Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Crazy Days and Feeling Distant from God

Yesterday was one of those crazy busy days. One of those days where I was busy from the time I got up in the morning to the time I went to bed. Our normal time to get up during the week is 4:45 for my wife and about 5:15 for me. Yesterday had me out of bed by 5 (although I had been awake since 3 which is another story for another day) and we were out the door by 6 which is a half hour early. 

We stopped at Panera for breakfast and after dropping my wife off at work I headed downtown to help my sister-in-law set up for her upcoming art show. It is a very big show at the Merchandise Mart called One Of A Kind and features incredible hand made art. My sister-in-law takes old windows, doors and furniture and turns them into pieces of art. Some of my favorite things of hers are old maps that she takes and mounts behind old windows. Right now she has an old 1944 Army Corps of Engineers map of France and a 1959 map of New York City that are both really nice.

After setting up the show I had to head back home to pick up my wife and head to the dentist. After we finished with the dentist we decided to stop to get dinner. By this time it was getting pretty late and we had nothing in the house except Thanksgiving leftovers that are getting a bit long in the tooth. When we finally got home it was almost time for bed.

I share this because it is days like yesterday that cause me to think of the following video:

It can be so easy to feel distant from God. While Dr. Powlison's advice is initially aimed at how to counsel a person asking about feeling distant from God, the video is worth watching for everyone. He asks some very simple questions that can help get at the nature of why we might be feeling distant from God.

The first question he looks at is what God are we feeling distant from? It is a great question in that we can often have an image of God in our head that is quite inaccurate. He then goes on to talk about how things happening to us or things that we do can cause us to feel distant from God. We live in a fallen world that is quite broken. Part of that brokenness can be seen in the sin that we commit and part of that brokenness can be seen in the suffering that we endure. Both of these things can feed into our feeling distant from God.

In a day like the one that I had yesterday it can be very easy for me to not take the time that I need to take in order to feel close to God. It is not that God has moved away from me but rather that I have moved away from him.

Fortunately we have a God that is seeking us out when we are lost and is eagerly awaiting our return to him. We have a God that desires to have a relationship with us and to be close to us. 

Source CCEF via Justin Taylor

Monday, November 28, 2011

Lessons to be learned from Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1

Disclaimer: This post deals with a mature but essential subject matter. It is not something that we as Christians can just hope won't affect our children.

I am not a movie critic nor do I play one on TV. I am also not a Twilight expert. I have not read any of the books and I have only seen two of the movies. Having only seen two of the movies (the last two) means that I have been sufficiently lost as to the major plot line. Which means that my general observations of the movies have been limited to the following:

  • It is about two guys fighting over one girl (not sure if that one has been done before);
  • The guy who plays Edward is sort of creepy looking (I see why they picked him to play a vampire);
  • The name Bella in this story seems contrived and very out of place (I found myself getting annoyed by it);
  • The guy who plays the werewolf is always looking to go shirtless in the cold and rainy weather of the Northwest (which led to the best line of either of the movies that I have seen: "Doesn't he own a shirt?");
  • It is easy to recognize that the movies were written for teen girls (and I would assume the same is true for the books as well).
Twilight is your typical teen angst love story wrapped in the thin candy shell of vampires and werewolves. My goal is not to review the overall content of Twilight or its inherent glorification and worship of mythical creatures that subsist on sucking the very life-blood out of people and were universally feared and reviled until somewhat recently. Rather I would like to focus on a couple of scenes from the most recent film installment.

Both my wife and I were appalled at the intensity and explicitness of the sex scenes. They were explicit without being graphic. There was no nudity but not much was left to the imagination either. As an aside it occurs to me that adding a sex scene to a movie is a very unimaginative and uncreative way of telling a story. This is a movie that is aimed at teen girls and the inclusion of these scenes move this film at least into the category of erotica and may even qualify as pornography.*

I am not naive enough to think that this movie breaks any ground in exposing teens to sex. I realize that basic cable (and sometimes even network TV) shows just as much as what was shown in Twilight. However whether or not our kids can see these things is not the right question. The real question is whether or not our kids (and us adults as well) should see these things.

The other important issue surrounds the idea of where our kids learn about sex. We as Christians cannot allow culture and media to be the lone voice when it comes to these issues. We also should not be doing "cleanup work." Our job is not to correct what our kids learn from these sources. Rather our kids should have learned enough from us first that they can start to recognize when they are being exposed to the wrong view of sex. When they hear at school that a condom is the best way to prevent an STD or pregnancy their reaction should be to think, "Well that's just silly. I have an even lower risk of an STD or pregnancy if I wait to have sex until marriage."  

There are two lessons that we can learn from the latest Twilight movie. The first is the absolute importance of parents taking the time to view any movies that their children want to see. And the second is taking the time to be the primary educational source for all of life's lessons. Even the difficult ones like sex.

*Erotica is generally defined as sexually implicit material designed to illicit an emotional response while pornography is defined as being designed to illicit a sexual response. However I don't know that there is any real difference in that the emotional responses aroused in erotica are going to be very closely tied to a sexual response. It doesn't seem possible to completely divorce the two. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


I don't say thank you enough. It is one of those things that I just don't express enough. I don't think that I am sharing any great undiscovered truth when I say that there is a huge difference between not being a thankful person and being a person that doesn't say thanks enough. But the problem is that while we know the difference within ourself, those we interact with have no idea what is going on inside. Yes they might be able to pick up the cues we give off through our behavior but to be honest it seems like a lot to leave to chance.

