Thursday, August 30, 2007

Fred's almost in

According to the Associated Press (who always gets the story right), Fred Thompson will be announcing his candidacy for president next week as I have long expected.

I think he's the only Republican who has a chance. For the record, I'm not a republican or a democrat, neither represents what I think so I remain independent. I have no problem saying, however, that Thompson is a guy I could probably vote for. I'll be researching more about Mr. Thompson over the next 12 months, that's for sure.
Who do you think will win? Not who you would vote for, but who you think will win. Respond to poll on the sidebar.

We live before a holy God

I believe David Wells, professor of historical and systematic theology at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, is a modern-day Francis Schaeffer in his analysis of the modern evangelical church. Everyone should read "No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology".

I am preaching on Isaiah 6 this week on the occasion of our first worship service in the new sanctuary and have been re-reading Wells' comments on God's Holiness. Wells poses the question- "Is the Acknowledgement of God's Holiness Essential ?". Here are a few excerpts from Wells that are very helpful and accurate:

It is this holiness of God, then, without which the Cross of Christ is incomprehensible, that provides the light that exposes modernity's darkness for what it is. For modernity has emptied life of serious moral purpose. Indeed, it empties people of the capacity to see the world in moral terms, and this, in turn, closes their access to reality, for reality is fundamentally moral. God's holiness is fundamental to who he is and what he has done. And the key to it all has been the loss of God's otherness, not least in his holiness, beneath the forms of modern piety. Evangelicals turned from focusing on God's transcendence to focusing on his immanence [pervading all creation]-and then they took the further step of interpreting his immanence as friendliness with modernity.

The loss of the traditional vision of God as holy is now manifested everywhere in the evangelical world. It is the key to understanding why sin and grace have become such empty terms. What depth or meaning, P. T. Forsyth asked, can these terms have except in relation to the holiness of God? Divorced from the holiness of God, sin is merely self-defeating behavior or a breach in etiquette. Divorced from the holiness of God, grace is merely empty rhetoric, pious window dressing for the modern technique by which sinners work out their own salvation. Divorced from the holiness of God, our gospel becomes indistinguishable from any of a host of alternative self-help doctrines. Divorced from the holiness of God, our public morality is reduced to little more than an accumulation of trade-offs between competing private interests. Divorced from the holiness of God, our worship becomes mere entertainment. The holiness of God is the very cornerstone of Christian faith, for it is the foundation of reality. Sin is defiance of God's holiness, the Cross is the outworking and victory of God's holiness, and faith is the recognition of God's holiness. Knowing that God is holy is therefore the key to knowing life as it truly is, knowing Christ as he truly is, knowing why he came, and knowing how life will end.

Unless the evangelical Church can recover the knowledge of what it means to live before a holy God, unless in its worship it can relearn humility, wonder, love, and praise, unless it can find again a moral purpose in the world that resonates with the holiness of God and that is accordingly deep and unyielding-unless the evangelical Church can do all of these things, theology will have no place in its life. But the reverse is also true. If the Church can begin to find a place for theology by refocusing itself on the centrality of God, if it can rest upon his sufficiency, if it can recover its moral fiber, then it will have something to say to a world now drowning in modernity. And there lies a great irony. Those who are most relevant to the modern world are those most irrelevant to the moral purpose of God, but those who are irrelevant in the world by virtue of their relevance to God actually have the most to say to the world. They are, in fact, the only ones who having anything to say to it. That is what Jesus declared, what the Church in its best moments has known, and what we, by the grace of God, can yet again discover.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Resistance to Revival (Part 3): The Tactic of Discouragement

The most prevalent tactic the enemies of revival take is discouragement. Such discouragers can come from within and from without. Notice this tactic at work in the text:
Ezra 4:4-5 Then the people of the land tried to discourage the people of Judah. They troubled them in building, and hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.

They actually hired counselors to do the work of bringing down their morale! The adversaries knew that Cyrus would not reverse his decision, so they went a more legal route. We should not understand these counselors to be like playground bullies taunting the Israelites as they tried to build the temple. They were not like the mockers of Noah’s day who laughed at his attempt to build a boat in a day where it had not yet rained. They were most likely legal experts who held up the building process in a number of ways. They could have stopped or delayed the trade with the governors of Lebanon where the Jews received their wood. They could have worked with the local governor to delay building permits for all we know. Whatever the case, the discouragers and legal adversaries of the Temple project held up it’s building for almost 20 years! The son of Cyrus was a lame leader who had no influence abroad, so they were successful during his reign to hold up the temple. It was not until Darius that they would be able to start the temple project again. This could have been a real blow to a newly excited church. If this revival was human in its origin, this set back regarding the temple could have really threatened to extinguish the fire of revival.

Resistance will come to us in the form of people who will discourage us or discouraging factors in general. It is a challenge to not be discouraged by life at times. Remember, we live in a cosmic conflict where sin still has a very real and lasting impact on us as individuals, as a church, and as a society. Discouragement as a form of resistance to our spiritual growth is not new, in fact it is to be expected.

I sometimes wonder if the Church in the U.S. will be facing a similar effort to discourage by some in our land. If the church is willing to be silent on such moral issues as abortion, embryonic stem cell research, homosexuality, gay marriage, etc., perhaps people will leave us alone. On the other hand, if the Church does what it's supposed to do- live differently before the world and speak out against such sin, we might well face legal opposition. For the church in Ezra's day such discouraging opposition caused a 20-year delay in building the temple, maybe for us it's the loss of tax exemption or worse yet- legal action against ministers who preach what God's Word says about some of the aforementioned sins.

Whatever happens, when revival comes, it cannot be stopped- even with opposition like we witness in Ezra. Revival is the sovereign work of God. Tactics as seen in Ezra's day are actually a means of God's strengthening His reviving work. Such trials have the effect of purifying the church, not squashing it.

Monday, August 27, 2007

"I have set my bow in the cloud..."

