Friday, November 30, 2007

What is Your Blog's Reading Level?

I'm not sure what to think of this, but apparently my blog has a high school reading level. Anyway, if you are curious about your blog, click here.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Some Savannah Sites

On Saturday, we had the chance to take a walk around Savannah's historic district. No matter how often we do this, I never tire of the beauty of the trees, parks, squares, pre-civil war era buildings, and the Savannah River.

The key to Savannah's beauty goes back to General Sherman. After burning Atlanta to the ground, he headed on his famous "March to the Sea." Sherman's army took Savannah, which he presented as a Christmas gift to President Lincoln in 1864. General Sherman thought that Savannah was too beautiful a city to burn (evidently, Atlanta was not); therefore, the historic section still stands today. I hope you enjoy this potpourri of photos.

The old Savannah Cotton Exchange - no longer in the cotton business

Alice (my wife), Bobby (my son), and a spitting griffin (no relation)

Caroline (my daughter) with some crazy ladies

Mary (my daughter) with those same ladies

"Factor's Walk" - click here for more

Old stairs leading down toward the Savannah River

Old Savannah Custom House - click here for more

Paula Deen's "Lady and Sons" Restaurant

Click here for more

One of the beautiful Savannah city squares - click here for more

Live Oaks cover many of the squares - click here for more

Independent Presbyterian Church - click here for more

The steeple can be seen all over the Savannah historic district

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A "Blog" for "Fun"

Hmmmmmm. When do you use quotation marks and when do you not?

Click here for a fun look at people who have no clue.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Expecting the Lost to Act Like They are Saved

When we read the bible, we clearly see that there are two kinds of people in the world. There are those who have been saved by the grace of God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. There are those who have not.

Salvation is all the work of God so there is no room for boasting.

Those who have been saved should be striving to lead lives that are more Christ-like each day. This is the process of sanctification (see I Thess. 4:3). In this process, we strive for holiness, enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit. As this process takes place, the Christian should gradually look increasingly different from the world in which he lives.

The person who has not been saved has no ability on his own to live a holy life. He cannot fulfill the requirements of God's law because he is corrupt. Romans 1:28-31 gives us a good description of the lost person's spiritual condition. This passage says, "And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them."

That is not a pretty picture. The lost person is not a new creation, as we read about in II Corinthians 5:17, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."

In light of this situation, here is my question: Why do we expect lost people to act like they are saved?

I frequently hear Christians talking about how terrible the world is getting, and about how people should stop acting as they do. I find myself complaining about how people talk, how women dress, what people care the most about, and how they are affecting my children.

Why do I think this way? Why do so many other Christians think this way? Why do we expect people who do not know the Lord to act as if they do?

My only answer is that we must not really believe that people (prior to salvation) are as corrupt as they are. If we really believed this, then we would realize that the lost world cannot help but act as it does.

Let me be clear here. Everyone is expected by God to live up to the standards of His law. No one is able to do this because of the corrupting power of the fall (Gen. 3). Only those rescued by God's grace are able to live holy lives. God is righteous in judging all those who reject Him and His law.

Let's return to where we were. If a lost person cannot live up to God's standards and has the wicked desires described in Romans 1, then it seems to me that we should stop expecting him to act like he knows God.

I do not know why churches spend so much time, money, and effort trying to convince our secular government to function by Christian standards. It makes no sense.

I do not know why so many churches keep telling lost folks that they need to, in essence, behave better. It is a waste of time. The lost world thinks it is all a joke. They cannot understand it because it is foolishness to them (click here for more).

So what can we do? Lost people will not listen to calls to "live better," but they will listen to a message of real hope. That is the message we have in the truth of the gospel.

A corrupt person will listen if we tell him that we have been given a great gift. He will listen if we inform him that we have a reason to get up, to live our lives, and to go to bed. He will listen to this because he has a deep desire for meaning, purpose, and hope.

In light of this, let's spend time getting to know lost people and feeling more natural around them. Let's share a message of hope rather than condemnation. Once we describe to them both the holiness and love of God through the gospel, then we let the Holy Spirit do the rest of the work.

Let's stop expecting the world to act like it is saved. Let's give them the one message they do need.