What happens for me is that while I am thankful I don't think to express that to those that I am thankful to. And that robs that person from understanding just how much they have affected my life. It can also have an effect on me as well. I have noticed that when I forget to express my thankfulness that I can start falling into the trap of not realizing my thankfulness. That leads to not being a thankful person. It is somewhat akin to muscle atrophy. When we don't use our muscles they end up withering away. 

One person that i know that I do not express my thankfulness to enough is God. Tonight we have our Thanksgiving eve service at church. It is a time that we are setting aside for us to specifically express our thanks to God for the things that he has provided for us. It is also something that we should do more often.

While I am thankful for all of the things that God has provided–I have a place to live, food to eat and many luxuries of life–but the thing that I am most thankful for is the life that God has given me. He has given me life here and now on this earth. But more importantly it is through the sacrifice that Jesus was willing to pay on the cross that I have been given eternal life. It is that second life that I am most thankful for. 

I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The sadness found in the rest of the story

I had a very surprising response to writing my sermon for last week. Balaam was the first non-sympathetic character to be the main focus for me. I've done sermons on other characters that were acting badly before but overall these characters still remain sympathetic. For example Jacob cheats his brother Esau out of his birthright and blessing but is still the father of the nation Israel. He does some bad things but is still considered a man of God. King David commits adultery, murder, lies and does a bunch of things that make him a real scoundrel. But he is still considered a man after God's own heart. 

Balaam on the other hand has one positive story about him but overall is a bad guy. The problem that I ran into is my experience with Balaam had always been that one positive story. Who doesn't love a story with a talking donkey

I had no idea of the rest of the story

It turns out that Balaam ended up getting killed while fighting against the Israelites after he taught King Balak and the Moabites how to lead the Israelites astray through sexual immorality and idol worship.

That one positive story makes me want to like Balaam. I really want Balaam to turn out good. I would love to sit down and hear him talk about his experience with the donkey. It would be like being able to talk with one of the Pevensie children. But from the way that Balaam is treated in other scripture references, it seems that it is a long shot that he died having a right relationship with God.

And that saddens me greatly.

It also makes me realize the importance of sharing the Good News of the forgiveness found in Christ. Without that forgiveness we are all lost. We have all done things that we know are wrong and those things separate us from God. The Apostle Paul does a great job of pointing out this fact in the first nine chapters of Romans. His argument can be summed up in two verses:

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

After this nine chapter argument Paul states:

Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved...For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!"

We as the church have as our number one priority–over everything else that we do as a church–is to share that good news with others. Yes we should be helping those with physical or mental needs but if we don't share the Gospel then we are seriously neglecting the greatest need of all of humankind. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Intentions Speak Louder Than Actions

The story of Balaam and his talking donkey is a very interesting and cautionary tale. One of the biggest lessons that we can learn from it is that why we do things is just as important as doing the right thing.

Sermon on Balaam and his talking donkey given at Faith Community Reformed Church on 11/20/2011. It is based on Numbers 22:22-35 and I read from the ESV.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Real Repentance

I came across a story of true repentance yesterday. True repentence requires a complete change in attitude. Far too often in today's society we get what is best described as faux repentence or maybe even show repentence. The person doing the repenting isn't really sorry but they are saying sorry in order to assuage the offended party's feelings as well as save public face. This form of non-apology apology has become so common that it even has it's own Wikipedia entry.

The story that I came across happened many thousands of years ago and is recorded in the book of Genesis. Joseph was the younger brother that could really get under the skin of his siblings. He was obviously dad's favorite, he didn't have to do the same hard work that his brothers did and he was even a tattle-tale. So the brothers conspired to kill Joseph. But the oldest brother, Ruben, stepped in and prevented them from killing Joseph. So they threw him into a pit.
But when Ruben left the brother that I am guessing was the ringleader spoke up:
Then Judah said to his brothers, "What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh." And his brothers listened to him.
Between his role here and how he treated his daughter-in-law, it sounds like Judah wasn't a real honorable guy. I don't know for sure but I would suspect that he was one of the main voices in the whole plot against Joseph. So Joseph eventually is sold as a slave in Egypt and through a series of events works his way up to being second in command of all of Egypt. When there is a famine in the land Joseph's brothers have to come and buy grain from him. They have no idea that the man they are talking to is Joseph.

Then the brothers run into some serious trouble in their second encounter with Joseph. Benjamin, now the youngest brother, is accused of stealing from Joseph. When Joseph demands that Benjamin become his slave Judah now steps in:
"For I your servant became a pledge of safety for the boy to my father, saying, 'If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father all my life.' Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father."
Judah is willing to substitute his own life to save Benjamin's life. That is a complete 180ยบ turn from how Judah treated Joseph. His attitude changed. He didn't just say, "Well I'm sorry that Benjamin being in possession of your silver cup offended you."

