Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Why Do Good Things Happen to Bad People?

A few days ago I dealt with the question, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" Today I want to talk about what I consider to be a much more interesting question. That question is, "Why do good things happen to bad people?"

We need to first lay some some groundwork. The bible is clear that God is the sovereign Creator of the universe. He is also all-good and the only source of good.

The bible is also clear that all men have rebelled against God's goodness, instead seeking their own way in life. We have all sinned.

In light of the above, it is frighteningly clear that all we deserve from God is His holy wrath. All we deserve is judgment, punishment, and separation from all that is good.

However, our experience tells us that all people, regardless of religious beliefs, receive some good from God. All we have to do is look around to see people enjoying the benefits of family, friends, work, food, clothing, shelter, music, art, nature, etc. All people enjoy these to one degree or another.

Those who follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, having accepted His great gospel through repentance and belief, receive all of the above benefits and infinitely more on a spiritual level. As Christians, we know the living God, have been justified, have been adopted, have been reconciled, have been redeemed, have a purpose in life, have assurance of salvation, have peace and hope, and get to enjoy God in heaven for eternity after we die. There are many more spiritual benefits that I haven't even mentioned.

So why do all these good things happen to bad people? I believe the answer to this question lies in the character and sovereign plan of God.

As to God's character, God Himself tells Moses in Exodus 34:6-7 that He is "merciful and gracious." It is in the very character of the Godhead to give positively of Himself and to not always give people the wrath they deserve.

The scriptures also tell us that God is love. I John 4:8 is very clear on this. A core characteristic of God is the sacrificial love described in the bible.

Regarding God's sovereign plan for this world, the bible tells us that God created people for His glory. See Isaiah 43:6-7. God's purpose in creating this world seems to be to glorify Himself through human beings.

We know that within the Trinity itself there is complete perfection. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live together with no need for anything else. However, God, in his absolute mercy, grace, and love, made the decision to share Himself with others. Therefore, He created. We were created to share in God's splendor and to worship Him in response to this.

When we talk about this, we must keep in mind that it all hinges on the gospel. Something really bad happened to the perfect One (Jesus Christ) so that something wonderful could happen to us. The spotless lamb was crucified so that we wouldn't have to be. II Corinthians 5:21 and I Peter 2:24 describe this great exchange.

So why do good things happen to anyone? The answer lies in the perfect character and wise plan of God. Out of His mercy, grace, and love, He decided to share His goodness with us. We deserve none of it. It is simply a wonderful, undeserved gift designed to glorify the worthy One: God.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What is Your Confession of Faith?

What is your confession of faith?

I would really like to know what your confession of faith is. If you read this post, please leave a short comment letting me know. I admit that this is more for the sake of curiosity than anything else, but I still think it could be interesting.

I just finished reading the short booklet you see to the left, which is entitled, "A Faith to Confess: The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689." It is a 66 page booklet which contains the 1689 Baptist Confession in modern English. When I mention "modern English," this does not mean that anything substantive has been changed. It is similar to the a change in language from the KJV to the NKJV.

The 1689 Baptist Confession is the one I agree with most closely. Although I don't hold to every single statement in this confession, I still find it to be the most biblical confession that exists. I know others will not agree with me on this, but this is where I stand.

Why even bother with a confession? Why not just say, "I believe in the bible and that is enough."? I agree that the bible is our supreme authority in faith and practice; however, many different groups (even some cults) claim to just believe the bible.

It is important to have some sort of confession in order to state clearly and concisely what you believe. The process of finding a confession is also a helpful one because it challenges us to look to the bible to find out what we actually believe is true. It is dangerous to just automatically accept your denomination's confession (if you are part of a denomination) without studying it first.

The Southern Baptist Confession of Faith is the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. This is a good confession, but I find it to be lacking in specific areas not related to core doctrines. The 1689 Confession is much more thorough than the BFM 2000; therefore, I prefer it as my own confession.

So what do you believe? Do you have a specific confession? If so, what is it?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Pastoral Free Agency

It happens every year at the end of both college football and college basketball seasons. The big universities that have had a few losing seasons in a row will fire their coaches. They will then look at smaller universities and colleges to find coaches whose teams had winning records. The big universities will then offer those coaches a lot of money, power, and prestige. The coaches from the small schools will inevitably "take the money and run." This almost always hurts the programs at the smaller schools.

Considering the secular environment of college athletics, it is not surprising that big universities and coaches act as they do.

