Wednesday, October 03, 2012

10,000 Reasons

I haven't been blogging with much regularity lately and I will share more on that later. I came across this Matt Redman song this morning and wanted to share it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Deadliness of Undevotional Theology

Yesterday I covered the first half of a quote that was attributed to Bishop Moule that engaged the problem with having an untheological devotion to God. There are a lot of problems with not knowing the reasons why you believe–or even what you believe–when it comes to God. We open ourselves up to being deceived into following false teachers when we are not willing to do the hard work of theology for ourselves. The second half of the quote–which was actually uttered by W. H. Griffith Thomas–warns us that "we must also beware of 'undevotional theology.'"

If I had to make a guess based upon my own experience–and I realize that I am about to make some potentially unfair generalizations–that each person will usually fall into only one of the two categories. It has been my experience that more often it is the average lay person that falls into having an untheological devotion to God and it is the scholars and pastors that end up falling into having an undevotional theology. I don't mean that these categories are hard and fast with no movement between the two. There are going to be lay people with an undevotional theology and there are going to be the scholars and pastors that have an untheological devotion. On top of that I would argue the each individual person will have certain areas of untheological devotion while having undevotional theology in other areas.

I would tend to fall into the latter category–the undevotional theology category. W.H. Griffith Thomas defines undevotional theology as such:

"A hard, dry, intellectual study of theology will yield no spiritual fruit. Accuracy in knowledge of Greek, careful balancing of aspects of truth, large knowledge of the doctrinal verities of the New Testament, are all essential and valuable; but unless they are permeated by a spirit of devotion they will fail at the crucial point...a theology which does not spring from spiritual experience is doomed to decay, to deadness, and therefore to disaster."

It is something that can happen to those that engage in deep scholarly study. One of my classmates asked about this very thing during a preliminary visit to my seminary. It is one of those things where you can get into your studies so much that you do not allow your studies to get into you. You get into the Word but the Word doesn't get into you. On one level theology is just like all those other -ology classes that we have taken. There is a need to take a step back and to start looking at theology in a scientific way. This can lead to a gain in knowledge without an equal gain of actionable wisdom. What this means is that there is a great difference between knowing something about God and having that knowledge affect how we think or act. It is one thing to know that God is omniscient and omnipresent but it is a whole different thing to live your life knowing that God knows everything AND that his being always present means that he has and will see every action of every person. How different would you act at times if you could see God standing next to you all the time?

That thought really drives home the idea that it doesn't make a bit of difference to know these things if they don't affect how I live my life.

James tells us this very thing in James 2:14-26:

"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

"But someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness'–and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead."

James starts off by pointing out that our faith needs to actively shape how we live our lives. And this is where the problem of having an undevotional theology hits us all. Whenever we know that we should be clothing and feeding the poor and we do not do so we have an undevotional theology. Whenever we act hypocritical–and we all act hypocritical on a daily basis–our works; our deeds; our actions are not matching our faith and means that our faith is a dead faith.

James is blunt when he says that "faith is apart from works is dead." When we have an untheological devotion we run the risk of believing false teaching. But when we have an undevotional theology we run the risk of being spiritually dead.

Let that sink in for a moment.

An undevotional theology–according to the Bible and not just W. H. Griffith Thomas–is a spiritually dead theology.

Fortunately James also gives us the remedy for an undevotional theology in this passage. He says "I will show you my faith by my works." It is such a simple idea that can be so hard to follow. Yesterday I said that we have to do the hard work of theology to avoid being spiritually deceived. We also have to do the equally hard (or maybe even harder) work of making sure that our actions follow what we believe so that we can avoid being spiritually dead.

Bishop Moule warns us to beware untheological devotion and W. H. Griffith Thomas warns us to beware undevotional theology. We need both of these warnings to avoid being spiritually deceived and spiritually dead.


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.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Untheological Devotion

Pastor Steve Miller of Village Church in Dyer, Indiana was the guest speaker at my church yesterday and he had an interesting quote in his message. He quoted Bishop Handley Moule as saying that it is important to "beware equally of an undevotional theology and of an untheological devotion." I thought that the quote was really good and fit well into Pastor Miller's message. I would like to share a few thoughts regarding the quote over the next couple of days.

I did a bit of digging because I wanted to properly attribute the quote and it turns out that the quote only partially belongs to Bishop Moule. He said "beware of untheological devotion" and W. H. Griffith Thomas added "We must also beware of 'undevotional theology'" when he quoted Bishop Moule. It's one of those things that can easily happen with quotes and I often found the full quote attributed to Bishop Moule. Poor W. H., he didn't even get the proper attribution from someone like John Stott. At least he had one of those cool names that makes him sound impressive. (I think I am going to start going by M. D. Ignazio Mannino.) The quote is still a very good warning to us even if it doesn't fully belong to Bishop Moule.

There are two distinct warnings in this quote and I would like to start with the first one today. Bishop Moule warns us to beware of untheological devotion. Theology is one of those words that can scare people. It's like any other "-ology" word. We can easily be transported back to our high school and college days when we hear words like biology, sociology, psychology and imgoingtofailthisclassology. For the most part the "-ology" classes were hard (there are even classes that dodn't have the "-ology" in the name but but are feared "-ology" classes like chemistry and physics) and we took them often because we needed to. Who in their right mind willingly engages in serious otorhinolaryngology in their spare time? But theology–or the study of God–is something that we all engage in whether we realize it or not. Everyone has some thoughts about what is true or is not true about God. And we as Christians should be actively engaging in theology every day. We should be reading our Bible and contemplating what it is telling us about God on a daily basis. This is theological study and we cannot fall back on the excuses that it is too hard or that we are not smart enough or that it is only for those that go to seminary.

I realize that there is going to be a difference between the depth of study for different people but this does not excuse us from trying to learn and understand as much as possible about God. I have heard people say things like "I just believe" or "you just have to have faith" in response to things that should not be taken on this type of blind faith. They really are just excuses for not wanting to do the hard work of theology. (It is important to take a moment to point out that there are times where we have to just have faith in God. We all have certain things that have happened in our lives that we do not understand why God has allowed them to happen. We do not see how God is working in these circumstances and there are times that we "just have to have faith" that God is still in control and things will work out in the end.) Having faith does not mean that we do not have reasons for what we believe. The author of Hebrews tells us in the first verse of chapter 11:

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

Faith is not a blind hope; rather faith means that we have an assurance that the things we are hoping for will come to pass. In other words we have been made promises by God and we can know that they will come true because of his character. But if we don't do theology how do we know what promises have or have not been made by God? If we don't do theology then how do we know that God is trustworthy? We have to do some studying about God if we want answers to these questions. Think about it for a moment. Would you want to be devoted to a God that you know nothing about? Could you really be devoted to a God that you know nothing about?

Being untheological in our devotion means that we are going to have a hard time separating the truth about God from the lies. When this happens it is all to easy to be deceived and to start following a different god. When we start following a different god we are following a false god and that is a problem. Paul gives us this warning in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15:

"For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds."

There are false teachings about God that are disguised as truth. The only way that we can be assured that we are not devoting ourselves to these false teachings is to engage in the hard work of theology. When we don't we are walking down the dangerous path of untheological devotion.