(On a related topic, we can and should expect the church to act like it is saved, but that is another issue entirely.)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The God of Environmentalism Strikes Again

I read this (click here) and it almost made me sick. The Environment is truly becoming king.

Friday, November 23, 2007

"Christmas with a Capital C"

The key here is the audio much more than the video. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Psalm 136 - Happy Thanksgiving!

Since today is Thanksgiving (at least here in the USA), it seems like a good time to dwell on Psalm 136. At beginning and end, we are told to give thanks to God. Why? Because His steadfast, never-changing, never-failing love endures forever.

1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
2 Give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

4 to him who alone does great wonders,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
5 to him who by understanding made the heavens,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
6 to him who spread out the earth above the waters,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
7 to him who made the great lights,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
8 the sun to rule over the day,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
9 the moon and stars to rule over the night,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

10 to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
11 and brought Israel out from among them,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
12 with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
13 to him who divided the Red Sea in two,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
14 and made Israel pass through the midst of it,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
15 but overthrew [1] Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
16 to him who led his people through the wilderness,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

17 to him who struck down great kings,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
18 and killed mighty kings,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
19 Sihon, king of the Amorites,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
20 and Og, king of Bashan,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
21 and gave their land as a heritage,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
22 a heritage to Israel his servant,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

23 It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
24 and rescued us from our foes,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
25 he who gives food to all flesh,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

26 Give thanks to the God of heaven,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Amazed by Technology

I am not the most technologically savvy guy around. My 13-year-old knows more about computers than I do. So when I think about people all around the world being able to communicate via the internet, it stuns me. This map below shows where people are located who have looked at my fairly insignificant blog. I realize that some of the red dots represent mistaken Google searches, etc. However, it still is interesting to see where people are who can all look at the same thing. I still don't understand how it all works, but I'm sure glad it does.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bangladesh Cyclone Rocks My Sense of Comfort

It is so easy to feel comfortable here in the United States. Even as I write this post, I am sitting in a comfortable chair, at a comfortable desk, and in a comfortable house. My stomach feels full enough, I am not too cold or too warm, my clothes feel good, and my family is fine. I know where my next meal is coming from, where I will place my head tonight, and what I will drive tomorrow. I am not afraid that anyone will put me in danger today, and I actually look forward to getting up in the morning.

I thank God for the above things, but I am far too quick to let them lull me into a sense of slumber regarding eternal things. I have been lazy of late about the things of God, especially when it comes to serving others and telling them about Jesus Christ.

The recent cyclone (same as a hurricane) that struck Bangladesh rocked my sense of stupor regarding both the needs of others and my failure to do anything about those needs.

The death toll in Bangladesh currently sits at just over 3000, but this figure is certain to rise. Click here for the latest news on the situation. Click here to view some photos of the destruction.

We served in India for four months and experienced everyday the very poor infrastructure and massive overcrowding. Bangladesh sits right next door to India, and has similar problems with poor roads and bridges, and too many people. Add in Bangladesh's low elevation and you have a recipe for disaster if a powerful cyclone hits.

Considering that Bangladesh has a predominantly Islamic population (with a Hindu minority), we can be certain that the vast majority of people who died went to Hell. This is a very sobering thought. No matter how difficult their lives were here on earth, they are considerably worse now and forever.

All this has made me stop and take a look at what I am doing for the Kingdom of God. The answer is not much right now. However, I'm determined to focus more on eternal things, and less on the temporal. I'm determined to go beyond my comfort zone, serve others, and share the good news of Christ.

We obviously cannot all fly to Bangladesh to help there, but we can make a difference where God has placed us for now. We must make a conscious effort to set our eyes on the things of God, and actively avoid the sloth of the American comfort zone.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Friday, November 16, 2007

Current Baptist Theology: Mixed-up and Inconsistent

As a Southern Baptist myself, I can speak freely and from an informed position on this issue: I believe Southern Baptists in general have a mixed-up and inconsistent theology of salvation.

I am not talking about statements of faith such as the Abstract of Principles or the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.

I am talking about the average Southern Baptist who faithfully attends church and loves the Lord Jesus. I am in no way questioning the actual salvation of the Baptists I am discussing.

