament was based on Solo's decision to attack her teammate in public. Most people agree that Ryan made a huge coaching blunder. I suspect he'll lose his job over it. Still, Solo should never have criticized her teammate's abilities in public like she did. A team is like a family, all grievances should be handled person to person, "in house", not aired in public for everyone to see (kind of "Matthew 18 style").

I'm proud of how the U.S. Women's team handled this trial. I was able to teach my sons a lesson about being a teammate because of this action.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Joel Osteen on Larry King

Last Sunday I preached on Titus 1:10-16. The text deals with the need for elders in the church to recognize and confront doctrinal error which challenges the church from without and within. I made reference to the pathetic age of non-confrontation we live in when it comes to dealing with error. Modern church growth models uniformly advise against speaking on topics that might divide and to stick with a positive, "relevant" message.

I sited a passage from a Larry King (CNN) interview transcript with the pastor of the largest "evangelical" church in the U.S. (Lakewood in Houston-30,000 attendees each Sunday!), Joel Osteen.

This man has mastered the art of "non confrontation". If he is considered "evangelical", then I am most certainly NOT.

Pathetic, sad, indicative, telling....

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A perfectly good explanation

Man Discovers Severed Leg in Smoker Bought at North Carolina Auction

Wednesday, September 26, 2007 (FoxNews)

MAIDEN, North Carolina — A man who bought a smoker at an auction of abandoned items might have thought twice had he looked inside first. Maiden police said Tuesday the man opened up the smoker and saw what he thought was a piece of driftwood wrapped in paper. When he unwrapped it, he found a human leg, cut off 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 centimeters) above the knee. The smoker had been sold at an auction of items left behind at a storage facility, so investigators contacted the mother and son who had rented the space where the smoker was found. The mother, Peg Steele, explained her son had his leg amputated after a plane crash and kept the leg following the surgery "for religious reasons" she doesn't know much about.
"The rest of the family was very much against it," Steele said. Steele said her son, John Wood, plans to drive to Maiden, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) northwest of Charlotte, to reclaim his amputated leg, police said.

A few questions come to mind:

1. What religion requires a person to keep severed parts? Just asking.

2. Why stuff your religiously significant severed leg in to a smoker?

3. What kind of smoker can fit a whole human leg? Was the middle rack removed?

A thought also arises:

I have always contested that KC Barbecue is better than the Carolina variety. I think this story goes a long way to prove my point, although on different grounds (nasty, severed leg grounds) than I have always argued (KC BBQ tastes better grounds).

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ananias and Sapphira's Epitaph?

The account of Ananias and Sapphira has several lessons for us. One such lesson concerns the zeal God has for keeping purity in His Church.

Acts 5:1-2 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Seeing the act of heart worship performed by Barnabas and others-who brought all they owned as an offering to the Lord, it is clear that Ananias wanted to be seen in the same light. He desired to be seen and glorified by others. Barnabas and the others gave without regard to accolade or credit. Ananias and Sapphira wanted to look as pious and spiritual as Barnabas without being pure in heart. The text says they sold a possession but kept back the proceeds for themselves. The sin is not in keeping back part of the proceeds, the sin is in attempting to deceive the Apostles and those watching them by publicly laying the partial proceeds at their feet as if it was everything they had. Look at the eerie wording once more-

Acts 5:1-2a But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it

I say eerie because of the similarity in tone between this and what happened in the Garden of Eden so many years before. Notice that instead of a sacred union between husband and wife, they show a bond of iniquity. They were both in on the scheme. Calvin comments on this account-

Luke condemns no other fault in Ananias than this: that he meant to deceive God and the Church with a feigned offering. Yet thee were more evils packed under this dissimulation: the contempt of God, whom he feared not, though he knew his wickedness: sacrilegious defrauding, because he kept back par of that which he professed to be holy to God; perverse vanity and ambition, because he vaunted himself in the presence of men, without having any respect unto God’s judgment; want of faith, because he would never have gone this way to work, unless he had mistrusted God; the corrupting of a godly and holy order; furthermore, the hypocrisy itself was a great offense of itself.

They mocked God and His Church. Bad Idea.

Peter, an Apostle with a supernatural gift of discernment, in the same tone Isaiah once addressed Ahaz who had wearied Israel’s God, addresses Ananias first, as he was alone-

Acts 5:3-4 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? “While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”

Imagine that-Peter seeing right through to the scheme and confronting Ananias on the spot! Imagine the church treasurer, after receiving your offering some Sunday, calling you up that evening and saying- “Hello is George there? George? Why has Satan filled your heart to the Holy Spirit”? Wow!
Ananias has no defense. The zeal of the Lord to protect his Church from sinful disunity at this critical juncture in history meets Ananias with all the fury of divine wrath and we read-

Acts 5:5-6 Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.

