Tuesday, September 30, 2008

31 Days of Prayer

After 31 years of life, I'm beginning to see the need for structure. For instance, take prayer. If left to pray without any direction, I will pray about the trinity of Me, Myself, and I. I'll not pray globally. I'll not pray for missions. Even when I want to pray for missions, I'll often find myself praying generic prayers I assume would apply to all missionaries.

Not that God doesn't hear those prayers and respond, but I'm ignoring a ton of personal stuff such missionaries actually
are requesting. Not only that, but I can only pray generically for so long before I feel like a broken record. Without some direction, some structure, I can quickly lose interest. I can quickly lose passion. Who would have thought, without some structure, plan, or direction, I could actually lose passion?
Structure and direction enhance my joy and freedom in prayer. They don't kill it!

So in order to "spice up" my prayer life, to get Amy and I on the same page praying globally, and to unite with our church, our denomination, and hopefully anyone else who wants to join up, I'm committing to pray through the "31 days of prayer" MTW (our denomination's mission agency) has constructed. It allows us to focus our prayers on people we wouldn't normally focus on. It also gives info on HOW to pray. Info like how to pray for persecuted believers in Egypt and church planting in Mexico. I would highly commend this opportunity to you. You can download and print out this calendar here under the post entitled "Missions." I think you will find it helpful to you and your family, so take advantage of it or something similar.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Terrell Owens and the Cross of Jesus

I was watching Dallas Cowboys' receiver Terrell Owens fielding reporters' questions today. As is usually the case, he was not responsible for his team's loss to the Redskins. According to the most selfish wide receiver in football, the Cowboy's needed to throw the ball to him more. It was thrown his way 17 times yesterday, and he ended up with only 7 receptions. He needed more touches.

The funny thing was that he "touched" the ball more than 7 times. Since this interview wasn't live, ESPN juxtaposed video of several of his dropped passes. Passes that normal wide receivers are supposed to catch. So while he was blaming the coaches for not giving him the ball more, they simply looped "highlights" (at least they were for me!) of him dropping simple passes. His mistakes. He looked ridiculously ignorant of his own stuff.

It reminds me of how prone we all are to ignore our own problems, our sins, our own junk that we "bring to the ball club." If only we had a "highlight" reel to see our own "dropped passes" in life, in our relationships, in our churches, we might blame, criticize, complain and hold grudges far less. But since we don't have that technology just yet, we need to take a better look at the cross. For when we look upon the cross, we see the price Jesus paid for our sins. And He did so, that we would be mindful not to make others pay their debt to us (Matt 18:33).

Friday, September 26, 2008

You get a rose for that!

Last night I had a little time a bit of the USC-Oregon St. game. One of the commentators of that game was Jesse Palmer. You may remember him as former quarterback of the Florida Gators and back-up for the NY Giants. Then again, you may remember him as The Bachelor. Yes, he was actually on the show "The Bachelor."

It's hard for me to take him seriously after going on that show. And it's even hard for his fellow play-by-play buddies and analysts to forget that low point in his life (not that he would necessarily see it that way...). During the first game of the season, after making a decent comment, an announcer said, "Jesse, good point. I'll give you a rose for that."

And that reminded me of the gospel. In the gospel, we are promised new life without any condemnation. We are completely forgiven and our stupid decisions will not be used against us. Our sins have been removed from us and are as far as the East is from the West. So we can literally begin each day freshly reflecting on God's mercy toward us (Lam 3:22-23). Those sins of yesterday (literally) or yesteryear need not/cannot be atoned for by myself.

My sins pretty much ruined my evening last night because I was trying to atone for them. Finally I got home, confessed, and began to feel the weights drop from my shoulders. I had a fresh day today.

Now I've never been on "The Bachelor," but I've done lots of things a lot worse. And I'm thankful that I need not fear comments like, "Wow, good point, you get a rose for that!" That's freedom. Maybe I should "forgive" Jesse for going on The Bachelor.....

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Nostalgia in Worship

Before there were "boy bands" like N-Sync, there were band with boys who looked like girls. Pictured to my left is Poison, one of my childhood favorites. Which of course causes some nostalgia.

I'm now going to start a trilogy, or perhaps a quadrilogy on nostalgia. While nostalgia isn't completely bad in and of itself, it can have harmful effects on a number of different key areas of our faith. First of all, I want to address its ill-effects on worship.

