Sunday, September 30, 2007

Phillies Win the N.L. East!

Life can be tough when you are a Philadelphia Phillies fan. I should know, for I have been one since I was a small child. Earlier this season the Phillies became the first professional sports franchise to lose a total of 10,000 games. 10,000! They have only won one championship in over 100 years of existence (at least I got to see that one on TV when I was 9 years old). The Phils are usually out of the playoff race by May or June. This year is different. Today was the final day of the regular season, and the Phillies won the National League Eastern Division. This is the first time they have made the playoffs since 1993. I don't have any great hopes for a World Series win; I'm just thrilled they made the playoffs. Go Phils!

"We're Non-Practicing Christians"

When we returned home from India in March, we moved in with my parents for a few weeks. We quickly noticed that they had new neighbors living upstairs from them (they reside in a two-story condo). The neighbors seemed like very nice people, and even gave Bobby several books to keep him entertained during his weeks in the hospital.

One day I wandered to the back of the condo to look out over the marsh in coastal Georgia. When I turned around to go back inside, I glanced upward at the neighbor's porch. I couldn't believe what was there - a two foot tall statue of Ganesh, one of the main gods of the Hindu pantheon.

Keep in mind that we had just left the home of Hinduism. Statues and idols of false gods permeate the city where we lived in India. We had gotten used to seeing them there. I was not, however, expecting to see that statue above my parents' home.

We later had the opportunity to visit with the nice folks upstairs. As we looked around their home, we saw not only Ganesh, but also another false god - Shiva. That one is particularly disturbing to us because Shiva forms 1/3 of the false Hindu trinity along with Vishnu and Brahma. Shiva is also the primary false god that is worshiped in our former Indian city.

We inquired about the Ganesh and Shiva idols. The new neighbor lady said to us, "We're non-practicing Christians. We have the Hindu idols because they're good, too." At the time I didn't know what to say. We want to build a relationship before getting into any sort of confrontation. I must say that I was less stunned by the presence of the idols than I was by the term "non-practicing Christian."

As far as I can tell from reading the bible, a person is either a Christian or he is not. There is no middle ground. Therefore, there cannot actually be any "non-practicing Christians." This is an example of how people in our country are increasingly inventing religious beliefs in order to both make themselves feel good, and allow themselves to do whatever they want to do.

Ganesh and Shiva are evil, plain and simple. Are they actually demons? This I do not know. However, I'm certain that they are demonic in nature. The spiritual hold that they have over people in India is amazing. Apparently they have hold of my parents' new neighbors as well.

When people claim to be "non-practicing Christians," and also have idols of two Hindu false gods in their home, what they really are is Hindus. They are in desperate need of the gospel.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Who's Been a Calvinist?

As a Calvinist, I am thrilled to see a resurgence of interest in Reformed Theology in our country. As a Baptist, I am very happy that this is also occurring within Baptist circles. Why am I pleased about this? I'm thrilled because I believe the Doctrines of Grace to be biblical; it's as simple as that.

One interesting aspect to all of this is that those who oppose Reformed Theology do not like to look back at the historical "Who's Who" of Calvinism. The fact remains, however, that most of the greatest Protestant minds between the Reformation and the early 1900's were adherents of Calvinism. Even the first great missionaries were Calvinistic.

I have no idea what caused the lapse into Arminianism by many Baptists and others about 100 years ago. I'm just glad to see the tide turning again.

It is helpful to actually look at the names of those who have held to the Doctrines of Grace before us. For an excellent article that provides a listing of many of the great Protestants (and Calvinists) since the Reformation, click here.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Jamestown, VA 400 Years Later

For about the past week we have visited with family and friends in North Carolina and Virginia. On Monday, we had the opportunity to visit the Jamestown, VA historic site. Jamestown was the first lasting English settlement in North America, so it obviously has great historic significance for our country. Also, this happens to be the 400th anniversary of the settlement, so the folks there are making a big deal about it.

The actual Jamestown site is mostly trees today. We visited a Jamestown recreated settlement that is located close by. When we first entered the fort, my initial thought was, "This doesn't seem like any big deal." Then I remembered that it was a very small fort with few settlers in 1607. So, of course, it was no big deal. I cannot imagine how difficult their lives were 400 years ago.

The pictures you see here come from the recreated Jamestown fort, Native American village, and ships that the settlers arrived in. Our three kids (Caroline, Mary, and Bobby) are in different photos. The silly picture of me at the top of this post was taken in the recreated church pulpit inside the fort. We had a great deal of fun comparing the 1607 church building with the comfortable churches of today.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

If I Had a Church Exactly the Way I Wanted it...

We are in the middle of a wonderful trip to see family and friends in North Carolina and Virginia. This past weekend we spent a couple of great days with friends from Messiah Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. A special "thank you" goes out to Alan and Margaret Knox, our great friends who let us stay at their home.

Messiah Baptist does things differently than most churches in the USA. Messiah has no paid pastor, no senior pastor, does not own a building, and has no Sunday School. Spending time with this church family got me thinking about what a church would be like if it was exactly the way I wanted it. Hmmmmm....

