Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Reformation Day!

We have much to be thankful for this day, and I'm not referring to ghouls and goblins.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

World Champs at Last!

The Philadelphia Phillies are champions of American baseball.

Being a Phillies fan can be a painful experience. However, right now it is glorious for me. Last night they clinched the championship by defeating the Tampa Bay Rays.

I guess all things are possible. Maybe next year even the Chicago Cubs will win it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Frightened By What I Deserve

For the past two weeks we have been studying Genesis 3 at Chevis Oaks Baptist Church. The more we look at this chapter, the more I realize that I deserve to hang on a cross. I could never pay for my guilt as Jesus did, but I still deserve it. When I think about the details of the crucifixion, I am horrified by it. That is what this video describes.

What is even more amazing is that the spiritual pain for Christ was even worse than the physical torture this video describes.

Praise God for His amazing grace!

Only a Politician Could Root for the Phillies AND Rays in the World Series

Go Phillies!!!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Too Many Books, Not Enough Time

I love to read, but don't seem to have enough time to do it right now. There are multiple books sitting on my shelf just waiting to be devoured. Maybe you are in this same situation.

I'm currently reading:

E. M. Bounds on Prayer

Institutes of the Christian Religion

Outgrowing the Ingrown Church

This Momentary Marriage

What's sitting on my shelf waiting to be read:

Biblical Preaching

Essential Church

Francis Schaeffer Trilogy

Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches

Stand: A Call for the Endurance of the Saints

The Atonement

The Intimate Marriage

Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond

Twelve Challenges Churches Face

If you like to read, but cannot find the time, how do you deal with this? Do you read a book thoroughly, or do you skim?

What are you reading? Do you have any suggestions for good books to add to my shelf?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Church Dissing Fatigue

I'm suffering from Church Dissing Fatigue.

What is Church Dissing Fatigue? This new disorder, commonly referred to as CDF, is diagnosed when a person grows chronically fatigued from reading blogs which diss and complain repeatedly about the church.

I realize that many local churches are in need of reform in various areas. I also realize that since the church is composed of people, and therefore sinners, there will always be some problems.

I also acknowledge that there are some helpful blogs that not only discuss struggles within the church, but also offer helpful solutions. Blogs like this are usually written in a positive and helpful tone. My friend, Alan, writes a good blog of this sort.

My CDF comes from the multitude of blogs that criticize what may be called traditional churches. The blogs I'm referring to tend to be written from a critical and somewhat sarcastic point of view. The posts often suggest that the writer is the one who has finally figured out what the church is supposed to be and do. The writer rails against the problems that exist in traditional churches and rarely offers helpful solutions.

When I read blogs of this nature, I grow fatigued for one main reason. This reason is the main message that flows from the blog posts: pride. It is prideful for a writer to set himself up as some sort of all-knowing guru, telling everyone else what is wrong with their local church body. Writers like this almost act upset that they are not being consulted for advice on how a church should perform its duties.

This sort of blog writer also often writes in very black-and-white terms. When the traditional church is discussed, the writing suggests that everything is wrong with how the traditional church functions. The blogger usually writes as if he either pities or despises the traditional church.

This is not to say that we cannot know what God wants from His church; He has told us much in the bible. However, He has also given us a good deal of freedom in what the expression of the church looks like. Local bodies in NT times were not all the same; they also weren't all told to look and be the same.

I've decided to take the only remedy I know of for treating CDF: I'm going on a permanent diet from church dissing, negative blogs. They do no good. In fact, all they seem to accomplish is puffing up the writers, while causing dissension in the broader Christian blog world.

Let's build up the church instead of ourselves.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Video: Christians Under Attack in India

Christians continue to suffer terribly in parts of India. In order to see and hear about this, click here to watch a BBC report.

Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ as they face persecution. Pray for steadfastness, strength, and hope.

Going to the World Series!