The other day Amy and I were watching a TV ad for a Time Life CD compilation of 70's-80's power ballads with bands like Journey, Foreigner, Styx, Boston, 38 Special, etc... The collection was absolutely unbelievable. I thought, "There goes Amy's birthday present." Until the price flashed on the screen. So I settled for the leather bible. Probably a good decision.

Amy and I were deeply moved by the songs. By the lyrics. By the melodies. The songs brought back memories. Not memories of "better days," just good memories. The music really took us back.

But should worship take us back to pondering the "glory days" of our faith? No, not at all. Worship is supposed to move us forward. We press on toward the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus (Phil 3). Worship ought to move us forward to delight in God, in who He is, and what He has in store for His children. It is not designed to give us sentimental feelings about when we first came to faith or when we grew spiritually.

I don't want to specifically sing songs that I sang in college so that I can remember a time when I may have felt really "on fire" for Jesus. If I sing them, great. If I don't, great. I'm not trying to get back to that place. But I do think many are hoping for just that in a worship experience. To get back that "happy place."

Many times I would rather sing songs I know. Most people would. But I don't think that desire is devoid of unhealthy nostalgia. I think that new songs and new tunes add a forward focus to our worship. I'm not saying having familiarity with tunes and songs is bad. I'm not saying old tunes and old songs are bad. They belong as well. But even old tunes and old songs must not move us to nostalgia and sentimentality. Yet I know such feelings often drive our desires.

The Time Life CD commercial was hosted by some burnt out rocker and another woman wishing to relive that decade. I don't want to be "that guy" or "that girl" in my worship of Jesus.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Finally Shacking Up

This is my last post on The Shack, hopefully. I've composed a review of the book highlighting some positives and exposing some dangerous thoughts presented. All in all, I'm not fearful that it will become the next Pilgrim's Progress, as one author hinted at. It will eventually pass and the next trendy book will eventually take its place. I try not to be another angry person reviewing the book. I also don't want to be another undiscerning evangelical lemming either. So without further introduction, you can click here to link to and open my review.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Parents Training Day

While staying with my in-laws (brother/sister-in-laws that is) this weekend, I was greatly blessed by their ministry to their children. Proverbs 22:6 "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it," immediately came to mind.

As I was eating breakfast on Saturday morning, their oldest son, a third grader, was praying silently before consuming his victuals. His parents taught him that when the whole family couldn't eat together, each child had a responsibility to thank the Lord for his food. And I got to see that "training" play itself out. At the time, I had forgotten to say thanks for my food and was reminded by this third grader. Oh, the faith of a child.

Then on Sunday morning I overheard my brother-in-law talk about tithing with his boys.

"Thomas, your allowance is 3 dollars, so that means 30 cents."

"Ryan, your allowance is 2 dollars so that means 20 cents."

I can imagine that they'll do the same thing with their kids, since it was done so with my brother-in-law by his parents.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Sometimes too much isn't enough

Amy, Connar, and I flew to Virginia last night, and have been enjoying seeing her family. Flying with an infant usually isn't too fun, especially when that infant is Connar. Connar is actually Gaelic for "hates to ride in car seats." So naturally we weren't looking forward to flying with him. However, he slept during take off, fed an hour later, and was great for the landing. We didn't even have to get up and walk with him. Our prayers answered. I'm really hopeful now that he'll like boats. We usually stay away from trains.

I did learn a valuable lesson yesterday evening though: know a little about who you're talking to. Here's what I mean. We let all of the other passengers get off the plane because we're just so stinkin' nice, and we had too much stuff to get down from the overhead bin.

So a tall African-American gentlemen was passing by me, waiting for someone else to remove his stuff. Since he was wearing a VCU jacket, I asked him if he was a coach. Then I asked him what it was like to work for Jeff Capel. He said, "I dont' know, Jeff Capel is in Oklahoma."

Incredibly embarrassed, and thinking it couldn't get any worse, I followed with, "Who is the head coach?"

"I am," he said.

"Well, what's your name?"

"Anthony Grant."

I felt like an idiot. Sports are something I probably know too much about. But this time not enough. I had completely forgotten that Jeff Capel had left a few years earlier. Coach Grant is beginning is third season at VCU.

Like Bono sang in Where the Streets Have No Name, "I want to run, I want to hide..." Not an option though. Next time I make small talk, I hope to think a little more.....

