Thursday, April 27, 2006

Together for the Gospel

I am here in Louisville (that’s pronounced ‘looouhvul’), Kentucky for the ‘Together for the Gospel’ pastors conference. Paul Gilbert (Pastor of Family Ministries) and Scott Stake (Pastor of Children’s Ministries) are here with me. Check out the site for the conference at

This is really a dream conference in terms of content. Tonight, Mark Dever addressed us regarding The Pastor’s Understanding of His Own Role and took as his text all of 1 Corinthians 4. (Mark is pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in D.C. and is executive director for 9Marks ministries Still on the docket we’ve got R.C. Sproul, J. Ligon Duncun, Al Mohler, C.J. Mahaney, John Piper, and John MacArthur. Whoa daddy! I’ll keep you updated.

It is exciting, thrilling, really to hear from these men, and to see 2800 pastors and church leaders gathered around, this fundamental vision: that God has ordained that the church be the vessel of displaying the mysteries of the gospel to a sinful and dying world. The desire of the founders of this conference is to compel, encourage, equip, and admonish pastors to build healthy local churches that do just that: display God’s glory.

Here at Four Oaks Community Church we have been pursuing this vision wholeheartedly in recent months. We have been listening to sermons, reading books, meeting and discussing in homes so that we might grow deeper in our love for Christ, more intentional in our love and care for one another, and more focused in our love of the gospel’s message for a lost world.

As we have ventured into this terrain we have asked hard questions about how we do this, and why we do that in terms of programs, small groups, ministry structure, etc. We have been poking and prodding one another to delve into the truth and centrality of God’s Word as our ultimate guide and source for building this body and growing stronger in our most holy faith.

It is good to hear these desires of our pastoral team and council of elders at Four Oaks echoed and supported by these godly and wise men. It is heartening to see God’s work in the faithful labors of these men who have devoted themselves to the local church in pastoral ministry.

Let’s not forget to pray for healthy churches, bold and visionary pastors, hungry members, and godly leaders!

…to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. -- Ephesians 3:9-11

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Join the Pastors' Prayer Team

Thom Rainer's book, Breakout Churches (I do not endorse this book for the most part, though it is a very interesting study of church health and growth.) gives us this statistic regarding the state of the pastorate in the American church:

The average tenure of a pastor in America is between 3.6-4.2 years.

This is disturbing because I truly believe that it takes time, testing, patience, and trust for churches to grow (in terms of HEALTH) and for pastors to thrive in their duties. I have been here at Four Oaks almost six years and I feel like we are just getting started! I believe also that pastors are targeted by Satan, and it is his strategy to destroy pastors, and to stagnate church life with a constant flux in leadership.

Ken Sande of Peacemaker Ministries gives some more bad news regarding pastors and churches:

1. 23 percent of all current pastors in the United States have been fired or forced to resign in the past.
2. 45 percent of the pastors who were fired in one denomination left the ministry altogether.
3. 34 percent of all pastors presently serve congregations that forced their previous pastor to resign.
4. The average pastoral career lasts only fourteen years—less than half of what it was not long ago.
5. 25 percent of the churches in one survey reported conflict in the previous five years that was serious enough to have a lasting impact on congregational life.
6. 1,500 pastors leave their assignments every month in the United States because of conflict, burnout, or moral failure.

(see his excellent article "Strike the Shepherd" here:

#6 is a hard one to reckon with - 1500 pastors a month!

Here in Tallahassee we see pastors and churches in constant conflict. I have received news of two pastors in the past month that have had to step down or take a leave from their churches because of moral failure. In the history of Four Oaks we have seen our share of staff conflicts, leadership struggles, and departures.

I ask that you pray for those called the shepherd the flock at Four Oaks Community Church (or pray for your pastors if you aren't an Oak-ie).

At Four Oaks we have 321 covenanted members. On an average Sunday in the Fall and Spring we have around 750 in attendance. I would like to get 260 people to commit to fasting and praying for our pastors at least one Sunday in the next five years.