Click here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Different Worship Styles - Same God

On Sunday we as a family participated in worship services of two VERY different styles. The fascinating thing is that the worship was directed to the same God: the Triune God of the bible.

As usual, we worshiped with our Chevis Oaks Baptist Church family during our morning and evening services. The worship style at Chevis Oaks is fairly standard for a Southern Baptist church. A visitor would probably say that joy dominates our worship services. We also tend to be informal. Although we are certainly reverent, our behavior most likely does not suggest that we are in awe at the presence of God during a gathering. I must say that at the conclusion of our services I always feel edified and loved.

After the evening service we made a quick stop at Wendy's. After that, we did something different. Instead of going home, we drove into the historic district of Savannah to attend Christ Church Savannah's Compline service. Christ Church is a member of the Anglican province of Uganda (this basically means that they preach, teach, and believe the biblical gospel).

Christ Church Savannah was founded in 1733. It was Georgia's first church. While in America, John Wesley (yes, that John Wesley) led this congregation. A few years after Wesley, George Whitefield (yes, that George Whitefield) took charge of this body.

The current church building (pictured here) was constructed in 1838. As we walked into the building, we were struck by what we saw. The candlelight atmosphere, stained-glass windows, and silence of the people present combined to generate a sense of reverence and awe. The Compline service, which takes place each Sunday at 9 PM, is a Christian service "dating back to monastic life in the Middle Ages." During the service, a choir sang from the balcony. The musical pieces were relatively short, holding to the Gregorian Chant style of hundreds of years ago. We greatly enjoyed this 30 minute respite.

What we experienced at Chevis Oaks differed greatly from what happened at Christ Church. Was one style better than another? Was one more acceptable to God than another? I do not think so. The key is that the services were biblical. The gospel was proclaimed in different ways, in different atmospheres. However, it was the same gospel.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"In My Place Condemned He Stood"

My favorite biblical doctrine and the one I cherish the most is the atonement of Jesus Christ.  If I ever return to school (yikes) this is the subject that I hope to study in depth.

Because of this, I enjoy reading about the atonement more than any other subject.  The latest book that I've completed on this subject is In My Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of the Atonement.  This relatively short text (about 150 pages) is composed of a series of essays by J. I. Packer and Mark Dever.  I've enjoyed reading both of these men in the past so I assumed this book would be a good investment of time and energy.

Several positives stand out for this book.  First, the subject is at the heart of Christianity so the material itself is automatically compelling.  Second, both of the authors are great scholars.  Third, they both understand that the atoning work of Christ was a definite atonement as opposed to a potential atonement.

The only negative for me personally is that I struggle a bit with J. I. Packer's writing style.  In a somewhat ironic twist, in this book Packer describes John Owen's writings as difficult to read.  And I thought Packer was difficult!

The last section of this book by itself, which is not even one of the essays, is reason enough to purchase it.  Ligon Duncan has compiled an excellent annotated bibliography (25 pages) on the subject of the atonement.  This will come in very handy for later intensive study of this subject.

This book is a good read.  If you purchase it, I suggest reading it along with a few other books that may be a bit easier. 

Monday, October 13, 2008

Watch this Desiring God Video about James 3

Click here to read James 3:1-12.

Attacks Continue on Iraqi Christians

Even CNN, which is not known as the most Christian-friendly organization, is reporting that Christians are coming under increasing attack in parts of Iraq.

According to CNN, "Thirteen Christians have been slain in the past two weeks in the city (Mosul), which is located about 420 kilometers (260 miles) north of Baghdad. At least 900 Christian families have fled in recent days, reportedly frightened by a series of killings and threats by Muslim extremists ordering them to convert to Islam or face possible death, Iraqi officials said."

To read the entire article, click here.

Let's be in prayer for our Christian brothers and sisters who live in very difficult places.

Hebrews 13:3, "Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body."

