Thursday, July 29, 2010

Twilight and life sucking power

Just got back from vacation in sunny FL, and it was, well, quite sunny. Since we didn't have to worry about health insurance ending or a home loan not getting approved, it was very relaxing.

Anyhow, before we left, we watched a movie I wish had never come to be: Twilight: New Moon. My distaste for the movie and books has arisen primarily because its popularity has popularized the name Amy and I had chosen for our 2nd child: Cullen.

But since everyone and their mother (literally in many cases) has seen the movies or read the books, I figured it would be beneficial to see what "itch" was really being scratched. There is a reason a movie or a book is popular. And getting to the bottom of it, can really help you understand your culture, as well as those to whom you will minister.

The first movie in the series was fairly entertaining, but Twilight: New Moon left me bored and wishing I were continuing the Arrested Development series instead.

Aside from being bored, one take-away from the flick, was the affect this supposed "true love" left on a teenager. She was willing to turn into a vampire, and actually give up her eternal soul just to be with her vampire boyfriend. When he unceremoniously jilted her, she simply moped around for months and didn't eat much. She didn't spend time with friends either.

One thing which makes this movie so popular is what makes it so sadly dangerous. Teens, and their parents-who more often than not live vicariously through their teen's dating relationships because their marriages are lousy-forget most teen romances end up in heartbreak, loss of virginity, pregnancy, bitterness, alienation from friends, etc...

More often than not the high schooler (and most folks for that matter) mistake possessiveness and worship (finding true life in another) for love. They simply use the other person to make them feel good, which obviously lasts only for a period of time. Ironically they end up becoming a vampire themselves, sucking the life out of their partner. Sadly, this ends up destroying both parties, because there is only so much "blood" to sustain the relationship. None of us were created to be worshiped.

Twilight doesn't introduce this theme, or teach people to think this way; it only reinforces what we're all prone to do since the Fall.

I think this could be a great discussion movie though, and hopefully we can get one going here eventually at Redeemer. I know I'll end up "net-flixing" Twilight: Eclipse when it comes around, but hope this time, it doesn't suck the life out of me.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Mistaken identity

Every so often you hear of instances of mistaken identity in a car crash. Here is yet another one which leaves one family, who paid their daughter's funeral, that wasn't needed, ecstatic.Unfortunately the news wasn't as good for the other family.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Persecution in Pakistan

Hopefully by the time you read this, our family will be in sunny FL (although we're hoping it actually is sunny with some sort of tropical system currently over Puerto Rico) vacationing with family. Vacations are great and I love being able to take them. However I don't want to be lulled to sleep while in our fairly pacific conditions here in America. I'm not saying that we should feel guilty for living here, nor am I belittling all of the spiritual attacks Satan makes on Jesus' church here (bitterness, division, temptations, condemnation, etc..), even as we speak.

Instead I want to be aware of his schemes both here and abroad. But if you're like me, you need constant, specific reminders of how our persecuted brothers and sisters truly relish our prayers. 

Check out this blog here to read of a recent Pakistani martyr who has connections with Acts 29, a Seattle based reformed church planting network. I think you'll be inspired to pray more for those persecuted abroad. Amy and I picked Saturday as our day, because it gives us a more global picture of worship for Sunday. 

But I recommend picking at least one day to intentionally pray for such folks. Let's be reminded of Revelation 5, where God tells us our prayers are like a bowl of incense before him. Not to mention, it will be cool to one day meet those for whom we've been praying.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

More Graham's and fewer Haynesworth's

Two seasons ago Albert Haynesworth was one the most sought after free agents in the NFL. He played defensive tackle for the Tennessee Titans but sensed an opportunity to leave and really get paid. Like nearly 100 million dollars. 

The Tampa Bay Bucs courted this huge beast of a man, but he later decided to sign with the Washington Redskins because Tampa's fan base wasn't as good (at least that was one of his stated reasons). However a year into the deal, Washington has to wonder whether or not they really got their money's worth. First of all, they ended up picking just one slot behind the Bucs in the 2010 draft-which means they were almost as bad.

Now, he's disgruntled because the team has a new defense, and is asking him to play a different position. He doesn't want to, and has made that as clear as Pepsi (remember that clear stuff in the 80's).

Compare him with Earnest Graham for the Tampa Bay Bucs. After playing on the practice for a number of years, he broke out one season as a respectable starting running back. Now due to injuries, contract situations, and a crowded backfield, he's content to be the Full-back. He's content to be the one who blocks, the vital position for a good running game, but one which nobody notices. 