It seems that we are ahead of the curve here at Four Oaks. Paul Gilbert has been a pastor at Four Oaks for 9? years. I have been here 5 1/2 years. John Jacobs has been here almost 5 years. Larry Shingler, Ryan Oelshlager, and Scott Stake have all been hired as pastors in the past 2 years (and are still with us!). I would like to see us all thrive and grow in our ministries to this local church for five more years.

There are roughy 260 weeks in the next five years. I want one person from our body fasting and praying on a Sunday for each of those weeks (symbolically- you don't have to lock down a specific Sunday, just commit to fasting and praying one Sunday in the next five years).

Would you join this Pastors' Prayer Team?

Please send me an email: and tell me you will be a part of this important ministry. I will be keeping a list and tracking with you as we do this.

A prayer list, some prayer helps, and updates will be blogged soon (also look for updates in the bulletin). Keep visiting this blog for more info.

Friday, April 21, 2006

A Dylan Thomas Poem...


The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.

The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman's lime.

The lips of time leech to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather's wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.
And I am dumb to tell the lover's tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I Am A Sinner

I am a sinner.

It is good for me to make this confession each day. Twice a day. Three times.
This is a confession that is a summation of who I am. It is a recognition of something that is innate. Something broad and far reaching. It is saying more than, “I have sinned”, or “I sin”. It is getting down to the foundations. It is an ontological confession. I have sinned, or I sin, because I am a sinner.

Does such a confession do violence to my self esteem? Yes. It kills my self esteem. My esteeming of self is just another part of who I am. In another age this was called ‘pride’ or ‘vain glory’. And this needs to die. And, by God’s grace, I die daily. Just when I am growing in my own righteousness, just when I am doing right by my own eyes, just when I estimated myself as good, proper, great, even (on a particularly bright day); my true self whispers in my ear. Or it thunders in my breast. Or it oozes off my lips. Burns my eyes. Excites my ear. Immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. But most of all, pride. That’s the one that got me off track in the first place. Kill it, God. Crucify it.

Is such a confession self loathing? Yes. Anyone who does not revile himself is delusional. But confession is self orientation. And true self orientation is a theological orientation. The closer we get to esteeming God’s holiness the further we get from self esteem. The deeper we go into his words, the more shallow ours become. The brighter his glory shines, the duller our vanity is. Read this and get your bearings: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (Isaiah 64:6). Notice that there are aspects of being and practice in this verse. Being – ‘all of us have become like one who is unclean’. Practice – ‘all our righteous acts are like filthy rags’ and ‘our sins sweep us away’. Sin is what you are. So sin is what you do. Confess it.

Right now you offer up a remonstration. You are talking about the old self, you protest. This is all talk about unredeemed, unregenerate self. Doesn’t Paul say, “If anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 6:1)? Good point, I say. I admit all this is a bit tricky. It gets down to that old indicative/imperative tension of Christian sanctification. Here is the indicative: you are a new creation, you are a new man. But on the heels of the indicative rushes the imperative: let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (‘let us cleanse ourselves’ is actually a aorist subjunctive here in 2 Corinthians 7:1, but it has imperative force).

I will not belabor all this with copious prooftexting. The New Testament if full of glorious portraits of who we now ARE in Christ, and bold commands urging us toward who we should BE in Christ. Some call it the eschatological tension, the already and not yet of our present lives. And this is wonderful stuff. Because it is spiritual stuff. By that I mean, it is the stuff of the Spirit’s work in our lives. And the Spirit rushes in where the human spirit is broken and contrite: when we confess we are sinners.