Here is the Baptist inconsistency: prior to salvation, the typical Southern Baptist believes that it is ultimately his own choice as to whether or not he accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. In other words, it is the human who is sovereign over his getting saved (he has free will).

However, after the moment of salvation, the Southern Baptist believes that he will always be saved. He holds to what is called "perseverance of the saints" or "eternal security." He believes that God is sovereign to hold his salvation securely.

Do you see the mixed-up inconsistency? In this soteriology, God is sovereign after salvation, but not before. So the Southern Baptist believes that God actually changes in His sovereignty prior to and after salvation.

Unfortunately for the Southern Baptist, this combination of beliefs is absurd and unbiblical. Either God is sovereign over salvation or He is not. This must refer to what occurs before and after salvation. God does not change character (in this case referring to His sovereignty) just because a person gets saved.

If you have ever read this blog before, you know that I am not an Arminian. However, I was raised in that tradition, and understand it well. I grew up being taught that God desires that all people come to know Him as Lord and Savior (I believe that now but in a different way). I was told that God is most honored when people, who have complete free will, reject the things of the world and submit to Him as Lord. I believed that God elected based on His foreknowledge of who would choose Him. I held to a general atonement. Finally, I believed that after I was saved, I could also reject God's salvation at any point in time.

The Arminian belief system, although I disagree with it, is consistent. Man's free will reigns supreme. God hopes all will be saved, but can only "woo" people and hope for the best.

I have made it clear by now that I now hold to the Doctrines of Grace (Reformed Theology or Calvinism). This belief system is, like Arminianism, consistent. God is sovereign over salvation both before and after salvation. The well-known acrostic TULIP explains it fairly well. Man is totally depraved, and therefore has no ability to choose God or desire to do so. God unconditionally elects those who will be saved. Christ's atoning work on the cross is limited to the elect. God's grace is irresistible (effectual). Finally, saints persevere to the end (God's saving work is secure). In this belief system, God reigns as the sovereign of the universe. Man's only free will is to follow his own desires.

Calvinism is consistent.

I switched to Reformed theology about 4 years ago after studying the bible in depth for several months looking at this particular issue. I believe that Calvinism is, quite simply, much more biblical than Arminianism.

Now back to most current Southern Baptists. Most in the SBC are Arminian before salvation and Reformed after. How can this be? How can God be sovereign at one point and not at another?

I am putting out a call to all Southern Baptists: Please be consistent in your view of salvation. As folks who claim to be "people of the book," at least then be consistent in your beliefs about the God who wrote the book. You are being unfair if you believe in free will before salvation, but God's sovereignty after it.

Please, Southern Baptists, if you have such a deep desire to have free will, then give up on perseverance of the saints. Just grasp onto Wesleyan-Arminian theology all the way. Either that or submit to God's sovereign election and control over all aspects of salvation.

Southern Baptists must do away with this current inconsistent, mixed-up theology of salvation. God is sovereign or He is not. Make a decision one way or the other - and do it with your bibles open.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Church Planting - We Can Learn from Others

Most churches in our country have a desire to grow in membership. Some of those churches simply want to get bigger for the sake of getting bigger. However, I think most desire to grow because it should mean that at least some of that growth will be new believers.

Some of the churches that want to grow try to do things to either boost evangelism or make their church seem more attractive to outsiders. Most of these ideas don’t end up amounting to much.

Other churches decide that planting churches is the way to go. I agree whole-heartedly with this. New churches are usually much more effective at reaching the lost than are established churches. I’m not sure of the reason for this, but the evidence is clear on this point.

Some church plants are successful; some are not. What interests me about all this is that much has been learned from overseas church planting efforts that can inform church planting here in the USA. In some parts of the world (China for example) churches are exploding in number. What are they doing there that we are not doing here? What can we change?

First of all, we need to be clear on what constitutes a church. I am not talking at all about a building. I’m referring to groups of Christians who meet together to worship the Lord and edify one another. It’s that simple.

Also, in order for any church planting to occur at all, it has to be the work of the Holy Spirit. If God is not at the forefront of what is happening, then all the work is a waste of time.

Let’s return to the main question: What are people doing overseas that seems to lead to church planting success? How is it different from what is happening here?

When we (my wife Alice and I) went through our missions training about a year and a half ago, we were taught 10 characteristics that seem to always go along with church planting success (what I mean by success is churches that plant other churches that plant other churches, etc.).