What is surprising is that churches and pastors often act exactly like what I have described above.

Every year any number of big churches begin to struggle with dropping attendance and poor finances. The real reasons for these problems can be numerous. However, many times the pastor gets blamed (this may be deserved or may not). Then he gets summarily fired. What are the big churches to do? Do they look within their own walls to find another pastor? No, they don't. The big churches look at smaller churches to find out which ones are growing in number. They look at number of baptisms. Search committees from big churches assume that big baptism numbers are automatically a good thing. They then offer offer those pastors a lot of money, power, and prestige. The pastors from the small churches will inevitably "take the money and run." This almost always hurts the small churches.

Within the body of Christ it ought not be this way. One problem with all this is that the big churches are giving far too much credit to the pastor. They act as if the pastor himself is responsible for the baptism numbers rising or falling. In reality, it is the entire church's responsibility to share the gospel. God will open the hearts He chooses to open, and those people should be quickly baptized.

Another problem with the above scenario is that it keeps churches from examining themselves to see what the problems are. If the pastor is automatically blamed for dropping numbers, then no other factors will be analyzed. It may even be a good thing for numbers to occasionally drop if this is God's way of purifying the local church.

Finally, there is the issue of the harm that this does to the smaller churches. It may be that God is moving in a wonderful way in a church with a faithful pastor. When this pastor leaves, it usually harms this church because it is automatically at a loss for leadership, teaching, and vision (not devoid of these things but certainly struggling with them).

Of course, most of this problem could be avoided if churches would follow the biblical model for leadership: multiple elders/overseers/pastors. When a multiplicity is in place, then the loss of one doesn't really hurt the church very much.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

"Why do bad things happen to good people?"

This is a question that befuddles and perplexes many people. If you spend any time watching TV (which I don't recommend), you will see this issue discussed by all sorts of philosophers, psychologists, and religious gurus. They all attempt to sound intelligent while providing silly answers, but the reality is that they have nothing substantive to say.

So many people are bothered by this subject that many books have been written. I just visited and found these titles on the first search page:

When Bad Things Happen to Good People
Why Bad Things Happen to Good People
When Bad Things Happen to Good People
Why Good People Do Bad Things
If There Is a God, Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?
Why Bad Things Happen to Good Black Women
If God is Good, Why is the World So Bad?
Why Good People Do Bad Things
Why Do Bad Things Happen to So-Called "Good People"?

I cannot speak for or against the quality of the above books because I haven't read any of them. I just find it interesting how many people have written on this topic.

Let's back up a bit. When we look at what scripture teaches and then look at this question, we must realize that the fundamental problem lies in an assumption within the question itself. The assumption made by anyone asking this question is that there are good people. The problem with the question is that there are no good people.

The bible is abundantly clear on this matter. Here are just a few verses to make this obvious:

Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? "

Mark 7:20-23, "And He said, 'What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.'"

Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

Ephesians 2:1-3, "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others."

James 2:10, "For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all."

In light of the obvious wickedness of the human heart, it makes sense that bad things happen to all people, because all people are bad. God, in His perfect holiness, has every right to bring all the bad He wants on any person, for we have all rebelled against Him.

The far more interesting question is this, "Why do good things happen to bad (all) people?"

I'll tackle that one in the near future.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Why is there Evil in this World?

The presence of evil in this world causes theological problems for some people. Some folks wonder why an all-good, all-powerful God would allow evil to exist. Some people conclude that God must either be limited in His power (which would make Him less than God) or limited in His goodness (which is terrifying to ponder).

Others go so far as to question God's motives and intentions. They say that it is not fair for God to allow evil. They act as if God has no right to do what He wants to with this world. In the end, they basically ask, "God, how dare you allow evil?"

This is a huge issue that minds wiser than mine have tackled. The answers are rarely simple and usually not easy. However, this does not mean that God is in any way limited in His complete goodness or absolute power.

When people ask, "God, how dare you?" they are assuming something very important. They assume that they can see the big picture of what is happening. They are assuming that they understand all the implications and outcomes of the evil they see. By doing this, they are taking over a position reserved only for God Himself. In essence, they are claiming to know as much as God knows. When they do this, they set themselves up as God.

When the "God, how dare you?" question is asked, something else important is assumed. The asker of the question is assuming that God thinks and acts like a fallen human would think and act. The question implies that God may have some sort of impure motives behind what He is doing. When they ask this, they are basically saying that God isn't, in fact, God.