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Good fans and Bad fans

We had the opportunity on Monday night to see the Tampa Bay Rays battle their deep rivals, and until this year, thorn in their side (of course most every team was a thorn in their side), the Boston Red Sox. With a chance to really do some damage, the Rays gave up 11 runs in five innings before Amy, Connar, myself, and my in-laws called it a night. 11-1 just doesn't make for good baseball. Although Connar didn't mind, since he slept through most of the the drubbing.

Different teams fans have different reputations. Lately USF fans have been getting a bad rap, and deservedly so according to several reported instances and some of my "insiders." Eagles' fans have a tendency to get a little bit too rowdy, as evidenced by their (I don't know if they have one at the new stadium) having an actual judge and court within the stadium. There probably is some objective difference in the levels of "annoying-ness" or "obnoxiousity," though I haven't developed anything to measure that. Yet.

But it is true that many fans of sports teams do much that goes against what that organization or school stands for. And yet when an outsider looks at that fan, he lumps the fan in with the team. And he/she will hate that team, simply because they don't like the fan.

In reality, with some exceptions, I think I would probably like some of the Red Sox players. They are probably nothing like their fans.

I think the same thing goes with the church. People have had bad experiences with people in the church, and so they want nothing to do with it. But people can be swayed to pull for other teams, even those they didn't grow up pulling for, provided their fans are winsome. I found myself pulling for the University of South Carolina because of a winsome South Carolina fan. I would NEVER have done that while living in South Carolina because of their fans. Never. But it only took one "contagious" fan to point me to them.

The same thing goes for the church. If people begin to have good experiences with those in the church, they'll often give it another chance. If people begin to see good neighbors, those who are hospitable, those who are not arrogant, those who repent, those who are real, I think we'd be surprised that folks who were once Anti-church, might even be open to visit, or at least dialog. God uses such "good fans" to build His Church. "Annoying" fans have only one way to build the church: make babies. Certainly a way, but it can't be the only way we seek to do it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Church and football team

Well it's the third game for the Bucs this Sunday. That means a few things, but primarily that means return of our DUI college rapist (allegedly) TE Jerramy Stevens. He's coming off the two game suspension for the DUI. I think he had like a one game suspension last year. The Bucs cut another tight end to make room for him. We always have room for one more felon.

That's one thing I miss about the Dungy era. The offense statistically has been almost exactly the same. Sad.

Honestly there is a place for Stevens in the church. He, just like me, can be made clean and whole. Paul reminds us in I Corinthians 6:

"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."

But a football team is not a church. So it's sad to say that we'll see more folks like Stevens until we don't see Gruden anymore.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I found myself a good one

I know this will embarrass my wife, but I did get her permission first. Today is her birthday, and like any good husband I asked her a few days ago, "What do you want for your birthday?"

I want a new bible. How about that? I got a good one, eh? I'm referring to my wife, not my bible, though that is also good.

Through her commitment to God's Word, she challenges me to be more diligent in my time and study. Here's a verse that popped into my head, and should probably pop up more often.

Proverbs 18:22
"He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD."

Of course she did request the leather one, (as opposed to the cheaper hardback) so that will be a bit more pricey. But she's worth it. I got her the Spirit of the Reformation Study bible, which I highly recommend. It has great notes which have been very beneficial for me over the years. It's always good to learn from people smarter than yourself.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Real Buc's Party

Yesterday we had a legitimate Buc's Party. Legitimate. Usually a Buc's party includes myself, a sleeping Amy, and if I'm lucky, one other person. We had 11 this time, including Connar. Since Connar had not had a full night's sleep for several days, neither had Amy. She was tired and not really in the mood to have a large crew over. It seemed like a big deal. But the kids provided the food and beverages.

In the end, as she and I always do, we had a blast. The youth stayed until 9 pm (game started at 4 pm), playing with Connar and giving us a little break. It seemed like a sacrifice to have people over. But it turned out to be quite a blessing. This is more often than not the case with hospitality. You sacrifice very little at the front end, but you sacrifice a lot of joy in the long run when you only practice hospitality when you feel like it.

Here's a video of one of our youth entertaining Connar through his "b-boxing." I think we've discovered our next great pacifier.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Belichik and Assurance

A woman at the gym (an older woman, just to make sure you know) asked me, "Didn't you have a baby recently?" I told her that it was my wife who had the baby-and I think she knew that, because she had three herself-and how Connar was doing.

