Monday, June 30, 2008

Preaching and the Scriptural Magnet

For the last few months, I have had the great privilege of preaching through Paul's letter to the Philippians. As we have studied this letter, I have been convicted to look at how I both encourage unity in the body and how I show my joy in Christ.

The more I preach, the more I value scripture. As I was preparing this past Saturday, I took a close look at my sermon manuscript (which I type each week) and my sermon outline (which is based on the manuscript and is what I take into the pulpit with me along with my bible). I then took a close look at the scripture passage. Quite honestly, the manuscript was pathetic compared to scripture. It's not that it was a bad sermon; rather, it's that no manuscript can come close to the beauty and power of the Word of God.

I'm becoming more and more convinced that what people of all churches need, including myself, is more bible. It is through scripture that we see Jesus Christ most clearly. It is His primary means of revealing Himself to us. As His followers, we are in desperate need of Him. We need to follow Paul's admonition to Timothy when he wrote, "Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching." (I Timothy 4:13, ESV)

In light of this, we just instituted a scripture reading in each worship service at Chevis Oaks (this is somewhat novel for an older SBC church). Furthermore, I see that what will help the people in the pews more than anything else during my sermons is a healthy dose of scripture.

I've begun trying to think of the bible as a powerful magnet. I try to stay as close as possible to the biblical text to be exposited. If I begin to wander, I sprint back to the text at hand. The reality is that Christians do not need more funny stories from the pulpit; they need more scripture. They need to hear it explained in a way they can understand. They benefit greatly from hearing it in context so they can comprehend it fully.

As we preach and teach in the church (and at home), we need to think of the scriptures as a large magnet pulling us back toward it again and again. Although we may move away a bit, we never want to go far. We never want to depart for long.

There is an old saying which describes some preachers that goes something like this, "There was a preacher who began with a text. From there he departed. He never returned."

May that not be us. Let's always return to scripture. It is what we all need.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Why "Hammer and Nail"?

Some may read this blog and wonder about the title. Why is it called Hammer and Nail? There are a few reasons:

1. Since my last name is Carpenter, it seemed appropriate to continue with the construction theme.

2. Jesus was a carpenter by trade. Mark 6:3 says, "'Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?' And they were offended at Him." (NKJV)

3. Jesus was crucified using hammers and nails. John 20:25 says, "The other disciples therefore said to him, 'We have seen the Lord.' So he said to them, 'Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.'"

4. I hope the blog title will remind both me and all who read this blog of Jesus' admonition in Matthew 16:24, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me."

5. My wife suggested the name. It was far better than anything else I could come up with.

A Photo Tribute to Uga VI

I realize this is a bit silly, but if you want to see a photo tribute to Uga VI, click here.

Pastor to Trucker to Church Planter

Roland Dann is an amazing man who I admire a great deal.

When Alice and I began attending Emmanuel Baptist Church in Springfield, Georgia in the summer of 2000, Rev. Dann was pastor. During our two years there, I enjoyed his preaching, pastoral care, enthusiasm, and love for the Lord. He supported us a great deal when we went through the trauma of our daughter Mary's brain aneurysm surgery in the fall of 2000. It was partly due to his encouragement that I left Springfield to move to seminary.

Not long after we relocated to North Carolina, "Brother Roland" began a new ministry in his life. He took the gospel on the road as a trucker. Traveling all over the USA, he shared Christ with many different types of people. He once told me that the trucking industry is in desperate need of a Christian influence.

The story of Brother Roland's trucking ministry was recently chronicled in the Christian Index, a Georgia Baptist newspaper. To read the full story, click here.

I am excited that the Lord has led Brother Roland into a new ministry: planting a church in Effingham County. I look forward to seeing him a great deal now that we will be pastoring Southern Baptist churches within 30 minutes of each other.

This amazing man is an example to all of us of what the Lord will do with a person who is willing to follow His leading.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Sad News - Uga VI Passes On

Uga is dead.