Ananias was not even allowed to approach the bench. The Judge issued the sentence and carried out the execution. Jews didn’t keep bodies around long close to the Sabbath, he was buried immediately. The purity of the church fueled its unity. Such an example of sacrilege would seriously undermine the Church in its infancy, something God would not allow.

The arrival of Sapphira completes God’s Judgment-

Acts 5:7-11 Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?” She said, “Yes, for so much.” Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband.

One has to wonder- was Sapphira out spending the other part of their proceeds? She had no idea her husband had the divine smack put on him. She surely expected to be welcomed back as a hero, after all she and Ananias had given such a huge amount. But no. Instead, Peter was there to deliver the news of God’s judgment. The sentence was passed and she dropped. With echoes of the Golden Calf incident in Exodus ringing, the members of that early church could see what happened and it had its intended effect-

Acts 5:11 So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.

A deep reverential awe fell upon the place. People were called to be serious with God. No playing around in worship. One of the things I would surely like to know is what was printed on their tombstone?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Friday, September 21, 2007

Would Jesus Chain His Dogs?

You know how I love good dog humor, being such a fan of the canine species and all. I came across a website that insists dogs deserve a better life than to be chained and penned up.

The site distributes a series of posters that criticize the practice of chaining up your dog(s). Some of the slogans are:

"If you think I want to live life like this...think again...I deserve better than life on a chain or in a pen."

"Your grandfather did it, your father did it...isn't it time for you to BREAK THE CHAIN? I deserve better than life on a chain or in a pen."

I do think choosing to keep a dog as a pet makes little sense if you have to keep it chained up for most of it's existence, but that's not what caught my eye on this site. The above poster depicting Jesus petting a chained dog with other pathetic victims looking on is what did it for me. It poses the question:

"Would Jesus Chain His Dogs ?"

Hmmmm.... I wonder.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

So Judgmental

I have to admit, I am usually skeptical when I hear of various celebrities who have been "born again". Alice Cooper, Deon Sanders, Michael Irvin, Stephen Baldwin, even Paris Hilton and Michael Vick supposedly "found Jesus" recently. Good grief.

Yesterday I read an article in a magazine that said Korn's former lead guitarist, Brian Welch, left the band in 2005 because he became a Christian. My initial reaction was- "yeah, right..."

I don't know if Welch or any of the others are genuinely born again, that's besides the point-I do know the Lord convicted me about my attitude yesterday. He used the story of Zacchaeus to jar me from my self-righteousness and make me seek Christ anew.

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” - Luke 19:1-10

1. Christ is Sovereign over salvation, I have not contributed a thing to my salvation. Christ’s effectual call to me was no different, in essence, to what happened to Zacchaeus.

2. No one is outside the reach of God’s saving Grace. Who am I to judge who God saves? Did I deserve salvation? I must not grumble against God’s great redemptive work!

3. Repentance will have clear fruit. Genuine salvation includes repentance and a changed life. Part of the change may require restitution- joyful restitution!

4. I must passionately long for our Savior, without worry about what others might think of me.

These realizations lead me to further personal reflections:

- I am again humbled by the absolute sovereignty of God in my salvation. As much as my sinful pride wells up and wants to stake some kind of claim in my salvation, such an account reminds me of Christ’s personal, effectual call to me, a terrible sinner. I was in no way attractive to Jesus, but rather sovereignly chosen to be a tool of God for His glory. More of His glory is displayed when I decrease.

- I am convicted by my pharisaical judgment upon those who I don’t think are worthy of salvation. I remember when Ted Bundy (mass murderer and rapist) made a profession of faith that James Dobson thought was genuine based on their personal interaction. Can God save Ted Bundy? Should He? How about the aforementioned celebrities? Can He really save them? Should He? How dare I think such a thing! Who am I to say who “deserves” salvation? No one “deserves” salvation- especially not me! Praise God, He can even save Ted Bundy, if it is His Will. He can even save me.

- When I repent, do I do so joyfully and with zeal to make right what I have made wrong? Often I find myself like a little child who mutters “sorry”, just to get mom or dad off my back. Instead, it is God’s grace that produces true repentance. I pray for a more penitent spirit that longs for God’s glory in my repentance for sin.