If a church existed that was exactly how I wanted it to be, the primary focus would be proclaiming the glory of God inside and outside the church. The church would be about relationships, and have few programs. Personal responsibility to live out the Christian walk would be emphasized. Correct belief and correct action would be stressed in equal measure.

This church would hold to strong convictions, never compromising on the truth of the gospel. The church would also try to be as biblical as possible on other issues not directly related to the basics of the gospel message. However, we would also stress unity to the point of not being dogmatic over those issues.

Christians (those who accept Jesus Christ alone as Lord and Savior) would be welcome to join with us. We would strive to include all those who call upon Christ as Lord. For example, all visiting believers would be welcome to participate in the Lord's Supper with us.

Baptism would be performed for believers only, although other types of baptism would be accepted for membership. The meaning of the Lord's Supper would fall somewhere between Luther's view and Zwingli's. We will take Calvin's position.

As for structure, this church (exactly the way I want it) would meet regularly as a body - probably twice a week. Meetings could only take place in a home. Smaller groups could also meet at other times during the week. Personal discipleship would be a primary focus at all times.

Whenever the church size reached thirty people, it would immediately split into two smaller bodies. This would keep things intimate, and also would lead to churches planting churches, which is a great way to reach the lost.

This church would be completely family integrated - no splitting out into age-related groupings. Members would all help care for the little ones so that the mothers would have some time to listen to what was happening.

As for leadership, everyone would be responsible for helping everyone else grow to maturity in Christ. The body would select elders from among themselves. The elders would be called "elders," not "pastors." Jesus Christ would be seen as the only senior elder/pastor. The elders would strive to be servant leaders, serving the body with no one but Christ as the head. One of the elders might be paid in order to give him additional time to put together sermons, but I could go either way on this. I would be one of the elders.

The church would never go into debt of more than 1% of the total value of what it owns/has in the bank.

As for giving, the church (exactly the way I want it) should give away, in total, 50% of whatever comes in. Of this money, one-half of it will go straight to the International Mission Board of the SBC. The remainder of the money will go toward helping those who have need inside and outside the body.

Regarding evangelism, there would be no program directly for this. Instead, the members of the body would share their faith as they went about their lives.

Home-schooling would be encouraged, but not demanded, of course.

The music would be a mix of classic hymns and solid praise choruses.

Finally, regarding eschatology, the church would hold to a post-tribulation, pre-millennial view.

The problem with this particular church, which is exactly the way I would want it, is that it doesn't exist. In fact, if I tried to plant a church like this, I would probably end up the only member (I do hope my family would join, so I guess that would make five of us).

Because people make up the church, we will have differences of opinion, different comfort levels, and different preferences. If you even put ten people together, you will get hundreds of different combinations of desires about the issues raised above.

So what are we to do? What did Christ want for His church? In John 17:20-21, Jesus prayed, "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me."

How do we do this? How can we all be "one" when we have different desires about how things should go in the church?

The only conclusion I can come to is that we be dogmatic about the heart of the gospel. In all other issues, let's be humble about what we teach, let's strive for unity whenever possible, and let's be willing to sacrifice our own desires for the good of the body.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Lymphoma, Missions, and the Sovereignty of God

Later today, we will be going out of town for a few days to visit family and friends in North Carolina and Virginia. Two of those friends are bloggers: Alan Knox and Mael Disseau. I will probably not have access to the internet; therefore, I'd like to give a brief update on how our family is doing right now.

As many of you know, we were serving in Asia with the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). We were in the middle of culture shock/cultural adjustment/language learning when we noticed a lump on the side of our son Bobby's neck. After trips to multiple doctors, we were finally given a preliminary diagnosis of Lymphoma. We quickly packed up all we could and flew back to the US on March 1st.

After meeting with pediatric oncology specialists here in Savannah, Bobby was given a diagnosis of Diffuse Large B-cell Lymphoma. We spent much of March to May in the hospital as Bobby received multiple chemotherapy treatments. After a PET scan on May 30, we received the great news that Bobby was cancer-free.

After several months of just trying to get his strength back (including a Make-A-Wish trip to San Diego - see the photo above of us on the USS Ronald Reagan), Bobby had another PET scan. This occurred a few weeks ago. The results of that scan were not exactly what we had been hoping and praying for. We have been told that the PET scan showed two areas of swelling in Bobby's tonsil region. We would like to think that these are just some sort of infection, but Bobby has been taking an anti-biotic for some time, so an infection is not likely.

So what are the swellings? We don't know yet. Bobby's oncologist has suggested to us that we wait two months and then have another PET scan. The reason for this is that after a person has chemotherapy, the lymph system often rebounds and swells. However, once the person reaches six months out from the last chemotherapy, the swelling should have stopped occurring. In other words, if the swelling is still there in November, then we could be looking at a relapse into Lymphoma.

As far as the IMB goes, we are somewhat confused and discouraged right now. We realize that Bobby needs a clear PET scan before we can return overseas. We asked the IMB that we be able to transfer to a different region of the world where Bobby could receive better medical care than our part of Asia. We were thinking either Spain or Argentina because both have good medical care, and the primary language is Spanish. Alice is fluent in Spanish from growing up in Puerto Rico; this would reduce our adjustment time to a new culture. Spain may have a Roman Catholic influence, but it is only 1% evangelical Christian.