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.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Succeeding at Failing

Pete Rose I saw a very interesting statistic while watching the Cubs game on Sunday. One of the allures to baseball is how statistics are used to define everything. The advanced statistics that they use to try and quantify the game of baseball are incredibly complex. I still like the basic or "old school" stats like Hits, Runs,RBI and so on. I am sure that things like WAR (wins above replacement) can tell you something interesting and important about the game. But the fact that there is no clear or standardized way to figure the stat makes it less valuable to me. Although it may also have something to do with the fact that I am somewhat of a baseball purist. The Designated Hitter needs to go and at least 6 teams need to be eliminated from the league. (Pick any six out of the perennial attendance laggards Baltimore, Cleveland, Kansas City, Miami, Oakland, Pittsburg, Tampa Bay, and Washington.) But I digress.

The interesting stat that I saw was the top ten all-time leaders in making outs. For those that are not real familiar with baseball making an out is when the batter fails to do what they were trying to do. This list showed the ten guys that experienced the most failure–in terms of hitting–as baseball players. Let me share that list with you:

  1. Pete Rose
  2. Hank Aaron
  3. Carl Yastrzemski
  4. Cal Ripken
  5. Eddie Murray
  6. Rickey Henderson
  7. Dave Winfield
  8. Robin Yount
  9. Omar Vizquel
  10. Brooks Robinson
I don't know if there is a single player on that list that I would not have wanted playing for the Cubs in their prime. All but Vizquel and Robinson ended up in the top twenty in other significant career statistics like Hits, Runs Scored, Runs Batted In, Home Runs and Stolen Bases. The career leader for each of those statistics (discounting Barry Bonds' home run record) is on this list. Eight of these guys are all in the Hall of Fame. And each of these guys played Major League Baseball for at least 20 years. So what this list means is that these guys failed a lot in order to also succeed a lot. In fact they were far more successful at failing than they were at succeeding.

How often are we willing to experience a lot of failure in order to succeed? How often do we allow our fear of failure to control our success?


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Making Heroes out of Criminals

Tim DeKay (on the left) and Matt Bomer (right)
One of the TV shows that my wife and I watch is called White Collar. Since we don't have cable we watch it via Netflix. We don't watch the normal "cops and robbers" shows like CSI; CSI: Vegas; CSI: Springfield; CSI: Antartica; CSI: Moonbase Alpha; CSI: Outback (it was the dingo); or CSI: Old Guy Pretending To Still Be Cool. We will watch the quirky ones–Psych being a good example–or even the ones that don't pretent to be reality based (CSI: Using Equipment And Techniques That Don't Really Exist Which Makes Real Law Enforcement Jobs Harder) which is where White Collar comes in.

The premise behind White Collar is "the unlikely crime-solving partnership between Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer), a charming con man turned consultant for the FBI, and Peter Burke (Tim DeKay), the Federal Agent charged with keeping him on the right side of the law." The idea is that Caffrey's extensive background as an art thief, forger and general con man gives Agent Burke the advantage in capturing other criminals. Caffrey is released from prison and put on home arrest. He has to wear a tracking anklet except when he is working a case undercover. Then alternate means of monitoring (wearing a wire or a gps enabled watch) is used. This doesn't prevent Caffrey from getting himself into illegal situations. He has a trusty sidekick–a fellow con man that has not been convicted–named Mozzy that helps Caffrey out on the cases but also helps keep Caffrey involved in illegal activities. For the most part Agent Burke works to keep Caffrey out of trouble and even tries to catch Caffrey when he suspects Caffrey in stealing a large amount of Nazi stolen treasure.

The stolen treasure ends up playing a pivotal role when it turns out to be the ransom demand for Agent Burke's kidnapped wife. The treasure (or at least half of it) is used to draw out the kidnapper (who is an "archenemy" of Caffrey) and everything seemingly works out. The kidnapper takes credit for stealing the treasure in the first place which gets Caffrey off the hook. Burke knows that Caffrey had the treasure (which was technically stolen by Mozzy) and it becomes a point of contention between the two. It all leads up to the Season 3 finale where Caffrey has a hearing to determine whether or not his sentence is commuted. It turns out that Burke–knowing that Caffrey was involved in the stealing of the treasure and other art work–testifies that Caffrey has become a valuable asset to the FBI and good citizen who should have his commuted. Of course this testimony comes just as Caffrey is cutting his tracking anklet and making another escape.

Up to this point I thought the struggle that Caffrey was having between being a reformed criminal and reverting back to his old ways was an interesting insight into what grounds a person. The more Caffrey became rooted through friendships and his work with the FBI the less Caffrey wanted to give that up and live a life on the run. That part I understood. But the turning of Agent Burke from being honest and straight forward to someone that was willing to cover up for Caffrey because the situation was working really bothered me.

What bothered me wasn't the fact that Burke was making a pragmatic choice. We make pragmatic choices every day. When we find something that works we usually stick with it and hold to the truth of the situation. It is where we get the saying, "If it isn't broke, don't fix it." What bothered me is that the elevation of someone that we would consider a criminal to the position of hero. But it was more than that. If we look at the heroes of the Bible (particularly those of the Old Testament) they were not always good guys. They lied, cheated, murdered, committed adultery and more. Yet they were still considered heroes. They all had to face the consequences of their sins. What really bothered me about the direction of White Collar is that it was designed for the viewer to root for Caffrey to get away with it. We don't want to see Caffrey arrested and put back in jail. We want to see things somehow work out without the consequences.

Unfortunately the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross tells us that the things we do wrong has consequences. Even when we receive forgiveness for our sins there was still a price that needed to be paid. There might not be an eternal consequence that we have to pay (there may be earthy ones) but someone still had to suffer the consequences. I think that it sets a bad tone when we start rooting for criminals (even fictional ones) to get away with their crimes. While they may escape the consequences for their crimes there is still a victim somewhere that has had their life negatively affected by the crime.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What about the Willow Creek Association?

Over the past couple of days I shared some reflections (Day 1 and Day 2) on the Willow Creek Association's Global Leadership Summit. Today I wanted to share some of my conflicted thoughts about Willow Creek. I think that it is important to differentiate between the Willow Creek Association and Willow Creek Community Church. I realize that this is like splitting a hair and then claiming that the two halves are different. But bear with me for a moment.

There really is an important difference between the two. One is a church and the other is an association of churches. While they are lead by the same people and one is an offshoot of the other, they have different functions. Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC) states that their mission is:
" turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ."
Where as the Willow Creek Association (WCA) states their mission is:
"To inspire and equip Christian leaders to lead transformation-minded churches."
There is a fundamental difference between the two. One exists to teach theology and doctrine while the other exists to teach Christian leaders how to lead. I might disagree with some of the theology and decision of WCCC but it is a whole different thing to recognize that there are things that I can learn from both WCCC and the WCA. It is also worth noting that there is a big difference between having former President Bill Clinton being interviewed about leadership during a WCA event (which happened) and having him address the congregation during a WCCC worship service (which did not happen). I wasn't at that interview and I have not seen a video or read a transcript. So I don't think that it would be completely fair for me to judge that particular event. It could be that it was a very bad move on the part of the WCA and Senior Pastor Bill Hybels. Although, in general, I don't have a problem with hearing from non-Christians speaking at Christian leadership development events.

