Monday, November 29, 2010

Steve Johnson Tweet Take 1

I just came across this fascinating post about how Buffalo Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson blamed God for dropping a touchdown pass in O.T. against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He actually tweeted it.


Here's a few takes on this tweet

1.) We often think like this don't we? That we've been good, so we should make the over the should proverbial touch down catch in life. Anything we get should be a reward, right? I'm not blasting this guy, because I sometimes I think this way. I reveal it by anger or over frustration at dropped balls in my life. While I do have a twitter account, I don't tweet, so it doesn't get to CNN, or even out the door.
2.) David's laments before God sometimes bear a slight resemblance to this. Check out Psalm 73:13-14.

"...All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning."

In other words, I've tried to honor you, but the "other guy" has it made in the shade while I'm the one getting the shaft

So where is the difference? Other than the fact that one was inspired by the Holy Spirit and the other one inspired by the frustration of losing, there is a difference in direction.

The Psalms point us to Jesus. Ultimately, Jesus said all of the Psalms pointed to him (Luke 24). While we are free to, and should express these frustrating feelings to the Lord, we need to realize that Jesus lived out the frustrations in these Psalms. He truly was 100% innocent, and had 100% clean hands, and 100% clean heart, and yet he took upon himself the frustrations of life in this world. At the cross, he experienced the frustration of being publicly scorned by those who were in the wrong. And just as he was vindicated by rising from the grave, so too will we who are united with him by faith. It just won't be because we praised God 24/7; it will be because of Jesus.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Powerful testimony

Here is a powerful testimony from a North Korean girl at the recent Lusanne Congres that I mentioned in my sermon today. Definitely worth checking out to see what the Lord has done in her life, and shows how those who seek to stop the gospel only end up spreading it further.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Some good Xmas tunes

We put up the family Xmas tree on this lovely, but very cold, WV Friday-after-Thanksgiving day. I had some help from a number of festive (not to be confused with "festivus") Xmas albums on the I-pod. Of course the usuals like The Chieftans (family tradition) showed up large, along with Point of Grace (for Amy). But many songs came courtesy of You can download a plethora of solid Xmas albumes at this site. I have most of the titles on the first page, and many have already added to my enjoyment of the season. If you're looking for some good tunes, definitely give this site a whirl.

If you have any Xmas suggestions, or albums to stay away from, please comment.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A pragmatic Childress gets an extension one year and fired the next

After another unproductive Brett Favre performance, the Minnesota Vikings finally fired coach Brad Childress. The coach who took them (though it was probably Favre who "took" them) to within a field goal of the Super Bowl (though they didn't get a chance to kick the field goal b/c Favre threw an interception), was fired after signing an extension through 2013. A near hero one year, and 10 weeks later the goat. 

Two years ago I pondered whether or not coaxing Favre out of retirement, the 2nd time, was a 'good' idea; both ethically and pragmatically. I felt like while it wasn't a positively ethical decision (it ignored the hard work of the previously starting QB's), it was pragmatically a good decision: they won. For the pragmatist, if it works, then it is good.

This year, I wondered the same two things when Childress tried to coax Farve out of retirement, for the 3rd time. This time sending players down to Mississippi, while instructing others to lie about their whereabouts. How other Viking players wouldn't find out IMMEDIATELY about the media circus that is Favre is beyond me. 

So Favre came back, skipping training camp again, and has so far led the league in interceptions. Pragmatically the decision was a bad one. It didn't work. Ethically the decision was also a bad one, filled with lies and lack of respect for the quarterbacks in training camp. 

Childress found out about the blessing and curses of pragmatism. He got a 3 year extension because the Favre decision worked last year. But he found the dangers of pragmatism as well; things that work one year don't always work the next year. At least an ethically based decision is right or wrong on the front end, and you don't have to wait till half the season is over before you know if you made the right decision!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Republocrat: more thoughts than a review

A good friend of mine at Redeemer let me borrow a book he recommended called Republocrat by Carl Trueman. I don't read a bunch of political books, but this one was definitely worth the read. And it was short, so that always helps me. 

While I'm not sure I would ever be buddies with Dr. Trueman (although I have to admit his eclecticism in everything besides worship-he's an exclusive Psalm singer-does make me want to chat with him some time), his writing style is absolutely marvelous. If you like good writing, albeit a few longer than usual sentences here and there, you'll at least like his style. It really drew me in; I'm a fan of good writing.