Unfortunately, we have been told by the IMB that we cannot transfer to another region. This is based on a policy (I'm not sure which one), and the decision was made by people fairly high up in the Board (I'm not sure who). We, therefore, have been given two options: return to Asia or resign from the IMB. We accept this decision, but are also saddened by it. We either have to take our son where he won't get, at least in our opinion, adequate medical care, or we have to leave the IMB. Neither option is one we like.

We are not sure what we are going to do now. In some ways it is exciting because we are wide-open to whatever the Lord wants. However, it is also difficult to feel so unsettled. Our plan now is to wait two months and see what the results of the next PET scan are. If Bobby is relapsing, then we will enter back into hospital life. If he is not, then we will move in one of several possible directions. The possibilities include returning to Asia with the IMB, looking to go overseas with a different sending agency, remaining in the US with me pastoring a church, or remaining in the US with me working a regular job and us getting actively involved in a local church.

In the midst of this situation, we have been forced to rest in the sovereignty of our good and gracious God. We have by no means displayed perfect faith, but God has sustained us nonetheless. He has faithfully answered the prayers of so many people over the past seven months. In our imperfection, He has been perfect.

In light of what has happened and what is happening, I echo Habakkuk's cry in 3:17-19, "Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Does Mode Really Matter?

When it comes to the ordinance of baptism, does the mode really matter? In other words, is it really critical how the baptism takes place? Is there any significance to whether or not the mode is immersion (submerging the entire body in water), affusion (pouring water over the head), or aspersion (sprinkling water over the head)?

My desire is that this post be a discussion of this one specific question. We will not be delving into whether or not the person has to be saved prior to baptism; thus, we will not be discussing infant baptism at all. I'm assuming here that the person coming to be baptized is already a believer in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. After this person gives a public profession of faith, does it then matter what mode of baptism takes place?

Is this even an important matter? Is it really worth a blog post, or was there just nothing better to write about? I do think it is important because some folks separate over this issue. Baptists, in particular, require that anyone joining their local church be immersed. So, if this issue is worth separating over for some individuals, then it certainly seems like it is worth blogging about.

As a Baptist myself, my first inclination is to answer the question I have posed here with a resounding "YES!" However, a better method is to begin with scripture as our authority and go from there.

Let's begin with Matthew 28:19-20. These are well-known verses because these are the final words of the book of Matthew and are often labeled "The Great Commission." In these verses, Jesus makes it clear that as part of making disciples, His followers should "baptize" them. This word comes from the Greek word "baptidzo," and is generally accepted to mean "to immerse, dip, or plunge." As we would expect, all scholars are not even in agreement over this definition.

In Mark 1:4-5, we read that John the Baptist was baptizing in the Jordan River.

Later in that same chapter (Mark 1:9-10), we see Jesus coming to John to be baptized. The text tells us that Jesus, "came up out of the water."

In John 3:23, we read of John the Baptist baptizing "because water was plentiful there."

In the eighth chapter of Acts, we read the account of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. The text (Acts 8:36-39) tells us that they "went down into the water" and they "came up out of the water."

*Much of this information comes from Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994).

In light of all of the above passages, it seems that the method of baptism used in New Testament times was that of immersion. I do not know personally of anyone who would argue this point.

One other important issue is that when a person is immersed, it is symbolic of his union with Christ in death, burial, and resurrection. Romans 6:3-4 makes this clear.

So far we have seen two things. First, Jesus gave a command for his disciples to be baptized. This seems to mean immersion, but there is some disagreement over this. Second, the mode of baptism in bible times clearly appears to have been immersion.

Moving on from there, let's go back to our original question: does the mode of baptism really matter? Without trying to dodge the question, I believe an appropriate answer is "yes and no."

I think the mode is certainly important when we are discussing what we teach within the church. In order to be fair to the biblical text, we need to understand that the weight of the evidence falls on the side of immersion. We should not just tell the church body that they can simply make up their own minds based upon personal preference (like choosing a flavor of ice cream), and imply that the bible does not matter. Beyond teaching, the very mode we adhere to in the local church is important. Due to the biblical evidence, we should encourage immersion.

However, I think that the mode of baptism should not matter when it comes to church membership. Let's say that someone wants to join a Baptist church after having moved to a new town. Maybe he attended a Presbyterian church where he used to live. For this example, let's say that he came to Christ as a teenager, publically professed faith in Jesus, and then was sprinkled in front of the church. Should the Baptist church refuse him membership because he was not immersed? Should the Baptists tell him that his first baptism "didn't count" because he was sprinkled? I do not believe so.

Jesus cared too much about the unity of His body on earth to allow baptism to stand in the way of unity. In John 17:20-23, Jesus clearly states in his prayer to His Father just how much He desires unity for His church. Our Lord uses very strong words in His "High Priestly Prayer" to emphasize the importance of unity.