At the risk of sounding heretical let me say that Christ is THE TRUTH and all truth comes from God but that does not mean that the church can claim to be the sole possessor of all truth. In order for that to be so we would have to claim that EVERY bit of discovery and knowledge uncovered outside of the church to be false. This doesn't mean that everything that the world holds to be true is in fact true. What this means is that there are always going to be things that the church can learn from the world. (I realize that saying this might put me at risk of waking up in the middle of the night to loud angry mobs with pitchforks and torches demanding my excommunication.) We can learn from those outside the church however we must carefully sift through and discern what is worth keeping and what needs to be discarded.

In the past I have learned solid leadership principles from non-Christian sources. When we look at examples of good leadership in the world we need to realize that they work because someone is following the truth of God whether or not they realize or acknowledge that he is the source of that truth. These leadership principles are not true because they work. They work because they are based upon the truth that God infused into the foundation of the world. Whether or not a physicist recognizes God as the author of the law of gravity does not change whether or not the law exists and works.

The Apostle Paul also recognized that there are things that we can learn from the world. His imagery of the Armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-18 was using the Roman soldier as an example of how we should equip ourselves. Paul is saying that we should not engage in spiritual battles without the proper equipment in the same way that the Roman soldiers would not think of going to war without their equipment. Paul also used the imagery of Olympic athletes in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. Paul is telling us that we need to have the same self-discipline as those athletes that win. I am sure that there are plenty of things about Roman soldiers and Olympic athletes that Paul wouldn't want us to emulate but that doesn't mean we can't learn from the good aspects.

And that is my approach to Willow Creek and the Global Leadership Summit. There is plenty good to learn and there is plenty bad to leave behind. And one of the side benefits to having non-Christian speakers come and speak at a Christian event is that we rub off on them. This past week we heard from a tearful Carly Fiorina of how she has come back to her faith in Jesus Christ as a result of her involvement with Willow Creek and Bill Hybels. We also heard how Jim Collins, who has been speaking at the Global Leadership Summit since 1997, is starting to very seriously explore Christianity. It sounds like he could make a commitment to becoming a Christian in the near future. I may have issues with Willow Creek on a theological and even an ideological level but I do not think that all that they do is reprobate or irredeemable.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Global Leadership Summit - Friday

Today I would like to continue sharing some of my thoughts on what I heard and learned at Willow Creek's Global Leadership Summit. Tomorrow I will share some overall thoughts on the Willow Creek Association (which can be somewhat differentiated from the Willow Creek Community Church) and on the Global Leadership Summit.

I was especially looking forward to Friday as it included one of my favorite preachers, John Ortberg. I have always appreciated his teaching ability and style. Although I have noted that my preaching professor would have found fault with his presentation–he reads too much leading to poor eye contact and he finishes his statements weakly by looking down–but other than that he is fine.

The day started with Patrick Lencioni who may have been tied with Craig Groeschel for the title of highest energy speaker. Interestingly Lencioni is an unabashed Christian in the business consulting world. While his work is primarily focused on the business world–most if not all of his positive examples were about Southwest Airlines–he easily adapts his work to the church because he is a Christian first and a business man second. The main focus of Lencioni's talk was about the importance of organizational health. In Lencioni's view there are two main factors for an organization or business. There is Organizational Smarts and Organizational Health.

Organizational Smarts includes things like strategy, marketing, finance and other "business school" stuff. In Lencioni's view it is only half of the business equation and yet receives 98% of the focus because it is easier and more quantifiable. Organizational Health is hard work yet can make the difference between a highly successful organization and one that crashes and burns. A healthy organization is one that has minimal internal politics and confusion; had high moral and productivity; and has a low turnover of key leadership personnel. Ironically while Organizational Smarts receives so much focus it takes good Organizational Health to fully tap into all of an organizations smarts.

The next two speakers–William Ury and Pranitha Timothy–were very interesting but I didn't take too much away in terms of applicable leadership skills. They had great stories to tell but were a bit weak on practical application. I did find Pranitha Timothy's stories of having the courage to lead in very difficult situations to be moving. It is one thing to claim to lead an organization through a difficult time. But it is a whole different thing to lead an organization that rescues slaves from forced labor in India. Every time she goes out on a rescue mission she may not come back. She has faced irate and armed business owners that will stop at almost nothing to keep their slaves. The next time I have to face a difficult situation in leadership I need to remember that I could be facing much worse.

Pastor Mario Vega then spoke about the need for integrity in leadership and the difficulty that we can face when we are trying to navigate through the tough consequences of leaders that lack integrity. There were three points that he made that stuck with me. The first is that when we allow a little moral failure into our lives we are opening the door for further moral failure. Once we start justifying small things it becomes easier to justify big things. The second is that, as leaders, we are not just responsible for our own actions but we are also responsible for the actions of those leaders below us. And the third is that there are defining moments in leadership that reveal our inner character. There is an absolute need for us to model and demand integrity.

The next session started with John Ortberg. What was interesting about Ortberg's talk was that it was not meant to be a talk giving leadership principles. Rather it was one of the greatest apologetics for Christ and the goodness that has resulted in the world due to his teaching and his followers. I cannot wait to read his new book: Who Is This Man.

The session concluded with an interview with Geoffrey Canada. He was so interesting that I ended up fixated on the discussion and didn't take any notes. One of his key leadership principles that he shared was the importance of replacing poor workers as soon as possible. He noted that they can be very hard working and very likable but just may not be a good fit for the position. These are tough but necessary decisions to make.

Bill Hybels closed out the Summit talking about integrity which he has done in almost every Summit that I have been to. Integrity on all fronts may be the most important attribute of a leader especially leaders in the church.

It was a good learning experience and I really enjoyed the atmosphere. We were blessed by the music of Gungor and Kevin Olusola throughout the Summit which just added to the overall experience.


Friday, August 10, 2012

The Global Leadership Summit - Thursday

I have the good fortune of being able to take advantage of an extra pass to this year's Global Leadership Summit that is put on by the Willow Creek Association. I will share some thoughts on the nature of the conference and the Willow Creek Association next week when I have more time to write but today I wanted to share some thoughts about what I heard and learned yesterday. My goal was to post this yesterday but I decided to spend time with my wife rather than blog before we went to bed. I apologize in advance for the quick and shallow nature of what I am writing today. I have a very short time-frame to write this morning.

Bill Hybels is the senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church and the Willow Creek Association Chairman of the Board. He has been the opening speaker of every Global Leadership Summit that I have been to and this year was no different. His talk was really four different talks all rolled into one where he hit on different topics that were loosely related and centered around leadership. He started out with the Parable of the Sower as found in Luke 8:4-8. He didn't go into a great exegetical explanation of the passage but that wasn't the intent. What he did was pick out that the parable has a 75% failure rate. The sower threw seeds and some landed on the path, some on the rocky soil, some on the weedy soil and some on the good soil. Only the seed that landed on the good soil (1 out of 4 types of soil) actually grew into flourishing crop. The point is that if we want to see more good crop grow in our churches or organizations then we need to sow more seed. He went on to share how we as the leaders need to set the tone for sowing more seed in our organizations. 