It was this attitude change that overwhelmed Joseph and he could no longer hide his identity from his brothers. Joseph completely forgave them. And that is the key to forgiveness. When we seek true forgiveness we need to show true repentance and not this non-apology apology style of repentance. Yes, Judah and the brothers still had to face their father and explain to him how Joseph ended up in Egypt. But I am sure that it was much easier to do having received full and complete forgiveness from Joseph.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Uncle Andrew, Mr. Ed and Balaam

The scripture passage for this Sunday is Numbers 22:22-35 which is the story of Balaam and his talking donkey. I find the story of Balaam to be an interesting one and the talking donkey may be the most interesting part. But whenever I think of Balaam having a conversation with a donkey I think of two things. The first is the old TV show "Mr. Ed."

I loved watching reruns of Mr. Ed growing up but of course that was back in the days before we had cable and there weren't many mid-afternoon TV options if you weren't much of a Judge Wapner fan. It never struck me as odd to have a talking horse as a TV star and I was always amazed at how they were able to match the speaking and the movement of Mr. Ed's mouth.

The second thing that I always think of is C.S. Lewis' "The Chronicles of Narnia."

In the book "The Magician's Nephew" we have the story of two children, Digory and Polly, as they experience the creation of Narnia. It is a great book that was the sixth book of the series to be published but is the first book in chronological order. In the book we meet Digory's Uncle Andrew. Uncle Andrew is an unsympathetic man that is very selfish. Through the use of magic rings the kids, Uncle Andrew, a cabbie named Frank, his horse Strawberry and Queen Jadis end up in Narnia just as Aslan is creating the land.

Aslan gives certain animals the ability to speak:

"Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts be divine waters."

It was of course the Lion's voice. The children had long felt sure that he could speak: yet it was a lovely and terrible shock when he did."*

And that was a fairly normal response to the first encounter with speaking animals by those that were "Friends of Narnia." Uncle Andrew, on the other hand, had a very different response:

And the longer and more beautiful the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring. Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed. Uncle Andrew did. He soon did hear nothing but roaring in Aslan's Song. Soon he couldn't have heard anything else even if he wanted to. And when at last the Lion spoke and said, "Narnia awake," he didn't hear any words: he heard only a snarl. And when the Beasts spoke in answer, he heard only barkings, growlings, bayings, and howlings.**

Balaam's story is far different than an episode of "Mr. Ed" or even anything that happened in Narnia. It is a story of intrigue and deception. It is a story of blindness and sight. It is a story that I am really looking forward to exploring on Sunday morning.***

* C.S. Lewis, The Magician's Nephew, (New York: HarperCollins, 1983), 138-9.

** C.S. Lewis, 149-50

***Video of the sermon should be posted on Monday, November 21, 2011 or Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Sword of the Spirit

Good friend, fellow Western grad and future super-pastor (FSP for short) Brad Kautz shared an excellent reflection on the Bible being a tool for us to use in life. In his reflection he talked about selecting the right tool for the job and I think that it is a very important thing to think about in terms of the Bible. In my small group last night we were talking about the Word of God in terms of being a sword. One of the verses that we were looking at was Hebrews 4:12:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

We also looked at Ephesians 6:10-20 (specifically verse 17) which is talking about putting on the full armor of God which includes "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."

During our discussion we talked about how the Word of God is our only offensive weapon when it comes to Spiritual Warfare. One person shared how someone they knew that was not a Christian would always challenge them with the Bible. The non-Christian would claim to know the Bible better and would try and head off any discussion. This led us to talk about how the Bible can be misused by non-Christians (and even Christians) to make it say things that it does not really say.

In light of "FSP" Kautz's discussion on picking the proper tool for the job it is important to think about how those tools are used. One of the most important things about using a tool is to not use it in a way that it was not intended to be used. As a young lad I remember working on some sort of project where I was using one of my dad's ratchet wrenches (I really hope he is not reading this). I needed a hammer and instead of getting up and grabbing the hammer I decided to use the ratchet as a hammer. After a couple of good hard smacks the back came off the ratchet and parts started to spill out. Fortunately I was able to get them back in and while the wrench still worked it wasn't quite the same and looked obviously abused.

We do the same thing with the Bible when we start trying to bend it to say what we want it to say. We can fall into the trap of finding verses that make the point that we want them to make regardless of what the surrounding verses say. For example it is very easy to read Jeremiah 29:11:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

And to claim that God has great plans for us. But we don't usually quote the immediately preceding verse:

For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.

If we did then it would be clear that verse 11 doesn't really apply to us but rather it applies to the exiled Jews in Babylon. Of course that doesn't suit our desires.

The Bible is a great tool but it is just as Brad says:

And so a tool did provide me with something for reflection, although it was not a tool made by human hands and for human work, but the tool of God’s Word, provided by him, to strengthen and encourage us to serve him, to love him and to glorify him, now and forever

We need to remember that the Word of God is not a tool made by human hands and is not intended for human work. We need to take great care in handling it properly and to allow the "sword of the Spirit" be the Spirit's sword and not our own.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Credobaptism vs. Paedobaptism

Baptism was one of those topics in seminary that created a lot of back and forth discussion. At least from my perspective. And that was because I strongly disagreed with the Reformed* view of Baptism. I disagreed with it so much that I decided to not seek ordination in the Reformed Church of America. But I was still attending classes at a Reformed seminary. Theology and Worship classes were taught from a Reformed perspective and this included paedobaptism, which is the technical term for baptizing infants. I on the other hand hold to believer's baptism or as I have recently heard it called, credobaptism.**

For the most part I felt that my classmates were very respectful of my views and engaged them with intellectual honesty. They avoided bad arguments*** and challenged my understanding very well. Yet they never did convince me to change my mind.