Uga VI (pronounced uh-guh) has died of congestive heart failure. He was the faithful bulldog mascot for the University of Georgia football team, of which I am a fan. He was also the best mascot in all of college football, although some fans at the University of Colorado might argue with that. Uga made his home in Savannah.

The only good thing about this is that it won't be difficult to find Uga VII.

To read the full report, click here.

One of the Signs of Homeschooling - Lots of Books

What you see at the left is a badly taken photo (I took it with my phone) of a stack of books that I just returned to the local library. Under normal circumstances this is not my duty, but since my family drove to New York State on Thursday, the job of returning the books fell to me.

My wife, my mother, and my three kids are spending about two weeks up north. First, they will hang out at my uncle's cabin on Seneca Lake, and then they will visit with Alice's parents near Adirondack Park. I could have gone with them, but I decided to remain here to focus on my new ministry at Chevis Oaks Baptist Church.

When I first saw the stack of books pictured above, I was a bit shocked. However, I then began to think about just how much our children read. Caroline (age 14), Mary (11), and Bobby (9) seem to almost always have a book in their hands. They read about a wide range of topics. Beyond the books they read for school, they spend quite a bit of time simply reading for pleasure. While the girls tend to read quite a bit of historical fiction, Bobby's focus is more on knights, castles, and various adventures.

For whatever reason, when I was a child I did not enjoy reading very much. I'm not sure why this is. Part of the blame probably stems from the structure of the school system. When you have to read books that everyone else is reading because it is part of the school's required curriculum, you end up reading a lot of stories that don't seem interesting at all. Also, when reading = homework, it's not very fun.

Homeschooling naturally lends itself to a love of reading. This happens for several reasons. First, reading takes place at home, where life is more comfortable and less stressful than the institutional school setting. Our kids can read while sitting on their beds if they want to. Second, the books we choose for their curriculum are books we know they will be interested in. Our kids don't have to be squeezed into some sort of pre-selected state or county curriculum. Third, because our kids like the books they have to read for school, they want to read more books outside of school. These are the ones that come from and get returned to the library all the time.

When I arrived at college, the reading load almost overwhelmed me at the beginning. I would generally try to get through the day by reading as few pages as possible (that all changed at seminary). Since Caroline, who was in 9th grade this past school year, was required to read 50-70 pages each day for school, and then chose to read many more simply for pleasure, the reading load in college will not be much of a challenge.

Our kids aren't out of the ordinary. This is fairly typical for kids educated at home.

I'm hoping that all three kids carry their love of reading throughout their lives. There is no reason to think they won't, for which I am very pleased. The main reason I'm happy about this is that God has revealed Himself to us primarily through the bible. As you know, the bible is a literary work. When we approach it that way, and read it regularly, we get to know God better and better. This is what I want for my kids more than anything else.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Bible on Wordle

Wordle is a fun program that I recently stumbled across while on line. According to its website, "Wordle generates word clouds from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text."

I decided to enter 15 of my favorite bible passages to see what would happen. It's very interesting to see which words occur most frequestly. As is appropriate, the word "God" shows up quite often.

The pictures on this page are a little small. I encourage you to click directly on the pictures so that you can see them bigger.

Genesis 1-2

II Samuel 7:1-16

Psalm 145

Isaiah 53

Matthew 5-7 "The Sermon on the Mount"

John 1:1-18

John 17

Romans 8

I Corinthians 13

II Corinthians 5:11-21

Ephesians 2:1-10

Philippians 2:5-11

Hebrews 1:1-3

I Peter 1:3-9

Revelation 21-22

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

German Parents Jailed For Educating Children at Home

In Germany, a court has sentenced two parents to three months in prison each simply because they educate their children at home. Germany has outlawed homeschooling and is enforcing those laws in its court system.

This decision has huge ramifications for the rest of the world. In our country, where homeschooling rights are under attack in various locations, parents should take note. Courts are increasingly deciding that they, not the parents, have the right to make ultimate decisions for how children should be raised. How far behind Germany are we in the USA? At this point I'm not sure.