I talked with a friend yesterday who will be helping out the church serving by serving in an area of need. Its not his first, second, or third choice, but for a time he's willing to help the "team." 

Now I understand that having people serve in places they don't have a passion/primary gifting for can be harmful down the road. They will burn out eventually. That's why I ask people to dream about how they might be able to serve, and try to match the two up. 

Nevertheless, that dream cannot trump the church's immediate needs. The local church benefits when individuals (like my friend and others here at Redeemer) adopt a more Earnest Graham mentality, and lay aside their "dream" for a season to meet the immediate need.

When the Buc's running backs get hurt this year, Earnest Graham will most likely get his chance. But for this season, he's willing to serve in areas of need, even before areas he'd desire. What an example.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

From Barney to Cars

Today my 2 year old Connar woke up around 6:30 am, as he does from time to time without much rhyme or reason. Usually when he wakes up that early, we employ the services of Barney. Barney is about the only thing which will make this active little boy stay seated, or for that matter pay attention, for any length of time. And when you're 3/4's asleep already, it only makes sense to go the bullpen and call in the big "right-hander." The only problem with Barney is that he's a bit on the annoying side, and his songs stick in your head for a while. 

Since Amy used to teach kindergarten for a number of years, we both knew that Barney would eventually lose his coolness. Kids that age like something else. What they like, I don't know; but its not Barney.

Yet I still wondered how we could wean him off Barney and on to something a bit, well, cooler. Then we introduced Cars the movie. Now when he wakes up, or finishes his shower, Cars is all he wants to watch. He found something better than Barney, something far more joyful than Barney.

What Connar experienced is similar to what Thomas Chalmer's calls The expulsive power of a new affection. In order to get our eyes off our sin struggles (but I think the same is true when dealing with our present condition, circumstances, or predicament), we must see someone greater. Otherwise, how will we really change? That's why in every sermon at Redeemer our goal is to preach the person and work of Christ. 

When we fail to see Jesus as more glorious than our families, our jobs, our ambitions, our relationships, our wealth, we will get stuck in a world controlled by all of the above. In order to not be controlled by all of the above, we've got to take a page out of Connar's playbook. It's not quite as easy as putting on a video like Cars, but it takes every bit as much intentionality.

Intentionally listening to Christ being preached, intentionally reading more about how wonderful He is, intentionally comparing Him with what we hold dear, intentionally praying He would show Himself more beautiful, intentionally telling and hearing from others about Him. These are just a few of the many ways we can see Christ more beautiful, and be smitten by someone greater.

Instead of waking up to Barney, we can begin waking up to and longing for Cars.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Timer

The other day I was browsing through the free movies we could watch on Netflix and came across one which sounded somewhat intriguing. So I convinced Amy that The Timer, described as a sci-fi/romantic comedy, might be worth watching. At least the price was right. And both ended up being quite true.

The Timer is a product made to look like something out of an apple store which counts down the seconds until you meet your actual soul mate. Provided your soul mate also gets a computer chip inserted into his/her arm, you can know with 100% certainty when you will meet "the one." So ultimately it takes the guess work out of dating, and lets "fate" do its thing.
The film explores whether or not this Timer really is a good thing or not. It also raises the questions like: is there really "a One" for you and is a commitment to love someone as certain as a fate-reading device? 

Some characters divorce or refuse to get married because "The Timer" doesn't confirm their match. Some characters question the validity of having a Timer (not its accuracy), and others are simply faced with the consequences of knowing their true love at a very young age. 

Here are a few of my takes on the idea of such a Timer.

1.) I'm not so sure there really is "The One" out there for you, and that if you don't marry "The One," your marriage will not be good. I think it probably causes unnecessary stress in dating and in marriage. I don't think the idea of there being a "soul mate" or "a one" is a Christian theme at all, but rather quite pagan. That's really a question with which the main character has to wrestle.

2.) To know the future in such a way, or to have to know the future in such a way is to live without faith. Living without risk is not only tantamount to living without faith; it is tantamount to an ungodly boredom in life. We can have enough certainty in life to relax, but we can't expect 100% certainty in all things: even in the choice of a spouse. I think the movie does a good job dealing with the idol of certainty. Some love it, some don't, but at least the idol is out in the open for discussion. 