Here are the ten characteristics:

  1. Much prayer
  2. Intentional evangelism
  3. Planting of reproducing churches
  4. Authority of God’s Word
  5. Local leadership
  6. Lay leadership
  7. House churches
  8. Churches planting churches
  9. Rapid reproduction
  10. Healthy churches

As we look at these ten characteristics, we can quickly see a few things. First, the prayer is that the Holy Spirit will lead the entire process. Second, there is intentionality in all that is done. Third, a clear goal is that churches will be planted that in turn plant other churches. Fourth, the first nine characteristics lead to number 10 – healthy churches.

Let’s now look at how most churches are planted in the USA today. Usually a big church decides to plant one or several churches within its same city or geographic area. After that decision is made, how many of the above characteristics apply to what happens next?

Two of the above 10 usually do occur. Numbers 2 (intentional evangelism) and 4 (authority of God’s Word) almost always happen, at least in evangelical churches. That’s about all I see.

Four of the above 10 sometimes do occur. Numbers 1 (much prayer), 5 (local leadership), 6 (lay leadership), 7 (house churches), and 10 (healthy churches) happen some of the time. However, this is not what I usually see.

Which numbers have I never seen in the USA? Numbers 3 (planting of reproducing churches), 8 (churches planting churches), and 9 (rapid reproduction) simply are not happening here in the USA.

Why is this the case? I believe it is because of two reasons. First, most churches do not pray for this specifically to happen. Second, churches are not intentional about planting churches that are designed to rapidly reproduce.

Why go to the trouble of planting one or two churches when with a few changes in strategy a church can plant churches that reproduce exponentially? If this process is blessed by God and is effective overseas, then why don’t we do it here? I have no idea.

I would encourage our local churches to not just share the gospel locally, but also plant churches. Beyond that, plant churches that are designed from the beginning to plant other churches, etc. By this method, many more people can hear the gospel, and also be a part of a local body.

We can learn from what is happening overseas. It can happen here, too.

(The 10 characteristics can be found in David Garrison’s book “Church Planting Movements.” ISBN: 0-9747562-0-2.)

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Interpretation is Everything

Two days ago I was driving in my van while listening to National Public Radio (NPR). One of their various interview programs came on the air discussing the biblical Jezebel. According to the bible, Jezebel was the wife of wicked King Ahab. Her account falls mainly in the book of I Kings.

Author Lesley Hazleton, who was the guest on NPR, recently wrote the book “Jezebel: The Untold Story of the Bible's Harlot Queen.” Hazleton proceeded to tell us why Jezebel has been unfairly treated over the past 3000 years. According to this author, Jezebel was actually a tolerant woman who stood up for the right to worship various religions. It was intolerant, fundamentalist Elijah who was the real villain. She went on and on about how misunderstood, brave, and basically wonderful Jezebel was.

One statement this author made in particular stood out to me. She said that most people are “dismayingly literal” when interpreting the bible. She had to say this because any straightforward reading of the account of Jezebel shows her to be wicked.

Her statement got me thinking about how I interpret scripture. This is exceedingly important because many, many people who say that the bible is true come to many, many different conclusions about what different passages mean. If method of interpretation does not matter, then we might as well toss the bible to the wayside and just come to whatever conclusions about life that we want to.

I have been taught to interpret the bible in a literal manner whenever possible. I try to determine what the original author meant. I assume that he only meant one thing. I try to be fair to the historical setting, and to the grammar he uses. I remember that context is very important to the overall meaning. Also, real meaning often comes in paragraph form rather than in a single verse.

But why do I interpret scripture in this manner? Why not just bring my own meaning to the text? Why not look for what passages seem to be true, while discounting supernatural occurrences such as miracles? Why not just look for passages that confirm what I believe, and ignore passages that make me uncomfortable? Why not just treat most of the bible as some sort of extended allegory?