To read more about this, click here.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Frightening State of Religion in America

I was distressed to hear a report tonight about a recent Pew Forum study on the status of religious beliefs in this country. While the results do not surprise me too much, they do make me feel sick to the stomach. It looks like tolerance is winning the day in the United States.

The results, which you can see in the table below, clearly show that Christians in this country do not, in general, think theologically or care to do so. Of those in this study who claim to be "evangelical," over 50% hold to relativistic beliefs about their own religion and others.

I always thought evangelicals believed that the bible is true. If they do, but also believe other religions are true and valid, then the only conclusion I can come to is that many evangelicals simply do not know what their bibles say.

The implications of this study are immense. We must conclude that there is much poor teaching going on in many evangelical churches. Generally, there must be a serious lack of discipleship within the evangelical church community. Furthermore, the concept of absolute truth seems to have been defeated by ideas of acceptance, tolerance, and the desire not to hurt anyone's feelings.

This study should be a wake-up call to all who care about the church in the USA.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Paganism Remains Alive and Well

It's that time of year again. Every time we reach the summer solstice, winter solstice, spring equinox, or autumn equinox the pagans come out of the woodwork to celebrate a little louder.

Since today is June 21, which is the longest day of the year and the first day of summer, that means pagans have made their annual pilgrimage to Stonehenge in England. Stonehenge is an ancient site of ritual worship by druids, who were simply British pagans.

Some of today's English seem to revel in the idea of reviving paganism as something England can be proud of, as a sort of cultural heritage. This is just further evidence that many people today don't think it matters what you believe, as long as you believe in something spiritual.

To read more about pagan worship at Stonehenge, click here.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Joyfully Changing My "Profile"

Ever since I began this blog, over a year ago, my Blogger profile has remained the same. It has said, "I am a follower of Jesus Christ. God has blessed me with a wonderful wife and three great children. My theology is Bible-driven, Reformed, and Baptistic. I am a graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. My family and I were recently serving the Lord overseas, but returned home to the USA when my son was diagnosed with Lymphoma. We praise the Lord for healing Bobby! We are now seeking the Lord's direction for our lives."

I'm thrilled to write that I can now change part of my profile. Because God has been gracious to lead me to pastor Chevis Oaks Baptist Church, I can alter the conclusion of what you see above. Now it says, "I am a follower of Jesus Christ. God has blessed me with a wonderful wife and three great children. My theology is Bible-driven, Reformed, and Baptistic. I am a graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I am thrilled and blessed to be the pastor of Chevis Oaks Baptist Church near Savannah, Georgia."

I praise the Lord for saving me. I praise the Lord for my family. I praise the Lord for sending us to India and bringing us home. I praise the Lord for giving Bobby cancer and for healing him. I praise the Lord for sending me to seminary, somehow getting me to graduation, and now letting me pastor a church. What a great God we serve!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Thumbs Up

Chevis Oaks Baptist Church has called me to be their pastor. Praise the Lord for His great grace!

As I mentioned yesterday, Chevis Oaks voted tonight on whether or not they wanted to call me as pastor. Prior to the vote, I led a prayer meeting and then departed stage left. Even though I know God is sovereign, I have to admit that I was a bit nervous as I waited for a phone call with the results.

On my way home I stopped in at Food Lion to buy ice cream. I figured that depending on the results, we could either celebrate or drown our sorrows in ice cream. I am thrilled to be able to celebrate tonight.

I praise the Lord for bringing us to this point. Just a few months ago we resigned from the IMB and had no idea what we were going to do next. At that point, I had not even heard of Chevis Oaks Baptist Church. God, in His sovereignty, worked it all out. Since that time I have preached 24 sermons at that church alone.

I can't wait to get started with all my duties as pastor. Only one more day of tire retreading to go!