Confessing Sin

We love the abstract nature of confession if it lets us off the hook. A five year old is all about saying sorry. When it comes to particulars, though, she is not so fond of confession. It is too humbling, too surgical, too precise.
A harsh word is spoken. A little brother is crying.
“Sorry,” she says.
It would be simpler to let it stop there. But, a father disciplines those he loves.
“What are you sorry about?”
The face blushes, the eyes look away. “Please don’t make me name my sin” they say silently. We don’t want to own it. But what does God say? “Forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors.” And again, “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Plural. Particular. We begin to number them before God. We distinguish one from the other. We see the root of one here, and another there. And the surgeon’s knife begins to cut out the cancer, slowly, painfully, but with life giving precision.
“I was mean,” the little girl mumbles.
“What did you say that was mean?” the father presses in.
An incredulous look. “Must I say it again?” that looks says. A subtle equivocation. Bringing it into the light might bring more offense, right? No, this is a Satanic deception. Leave it in the dark, the fowler says. What does God say? “And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil.”
Still there is silence. Sometimes confession lasts through long watches of the night.
Then it comes out. And it is sin. The sin of a five year old, but it is most certainly sin.
“Now tell your brother.”
More reluctance. Can’t we just leave it between us, Dad? Must my brother be aware of my sin and shame? He will take advantage. He will become proud.
Through tears the confession is offered up. The Father need not press this time. This little child of God has matured a bit. The whole nasty affair is set forth in this second round of contrition.
“I forgive you,” her three year old companion replies. He is not proud. He loves those words, eager, almost, to offer them up.
Embracing, they return to their games.
This makes their Dad immensely happy.


Thursday, April 13, 2006

Wrastling Chilluns. . .

Last week Tori planned a trip out of town for a couple of days with some women in our church. Emma is not yet weaned, so she would go as Tori's companion. That leaves me with our other two precious ones, Tess (5) and Bo (3). In anticipation of our 'Daddy Day' (that is what we call most Fridays, my day off, when I give Tori a reprieve from the toddlers) I asked my kids what they wanted to do.

"Mommy's going to be going on a trip for two days. We are going to have TWO Daddy days! What should we do?" I said. They both sat and thought for a moment. I offered some possibilities:

"We could go to the bookstore and play with the choo choo train and read books! We could go to Chik Fil A and play in the playground!"

They shouted with a "YEAH!" or "WHOO!" at these options. I continued:

"We could go to the park! We could go get ice cream! What do you guys want to do? You tell me. It's your Daddy Day, you tell me what you really want to do with Daddy."

They gave their reply so quickly, with such clarity, and such wholehearted unanimity, it caught me off guard.

"Let's wrastle!"

Yes, they pronounce 'wrestle' like some old redneck small engine repairman from Bithlo, Florida.

This takes a man back. It won't be like this forever. His two little ones have a host of options before them to enjoy with their Dad. They could do a hundred things over the weekend, and Dad would be sure to oblige them in their wishes. Yet there is one thing my kids wanted to do. They wanted to wrastle. They want to roll around on the floor with Dad. They want to run and yell around the house with Dad chasing after them. They want to climb on my back, they want to be hoisted over my head, they want to be tossed to and fro as Dad grunts and growls.

I know full well that there will come a day when I'll try to wrastle with my kids and they'll sneer and shoo me away like I've lost my mind. But this past weekend, the most important activity to Tess and Bo was being tickled, throwing their arms around my neck and riding on my shoulders.

So I let them have their way. We did a lot of wrastling.

Like I said, it won't be like this forever.


I can't believe I'm going to promote. . .

Bruce Springsteen. Yes, he is a leftist commie pinko dem. . .
. . . but have you listened to 'Devils & Dust'? Absolutely incredible.
Heart wrenching, powerful, simple. It is my 'latest' blogging soundtrack.
Especially 'Leah' and 'The Hitter'...though I must say, every track is exquisite.

All that being said...Viva Bush!

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Onan, Sex, Children, and Families

I am posting this blog in part because of the ongoing conversation over at BaylyBlog regarding the sin of Onan and Christian attitudes toward and practice of birth control. Go read those posts and the comments if you want more background to this post.