Friday, October 10, 2008

Appointed to Eternal Life

Many American Evangelical Christians shy away from the doctrines of election and predestination as if they are some sort of evil. I have heard numerous Christians actually say that it wouldn't be fair for God to elect some people to salvation but not others. Having been raised in an Arminian denomination, I cannot even begin to tell how many times I've heard the doctrine of election described as God's looking into the future to see who would choose Him, and then He elected them.

I do not understand why Christians, at least in this country, generally struggle with accepting the fact that it is God who sovereignly selects who will be saved and who will not. I believe that a fair reading of the scriptures shows this to be true.

For example, in Acts 13:48 we read in the ESV, "And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed" (emphasis mine).

The NASB, NKJV, NIV, and HCSB also use the word "appointed" in this verse. The KJV and Wycliffe New Testament use "ordained."

The context of this passage has Paul and Barnabas in Antioch in Pisidia on the first missionary journey. On a Sabbath, a group of Jews was contradicting Paul. In response to this, Paul and Barnabas said that since they rejected the gospel message, Paul and Barnabas would turn to the Gentiles. That is the conclusion of 13:47. Immediately after this, we read 13:48.

In the original Greek language, the meaning is the same (to see it, click here). Luke clearly writes that some Gentiles were assigned, appointed, or designated to eternal life. Those who were thus appointed were those who then believed. The Greek verb form is a perfect passive participle. The key is that it is passive. This means that someone else appointed those who would believe. Who did the appointing? It is clear that God did.

I have read various people attempt to make Acts 13:48 say something other than it does. The reality, however, is that the language is clear and plain. It is not difficult to read or understand. In Acts 13:48, a certain number of Gentiles believed. They were the ones God appointed to believe.

God is sovereign over the election of who is saved and who is not. When we submit to this truth, it gives us a broader, deeper, and sweeter view of the glory of the cross.

I thank God for saving a wretch like me!

Rights for Plants in Switzerland? - It's No Joke

It appears that plants are now being granted rights in Switzerland. For more on this lunacy, read here.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Importance of the Catechism

Our friend Shannon recently commented on this blog, "You mentioned that you catechize your children.  I was wondering if there is a specific approach that you take and if so, are there specific resources you would recommend using?"

Alice and I definitely believe in the importance of catechizing our children.  The unfortunate reality is that most Christians do not know the bible well and know even less doctrine.  The typical American follower of Christ seems to know alarmingly little beyond the basics of the gospel message.

We want our children to know both what they believe and why they believe it.  Because of this, we study systematically through the bible, usually reading a chapter or two per day (some weeks we do a better job of this than others).  During our time of bible study, we also use a catechism.  

As we catechize, we use the traditional question-and-answer format.  We usually go question-by-question, answering together out loud.  For example, the most famous question in the catechism we use is, "What is the chief end of man?"  After I read the question aloud, we all answer together, saying, "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever."

There are several different options for what catechism to use.  This will obviously depend upon what your specific beliefs are.  As Baptists, we have chosen to use a Baptist catechism.  This catechism (pictured above) is published by Desiring God Ministries.   The website description of this catechism says, "This booklet is a slightly revised version of 'The Baptist Catechism' first put forth by Baptists in 1689 in Great Britain.  It is patterned after the well-known Westminster Catechism, and includes some comments in the early sections to help parents make things plain to their children."

To gain a sense for what this catechism is like, you can read it here.

You can order the catechism here.

I highly recommend using some sort of catechism with your children.  It is amazing how much even little children can learn in a relatively short period of time.  The beauty of the catechism is that kids both like it and benefit from it.  They will learn truths that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.  If learned at a young age, children may know a great deal of biblical doctrine even before they submit to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Interesting Book, Wrong Title

Have you ever read a book that you thought was worth the time, but by the end realized that is has the wrong title? This just happened to me as I was completing Simple Church: Returning to God's Process for Making Disciples.