It looks like now I'll have to happily change my Blogger profile. I think I'll do it tomorrow; I'm too tired right now.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Big Day Ahead

Tomorrow is going to be a very important day for me and my family. As I have mentioned a few times, I have been preaching at Chevis Oaks Baptist Church since mid-February. This church is a Southern Baptist church near Savannah, GA. The people there have been very nice to both me and my family. They have said only positive things about my preaching and leading of Wed. prayer meetings.

Chevis Oaks has many positives. The church is located in the middle of a residential community. This location makes it possible for the church to have an immediate impact on its surrounding area. Furthermore, the people of the church have a very strong belief in the gospel in particular and the truth of the bible as a whole. Regarding leadership, Chevis has three active deacons, who are all godly men (if you have spent any time in an SBC church, you know what a rarity it is to have all the deacons be godly men). In addition, it is my understanding that the church has no permanent committees. Finally, the people of Chevis appreciate expository preaching.

Tomorrow night the church votes on whether or not to call me as pastor. Everything I have heard indicates to me that the vote will go well, but votes can also be unpredictable. You never know what long, lost church members might show up to vote however they may be feeling that day.

My family and I are resting in the sovereignty of God. We know that He controls all things, including a little church vote. We pray simply that His will be done. Don’t get me wrong, I do want to pastor at Chevis Oaks. However, if that is not the will of God, then I certainly don’t want to be there.

We trust the Lord to do what is right, as He always does.

Thank you for your prayers.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Disrobing of the Church

And so it begins.

Every year as spring turns into summer the church begins its annual practice of disrobing. Just as we can always count on blooming flowers, birds flying north, and kids playing baseball, we can also count on seeing much more flesh within the church.

As the high temperatures arrive, the young women (and sometimes not-so-young) begin to wear less and less. The skirts go up, the shirts come down, and the sleeves come off. What is left of the clothing is often vacuum-sealed to the body. There is often not very much left to the imagination.

As this happens, the males of the church give hearty approval through their silence. Fathers, brothers, pastors, deacons, etc. almost never say anything about the problem of advancing female skin in the church. Due to lack of male indignation, many of the women probably honestly do not realize it is a problem.

By this point in my life I have had the privilege of preaching in a good number of churches. It is difficult to preach in the summertime no matter where the place. This is because from the pulpit I can see way more of the plunging neck lines than I ever wanted to. It is not easy to proclaim the word of God with that much skin staring right at the front of the church. (Just as an aside, one thing that really bothers me is when a woman wears a necklace with a cross on it that is blatantly hanging right between her exposed cleavage.)

What we have is churched-people who are comparing themselves to the world instead of to scripture. By American standards, it is now just fine for women to wear a bikini top and short shorts out in public. I'm not talking about the beach, but rather basically anywhere. People of the church, it seems, use this as their standard. If they wear a little more than what they see at the mall, then it must be fine. Right?

What does the bible say about all this? Two passages come to mind. The first is general and the second is specific.

1 Peter 1:13-16 "Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy.'"

1 Timothy 2:9-10 "In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works."

Based on these passages, it is clear that women in the church should be dressing in a manner that pleases God. They should be striving for holiness in all aspects of life, including what they wear. If the shirt, skirt, or dress is questionable, then it probably shouldn't be worn.

Who is to blame for all this? I don't think the fault lies mainly with the ladies. It is men who should be taking the blame. We are to fault because we don't say anything. We have been silent over the years as more and more inappropriate clothing has entered the church. I am in no way faulting men for being affected by female flesh. I am faulting men, myself included, for not speaking out about this issue.

What are we to do? We can begin by speaking directly to our wives and daughters about what pleases God. For most women, my guess is that this is not a heart issue. They are not trying to dishonor God. They simply don't know what all that exposed skin does to males - especially to teenage boys.

As husbands and fathers, we need to talk to the ladies of our families about these issues. We need to let them know what is appropriate and what is not. We need to be specific. I'm sure that many women would be horrified to find out that some of their clothing is causing problems. They would probably ask, "Why hasn't anyone told me about this?" We must tell them.