A critical key for all of us is to see how people in the bible interpret scripture. Did they look for the literal meaning, or did they just seek the spiritual or allegorical significance? Did they even think the bible was true? Let’s take a look at six examples:

Jesus Christ, in Matthew 12:38-40, deals with Pharisees. Jesus treats the Jonah account as literal. The story reads: Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, "Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you." But he answered them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Matthew, throughout his gospel account, treats Old Testament prophecies as if they were literally being fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Here are three examples: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (Matt. 1:23); “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” (2:6); "Out of Egypt I called my son." (2:15)

Luke, in chapter 24, tells about Jesus, after his resurrection, talking to some of his followers on the Emmaus Road. Verse 27 says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” We see Luke writing about Jesus believing that the OT literally tells of him.

John, in discussing Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, writes in 12:12-15: The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!" And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, "Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!" John writes about Jesus literally fulfilling this OT prophecy from Zechariah.

Peter, in Acts 2:16-21, quotes Joel chapter 2 while at Pentecost. Peter sees a literal fulfillment of what is occurring when he states the following: But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Paul discusses the significance of the OT in II Timothy 3:14-15. He tells Timothy that the OT is literally referring to Jesus. Verses 14-15 say, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

So what can we learn from Jesus, Matthew, Luke, John, Peter, and Paul? When they interpret scripture (which for them was the OT), they view it literally. They all read it as meaning what it says it means, giving it a fair, straightforward view. They do not add their own meaning, but look for the meaning that the original author intended. They realize that words have real meaning.

If these men interpreted the bible in a literal manner, then I’ll choose to follow their leading and do the same.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Praise the Lord - A Clear PET Scan!

We just received a phone call from our son Bobby's oncology clinic. We received the wonderful news that Bobby is clear of cancer. Back in September, he had a PET scan that suggested that he might be relapsing. However, these latest results indicate that he is cancer-free.

What a blessing from the Lord! We have been praying for this for quite a while now. Bobby will not be considered "cured" until he has reached two full years past chemotherapy. Still, these results definitely point in a hopeful direction. We praise the Lord and give Him all the honor for this healing.

We do not know what the Lord has for us in the upcoming months. We could be headed back overseas, or we might be staying here. That is up to Him. We are just ecstatic to have a healthy son.

Thank you all so much for your prayers.

Friday, November 2, 2007

I Don't Care Who Wins in 2008

It's about one year until we elect a new president, and I really don't care who wins. That may be a bit of an overstatement, but for the most part it is exactly how I feel at this point.

As I listen to Christians in person and on TV, I hear many who are extremely concerned with who the next president will be. They act as if the rise or fall of the USA depends on it. Unfortunately, they also speak as if God has no control over it.

But what does the bible say about all this? In Romans 13:1 we read, "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God."

What is Paul telling us here? First, we are told to be subject to our government. It is safe to say, however, that if the government enacts any laws that go against God's commands, then we should do what God wants.

Second, and more related to this post, Paul lets us know that God establishes and institutes all authority. This means that, ultimately, God selects who is in positions of governmental authority over us.

We may not understand why God chooses who He does, but we can rest in the fact that our good Lord is sovereign over whoever ends up being the next president.

On a related topic, why do we, as evangelicals, look to government to solve problems for us? Why do we look to government to restrain evil? After all, government is secular in nature. Although it is established by God, it is not intended by God to be His primary means of changing the world for the better.

Let us, as members of the universal church of God, be agents of change for the better in our society. We have no reason to expect good from government. We, as servants of Jesus, should take upon ourselves the responsibility of making our society a better place to live.

I'm not suggesting that we, as Christians, will somehow overcome Satan through our own strength. I also don't think we should be responsible for paving our roads or building tanks for the military. Also, I'm in no way saying that the first purpose of the church is to transform society. The church's primary function is to magnify the glory of the Lord.

What I am saying is that secular government should not be relied upon for making this a better country in which to live. This will only come by the power of the risen Christ through His followers.

So what can we do? We can meet needs as we see them. If our neighbor is thirsty or hungry, we should be there to give him something to drink or eat. If he has no shirt, let us clothe him. If he simply needs someone to talk to, let's listen (see here). This might not do much for the USA in general, but it will make his life better.

If we all treat our neighbor in this manner, this society will be transformed into a better (not good, but better) place. Also, if we minister in this way, we will open up a door for a gospel presentation.

So, I don't care who wins in 2008. I'm not depending on the next president to make our country better. As the church, let's do what we can (and should) to improve the place we live.