The second session started off with former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. I had heard her in sound bites from the news but I had not heard her speak in length. Now I understand why people keep calling for her to be Mitt Romney's Vice Presidential candidate. She would have my vote no matter what office she ran for. One of her main points was that as a leader you cannot just lead others but rather you need to help others realize their own leadership qualities. We can't just create a nation of followers but we need to build up other leaders.

Jim Collins finished off the second session and it is easy to see why he was one of the most popular teachers at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He covered his research into what made leaders ultra successful. The three qualities that they found to be common among all of those leaders is Fanatical Discipline, Empirical Creativity and Productive Paranoia. For me the idea of Fanatical Discipline was the key to the whole talk. Fanatical Discipline is the discipline to have the discipline to keep to a consistency of action regardless of the circumstances. You push through on the tough days and you don't over do it on the easy days. That way you always are moving forward and you have enough reserve for when you hit great difficulty.

The third session had Marc Kielburger and Sheryl WuDunn. They were interesting but spoke more about their social justice work than leadership.

Finally the fourth session featured pastor Craig Groeschel. He spoke very well about the need to reconcile the older generation of leadership with the younger generation. He didn't put the blame for the disconnect on one of the generations but on both. He gave three keys to bridging the gap. The first is that we need to create intentional feedback loops that include a wide range of people. The second is to create specific mentoring moments. And the third is to create opportunities for significant leadership development.

So far the event has been very good and this is all I have time to share right now. I will share more and in depth in upcoming blog posts.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Silver isn't good enough

Despite NBC's best efforts to ruin the experience, my wife and I have been enjoying the London Olympics over the past week. I know that some people have been upset with the tape delay of major events. But that has not bothered me much simply because those stubborn Brits refuse to play the games in the middle of the night to accommodate our prime time. What has bothered me is that NBC covers only certain events on the main network. So for those of us that don't have cable we get to watch a lot of beach volleyball but no team handball, soccer or field hockey. The other thing that really got me going was NBC showing an add for the Today show that gave away the Missy Franklin's win in the 100m backstroke that they were just about to show. Nothing takes away the excitement of watching a sporting event when you already know the outcome.

But I digress.

Sunday we were watching the Women's Vault finals. We had not followed much of the women's gymnastics (which is quite a misnomer when you consider the age of the gymnasts) but knew that the U.S. had a good team. We missed the team winning the team all-around gold medal and Gabby Douglas winning the individual all-around gold medal. We were however looking forward to McKayla Maroney's vault final after seeing the replays of her near perfect vault in the team final. For those that are following the Olympics you know that Maroney almost nailed her first and signature vault in the Finals. There was a little hop in the landing but not enough to drastically hurt her score. As she lined up for her second vault one of the NBC commentators said, "She just needs to put it to her feet." Maroney promptly landed on her bum. The commentators said that she was the closest thing to a sure gold medal both before and after her stumble to which my wife turned to me and said, "There is no such thing as a sure thing."

And in human terms she's right.

My friend Brad did a good job covering how God is a sure thing just last week. But when it comes to us as human beings we are fatally flawed. We are imperfect. That is why the sure thing of McKayla Maroney's gold medal win was not a sure thing.

The Apostle Paul draws on the Olympic Games as an illustration to how we should live our lives in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:
"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified."
There is a serious amount of training that an Olympic athlete must undergo in order to compete at the highest level. Paul knew that and it is interesting that he compared that amount of training to living a life dedicated to following Christ. I've played enough sports over the years to know that it can be easy to confuse (or even fool yourself) the difference between putting in a high level effort and giving it your all when it comes to practice and training. The question is whether or not we are actually putting that type of effort into our walk with God. Am I really dedicating my life to God the way that I should or am I coasting and thinking the effort is good enough? Paul gives us a great list of the attributes of living a Godly life in Galatians 5:22-23:
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law."
Everything on that list is something that can be worked on. Some people might naturally be more adept at some of those things than others. But even those things that come fairly easy to us can be improved. Does anyone love perfectly, have perfect joy or perfect patience? These are things that we should be actively working on developing and we should be doing so with the same dedication and effort that we see in our Olympic athletes. There will be times when we try to exercise gentleness and we fall flat on our bum. But that doesn't mean that we should give up. McKayla Maroney was obviously not pleased with her result. For her winning the silver was not good enough. Hopefully it spurs her on to do even better the next time around. Whenever we fall short we should not simply say, "Well I tried and did my best. That is good enough." We should be resolute to work harder and to do better next time around.

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.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Reacting to trouble

"How are you?" may be one of the most common and most disingenuous questions that we ask. Sometimes we ask without really wanting an answer; it has become a replacement phrase for "hello." I have often participated in conversations that go something like this:

"Hey, how are you?"
"Good. You?"
"Oh, you know. Same old, same old."

Or like this:

"Hey, how are you?"

"Hey?" That's really an answer? At least the first conversation pretends to engage the question. Full disclosure: I have not just heard the answer "hey" but have used it myself. I don't recall having someone answer "hey" and being offended by it. In my experience we get (and give) the level of answer that is expected. But of course there are also plenty of times that the question is meant to elicit a deeper response. But how often do we really want to share how we are doing? I guilty of having a canned response no matter how things are going. If things are going good the response is usually, "good." If things are going rough the response might be, "not bad." If things are crashing down around me the response might be, "not too bad."

I think that my response is due to a couple of reasons. The first is our individualistic culture and private nature. There are certain things that we all hold as private. The topics and amount of information may change from person to person but we all have things that we will not share. The second reason is our pride. We generally want people to think well of us and usually don't want people's pity. (On a side note, there can be times when we share our troubles for the sake of pride as well. We can get a sense of pride when we share just how difficult we have it.) Both reasons come down to our desire to control how others see us. In the day of social media we have even more control over how we are perceived by others. (I've written on this before here and here.)

I think that another reason that I respond this way is because of the perception that I am supposed to react this way. It is very easy to read Matthew 8:23-27 and scoff at the disciples reaction:

"And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, 'Save us, Lord; we are perishing.' And he said to them, 'Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?' Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, 'What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?'"

Some of the guys on this boat were fishermen. They made their living by being on the sea and I am sure that this is not the first time that they faced a storm. I am sure that they would know when a storm was just a storm and when to be afraid of sinking. Yet Jesus rebuked them for having little faith and being afraid of the waves. So one of the lessons that we take away from this story is that we should never be afraid of a storm–no matter how bad it seems–when we have Jesus on our side. Buck up. Put on your happy face because no matter how terrible things are going we are "not too bad."

Yet most of us face things in life that look like real crises. They may in face be real crises and near impossible to put on a happy face. There are times when it takes all of our strength just to say that things are "not too bad." So why do we try?

Notice that the storm that the disciples faced was very real. Their fear was also very real. It was so real that they cried out to Jesus to save them. There are times in life that crying out to God is the only thing that we can do. But this doesn't guarantee that the storm will be calmed. Jesus tells us as much in John 16:33:

"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."