If there is a problem with a woman outside of your family, I would suggest talking to the husband or father first. He may not be aware of the situation. Getting the pastors and deacons involved is a possibility, but that should come much later.

Men, it is our responsibility to tell the ladies of the church when they are showing too much skin. We need to begin with our own families.

Southern Baptists - More Diverse than You Might Think

Southern Baptists are such a large group (supposedly around 16 million, but the real figure is much smaller), that after you get beyond the basics of the gospel, there is much diversity within SBC beliefs and practices.

I was recently looking at Ed Stetzer's blog, where he mentions David Dockery's conclusions about different groups within the SBC. I'm not sure whether or not I completely agree with Dockery, but what he has to say is interesting to think about.

In Dockery’s new book, Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal (which I have not yet read but would like to), he lists seven different groups of conservative Southern Baptists:

Fundamentalists: hard-lined people who often have more in common with “independent” Baptists than with the SBC heritage.

Revivalists: true heirs of the Sandy Creek tradition, including their suspicion of education.

Traditionalists: heirs of the Sandy Creek theology, including the strong commitment to evangelism and revivalism, but affirming of education.

Orthodox Evangelicals: an irenic group that looked to Carl F. H. Henry and Billy Graham as models. This group wanted a theological course correction, a commitment to the full truthfulness of the Bible, serious intellectual and cultural engagement, while interacting with all who would claim to great orthodox Christian tradition.

Calvinists: a group that wanted to reclaim aspects of the “Charleston” theological tradition. They have much in common with the “Evangelical” group above. Sub-groups include “Nine Marks,” “Sovereign Grace,” “Founders,” and others. Most among this group no longer tend toward isolation as in years past.

Contemporary church practitioners: a group of pastors who wanted to find new ways to connect with the culture, resulting in new models for doing church, including “Willow Creek Models,” “Saddleback Models,” “Missional,” and even some “emergent church types.”

Culture Warriors: another group of conservatives who desire to engage the issues of culture and society. This group includes a variety of approaches including “church over culture,” “church transforming culture,” as well as “church and culture / social justice types.”

If you have spent any time reading this blog, you can probably guess which above group I fall into (HINT: it starts "C-A-L"). However, I also have some leanings toward the "traditionalists" and "orthodox evangelicals." I have no interest whatsoever in the "contemporary church practitioners."

With this much diversity in the convention, it seems to me that we need to simplify what we stand for (in other words, why do we have a convention in the first place?). As I have said before, the only reason I see for the SBC is missions. As a convention, we ought to work together to take the gospel to all parts of the globe.

The local church can do the rest on its own.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Walking from East to West

Most people, including myself, enjoy reading biographies. I'm not sure why this is, but I think it's because God has programmed us to like stories. Jesus certainly taught many great truths using parables, which are basically stories with a significant meaning.

I would probably rather read a biography than anything else. I just completed an autobiography that was well worth the read. Walking from East to West is the story of Ravi Zacharias' life from his humble beginnings in India to his current status as one of the leading evangelical apologists in the world.

This book had an attraction for me for two reasons. First, since we lived in India for four months, we have a heart for the people and culture there. In this book, Zacharias talks much about what it was like to grow up in Chennai (Madras) and then move to Delhi. He describes exactly what we saw - a country full of contradictions. India is at the same time moving forward as a technological power and stumbling along with many of its people in poverty.

The second reason I wanted to read this text is that Ravi is an amazing thinker. He is not afraid to ask and answer difficult questions for Christians. In this book, he discusses the way God took him from an unbeliever to a young preacher to a leading apologist. It is an amazing story of the sovereign hand of God over the life of a simple Indian man.

In my opinion, the best part about this book is that although Zacharias is world-renowned, he writes as if he is constantly amazed that God has used him as He has. This is not a show, but seems to be authentic humility. Ravi spends the first half of the book discussing his life in India prior to the family's move to Toronto. It is inspiring to read about how God used various circumstances to draw Ravi to Himself.