I think Trueman's main point with Republocrat is to serve as an "outsider" to expose the inconsistencies within both parties, and to challenge the notion that either of them directly come to us from the bible. Since his audience would seem to be "the Right" and "Religious Right," he spends a good part of his time addressing those who believe Fox News really is "fair and balanced." Instead he lists examples of how this "fair and balanced" news program, owned by Rupert Murdoch, is driven by money, greed, and an ideology.

I've already shared my two cents on how NO ONE is fair and balanced; we all have biases. And that's OK, just recognize them, and recognize them in your news programs.

The harshest thrust of his criticism seems directed toward Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reiley. Contrary to modern evangelical opinion, these folks aren't our prophets. Trueman argues that they are regularly logically inconsistent, ignorant, and misguided, and gives some examples why he feels this way.

The tone might (Brits are just different, so this just might be a cultural difference) have been a bit on the harsh side, but it was filled with fun, clever, witty sarcasm. And he blasts both the left and the right.

Overall, I think he leaves the reader with several positive a-political challenges, but here is his strongest point.

Get your news from multiple places, and don't assume that CNN, MSNBC, or FOXNEWS has a monopoly on what's "really" happening. Use the mind that God has given you to develop informed opinions.
I definitely recommend this book to both ends of the spectrum: political die-hards or politically indifferent. Not everything he says you or I will agree with (that's the case with every book but the bible) in regards to political thought. However, in regards to philosophy-how you arrive at your political thought and opinions-I think this read could be incredibly helpful and allow you to enter into healthy dialog with some different folks.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Nietzsche's somewhat helpful diagnosis

Ever since seminary, I've really enjoyed philosophy. Philosophers, like it or not, really shape not only the intellectual elite but the general populous as well. Philosophy eventually drips down to the level of pop culture. It can become dangerous because philosophy doesn't look so esoteric anymore. It simply looks like what normal people think. 

But philosophy, even that which comes from seriously anti-Christian philosophers, can still help point us to Jesus. Even folks like Neitzsche, who coined the phrase "God is dead," can be quite helpful in our sanctification. Men and women are made in the image of God and therefore can say true things about the world, regardless of how hostile they are to Jesus.

Let me explain. Nietzsche's commentary on humanity was that everyone simply exerts their "will to power" over others. Morality, especially that coming from the church, was simply the church trying to get you to conform to their pattern of life. Morality is simply another form of power play (not to be confused with hockey "power play" where one team has more players on the ice; I still don't get that). 

Before we throw the baby (or rather the anti-Christian philosopher) out with the bath water, let's consider the fact that he may be right in some way. 

It comes down to the heart issue. What is the motivation for wanting our kids to behave at school? What is the motivation for a pastor wanting someone in his congregation to come back to worship after he's been absent for awhile? Why would you counsel a teen to stop dating his/her unbelieving boyfriend/girlfriend or not date at all?

Could our motivation be "Neitzschean?" Of course! We can care about what others think of our kids, pastors can see people as "nickels and noses," and we can have as an end goal that others simply look like us.

That's what Paul warned the Judaizers were doing in the letter to the Galatians; they simply wanted followers and folks to look like them! Paul was well aware of this "will to power" well before young Frederic was!

So what's the solution? How do we escape pure skepticism and pessimism, thinking everyone has a legitimate gripe in saying, "You just want to mold me to look like you!" We need to examine our hearts and decide what our goal really is for our children, our congregation, and our teenagers. Is it for them to look like ME, or is it to look like Jesus?

Is it for your good (will it make things easier and make you look better) or is it for their good (that they will choose life-Psalm 1, instead of walking in the path death-Deut 30:19) If Jesus is our ultimate aim, then we can honestly say, as Paul says, "Follow me as I follow the example of Christ" (I Cor 11). We can confidently explain to others, while examining our own hearts, that there is a difference in our will to power and Jesus' rightful will to power over all.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

When doing the right thing costs you a game

Sunday was a good day of football for half the teams that played. For the other half of the teams it was a bad day, I guess. That's always the case, right? But for the Houston Texans (really creative name), it was probably, a particularly perturbing day indeed.
On a Hail Mary 50 yard pass into the end zone with no time left, the defensive back batted the ball down instead of going for the interception. While I've never been a defensive football player, or played organized football before, I'm told he did exactly what he was supposed to do. Unfortunately doing the "right" thing cost him and his team; the ball he batted down landed right into the hands of a Jacksonville receiver who stepped in the endzone for the game-winning touchdown. You can watch the video here.

He did the right thing but it turned out not to work out in his favor. I can imagine that next time he will try to go for the interception, the personal stats, and abandon doing the right thing. And I don't blame him.