I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” - Genesis 9:11-17

Yesterday (Sunday morning), there was a beautiful rainbow over our church (from our perspective!). Nathan took these great pictures.

This coming Lord's Day, September 2, our congregation will be worshiping in the new sanctuary for the first time.

Very exciting times.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Resistance to Revival (Part 2): The Tactic of "Ganging up"

First the adversaries try to “chum” with the Jews. Second, when the chumming doesn’t work, they try to personally discourage them. Notice what happens starting at 4:6-

Ezra 4:6 In the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.

In verses 1-5 the adversaries were opposing the construction of the Temple. They were unable to completely stop the rebuilding of the Temple, in fact, it resumed under Darius a few years later. They shifted their tactic a bit by starting to oppose the re-building of the city, namely the protective wall that would go around the city. They used the tactic of ganging up by writing to every king until one would listen. They utilize this tactic of “ganging up” by finally striking a chord with King Artaxeres. Notice the crafty letter starting in verse 11-

Ezra 4:11-16 11 This is a copy of the letter they sent him:“To Artaxerxes, from your loyal subjects in the province west of the Euphrates River.12 “Please be informed that the Jews who came here to Jerusalem from Babylon are rebuilding this rebellious and evil city. They have already laid the foundation for its walls and will soon complete them. 13 But we wish you to know that if this city is rebuilt and its walls are completed, it will be much to your disadvantage, for the Jews will then refuse to pay their tribute, customs, and tolls to you.14 “Since we are loyal to you as your subjects and we do not want to see you dishonored in this way, we have sent you this information. 15 We suggest that you search your ancestors’ records, where you will discover what a rebellious city this has been in the past. In fact, it was destroyed because of its long history of sedition against the kings and countries who attempted to control it. 16 We declare that if this city is rebuilt and its walls are completed, the province west of the Euphrates River will be lost to you.”

Commentators disagree with whether the Jews could have really begun laying the foundation for the walls of the city by this time. Most think this was all part of the strategy to play upon the insecurities of the King to delay or stop the restoration of Israel. Whatever the case, it is a vivid illustration of the tactic of “ganging up”. The king takes the bait, a nerve is obviously struck-

Ezra 4:17-22 17 Then Artaxerxes made this reply: “To Rehum the governor, Shimshai the court secretary, and their colleagues living in Samaria and throughout the province west of the Euphrates River.18 “Greetings. The letter you sent has been translated and read to me. 19 I have ordered a search to be made of the records and have indeed found that Jerusalem has in times past been a hotbed of insurrection against many kings. In fact, rebellion and sedition are normal there! 20 Powerful kings have ruled over Jerusalem and the entire province west of the Euphrates River and have received vast tribute, customs, and tolls. 21 Therefore, issue orders to have these people stop their work. That city must not be rebuilt except at my express command. 22 Do not delay, for we must not permit the situation to get out of control.”

Certainly some among the Jews had wondered why they ever left Persia. It hearkens back to the day when the Jews left Egypt and some wanted to go back to Egypt. "Why Lord?", Many had to have asked. The cosmic conflict was showing itself. The Jews, who were being revived spiritually by God, were meeting resistance. Revival is always met this way.

Do you see the pattern in Ezra thus far? It is a natural pattern for resistance to take. First, it tries to assimilate us. Then, if that doesn’t work, it tries to disprove us or discourage us by ganging up.

A similar pattern has been witnessed in American Church history. In the early 1900’s as much of the American church fell to religious liberalism as a concession to secular humanism we witnessed the first tactic- “come now, we’re all the same.” Then, for those who resisted in the early 20’s through the 30’s and 40’s, the tactic of discouragement set in. Our adversaries said- “your bible is empty”, “it’s wrought with error”, “evolution has disproved the Scriptures”, “The Christian faith is dead”.

So what are we to make of Ezra 4? Is the fire of revival really being threatened, or is it all part of a bigger plan? Is it safe to say that resistance is actually part of revival? How could this be? If God is sovereign over all things, we must conclude there are no mistakes in the affairs of the world. Even in this cosmic conflict, when things seem to oppose God, He is still sovereign over every event. The words of Paul in Ephesians help here-

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

God works all things according to the counsel of His will. Not some things or the major things, but all things! I must conclude that the trials we face, the resistance we experience in our walk with the Lord are actually part of the revival or growth the Lord is granting!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The most underrated supehero: Mighty Mouse

My oldest son AJ got sick on Tuesday and the poor guy missed the first two days of school as a result. We're hoping he'll be better tomorrow so he can get one day in this week. AJ loves school, so this is bumming him out.

This brings me to an important conflict in my mind. A sense of injustice unsettles my spirit, therefore I must blog about it. This morning I sat on the couch with AJ and we watched a DVD of Mighty Mouse episodes. There are actually 3 DVDs with something like 150 short 3-5 minute Mighty Mouse episodes on them. As I watched Mighty Mouse defeat "Oil Can Harry", hoards of cats, gangs of wolves, and all manner of treacherous creatures trying to oppress his fellow mice or his mouse-babe "Pearl Pure Heart", it dawned on me- Mighty Mouse has not received his due in the world of superheroes. Tell me, what can Superman do that Mighty Mouse can't do? Remember Mighty Mouse is...well... A MOUSE! Talk about a stud! Enough about the Hulk. Who cares about Spiderman. The Fantastic who? Batman? Come on, MM can eat those "heroes" for breakfast. Enough disrespectin' Mighty Mouse I say! Consider these unmatched abilities on the part of Double M:

FLIGHT - Mighty Mouse can fly, usually trailing a mysterious orange energy, which is capable of solidifying for use as a moving platform to carry other characters. He’s swift and agile during flight, able to stop suddenly, to change directions quickly, and to perform complex aerobatic maneuvers with what about the girly lookin' eye lashes...