The second half focuses on the transition to life in North America, his rise as a preacher, his travels around the world, and his current ministry (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries). On the way, Zacharias has run in to many interesting people who have given their lives (some literally) completely to the service of the Lord.

Reading this book was both exciting and challenging. It was exciting to see how God is willing to take someone from nowhere and use him greatly for His kingdom. It was challenging because the book shows people who were willing to obey God no matter what the cost and no matter whether or not it made sense to them at the time.

I recommend this book because it is enjoyable to read, it is edifying for those who have faith in Christ Jesus, and because it causes the reader to ask himself whether or not he has given himself completely to God.

More Good News about Bobby

Yesterday Bobby had a routine clinic visit. We are thrilled that we received more good news about how Bobby is doing. We praise the Lord for His healing and His marvelous grace. Click here to read Bobby's Caring Bridge Journal.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Baptism Builds the Church

I'm not talking about numbers. I'm talking about edification.

On Sunday I had the great privilege of baptizing two adults at Chevis Oaks Baptist Church. This is the church near Savannah, GA where I have been preaching on-and-off since mid-February.

I was overjoyed to assist one man and one woman in being obedient to our Lord's command to be baptized. Both of these have been saved for some time, but were now inspired to be baptized. I'm not sure why this happened now, but I'm certainly happy I was able to be a part of it.

Prior to Sunday, I had primarily thought of baptism as being for the individual being baptized. My focus, regardless of whether or not I had anything to do with the act of baptism, was almost always on the experience of the person being immersed. I thought about their joy, their obedience, and their commitment to Christ.

On Sunday I saw something else. I saw what the ordinance of baptism can do for a church. Prior to the baptism, several people at the church told me that there had not been a baptism there for a while. They were excited to have two people be baptized. It was not some sort of thrill-seeking they were after; instead, they were joyful for what God was doing there.

During and after the baptisms, I could see that the church was being edified. The people were so happy to see what was happening. They were thankful to God for what He is doing there. They were joyful for the two who were baptized. They seemed to feel an expectancy for what God would do next.

After the service, when I was greeting the people at the church door as they exited (yes, I did stand by the door this time), many of them told me how happy they were to see the baptisms. They seemed absolutely thrilled that this had happened. I was happy for them. I'm not sure what this will lead to or what God's plans are for this church, but I'm sure that on Sunday many more than two people were edified.

What happened reminded me of I Corinthians 14. In that chapter, the gathering of the church in Corinth is described. In chapter 14 alone, the word "edification" is used four times (more than any other chapter in the bible). The most important verse is probably verse 26. Paul writes, "How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification." (emphasis mine)

This past Sunday I fully realized that baptism is practiced both for those baptized and for the building up of the body.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Let's Avoid the Straw Man

As I wander around the theological blog world, I repeatedly run into arguments between Calvinists (those who hold to the Doctrines of Grace) and Arminians. Some of the discussion is good, while some of it is not. Those discussions that both challenge us all to know why we believe what we believe and are handled in a Christian manner can be edifying. Unfortunately, many of these types of discussions quickly degenerate into not much more than name-calling.

One frustration I have in reading articles on the Calvinism/Arminianism issue is that both sides have a strong tendency to set up straw man arguments. These arguments occur when a person attacks a distorted view of his opponent's position instead of the actual position itself. This happens very frequently between Calvinists and Arminians.

Here are some straw man arguments by Arminians against Calvinism:
-God sends people to Hell who want to go to Heaven.
-Repentance and belief do not matter because election doesn't require it.
-God isn't a God of love.
-God capriciously chooses some people to salvation.
-Evangelism isn't important.
-Calvinism encourages antinomianism.

The above are not what Calvinists believe, but are what some Arminians say Calvinists believe in order to then attack a fallacious position.

Now let's turn the tables and look at straw man arguments by Calvinists against Arminianism:
-Salvation is based on works instead of grace.
-God is in no way sovereign.
-God cannot see into the future.
-Man can be good enough to go to heaven.
-Salvation can be lost without a person knowing it.
-Arminianism encourages universalism.