The passage under consideration is Genesis 38:1-10:
1 And it came about at that time, that Judah departed from his brothers, and visited a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. 2 And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua; and he took her and went in to her. 3 So she conceived and bore a son and he named him Er. 4 Then she conceived again and bore a son and named him Onan. 5 And she bore still another son and named him Shelah; and it was at Chezib that she bore him. 6 Now Judah took a wife for Er his first-born, and her name was Tamar. 7 But Er, Judah's first-born, was evil in the sight of the LORD, so the LORD took his life. 8 Then Judah said to Onan, "Go in to your brother's wife, and perform your duty as a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother." 9 And Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so it came about that when he went in to his brother's wife, he wasted his seed on the ground, in order not to give offspring to his brother. 10 But what he did was displeasing in the sight of the LORD; so He took his life also.

There are traditional interpretations of this passage that see God’s judgment against Onan to be a warning against ‘birth control’ and/or masturbation. While I believe that there are principles in this passage that we can apply to birth control and masturbation; there are obvious cultural, redemptive historical, and progressive revelation adjustments we make in our interpretation and application of this passage. The glaring one being the cultural/legal obligation of so-called ‘levirate’ marriage that seems to be at work in Onan’s relationship to Er and Tamar. It is this obligation that is at the center of Onan’s sin. This ‘levirate’ obligation does not have a direct application in our lives today.

Yet, we do have obligations and duties in our marital and familial lives. And these obligations are before God, ordered by God, and will one day (sooner, perhaps, but certainly later) be judged by God. Our sexual relationship to our spouse is to be one that is conformed to God’s Word and brought under obedience to God. Sadly, we simply don’t think this way today. More often in our culture, and our evangelical sub-culture, sex is about self. Sex is about pleasure. Sex is about self fulfillment, self glorification. Sex is about us. This can be readily seen in almost every marital counseling situation I find myself brought into. So very often, our hearts are not far from Onan’s heart in these matters. This can be readily seen when you even bring up the idea that sex should be intricately related to procreation and family life. I say in all of my premarital counseling sessions, ‘Don’t have sex if you are not committed to having children”. What do I mean? Don’t separate the from the joy and pleasure of physical intimacy in sexual union from the joy and blessing of godly offspring, and all their attending duties, obligations, and disciplines. No matter what your birth control method is, God is sovereign and you are not. However we fight against it, sex leads to pregnancy, and God ordained it this way.

I do believe that there can be wise and godly 'birth control'. That you can't find a prooftext against something or for something per se, doesn't necessarily require prohibition or obedience in a particular ethical situation. There are many decisions we make that require wisdom and discernment based on inferences from biblical principles that might touch on other matters. The bible never explicitly prohibits spousal abuse explicitly, but there are many passages that might be clearly established to give sound inference that such would be grievously sinful.

As far as the birth control question goes, I am against abortifacient methods such as the so called 'pill'. There is a chance that a conceptus (a baby in my understanding of conception and life) could be shed from the uterine wall via the hormone treatment of the pill. Because of this chance, however slim, I believe it is unwise, and unbiblical to use this method for convenience sake. I tell folks that barrier methods are not as convenient, sexy, or effective, but there is not the chance of willfully and knowingly abort a baby (willfully because you (your wife) took the pill willfully; knowingly- not in the sense that you 'know' when such an event as hormonal miscarriage or abortion occurs- but because you knowingly understand the possible consequences and continued with such methods of birth control).

Tori and I were advised by a Christian ob-gyn, our pastor, and many others. We could not find any 'negative' Christian assessment of it that was trustworthy. I will admit, as well, that we were not very diligent in our search for truth in these matters. We just went with the cultural flow. Its easier to plead ignorance than to seek truth and live in good conscience before it. After I think three years of marriage, we read some very helpful and informative work by Randy Alcorn (check out his website, he wrote 'the Treasure Principle'...he has a book on the birth control pill, and some articles posted: on this issue. We stopped taking the birth control pill. We use various ‘barrier methods’ and the best of our wisdom now. But we try and get as far from ‘playing God’ as possible (that sounds extreme, but I think you know what I mean- we are resigned, to a great degree, to God’s providence in these matters). So, our 'methods' are fairly ineffective. And we are glad for it, seeing all our children as a blessing and we hope to have more, or adopt more-something we are praying about now.