Then I asked her, the only Patriots fan I've ever met who is not annoying, "What do you think about the whole Tom Brady situation?" I picked him up in my fantasy football league this year with my first pick. Mistake number one, because he just tore his ACL and is out for the season. While I hate the Patriots, I also like to win. I was torn about Tom's tear.

Apparently the coach, affectionately known as Bill "Belicheat" Belichik (because he got caught cheating), did something quite out of character. At least the character I notice from afar. Instead of bringing a big name back-up to compete for the job, he told everyone he would stick with their present back-up, now starter, QB Matt Cassell. The same Matt Cassell who hasn't started A real game since high school. Seriously. No starts in college. Crazy.

His reasoning? Matt had enough pressure on him. Why make him fearful about losing his job? He has enough on his plate. Fear wouldn't motivate him. Instead Bill felt the coach's assurance would be enough motivation.

I think that is a great picture of the way God deals with us. Fear may work to motivate some folks in athletics, though it doesn't seem to work for Coach Gruden (10 QB's in 6 years). But it doesn't move us forward in our faith. Fear has to do with punishment and condemnation. And Jesus has taken punishment and shame upon himself. Once for all. Blessed assurance is a better motivator. Thanks for reminding me Bill.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Panera and the unity of believers

I led a brief devotion time last night at our session meeting on Jesus' prayer for believers in John 17. I figured that we ought to look at how HE prayed for believers in order to better understand how WE as elders pray for those under our care. Some of Jesus' prayer requests include the sanctification of believers, that they would be filled with His joy, they would see His glory, that they would be protected from temptation yet still be active in the world, and that they would be unified. The unity among believers, Jesus states, shows that the Father sent Him into the world.

The unity among believers displays the gospel to the world. The lack of unity obviously clouds this picture.

So we pondered briefly what unity would look like. If we pray, how should we expect to see that answered? Some of us thought churches might do outreach and mercy ministry together, pooling their resources. I thought perhaps unity would look like a common cross denominational vision (as opposed to simply a combined meeting or activity, though I'm not opposed to that per se) to love our neighbors, bless them and the community, and share the gospel.

One elder mentioned that some semblance of a unity does exist, and we need to more proactive in recognizing it, and delighting in it. I got to experience that this morning at Panera. Panera, pronounced improperly by some as "Panera's," seems to serve as a discipleship "hub." Every time I meet someone there, I can see people praying, blessing their food, reading their bibles, and meeting with one another for encouragement, bible study, accountability, etc..

Today there were a few young men meeting together, and I eavesdropped (after I saw their bibles) enough to hear conversation which had to do with Christ.

Now if there is an outreach opportunity, I'm all for that. But usually when it's Christians meeting, I let them be. Today, after I walked out of Panera, I felt convicted to go back in. So I went back, bluntly interrupted them, and met these two young gents. A youth pastor and college student. Conversation was short, but encouraging. I'll probably see them there in a few weeks. At the very least it was an opportunity to see each other as brothers from different mothers, but with a common Heavenly Father. And an opportunity to embrace the unity, despite denominational differences.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Secondary Matters: Part III-Community and Conviction

This is the conclusion to the "secondary matters" posts. After you first see how clear and often things are presented in scripture, and then look at how the church over the years has understood something to be clear in scripture, you should then move on to the present. This is the THIRD and final step. I apologize for it being so long.

How has the Christian community within your denomination understood an issue? How have those outside your denomination or particular history (Baptistic, Reformed, Ana-Baptistic/Mennonite, etc...) or cultural background (Eastern, African-American, etc...) understood the scriptures to be speaking to certain matters? How have you personally, in your experiences, in your personal time of study, in your reflections understood the scriptures to be speaking to the issue?

The degree to which you find greater agreement among the steps should affect your certainty. The greater the agreement, the greater the certainty. And vice versa.

As you interact with your personal experiences, denominational understanding, those outside your theological/cultural camp you will find some universally held beliefs. Things like the Apostle's Creed. If people want to argue about Jesus' real resurrection from the dead, or whether or not He's essentially the same as Allah, or Shiva the Destroyer (Hinduism), then you ought to "contend for the faith."