SUPER STRENGTH AND INVULNERABILITY - Approximately the size of a normal rodent, Mighty Mouse’s formidable super strength and invulnerability belie his tiny figure. The limits of these powers are unknown (that's right, "man of steel"- no kryptonite-like weakness for MM!), but he’s sufficiently strong to effortlessly throw human-sized enemies about 200 feet and tough enough to withstand being engulfed in the blast of a building full of military-grade bombs and ammunition when it Hulky...stop crying..afraid of a mouse?

MAGNOKINESIS - Mighty Mouse can hurl bolts of white lightning from his hands that allow him to mentally control ferrous metal objects...and, he's a killer tenor!

ATTACK DEFLECTION/REFLECTION - At will, Mighty Mouse can create an invisible deflection field that surrounds his hands, allowing him to deflect attacks or reflect them back at his opponents. To use this power, Mighty Mouse must deliberately hold up both outstretched hands and touch the attack he wishes to influence in this manner. For example, he could alter the path of a stream of water shooting from a fire hose by holding up both hands to block the water. He could then direct the stream of water in an alternate direction or cause it to “home in” on the face of the person holding the fire hose...what do you think of that Spidey? Your lame web tricks sure look whimpy when compared to the prowess of MM.

X-RAY VISION - Mighty Mouse has been seen to use a type of x-ray vision to see through oblique objects, lead is no barrier to MM.

HYPNOSIS - Mighty Mouse has the ability to stare his opponents and even inanimate objects into his command, and being a mouse of high ethical and moral standards, never takes advantage of Pearl Pure Heart with this hypnotic ability.

TIME MANIPULATION - Mighty Mouse has been known to travel through time....wait...yep...that's Batman in line to get Mighty Mouse's autograph!

Come on people, it's time Mighty Mouse gets his due! What, does his minuscule stature threaten the other "heroes"? Sure, he's not the most manly looking...and his less than masculine opera-like way of singing when he is rescuing might concern some, but give some love to the little rodent. I suspect a Marvel Comics conspiracy. DC must be in on some plan to keep MM down. I say enough! Mighty Mouse cannot be denied his rightful place atop the pantheon of superheroes. The injustice stops today.
Be sure to record your vote on the current poll...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Beckham nothing...Blanco is here

I could care less about David Beckham coming to the MLS. Far more interesting to me is the addition of one of the greatest Mexican soccer players of all time- Cauauhtemoc Blanco. The video is one of his last goals scored for his Mexican team, Club America, before coming to the U.S. to play for the Chicago Fire.

Blanco is both loved and hated by Mexican fans. He's a fiery player with an odd gait and very deceptive quickness. Bottom line- he scores key goals and motivates his team to play harder. I love Mexican culture, I love Mexican passion, I think Blanco's arrival to U.S. Soccer is far more interesting then Beckham's Hollywood splash.

I understand why the MLS picked Beckham to be their poster boy. He's a good looking, well spoken, Brit. Everyone loves such a guy. Still, Blanco is more my style. A gritty-looking, passionate, Spanish-only speaking, controversial, fiesty player. Long term, if Blanco stays in shape and plays 3-4 seasons, he might have a better impact on the MLS than Beckham...and for a lot less money.

I just came back from watching the K.C. Wizards play against Blanco and the Chicago Fire. It was a tremendously entertaining game and Blanco didn't disappoint. There was a huge Mexican contingency at the game and Brian and I sat right in the middle of them. Man do I love Mexican culture. Blanco had many nice plays and passes. He missed a penalty kick, which shocked the crowd. He assisted on a goal and chirped at one of the KC defenders most of the night. He makes everything more exciting.

Bravo Blanco...who cares about Beckham?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Resistance to Revival (Part 1): The Tactic of Allegiance

Ezra was a Jewish scribe who was called by God to lead the return of the exiled Jews to the promised land. 70 years before Ezra, the brutal Babylonians under the leadership of Nebuchadnezzar took the Southern Kingdom of Judah captive. The great king of the Medes and the Persians, Cyrus, was able to conquer the Babylonians. Under the reign of Cyrus, the Jews were not only allowed to go back to their land, they were given finances and political cover to do so. Accompanying the physical blessing God was granting, He was also sending the fire of spiritual revival to His people. Revival is God's special work of repentance and obedience in the hearts and lives of His people, not something we conjure in a tent meeting or by some other human effort. Revival happens when God wills its.

Still, even when God sends revival, we should expect opposition. I would like to note a few different tactics used to oppose God's special work of revival- the first by those who had been occupying the land the Jews were now coming back to re-occupy. Note the tactic I will label allegiance:

Ezra 4:2 they came to Zerubbabel and the heads of the fathers’ houses, and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we seek your God as you do; and we have sacrificed to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.”

Interestingly, the first tactic the inhabitants of the land attempt is not offensive. They begin by trying to convince the Jews that their religion is the same. They say, “hey, that’s cool, your making a temple to your God, Yahweh...hey check this out: we sacrifice to him to!”. It all looks innocuous. It looks as though they are trying to ally themselves with the Jews. Notice they claim to have sacrificed to Yahweh for many years. In fact they say they have been sacrificing to the God of the Jews since Esarhaddon of Assyria. Esarhaddon lived around 670 BC, this was about 538 BC. So the inhabitants were claiming allegiance to Yahweh for over 130 years. What is interesting to note is that these people who were claiming this were probably telling the truth. They were undoubtedly descendants of the so-called lost tribes of Israel assimilated by the Assyrians almost 200 years before! It is possible that these people who confronted the Jews, labeled “adversaries” by the text, were actually related to the Jews! Do you see the power of this form of resistance? They come as "allies". They come as ones who claim allegiance to the same God.

One of the forms of resistance our own spiritual growth will encounter will be people or a culture claiming to be friendly to you. There will be people who tell you that you believe the same thing. 9/11 really brought this out. There was a needed sense of national unity in the wake of the attacks, but overall, I thought the mainstream attempt to pluralize or unify the various religions was telling. It was chilling to see leaders of all religions on the same podium a few days after 9/11 acting as though they were praying to the same God. A few of the clergy people said as much. All this in my beloved Yankee stadium. Talk about sacrilege. Praying to the same God?