There are times when we are going to face trouble; real trouble. And when we fear the worst we can take heart in the fact that no matter what we face in this world that we have a Savior that has faced just as much as we will ever face. He might not get rid of all of our trouble but in the end–in the life after this one–he will more than get rid of our troubles. We do not need to be afraid of calling out to him for help. It is the first thing that we should do. What we shouldn't do is put on a false front and simply answer "not too bad" when we are asked how things are going.


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.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

The End of a Chapter in Life

A number of weeks ago my wife and I had to make a very difficult decision. As you may know I graduated from seminary last year and I am in the process of looking for a pastoral position in a church. When I started this process I was a member of the Reformed Church in America. I attended a Reformed Church, was a youth pastor in a Reformed Church and was attending a Reformed Church Seminary. As I went through this process it became clearer and clearer that I did not fit into the Reformed Church theological system. We knew that we would not be looking to serve in the RCA and that I would not be seeking ordination in the RCA. The problem was that we had been in our church for quite some time and we have very good friends in the church. We knew that we would eventually need to change our church affiliation but hoped that it would come after I found a church to serve in. However it became clear earlier this summer that it was probably best for us and the search process to make that change sooner rather than later.

For the past 7 weeks we have been attending and are now starting to volunteer at Village Church of Oak Park. It is a new church plant and part of the Evangelical Free Church of America. We don't know if we will end up in the EFCA but the theological beliefs of the EFCA align with our beliefs. While we are excited about being a part of a church plant and the new learning experience that it provides, it means that we have to say some very difficult good-byes. Our friends at Faith Community Reformed Church will always be our friends and we hope to stay in contact with them for the rest of our lives. But the reality of the situation is that we will no longer see them multiple times a week and the nature of our relationships will necessarily change. Even considering our belief differences with the RCA we would still recommend Faith Community Reformed Church to anyone living in the Stickney/Lyons/Berwyn area that is looking for a good church home and has a Reformed theological bent.

We have just sent a letter to the people of Faith to officially let them know of our decision. (The pastor and elders had previously been informed.) I want to take a moment and recognize the important role that the people of Faith have played in our lives. They made us a part of their families and invited us into their homes. They have also supported us throughout our seminary experience. We feel that the church is heading in a good direction and is really making a positive impact in the surrounding neighborhood. I especially want to highlight the impact of Pastor Chris and those that served as elders and deacons during our time at Faith. We are deeply indebted to their generosity and the opportunities that you provided for us. They didn't provide the minimums that I needed. Rather they were always willing to give more.

The chapter of our life that is entitled "Faith Community Reformed Church" is being closed. But it will never be forgotten and we will always look back on it with great fondness. We cannot thank the people of Faith enough and we will always have a special place in our hearts for you.


Updated 8/1/2012: Changed "Reformed Church of America" to "Reformed Church in America."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Just what are we teaching our young girls?

It is amazing how quickly one week away turned into three. Let me start with just a brief catch-up note. Initially I was only going to have one week away from blogging during the Fourth of July week. My wife and I usually join my family for a long weekend at the lake. So I figured that I wouldn't get much writing in. But then the week we came back I officiated over my very first wedding. It was pretty exciting because it was for one of my former youth group kids. Then I spent most of last week answering doctrinal questions on an application for a Senior Pastor position. Some of you might cringe at answering questions on Baptism, The Lord's Supper, church governance/discipline and Spiritual Gifts but once I start I sometimes have a hard time quitting. But now I am back to my regularly scheduled blog post.

Last week I came across an interesting but disturbing article entitled: Why 6-Year-Old Girls Want to Be Sexy. The article starts off with a fairly ominous statement:

"Most girls as young as 6 are already beginning to think of themselves as sex objects, according to a new study of elementary school-age kids in the Midwest."

Researchers from Knox College in Galesburg, IL showed a couple of paper dolls to girls that were between 6 and 9 years old. Both dolls were dressed in clothes that would be considered fashionable. One was dressed in a modest way and the other was dressed like a sexy Bratz doll. The results are quite disturbing:

"Across-the-board, girls chose the "sexy" doll most often. The results were significant in two categories: 68 percent of the girls said the doll looked how she wanted to look, and 72 percent said she was more popular than the non-sexy doll."

I don't know that it really is all that stunning that almost three quarters of 6 to 9-year-olds identify dressing sexy with being popular. For those that do find it surprising might I suggest a quick perusal of pop culture that includes a look at MTV. But what is interesting (and again not all that stunning when you really think about the issue) is that media consumption and desire to dress sexy is not the primary correlation that we might suppose.

"Media consumption alone didn't influence girls to prefer the sexy doll. But girls who watched a lot of TV and movies and who had mothers who reported self-objectifying tendencies, such as worrying about their clothes and appearance many times a day, in the study were more likely to say the sexy doll was popular.

"The authors suggest that the media or moms who sexualize women may predispose girls toward objectifying themselves; then, the other factor (mom or media) reinforces the messages, amplifying the effect. On the other hand, mothers who reported often using TV and movies as teaching moments about bad behaviors and unrealistic scenarios were much less likely to have daughters who said they looked like the sexy doll. The power of maternal instruction during media viewing may explain why every additional hour of TV- or movie-watching actually decreased the odds by 7 percent that a girl would choose the sexy doll as popular, Starr said. "As maternal TV instruction served as a protective factor for sexualization, it’s possible that higher media usage simply allowed for more instruction.""

The influence of a mother–for good or bad–may be one of the most important aspects of the development of young girls. The article also found that a mother's religious beliefs also positively influenced the girls but that it wasn't due to a "media blackout."

"However, girls who didn’t consume a lot of media but who had religious mothers were much more likely to say they wanted to look like the sexy doll. "This pattern of results may reflect a case of 'forbidden fruit' or reactance, whereby young girls who are overprotected from the perceived ills of media by highly religious parents … begin to idealize the forbidden due to their underexposure," the authors wrote. Another possibility is that mothers of girls who displayed sexualized attitudes and behaviors had responded by restricting the amount of TV and movies their daughters could watch. Regardless, the authors underlined, "low media consumption is not a silver bullet" against early self-sexualization in girls."

What seems to be the most important aspect is when a mother takes the time to teach their daughters about what they encounter in both media and popular culture. It is important for parents to understand and explain the problems that come with the sexual objectification of women with their daughters even at a young age. This isn't a new idea and is how God designed the parent/child relationship to work. Proverbs 22:6 says:

"Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it."

For good or bad what parents teach their children will be even more powerful than anything that pop culture, the media or anyone else tries to teach your children. The only time that those other voices will have a bigger impact is when parents–through both their actions and inaction–"teach" their children need to learn from someone else.


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.


Friday, June 29, 2012

Coriolanus and King James

Last night my wife and I decided to rent a movie. So we watched a few trailers and decided on a movie named Coriolanus. It looked like a fascinating story of a man that was rejected by the country he fought for, banished and ends up having to join forces with his mortal enemy. It had Ralph Fiennes (playing the main character Caius Martius Coriolanus) and Gerard Butler (playing his arch enemy Tullus Aufidius) starring as two of main characters with a great supporting cast. At the very end of the trailer a headline flashed that made it known that the movie was based on the Shakespeare play of the same name. So now I am really stoked. It looks like a good action movie with a great cast and the underpinnings of a solid story. So we rented it.