Baptism should be a celebration of belief in Christ rather than a reason for division. So why should we divide? Is there ever any reason? What is the dividing point? In seems that scripturally the only dividing point is between believers and non-believers (see Galatians 1:8-9, here dealing specifically with false teachers).

So, does the mode of baptism matter? Yes, for teaching and practice in the local church. No, for church membership.

I do not claim to be an expert on this topic. I would like to hear your ideas on this. Do you agree or disagree? Why?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Why I'm Attracted to ARBCA

My previous post focused on why I am still a part of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Despite this, I have to admit that I am attracted to the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America (ARBCA). Tonight I had the opportunity to preach at Ephesus Church in Rincon, GA. Ephesus, a member of ARBCA, has been praying for our family for the past year. I greatly enjoyed preaching from I Chronicles 16:8-36. The folks there were very sweet to us, encouraging us all evening. The spaghetti dinner after the service was a nice bonus.

Some readers may ask, "What is ARBCA?" There is a general misconception among some people that all Baptists are Southern Baptists, American Baptists, or Independent Baptists. Although these three groups are large, they do not make up all of the Baptist groups in America. Some Baptists are even Reformed, which means holding to the 5 "solas" of the Reformation.

So what is ARBCA? It is an association of Baptist churches that hold to the same confession of faith, the 1689 London Confession. There are currently fewer than 100 churches in ARBCA, but that number is gradually increasing. The purpose, according to the association website, is to, "advance Christ's kingdom by providing a fellowship in which churches of common confession may find mutual encouragement, assistance, edification, and counsel, and participate in cooperative efforts such as home and foreign missions, ministerial training, and publications, along with other such endeavors deemed appropriate by the Association."

I do not claim to be an expert on ARBCA, but this is what I have seen so far.

Why am I attracted to ARBCA? What advantages does it have compared to the SBC? There are three things that stand out. First, ARBCA is so much smaller than the SBC that it does not have the feel of a large corporation. Also, with fewer than 100 churches, meetings among members do not have to have the atmosphere of a large convention.

Second, the ARBCA leadership is not stuck in a perpetual wartime mentality. Ever since the Conservative Resurgence of the late 1970s and 1980s, the SBC has been, to one degree or another, at war. Even though the battle for the bible has been won in the SBC, it seems that people are still fighting about something all the time. For now, the disputes are over speaking in tongues, Calvinism, and the ordinance of baptism itself. Unless there is a fundamental change in the attitude of the SBC leadership, the squabbles will just be about something else five or ten years from now. ARBCA appears to be an association of united churches.

Third, I like the 1689 London Confession much more than the Baptist Faith & Message 2000. This is quite simple really. The 1689 Confession is much more Reformed in content than is the BF&M 2000. You probably know by now that I am (choose your label) a Calvinist, Reformed, and hold to the Doctrines of Grace. Also, the 1689 Confession is more specific than the BF&M 2000. This, naturally, lends itself to fewer debates and disagreements over interpretation.

In case you are wondering, ARBCA also assists local ARBCA churches in sending out missionaries to foreign lands (yes, it is possible to be Reformed, Evangelistic, and consistent all at the same time).

Because ARBCA is small, it does not yet have a seminary. I consider this to be a mixed blessing because it forces the local churches to do all they can to educate their young men who have a passion for teaching and preaching.

As I have said before, I do believe the SBC is doing some good, especially in the area of international missions. If it was not, I would no longer be part of it. However, the SBC could learn some things from ARBCA, especially in the area of unity.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Why I'm Still in the Southern Baptist Convention

I've heard a lot of talk lately of young men who are leaving the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). I cannot possibly mention all of their reasons for leaving (for one thing, I'm not aware of all of their reasons), but I know that many are disillusioned by all of the politics and arguing that seem to permeate much of the SBC leadership. For others, the SBC has just gotten too large. Others simply no longer see any reason for the SBC.

I have recently given a great deal of thought to this issue. We as a family are in an odd spot because we are currently home from the mission field for my son to receive treatment for his cancer. Because of this, we are not closely associated with any one church. This has allowed me to step back from any emotional ties I might have to any one particular SBC church, and examine whether or not I want to remain a part of the SBC.

Let me please state that I am very pleased that the SBC places a strong emphasis on the gospel message in particular, and on a literal interpretation of scripture in general. However, there are other, smaller Baptist denominations and associations that do this, too. Therefore, I don't have to remain in the SBC to remain biblical (Sorry to all my Presbyterian friends out there; I really like some things about the PCA, but I just can't get past infant baptism).

As is obvious from previous posts here, I am a Calvinist. I believe the Doctrines of Grace are biblical. However, many in leadership positions within the SBC are either afraid of Calvinism or just plain don't like it (this is ironic since The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is now the largest SBC seminary and is also Calvinistic). Why should I bother remaining in a denomination that, in general, is not welcoming to Reformed theology? There are certainly Reformed Baptist associations, such as ARBCA, I could be a part of.

At this point, I'd like to list several things that I think need to change within the SBC. Then I'll tell you why I have, at least for now, chosen to still be a part of the SBC.