- I want to do whatever it takes to see Jesus- even climb a tree and risk embarrassment or worse. Why do I care what people think? Lord, give me the boldness to do whatever it takes to be close to Jesus and not be so judgmental.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Ron Paul and Bill O'Reilly: A case study in what is wrong with dialogue in America today

Bill O'Reilly, for all his conservative rhetoric, symbolizes all that's wrong with debate in America today. He simplifies issues, limits them to short snippets, he's inconsistent in many areas, and rarely allows time for the person he is "debating" to state his/her whole position. Don't get me wrong, I agree with some of O'Reilly's positions, I just don't like the medium he and much of the modern media uses to debate them. Such serious, impacting issues should be the subject of long dialogues and discussions, not limited to a 30 minute cable show that goes topic to topic faster than you can say "Jack Rabbitt Abbreviated". See Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death" on the way television has seriously regressed public dialogue.

I love this "debate" (I use this description of the above interaction very loosely) because it illustrates my point. To most viewers I'm sure it comes off like O'Reilly is really sticking it to Ron Paul. In my opinion, however, sort of like Alan Keyes during the last presidential primary season, Ron Paul is way too smart to be President. His thorough knowledge makes it impossible to fit in to the "sound bite" mode of the current American political debates and discussions. He does his best to enhance the discussion, but it's tough when the host tells him, in effect, "never mind the history lesson"! Pardon me, but I thought knowing history was one of the key ways in which we can make right choices about the future. Ron Paul thinks so, Bill O'Reilly doesn't, I guess.

I don't fully agree with Paul's "libertarian" platform, but I do think he is very intelligent (imagine that...from Texas and all!). His smartness translates to consistency. His consistency translates to "no" vote after "no" vote as a congressman. He sounds like a whiner when he talks and he'll never win the primary.

Still, he's entertaining. That's what's so messed up with the age in which we live.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Lies, Lies! Nothing but Lies!

I have been dieting for several months now, not a fad diet, but an effort to eat and exercise in a more disciplined way than ever before in my life. I've lost weight "fast" many times in my post-married life, but this effort has been more balanced and hopefully more sustainable- I'm sure I'll always struggle with gluttony and self-control, but for now, God has been giving me some relative victory in these related areas.

Anyways, every couple of weeks I allow myself to splurge by eating a big, greasy hamburger. Hamburgers are among my favorite of all foods. If I were on death row, my final meal would likely be a 3/4 pound burger from Fuddrucker's or something similar. Yesterday was my day to have a burger, so I went to Wendy's and ordered the "Baconator" (a supposed "mountain of mouth-watering taste").

The picture possessed everything I could desire in a burger- 1/2 pound of meat, two slices of cheese, and a bunch of bacon. What more could someone desire? Just look at the picture above.

Friends- it's all lies! The bacon was nothing like the picture and I feel that I squandered one of my two designated "burger moments" for the month of September! I feel cheated and abused! How could Wendy's do this to me? In my fatter days, my patronage probably paid for one of Dave Thomas' grandchildren's college education- this is how they repay me? False advertising abounds, but's so personal. I have been victimized. The bacon was old and limp, not fresh and crisp like the picture. I tremble with injustice as I write this post. The inhumanity of it all!

I can write no more...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Practical Laboratory for all aspects of life

I am coaching the Westminster Eagles junior high boys soccer team again this year, I thoroughly enjoy it. Last year, our first season ever, we played in the "intro" division and went undefeated in 6 games (two ties, but hey, we were still undefeated). This year, we got moved to the "A" division with older and more experienced teams. Our team is made up of 6th-8th graders whereas most of the other teams have only 7th and 8th graders. We're definitely the underdogs in this league.

Since day one of training camp I have been working our boys hard. I know we won't outskill most of the other teams, so we have to be in better shape. What we lack in experience and skill must be made up for with hustle and heart.

What a great group these kids are! I've never had a group willing to work this hard with no real complaints. They seem to understand the uphill battle we have, yet are willing to lay it all out on the field.

We had our first official game last Friday and won. Then, yesterday, we played a very good team and lost 2-1. I won't kid you, it was hard to swallow. We were up 1-0 with 6 minutes left. They scored 2 goals in those last minutes to win. Really, a short mental lapse is all it took to lose. Much credit goes to our opponent for capitalizing.

After the game I saw a look of disappointment in the eyes of my players. Better than that, there was some fire there. Just what they need to go to the next level. A little more fire in the belly is what the competitive spirit requires. They got a taste of losing and it don't taste so good. The players need to channel any negative emotions they have from losing in to playing sounder and smarter.