What could go wrong?

The movie was set in a modern version of Rome and the opening scenes were flashes of news reports that looked eerily similar to the recent riots in Greece. The parallels of the movie to modern day happenings make the movie look even more interesting. The first real scene has an angry mob marching on a government controlled food depot. So were are getting right into it.

What could go wrong?

Then we hit the first lines of dialogue:

Second Citizen: Before we proceed any further, hear me speak. You are all resolved rather to die than to famish?
Gathered Citizens: Resolved.
Second Citizen: First, you know Caius Martius is chief enemy to the people.
Gathered Citizens: We know it.
First Citizen: Let us kill him. And we'll have corn at our own price.
Second Citizen: We are accounted poor citizens, the patricians of good. The leanness that afflicts us, the object of our misery, our suffering, is a gain to them.
Gathered Citizens: Aye.
Second Citizen: Let us revenge this with our sticks, ere we become rakes.
First Citizen: No more talking on it. Come!

Uh oh. I'm starting to get an idea of what could go wrong. Who speaks like that? It became very difficult to follow what was going on. Further into the movie we were treated to this gem:

Tullus Aufidius: What's thy name?
Caius Martius Coriolanus: A name unmusical to the Volscians' ears, and harsh in sound to thine.
Tullus Aufidius: Say... what's thy name? Thou has a grim appearance. What's thy name?
Caius Martius Coriolanus: Know'st thou me yet?
Tullus Aufidius: I know thee not. Thy name?
Caius Martius Coriolanus: My name is Caius Martius, who hath done to thee particularly, and to all the Volsces, great hurt and mischief. Thereto witness my surname... Coriolanus. Only that name remains. The cruelty and envy of the people who have all forsook me, hath devoured the rest and suffered me by the voice of slaves, be whooped out of Rome. Now this extremity hath brought me to thy hearth. Not out of hope, mistake me not to save my life. For if I had feared death, of all men in the world I would have avoided thee. But, in mere spite, to be full quit of those my banishers, stand I before thee here. I will fight against my cankered country with the spleen of all the under fiends. But if thou dares not this, then I present my throat to thee and to thy ancient malice. Which not to cut would show thee but a fool, since I have ever followed thee with hate, and cannot live but to thy shame, unless it be to do thee service.

Don't get me wrong. Reading dialogue like this is nothing like trying to decipher it on the fly in the context of a movie. When I read it I can understand it but it isn't quite a clear as it could be. In a movie it was near impossible to understand what was actually being said. It seems silly to me to update every aspect of the movie but the dialogue. In this movie the dialogue is what really tells us what is going on. Isn't the point of a modern telling of a Shakespeare play to help modern viewers understand better?

It is the very same reason that most churches and Christians no longer use the 1611 King James version of the Bible. The whole point of modern versions is so that modern readers can better understand what the Bible is saying. But then as a church we can still get caught up using "insider" language that ends up confusing those outside of the church. That doesn't mean that we should stop using terms like justification and sanctification. What it means is that we need to be very intentional about clarifying and defining the terms that we use so that even those outside the church can easily follow our dialogue.


Movie quotes are from


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What Kind of God Would Condemn People to Eternal Torment?

I came across an interesting article by Pastor Tim Challies last week. He deals with what I think is one of the toughest questions that skeptics ask. "How could God send people to hell forever?" Pastor Challies starts off by turning the question on it's head:

"How can you believe in a God who would condemn people to suffer the torments of hell eternally? I reply with a question of my own: 'How can you believe in a God who would not?'

"To ask the first question is to fundamentally misunderstand the very nature of God; it is to re-form God in the image of man, because here’s the thing: If you want a God who is good—truly good—and if you want a God who is just and holy, then you must have this God, this God who condemns people to suffer the eternal torments of hell. You cannot have the God you want unless there is a hell.

"You cannot have a God who is all-knowing and all-powerful and so very good. God’s goodness doesn’t negate eternal punishment in hell; it demands it."

He then goes on to explain why this punishment needs to be eternal, torment and conscious. I don't like his assessment even though I agree theologically with it. The doctrine of Hell is one of the hardest and most disheartening aspects of Christianity. It is probably the first thing that I would change about Christianity if it were up to me. But it is not.

Pastor Challies goes on to explain that we want a God that is good and treats people with justice and grace but that in order to have that type of God we must also have a holy God. God's goodness is an extension of his holiness. And I think that this is not just something that is a theological point but is also intuitive. Could we expect a God that was not holy to be good? Do we expect good things from bad people? No. This means that ultimate goodness can only come from ultimate holiness.

"The holiness of God demands that He remain separate from sin, that those who commit sin must be kept out of His presence. How could such holiness mingle with such impurity? Holiness flees from sin. They are incompatible, irreconcilable. And so sinners must be cast out, and they must be kept out of God’s presence."

The final point that Pastor Challies makes is to explain exactly what we are protesting against when we protest God sending people to hell:

"When you cry out against a God who punishes people in a place like hell, you cry out against the God who has revealed Himself in the pages of Scripture. You cry out against His goodness, holiness, and justice; and all the while you minimize your own sinfulness or the sinfulness of others. Those who understand hell best, those who grasp it most deeply, are those with the greatest sense that they deserve to be there. They marvel at the grace that has called them from that place to a place that is far, far better—infinitely better!

"To wish away eternity in hell is to wish away eternity in heaven. It is not that they exist in some kind of mutual dependence so that one can only exist alongside the other. But sin demands eternal punishment, while grace calls for eternal love and joy, the re-establishment of the good and holy relationship that our Creator intended to enjoy with us forever. How can I believe in a God who condemns people to hell? I must believe in this God, for He poured out the punishment of hell on Jesus Christ through whom I have hope."

The doctrine of Hell is not a pleasant one but it is a necessary one that we cannot avoid thinking about.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The day I became a "picture choosing" expert.

One of the pieces of information that churches sometimes ask for from candidates during their pastoral search is the story of how they came to have faith in Jesus. This morning I was working on my story and I thought that I would share a bit of it here.

I don’t remember all of the exact details of my confession of faith in Christ. That is not to say that I don't remember what happened. There are a few details that I don't quite remember. For example when I was about 7 years old I said something to my parents about wanting to accept Jesus into my heart. I don't quite remember exactly what I said or what prompted me to say something. All I know is that what ever I said caused my parents to have the pastor of our church come over to talk to me. I do clearly remember him coming over and talking to me. I remember it because at first I thought I was in trouble. I was playing in my room and all of a sudden our pastor and my mom walked in. My mom said, "Pastor Hargrove wants to talk to you..." What an ominous way to start a conversation with a 7 year old. It was rather intimidating. He sat on the edge of my bed and my mom was standing in my doorway. I do not recall the content of that conversation but what ever I said satisfied both my parents and the pastor that I was making a genuine confession of faith in Jesus.

The next Sunday I went forward during the Invitation portion of the service and made my confession public. I can still vividly remember the scene. We were a part of a church plant which was meeting in a grade school gym. I knew that I was supposed to go forward during the Invitation and this meant that I was not able to go to the normal children's service. I had to sit still through the whole service and it seemed like it would never end. Finally the pastor finished and he invited anyone that wanted to put their faith in Jesus to come forward. I went forward along with a few other people. I stood up a bit straighter as I walked forward without my mom even having to say anything. Then the few of us that came forward went and stood in the back.