The thrust of the Bayly's post that I wholeheatedly agree with is really found in Malachi 2:15 "But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then, to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth." I don't think Onan's sin was spilling his seed as much as it was blatant disobedience to God's law (tho not Mosaic, there was obviously some understanding of the 'levirate' responsibility to raise up a godly seed for your sister in law who has no children). Onan's sin was selfishness and worldliness. Onan enjoyed sexual union with Tamar without any commitment to her, or desire to obey God in this union. This is the sin of the Israelites in Mal. 2:15. They are choosing wordly comfort and convenience above fidelity and the difficult task of raising children. In our culture we have become very lazy and selfish on the whole, and we couple this with open hedonism and a crass sexuality. This affects our view of children and family life. We make our decisions based on the level of comfort and affluence that the culture affords and our sinful hearts crave, and then we allow this to be the driving force of our 'family planning'. Then we call that discernment and wisdom. We say things like, 'we can't afford anymore children'. Which is a rather perverse statement in our two car culture. It is also perverse in that it puts price tags on humans. It is a utilitarian ethic, not a God centered, God honoring ethic. This has seeped into our view of humanity everywhere. We can't afford Terri Schiavo, she is too much trouble, she is a pain, she doesn't talk, the autopsy revealed she was blind, so we starve her to death. Are we surprised that they are killing newborn babies in the Netherlands with Spina Bifida, or that Peter Singer advocated murder on demand for newborns based on our culture's arbitrary view of financial feasibility, health, cognition, and personal choice? Many of us make our decisions about our jobs, our marriages, our children's education, our giving, our sexual intimacy, and our 'offspring', primarily from personal issues of comfort and convenience, and not from prolonged study of God's Word, arduous prayer, and sound mature counsel.

This is the sin of Onan and the sin of the Israelites: Selfishness. Denying God's Word as it applies to our sex lives. Refusing to heed the call to raise up a godly seed. Not serving as head of your house. Abandoning the patient work of faithful intimacy in the bond of marriage. These are the matters of the heart that we must constantly talk and pray about with our spouse. These are matters that should be discussed within the accountability structures of our churches. Are you allowing worldliness to be the driving force in your marriage and family? What has been the process for you and your spouse in finding God’s will in this area of your life?

It is no secret that our culture hates the family and hates children. I’m not parading typical Dobson-esque, right wing jargon here. You are blind and deaf if you don’t see it and hear it everywhere. We are mockers of fatherhood, we are despisers of motherhood, and we have no tolerance for those little ones that are most dependent upon us for care. This is clearly seen in our push for government funding preschool and childcare. We are refusing to love and raise our children as God has instructed us. We are letting others do it. We are letting the state do it (I'm not talking about single moms here, we have a duty to care for them and their children; though it should be the duty of more intimate community and not the bureaucratic nightmare of our public school system). I am speaking here of the average American who can make appropriate sacrifices for the sake of their children yet prioritize career and comfort over them. And then we cite a couple of sociological studies in favor of it. In our heart of hearts we know this is a cover for our sin. We are more interested in our careers, we are more interested in our big homes, our cars, our disposable income, our free time, our status, etc. Children are a nuisance. They require constant attention, they suck up our immediate resources, they poop in their pants, they need continual training and discipline, they wake us at all hours of the night- if they ever sleep at all! and on and on and on...

Yet, the Bible says they are a heritage, a blessing. They will one day lead our churches, teach in our schools, hold office in our communities, raise up their own children. One day they might change YOUR diapers, and care for YOU in the watches of the night. Ahhh...perhaps we see another area of our lives where we have lost our bearings. The care of the elderly, like caring for infants, impedes our personal lust for time, money, leisure, and status. So are we surprised we have handed them over to our woefully inept institutions as well?