One of the issues that I see as a serious problem for paedobaptism is how it looks at the union with Christ and the church. An infant that is baptized is considered a part of the covenant community by the Reformed church. My problem with this is that this means that the covenant community contains those that may never make a profession of faith in Christ. However I felt that during these discussions I was not able to make as solid and succinct of an argument as I would have liked. I had the idea in my head but for some reason I could not get it out on paper in the way that I wanted to.

Then last week I came across this article posted by Justin Taylor. It is an interview that Taylor did with Stephen Wellum. Dr. Wellum is the professor of Christian Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. My view of baptism was not actually about baptism but rather I viewed it in terms of union with Christ. Dr. Wellum actually approaches baptism through our understanding of the different covenants in the Bible. In the interview Dr. Wellum stated:

This change of “structure” also means that there has been a change of “nature.” Under the old covenant, Israel was a “mixed entity,” namely a community of believers and unbelievers (not all Israel was Israel to use the language from Romans 9). But with the coming of the new covenant in Jesus Christ and the giving of the Spirit in eschatological fulfillment, the new covenant community is viewed as a regenerate people. Furthermore, this change of “nature” is also linked to the work of the Holy Spirit in the new covenant age. The NT is clear that it is the Spirit who has brought life and who enables God’s people to follow God’s decrees and to keep God’s laws, thus making us covenant-keepers and not covenant-breakers. It is the Spirit who unites us to Christ so that all Christians, by definition, are those “in Christ” who have the Spirit (Rom. 8:9). In fact, I argue that this is precisely what Jeremiah 31 anticipates—which has now arrived in Christ. Thus we could say it this way: under the new covenant all will know the Lord in a direct fashion, and all will have the law written on their hearts and experience the full forgiveness of sin. Thus, in contrast to the old covenant community which was a “mixed entity,” the new covenant community will be a regenerate people. This is what I mean when I say that the “structure” and “nature” of the new covenant is different than the old.

Dr. Wellum makes a sharp distinction between the different covenants of the Bible. And the New Covenant that comes in Christ changes the nature of the Covenant community. No longer is that community to be made up of both believers and non-believers. He goes on to say:

Under the old covenant, one could make a distinction between the physical and spiritual seed of Abraham (the locus of the covenant community is different from the locus of the elect). Under the old covenant, both “seeds” (physical and spiritual) received the covenant sign of circumcision and both were viewed as full covenant members in the national sense, even though it was only the remnant who were the true spiritual seed of Abraham. But this kind of distinction is not legitimate under the new covenant where the locus of the covenant community and the elect are the same. In other words, one cannot speak of a “remnant” in the new covenant community, like one could under the old covenant. All those who are “in Christ” are a regenerate people, and as such it is only they who may receive the sign of the covenant, namely baptism.

I really appreciate how he was able to summarize my thoughts so well.

The interview contains a lot more information regarding what he sees as the differences between credobaptism and paedobaptism. I would highly recommend it to anyone that is interested in this debate.

*It is important for me to define and clarify terms. In this posting I am differentiating between Reformed as a particular set of beliefs as found in the Reformed Church of America (RCA) as opposed to the general reformed beliefs found in Protestantism. The views similar to that of the RCA can also be found in the Christian Reformed Churches (CRC), the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) as well as others from the Reformed tradition. When I say that I disagree with the Reformed church or that I am not Reformed does not mean that I reject the general beliefs that came out of the Reformation or that I even disagree with someone like John Calvin. Rather I disagree with certain aspects of their beliefs and still consider myself reformed in the sense that Protestantism as a whole is "reformed" from the Catholic Church.

**The argument is not between infant baptism and adult baptism. Rather it is between the belief in baptizing the children of believers vs. the belief in baptizing only those that have made a profession of faith. I have always been a believer baptist and I was baptized at 7 years old. I highly doubt that anyone would consider that "adult" baptism.

***One of the bad arguments that I had to deal with came from some of the authors of our text books. For example, on page 286 of his book Faith Seeking Understanding author Daniel Migliore stated the following as an argument against believer baptism: "Does the Holy work in infants? Geoffrey Bomiley is surely right to say that it would be shocking to answer this question in the negative. The Holy Spirit can and does work in the lives of infants and children through the ministrations of their parents, guardians, teachers, and friends. Why not also through the proper practice of infant baptism? The working of God's spirit is not restricted by gender, race, or class. Neither is it restricted by age."

This argument is both misleading and insulting. It is what is called a straw man argument in that it sets up a "straw man" that is both easy to defeat and a complete misrepresentation of the opposing view point. I find it even more insulting today than I did the day that I read it. Migliore falsely sets up the proposition that believer baptists are adult only baptists and that they believe that God only works through adults. What I find even more insulting is that he even goes as far as to claim that believer baptists should be considered the same as those that discriminate based on gender, race or class. This argument does not even come close to dealing with the issues. It simply relies on, in effect, insults and name calling.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Chicago Sports Nirvana

Yesterday was one of those great sports days. I spent much of Saturday doing work around the house so I decided to indulge my sports love a bit on Sunday. My afternoon was set with the Bears playing at 3 and the Blackhawks at 6. Both teams were playing tough opponents in the Detroit Lions and the Edmonton Oilers and both the Bears and Hawks won big.