When I got to the back my attention was immediately grabbed by a table of pictures from the latest youth group happening. I was so intrigued by the pictures that I didn't notice when the service ended. All of a sudden a whole lot of of people started to come up and talking to me. Which is sort of odd for a 7 year old; most of the time someone was just telling us kids to stop running. So I took the full advantage of my audience and pointed out which of the youth group pictures were my favorites. And to my surprise and delight every one kept coming up to me and telling me that I had made a great decision. Some of them didn't even need to take the time to look at the pictures. They just trusted that I was picking the best ones. It was right then and there that I decided that I was a "picture choosing" expert.

Of course now I realize that I am not a "picture choosing" expert. But I still made the greatest decision of my life that morning. It would take many more years and a lot of growing to even start to grasp the depth of that decision. Looking back and knowing what I know now, I have come to realize that I would still make that same decision.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Did Pharaoh have a choice?

The first fourteen chapters of the book of Exodus are set up as a clash between the true God of Israel and the false gods of Egypt. On the one side is God demanding that Pharaoh release the Israelites and on the other side is Pharaoh hardening his heart and refusing to obey. But did Pharaoh have a choice?

Exodus 4:21 seems to say that he did not:

"And the LORD said to Moses, 'When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.'"

It really seems like God is causing Pharaoh's heart to be hardened. Does this mean that Pharaoh was not making the choice to keep the Israelites captive? And if that is the case then how does God hold Pharaoh accountable for something that he is being forced to do?

The real question comes down to that of free will. How much free will did Pharaoh have in this matter?

Greg Koukl addresses this very same question as it relates to salvation. He frames the question this way:

"I think a vital question at this point is what does it mean for a decision to be free? This is a question that many people have never really thought about carefully because they think they understand that there are only simple and obvious alternatives: We are either determined, puppets on a string making mechanical decisions completely dictated from the outside like one domino falling against the other, or we’re not determined and we’re completely free with all choices available to us. If the choice for salvation is ours, as the Bible seems to indicate in many places, then we must be free and not determined. But Calvinism teaches, and it’s because the Bible also seems to indicate in many places, that the choice is God’s and He decides who is going to be saved and, therefore, it seems that Calvinists do not believe in freedom. Instead, they believe in determinism."

What Mr. Koukl is saying is that we often think about either having free choice or being forced to do something in terms of being opposites of each other. But he points out that free choice isn't only having a decision to make between different options:

"This suggests that there are two different ways for an act to be free. One, an act is free if we choose it ourselves. In other words, it’s our choice. The only condition for this kind of freedom is that we make the decision. Nobody is forcing us. There isn’t some force on the outside that requires us to act this way. We are free on the single condition that we choose the thing we choose of our own will and volition. That’s one sense of freedom.

"The other sense of freedom has that condition to it, but adds another condition. In the second sense of freedom, an act is free if we choose it and, the second condition, we could have done otherwise. Philosophers call that libertarian freedom, although there is some debate about the nature of that term. Generally, an act isn’t free unless we choose it and we could have done otherwise."

He goes on to say:

"Our hearts are set against God. Our wills are inclined against Him. It’s not that we cannot choose God, that some external thing is preventing us from exercising our choice...It’s that we will not choose God because our own desires incline us against that choice. We are steadfastly and immovably in defiance of God"

It is our very nature to be disobedient to God. We choose to be disobedient because of our nature. This means that we may have no choice except to choose disobedience but it is still our free choice. The same is true for Pharaoh. The hardening of Pharaoh's heart is not what caused him to be disobedient to God. It was already Pharaoh's nature to be disobedient to God. There are a number of passages that make it clear that Pharaoh hardened his own heart as well (see here, here and here). The hardening of Pharaoh's heart (whether done by God or Pharaoh) was making the already present disobedience resolute.


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, June 19, 2012


I have been blogging nearly every weekday for almost 10 months now. I really enjoy it. I love to write. However the past month or so it has become harder and harder for me to do. And this has meant that I have been far less consistent with my posting. What I think that I need to do is to cut down on how much I post over the summer. So I have come up with a summer schedule.

Over the rest of the summer I will be posting about three times a week. My plan is to post on Tuesday through Thursday. The only variation to this plan is that I will not be posting during the first week of July, a week to be determined in August and the first week in September.

Then I will start back up with a full schedule in the fall. Thank you all for taking the time to read my blog. I really appreciate it and I hope that God is providing something through it.

Does a wolf in sheepskin know it's a wolf?

When I was getting ready for church this past week I had an odd thought. It was just as I was putting on my shoes and that I was thinking about the idea of wolves in sheep's clothing. It was a rather odd thought before going to church and in no way reflects on how I view the church we were going to or the pastor. It was just one of those random thoughts that came at an odd time. If anything it reflected how I think that my wife and I have been blessed to attend churches where we didn't have to deal with a pastor that taught theology that was dangerous.

The idea of a wolf in sheep's clothing–how we would currently understand the saying–originates from Matthew 7:15-20 and not Aesop. Jesus said the following in the Sermon on the Mount:

"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits."

It turns out that this passage is another one of those passages (see Noah and Abraham for other examples) that has been shaped by our culture. I remember watching "Ralph the Wolf and Sam the Sheepdog" cartoons as a part of the Bugs Bunny show when I was young. The premise of these cartoons was that Ralph the Wolf was always trying to steal a sheep by using various plots which often included using a disguise. A key part of the plot was that both Ralph the Wolf and Sam the Sheepdog were obviously aware that Ralph was a wolf using disguises. Ralph might have been using a disguise but he still acted like a wolf.

The thought that I had this past Sunday was how subtle–but substantial–errors can create bigger problems for solid theology than outright and obvious attacks. I don't think that Jesus was talking about a situation like what we see with Ralph the Wolf. Jesus was talking about something far more subtle which is evident by the comparison to fruit trees. I don't have a lot of experience with fruit trees but we did have an apple tree in our back yard when I was a kid. I remember when we planted it. It was a small tree but I still expected it to produce apples right away. It took years and years before it finally produced apples. It took so long that I started to think that there were the apple trees that produced apples and there were the apple trees that didn't produce apples. What I didn't realize was just how long it took for an apple tree to start producing apples.

I think that the same is true for any wolf that comes disguised in sheepskin. It might take a while to really tell that they are a wolf. In fact the wolf might even buy into their own disguise. These are the types of wolves that are really dangerous. I really think that these subtle–but substantial–errors do not come from people that are intentionally and actively trying to deceive people but come from people that are deceived. I really think that this is what Jesus had in mind when he warned us about wolves in sheep's clothing as evidenced by what he said next in Matthew 7:21-23:

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'"

We can't just assume that we will recognize Ralph the Wolf because he will be obviously trying to trick us. No, seeing the wolf will be difficult. It will require a lot of attention to detail along with a good and accurate understanding of the Bible. If we don't put out the effort we may not realize that we have a wolf in our midst until it is entirely too late.