All this to say, sports provide a great practical laboratory for all aspects of life. One of the parents sent me a great quote related to this:

“Sports provide the only practical laboratory for all aspects of education in life. And since sports are so dynamic and challenging, they reveal the individual participant in his true light.” - John Brown, Basketball Hall of Fame coach

I'm not sure I'd say that sports are the only practical laboratory, but they sure are one of the best. Being part of a team and competing against other teams incorporates so many valuable lessons, especially for young disciples of Christ. You must learn submission to authority, discipline, preparation, mental toughness, selflessness, sacrifice, self-control, skills, teamwork, etc. You will face disappointments, challenges, and a whole host of emotions you'd never know any other way. Through all of this, as a coach, I can remind the young brothers how we are first and foremost Christ's representatives at all times. Such a realization-for me as coach also-is a wonderful aid in our spiritual formation and maturity. I found myself being challenged to grow even yesterday, after the ref missed two sure penalty's in the box committed against us. Seems like the Lord isn't close to being finished with me, such situations really cause me to practice self-control, etc. Praise God for opportunities to grow-sports give many of these.
We have 5 more regular season games, I'm hoping we can steal some wins, no doubt, but the end goal is much higher- it's for each boy to come to see how all aspects of their life and activity fall under the Lordship of Christ. Working hard at something like a team sport is a great way for them to honor Christ and grow in effectiveness for Him.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Responding to the Promises of God (Pt. 2)

Milk and honey had to sound good to a couple million travel-weary refugees.
That's part of what awaited if they obeyed God's command to take the land.

When challenges arise, we can respond like the 10 spies and the people, with fear and paralysis. Matthew Henry comments- “Giving credit to the report of the spies rather than the word of God, and imagining their condition desperate, they laid the reins on the neck of their passions, and could keep no manner of temper. Like foolish froward children, they fall a crying, yet know not what they cry for. It would have been time enough to cry out when the enemy had beaten up their quarters, and they had seen the sons of Anak at the gate of their camp; but those that cried when nothing hurt them deserved to have something given them to cry for.”

There is another response we can have, by God's grace-that of faith, like Joshua and Caleb.

Fundamentally, when looking at the reaction of the 10 spies and comparing it to that of Joshua and Caleb, it comes down to perspective. Not two equally valid perspectives, but one perspective that is immersed in God’s revealed Will. One that is soaked in God’s Word. The perspective of the Ten spies was finite and limited to man’s ability. Their view of the situation was full of disbelief to which one commentator states- “Unbelief or distrust of God is a sin that is its own punishment. Those that do not trust God are continually vexing themselves. The world’s mourners are more than God’s, and the sorrow of the world worketh death.”

When the faithless spies saw the giants roaming the land they were supposed to occupy, they grew scared and said to themselves, “Wow, they are huge, they are massive, there is no way we could kill them”. When Caleb and Joshua saw the giants, they grew excited and said to themselves, “Wow, they are so big, they would be impossible to miss with a bow and arrow. They are huge, slow targets that will be easy to hit!” (us bowhunter's especially appreciate this !). Remember, the 10 faithless spies have been telling the whole congregation of the daunting and impressive power and protection of the enemy. The crowd is stirred up and discouraged. Out of seemingly no where, Caleb rises in verse 13-
Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.”

Caleb rocks! No hesitation whatsoever. Caleb saw that God was true to His word regarding the richness of the land. Caleb, with the rest of the congregation, experienced the manifold miracles that brought them to this point. It was a no-brainer to expect more of the same if they will be obedient to God and march forth to take the land. What is the fundamental difference between Caleb and the faithless spies? It comes down to faith in God's promises- which gives life a whole new perspective. It wasn't "blind" faith, or a "leap of faith", but rather surety about the character of the One who was making a promise based on perfect past performance. God hadn't failed them before, there was utterly no reason to doubt He would fail them going forward. This is the perspective of faith Caleb and Joshua attempted to lead the people with.

There's a cool story I've heard a few times that illustrates the point- During WWII General Creighton Abrams, for whom the modern American Tank is named, found himself and his troops surrounded on all sides. With characteristic optimism, he told his officers, “For the first time in the history of this campaign, we are now in a position to attack the enemy in any direction”.

Abrams was so confident in his leadership and the ability of the men he commanded that any onslaught by the enemy could be handled. Caleb and Joshua spoke with a much greater authority. They knew that God would be their ally and source of victory. Giants couldn’t stop them, God was bigger than any giant. Fortresses couldn’t protect the enemies of God, God was far more powerful. The fierceness of their foes was nothing compared to the all-consuming fire who would literally wipe them out. Their faithful perspective changed the way they approached life’s situations. Quite frankly, Joshua and Caleb showed their faith as they had no trouble confronting the faithless spies and the whole congregation. After Caleb speaks up in verse 30 the people go on and on about how it can’t be done and how they are all doomed. Joshua takes his turn the next day after the Israelites have been crying and moaning all night. Look at Joshua’s words in verses 6-9:

But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes;7 and they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: “The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land.8 “If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, ‘a land which flows with milk and honey.’9 “Only do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them.”