They were not praying to the same God.

Muslims are certainly people who are created in the image of God, but Allah is not God. They do not worship the same God of the Bible. The same can be said for Budhaism, Hinduism- you name the religion, for all the respect and care we should have for each other as fellow human beings- we are not worshiping the same God! Here's one that might take some heat- modern Jews and Christians do not worship and pray to the same God. Christians worship the God of the bible- the Triune God, modern Jews do not.

A sign that we are giving in to resistance is when we assimilate with other faiths. Christianity, by definition, is an exclusive faith. Jesus claims to be THE way, THE truth, and THE life. All other claims to the contrary by all other leaders are false.

Notice how the Israelites react to this offer of the people to help them build the temple-

Ezra 4:3 But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the fathers’ houses of Israel said to them, “You may do nothing with us to build a house for our God; but we alone will build to the Lord God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.”

Score one for the Israelites, on this occasion anyway. Something the adversaries said gave them away- Since the time of David there was only one place that you could legitimately offer sacrifices. That place was Jerusalem at the Temple. These people might have been offering sacrifices, but it was in essence the practice of idolatry as it was not in the Temple of Yahweh. Furthermore, they clearly sacrificed to many other imagined gods, Yahweh might have been a name they gave one, but it was not the God of Israel to whom they sacrificed. Unlike so many other sad times in Israel’s history, this time they stood up to those who would assimilate their religion and said no. They refer to the political backing they had received from Persia through Cyrus and told the adversaries “no thanks” to the help. When the Jews say, “build a house to our God”, they are referring to the God of Israel who was the only God. Thus any sacrifice to him and other gods was an abomination. Any sacrifices conducted outside the Temple and Jerusalem was outright idolatry.

When the Church witnesses the hand of God upon us in a special way, we better be prepared for resistance, because it will come. It will come first to enlist us. It will come first to make us look the same. It will come to say- "hey, we’re not that different".

But we are different.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Glorious Sovereignty of our God

On Monday I will conduct a short orientation for the teachers of our school, Westminster Christian Academy. I will spend time explaining how the sovereignty of God is a key consideration for Reformed Christians- a biblical truth we cherish. I have found A.W. Pink's book, "The Sovereignty of God", to be very helpful when explaining this doctrine. Here's a synopsis of Pink's opening remarks:

1 Chronicles 29:11 Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.

“The Sovereignty of God is an expression that once was generally understood. It was a phrase commonly used in religious literature. It was a theme frequently expounded in the pulpit. It was a truth which brought comfort to many hearts, and gave virility and stability to Christian character. But, today, to make mention of God’s sovereignty is, in many quarters, to speak in an unknown tongue. Were we to announce from the average pulpit that the subject of our discourse would be the sovereignty of God, it would sound very much as though we had borrowed a phrase from one of the dead languages. Alas! that it should be so. Alas! that the doctrine which is the key to history, the interpreter of Providence, the warp and woof of Scripture, and the foundation of Christian theology, should be so sadly neglected and so little understood.” -A.W. Pink

The sovereignty of God. What do we mean by this expression?

- We mean the supremacy of God, the kingship of God, the godhood of God.

- To say that God is sovereign is to declare that God is God.

- To say that God is sovereign is to declare that He is the Most High, doing according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, so that none can stay His hand or say unto Him what doest Thou?

Daniel 4:35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”

- To say that God is sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in heaven and earth, so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will .

Psalm 115: 3 Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.

- To say that God is sovereign is to declare that He is "The Governor among the nations", setting up kingdoms, overthrowing empires, and determining the course of dynasties as pleaseth Him best.

Psalm 22:28 For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.

- To say that God is sovereign is to declare that He is the "Only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords"

1 Timothy 6:14-15 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,

Such is the God of the Bible...or none could be saved.

Friday, August 17, 2007

A Hymn of Victory

Benjamin Beddome was the son of a Baptist minister in England (the Calvinistic kind of baptist!) who left a career in medicine to become a pastor himself. During his ministry, Beddome was in the practice of writing a hymn for singing after every sermon he preached.

In my opinion, "Shout for the Blessed Jesus Reigns" is Beddome's best. I challenge anyone to find a more fitting "missionary" hymn than this:

Shout, for the Blessed Jesus Reigns
1. Shout, for the blessed Jesus reigns; through distant lands his triumphs spread; and sinners, freed from endless pains, own him their Savior and their Head.
2. He calls his chosen from afar, they all at Zion’s gates arrive; those who were dead in sin before by sovereign grace are made alive.
3. Gentiles and Jews his laws obey; nations remote their offerings bring, and unconstrained their homage pay to their exalted God and King.
4. O may his holy church increase, his Word and Spirit still prevail, while angels celebrate his praise, and saints his growing glories hail.
5. Loud hallelujahs to the Lamb, from all below, and all above! In lofty songs exalt his name, in songs as lasting as his love.

Now that's a hymn of victory- just the way the Bible tells the story.
Click on title to hear music (sorry for cheesey organ...our organ is way better sounding)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Me in the ninth grade and the modern evangelical church...lots in common

One of my more embarrassing, yet vivid memories is liking a particular girl when I was in ninth grade. I wanted her to like me so bad...

I tried to dress in a way that would impress her. I bought a particular kind of sneakers, at no small expense (thank you very little Michael Jordan!), attempting to show how important fashion was to me. I wore a particularly nice pair of parachute pants from Chess King- not the "fake" kind you could get at K-mart. I even did my best to "mullet-ize" my extremely curly hair (I looked like a white Buckwheat with a poofy squirrel on my neck). Man, how many tubes of Clearasil and Oxy did I use trying to "clear up" for this particular girl?