The above are not what Arminians believe, but are what some Calvinists say Arminians believe in order to then attack a fallacious position.

All of these straw man arguments do nothing good for the kingdom of God. In fact, they are probably harmful to the church. As followers of Christ, we have a duty to build one another up in our faith. Straw man arguments only divide; they never unite.

In a recent post, I attempted to deal with some Calvinism and Arminianism-related issues in a Christlike manner. I tried to be respectful of the Arminian position even though I do not agree with it. When describing the Arminian position, I attempted to explain what is actually believed instead of attacking some sort of straw man.

As we have these discussions, let's avoid the straw man at all costs.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

I Wouldn't Have Chosen God

As I look back over my life, it becomes increasingly clear to me each day that I would not have chosen God.

The pull of the world, the lusts of the flesh, the pride of life and the power of sin are too strong for me to have rejected them by myself. If left to my own devices and desires, I would have had little interest in God.

At one point my heart was corrupt to the core and I wanted the things of the world. It is as simple as that. The things of God seemed like foolishness to me.

This all corresponds with what the bible teaches. Jeremiah 17:9 and Romans 3:9-18 describe perfectly the state of my heart before conversion. That was me, plain and simple.

Something happened to me to change my heart. Something occurred that made me interested in the things of God, in His Word, and in His glorious gospel. What was this that happened to me? I know that I am now saved. However, I know that I used to not care about God or His plan for my life. Something happened along the way.

Some people would say that God gave me, along with all other people, prevenient grace that moved me toward a decision for God. They would also say that I was then able to choose God according to my free will. They would say that ultimately it was my decision to turn to God.

However, that does not correspond to either my subjective experience or, more importantly, to scriptural teachings.

Ephesians 2:1-3 makes it clear that I was dead spiritually. I was not dying; I was a spiritual corpse. Because of this, someone else had to cause me to turn to God. It sure wasn't going to be dead me. This was what my life was like prior to conversion.

Ephesians 2:4-5 tells how I came to God. It was God who did it. He did not do some of it, but all of it. This corresponds exactly with my own experience.

This in no way contradicts the scriptural command to repent and believe. I repented and believed several years ago and have never been the same since. However, something happened to me prior to my repentance. Something brought me to the point of even being able to repent. This is what God did. Ephesians 2:4-5 makes this clear.

Why did God do this? Why did he regenerate my heart? Why did he save me? It sure wasn't because of anything good in me. It sure wasn't because I would turn to Him on my own. It sure wasn't because He looked into the future and saw that I would choose Him (some people teach this, but I've never heard a convincing biblical argument for it.)

Why did God do it? Ephesians 1:3-5 makes it perfectly clear. God elected and predestined me to salvation "according to the purpose of his will." We are not given access to God's decision making other than to know that it is according to His will. Since God is perfect, we know that His will is perfect. We cannot argue with it.

Any Christian has been saved according to the purpose of God's will. God elects and predestines those He chooses. He certainly has the right and privilege to do this with His creation.

I wouldn't have chosen God. If I was granted free will (which sinful beings can't have anyway), I certainly would not have chosen God. Only God, by His grace, could make me alive so that I could repent and believe.

I praise God for His election and predestination. I praise Him for His perfect will. I praise Him for his amazing grace.

Now what should my response be? That's simple. I must proclaim the gospel to all creation.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Worship of Ball (or is it Baal?)

I may get in trouble for this one.

Growing up in New York State, I quickly learned that sports were important in our society. I played Little League baseball along with a few other sports. When I reached high school, my focus fell on soccer and basketball because those were the only two sports my school offered.

During that time, I don't think I ever actually worshiped any of these sports. My parents may have a different opinion, but I'm pretty sure I never glorified soccer or basketball.

Since we moved to the South about twelve years ago, I have run into folks who seem to go over that line. Their behavior suggests that they do, in fact, worship sports. They especially worship "ball."