Does God have to prove His power, knowledge, and purity to us? Not in the least. Think of His reaction to Job after Job's lengthy discussions with his friends. God said in Job 38:2, "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?" and in Job 38:4, "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?" God never feels the need to justify Himself to Job.

Since God is the all-powerful Creator of the world, He then has every right to do whatever He wants to with the world. This by itself does not make God all-good, but it does show that He is all-powerful and absolutely sovereign. In case anyone doubts this, he should re-read Genesis 1.

As for God's goodness, all the evidence we need is the sacrifice of Jesus for sin. God took His Son, who was completely innocent (in a way we can never be), and crushed Him for us. II Corinthians 5:21 says, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

God made a sacrifice that wasn't deserved and gave the benefits to a group of rebels. This supreme sacrifice is profound evidence for the goodness of God. It is all we need to remind us that God is all-good.

So how do we reconcile the fact that evil exists with the fact that God is all-good and all-powerful? We ought to come to the same conclusions that Joseph and Job came to. Joseph, when talking with his brothers about their selling of him into slavery many years before, said in Genesis 50:20, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." Joseph realized that God sometimes causes evil to happen in order to bring about a greater good. Notice that 50:20 uses the word "meant." God did not simply allow this evil to befall Joseph, but he caused it.

In Job chapter 1, after Job's livestock, servants, and children have been killed, Job responds in an amazing way. Job 1:20-22 says, "Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.' In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong."

Later, after Job's health has been taken away, we read Job's response in 2:10, "Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?"

Job recognizes that both good and evil come from God. Job does not charge God with being the author of evil, but understands that God is completely sovereign over it. He trusts that God has the right to use evil to bring about His good purposes. He trusts God to bring about good.

So when we wonder why evil exists, we can rest in the fact that God remains all-good and all-powerful. We can also rest in the fact that God will bring about some greater good from the evil that happens.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sermon Silence Can be Golden

This morning I preached from Philippians 4:8-9. Paul writes, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you."

As I preached, I emphasized the importance of God's children thinking in a manner that honors Him. Paul commands us to meditate (and go on meditating) upon whatever has the positive characteristics mentioned above. Meditation requires time, effort, patience, and determination.

This morning, as I studied the passage prior to the worship service, I felt led by the Lord to discuss the issue of modesty. In most churches these days, the lack of modesty is a significant problem. Some women choose to not wear enough, and many of the men appear to approve of this. I waded into this topic with more than a bit of fear and trepidation.

As I was speaking, I talked about the need for men to think only about what honors God. I didn't mention the issue of lust in particular, but we all knew what I was discussing (this is also an issue for women, but to a lesser degree). After talking to the men, I asked the women to help us men by dressing modestly. I specifically asked the ladies that if they are unsure if an outfit is modest, then they should not wear it.

While all this was going on, something very interesting happened. I could tell that the church was listening because the sanctuary went dead quiet. There was absolutely no sound other than the air conditioning. During most sermons, there is always a little noise such as papers being folded, people moving in their seats, or quiet whispers. As I discussed modesty, there was none of that. Interestingly, it was silent even though I didn't ask for this response in any way. I didn't change my vocal pitch, tone, or volume. It was the subject that grabbed them.

I'm not sure whether or not the people approved of what I was saying, but I know they heard me. I'm interested to see whether or not any behavior change occurs. I pray that the Holy Spirit will make this happen.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Most of the Time I (Regrettably) Act Like a Hyper-Calvinist

A few months ago, I wrote a post entitled, "I Still Haven't Met a Hyper-Calvinist." That particular post generated a lot more conversation (22 comments, some of which were mine) than most of my posts do. I was trying to make the point that I have never met a person within the SBC who claims to be a Hyper-Calvinist. The comment stream from that post indicates to me that Hyper-Calvinists do exist, but the vast majority are outside the SBC.

Although I am Reformed in soteriology, I in no way embrace the theology of Hyper-Calvinism. However, as I look at my daily Christian walk, I'm sad to say that I often function like a Hyper-Calvinist. For example, although I know I should be sharing the gospel on a regular basis, the reality is that I am not. This does not stem from my theological beliefs, but rather from my own timidity, selfishness, and lack of love for other people. Like the person in the photo, I go through most days covering my mouth about the gospel.

As I look around evangelical churches, I see many Calvinists, many Arminians, and many others in between who live as I usually do: as functional Hyper-Calvinists. My experience is that most Arminians who strongly disagree with Reformed doctrine still live as Hyper-Calvinists.