I talked differently to her, in a way that was not myself. I was testy around my family hoping she would call me back after I'd leave a message at her house. I would snap at my sister or mother if they were on the phone during the magic time she might call (she rarely did, if ever). I actually blew off my friends a few times in hopes that I would get to talk with her or go out with her. I wanted her to like me in the worst way.

At school I would go way out of my way to try and cross paths with her. I would try to get close to her table in the lunch room. I would try to get close enough to crack a joke or otherwise show my quick wit in hopes she would like me. I'm embarrassed by how much energy I spent trying to get her attention- trying to attract her to me. I was just sure I could win her over if I became someone other than myself- I figured I had to. She wouldn't simply like me for who I truly was.

My poor mother. She tried to tell me I was making a fool of myself. It had to be hard for a mother to watch her son not be himself. She had to think, "what's so bad about my son that he thinks he has to be somebody could she be worth him becoming someone he isn't"?I know my mother thought the world of the true me. It had to frustrate her to watch me act like a fool to attract a girl who just didn't like me. Such things are hard on parents, no doubt- when their kids abandon themselves for the sake of someone who doesn't like them.

As I look at the broader evangelical church and all it's efforts to court and attract the so-called "unchurched" and "seekers"- changing what it is designed to be in order to make them like her- constantly apologizing for this or that-doing all manner of foolish silly things to get their attention...I know just how my mother felt watching me.

When will we realize that the Church being the Church is what God uses to win the lost to Himself? By all means, let us reach out to the world- but let's not suppose we have to be someone we're not to see fruitful ministry. The only thing we get by being someone we're not is the wrong girl liking us. Think about it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Angel of the Lord

My personal reading finds me in the book of Judges. Honestly, the book depresses me as a whole. It reminds me of my own struggle in "cycles of sin".

My sons love me to read various accounts from Judges to them. While I don't doubt the Holy Spirit's work in their lives through exposure to Scripture, their favorite story is about the left-handed Judge Ehud plunging his sword in to the gut of the fat king Eglon. You have to read the account to fully appreciate my sons fascination with it (Judges 3). The dialogue between Ehud and Eglon reminds me of Godfather 2 when Vito Corleone confronts and kills his father's murderer in Sicily. The part my kids like most, however, is found in verses 24-25. I'll let you look it up.

I have digressed...

The subject of this post has to do with the mention of the "Angel of the Lord":

Judges 2:1 Then the Angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said: “I led you up from Egypt and brought you to the land of which I swore to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you.

I've studied this way back when, so I recall now. Regarding the identity of the “Angel of the Lord” we can be reasonably sure of a couple of things:

1. He is not simply a prophet. Never in the OT is a prophet referred to as an angel of the Lord. Further, a prophet uses the prophetic formula “thus saith the Lord”. The angel of the Lord in this passage takes on the voice of the first person. A voice that only God has as it relates to the covenant. Look again at verse 1, the messenger says- “I led you up from Egypt and brought you to the land I swore to your fathers…” It was God who swore the inheritance of Canaan to Israel not a prophet.

2. Further, I don't think He is an angelic being for the same reason He is not a prophet- He is speaking as God, not as subordinate messenger of God. A messenger yes, but not a subordinate messenger, an equal messenger.

So, I think we can say with reasonable certainty, the Angel of the Lord is not merely a human prophet. Nor is the Angel of the Lord a created, angelic being. This leaves only one rational explanation. Albeit it is a mysterious explanation, but it seems that the Angel of the Lord is in fact the pre-incarnate Christ. The “Angel of the Lord” appears several other places in Scripture that I can find:

1. To Hagar in Genesis 16, Hagar sees the Angel as the Lord Himself.
2. To Abraham in Genesis 22, Abraham is stopped from sacrificing his Son by the Angel of the Lord from Heaven. It is interesting imagery, God tells Abraham to sacrifice, the Angel of the Lord (Christ) is the only one able to stop the sacrifice!
3. To Jacob in Genesis 31, The Angel takes on the first person in speaking for God.
4. To Moses in Exodus 3, the Angel of the Lord is the one who speaks to Moses from the midst of the burning bush.
5. To Joshua in Joshua 5, Joshua worships the Commander of the Lord’s Army. The OT is clear, God alone is to be worshipped.

Again, it seems very sensible to identify the Angel of the Lord as the Lord Jesus Christ. So it is that the Angel of the Lord, Jesus Christ Himself stands before Israel in chapter 2 of Judges in order to rebuke and correct the erring nation. They were not heeding the teaching of Moses, so another human prophet would not suffice. Apparently sending an angel like He had done to warn of the destruction of Sodom wouldn't be strong enough. So, for optimum effect, He sent none other than the pre-incarnate Son of God Himself to correct the people.

Think about this- Jesus Christ was going to eventually take on flesh in order to fulfil the covenant with His own blood. Now, here during the time of the Judges, the covenant people are in sin and rebellion and the very one who would free them from the consequences of their sin appears to them confronting them with their sin and delivering to them their discipline. This is a powerful appearance, that of the "Angel of the Lord".

Obviously the sin of the covenant people was great, God saw fit to send His Son to confront them personally. The great Puritan commentator, Matthew Henry comments on the sending of the Angel of the Lord this way-

“Joshua had lately admonished them to take heed of entangling themselves with the Canaanites, but they regarded not the words of a dying man: the same warning therefore is here brought them by the living God himself, the Son of God, appearing as an angel. If they slight his human servants, surely they will reverence His Son.”