The time was right. The Lord had lifted his hand of protection from the enemy. Joshua saw this by faith! Too bad the people didn't listen! They would have 40 years to think about it.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Responding to the promises of God (pt. 1)

Over the years I have ministered at Redeemer there have been many transitions which have presented opportunity to consider God's promises afresh and respond. In every instance there seems to be a choice (humanly speaking, of course) to respond in fear (which is natural) or respond in faith (which is supernatural).
The Scriptural account I look to in such times comes in Numbers 13:

Numbers 13:1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.” 3 So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran, according to the command of the Lord, all of them men who were heads of the people of Israel.

Moses and the people of Israel were literally on the brink of seeing the fulfillment of God’s promise to occupy their own land. God caused many miraculous things to happen in order to advance Israel to this point. Surely God’s faithful past would give fuel to the people’s faith as they marched on in and took the promised land. But no…instead we see fear, apprehension, and doubt. In spite of all God had done in their lives, the majority of the congregation responds with dismay, fright, panic, and even dread.

Numbers 13: 17 Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan and said to them, “Go up into the Negeb and go up into the hill country, 18 and see what the land is, and whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, 19 and whether the land that they dwell in is good or bad, and whether the cities that they dwell in are camps or strongholds, 20 and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there are trees in it or not. Be of good courage and bring some of the fruit of the land.” Now the time was the season of the first ripe grapes...25 At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. 26 And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the people of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh. They brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.” 30 But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” 31 Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” 32 So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. 33 And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” 14:1 Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. 2 And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

There are two possible responses the people of God can have to life’s circumstances: We can respond in fear as 10 of the spies and the majority of the congregation, or we can respond in faith as Joshua and Caleb.

First, let's consider the fearful response of the 10 spies. Here they were on the brink of taking the land which was promised for 500 years and they pull up short due to the lack of faith. I mean, never mind that God raised their numbers in Egypt to such a point that the Egyptians were worried there would be a revolt. Never mind that God sent plague after plague until Pharaoh had no choice but to let the Israelites go. He made rivers turn to blood, flies to infest the land, boils to infest the skin of the Egyptians, he even killed the firstborn children of the Egyptians, all in order to show the Israelites He was faithful to do whatever He had to do to keep His promise to them. But it didn’t stop there. All of Israel loaded up their camels and marched out of Egypt. When Pharaoh’s vastly superior army pursued the Israelites, God caused the Red Sea to split down the middle and Israel passed through on dry land. When Pharaoh’s army pursued, the waters came back and drowned them. All these things to show the people of God that His promises were true. As if all those miraculous things weren’t enough, God spoke to Moses on the mountain. He re-affirmed the covenant he made with Abraham with Moses and the people. He gave them the Law. He put up with their golden-calf idolatry. He marched them through the wilderness toward Canaan, the people complain about being thirsty, God gives them water out of a dry rock. The people complain about being hungry, God sends more quail than they could possibly eat. God brings them to the brink of the promised land. He has fulfilled every promise he has made with miraculous sign after miraculous sign now all they have to do is take the land. What do they do in light of all the great and mighty acts of God toward them? They respond as if God hadn’t done a thing for them- they respond in fear. They respond as if God had led them to their deaths-they respond faithlessly and forgetfully- in fear.

This account reminds us of the two possible responses we can have to life’s circumstances. Will we act according to God’s sure promises revealed in His Word and revealed in His constant faithfulness? Or will we act according to our human anxieties, insecurities, and fears?

Ten of the spies responded in fear and subsequently led the people to be fearful.

27 And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there.

Really what the spies are saying is “never mind what God promised” there is no way He can deliver. Never mind all the great and mighty acts of Yahweh, the people in these cities are powerful and cannot be overtaken. Even if God is on our side, we have no chance. Look at the military like report the spies give- the cities are fortified and very large. Also, we are told the descendants of Anak were there. We know from various Egyptian texts that there was a ruler who lived in the Canaanite area around the 2nd Century BC named Anak. This Anak had descendants who were very large. Goliath, who lived as a sort of mercenary among the Philistines, was most likely a descendant of Anak himself. He was about 9 feet tall. So the spies observed the descendants of Anak and compared themselves as grasshoppers before these 9- foot tall giants. Basically the spies where noting that the cities were too strong and fortified and the people were too big and fierce to ever dream of going near them let alone attack them.