Since we have moved back to the USA over a year ago, only two people have tried to share what they believe with me, and they were Mormons on mission from Utah. Although I didn't believe any of their false teachings, I was at least impressed by their effort and zeal.

As far as evangelism is concerned, I can't force others to change, but I can change (with the power of the Holy Spirit) one person - me. I intend to live out more of a missionary lifestyle. I hope all my Christian friends, regardless of where they are on the Arminianism-Calvinism spectrum, will do the same.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Thursday Night is Family Night

In the busyness of life, family time can sometimes take a backseat. Alice and I are tired of this happening. We've decided to block out one evening per week that will be reserved for family time. Thursday night has become family night. Of course, we hope to spend much more time together than just one evening per week, but we want to make sure to set aside that night on our schedule.

We plan to normally just hang out, play games, and/or watch a movie. Last night most of us watched Penelope, a comedy-drama about a girl who is cursed with a pig nose.

Caroline, who had already seen Penelope, watched Zathura instead. It's a fun movie about kids who play a board game that sends them into a series of outer space adventures.

Our goal on most of these nights is going to be to simply have fun together as a family. Movies will be the exception, with game-playing being the norm.

This will in no way take away from our family worship time, which we have now moved to the mornings after breakfast. Today we began studying the book of John. It was a thrill to teach our kids through John 1:1-5. What a wonderful privilege!

Let me encourage you to spend time, both structured and informal, with your kids. If need be, reserve time for it.

Dr. Mohler on Population Decline due to Lack of Babies

To follow-up on my last post about the decline of children being born in this country, I'd like to point you to several excellent articles written by Dr. Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on this topic. To read these, click here, here, and here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

When Did 3 Kids Become A Lot?

When I was growing up in western New York State, I can remember our family being a little bit different. The reason for this was that we only had two kids (my younger sister and me), while most of my friends seemed to come from three-kid families. There were even a decent number of families around who had four or more children.

In just one generation times have changed. In most families I see, the number of children is now two. There is nothing morally wrong with this, but it is interesting to see the significant change that has happened. When we as a family introduce ourselves to others for the first time, they often act surprised that we have three children. Three kids appears to have become a lot in many people's eyes.

This phenomenon of small families has even affected the way houses are built. We are currently looking to buy a house in the Savannah, GA area. The vast majority of homes built within the last twenty to thirty years have three bedrooms. The two non-master bedrooms are usually small. We would love to have a four bedroom house, but our options are severely limited. I have no idea what families do who have six or more kids. They must have to cram them in.

If this societal situation continues (decreasing family size), the overall population of our country will begin to shrink. Just to keep the current population the same, each family has to have about 2.4 kids (this is because some people die early from illnesses, accidents, etc.). If our country begins to decrease in size, this will put a huge strain on a smaller work force trying to support a large, older retired class. The economic impact will damage our country.

At a personal level, I'm not sure why people don't want more kids. We have been blessed with three, but I now wish we had had even more. The bible makes it clear that children are a blessing. For example, Psalm 127:3-5 says, "Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate."

In just one generation it appears that three children is now considered a lot. What will happen if this downward numerical trend continues? In just one more generation, will the norm be only one child per family? What happens then? Surely it cannot be a good thing if families begin to have no children at all. If a couple purposely decides to have no children, the reason could only be selfishness (unless there is a medical issue involved). In general, there does seem to be something morally wrong with purposely having no children.

There is no doubt that raising children is a difficult task. It requires years of hard work. However, it is also a great reward. Furthermore, we were given the gift of being raised by someone. When we raise children, we are simply returning the favor.

As Christians, when we raise up children in a Christian family, the chances that they will serve the Lord greatly increases. This leads to more worshipers of God, which is obviously a good thing. Ephesians 6:4 says, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."

Children are wonderful gift from God. I don't think three is a lot. Let me encourage you to have lots of them.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mixed Emotions at the Lord's Supper

This past Sunday we celebrated the Lord's Supper at Chevis Oaks Baptist Church. Going into the service, I was so excited I almost couldn't stand it. I'm glad to say that the Lord blessed our service. I believe He was glorified through it, and I know the church body was edified.

In the weeks leading up to the Lord's Supper, I taught about the Passover from Exodus 12 and on the importance of examining ourselves from I Corinthians 11. This Sunday, I preached specifically on 11:23-26. We partook of the supper immediately after the sermon.