There may be one or two scenes worth fast-forwarding, and the language at times is foul. However Amy and I found The Timer very unique, thoughtful, slightly humorous, and worthy of discussion. I do recommend it.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Since Amy and I can't get into So You Think You Can Dance and or America's Got Talent, and we don't get Tampa Bay Rays games on TV up in WV, we've been taking advantage of Netflix. Arrested Development is the show du jour, and we've been enjoying re-watching the series on-line.

If you've never seen the show, it's about an incredibly dysfunctional family, and dysfunctional family business, both of which are held together by actor Jason Bateman. It only lasted three seasons, probably because it was too clever for Fox.

Anyhow, I mentioned my love for the show to our lead pastor Barret earlier this week. He was also a big fan, and then told me one of the main characters, "Buster," was a fraternity brother of his at Samford. Then to prove it, he took down a picture from his book shelf of he and Tony Hale. Crazy.

Tony Hale is also a Christian, who is honoring God through his art. I'm glad we've got some brothers and sisters in Christ who've taken up this high but certainly hard calling. Good to see some folks truly being salt to the bland potato that is Hollywood.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Big Steins and Jesus

On Tuesday, George Steinbrenner passed away from a heart attack at 80 years of age. There aren't too many owners of sports franchises which have much name recognition among the general public. But, "Big Steins" (his self-proclaimed nickname on the show Seinfeld) was certainly one of them. He was hated by many baseball fans as the owner of the "Evil Empire" that is the New York Yankees. Although I really don't see how they are more evil than the Red Sox in my understandably biased opinion because both teams pillage the smaller market teams' players!

Regardless, Steinbrenner was known for a lot of things. He was known for firing and rehiring both coaches and secretaries, on a number of occasions. He was also known for his generosity in paying for kids' educations and building wings on hospitals. 

I "knew" (this is getting pretty loose with the language) him personally from the brief sightings I had at Morrison's Cafeteria and the Tampa Bay Yacht and County Club. 

After his death, one of my friends posted this quote attributed to him: "I'll put my good acts against those of anybody in the country. Anybody." 

I don't know why "Big Steins" felt compelled to say that, but when most people say something like that it is to try to justify themselves as "good" before others. And "Big Steins," humanly speaking had a good point. He did a lot of good things, and probably many more that we'll never know of. He would definitely look good before me.

But obviously I'm not the standard of righteousness; Jesus is. Despite all of his money, all of his short temperedness, what really kept him from the seeing the gospel clearly was his damnable good deeds. Our good deeds keep us from Jesus just as much as our bad ones do, as the parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector (Luke 18:10) reminds us. 

Our temptation is always to compare ourselves with others and find them wanting. Instead it seems more fitting to the gospel to have this quote attributed to us: "I'll put Jesus' good acts on my behalf before anybody in the country. Anybody." If we believe this, we'll not compare ourselves in pride or resentfulness to others. We won't even feel the need to. We'll be able to rest, but also walk confidently in the good acts Jesus has already prepared for us (Eph 2:10).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

God can take bad motivations and change them

This past week someone very close to me admitted he did not really feel like going to church on Sunday. His motivation was not to be around the fellowship of believers, to hear God's word preached, or confess and sing praises; it was simply to get out of the house. 

Fortunately God can take a heart that doesn't want to be at church, a heart which would probably rather be sleeping in or fishing, and do something with it.

This person heard God's word preached and the Spirit really spoke to him. He told me how thankful he was to have come. Had he stayed home, God would have loved him just as much. But had he stayed home God wouldn't have renewed him and empowered him through His Word.

The point of this post is not to make people feel bad for not coming to church b/c they have been up all night coughing, traveling, baby-sitting, etc....You are free to sleep and in most cases probably should sleep. The point of this post is not to make people feel bad at all. The point is simply to realize God can take a heart that is ill-motivated (to be honest, none of us have a perfect motivation to come to worship) and do some amazing stuff with it. Good things can happen when you intentionally throw yourself into the oncoming train that is the "means of grace."

Nevertheless, don't be motivated by guilt to come to worship a God that has taken away your guilt through Jesus. That doesn't make any sense. But if you do happen to come out of guilt or obligation, know that God can break those chains and allow you to walk around in freedom.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bonhoeffer completed

One of the "benefits" to being up till 4 in the morning for several nights this past week due to coughing spells is that I've been able to complete Bonhoeffer: pastor, martyr, prophet, spy by Eric Metaxas. This book is an absolutely incredible read on an absolutely incredible man of God who didn't back down before arguably the most powerful regime the world had ever known.