The Bears completely dismantled the Lions 37-13. The defense caused 6 turnovers including 4 interceptions (2 returned for touchdowns) of Matthew Stafford. Devin Hester returned a punt for a touchdown and the damage was done. The Bears offense didn't do much simply because they didn't have to. Their biggest job for the afternoon was to not screw up.

The Blackhawks also won big at 6-3. They built a quick 3-0 lead in the first period. Both Jonathan Toews and Steve Montador (yes Steve Montador) had two goals each. Corey Crawford didn't face a lot of shots in goal but he did make some dyn-o-mite saves. All in all it was a game that featured quick end to end skating from two teams that have a lot of speed and can play well on offense. The Blackhawks just played better.

It was a very enjoyable afternoon. Now if the Vikings can just figure out some way to beat the Packers tonight...well I guess you can't have it all.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Lost Moral Bearing

We as a nation seem to have lost our moral bearing. At best we no longer know which way is north and at worst we have decided that north is which ever way we want it to be. If things do not change soon we will collapse as a nation from interal rot rather than any external sources. At this rate the Islamic extremists that want to destroy us because of our unbelief and loose morals only need to sit back and watch us crumble. I had not planned on commenting on the Penn State issue again. I figured my two posts yesterday were enough. But then I heard about the threats against coach Mike McQueary. Apparently the threats are serious enough to prevent him from coaching in Saturday's Penn State game.

When I first heard the story I had no idea who Mike McQueary was. Turns out he is the witness. When he was a graduate assistant he saw Jerry Sandusky sodomizing a 10 year old boy in the showers at the Penn State football facility. He told Coach Joe Paterno who in turn told Athletic Director Timothy Curley. At that point the matter was "handled" internally and no one thought that it might be a good idea to contact the police. And this includes McQueary. And while this is extremely disturbing what I find even more so is the reaction by some people in this case.

While I do not know of the nature of these threats I am having a hard time believing that the threats are over the fact that McQueary failed to report the abuse in 2002. In light of the students rioting over the firing of Joe Paterno I am making an educated guess that the threats are because people are angry at McQueary for ruining the reputation of Paterno and seriously damaging the Penn State football program.

Let's be very clear here. Mike McQueary did not damage either Joe Paterno's reputation or the Penn State football program. Jerry Sandusky did not do these things either. Sandusky wasn't even on the football staff at the time.

Joe Paterno ruined Joe Paterno's reputation.

For all the good that he has done in running a clean football program from an NCAA rule standpoint, this one incident far and away exceeds all of that good. I would argue that Paterno didn't just cover up for a pedophile. I would also argue that he didn't just enable a pedophile. Rather Paterno in his decision to in effect turn a blind eye actually encouraged Jerry Sandusky to continue his behavior...just not on Penn State property.

Everyone that is saddened by the fact that Joe Paterno was forced out and not allowed to finish out the football season needs to take a very long and serious look at their moral compass. What we should be saddened by is the fact that Joe Paterno knew about a young boy being raped and basically did nothing about it.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Albert Mohler on Penn State

Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote an excellent post on how the Penn State scandal should change the way that Christians and Christian organizations look at suspected child abuse.

Sometimes Christians are reluctant to report suspected sexual abuse because they do not feel that they know enough about the situation. They are afraid of making a false accusation. This is the wrong instinct. We do not have the ability to conduct the kind of investigation that is needed, nor is this assigned to the church. This is the function of government as instituted by God (Romans 13). Waiting for further information allows a predator to continue and puts children at risk. This is itself an immoral act that needs to be seen for what it is.

A Christian hearing a report of sexual abuse within a church, Christian organization, or Christian school, needs to act in exactly the same manner called for if the abuse is reported in any other context. The church and Christian organizations must not become safe places for abusers. These must be safe places for children, and for all. Any report of sexual abuse must lead immediately to action. That action cannot fall short of contacting law enforcement authorities. A clear lesson of the Penn State scandal is this: Internal reporting is simply not enough.

After law enforcement authorities have been notified, the church must conduct its own work of pastoral ministry, care, and church discipline. This is the church’s responsibility and charge. But these essential Christian ministries and responsibilities are not substitutes for the proper function of law enforcement authorities and the legal system. As Christians, we respect those authorities because we are commanded to do so.

We as Christians must remember that turning a blind eye to sin is itself a sin. And it is also part of the reason that I feel that we as Christians should take a proactive role in shaping the morality of the nation. While we may do this politically at times, we must do this as our natural way of living life.

Dr. Mohler's article is an excellent read.

See my previous post on Penn State: But what about the children?

Source: Justin Taylor

But what about the children?

The news of Joe Paterno's firing doesn't come as a surprise to me. I was more surprised when earlier in the day it was announced that he would retire after the end of the season. His last home game was to be this Saturday. But because of the great season that Penn State is having they would play in the Big Ten Championship Game and would surely get a Bowl Bid. So if he were to retire at the end of the season, he could have conceivably been around until January. That is a long time to be around with a scandal of this magnitude. But the Penn State Board of Trustees stepped in and fired Joe Paterno effective immediately.

But I don't want to rehash the entire saga.