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Tiger does it again

Tiger Woods just won the PGA Championship today. He has 13 major titles, just five behind the Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus. Woods is barely 10 years in to his professional career, Nicklaus won 18 major titles over 25 years. With all due respect to Jack, his days of being known as the best are coming to an end.
I think Tiger is on a trajectory to become the greatest athlete of the modern era. For the sake of discussion, thinking about the past 10 years, who has been a better athlete than Tiger Woods? Lance Armstrong is surely worth noting. Roger Federer is no slouch. Do they touch Tiger? I don't think so. Who does?
What do you think?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Deep Thoughts from John Calvin (not Jack Handy)

In relationship to the biblical doctrine of reprobation, John Calvin writes:

I know that to attribute faith to the reprobate seems hard to some, when Paul declares it the result of election. Yet this difficulty is easily solved. For though on those predestined to salvation receive the light of faith and truly feel the power of the gospel, yet experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected by almost the same feeling as the elect, so that even in their own judgment they do not in any way differ from the elect [cf. Acts 13:48]. Therefore it is not at all absurd that the apostle should attribute to them a taste of the heavenly gifts [Heb. 6:4-6] – and Christ, faith for a time [Luke 8:13]; not because they firmly grasp the force of spiritual grace and the sure light of faith, but because the Lord, to render them more convicted and inexcusable, steals into their minds to the extent that his goodness may be tasted without the Spirit of adoption. Suppose someone objects that then nothing more remains to believers to assure themselves of their adoption. I reply: although there is a great likeness and affinity between God's elect and those who are given a transitory faith, yet only in the elect does that confidence flourish which Paul extols, that they loudly proclaim Abba, Father [Gal. 4:6; cf. Rom. 8:15]. Therefore, as God regenerates only the elect with incorruptible seed forever [I Peter 1:23] so that the seed of life sown in their hearts may never perish, thus he firmly seals the gift of his adoption in them that it may be steady and sure. But this does not at all hinder that lower working of the Spirit from taking its course even in the reprobate ... Besides this, the reprobate never receive anything but a confused awareness of grace, so that they grasp a shadow rather than the firm body of it. For the Spirit, strictly speaking, seals forgiveness of sins in the elect alone, so that they apply it by special faith to their own use. Yet the reprobate are justly said to believe that God is merciful toward them, for they receive the gift of reconciliation, although confusedly and not distinctly enough. Not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God, but because they seem under a cloak of hypocrisy, to have a beginning of faith in common with the latter. And I do not deny that God illumines their minds enough for them to recognize his grace; but he so distinguishes that awareness from the exclusive testimony he gives to his elect that they do not attain the full effect and fruition thereof. He does not show himself merciful to them, to the extent of truly snatching them from death and receiving them into his keeping; but only manifests to them his mercy for the time begin. Only his elect does he account worthy of receiving the living root of faith so that they may endure to the end [Matt. 24:13]. Thus is that objection answered: if God truly shows his grace, this fact is forever established. For nothing prevents God from illumining some with a momentary awareness of his grace, which after vanishes." (III.2.11, pp 555-556).

Friday, August 10, 2007

One tough lady

This is a very cool story:

Woman Kills Rabid Raccoon With Bare Hands
Friday, August 10, 2007
/Associated Press

CHESHIRE, Conn. — A woman killed a raccoon with her bare hands Thursday when the animal attacked a young boy. Officials with Cheshire animal control say the woman was walking in the woods around 11 a.m. with a group of children when the animal bit the 5-year-old son of a friend.
She pulled the raccoon off the child, told the children to run home and strangled the animal, authorities said.
"She had the presence of mind to choke it," animal control officer April Leiler told the Record-Journal of Meriden. "She is one tough lady."
The carcass was taken to a state laboratory in Hartford where it tested positive for rabies.
The woman and the boy are undergoing rabies treatment. Their names have not been released.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The greatest movie trailer ever...

I am not a big fan of movie trailers because they rarely give a true depiction of the movie they are advertising. They can be entertaining for sure, in many cases they are more entertaining than the actual movie. How many times have you viewed a trailer and said, "I have to see that", then think to yourself while watching the movie, "that trailer had all the best parts of this lame movie"?
There is one exception to my general disdain for movie trailers, and here it is before you. This particular trailer for The Godfather (which also happens to be the greatest movie of all time) captures some key moments in the film without giving too much away. It doesn't oversell the movie, yet it makes you want to see it.

I wish more trailers were like this one. Then again, I wish more movies were like The Godfather.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The music of Nathan Clark George

I became acquainted with the music of Nathan Clark George during the PCA's General Assembly in Memphis this year. Nathan played and led in worship during two of the worship services. I was immediately impressed with his ability to avoid coming off as a "solo" when he played for worship. Several of my fellow pastors, of varying worship style convictions, commented on how excellent his selections were and how they fit very well with the worship service.

In late June my family vacationed at Horn Creek (Westcliffe, Co) family camp. The first Sunday morning we were there I saw Nathan tuning his guitar in preparation for the morning worship service. I recognized him, but couldn't remember why. Then it hit me that he had played at General Assembly. What a delight to know he would be leading our daily worship times. He did a wonderful job and also treated us to several of his original songs. We quickly bought all four of his Cd's and started listening to them right there at camp. I also had some time to fellowship with him and was even more impressed with God's work and direction in his life (and the life of his family). Nathan is the son of a PCA pastor and is himself licensed to preach in the PCA. I have to admit, I can sometimes be hard to please when it comes to music styles for worship, yet Nathan's skill, style, and demeanor won me over.

As for Nathan's music, I strongly urge you to check his sites here and here. Sample his music. There is a link to buy his Cd's. I am telling you, you will blessed by Nathan's music.

He currently has four Cd's out and has received quite a bit of widespread recognition winning the independent musician award two years in a row. Describing his style and genre is somewhat difficult as he truly does have an original sound. If I were pressed to compare him, I would say his vocals remind me of Michael Card. He is a skilled classical guitarist and so brings great originality to many well-known songs and hymns. His rendition of "Not what my Hands Have Done" is an example of such. He differs from Card lyrically in two ways that I can note- first, he is very personal regarding his own failures and questions. The whole of his music always points the listener to the cross, yet doesn't shy away from voicing genuine, human feelings about life and our sinfulness. He has a song that wonders out loud about what he would have done if he were in the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus. One of my favorite songs by Nathan is "Don't I Know". Every father has to listen to this song. It addresses our need to really evaluate how we approach our children and how we let them approach us. A second difference from Card is the way he writes songs according to Scripture, specifically Old Testament passages. Michael Card is excellent with his use of Scripture, no doubt, I just happen to think Nathan has taken it to a new, more holistic level. First off, Nathan has several songs based on Psalms, nine I believe. Additionally, Nathan has written exceptional songs based on passages in Isaiah, Habakkuk, Colossians, and Galatians. My favorite song of all is "Rise in the Darkness", a challenging song about living the gospel before men based on Isaiah 58.