Soon after we moved to south Georgia, we realized that for most people "ball" refers to baseball for boys and softball for girls. When our first spring in Georgia rolled around, I think about 98% (a bit of an overstatement, but not by much) of the kids here played "ball." Playing baseball or softball almost seemed required. Everyone did it.

The ones who worshiped at the "ball" shrine the most seemed to be the parents. Although I heard them complain about the hectic schedule, tired kids, and no evenings at home, they still pressed on with "ball." In general, most of the parents sure appeared to be much more committed to "ball" than they did to their church activities.

"Ball" trumped all.

I find it sort of ironic that the word "ball" is so similar to "Baal." The similarities don't stop there. The pagans in the O.T. worshiped "Baal" by sacrificing to it, spending great time with it, and devoting themselves to it. Many parents here in south Georgia do the same with "ball."

It is obvious to anyone watching all this that there are many parents and kids involved in "ball" who by no means worship the sport. They simply do it because it is fun. However, it is disturbing that not a small number worship at the modern altar of "ball."

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Religion and Denomination: Where are They?

As I was pursuing my interest in religion and maps, I stumbled across this site. It has information on most major denominations and religions in the USA based on population and location.

Check out these maps, and then go to the site for more.


Missions and Maps

I like this map because it shows where the world religions intersect with one another. It may have a few faults, such as suggesting that Nepal is mostly Buddhist (it is actually a Hindu kingdom); however, it is still worth taking a look at. Maps like this should help our churches know how to better pray for missions and decide where to go to spread the gospel.

Click directly on the map for a larger view.

Dominant Religious Groups by Location

I like maps. I especially like interesting maps.

What you see below is not the latest information, but I'm sure the data has not changed much since these maps were put together. The first map shows dominant religious groups by county in the USA in the year 2000. I was a bit surprised to see how Catholicism is so prevalent in a "Protestant" country (click directly on the map to view it in detail).

The second map shows the dominant Protestant denominations by county. My denomination (SBC) really is in the South. In fact, its northern border runs relatively close to the Mason-Dixon Line. Having grown up in New York State (not city), I'm not surprised to see the Methodists being the largest group there. Unfortunately, the liberal UCC is the largest group in liberal New England.

I've added a third map just to remind us of our duty to "make disciples of all nations."

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Precise Definitions Please

If you take a visual tour of the evangelical blog world, you will see many people arguing about many different things. Some are worth discussing, while some are not. Some issues are worth standing up for, while some are not. There is simply no end to what Christians will argue about.

I do think some of the dialog, as long as its done in a Christlike manner, can be helpful. It is good to be challenged to know why we believe what we believe. I always enjoy it when someone posts a comment on this blog that may not agree with something I have said. It causes me to think about what I believe.

As I read blogs, I see another reason why we get in quite so many arguments. We are often not clear in what we write. When we use words (which blogging obviously requires), we need to take time to explain exactly what we mean. There are many terms in the bible that have a wide range of meaning based on the context. For example, words such as "love," "salvation," "sanctification," "world," "beginning," "all," "fruit," and "dog" can all mean different things based on what the author had in mind. While the biblical authors were careful to explain what they meant, we are often sloppy writers.

We need to be better definers.

Many blog-world arguments stem directly from sloppy writing. I am as guilty of this as anyone else. We tend to write quickly, assuming that others will understand what WE mean. However, it doesn't work that way. Others cannot see our body language or hear our tone of voice. All they can see is the words we write. We often leave a lot to be desired when it comes to specificity and precision. We need to hit the bullseye of what we mean.

So what can we do to cut off needless arguments before they begin?

Let me suggest a few things:
1) Define all important terms!
2) When writing, remember that others will be reading what is on the screen, not what is in your head. Don't make the reader assume anything or read between the lines.
3) Go overboard with clarity. Especially when dealing with deep concepts, go out of your way to be clear in what you mean.
4) Restate your important points with different words.
5) Read over your post before posting it. While you do this, try to put yourself in the position of a reader who has stumbled upon your blog for the first time.

I hope I've been clear enough in this post.