Then there are issues which I believe the scriptures clearly teach regarding God's ultimate sovereignty and baptism, which I hold to a high (not highest) degree of certainty. So I'm going to pastor or join a church with those things in mind. However if there is no such church with those standards in my area (speaking as if I weren't a pastor), I will look for one that aligns itself with my highest degree of certainty: Apostles Creed. There are many folks who don't think I should have had Connar baptized. And they would probably re-baptize them if they could. However, I still learn from folks like John Piper (Reformed Baptist), Mark Driscoll (Reformed non-denominatonal "baptistic") and Don Miller (not Reformed at all).

For folks like these, I can enter into a dialog with them. But neither will probably convince the other, and that's fine. No big deal. Scripture just isn't as clear as we would like to think on these issues. Even though that pains me to say!

And even within denominations there are areas which need to be revisited and thought through today. So that they are as scriptural as possible. For instance, in my denomination, the role of women. Should they be deacons? I personally think so, but I'm submitting myself to the larger body. However, that doesn't mean that this will always be the case, nor should it always be the case. There is debate and dialog going on. And it is being done with these steps in mind, with people smarter than myself (Tim Keller leading the pro-side). So the stance could change someday.

Finally, there are individual convictions and interpretations of scripture which need to have all three steps in mind. Something that may seem so clear to you could perhaps be due to your past, the way your family did things, the way your church did things, your friends, your enemies, your political party, your socio-economic standing, your exposure or lack thereof to good training, etc..We all need to recognize that we have certain biases which we bring to the scriptures. Some helpful. Some quite harmful. That's why it is SO important to limit these biases with the help of the church over the years and the wider Christian community today. For these issues, dialog is fine. Personal conviction in these areas is fine. But trying to force these on others, judgment, harassment, isolation, arrogance that YOU hold the key interpretation and application is not Christianity. It's more gnostic (secret knowledge God gives to an enlightened few) than anything.

We need to keep in mind that even the Reformers who broke away from the Catholic church looked to those before them for their interpretations of scripture. Augustine believed in salvation by grace through faith before Luther, Calvin, Zwingli. And John Huss, said it a 100 years before all of them. And while not perfect examples of fellowship, they all interacted with their contemporaries, in addition to their personal studies. Unfortunately some of their convictions did sourly affect and limit their fellowship as things with lesser clarity were held with higher certainty (view of Lord's Supper). So the next time you think you've discovered an interpretation and application that no one, or only a few have discovered in 2000 years, think again. You're most likely wrong. In the slight chance you're not, keep it personal and gracious when you dialog with others.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Red Sox Religion

Tampa Bay Rays mania may start to dwindle very soon. With only 20 games left in the regular season, they are only up one and half games against the evil Red Sox. Most people are just hoping for a Wild Card shot. That seems more likely since they haven't scored A run in two games. But at least we'll be there for one game to root for the home team. One game, but four tickets though.

Amy and I, along with Connar and my in-laws will be seeing the Rays as they host the Sox next Monday night. I'm a little leery of taking Connar to a game, especially with Red Sox fan (I, like Jim Rome, lump them all together). I don't trust him. I'm not a fan of Red Sox fan. 

Someone on talk radio described the way Red Sox fan looks at baseball. Normally a fairly shallow host, he profoundly said something to the effect of "It's not a passion for them. It's a religion. It's what they talk about over dinner."

He uses the word "religion" loosely here. Yet I think essentially, he is correct. What we hold up as of supreme importance is our god, practically speaking. And we talk about that which we hold most dear. No one has to tell me to talk about the Bucs, fishing, Amy, Connar. Not in that order. I just do. I consider them important. 

Our "religion" is displayed not simply by our going to church on Sundays (what we do with our time), but in our conversations throughout the week (what we do with our words). Because behind those words is a heart that either considers Jesus of supreme importance that day, or of lesser importance. Sadly, I think I think too little of Him. And its reflected in my words. 

To have him more on our lips, He must take a greater place in our hearts. And hopefully someone can say, "Jesus is a religion to him or her. He's what they talk about at dinner." 

Monday, September 8, 2008

Enterprise: "We won't pick you up"

First, let me give you and "Ocho Cinco" update. Apparently since so many of the number 85 Chad Johnson jerseys have been sent to stores, the NFL is NOT letting "Ocho Cinco" run free. He will have to remain Chad Johnson on the field. Unless he decides to purchase all of the 85 Chad Johnson jerseys currently in stores. Life is hard, eh?