There are three things that I believe are in critical need of reform (please excuse the pun) within the SBC. First, the convention needs to define what it is and what it is not. In other words, how similar do the churches have to be in order to be a part of the SBC? Do they all have to agree on all secondary issues? Do they have to agree on all tertiary issues? What issues are worth separating over, if any? I propose that the SBC revise the BF&M 2000, and clearly state what it means to be in the SBC. On a related topic, I hope we can accept diversity of thought on non-essential issues.

Second, the SBC needs to attempt to do away with the "warfare mentality" that has permeated convention leadership ever since the late 1970's. I do think the "Conservative Resurgence" was necessary at its time. However, almost all the liberals are now gone from the SBC. Let's stop bickering over minute details and unite around the gospel. I'd like to thank current SBC president Frank Page for his leadership of unity.

Third, the SBC should downsize as quickly as is possible. The local church is able to do, and should be doing, much of what the SBC is taking care of right now. I can quickly think of three agencies that the SBC should move to gradually eliminate. The first is Lifeway. The local church can and should be teaching scripture to its members. We do not need all of the other resources that Lifeway puts forth every month. Another agency that the SBC could disband would be the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). We as a convention need to get farther away from politics. This country will be saved by the grace and hope of Christ, not by our jumping into the back pocket of the Republican party. In fact, we often turn-off unbelievers because they hear about what we are against but not what we are for. A third agency that is not necessary is the North American Mission Board (NAMB). Local churches can work together to plant churches all around this country. I want to be clear here: Lifeway, the ERLC, and NAMB are all doing some good. However, they also cost a lot of money to operate. I would like to see that money remain in the hands of the local churches, and put these responsibilities on their shoulders.

So, in light of these changes that need to take place and the problems that the SBC faces, why stay in the Southern Baptist Convention?

I have two specific reasons for remaining a part of the SBC. These are also the only two reasons why I think the SBC should even exist any longer. First, and primarily, the SBC is doing a very solid job in the area of international missions. I can speak from experience in this matter. I believe the International Mission Board's (IMB) focus on unreached people groups (UPGs) is the correct one. I also agree with their philosophy of church planting. In going through the IMB candidate process, I can tell you that we were well-prepared. Related to this is the fact that many of our SBC local churches are too small to be effectively involved in international missions by themselves. These churches may be able to send mission teams overseas on short-term trips, but they would struggle to support families full-time. In general, I applaud the efforts of the IMB.

A second reason for the existence of the SBC (and the second reason I remain in the SBC) is that the six SBC seminaries offer solid theological educations at less than 50% of the cost of most of the other evangelical seminaries in the USA. For example, an M.Div. at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary will cost about $2,600 per semester for Southern Baptists. In comparison, an M.Div. at Gordon-Conwell Seminary costs about $6,600 per semester, while the same degree at Westminster Seminary runs about $5,500 (Click here to find out more about that). Why is this important? If a denomination cannot fill its pulpits, and some are having difficulty doing this, then its churches will struggle. Now, I realize that an argument can be made that the local church should be providing theological training, and that the seminaries should be done away with. While I hope that eventually occurs, I don't think we are in any position to do that right now as a convention.

To summarize, the SBC needs a lot of work. I hope all Southern Baptists will work toward unity around the gospel within the convention. I hope we can all tolerate diversity of thought on non-essential issues. Let's do away with some of the bulk of the SBC, especially agencies that are doing what the local church should be responsible for. Let's keep the SBC together primarily for the cause of international missions, and secondarily for the the reason of providing solid and affordable theological education.

Who's on Your Blog Right Now?

Do you want to know who is looking at your blog right now? Do you want to know where they are from? If you do, you can easily install both a counter (like the one pictured here), and/or a map that displays where people are located who are currently looking at your blog. If you are interested, click here. Don't worry, it's free.


It appears that age is slowly creeping up on me. A few years ago I actually ran in a marathon - and finished! Amazingly, I even beat the goal time I had set for myself (3 hours, 27 minutes finish time). Yes, my body felt absolutely horrible over the last few miles of that race, but it was worth it. My weight was where I wanted it to be at that time, and my body felt good.

Alas, a lot can happen in a few years. My weight is now quite a bit higher than it used to be. My right knee, as shown to me on an X-ray, now has less cartilage than it should. One doctor in India even recommended to me that I stop distance running. On top of that, I am now closer to 40 than 30.

I am now determined to drop this weight so I can feel good again physically. We're not talking about a 150 pound loss, but more like a 30 pound reduction. How best to do this in our current situation? The best answer for me is still to get out early in the morning and "pound the pavement."

For any of you who have either hit the big 40 or are approaching it, you can probably empathize with me. My body just doesn't work as well as it used to (of course, it would work much better with 30 fewer pounds hanging on it!) Running just isn't as fun as it used to be. I can't seem to roll out of bed and get going. I now have to walk for a 1/3 of a mile or so before I can begin running.

Despite this situation, I am determined to keep running and lose this weight. One nice thing remains: the runner's high. I still enjoy the great feeling I get after I have been running for about two miles. Unfortunately, this usually disappears and turns into either pain or exhaustion by mile number four.