What convicts me most about this story is how the leaders of Israel lead with fear and subsequently caused the people to be fearful also. They are the ones who should be the most faithful, the most courageous, the most in tune with God’s will and dependent upon God's sure Word. Yet, they come back from their 40 day espionage trip ignoring God's promise and in total fear. They sound like a class of kindergartners referring to high-school students. What is clearly missing from the thoughts of the 10 faithless spies is the Word of God. Not once do you hear the spies refer to God’s promise to them. Their fearful response begs a question of me: When I am confronted with a challenging transition or situation, what do I refer for guidance, direction, and comfort?
Do I refer to the promises of God in His Word? Do I seek counsel from people who depend on God’s Word? Or, like the 10 "faithless" spies, do I rely on my own abilities to handle it? Do I try to be self-sufficient? The latter choice will always produce a fearful response.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Pavarotti - Nessun Dorma

I grew up listening to Luciano Pavarotti who died this week also. My Father had tapes and video of him playing pretty regularly. I've seen the "Three Tenors" multiple times. While I can't say I am a fan of opera, Pavarotti's voice has always been delightful to listent to. Here is my favorite song sung by Pavarotti, his signature- "Nessun Dorma".

"Nessun Dorma" means "no one will sleep" and is a song from the final act of Puccini's opera, "Turandot".

The Prince:

No one shall sleep! ... No one shall sleep!
Even you, O Princess, in your cold room, watch the stars, that tremble with love and with hope.

But my secret is hidden within me, my name no one shall know ...

No! ... No!... On your mouth I will tell it when the light shines.

And my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine! ...

The Chorus of women:

No one will know his name and we must, alas, die.
The Prince:

Vanish, O night! Set, stars! Set, stars!
At dawn, I will win!
I will win! I will win!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A few ways in which D. James Kennedy blessed me

As you probably know, Dr. D. James Kennedy died this morning at his home in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He has been very sick since a heart attack in December. Dr. Kennedy was a PCA minister and a very visible evangelical TV and Radio personality, one of the best known PCA ministers in the country, probably second only to R.C. Sproul if it's possible to rank such things. I have heard Dr. Kennedy preach or teach in person several times over the years but really didn't read his books or watch his TV broadcast too much. I do catch his radio program (which has continued to air, even while he was indisposed over the last 9 months or more) while driving and have appreciated the content of many broadcasts.

The ways Dr. Kennedy has blessed me are somewhat indirect, but genuine blessings none the less:

1. I was becoming a Calvinist in college and became aware of the Presbyterian Church in America as one of the denominations I would fit with. I distinctly remember someone telling me D. James Kennedy was a PCA minister. While at Moody Bible Institute, I went to the library and found several articles in magazines by Kennedy and a book called "What if Christ had Never Been Born". He was my introduction to the PCA.

2. When I first started sharing Christ with people, I almost always used the so-called "diagnostic" questions from Evangelism Explosion- the personal evangelism "program" started by Kennedy and used of the Lord to bring many to faith in Christ. I've said these words many times to people: "If God were to ask you,' WHY SHOULD I LET YOU INTO MY HEAVEN, what would you say?". I still use this method if I only have a brief moment with a person. As a young believer zealous to tell people about Christ, but not sure where to start, Kennedy's approach helped me.

3. There was a businessman named Mike Milton who came to Christ through an Evangelism Explosion presentation by a local church. He then went to Knox Seminary (founded by Dr. Kennedy) and was one of the seminary's first graduates. After graduation he came to Overland Park to lead the planting of Redeemer in 1993, the church I now serve as pastor. Praise God for this!

4. I didn't agree with every historical perspective Dr. Kennedy purported and I thought his "Gospel in the Stars" preaching series of a few years back was a bit strange, nevertheless I have always been inspired by his genuine belief that the Church was here to transform culture and take it for Christ. His bold activism in culture was a fresh relief from the predominant "the boat is sinking", dispensational, "we're waiting for the rapture", mindset. What he lacked in technical Reformed prowess, he made up for with practical Reformed cultural activism. I have always respected him greatly for that.

So it is that we witness the passing of one of the best loved and appreciated PCA pastors in our short history. Many of our denominational fathers are getting older- the hand with the baton is is outstretched, I pray regularly that it will be handled faithfully by the new generation of "fathers".

Potential Balderdash definitions

Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating...

Monday, September 3, 2007

First Sunday in the New Sanctuary

Yesterday was our first day in the new sanctuary. Check out the interior.