Anyhow, I learned one valuable thing on Friday night. Enterprise, the company which boasts the slogan "We'll pick you up," doesn't. At least not airport Enterprises. On the way to Rock the Universe (Christian concert night at Universal Studios), the church bus broke down. About 15 miles from the Universal Studios exit.

The kids made the most of the time by cross-stitching, paper meche, and making balloon animals, so that was fine. The caravanning cars following us took their kids and then came back an hour and a half later for the rest of the kids.

Myself, and the bus driver + wife waited for them to return and take us to the Airport Enterprise (only one open at that time) to rent 3 mini-vans. Because if you are stranded on I-4, they will not pick you up. Busch league. Totally.

We finally got to Universal Studios at 11:45 pm, just in time to meet the kids at the check point at midnight. I can now say that I've been to Universal Studios, and not be lying. Although I was joking about the paper meche and the like, our kids had a great attitude and one of them led a few games. You know, the kind of games you'd play if a bunch of your peers were broken down on the side of the interstate.

I really can't complain. The Apostle Paul was shipwrecked. And he didn't have Enterprise, or a coast guard for that matter. He probably just had a board to float on. I was in my bed at 3:30 am and can blog about this with a smile. A long night, but God safely, and fairly cost-efficiently, delivered us to our homes.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Time for a change

The NFL season finally started last night. Although this been an easy transition with the success of the Tampa Bay Rays. And with the first week of the season, we shall see something of a "first."

Do you want another example of why it is important to make major decisions in life IN COMMUNITY and NOT by yourself? I would consider changing one's last name to be fairly large.

That's what Bengal's receiver Chad Johnson has done. He officially changed his last name in a Broward County courthouse last week from Johnson to OchoCinco. His number is "85" and instead of going with the exact translation to Spanish "ochenta y cinco," he opted for a looser translation. Crazy.

Now the NFL has agreed to officially recognize this name by allowing the Bengals to put "Ocho Cinco" (though it is technically one word for legal documents) on his jersey. I think he got fined for having it on his jersey last year at the beginning of the game before his QB ripped it off.

This stunt may last a season. I doubt he will retire as Chad OchoCinco. More likely he'll be Chad "Ocho Cinco" Johnson. Probably very few folks out there will be inspired to officially change their name to "G-Money" "Scottish Nightmare" or "Dushka" (all of which I've gone by at different times in my life.) But regardless, it shows the need for others to speak wisdom into our lives regarding important decisions. Sometimes such decisions may not be as easy to reverse, and have more serious consequences that only others may be able to see.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Secondary matters, Part II: The Church

I want to continue the question: "how do I know if something is a secondary matter?" But I want to expand it to cover a wider arena, "Which things should garner higher levels of certainty?"

The first step is to see how clear it is, how often it occurs, or how central it is to the scriptures. But that does raise the question: what makes something clear? I mean, when A-Rod hit a home run and it was viewed on instant replay last night (first time in MLB history by the way), I thought there was clear visual evidence to overturn it. So did the announcers. But the umpire didn't. But what if 100 umpires looked at the replay? And 95 out of 100 believed it was a home run? Well, I would hold to my "foul ball stance" far more loosely. I might even be convinced that I were wrong.

Since God has given wisdom to the church, we ought to look at how saints who've gone before us have interpreted and applied the scriptures. How has it been interpreted in the early church? How has it been interpreted and applied over the years?

Let's take a look at something relevant: the role of women in the church. Should they hold office as deacon? Should they be preachers? Preach on occasion? Do anything an un-ordained man can do in worship?

In order to decide on where to stand, and how strongly to stand on this issue, I need to look at how God has instructed His Church over the last 2000 years. Did the early church have deaconnesses? What was their stance on woman preaching? Did Augustine have anything to say on the matter? How about Luther? How about Calvin? How about the Westminster Confession of Faith? How about in the last 100 years?

Obviously the last 100 years has seen some diversity of opinion on this matter. We'll visit that at a later time, provided you come back to read in a day or two.

But this exercise ought to help us know what's primary as well. Churches which believe that the bible is the authority (step 1), also hold to the way the Church (step 2) has from early on interpreted that which is primary. The Apostle's Creed, which is still recited in many churches today, is what we hold with the highest certainty.