While I was preaching I noticed something interesting. Quite honestly, it was something that I hadn't prepared for. While I spoke about the significance and meaning of this ordinance, I saw many different emotions on the faces of the people. I'm glad to say that the most common emotion was one of joy. For various reasons, the church hadn't partaken of the Lord's Supper since January. Because of this, the church body very much wanted to participate. I could see joy on the faces of many of the people as I was speaking and especially when we took the meal.

On a few faces I did not see joy. Rather, I saw sadness. I saw quiet crying. This is because people they love deeply do not know God. The Lord's Supper causes us all to think seriously about the fact that some people know God and others do not. It makes us think about eternity. It forces us to remember that as there is a heaven, there is also a hell. The sadness I saw on a few faces comes directly from the thought of a loved one perishing apart from Jesus Christ.

As I preached, I also saw indifference on a small number of faces. This could have been due to a boring sermon, but I don't think that was the case. I know for a fact that at least a few people in attendance have not yet repented of their sins and trusted in Jesus as Lord and Savior. In the sermon, I presented the gospel, but I also made it clear that the unsaved should not partake of the supper. Those who I knew are not saved seemed indifferent to most of what I was saying. I saw one person sleeping.

As we ate and drank, my emotions were not mixed at all. I was thrilled to partake of the Lord's Supper. I admit that I do not understand all that is going on at a spiritual level during the supper, but I'm still awed by the whole thing. I can't wait to participate again.

I feel bad for those who had mixed emotions on Sunday. In particular, I feel for those who are sad because of loved ones who do not know Christ. I fear for those who acted indifferent to the whole celebration.

The Lord's Supper is the visual gospel that forces us to recognize the reality that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who serve God and those who do not. I pray that those who acted indifferent on Sunday will soon repent, believe, and be counted with those who serve the Lord.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Gospel in One Verse

"For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." II Corinthians 5:21

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Last Two Years: One Amazing, Providential Ride

The last two years have been difficult and amazing for our family. I was just re-reading a post that I wrote in June of last year (read it by clicking here). At that point, Bobby had just recently completed chemotherapy and we had no idea where we would end up living or what we would be doing. We knew God was in control, but that was about it.

In late May of last year, Bobby completed chemotherapy. By the end of his treatments, we were worn out, homeless, and clueless about a lot of things.

Over the summer and autumn of last year, God gave us time to heal mentally and emotionally. Prior to that, we had been going, going, going since 2002. That's when I began seminary. After seminary, we went to missions training, and then to South Asia. As you know, we left India and dove straight into chemotherapy.

God provided several opportunities to see our extended family during last summer. We attended Alice's parents' 50th wedding anniversary in New York. We also greatly enjoyed Bobby's Make-A-Wish trip to San Diego.

Toward Christmas of last year, we began to sense that God was directly us to resign from the International Mission Board. This was very difficult for us. We had been so focused on living and serving overseas that is was hard to let that go. However, in January we finally made the decision to "cut the cord" from the IMB.

We believed (and still do) that resigning was what God wanted us to do, but at the time we still had absolutely no idea what was coming next for us. However, God knew and was in control over the entire situation.

About one month after we resigned, I heard through a friend that a baptist church named Chevis Oaks was without a pastor and needed someone to preach. When I was contacted by one of the deacons, I gladly accepted. It did not take long for me to begin to feel at home at Chevis Oaks. This scared me a bit because I did not want to get close emotionally only to have to later say "good-bye."

God worked everything out for me to continue to preach at Chevis Oaks. Eventually, I was asked to preach every Sunday and to lead prayer meeting on Wednesday nights. Throughout this time, I increasingly sensed God moving me toward the pastorate at this particular church. I did not want to hope it would happen, but I couldn't help it.

As of last month, I was asked to be pastor. What a huge answer to prayer! I am overjoyed and relieved to know where our place of ministry is, and where we can call home. I look forward to serving here for many years to come.

In looking back over the last two years, it has been filled with highs and lows. Some would call it a roller coaster ride of sorts. However, I can now see God's hand in all of it. He guided all that happened to work out His purposes, which was also the best thing for me and my family. When I graduated two years ago, I never would have guessed that this is where I would now be.

God has bigger and better plans than we do. He providentially governs all things in my life and yours. For this, He deserves great praise!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Two Quick Reviews

Since I had some free time today, as my family drives back to Georgia from New York, I decided to finish reading a couple of books.