Rather what I found most disturbing about this aspect of the scandal (nothing is more disturbing than the abuse of children) was the reaction of some of the Penn State students following the announcement of Paterno's firing. They took to the street and protested the Board of Trustees decision. According the the Chicago Tribune:

More than 1,000 students rioted and rallied at Old Main and on frat-house-lined Beaver Avenue. Riot cops, fire trucks and ambulances were on hand after midnight, amid reports that tear gas was being used to disperse the crowd.

Demonstrators overturned a TV news van, toppled street lights, shook stop signs and threw toilet paper. From rooftops and in the streets, they yelled "F -- Sandusky!" and "We Want JoePa!"

Joe Paterno was part of the coverup of child abuse. He had direct knowledge of what was happening when a witness told Paterno that they saw his former Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky molest a child in the Penn State locker room and Paterno did the bare minimum to protect children.

Take a moment and let that sink in. Then recall all the fervor of the Catholic Church's child abuse scandal and how the Pope was accused:

According to the document filed by CCR (Center for Constitutional Rights), the pope, as head of the Catholic church, is ultimately responsible for the sexual abuse of children by priests and for the cover-ups of that abuse. The group argues that he and others have "direct and superior responsibility" for the crimes of those ranked below them, similar to a military chain of command.

Paterno had direct knowledge (far more than what the Pope had) of the incident and all he did was tell the Athletic Director. What was going through the mind of Paterno when nothing beyond a wrist slapping was given to Sandusky?

What about the children?

What is going through the minds of those college students that were protesting the firing of Joe Paterno?

What about the children?

I think that we would all agree that the true victims in this crime are the children. But what I am starting to think is that through all of the debate over who should lose their jobs and who should be convicted of what is that we start to lose sight of those victims. What are those involved in this crime–from Sandusky to Paterno to the University–going to do about those children?

What about the children?

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

#Occupy Zimbabwe

The irony of the Occupy Wall Street (and other iterations) has been well documented. They decry Wall Street and Corporations yet are more than willing to film and promote their actions using iPhones (made by the biggest corporation in the world), computers and other forms of technology. Up to now I have hesitated to tackle this topic but I just read an excellent blog post by Frank Turk of the Pyromaniacs blog.

Mr. Turk writes an "Open Letter" to the Occupy movement that does a great job of pointing out just how inconsistent–and silly–the movement is when you consider the wealth of the poorest parts of America with the rest of the world. He even uses data and graphs to back up his point. This one is particularly good:

The circles show the income levels and life expectancy of different countries. America is way up on the far upper right of the graph which means that we are rich and healthy compared to the rest of the world. The black line is our "poverty" line. 80% of all Americans live above that black line. Compared to the rest of the world we are rich...really rich.

Mr. Turk goes on to call this movement exactly what it is. It is not about any injustice. It is about greed.

That's right: the problem is not that "they" are greedy - whoever "they" are (the bankers, the capitalists, the stock traders, but apparently not the movie moguls, the actors, the politicians and pop stars) -- but that we are greedy. We want things we didn't earn, and we can't imagine that we might have to live on less than we think we are entitled to. We certainly couldn't live on what the average Englishman lived on in1800, and may God forbid we have to live on what the average Russian or South African lives on today. There was a time when we would say it isn't "fair", but today we say it's actually an injustice -- as if "justice" has anything to do with us getting something we didn't actually earn.

The one thing that Mr. Turk does at this point of the letter is to subtly change from writing to the protesters (using the language of "I" and "you") to writing to all of us in America (using the language of "we"). The greed isn't just a problem for those protestors. It is not just that they don't have all that the Jones have; the problem is for all of us.

We are all greedy. And that is sin.

We all have things that we think that we need that we really don't need. Having things and luxuries are not sinful in and of themselves.

Rather the problem is when we start to define poverty and need based upon how many luxuries one can or cannot afford.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Christian Ethic vs. Karma

The story of Jacob and Esau is a fascinating tale and yet at the same time not very surprising. Anyone that has a brother or has seen brothers in action knows that the potential for conflict is great. As a bit of self-disclosure I must admit that my brother and I have had a pretty good relationship all things considered. Neither one of us–as far as I know–has tried to steal or trick the other out of their birthright or blessing as Jacob did to Esau. Nor has either of us–again I am assuming here–has plotted to kill the other as Esau did with Jacob.

But there has been some sibling rivalry. For example I was a better student in school while he was always the superior athlete. Jacob and Esau's rivalry far surpassed that. After Jacob cheated Esau out of Isaac's birthright and blessing Jacob took off to find a wife...and escape from Esau's murder plot.

Jacob went back to the "old country" to find a wife because his parents decided that they didn't want a Hittite or Canaanite for a daughter-in-law. Esau overheard the "Don't marry one of those Canaanite women" comment from his father. Unfortunately for Esau he already had two Hittite wives.

Talk about things not going right. Esau is the older brother and has lost all of the privileges that go with being the older brother and he finds out that his parent's don't approve of his wives.

So what does Esau do?

He marries a third woman who is not a Canaanite in order to try and make amends.

Not that divorcing his wives would have been the right thing to do, but Esau tried to make things better by putting a patch on to his old mistakes. And I think that we can often do the same thing.