Let me encourage you if you are in a similar situation. Try to find something you enjoy doing that can either help you get in shape or stay in shape. It does not have to be a sport. Just do something that gets you moving. Try doing something with a friend; that will make it much more enjoyable. Whatever you do, do something! You will feel much better physically, and will be more physically and mentally alert.

So how much longer will I run? I'm not sure. I will say, though, that cycling is looking better all the time. Whatever I choose to do, I know I'm going to keep moving.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

God's Covenant, Abraham, and the USA

Genesis 12:1-3 says: Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (ESV)

Today we are reminded of the terrible attacks on our country of 9/11/2001. That was certainly an awful and society-changing day for the United States. We can thank God, however, that we rarely have to deal with massive tragedies in our country. All we have to do is watch the world news on CNN to see nightmare after nightmare taking place in the third world. Things here never seem to be as bad as they could be. Why is this the case?

Why is our country (the USA) so blessed by God?

How are we blessed? Let me count a few of the ways:
-We have had a Christian heritage (from the very beginning).
-We are still free to worship God however we please.
-We can openly proclaim the gospel message.
-We are not forced to worship false gods.
-Compared to much of the world, we have a good climate.
-We have no routine, yearly natural disasters.
-Our country can feed itself.
-We have huge amounts of natural resources.
-No diseases consistently ravage our country.
-We have very good medical care.
-We have almost no problem with real poverty.
-We are relatively safe from enemy attack.
-We have the strongest military in the world.
-We have easy transportation from place to place.
-We have a democratic process in government.

So, why are we blessed? We certainly don't deserve it. As a society, we have in general turned away from the Lord. Many of the ideals that our country was founded upon are now ignored by our government. God is no longer allowed in our public schools. Evolution has become accepted by the intelligentsia as an unquestionable fact. Homosexuality is now seen by many as normal, or even preferable. Promiscuity is hardly even discussed as a problem inside or outside the church. In light of these and many other issues, why does God continue to bless the USA?

God has made no promises to the United States. He has made no covenant with the USA. So why is He continuing to bless us now?

I strongly believe it is for one reason: we continue to be Israel's only real ally. Look again at Genesis 12:1-3: Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (ESV)

This is clearly a statement of God's blessing upon Abraham and his descendants. The key for this post is the first part of verse three. The text reads, "I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse."

God's covenant has no end. God is always faithful to His covenant. This means, then, that God will bless those who bless Abraham (and his descendants). Today, Abraham is Israel. We, the USA, bless Israel by being its ally and defender. This is the sole reason I can see that God blesses our country.

What will happen to our country if we turn away from Israel? The USA is not mentioned in the book of Revelation. Therefore, it appears that we eventually turn away from Israel as an ally.

While we are alive and can have a say in the matter, may we continue to encourage our government to ally with Israel that we may, as a country, be blessed by the Lord.

Let us also pray, as Paul did, for the salvation of Abraham's descendants. In Romans 10:1, Paul says, "Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them (the Jewish people) is that they may be saved."

Monday, September 10, 2007

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Sunday, September 9, 2007

Putting the Horse Back in Front of the Cart

Why do we do this? We sometimes get the cart before the horse in various areas of our lives. This is particularly true in the way we proclaim the gospel to the world.

Much of the lost world (at least in the USA) looks at the church and sees us teaching that the world needs to live differently. They watch TV and see Christians speaking out against abortion, gay marriage, gambling, etc. The message the lost often take from the church is that if they would just start "living better," then God would be pleased.

This moralistic message offers no hope and no attraction. People trapped by sin do not need to hear that they must live better. Instead, they must hear a message that offers real hope. The true gospel, after all, is a great message of hope.

Most of the large religions of the world (such as Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and, at least to some degree, Catholicism) teach the same message: start behaving well, and god (or gods in Hinduism) may be pleased. By this, you could earn a place in some type of heaven. When we lived in India, we would see people every day going to temple to try to appease the gods. The Hindus would perform some sort of puja (worship) by ringing a bell, offering flowers or food, prostrating themselves, and/or chanting. It is all designed to earn favor.

Biblical Christianity, on the other hand, makes it clear that no one can earn salvation. All are lost in sin. Jesus Christ, however, came as the perfect sacrifice for sin. All are invited to be saved from the wrath of God by accepting Him as Lord and Savior. Titus 2:13 refers to Jesus as our "blessed hope."

We need to concentrate on getting the horse back in front of the cart. It seems to me that we must, in trying to reach the lost for Christ, speak louder about the grace of God, about the hope Christ offers, and about what he has done for us in rescuing us from the wrath we deserve. It also appears that we need to spend less time telling the lost world how to live differently.

II Cor. 4:3-4 tells us, "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (ESV)

Eph. 2:1-3 says, "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience - among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." (ESV)

These are familiar verses to most of us. What do we see? Paul is clear that unbelievers are "blinded" and "(spiritually) dead." The one who does not know Christ is utterly lost and cannot even understand spiritual things.

Does this have any significance for evangelism? Yes, it does. If we begin by telling the lost that they need to, in essence, "shape up," this will get us no where. However, if we begin by offering the only real message of hope to those who have none, then they will most likely be much more willing to listen.