And so much of this can be traced back to the marriage bed. This is, I believe, why God dealt so directly and strongly with Onan’s sin. This is why we hear this admonition in Hebrews 13:4 “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” Consider also Paul’s words regarding godliness in our sexual union in marriage in 1 Cor. 7:2-5: “But because of immoralities, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again lest Satan tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

Paul has strong words about the family as he instructs his young pastoral students regarding the health of the church: “He [the elder] must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity -- but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God? (1 Timothy 3:4-5)…Let deacons be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households (1 Timothy 3:12)…Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach; for some have already turned aside to follow Satan. If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, let her assist them, and let not the church be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed” (1 Timothy 5:14-16) … Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips, nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be dishonored. (Titus 2:3-5).

Oh well…some thoughts. What do you think?


Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Gospel of Brutus

Please go to Prof. Groothius' blog and read.
A great satirical look at the Gospel of Judas hoo hah.


Saturday, April 08, 2006

Have I Emerged? Part Three

I have in my hands the new 'Passion' worship CD entitled "Everything Glorious". Consider with me, if you will, the lyrics of the David Crowder Band's "You are My Joy"(Mr. Crowder is one of the emergent worship leaders, leading worship at University Baptist Church of Waco,

And He set me on fire, and I am burning alive.
With His breath in my lungs I am coming undone.
And I cannot hold it in and remain composed.
Love's taken over me and so I propose the letting myself go.
I am letting myself go.
You are my joy.
You are my joy.
You are my joy.
You are my joy.
And He set me on fire, and I am burning alive.
With His breath in my lungs I am coming undone.
And I cannot hold it in and remain composed.
Love's taken over me and so I propose the letting myself go.
I am letting myself go.
You are my joy.
You are my joy.
You are my joy.
You are my joy.
I need to catch my breath, I need to.
I need to catch my breath, give me a moment now.
You are my joy.You are my joy.You are my joy.You are my joy.
I'm laughing so hard...

Wow. That is powerful. So filled with the majesty of God. So saturated with God's Word. So full of Christ and His cross. It is so thoughtful, so thought provoking, so ... is...well, relatively meaningless, trivial, and non-sensical.

And what is the grammatical sense of this lyric, "...and so I propose the letting myself go"??
Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

Now, consider with me the words of this song, also found on the Passion CD:

I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how He could love me,
A sinner, condemned, unclean.

O how marvelous! O how wonderful!And my song shall ever be:

O how marvelous! O how wonderful!Is my Savior’s love for me!

For me it was in the garden
He prayed: “Not My will, but Thine.”
He had no tears for His own griefs,
But sweat drops of blood for mine.

In pity angels beheld Him,

And came from the world of light
To comfort Him in the sorrows
He bore for my soul that night.

He took my sins and my sorrows,

He made them His very own;
He bore the burden to Calvary,
And suffered and died alone.

When with the ransomed in glory

His face I at last shall see,
’Twill be my joy through the ages
To sing of His love for me.

That is the old hymn, "I Stand Amazed" by Charles Gabriel, redone on the Passion CD by Chris Tomlin.

So here we have displayed the emergent generation's worship contrasted with the worship of a generation gone by.

You tell me. Which resonates with the power and glory of God and of His Christ? Which articulates truth and gospel? Which will be handed down, so that the praises of the fathers will sound from the tongues of the sons?

Thank you, Mr. Tomlin, for reviving that great hymn and refreshing my heart, mind, and soul with its timeless truths.

And, Mr. Crowder, if yours is the fare of an 'emerging' generation. . . I just might stay submerged for a few more years.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

In Loving Submission. . .