We can fall into the trap of functioning under an ethic of karma rather than a Christian ethic which is an ethic of righteousness and grace. An ethic of karma is when we try and amend for our past mistakes by doing more good things. We are trying to balance out the scales. It is as if we say to ourselves, "Well I didn't get to church this Sunday so I will make sure that I say an extra prayer, put a few extra dollars in the offering and go to the midweek service. That will more than make up for missing church." And that may soothe our soul in our own eyes and maybe even in the eyes of others.

But that is not how it works in God's eyes.

In a Christian ethic when we make a mistake we ask for forgiveness and God forgives our mistake. That is the grace part. We don't get the forgiveness because we have made up for it in some way. No, God forgives us not because we deserve it but because he wants to forgive us. But there is another part to a Christian ethic. There is a righteousness part as well. After we make our mistakes we do try and right any wrongs that we have committed but more importantly we try and not make those same mistakes again. We try and live a righteous life not by simply adding a patch onto our old mistakes but by trying to avoid them all together.

In Esau's case marrying a non-Canaanite woman (or even divorcing his Hittite wives) does not make his relationship with his parents or his brother right. What ends up making Esau's relationship right with Jacob is when the two of them meet up again many years later is that Esau puts the past behind them.

Further Reading
The story of Jacob and Esau can be found in Genesis 25:19-36:43

Monday, November 07, 2011

The relationship of the Old and the New.

I came across an illustration by John Phillips from Exploring Hebrews shared by Jared Wilson on his blog The Gospel Driven Church. The illustration does a wonderful job of showing how the New Testament both fits into the Old Testament as well as provides an even better way to God. It is something that I will file away for future reference.

Imagine with me a Moabite of old gazing down upon the Tabernacle of Israel from some lofty hillside. This Moabite is attracted to what he sees so he descends the hill and makes his way toward the Tabernacle.
He walks around this high wall of dazzling linen until he comes to a gate and at the gate, he sees a man. “May I go in there?” he asks, pointing to the gate where all the bustle of activity in the Tabernacle’s outer court can be seen.

“Who are You?” demands the man suspiciously.

“I’m from Moab,” the stranger replies.

“Well, I’m very sorry, but you can’t go in there. You see, it’s not for you. The Law of Moses has barred the Moabite from any part in the worship of Israel until his tenth generation.”

The Moabite looks so sad and said, “Well, what would I have to do to go in there?”

“You would have to be born again,” the gatekeeper replies. “You would have to be born an Israelite, of the tribe of Judah, or of the tribe of Benjamin or Dan.”

“Oh, I wish I had been born an Israelite,” the Moabite says and as he looks again, he sees one of the priests, having offered a sacrifice at the brazen altar and the priest cleansed himself at the brazen laver and then the Moabite sees the priest enter the Tabernacle’s interior. “What’s in there?” asks the Moabite. “Inside the main building, I mean.”

“Oh,” the gatekeeper says, “That’s the Tabernacle itself. Inside it contains a lampstand, a table, and an altar of gold. The man you saw was a priest. He will trim the lamp, eat of the bread upon the table and burn incense to the living god upon the golden altar.”

“Ah,” sighs the Moabite, “I wish I were an Israelite so that I could do that. I would so love to worship God in there and help to trim the lamp and offer Him incense and eat bread at that table.”

“Oh, no, the gatekeeper hastens to say, “even I could not do that. To worship in the holy place one must not only be born an Israelite, one must be born of the tribe of Levi and of the family of Aaron.”

The man from Moab sighs again, “I wish that I had been born of Israel of the tribe of Levi of the family of Aaron,” and then, as he gazes wistfully at the closed Tabernacle door, he says, “What else is in there?”

“Oh, there’s a veil. It’s a beautiful veil I’m told and it divides the Tabernacle in two. Beyond the veil is what we call ‘the Most Holy Place’… ‘the Holy of Holies.’”

“What’s in the Holy of Holies?” the Moabite asks.

“Well, there’s the sacred chest in there and it’s called the Ark of the Covenant. It contains holy memorials of our past. Its top is gold and we call that the mercy seat because God sits there between the golden cherubim. Do you see that pillar of cloud hovering over the Tabernacle? That’s the Shekinah glory cloud. It rests on the mercy,” said the gatekeeper.

Again, a look of longing comes over the face of the Moabite man. “Oh,” he said, “if only I were a priest! How I would love to go into the Holy of Holies and gaze upon the glory of God and worship Him there in the beauty of His holiness!’

“Oh no!” said the man at the gate. “You couldn’t do that even if you were a priest! Only the high priest can enter the Most Holy Place. Only he can go in there. Nobody else!”

The heart of the man from Moab yearns once more. “Oh,” he cried, “If only I had been born an Israelite, of the tribe of Levi, of the family of Aaron. If only I had been born a high priest! I would go in there every day! I would go in there three times a day! I would worship continually in the Holy of Holies!”

The gatekeeper looked at the man from Moab again and once more shook his head. “Oh now,” he said, “you couldn’t do that! Even the high priest of Israel can go in there only once a year, and then only after the most elaborate preparations and even then only for a little while.”

Sadly, the Moabite turned away. He had no hope in all the world of ever entering there!

. . . Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith (Hebrews 10:19-22).

Here it is, a tremendous word of welcome, extended to Jew and Gentile alike, to come on in and worship, not in the holiest place of the human tabernacle, but into the Holy of Holies in heaven itself "by the blood of Jesus."

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Noses with legs...