Metaxas includes a very complete history of what went on before Hitler's rise to power and how much of the church simply capitulated to the tyrannical Nazi heresy. His writing is clever, witty, and illustrative; through his writing, you are drawn into Bonhoeffer's struggles as he tries to discern what it actually looks like to follow Christ in the Third Reich.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer's life is very reminiscent of an OT prophet, cut short because of what he preached and how he appied the gospel in such a seemingly hopeless time. He was executed just 2 weeks before the concentration camp was liberated which makes his story even sadder. To me, and probably to his fiancee at the time, but not necessarily to him. Here's an excerpt from a sermon he preached while pastoring a German congregation in London, before WWII.

Whether we are young or old makes no difference. What are twenty or thirty or fifty years in the sight of God? And which of us knows how near he or she may already be to the goal?.... How do we know that dying is dreadful? Who knows whether in our human fear and anguish we are only shivering and shuddering at the most glorious, heavenly, blessed event in the world? Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Ruth with a sickness

While our lead pastor was on vacation, I had the opportunity to preach through three chapters in the book of Ruth. Thus I'll have to conclude the series sometime in August. The third chapter of Ruth is perhaps my favorite because it involves both risk and seeming risque, initiative and responsibility. Ultimately it encourages us to take action to bring God's redemptive plans from heaven to earth because he uses  human initiative. That's why I tilted my sermon, "I love it when a plan comes together."

Because I wanted to be faithful to God's Word, that is what I preached. But what I probably also needed to hear was one of my "caveats," which our lead pastor picked up on. Every redemptive action that takes place in the book of Ruth is an answer to one of the characters' prayers. In fact, some of the characters become God's answer to their own prayers. How cool.

But God shows grace to us in weird ways. I got struck with some sort of wicked cough this week that put me on my butt for much of last Wed with a decent fever. I prayed a bunch because that's all I could do. Then I thought, "all I could do," is probably not the best way to look at it. My sickness reminded me of the pre-supposed place of prayer in Ruth.

Then God took away my voice. I couldn't lead worship on Sunday. Instead of taking initiative in action and words, I had to apply a verse I don't really like in James, "Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry (1:19)."  

Sometimes God will graciously throw sickness our way to balance our "grab the bull by the horns" attitude with a deeper dependence. Instead we sometimes have to take a step back, and let God direct the bull.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Family Devotion idea

Here is a fairly simple (I understand with kids, especially mine, nothing is really simple), practical tool from Resurgence for how to do family devotions. Hope its helpful.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Reflections on Philippians 3

Yesterday I had lunch with an area Young Life staff person, and as usual when I talk with other leaders, we asked each other what we were reading. He had been working his way through Christ-driven life, a sequel (not to be confused with a "squeakwal" like the Chimpmunks movie we just took Connar to this week) to Christless Christianity by Michael Horton.

I've never read either book, but apparently Horton's main point is that much of American Christianity has moved away from the central theme of life being centered around Christ's life/death/resurrection. 

The cool thing is that I'd just been reading in Philippians in 3:8-16 and came across a passage that really sums up so many components of the Christian faith. The passage simply expounds what it means to live a Christ-centered life and includes all kinds of great doctrine and applications.
  • It has just justification, the act of being declared righteous before God: "not having a righteousness of my own.....the righteousness from God that depends on faith...."

  • It has sanctification, the process of being made more like Jesus: "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own."

  •  It has assurance as well as perseverance of the saints (that true believers will demonstrate their faith by persevering till the end): "Only let us hold true to what we have attained."
  • It has the promise of both suffering for the gospel and power of the gospel to change life and world. Our Christian experience constantly involves both. When we forget one over the other we become prosperity minded or defeatist self-fulling prophets: ....that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 

I could really go on and on about this passage and its richness, and I'm sure you could as well. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Homosexuality in The Village

The other day I listened to a good talk on homosexuality (with Q and A) by pastor Matt Chandler. He's the lead pastor of a multi-site mega-church in Texas called The Village. Chandler begins by explaining his hesitancy to speak at all on this issue-for fear that people would already follow their sinful hearts in elevating it above other sins like adultery. He also admits to having several actively gay friends, so it is clear he is practicing the grace and truth he preaches. 

As a result of being shown grace, he gives a wide-scope picture of the gospel and a very "piper-esque" entreaty to his listeners to remember that following Christ in all things is our highest joy. 

He debunks some of the common "pro-homosexual monogamous lifestyle" arguments found in the scriptures. And these are important, because even famous Christian recording artists like Jennifer Knapp and Ray Boltz have found refuge in churches deceiving and receiving actively homosexual (not those who are repentantly resting in grace and struggling) members.