After the lost person understands the gospel message, then we can begin the discipleship process of teaching them about Jesus' expectations for how they should live. Once this person accepts Christ as Lord and Savior, then he will fully understand why he should live differently.

I am in no way suggesting that we should ignore sin in the gospel presentation. Without sin, there would be no need for the gospel.

However, I am saying that our message of hope must come before our demand that people behave in a biblical manner. Let's put the horse (the gospel of hope) back in front of the cart (behavioral expectations).

Friday, September 7, 2007

Let Them See the Gospel

When people look at me, what do they see? When people look at you, what do they see? I hope they see the Gospel.

John 13:34-35 has been weighing on me lately. In this passage, Jesus says, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (ESV)

During His last night with His disciples, Jesus gave this three-fold command. He tells them "to love one another" three times. Our Lord was clearly trying to make a point.

First, Jesus gives the command to love one another. Then, He refines this by telling them to love one another as He has loved them. This is staggering considering that He was about to head to the cross. Finally, Jesus says that if they love one another as He has loved them, then all people will know that they are His disciples.

This is extremely important for evangelism. Jesus makes it clear that our love for one another will cause others to know that we follow Him. This, then, will open up a door to share the Gospel message. If people see that we are different (because we are followers of Christ), then they may be interested in why we believe and live differently than the world does.

Before Jesus ever gave this command to His disciples, he lived it out. For example, in Matthew 4:23, we read, "And he (Jesus) went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people."

Matthew 9:35 tells us, "And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction."

The pattern that Jesus gave was of loving service (healing) that accompanied His proclamation of and teaching of the Gospel. People saw His love, and thus were willing to listen to His message.

So when people see me, do they see Christ? Do they see the Gospel? I'm afraid that most of the time they do not. What do they see? Well, they probably see someone that they would label a "good person" by the world's standards because I treat my family decently, go to church, and don't drink alcohol or smoke. However, that is not going to cause the world to sit up and take notice.

In the USA, many of our current church evangelism strategies teach us how to proclaim the gospel by telling our stories and quoting some scripture. I see nothing wrong with this, but if it is not accompanied by loving service then it will likely not lead to a person being willing to listen to a Gospel presentation. This may be why door-to-door evangelism is so ineffective.

So, how can the world see the Gospel in me? It is simple really - by loving others. When I use the word "love" here, I am not employing the modern American meaning of some sort of warm feeling. Rather, in the bible, love is clearly an action that shows itself in service toward others. That said, I can cause others to see the Gospel in me by showing love through serving them.

This is not complicated. We all have people in our neighborhoods that need help. We should help because it is the right thing to do. But we should also hope and pray that the service we render will cause non-Christians to ask why we have done so.

Then they will do more than see the Gospel; they will also get a chance to hear it.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

A Calvinist: Why?

John Newton, who penned the great hymn "Amazing Grace," was asked if he was a Calvinist (believing in the Doctrines of Grace). His response is one that I think is very appropriate. Being a Calvinist myself, I wish I was as eloquent as Newton in telling others why I believe what I do. Click here to read Newton's response to this question.

I realize that the issue of Calvinism can be one that raises people's blood pressure fairly quickly. From time to time I will be bringing up the topic on this blog. I hope that we can have a lively and respectful discussion about issues such as the sovereignty of God, man's responsibility, election, the gospel call, evangelism/missions, etc. I sincerely desire that we can all be stretched by searching the scriptures to find the truth about how all these topics fit together. By the way, Arminians, along with Calvinists, are invited to these discussions, as are folks whose views might fall somewhere in the middle of the Arminian-Calvinist spectrum. Remember, the key for all of us is how to best understand what the bible says. I'm looking forward to learning.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Reflecting on San Diego

As I think back on our trip to San Diego, three things in particular come to mind. They all relate to missions and evangelism. First, San Diego is almost too nice. I realize that when you are on vacation almost any place can look nice. San Diego, however, goes beyond that. The weather is almost always sunny and warm. It is almost never too hot or too cold. Palm trees line the streets. The beach is within a ten minute drive. The mountains are an easy drive away. If you want to explore another country, Mexico sits close by. Los Angeles is close, but not too close. San Francisco is still far away (that is a good thing). Multiple amusement parks (Sea World, Legoland, etc.) are available. The best zoo in the country sits right in the city. Even the best running back in the world (LaDainian Tomlinson) plays for your team, and he's nice, too (we got to meet him briefly). San Diego is just too nice. I wonder if this makes it frustrating to witness to others about Christ. For most lost people, if their lives are going along well, why should they bother turning to the Lord? It seems that if a person has little or is facing a crisis, then they are much more willing to hear a testimony about our Lord. I wonder if the incredible beauty and pleasantness of San Diego lulls people into a false sense of peace.

Second, San Diego is an interesting place because it is such mix of different ethnicities. Whites, blacks, Latinos, and Asians all mix together in fairly large numbers. This was very apparent to me at Legoland. We were waiting in line for some sort of ride when I glanced around. The line was composed of roughly 35% Latinos, 15% Asians, 15% blacks, and 35% whites. It was fascinating to watch such a large mix of people from different backgrounds all trying to get on a kids ride. This mix reminded me that heaven will look a lot like this (except for the sweat part of the line). In heaven there will be people from every tribe and tongue worshiping God together. It will be a beautiful sight to behold.