Often as Christians, we choose to do the right thing in loving others but the result turns out to be, at least proverbially, a touchdown for the other team. For instance, as a church we were planning on having a large number of folks assist Charleston's Union Mission in sorting food from their recent food drive last night. Unfortunately a large donor backed out, and food didn't come in for us to sort. So a number of eager folks received news that we wouldn't be sorting food.

I was really bummed. I bet others were as well. Anytime we choose to serve others, we have a great opportunity to be let down. It might be the un-churched person who agrees to come to church with you, but doesn't answer the door when you stop by to pick him/her up. It could mean that you could get sick, get fleas or lice, when you love and invite folks into your home. You're doing the right thing, but getting the "wrong" results.

If we only look at the result of our actions by our sight, we will become pessimistic pragmatists. If I can see right now a "good" ("good"=MY PLANS) result of my actions, I'll serve and love others. But if I don't like what I see, then I'll stop doing what's right. Its not worth having a "touchdown" scored on me.

Yet for Christians, doing the right thing means that we'll be disappointed sometimes. Maybe even often, especially in mercy ministry. It means that we'll be hurt sometimes. And I hate that, and I want to just say, "Forget it!"

But let us not stop doing what is right as we love others, even with the concomitant hurt and disappointment which will inevitably come from it. When you are hurt or disappointed, remember the smiles and respect we ultimately need come our Heavenly Father. Let's keep on truckin' despite what the earthly scoreboard and our pragmatic sight-dominated hearts tell us and instead see things with renewed eyes of faith.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Amazon eventually caves

It looks like has finally removed the controversial pro-pedaphilia book from their website one day after reportedly holding their ground. Was it capitalism that motivated them to sell it in the first place? Obviously they're after the bottom dollar. Was it capitalism that motivated them to then remove it from their website? A boycott was called for; they would have probably lost more money than they would have gained from the sell of the book. I guess this is one example where capitalism, albeit inadvertently, had a public morally beneficial outcome.

But some questions still remain for me. What would have happened if hadn't removed this content? Would it be morally wrong to continue to order "Christian" (or any books for that matter) from such an entity? I now order all my books, as well as most other things through, because its easy and free shipping. Should I have stopped?

Even though this e-book was removed, this article actually mentions some other questionable stuff. Should the sell of questionable material stop me from buying good material from them?

When is an economic boycott necessitated? Should we rely solely on such means, or is it better to have government play a more hand's on role and not rely on the consumer in such situations? Since all legislation is essentially moral in nature, would this even be much of a stretch to assume that the Federal government should intervene?

Free speech, (the moral category which justified the publishing of this book) which we Americans love, is obviously a slippery slope. And I presume the question of how it should be regulated will not be getting any easier.

I'm not attempting to answer any questions, but simply passing on questions which I'm now beginning to ponder.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Spicing things up during drier times

I've heard from several different folks recently about how their devotional time with the Lord has been a little slow. Folks who are in the Word, reading daily or fairly daily, haven't been experiencing "rich" times they once experienced. 

We've all come across periods of time when this is the case. And by the way, these "dry periods" don't necessarily mean that you're not walking with the Lord (although of course you can quench the Spirit's work by continued unrepentant sin). More often than not, this can be a way God is actually growing your faith through His silence. We have to learn to remain faithful to the Lord even when He's feels silent, and encourage others to do so as well. He's still there, but sometimes He's more silent. Some Psalms attest to this fact and call for God not to be silent (Psalm 35). Yet God is at work still, making our faith less dependent upon our experience and more dependent upon His character. Here are a few things that have helped me during such a silent period.

1.) Read some narratives. These narratives in the bible are enjoyable. There is nothing wrong with spending your devotional time reading and enjoying them. We are supposed to enjoy them. The cool thing is that they're inspired by God and He uses these stories to point us to Christ, the main character of all stories. Take a break and read Genesis, Judges, Kings, the Gospels, Acts, etc...
2.) "Spice up" your devotional life by supplementing some reading in addition to the scriptures. You don't need to add more time, but feel free to split it up with some good devotional reading and scripture. I'm now going through Ezekiel, but also have benefited from Sinclair Ferguson's In Christ Alone: Living the gospel centered life. This book is filled with 5-10 minute readings that are more of a systematic theology in small doses.

Amy is now going through John Piper's A Godward Life to supplement her scripture reading and it has been very helpful. 

Anyhow, here are just a few examples of things that have helped me. Feel free to comment and add some other things which have helped you in the "drier" devotional times.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I'll trade you a ticket for an autograph

Here's an interesting post on how Baltimore Raven's running back Ray Rice got out of a ticket by offering an autograph for the police officer's son. Obviously we don't know this happened because of the police officer's pang of conscience, but because Rice tweeted it.