In my 10 years of pastoral ministry I've never experienced the range of emotions I felt the week leading up to yesterday. I was feeling a combination of nervous, anxious, and inadequate. Sunday brought more of the same, plus an inexplicable joy that felt uncontrollable, which made me more nervous. I'm as emotional as the next guy, but I have never cried very well. I caught myself fighting back tears several times yesterday. The first almost cry moment was when Nathan and I walked in to the back of the sanctuary before the service (we process from the back) and saw all the people seated and more coming in. Despite the quiet reverence practiced by the congregation while listening to the prelude, you could feel a certain buzz in the air. Sanctuaries like this just aren't built often these days-a place where the architecture alone evokes a certain mood and focus. The second almost cry moment happened after a beautifully played piano prelude piece softly winded down and a short 2 minute organ prelude piece cranked up. We have an Allen digital organ that sounds just like a pipe organ to most (only trained organists would really know the difference) and you can feel it when it plays. As soon as the organ began, heads turned to look at each other in order to acknowledge how majestic the sound was. Nathan and I did the same. I decided long ago that announcements would not be the first words uttered in our new sanctuary, so after the prelude I walked down the aisle, turned and faced the congregation and read a portion of Psalm 118. When I got to verses 23-24- "This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it", I had my third almost cry moment. After reading Scripture, I directed the congregation to stand and sing "Praise to the Lord the Almighty" as our first hymn of praise to God in the new sanctuary. The organ played a short intro, then the congregation sang. I have never heard our church sing like that. The acoustics are very live and 400 people sounded like 1000. It was absolutely awesome. Chalk up almost cry moment number 4.

There were several other times I caught myself. I was unusually nervous the whole service. Praise God for liturgy in such times, it keeps you safe and sure. There were handfuls of people joyfully crying throughout the morning. Sometimes I wish I could be more visibly expressive like that. I certainly feel it, even when I don't show it. I thought it was important for me to keep it together, so as not to be a distraction to our purpose that morning- to render praise unto the Living God and be served by Him.

Redeemer is 14 years old. I've been here for 10 of those years. I'm most joyful and happy for those few core families who have been at Redeemer from the beginning. It's so very gratifying to see them able to enjoy such a day in the history of Redeemer.

All was not perfect as we discovered that we will have to take measures to fix the acoustics so vocals sound better. It's great for instruments and singing, but too live for speaking- especially with a fast-talking Yankee as their preacher. We'll be working on that immediately-the acoustics that is- not the fast-talking Yankee, can't do anything about that.

Funny thing is, I absolutely love the building and think it is a very important addition to our ministry, however, it is still the people I minister with and the people I serve that has me stoked about the future. Nathan and Brian are two of the greatest brothers a guy could have to labor with. The elders God has blessed our church with are also tremendous encouragements to me, they are more than fellow elders, they are my brothers and friends. I don't deserve any of these guys. The congregation is filled with precious brothers and sisters who make pastoring a delight. They come ready to eat meat each Sunday and keep me down to earth. There is nothing more invigorating to a pastor than a flock sitting on the edge of their seats (pews now) ready to study the Word and change the world.

I'm not sure what God has for Redeemer, my main goal will be to stay out of the way.

Great Post on the Arminian Doctrine of God and the Minneapolis bridge collapse

My friend Jay Bennett had a great post last week, it's worth checking out:

Solus Christus (on The Arminian Doctrine of God and the Minneapolis bridge collapse)

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Yankee haters go home...

Like or not, here come my Yankees. This year has been particularly rewarding having listened to all the nay-sayers diss the greatest sports franchise in the history of civilization- especially the banter which has come forth from our arch nemesis (oh no, if Boston wins 22 more championships they'll catch us...we're in trouble now...).

Here's a great, must read, analysis of why the Red Sox better hope they don't see the Yanks in the ALCS this year (by Kevin Hench, FOX sport):

1. This Chamberlain does not appease
With Joba Chamberlain in the bullpen, the Yankees are a dangerous team. (Frank Franklin II / Associated Press)With the call-up of flamethrower Joba Chamberlain (17 K, 5 H, 4 BB in 11.1 scoreless innings through Saturday), a weak point for the Yankees has become a lights-out strength. Chamberlain's dominance coupled with Mariano Rivera's increasing mortality evokes that 1996 championship season when the setup man (Rivera) was filthier than the closer (John Wetteland). Chamberlain's willingness to buzz the tower on Kevin Youkilis on back-to-back pitches showed a nastiness that the Yankees have lacked for years.

2. No. 2
Derek Jeter is quietly having another great season, hitting .325 and on his way to 200 hits for the sixth time in his career. And is there any player in baseball an opponent would less rather see at the plate when a base hit will beat them?