Third, like anywhere else in the world, most of the folks who call San Diego home do not know the Lord. They are currently lost and without hope. What should we do? Can we learn one method of sharing our faith (such as F.A.I.T.H., E.E., etc.) and hope that it works with people from all different races? No, we cannot. We have a responsibility to take time to learn about the people with whom we come in contact. In our everyday life, if we come into contact with whites, blacks, Latinos, and Asians, wouldn't it be good to know something about them before we try to share our faith with them? We should also remember that there are many sub-groups to the four large ethnic groups I just mentioned. As Christians, we have work to do. We must prepare to share our faith with people from many diverse racial backgrounds. Heaven is going to be full of people of all colors and backgrounds. Let's prepare now to be an effective witness to people from all over the globe. After all, our country is becoming increasingly diverse all the time. Your home town may not be as mixed as San Diego, but chances are good that diversity is increasing where you are.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

San Diego, Day 4, Beauty in the Midst of Evolutionary Nonsense

(This was the final full day of our Make-A-Wish trip to California. Bobby actually said that visiting Legoland on Saturday made up for everything he had to go through with his Lymphoma, but I can't agree with that.)

After three days of visiting naval ships, playing at Legoland, touring the zoo, and splashing in the Pacific Ocean, we were very tried. When the alarm went off this morning, we had mixed emotions. The schedule had us going to Sea World today, but we also wanted to just sleep in. The schedule eventually won, and we took off for Sea World. We were not disappointed.

The three kids all enjoyed the day very much. Bobby is absolutely exhausted, but he even liked Sea World a great deal (but not as much as Legoland). I have included several photos of the different animals that we enjoyed watching.

Before we arrived at Sea World this morning, I had wondered if we would run into any evolutionary propaganda. For the most part, it was not too noticeable. The one large exception to that came at the Killer Whale show. This is where Shamu and his friends swim around the tank, jump in the air, splash the spectators, and let their trainers hug them. Our kids loved this part.

During the introduction, we were told repeatedly how important it is that we take care of the earth. I agree with this. However, then the little video clip started referring to different animals as "cousins," "brothers," or "in-laws." I could see where this was going. At the climax, the video showed a picture of earth and referred to it as "Mother Earth". Almost everyone in the audience cheered, sheep-like.

It got worse. We were then informed over and over that if you "just believe," you can do anything. I don't know what this had to do with anything. I guess the idea was that if you just believed you could become a trainer of Killer Whales, then it could happen.

It was all humanistic, evolutionary-based nonsense. The sad part about this is that the crowd was sucking it all down in unquestioned awe. More important than that, God should be praised for His amazing creation. The beauty, power, and agility of the Killer Whale is astounding to watch. However, why should we worship the whale when we can worship its Creator? God deserves the glory for His created order that we get to enjoy each day.

Why has the world rejected the Creator in favor of His Creation? Romans 1:18-3:20 gives us the answer to that.

As I said, these ideas did not dominate our time at Sea World, but they were prominent in the biggest, most crowded, #1 show at the park. We as a family could still see much beauty in the midst of all the evolutionary nonsense, but I wonder how many people leave Sea World thinking that they might need to begin worshiping the "Mother Goddess" - the planet earth.

Just a few words about the photos. One picture shows the view out of a tower that stands 300 feet tall in the middle of the park. The view is looking out at the Pacific. Another picture is of, no joke, a spotted Stingray. I had no idea they existed. It looked like something out of Dr. Seuss to me. Finally, Bobby is holding a Starfish in the last photo. It's OK; that happened at a sort of "petting zoo" for small sea creatures.

Monday, September 3, 2007

San Diego, Day 3, A Glimpse of God's Glory

Today we had the privilege of catching a glimpse of God's glory through His creation. Of course, we can all see this any day by taking time to look heavenward. However, today we twice experienced tremendous beauty in God's creation that made us ponder just how wonderful and majestic He is.

First, we visited the San Diego Zoo, which happens to be one of the best zoos in the world. To make it even better, we were treated to a VIP tour, which was led by our own zoo education specialist. We were even driven around in an extended-length golf cart (this was a very good thing because Bobby's stamina is still not close to 100%). The best part for the kids was probably getting the chance to hand feed a giraffe, a rhino, and a camel. For me, the amazing thing was seeing up close the massive diversity and beauty of the animals that the Lord has created. From Flamingo to Polar Bear, from Panda to Koala, God's splendor was evident.

After supper, we drove out to Coronado Beach, which looks out over the Pacific Ocean and Point Loma. The kids loved getting to splash around in the surf while we stuffy parents watched from the shallows. By the time we left, Bobby was caked in sand. I, meanwhile, was paying a lot of attention to the gorgeous sunset over Point Loma (see especially the last photo here). The sky was absolutely radiant tonight. If I could paint, I would have wanted to whip out my canvas and begin. I suppose that is what God was doing this evening - painting on His canvas (the sky) to give us more evidence of why we should love and cherish Him.