It is telling how we all like to brag about getting away with stuff. Such is the natural state of the heart.

All I can say for Rice is, at least he didn't play the "Do you know who I am?" card. At least we don't think he did because it wasn't in his tweet.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Pastor Coming out of the Closet

One of the blogs I follow every now and then is church plant guru and Lifeway Research head Ed Stetzer. Here is one of his recent posts about a prominent mega-church pastor who recently came out of the closet. If you want to, you can actually see a video of Jim Swilley addressing his congregation. I've watched about 20 minutes of it, and it is pretty sad and frustrating. Instead of stepping down, or taking a leave of absence, this man has spent time actually defending his position by the "I was born this way and can't go against my nature" stance. Not that he had any credibility to begin with, but he compared those who speak against his stance with those telling a woman how she should feel while in labor or in PMS. Yikes.

Here are just a few thoughts. Ed has some good, gracious and truthful ones on his post as well.

1.) This is an example of the weakness of an unaccountable charismatic/pentecostal lifestyle where God just "speaks to you" all the time and tells you this or that. When folks play the "God told me so card," we need not be afraid to say, "Actually, no He didn't." He says right here in His Word the very opposite thing you're saying. Don't think "God told me so" is a trump card. God's Word is the trump card.

2.) Just because one may feel gay attractions, regardless if those have been there since the age of 4-as this man claims-doesn't mean that you should act on them. Henri Nouwen, a well known author and Catholic Priest, reportedly lived with same sex attraction but chose to remain chaste (who knows what he would have done if he weren't a priest-but that's really beside the point). This man is currently celibate, and plans to remain that way, but wouldn't make any promises about the future. So we can rest assure that homosexuals actively seeking (not struggling) and living in homosexual relationships will not not be convicted through his preaching.

3.) Swilley claims that he is called to preach the gospel; he is as sure of that as he is of his sexual orientation. Unfortunately there is a huge segment of life which the gospel is not reaching for him and won't for those sitting under his preaching. But WE all need a sober reminder that the gospel is a proclamation that Jesus is Lord over all of life: our sexuality, our finances, our marriages, our politics, our hobbies. Its easy to point the finger at this lad, without considering any areas where Christ isn't being submitted to as Lord in our own lives. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Kingdom Costumes: We won't get fooled again?

One thing about the gospel message-all that God has done/is doing/will do for His people in Christ-is that you never outgrow your need of it. No matter how much you grow in your faith, begin displaying the fruit of the Spirit, see your love for others increase, you always need Jesus' forgiveness, love, encouragement, and power. 

Here's a reminder from Paul Tripp, who wrote Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands, about how much we still need the gospel because we masquerade in costumes which make others think we are Kingdom centered, yet we really just care about our own kingdoms. Pretty convicting. From mothers who desire obedient children to pastors who look for a spiritually vibrant and growing congregations, none of us have 100% pure motives. They look good from the outside, but we often fool others, and even ourselves. But Jesus isn't fooled one bit.

Now some might consider this morbid, or defeatist, to think that just about everything we do has tainted motives. Maybe even praying with your kids!

But its not. Knowing your messed-up heart motivations makes you run to Jesus, and bring your dreams and desires to Him. Knowing that you need the gospel, makes you cherish and want the gospel that much more. Someone posted this article on facebook and said that it "stirred the pot."

I really can't see why, because I'm beginning to get more of a glimpse of my own heart and need for Jesus. I hope the same for you, and that as a result, you see the Holy Spirit produce more Christ-centered love in your relationships as opposed to self-centered love masquerading as the real deal.

As The Who once sang, my hope is this: "We won't get fooled again."

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Making Room at the Leadership Table

I just finished reading the book Sticky Teams, by Larry Osborne. While I won't write a review of the book here, or anywhere for that matter, I did want to pass on some info which may be helpful for anyone in any church at any size. 

Osborne has pastored a church in California called North Coast Church for 3 decades and has humbly, but confidently, passed on some principles which he thinks will help create solid leadership teams. I didn't feel like he sought out to give a formula for church growth-though his church has long since reached "Mega" status-but to help lay down leadership principles which he has learned throughout the years. So I really appreciated that.

What he did well was give numerous practical examples of how to build a team. Of course I'm not a senior pastor of a huge church, but then again most people aren't. Yet I found a number of chapters  helpful for anyone involved in ministry in a local church. One particular chapter seemed apropos for all churches: "Making Room at the Top-Why young eagles don't stay."