This book, written by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger, would be much more accurately entitled something like "Focused Church" or "Streamlined Church." The reason for this is that what they propose is not really simple. Rather, they suggest a process by which churches can focus or streamline what they are trying to do. The church may end up being just as complex as before, but at the end of the process everything will at least be flowing in the same direction.

Let me explain. This book is worth reading because of the research that Rainer and Geiger put into it. The authors looked at churches that were growing compared to those that have plateaued in attendance. They asked many questions and discovered some interesting things.

In general, Rainer and Geiger found that when a church is focused around a common vision of how they will make disciples, and when the people of the church buy into that vision, the church is likely to thrive. However, if a church has several different vision statements and is not particularly focused, that church struggles to make and keep disciples.

It seems that in the focused church the people are able to rally around a common goal. They know both what they believe and what they are doing while together as a church body. In churches that are not focused, there appears to be a decent amount of confusion about what the church is attempting to accomplish.

The results of this book are helpful. They have made me ask why we do what we do. Any church could benefit from this. Additionally, most churches could probably cease certain activities that do not have anything to do with the church's focus.

Now to the title of the book. What Rainer and Geiger propose in this text is that a church be focused. The reality is that they do not suggest simplicity. What the authors want is for churches to look at what they do, ask why they do what they do, focus on one discipleship plan, and give all attention to that plan. This may all continue to happen within the same structure that the church already has in place. Even a mega-church, with thousands of members, could focus by reading this book. That is hardly the same thing as simple.

When I think of simple church, I think about the most basic aspects of the church as we see it in the bible. This type of simple church is followers of Jesus Christ spending life together, serving one another, bearing one another's burdens, and witnessing to the lost. This simple church is about people as opposed to buildings and programs. This is simple in focus and structure.

It is interesting to see what people are saying about simple church (the concept, not the book) on the internet. For example, sites like this, this, and this are all talking about this phenomenon.

Simple Church (the book) is worth the read. However, it needs a more accurate title.

Monday, October 6, 2008

"150? That's Not Bad."

I recently ventured into our local Lifeway Bookstore here in Savannah. As I was perusing some books (which is always a dangerous temptation), I got into a discussion with one of the ladies who works there. I found out that not only is she a Christian, but she also attends a Southern Baptist Church. After we talked about Baptist life for a few minutes, we began to discuss the specific churches we attend.

It turns out that she is a member of one of the larger SBC churches in the city. Her church averages about 500 in attendance on a Sunday morning. She did not tell me this; I just happen to know it because the church is well-known around town.

This is where the conversation took a turn for the weird. She asked me about where I attend. I told her that I am the pastor of Chevis Oaks Baptist. She asked me how big the church is. I told her that on Sunday mornings we average 125-150 people. That's when she said it.

Her response still rings in my ears. She said, "150? That's not bad."

I have no idea what I said after that. I literally cannot remember the remainder of the conversation. A few minutes later I left the store to drive back to the church building.

For much of the rest of the day I thought about her statement. Obviously, based on this post, I am still pondering it. Several related questions come to mind:

Would fewer than 125-150 in attendance be "bad"?
When does "bad" begin for a church?
What number do you have to reach to be "good"?
What scale of measurement is she using?
Is bigger automatically better?

It is the last question that bothers me the most. As many of us have seen, the American idea of "bigger is better" is ingrained in the minds of many Christians. The line of reasoning goes something like this: people attend a church because other people witness to them; witnessing is good; therefore, bigger churches are full of more obedient people; therefore, bigger churches are better.

There are so many problems with that logic that I don't even want to deal with it. What we must realize is that nowhere in scripture is church size even an issue. It is not commended by God. It isn't even mentioned.

God cares much more about the conditions of the hearts of the people who make up the church than He does about the numerical size of the church. God cares that we love Him and love other people. God desires that we care for the weak among us and lead holy lives. God cares that we build each other up in the faith. God wants us to share our faith in Jesus Christ.