I had an interesting ‘pastoral’ experience last week that I just had to blog about. I will be marrying a young couple in our fellowship this coming May (actually, on May 20, which happens to be Tori’s and my 11th anniversary!). The bride is from another town where she grew up in a United Methodist Church. In order to honor her family and her upbringing in this church, the plan was to use their sanctuary for the service while having me preside over the ceremony. Some weeks ago the pastor of this Methodist church informed the bride to be that he was concerned about the order of service that I might use and that he might need to check out the wording of the service. He was especially concerned that there would be a distinction made in the vows, charge to the couple, etc. of male and female roles in marriage. I sent him the wording of the service I would be generally following. In the bride’s vows to the groom she is to say, “And I promise to honor you in loving submission” (the groom says to the bride, “And I promise to love you as Christ loves the Church”).

As you may have predicted, the pastor emailed me stating that he could not allow the term ‘submission’ to be used in a wedding service in his church with many of his congregants present as it reflected a position regarding marriage and gender that differed from his own and that of his denomination. I replied that, while I respect his authority over his congregation and his desire to guard the teaching that comes from his pulpit, I was constrained before God to call those under my charge (specifically, the bride and groom; generally, all those who hear me preach and teach regardless of who their pastor is or where they go to church, or in what building I happen to be in) to obey God’s Word. I told him that I most certainly would not remove the word ‘submission’ from the vows, nor would I ignore the clear teaching of Scripture regarding the role distinctions between the sexes during a service of worship to God celebrating the gift of marriage. We traded emails back and forth and I was gently beseeched to supplant one word or another for ‘submission’. I told him that the word ‘submission’ is a very important word, because it is the word that the Spirit of God has given us (repeatedly) to describe the relationship and duty of a wife toward her husband. Just as it was important to him that this word be removed, I saw it as critically important that this word remain. See, words are important, no matter what our postmodern theologians keep telling us!

Well, all of this was very unsettling for the poor bride and groom to be. Plans had been made, invitations had been sent out, all the money had been spent. Now we have this young, upstart quasi-fundamentalist pastor standing on the rock of inerrancy and biblical complementarianism unwilling to budge battling it out with the mainline denominational quasi-liberal riding the waves of postmodern hermeneutics and egalitarianism (though after more and more of these emails, I am convinced he is just a plain ole liberal – and yes, he would say that I am just plain ole fundamentalist). Yikes. There would be confused parents, irritated parishioners, and arrogant nay-sayers. But, both of them are committed believers, committed to God’s Word, and committed to God’s vision for marriage revealed in the Word. Yet this little culture war being waged in the midst of their marriage preparation was very unsettling, to say the least.

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In Loving Submission. . .part two

Here is an email I sent to the bride to be regarding the whole battle over words, gender roles, pastoral authority, and, well, their own marriage:

Dear Kelly,

I wanted to take a moment and try, perhaps feebly, to encourage you on a day that I am sure has been rather disheartening to you. In the midst of these “momentary troubles” (2 Cor. 4:17) we need to sit for a moment and capture the promise that they are indeed achieving some eternally weighty glory.

Weddings are important things. They are important because marriage is important. Marriage is important because God made it and called it good. God made it and called it good so that he would be honored and glorified in it. Paul tells us that marriage profoundly and mysteriously points us to the relationship of Jesus and his people. And so we look at how Jesus loves and leads his people, and we tell husbands to imitate him as he loves and leads his wife. Then we tell our children, our neighbors, our brothers and sisters to look upon godly husbands and remember Jesus’ love for us. We look at how the Church is to submit to her Savior’s headship, obedient to his gracious care, and we tell wives to imitate the Church as she submits and follows her husband. Then we tell our children, our neighbors, our brothers and sisters to look upon godly wives and remember that God is in charge, that he opposes the proud and exalts the humble, that his power is manifested in our weakness. In this, somehow (it is a profound mystery!) God’s plan to exalt himself in the death and resurrection of his Son, to redeem humanity, to restore fallen-ness with Spirit led sanctification is painted for us in marriage.