3. Caught between A-Rod and a hard place
Yankee fans may have to reconcile themselves to the departure of Alex Rodriguez. After he wins his second American League MVP award in four seasons in the Bronx, and third overall, he will have either A) a bad postseason, eliciting the boos that will drive him into another suitor's arms or B) a good postseason, eliciting the raise that will drive him into another suitor's arms. My guess is B.

4. Robinson Cano bats 8th
Pretty self-explanatory. The guy has 57 extra-base hits with a month to play and is hitting .348 with a 1.011 OPS since the All-Star break.

5. The fountain of Jorge
I'll have what he's having. Doesn't Jorge Posada know that 36-year-old catchers are supposed to be broken-down train wrecks who hit .190 in the second half and ground into a ton of double plays? After hitting .325 with a .901 OPS in the first half, Posada has ramped those numbers up to .333 and 1.016 in the second half.

6. Dandy Andy
All Andy Pettitte did in August was go 6-0 with a 2.36 ERA. His last four starts were against contenders Cleveland, Detroit, Anaheim and Boston and he dominated them all, going 4-0 with a 2.15 ERA. A spate of tough early-season losses and no-decisions took him out of the Cy Young race, but no team's ace is pitching better than Pettitte heading into the home stretch.

7. Wang numbers
Chien-Ming Wang is 15-3 with a 3.48 ERA since May 16 but has been inexplicably shut out of the Cy Young debate. He's 35-12 over the last two seasons and enters September tied for the league lead in victories as he tries to lead the AL in wins in back-to-back years.

8. Rocket fueled
Yes, Roger Clemens is a six-inning pitcher, but he just two-hit the Red Sox in his last six-inning performance and Boston hitters said he was throwing much harder than they expected. Would you rather have the Rocket or the Indians' third starter (Paul Byrd?) in Game 3 of a playoff series?

9. Beware the sleeping Damon
The last time Johnny Damon had an utterly disappointing regular season was his lone year in Oakland in 2001 when he hit a career-low .256. All he did in those playoffs was rake the Yankees for nine hits and a .409 average in Oakland's five-game loss. Damon enhanced his legend as a clutch playoff performer with his two-homer performance in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS and then went on to post a .619 slugging percentage in Boston's four-game sweep of St. Louis. He may not be the player he was then anymore, but after eight playoff series in the last six seasons, Damon won't be fazed by the pressure of the playoffs and could salvage his season in a one-month burst.

10. The skipper
If anyone deserves to go out on his own terms, it's Joe Torre. He set the bar impossibly high for himself with four titles in his first five seasons in New York and getting the team to the playoffs every year since just hasn't been good enough. From the street corner to talk radio to the front office, Torre has been kicked around. But Chamberlain's arrival has made him suddenly seem as smart as he used to be. If he does steer this edition of the Yankees to a title — despite using EIGHT different rookie starting pitchers this season — here's hoping he invites all his detractors to kiss his posterior on his way into a well-earned retirement.

The Yankee train is rolling, here comes October. October means championship baseball. Championship baseball includes the Yankees far more often than not.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Cicada's are cool

I'm finishing sermon prep and listening to a veritable cacophony of cicada's singing outside. Cicada's are an amazing part of God's creation. They crawl out from underground, where they have been hiding in the darkness for years, some for as many as 17. They crawl up a tree and then bust out of their exo-skeleton thing in the most incredible way. Then they burst forth screaming wildly, totally dominating the sound outside. They are invading the Midwest as I write. They will fill forests and the skies as they swarm. Thousands of them will cry out together day and night.

I have discovered, by reading lots on the Internet, the high-pitched song is actually a mating call belted out by males. Each species has its own distinctive song that only attracts females of its own kind. This allows several different species to co-exist. How cool is that?

Furthermore I have read that Cicadas are the only insects capable of producing such a unique and loud sound. Some larger species can produce a call in excess of 120 decibels at close range. This is approaching the pain threshold of the human ear! Smaller species sing in such a high pitch that it cannot be heard by humans, but may cause dogs and other animals to howl in pain (what a shame...).

To top off my noting of various trivial details pertaining to Cicadas, they usually sing during the heat of the day. In addition to attracting a mate, the loud noise actually repels birds. The cicada's song is painful to the birds' ears and interferes with their communication, making it difficult for the birds to hunt in groups. Male cicadas in the same brood will stick together when calling in order to increase the total volume of noise. This reduces the chances of bird predation for the whole lot of them (a.k.a.brood).

Praise God for his glorious creation!