One thing which will ensure a church not to grow numerically, and only grow older and older without any influx of new folks, is the unwillingness of existing leadership to make room for new leaders. Over a prolonged period of time, this will leave a huge generation gap as developing leaders have no place to serve.

In regards to the practicality of actually applying this principle, Osborne recognizes it is incredibly hard and painstaking. He applies many of these principles to volunteer or staff teams, saying, "No one ever decides to change seats on their own."

However, I don't think this is always the case, as I've seen some evidence of the opposite here at Redeemer: leaders passing off areas of leadership to newer (not necessarily younger) faces. From allowing a newer person to oversee any area of children's ministry, to training someone for projector/Media shout duties, we're moving in the right direction. So I've seen this spirit of "making room" at Redeemer, and will pray it continues as the church matures.

Making room at the leadership table simply involves a desire to see new leadership raised up. A good leader is always raising up new leaders, and making room at the table by training others, scooting over, and sharing responsibilities/decision making.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

When going to church might get yourself killed

Here is another story of violent persecution against believers. These folks were attacked and killed while actually worshiping inside their church in the Middle East.

Let me supply a few brief "takes:"
1.) It just makes you wonder where we've gone wrong in America, where corporate worship is just an option among many to do on a Sunday morning. If you're too tired, have sporting events, just need a break, family time, don't like the rain, etc...And if its snowing or sleeting, then forget about it. It's just too dangerous.
Yet why is it different in other countries, where folks WANT to gather for worship, and even risk their lives to do so? Is Jesus more precious to them?
I wonder what church attendance would be like in America if it were actually dangerous to go to church. If you were actually risking your life to gather together for worship, would it inspire the adventurous, curtail the cautious, or give life to the nominal believer?

We don't need to feel guilty for living in America, but I think looking at the suffering of other believers around the world really exposes our idol of comfort and safety.

2.) While a number of folks in the pews would probably articulate a description of the Trinity that might in some ways be heretical (a pastor once told me this and I tend to believe him), no one would argue that the Trinity is actually three gods. Even though no one can fully understand how three Persons can be distinct and yet equal in power and glory, we still know that somehow God is still one God. 

And we know that but Muslims don't. We are very much a polytheistic religion to them, as you can see in this article. Such is the title Christians get for claiming that Jesus is who He claims Himself to be. All three persons and their equality are very much present in Jesus' dialog with His disciples in John 14 in case you think you're taking crazy pills when you believe in the Triune God.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Doubt like a child

Last night, before I arrived home to watch the waning minutes of the Bucs victory over the Arizona Cardinals, I had the opportunity to lead yet another discussion on the Nickel Creek's "Doubting Thomas." This time it was with Redeemer's Jr. High. 

Of course I made the mistake of not explaining what a "doubting Thomas" was (you just can't assume biblical literacy, although I'm pretty sure Doubting Thomas is used as a secular term as well), and that was my fault. But once we got past that, discussion, along with the craziness of 15 middle-schoolers in a small room, flowed like the New River.

One thing I found very interesting with the Jr. High was their attention to detail with the song lyrics. They wanted to know what every line meant. I didn't get that with the Sr. High's. 

But what I found most profound was their quick, without hesitation answer to my question, "So, what would you say are some of the things you doubt?" The Sr High didn't say anything. The Jr. High kids said everything. 

They were unashamed, as they should be, to admit doubting and having some questions about key doctrinal issues. Of course some of them weren't really doubts, and many of the questions had legitimate answers with which we'll follow up. Yet there were some serious doubts present.

But the cool thing is that their questions and doubts were brought before a community: to each other and to their leaders. Youth group had become a safe place. I had them read Jude 22, which is not your most commonly read verse in the world, but very apropos to doubts: "Have mercy on those who doubt." They were already applying that verse, with of course, having no idea who the heck Jude was.

No one felt ashamed to admit he/she wondered about what heaven was like, if it is was real at all, and who all would be there.

I don't tend to like the attention span of Jr Highers, but I do love their honesty. If they keep these doubts inside, we don't have a clue they exist. Yet what freedom we have to bring our doubts to Jesus (Mark 9:23-24)-that's where we ended the discussion. Doubts love to be alone and stay as far away from Jesus as possible because they know they can't survive in Christ centered community.

While this seems the opposite of having "faith like a child," which Jesus saw and praised in children, I think he would have also praised this honesty as well, saying, "doubt like a child." After all a child like faith isn't afraid to admit where it falls short.