As for musical style, I would personally classify Nathan as Classical Folk. Again, he is hard to categorize, so I really urge you to have a listen to his music and judge for yourself. I am certain his thoughtful lyrics, skilled playing, and gifted vocals will be a blessing to your walk with Christ.

Finally, and with great excitement, I am pleased to inform you that Nathan will be presenting two concerts at Redeemer in the upcoming months! First, Nathan will present an acoustical set at Redeemer Sunday evening, September 23 (at 6PM). He'll also play during communion that morning. Second, Nathan will return with a small band (a mandolin player and a violinist) to present a Christmas concert Sunday evening, December 16 (also at 6PM). By all means, come out and join us for this blessed time with Nathan.

Monday, August 6, 2007

The rich, young, delusional ruler (part 4)

Natural man lives with many delusions. Without spiritual eyes, he cannot understand the true meaning of life. The wall of separation between he and God skews his ability to comprehend God's perspective and he is constantly operating with misguided and false assumptions about life and hapiness.

Thus far I have attempted to identify several delusions the so-called rich, young, ruler exhibits during his historic interchange with Jesus. Recall the text:

Luke 18:18-23 18 Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”19 So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.20 “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ ”21 And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”22 So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”23 But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.

Keeping in mind that a delusion is a false belief or opinion; a fixed, dominating, or persistent false mental conception resistant to reason with regard to actual things or matters of fact, I have suggested the rich, young ruler shows several delusions:

1. A delusion about what is "good".

2. A delusion about how one "inherits" eternal life.

3. A delusion about his (our) righteousness.

Rarely are human delusions singular. I do not think there is just one delusion to be noted in this story, however, something huge is revealed in verse 23 that must be noted as another delusion, if not the core delusion of the whole story.

After the interchange with Jesus, where he no doubt feels he has held his own against Jesus, the Lord says to him-

22 So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

Jesus is going to the heart of the matter. Where is this man's allegiance? What does he love? Who does he love? What does he worship? The statement of Christ here puts the man to the ultimate test- who is his God? We find the unfortunate answer by his response to Jesus in verse 23-

But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.

There are multiple ways to categorize the delusion revealed by the man's response to Christ. One way to describe his delusion is to say he reveals a delusion about what is temporal and what is eternal.
The man, like so many, was greatly in love with his stuff, his wealth, his things. Jesus was telling him that all must be forsaken in order to follow Him. This made the man sad. Humanly speaking, he liked what he saw in Christ. He admired what he heard from Jesus. He wanted to be counted as a follower, perhaps even a disciple of Christ, but not at the expense of what meant the most to him- his possessions. Jesus could see what stood in his way of devotion to God- his trust in possessions. The thought of getting rid of his wealth or giving it away to follow Jesus was ludicrous. Without wealth he would lack security, comfort, ease, and much enjoyment. He saw who Jesus was and what He was saying. He saw the great wisdom in this man Jesus. But he saw his life, his stuff, his treasures, and said in his heart- "for all that Jesus seems to be, it’s great, but it’s not worth giving up my comfort, my security." What does this evidence about the rulers understanding of things? The rich, young ruler exhibits a great and deadly delusion about what is temporal and what is eternal.

The treasure that Jesus offers is present and eternal joy and peace, what amounts to true satisfaction. The man was blinded by a much lesser, far less glorious treasure- the fading, decaying, temporal, treasure of earthly possessions. His love for the stuff of earth and attendant trust in it was blocking his view of the long term. The deceitfulness of riches-earthly treasure-prevented this man from placing himself in a position where he could, in the coming age, realize “treasure in heaven”.

Jesus, who is God and eternal, constantly sees with the perspective of all eternity. For us, we are prone to focus on the immediate, and in so doing are prone to offer up the eternal on the altar of the immediate. Think of some common choices made without adequate consideration of the long term or eternal- A woman having an abortion, marrying an unbeliever, strapping oneself with enormous debt, or short cuts in parenting to keep peace now.

For the rich person, it is easy to become a slave to staying rich and getting richer. You begin to trust in those riches for your very existence. Jesus is not condemning riches or wealth in his statement to the young ruler, he is simply sounding an alarm and proving a point about the man's misplaced devotion.
Trust in anything but the One who God has sent will lead to destruction and that person will not receive eternal life.

We must look for life where it may be found- the Author of life. To the rich, young ruler he says to “sell all and give it to the poor”. Eternal life is found only in God, not in anything this temporal world offers, whether sex or family, money or possessions, power or privilege. If we have to lose any or all of those things to find life, so be it. "For a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses", as Jesus said. He also said- “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."

Remember the impossible thing God asked of Abraham? He was told to sacrifice the Son he loved so dearly. Abraham was going to do it. God stopped him as it was confirmed that God was more important to Abraham than even his only, beloved son. Perhaps Jesus was putting forth a similar test. Go and sell all you have and come back to me. If the man was willing to do this, perhaps Jesus would have stopped him. The point and tragedy of the Rich Young Ruler’s life is that he loved his wealth more than God, yet he wanted to be in a citizen in the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God. This shows that he had no true understanding of the temporal and the eternal. He was loyal to that which would fade.
It may have been true that the man was able to keep the five commandments Jesus’ mentions, at least externally. But it was clear that the man was guilty of violating the first commandment, for he certainly had another god besides the true God. For him it was the God of his possessions. Clearly this is why Jesus mentions the last five commandments instead of beginning with the first five. It is the approach of Jesus to gently lead him to a correct answer.
One final note about this final delusion: It strikes me that by today’s standards the "rich", young ruler probably wasn’t really that rich? Consider for a moment:

1. He Didn’t have an indoor toilet
2. He Didn’t have air conditioning
3. He Didn’t have a telephone, computer, or power tools
4. He Didn’t have a T.V., Radio, or stereo equipment
5. He probably owned a chariot-top speed- 15 mph?
6. He probably owned a few robes perhaps, a medal trinket or two?