The first is a text that I have been working on for quite a while - The Practice of the Presence of God. Based on Brother Lawrence's discussions with his followers about 300 years ago, this book is challenging because the author delves into his close relationship with the Lord. He discusses in depth the minute-by-minute communion he has learned to cultivate over years of abiding with God.

The description of this book says, in part, "Here is one of the most beautiful and touching stories of Christian devotion ever written. Brother Lawrence was a Carmelite Brother known for his profound peace and deep relationship with God; many came to seek spiritual guidance from him. The wisdom that he passed on to them, in conversations and in letters, would later become the basis for the book."

One of my favorite quotes from the book reads, "It is not enough to know God as a theory, from what we read in books, or feel some fleeting motions of affection for Him, brief as the wave of feeling, or glimpse of the Divine, which prompts them; our faith must be alive, and we must make it so, and by its means lift ourselves beyond all these passing emotions to worship the Father and Jesus Christ in all their divine perfection."

I recommend that you buy this book and plan to read it over the span of about a month. Brother Lawrence delves into some deep ideas that can't be fully comprehended quickly. It would be a good book to read as part of a daily devotional time. The chapters are short, which makes it easy to just read a little each day. This book will challenge you to walk closely with the Lord every minute of the day.

The second book is Thabiti Anyabwile's What is a Healthy Church Member? This is part of a series of short texts put out by IX Marks Ministries.

I'm surprised to watch myself write this, but I was a bit disappointed with this book. The reason is simple: it seems like a rehashing of a book that was already published - Mark Dever's Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. It is understandable why this all happened. Anyabwile used to serve at Capitol Hill Baptist Church with Dever. Also, this book is designed to follow in the same line of thought as the first Nine Marks book. If I had never read Dever's book, then I think Anyabwile's book would have been more interesting.

In What is a Healthy Church Member?, Anyabwile takes each of the nine marks of a healthy church, and and places it squarely on each church member. He looks at the church member as he ought to relate to preaching, the gospel, conversion, evangelism, discipline, discipleship, etc. The content and writing style are both good, but as I was reading this book I felt like I already knew what was coming on the next page.

Because of its short length (about 120 pages), this would be a good book for any church member to read - even those who don't normally like to pick up a book. It might help some Christians better think through what it means to be a member of a church. However, if you have already read the previous Nine Marks book, then don't bother with this one.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What does it mean to be "Baptist"?

If you attend a Baptist church, it would be very good to know what it means to be Baptist.

Nathan Finn, assistant professor of church history at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (where I attended from 2002-2006), has written an excellent article entitled Christian Identity and Baptist Distinctives. In his article, Finn articulates what Baptists have in common with most other Christians, what Baptists have in common with most other Protestant Christians, and what makes Baptists unique. I highly encourage you to read this article if you have connection with or interest in what it means to be Baptist.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Don't Fall Asleep During the Lord's Supper

This coming Sunday (7/13) we are celebrating the Lord's Supper at Chevis Oaks Baptist Church. I am very excited. The sermon text will be I Corinthians 11:23-26. It has been a long time since my family and I have been able to celebrate this wonderful ordinance with a church family.

In order to assist the church in preparing for the Lord's Supper, I preached on I Corinthians 11:27-34 this past Sunday. In that passage, Paul warns the Corinthians that they must partake of the Lord's Supper worthily. In order to do that, he exhorts them to examine themselves. Paul basically wanted them to put themselves on trial before God as He helped them look objectively at their lives. During the sermon, I repeatedly asked the church body to take time to examine their own lives during this week.

When Paul tells them to examine themselves, he uses a present active command. The significance of this is that it seems the apostle wants the Corinthians (and us) to make a practice of continually examining ourselves. We shouldn't examine ourselves only during the week leading up to the Lord's Supper, as if we are cramming for a final exam in college. If we make a habit of examining our lives all the time, then the week leading up to the Lord's Supper should actually be no different than any others.

Paul doesn't mess around at all in verse 30. He makes the point that because of their irreverent and flippant practice of the Lord's Supper (as described in 11:17-22), many among them have become sick and some "sleep." He means that they have died. This gives us a very clear idea as to how seriously God takes the Lord's Supper. I wonder how often we take this ordinance with that in mind.

Let me encourage you to make a practice of examining yourselves every day. Regardless of how often your church family partakes of the Lord's Supper, it is a spiritually healthy practice to put yourself on trial before God. II Corinthians 13:5 gives us a good look into what testing is all about. Paul writes, "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?- unless indeed you fail to meet the test!"