And during his Q and A time, Chandler fields a question, "Can an actively unrepentant homosexual be a member of The Village?" He wisely answers, "No, in the same way that an unrepentant sexually active couple can't join either." 

Chandler wisely calls ALL people to regular repentance, and God has blessed The Village numerically. Because they are not afraid to actually practice church discipline-what one would consider a hindrance to growth-it sounds like God has blessed spiritually as well. We can all be challenged through his, "You come as you are, but just don't stay that way" attitude (Titus 2:11-2).

Monday, July 5, 2010

You can't go from hotdog participant to spectator

The 4th of July means a number of different things to a number of different people. But to those willing to brave the heat and masses in New York, the day represents "the Masters" of the competitive eating world: Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest. Instead of a Green jacket, you get an equally classy yellow "mustard belt."

The Japanese lad Kobayashi, who used to eat his competition for lunch (last time I watched competitive eating, Chestnut played 2nd fiddle), had some contractual issues and didn't participate. Well his fans probably reminisced of the days of yore where partially chewed hot dogs would slide down his esaphogus like kids on a slip-n-slide.

This nostalgic cheers prompted him to promptly pop up on stage and join his old competition. Police didn't think it was such a good idea and took him to jail. 

While he probably should have signed the contract to participate, or simply stayed away, he did prove that competitive eating is not only a spectator sport. Much like tasting the gospel, it becomes impossible for someone to move from participant to spectator.

Friday, July 2, 2010

My "responsible" thoughts on the PCA

The P.C.A.'s annual meeting, General Assembly, which includes ruling elders and pastors from churches all across America, just finished up in Nashville this week. The scriptural basis for this gathering is found in Acts 15, where elders and apostles gathered to deal with some serious issues in the early church. 

I'm not a denominational "homer" who thinks his denomination is without flaws. I think we've got plenty of yahoos. But we also have Tim Keller, fortunately. So at times, those in my denomination drive me up the wall, and at other times there are those who make me thankful just to be a part of it.  Believe it or not, despite the incredibly strict ordination process, pastors and churches vary quite differently on issues relating to music, schooling, culture, parenting, preaching, women's roles, etc. Some can be crotchedy and likes-to-fight guy. But our more prominent leaders, like Tim Keller and Ligon Duncan pictured above, regularly enter into gracious dialog over their differences. This really says a lot.

And if I were to go to another General Assembly (I've only been to one because it was just a few hours from my house), I would find myself in the company of lads I love and respect, and lads I might have a hard time loving and an even harder time respecting.

With all that said, let me say why I'm in this denomination, and why I think its worth joining a local PCA church. It is not because I think it is THE denomination, and it is not because I think we're right and everyone is else is wrong, or at least "wronger." 

I'm in it because, in my opinion, it is the most scripturally responsible denomination (that doesn't mean I could not gladly serve in another or will never serve in another). In seminary, a professor challenged us to not think of any denomination as "the only show in town." That thinking is not just arrogant, but myopic and stupid. Instead, he challenged us to join forces with the denomination we believed to be "the best show in town."

I try to steer clear as much as possible in saying I'm right and others are wrong when it comes to denominations. When I was being examined for this presbytery, I told them I wanted to responsible with my creation views. One lad wanted me to say "right." But in a rare moment of wisdom, I reminded them that only one view will actually be right (sadly I was the only one there who thought the "responsible" way!) and we won't find out until Jesus returns or we go be with him. So I'm content to settle with responsible.

The same is true with denominations. I want to be responsible with the scriptures we've been given, with the church history we've been given, and with the Holy Spirit given to every believer. Don't look for the right one, as though there is one right and many wrong. Instead look for the most responsible, but learn from other responsible ones. If you're in an area that doesn't have a PCA or a Baptist, or whatever you would prefer, seek out a scripturally responsible church, even if you can't jive with everything it believes.
To reiterate that this approach limits arrogance, let me posit this question. Shouldn't any pastor of any denomination or denominational camp like "Reformed" "Baptistic," "Charismatic," etc...., consider where he is to be the most responsible place. If not, shouldn't he go somewhere that is? There is nothing arrogant about seeking to be in the most scripturally faithful camp. Arrogance comes when you believe your camp is the RIGHT scriptural camp, and refuse to learn from other scripturally faithful denominations. That's why I try to intentionally add variety to my reading.

Anyhow, that's my P.C.A. schpeel for now, and will probably not bring the topic up for another year!