So, basically, because of his delusion concerning the temporary and the eternal- he was willing to trade the riches of heaven for a 15 mile-n-hour chariot and a few trinkets!

That's a serious delusion.

Friday, August 3, 2007

If you build it, they won't necessarily come

I sure hope the newly constructed Sprint Center wasn't a big waste of money.

Kansas City has built a state of the art, downtown stadium with hopes of attracting either a NHL team or a NBA team. I think a NHL team is more likely, given the popularity of college basketball around here. I just don't think the NBA can compete with the KU-Mizzou-K-State entertainment. So, the NHL is more likely, especially with a couple of unstable franchises fishing for a new place to call home.

The NHL in KC concerns me. I think it could very well flop and be an embarrassment to our city. It has to be granted, Hockey is something you have to grow up watching, playing, and liking in order to be in to it. The other "major" sports aren't really like that. Despite the Sprint Center looking like a shiny hockey puck, I don't see the NHL doing well here. It's very likely the brand new stadium could go with out a major professional sports tenant for a while. I'm doubting the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's yearly visit, some monster trucks, Ice skating, and a few WWE events will cover the facilities costs. This could be ugly. Very ugly.
Anyways, in order for my faithful and intelligent readership to understand what a hockey town truly is, consider this article about my home city of Buffalo, NY:

Best NHL city: Buffalo

August 2, 2007

Here's how good the hockey fans are in Buffalo: While TV ratings in the rest of the U.S. pushed to reach numbers posted by drunken drivers, the citizens of this mid-market media area were watching the Stanley Cup finals at five times the national rating. And the Sabres weren't even in the finals.

Such is the passion for pucks in greater Buffalo. These fans even surpassed the Game 5 rating in the L.A. market, where the Ducks were winning the Cup.

There's no Disney Land in Buffalo; Niagara, Ontario, is nice but you can only see Ripley's so many time. There's no surf in Buffalo; the closest thing is where the Niagara River goes downhill real fast. Goat Island will never be confused with Long Beach.

So, OK, there aren't the distractions in Buffalo there are in Anaheim, where the Cup landed. Other than hockey, the only thing these cities have in common is James Cameron. The Titanic man is from an Ontario burg on the north shore of the Niagara. And although both cities have hockey, Buffalo's passion for it is unsurpassed. Anywhere.

America's Best Sports City, NHL category, even loves its team when it loses. Example: Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, won by the Senators to eliminate the Sabres, drew a 28.4 rating for NBC. And games 1-4, all on Versus, drew ratings between 21.9 and 27.6.
Now chew on this: NBC's three games in the finals had a rating of ... 1.6. Repeat: 1.6.
Anomaly? Not considering Buffalo's rating for the All-Star Game was 7.1, while the next-best market number was Pittsburgh's 2.8.

If the NHL posted numbers one-tenth as good across the U.S. as it does in Buffalo it would be giddy. Gary Bettman would Riverdance from Erie to Ontario.

And these folks aren't staying home, either. Every Sabres home game last season was a sellout. That's 18,690 for 41 nights at HSBC Center. And of course, with Cup hopes sky-high, every playoff game was a sellout, too.

There was such demand for the playoffs, Time Warner Cable added Versus HD to its lineup.
'Nuff said. Buffalo, you rule.

Sorry KC fans, we should have stayed with the Royals and Chiefs, this stadium might well end up being a flop.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Monumental Announcement

A day like this doesn't come often, hence a grand announcement like this is also rare.

Despite a poor year for pollination (terrible Bee shortage in the Midwest), my garden has produced it's first sizable tomatoes and I am taking part of this day, my day off, to cook my first pot of garden-fresh tomato sauce.

I've got The Godfather soundtrack going, the garlic frying and readying for entry into the pot. The peppers will soon be diced, the Italian sausage will be browning shortly, and the skinning of the tomatoes will commence in mere moments.

Then, like a beautiful symphony in harmonious concert, all the ingredients will be mixed together emitting an aroma I believe heaven will smell like. I don't know what manna was, but if it wasn't pasta and sauce, I'd be disappointed (certainly the Hebrew would reveal something about the same root word for "manna" and "roma").

So, this post must has to. I am called to the large pot on the stove and the full joy that awaits as the house fills with a garlic-basil-oregano-stewing tomato fragrance. This pot will be called "Ode to Sicily". Oh...I have to go, "Connie's Song" just started on the soundtrack, I can picture Clemenza teaching Michael Corleone how to make sauce even now!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

With a best friend like this, who needs enemies?

Wow...again...look what I'm missing out on by not having a dog:

FOX News: A Memphis, Tenn., man is in critical condition Wednesday after his dog shot him in the back. Police say King George, a 150-pound Great Dane, accidentally knocked a .22-caliber pistol off his owner's end table around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday. The gun went off, hitting his 21-year-old owner in the back, reports.

"I knew he was smart, I didn't think he was that smart," the victim's fiancee, Miesha Lucas told "He was always protective. I didn't think he would be like that." Police refused to name the victim as they do not plan to file charges in the shooting, which they've ruled as accidental. Lucas told that she fears what her fiance will do to the pet once he gets out of the hospital. The shooting occurred in the Raleigh section of Memphis.

My favorite quote is : "I knew he was smart, I didn't think he was that smart". Is she serious? The rich young ruler isn't the only delusional person referenced on this blog.