Examine yourselves. No one wants to fall asleep during the Lord's Supper.

Interesting Survey on Americans and Holy Books

Pollster George Barna has released the results from a survey of American beliefs about various "holy Books." The findings show that the bible is still THE book most Americans consider to be holy. One key sentence reads, "The only book listed by at least 5% was the Bible, which was named as a holy book by 84% of the public."

To see all the results, click here.

Funny Photo

My brother-in-law recently sent us this picture. Now that is one scary cat.

Monday, July 7, 2008

John Piper on "How to Hear the Word of God"

As followers of Jesus, we all know that the Word of God is critical to our lives. If we want to know who God is and what He expects of us, we must be very familiar with the bible. As we study scripture, we may wonder how we ought to go about hearing God's Word. How do we hear it and how should we respond? John Piper addresses this topic in a short blog entry that is well worth the few minutes it will take to read. Click here and enjoy.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

"The End of Reason"

In his latest book, Christian theologian and apologist Ravi Zacharias refutes the secular-humanist worldview. In particular, Zacharias responds to atheist Sam Harris' book entitled Letter to a Christian Nation.

I appreciate Zacharias because he is extremely gifted at seeing through the illogical arguments of those who attack the Christian faith. In The End of Reason, he shows the weaknesses of the atheistic positions held by men like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens.

For example, on page 30 Zacharias writes, "As you well know, everyone has a worldview. A worldview basically offers answers to four necessary questions - questions that relate to origin, meaning, morality, and hope that assures a destiny. These answers must be correspondingly true and, as a whole, coherent." Zacharias then goes on to clearly show how the atheistic worldview offers no satisfying answers to any of the above four aspects of worldview.

Toward the very end of this book (pages 126-127), Zacharias makes an interesting statement. He writes, "Secularism simply does not have the sustaining or moral power to stop Islam. Even now, Europe is demonstrating that its secular worldview - one that Harris applauds - cannot stand against the onslaught of Islam and is already in demise. In the end, America's choice will be between Islam and Jesus Christ."

I highly recommend this book for several reasons. First, it shows the reader where the atheistic-secularists stand in this country. Second, it clearly lays out the emptiness of the atheistic worldview and arguments. Third, it is a relatively quick and easy read (only 128 pages). Finally, it helps the Christian be strengthened in his faith.

This book would be beneficial for any Christian.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


Today is somewhat bittersweet for me because my wife is in New York State and this is our anniversary. I praise the Lord for giving me such a wonderful wife for these past 17 years. Alice is amazing and very talented, which you already know if you know her. I can't wait for her (and the kids) to come home in about a week.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Love of God and Love of Country - Two Very Separate Things

I love my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I also love my country. Although I love them both, these loves are very different and very separate. When we begin to fuse or confuse the two, we have a problem.

When we read the New Testament, we see Jesus and His followers facing persecution from those in positions of authority. Some of these were religious leaders, while others were political. The early church was never granted "religious freedom" by anyone here on earth. I seriously doubt the Christians described in the book of Acts, for example, confused their love for God with their feelings about countries in which they lived.

As in bible times, most biblical Christians today live where the ruling elites do not favor them. For example, in China the church faces various levels of persecution from the Communist government. In India, the church is often targeted by radical Hindu groups. In Islamic countries, Christians are frequently treated brutally simply because they confess Christ as Lord. I don't think these folks mix love of Jesus with love of country.

In the USA, we are in a unique situation. We are one of the few countries in the world that offers, at least for now, some semblance of religious freedom to Christians. This is a country which was founded on Christian principles, but has strayed far from those. However, many Christians in the USA still believe and act like this is a "Christian nation." Because of this, they often mix and match their love of God with love of country.

Some go so far as to say that if you love God you also love your country. They act as if you must love your country in order to love God. This even plays itself out in how conservative Christians, in order to show that they love God, almost all vote Republican instead of looking for better options (not Democrat, but rather this).

What bothers me the most about this odd mix of love of God and love of country is how it affects the church. This coming Sunday in the USA many churches will have a confusing worship service. The confusion lies in who will be worshiped. Is it God? Is it country? Is it a strange mix of the two? Listen carefully to the singing and the preaching. Who or what is the focus on Sunday?

I don't have a problem with singing an occasional patriotic hymn, if the focus of that hymn is on God and not country. What troubles me is when the overall theme of the worship service is bowing before the US flag instead of God Himself. This is why on this coming Sunday I have absolutely no plans to say anything at all about US independence day.