This past weekend was my niece's first birthday. So to celebrate my brother and sister-in-law decided to have a costume party that coincided with their town Halloween parade. It was great fun. My niece was the star of the least our part of the show. She was absolutely adorable in her little strawberry costume.

Not only was the costume bright red but her nose matched as well. The problem is that her nose wasn't red due to her costume but due to her cold.

And she decided to share that cold with both my wife and me. Fortunately I had the last couple of posts written early. However this one has been called due to inclement weather and post nasal drip.

Oh, and noses with legs just keep on running.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

How Should Christians Think About Halloween?

Should Christians celebrate Halloween? It's another one of those questions that will have Christians taking all sides. There will be vehement assertions one way or the other as well as those that simply say "meh..." I have usually approached it from a theological standpoint regarding both the explicit and implicit messages contained within. And usually while I am not generally opposed to the holiday there are certain things that are being glorified within the holiday that I strongly dislike.

That being said, I came across a very different take from one of my fellow seminary graduates. Jeremy Dowsett, pastor of Blacksoil, approached the holiday from an angle that I had not considered. His view is from the social aspects provided by Halloween that have been quickly disappearing in our society:

Our culture is almost completely devoid of spaces where it is socially appropriate to interact with neighbors. The evenings of sitting on front porches, talking with whoever is out for a walk have been replaced with evenings scanning the 300 channels of cable or running on the treadmill listening to an ipod. I don’t even live in an “attached garage” community, and the only people I ever see outside are kids and moms calling kids to come inside.

Halloween is the one day of the year that it’s not only appropriate, it’s actually expected you will go onto your neighbors porches and interact with your neighbors. Not only that, but their is some remnant of generosity and hospitality in this ritual. People are actually giving gifts to strangers and expecting nothing in return (albeit gifts loaded with high fructose corn syrup, but hey its something).

The neighborhood streets near our church were absolutely filled–comparatively speaking–with kids and parents Halloween afternoon. In the past, when I lived in a house where I would actually get trick-or-treaters, it was one of the very few times that I would interact with people from the neighborhood. And I would often sit on my front stoop in the evenings.

Yes there are things about Halloween that are the antithesis of the Christian faith. It has the tendency to glorify demons, vampires and witches which all stem from the evil side of the scale. But there are also aspects of Christmas and Easter which, when we dig deep enough, have their root in things that also tend from that same evil side. But as Christians we have had no problem overlooking them in order to "redeem" those holidays.

Pastor Dowsett goes on to say:

Now why on this one day of the year that’s brimming with potential for meeting and blessing people Christians want to take themselves out of their neighborhoods and do “safe” activities with their kids at some church building somewhere else is beyond me. In theological lingo, Halloween is full of missional potential.

There seems to be this trend that I have observed in many Christian circles where we want to insulate ourselves from evil rather than separate from it. Just before going to the cross Jesus prayed:

I have given them (the Disciples) your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.

We are not supposed to try and insulate ourselves form all things evil. Jesus asked the Father to protect us from evil while we are interacting with the world. Halloween is an excellent example where we can interact with the world while shunning the less savory parts of the holiday. It is a good opportunity to interact with people that we may otherwise never interact with.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

What do our relationships with each other say about our relationship with God?

Every relationship finds its focus in God. And not just marriages or other romantic relationships but every relationship that exists.

In geometry a focus point is the point in which a curve is defined. Each point of the curve is a set distance from the focus point. It is not always the same distance but there is a relationship in the distance that can be measured by a mathematical equation. And while I am not saying that relationships can be reduced to some sort of mathematical equation, it is this sense of the word focus that I am using. In the same way God is the focus point that defines our relationships with each other.

Let me demonstrate what I mean with a couple of images:

Let's pretend that I can actually draw a triangle.

In this image we see that God is (ignoring my poor drawing skills) the top of a triangle that is drawn using two other people. Think of the points as the people and the line between them as the relationship. The line is the representation of the relationship and not the definition of it. This means that the line is the result of the placement of the points of the people. So when one person grows closer to God the point moves and the lines change.

In the scenario where one person has a closer relationship with God the resulting triangle would look like this:

Notice the length of the line between Person A and Person B. The distance between them grew noticeably longer. (Or it should have if I had any drawing skills.) This greater distance can be very obvious in some instances but not so obvious in others. We also do not usually see dramatic quick changes in relationships like we do between the first and second drawings. It usually happens over a long period of time.

Now this is not to say that you cannot have two people grow closer together without growing closer to God as in the following example:

It is entirely possible. It is also possible for two people to grow closer to God without actually growing closer together.

What I am saying is that it is very difficult maybe even near impossible for one person to grow closer to God and to another person without that other person growing closer to God at the same time. As a matter of fact we see the Bible warning against these types of things.

Paul warns in 2 Corinthians 6:14 about the imbalance found in relationships between believers and unbelievers. And the beginning of Proverbs does so as well albeit in more graphic terms. (I don't know that any of my non-Christian friends have recently said: "Let us lie in wait for blood; let us ambush the innocent without reason.") The problem is that we will aways be separated by one major thing: our allegiance to God. It doesn't mean that we cannot have good relationships with non-Christians. We just need to look at the life of Jesus for an example.

Rather when our relationships with other Christians start to grow distant and our relationships with non-Christians start to grow closer we need to examine our relationship with God. These changes in relationship probably have more to do with our own relationship with God than anything else.