While I am 100 % convinced that I was honoring God in baptizing Connar, many other sincere believers would not take such action. The Church has not been uniform on this issue. Thus I hold the truth presented in the Apostle's Creed with higher certainty than I do on baptism, role of women in church, etc...

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Secondary matters

Randy preached on Romans 14 on Sunday. Edifying and challenging, as the Word should always be to us. The passage challenges those who differ on secondary matters (specifically dietary concerns and when to have church) to come together in love. They must not abandon fellowship and need to learn to respect each others' convictions. Provided people are eating or not eating "by faith," in Christ, they're cool. That's the bottom line. Both can be serving Christ if they do what they do in faith.

Well the question now is, "What is a secondary matter?'" Certainly there have been those who have divided over Jesus' resurrection and a belief that God's Word is in fact, God's Word. But there also have been denominations formed because of an anti-alcohol stance (can you just see John Knox rolling over in his grave!) and pre-millenial end times views. Not good. So how do we figure out what is worth fighting over and what is worth putting up with?

I'll be doing a series now on how to know what's really important (contending for the faith-Jude 1:3) and what we should be able to disagree on but do so in love (Romans 14).

There are three main areas to look at. We'll visit the first one now. Our standard: the Bible.
There are some things in the bible which are very clear. Jesus is fully God (not just a dude). In order to deny that, one would need to add words to the bible (as Jehovah's Witnesses do) or ignore certain parts of it. Other things include His bodily resurrection from the dead, our sinful humanity, our need to gather and worship Him, etc..

Now there are some things which are not as clear. Are there a number of clear passages which tell us exactly how to vote, that tattoos are evil, head scarves are needed for women, exactly how to school your child, how Sunday worship should look, etc...? No.

Those things which find greater clarity and space in scripture we should contend for. We should hold them with higher levels of certainty. Those things which find less clarity should move us toward more charity. St. Augustine (not the city) once said something similar. Of course, not in English.

This is the first step. Some things may be clear to me and not to you, and vice versa. So there is a second step we need to take. In time. Probably a day.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The bible and The Shack II: Some questionable presuppositions

I've been a little bit farther into The Shack lately. I'll be posting a review myself when I finish reading it. For the time being, if you're interested, here are few reviews to get you thinking: Christianity Today, ByFaith online.

I just want to take a minute to address some (at least it would seem to me are) underlying presuppositions held by the author.

1.) Apparent Presupposition 1: Either God has stopped communicating to His people or He is still speaking outside and without connection to His Word . But God has given us everything we need to know about Him and how to live through His Word. This is what some have called the "sufficiency of scripture." God's Word is so full of great stuff that it is plenty enough to sustain us, teach us about Him, and direct us with general principles for how to live in our particular cultural setting.

Does God speak with us today like He did with Moses on Mt. Sinai? No. But we don't need Him to. We're actually in a better spot now, since we have all of His Word before us. We have the Holy Spirit who speaks to and directs our hearts through His Word. As we read the Word or hear it preached, the Spirit challenges and encourages us.

We may then feel the Spirit challenging us to quit engaging in a sinful practice. We may feel the Spirit reminding us to be faithful in giving, or encouraging us to stop trying to please God and instead rest in Him. We might be moved to full time ministry, away from it, to a relationship or away from a detrimental one, to forgive, to go to college, etc...God's Spirit enables and empowers us to apply general principles to our specific situations.

Now on to how He does it....

2.) "God's voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects." Apparent Presupposition 2: you can interpret God's word alone. You don't need help.

We need help in interpreting this Word. Watch out for someone who interprets something a certain way that no one has before him for 2000 years. He or she is certainly wrong! We need to interact with the larger Christian community, Church History, and our present church/denomination to understand how to apply it today. This will reduce our subjectivity and biases, which we all have.

Just because we need brothers and sisters in the faith to help us, does not mean that God doesn't use them to speak to us today. In other words, you shouldn't go away to a shack as your EXCLUSIVE means of figuring things out. You should go away to a shack to spend time with God and His word and in prayer. However this can't be the ONLY means, or else you will go awry.

It's like a tripod. You may have personal experience as a "pod," interaction with the church at large and in history as a "pod," and your home church/denomination as a "pod." If you take one of the "pods" away, you're left with a "di-pod." And who's every heard of a "di-pod?" It certainly wouldn't stand if there were such a thing.