On Sunday, July 13th we will be celebrating the Lord's Supper at Chevis Oaks Baptist. I can't wait. This Sunday I will be preaching from I Corinthians 11:27-34. I'll be stressing what Paul stressed: the importance of partaking of the supper worthily; we go about this first by examining ourselves. By preaching on this text on Sunday, my hope is that we as a church will examine ourselves throughout the upcoming week (and continue to do so after the Lord's Supper).

The text has nothing to do with US independence. Therefore, I'm not mentioning it.

Let's stop confusing love of God and love of country. As Christians, our primary duty and joy is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

God's Beauty in Watkins Glen

For the past week or so my family has been vacationing in New York State (not city). I'm surviving, but it's not easy. To see photos of their current adventures in the North, click here.

When we have gone on family vacations in the past to New York State, we have frequently visited Watkins Glen State Park. "The Glen" is a narrow gorge that has been cut out of the rock by a stream to create amazing formations.

I'm always astounded when I see beautiful nature spots because it gives a tiny glimpse into the beauty of the One who created it - God Himself. When I am overcome by the splendor of His nature, I have to wonder what He will be like when we see Him face-to-face.

I'm including several photos from Watkins Glen that I took about two years ago. Our kids look younger, but the glen looks the same today. Some of the pictures almost look unreal, like something out of a Lord of the Rings movie. I enjoy these because they make me think of my Creator.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

"Boy Meets Girl"

I recently finished reading Joshua Harris' book entitled Boy Meets Girl. Since this book flows against the grain of modern views about dating, it was both challenging and interesting to read.

Ever since reading Harris' previous book (I Kissed Dating Goodbye), I have been thinking about what responsibilities Christian parents have in guiding their children toward a godly marriage. To make it personal, I have a 14-year-old daughter who I want to guide and assist in honoring the Lord as she moves toward marriage (if that is what God has for her).

I have come to the conclusion that the modern concept of dating is nothing more than unbiblical divorce practice. Although dating cannot be supported by anything at all in the bible, most churched-people go right along with secular America in accepting this practice. Some Christians even get angry in defending their children's right to date. I can't figure it out.

Alice and I hope to convince all our children that courting is the biblical model and what honors God. Courting, if done well, honors God by keeping both the young man and woman pure while they purposely get to know one another. By acting this way, if they do get married they will have no regrets. If they do not get married, then they will be able to part ways knowing that they have honored the Lord and each other as brother and sister in Christ.

Boy Meets Girl was wonderful for me to read because it confirmed for me that what Alice and I are trying to do is being done by others and has great results. This book is Harris' own story of his courtship of his wife, Shannon. It was so refreshing to read about a young couple who put the Lord first in the way they treated one another.

This is what Harris says about his book on his website: "I wrote Boy Meets Girl the year after I was married. It was a great chance to answer many of the questions that were raised by my first book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I know the last thing most singles want is more rules and, in Boy Meets Girl, I wanted to offer an alternative: an intentional, God-pleasing game plan for finding a future spouse. In the book, I discuss how biblical courtship (a healthy, joyous alternative to recreational dating) worked for me and my wife Shannon, to give an encouraging and practical example for readers wanting to pursue the possibility of marriage with someone they're serious about. This updated version includes a new foreword, a new chapter, an all-new '8 Great Courtship Conversations' section, and some updated material throughout."

I strongly recommend this book to anyone, but especially to parents. Courtship is a practice that all our families and churches should begin to promote as a biblical alternative to dating.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I Know Buildings Don't Matter

As the title says, I know buildings don't matter. However, for those of you who are curious about what the Chevis Oaks Baptist Church facility looks like, I've included some photos. I'll admit that the picture quality is not the best, but that's because I used my phone to take them.

The people of the church were nice enough to put my name on the sign. I felt a bit embarrassed by all the attention, but I'll admit that it was nice.

The front of the sanctuary from across the road

Older sections of the church - Sunday school rooms and a small chapel

The front of the small chapel

Looking at the pulpit from the back of the sanctuary

Looking out from the pulpit

One of the stained-glass windows in the sanctuary - the windows together tell the story of the life of Christ

Inside the small chapel, which is my favorite room in the church

They even gave me a study

As I said before, buildings do not matter eternally. However, this is going to be my primary place of ministry for (I hope) many years to come. As I blog in the future, I hope to discuss many glorious things that happen in the body life of this church that are much more meaningful than wood, title, bricks, and mortar.