Let's focus on what God cares about, and not play the church numbers game. God simply doesn't care about it.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Atheists Targeting President Over Prayer

A large group of atheists and agnostics is suing President Bush and others over the issue of prayer. Click here to read about it.

Apparently these atheists believe that freedom of religion and freedom of speech should apply only to those who do not believe in God.

Friday, October 3, 2008

"Spectacular Sins"

John Piper has written yet another book that confronts a difficult topic head on. In Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ, Dr. Piper deals with the issue of God's sovereignty over sin. This text looks at how God can both be in control of all things, and yet very, very bad things still happen.

Piper specifically looks at different accounts in the bible that show God's sovereignty over sin. He shows how God either causes or permits sin in order to bring about His good purposes. Making sure to say that God is not the author of sin or guilty of sin, Piper repeatedly illustrates how God controls events and circumstances to glorify Christ.

My favorite chapters of this book were those that look at specific bible characters, the sin in their lives or those around them, and how God used those situations for His wise purposes. These chapters study the fall of Satan, the disobedience of Adam, the pride of Babel, the sale of Joseph, the sinful origin of the Son of David, and the case of Judas Iscariot.

I appreciate Dr. Piper because he is willing to deal with difficult issues such as this without suggesting that God is somehow lacking in sovereignty. Piper shows how God's complete and utter sovereignty should give us great hope during times of trial. That alone makes it worth buying. It is also a quick read (even for a slow reader like me) - only about 110 pages.

Speaking of buying, this book is on sale right now for only $5.00. Click here to see.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Fireproof - It's Worth the $9.00

I have been disappointed TOO MANY times by movies. Most that are recommended to me are not even worth the matinee price. Most aren't even worth the cost of a DVD rental.

Fireproof is different. It is worth every penny.

My wife (Alice) and I went to see Fireproof last night. I have to admit being a little skeptical as the beginning of the movie. However, I ended up enjoying the entire film. It was well-made, well-acted, and (this may sound a bit hokey) inspiring.

The best 3 reasons to see the movie are:

1. Fireproof is clear that we need Jesus Christ. Although the movie does not present the gospel in all its detail, it makes it clear that life only really begins by knowing Jesus Christ. This message is not watered-down in any way.

2. Fireproof displays a high view of marriage. The film clearly indicates that marriage is to be for a lifetime. The screenplay does not downplay the difficulties involved in marriage, but does encourage the viewer to work through these difficulties. It is realistic and biblical.

3. Fireproof deals with pertinent issues of our day. This film tackles subjects such as materialism, pornography, communication in marriage, forgiveness, and the devastation of divorce. I admire the writers for not shying away from difficult subjects.

Here is a bonus reason to see Fireproof:

Fireproof is set in Albany, Georgia. Although Albany is located four hours from here, it is still in South Georgia. That means that the scenery in the movie is much like it is here in Savannah (minus the marsh grass). So, if you want to know what the vegetation is like in Savannah, then you have to go see this movie.

Go see the movie. You will be glad you did.

"He Is Not Silent"

Dr. Albert Mohler is one of my favorite authors. I appreciate his desire to be biblical and to confront secular society with the gospel message.

Mohler has recently penned several books. I just completed reading his new text concerning preaching. He Is Not Silent is a call to preachers to confront our postmodern society with the truths set forth in the bible.

Mohler focuses on the need for expository preaching, the importance of doctrine in preaching, and the challenges of preaching to the postmodern mindset. At the same time, Mohler sounds a clarion call to today's preachers to have the courage and fortitude to preach biblically and keep preaching biblically.

This text is not a "how-to" text for expository preaching. Instead, it is designed to be a wake-up call to preachers and teachers about the need for the proclamation of the clear gospel message in the midst of a society that is confused about religion and spirtuality.

If you have never read a book discussing preaching/teaching as it relates to the current postmodern mindset, then I encourage you to read this book. It is fairly short (about 170 pages) and easy to read. If you have read other texts which focus on the importance of expository preaching, then don't bother with this one.