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.


Art by Dave Armstrong. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.



Thursday, June 14, 2012

Anger and Shame

"One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, 'Why do you strike your companion?' He answered, 'Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?' Then Moses was afraid, and thought, 'Surely the thing is known.' When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. And he sat down by a well."
–Exodus 2:11-15

Moses thought he was alone. He took the time to look around and see if anyone was watching which speaks to the premeditated aspect of his act. His anger towards the Egyptian that was mistreating the Hebrew might have started off as an act of passion. But Moses didn't act out of that passion rather he acted out of something deeper. He acted out of a deep hatred for the way that the Egyptian people were treating the Israelites. And I think that it is very easy to understand that hatred as a one that might even be righteous. There was an injustice in the way that the Egyptian people were treating the Israelites and who wouldn't be angry about that.

The book of Exodus starts off by telling us that the Egyptians no longer remembered all that Joseph did to save Egypt from a great famine. Exodus 1:8-14 says:

"Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, 'Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.' Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves."

But it didn't end there. Exodus 1:15-22 continues:

"Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 'When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.' But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, 'Why have you done this, and let the male children live?' The midwives said to Pharaoh, 'Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.' So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, 'Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.'"

So not only were the Egyptian people oppressing the Israelites in forced labor but they were also actively trying to kill all of the Israelites' male babies. This is genocide and so it makes it easy to understand Moses' deep anger towards the Egyptians. We instinctively recoil when we think of the atrocities in Rwanda, Cambodia, Sudan and Darfur just to name a few recent examples. I was so angry that I wanted to lash out at the TV when I was watching Hotel Rwanda. So it is no wonder that Moses lashed out when he was watching an Egyptian beating a Hebrew.

But the fact that Moses looked around before acting is a pretty good indicator that he knew that what he was doing wasn't the right thing. Now this is not to say that force–including deadly force–to stop genocide and oppression is wrong. Quite often it is the only way to stop those that are perpetrating these crimes. But there is a difference between fighting back and a single act of revenge. Moses was taking revenge. And it is also likely that Moses was acting out of shame as well as anger. Moses was living as an Egyptian. He had been adopted by Pharaoh's daughter when he was a baby. Moses was living as a prince of Egypt while his fellow Hebrews were being oppressed by the Egyptians.

This story from Moses life is a good reminder that anger and shame are very powerful emotions that can cause us to lash out in very inappropriate ways. We need to constantly be aware of what emotions are driving us which is often much easier said than done. It is through the help of the Holy Spirit that we can act out of patience and self-control instead of anger and shame.


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.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Blessing of Ephraim

Last week I noted how Esau's willingness to forgive Jacob was an act of incredible strength. Yesterday I was reading the story of Jacob's last moments on earth. I thought back to the trouble between Jacob and Esau when Jacob's blessed Joseph's sons. Let me do a quick recap of what has happened between Jacob facing Esau and Jacob blessing Joseph's sons:

Jacob favored his son Joseph over his other brothers and gave him a fancy coat. Joseph bragged about his dreaming of his brothers and parents bowing down to him. Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery, ripped his fancy coat, covered it in blood and let their father believe Joseph was dead. Joseph's brother Judah impregnates his daughter-in-law...but that is a story for another day. Joseph became successful while working for Potiphar but Potiphar's wife had the hots for Joseph so Joseph ended up getting thrown into prison. Joseph is eventually freed through interpreting dreams for the baker, cup bearer and Pharaoh. Pharaoh put Joseph in charge and there was a great famine. Only Egypt had food and it was under control of Joseph. Joseph's brothers came and bought food from Joseph but didn't recognized him. Joseph worked it out to get his whole family to Egypt, they were given choice land and everyone lived happily ever after...sort of.

Whew. Ten chapters in ten (sometimes run-on) sentences.

Jacob starts to near death and so Joseph brings his sons to Jacob (aka Israel) to be blessed by him:

"And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel's left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel's right hand, and brought them near him."

Now it is important to know that Manasseh is the older of the two and therefore was to be given the better blessing which would be signified by placing the right hand on his head. But Jacob had a different idea:

"And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn)."

It is clear that Jacob purposely gave the better blessing to Ephraim by crossing his hands. It wasn't a simple mistake of grabbing the wrong boy's head. Jacob even says as much when Joseph confronts him over it. It is almost the same thing that caused all the problems between Jacob and Esau. Jacob was the younger brother and stole his older brother Esau's blessing. But in this situation the blessing of the younger son was intentional.

What I find interesting is that Joseph was a beneficiary of preferential treatment. He was treated by Jacob as if he was a first born child even when he was not. Yet he objects to Jacob treating Ephraim as the first born over Manasseh. It is an instance of where Joseph was willing to accept the preferential treatment when he was younger but then saw it differently when he was older. It is a cautionary tale of how our perspectives may change as we mature. It is also a good example of how patterns in a family tend to repeat.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Is Inerrancy of the Bible Necessary?

I came across this interesting video by Greg Koukl that explains how the inerrancy of the Bible is both unnecessary for the truth of Christianity and extremely important for Christianity at the same time.



Hopefully this stirs some thoughts.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Second Chance Art

My sister-in-law Amy is a great artist. She takes old doors, windows and other furniture items and turns them in to beautiful pieces of art. She describes her art this way:

"Second Chance Art & Accessories® incorporates vintage finds into unique art and accessories for the home. As a result, beautiful old things are saved from the dumpster... and great new items are created.

"Because the majority of our art is created from recycled and vintage items, each piece is truly one of a kind. Designs and themes may be repeated, but most pieces are made from authentic salvaged items. For this reason, our pieces may not be for everyone. However, if you love the character of old vintage things - you may just love Second Chance Art & Accessories® !"

The description of the art or the process of creating it does not fully capture the beauty of the finished product. Even photos do not fully do justice to her works. Her work is something that really needs to be seen in person. The transformation of old things that are ready to be (or already have been) discarded into something that people showcase in their homes and places of business just adds to the beauty. It also hints at a Biblical theme which my brother and Amy are well aware of:

"We take inspiration from the Bible, which explains that Jesus Christ is the son of God. Because of what Jesus did for us, we can choose to become a new creation and have eternal life. 2 Corinthians 5:17: 'Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!' We believe that ordinary things can be transformed into something great. Like people, our starting materials have their defects and quirks - but can be transformed into something new."

Amy's art will never be confused with a brand new item from a store. There is an obvious vintage quality that is contained in each piece of art. There are times that she even uses the old look to enhance the beauty of a piece. Some items are not sanded down and stained or repainted; they are left with their world-worn appearance. Some items are sanded just enough so that all the previous attempts to cover up an old item show through. These items might have three, four or more layers of old paint that become visible.

The same is true with how God turns us into something new when we place our faith in Jesus Christ. We may be made new but we are not necessarily made perfect–at least not on this side of heaven. We still carry our scars; we may have a world-worn appearance; and we may have previous attempts to cover up our old self still evident. But we have been made into something new; something beautiful. We are not finished products but then we are still in the hands of the artist. One day, when we get to heaven, we will be perfectly shaped by God.

Check out one of these shows to see Amy's art in person.


2 Corinthians 5:17 quoted from: THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.