The thing is, Satan hates that picture. The World hates that picture. Our flesh hates that picture. Satan will spread lies about marriage, he will say things like, “Has God really said?” Or, “well, you and I, and all those who really understand the Bible know that the Apostle Paul didn’t really mean what it most certainly looks like he said.” The World will say, “Don’t make issues about words” or “people will be confused” or “this all sounds so archaic and intolerant” or this, or that. Our flesh says, “I want a pretty wedding”, or “I can’t go through this fight right now”, or “I don’t want to look stupid”, or “can’t we just fudge here so that things will go smoothly?”. [Realize, Kelly, I’m not accusing you of these statements…they have all bounced around in my head!] And all this wages war with the Spirit and seeks to stand in the straight path as we walk in the Spirit.

Your whole marriage will be a fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil. For some reason, God has given you a skirmish to deal with here in the last two months before you get married. I believe that God wants to bless you in this. You’re getting a glimpse of some really powerful spiritual struggles going on in our churches and in our culture. In some ways, it shouldn’t surprise us, especially at such an important time in your life and in such an important worship event as your wedding service. The glorious thing is, as God promises to illustrate profound mysteries in your submission to Josh and in his love and leadership of you; so will God illustrate these mysteries in your fight to honor His Word and design in your marriage ceremony.

And so, I will do whatever it takes as your pastor to make this ceremony something that honors God and brings you joy! Don’t let the sin of others, the strategies of Satan, the clamor of the world, or the weakness of the flesh rob you of the joy of honoring God with your marriage. That goes for today, and for every day God gives you and Josh together.

Believing an Eternal Glory will Come from this Momentary Trouble,

Pastor Erik

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In Loving Submission. . . part three

And what happened?

That is the great part. I called a PCA church around the corner from this Methodist Church that I knew might be sympathetic. They were ready and willing to help, and offered us the use of their church if we were left without a place to have this service! It turns out that an associate pastor of this PCA church actually lives next door to the bride's parents! Though the parents were a bit bothered at first by my unwillingness to fudge a bit on the word 'submission', they soon came around as they considered Scripture and the nature of this whole situation. It turns out we will be using this other church, and everything is ok.

I wanted to share the emails that Josh and Kelly sent to me (and Paul Gilbert, a Four Oaks pastor doing their premarital counseling).

OK, my mom and dad are in. Mainly because [they] read what God's PERFECT word said this morning about submission and she would be in agreement with us, and wants our vows to reflect God and to glorify and honor Him.

Your email meant a lot to me yesterday and helped put things once again into perspective. There was a HUGE battle going on yesterday within me, so it is funny because all the statements you made were lies flooding my brain. So to be reminded that things like this will happen especially in light of such a special time makes sense and keeps me from dwelling and eventually believing those lies.

This whole situation is becoming funny to me, and exciting because I just have no idea what is going to happen. I truly appreciate your help in everything and it is actually a great sense of relief because now we have freedom in what we want to say before our Father, family and friends!

In Christ,

We have been so blessed these last 24 hours as we have seen friends, family and OUR church rally around us in their love, support and prayers! We quickly realized yesterday that this situation was so much BIGGER than "changing a word." We know that to stand on the slippery slope of changing words can only lead to disaster! Though [the pastor of the church in question], informed Kelly and I that he feels we have an "unhealthy view of marriage" (guess you are not doing your job Paul!), I believe that God has used and will use this trial to stenghthen our marriage in so many ways. I believe we are seeing Ephesians 5 played out in a VERY tangible and real way!
As I walked Kelly to her door last night, she told me it meant so much to her that I loved her so well through the day as I held her (numerous times) in my arms to cry, as I was patient with her and her parents, and as I even made the phone call the Pastor on her behalf -- she felt my intense love for her yesterday! And on the other side of that I told her how I felt that we had been thrown onto a "battlefield of truth" and as I made the decision to take I stand on what I believe to be TRUE of the Word of God and Christian marriage and not compromise, I looked to my side and there Kelly stood..."submitting" to my decision, even though the easy road was an option!
This is why we can TOGETHER say "Praise God -- He is good in all things!" So, again I just wanted to say thanks to both of you for your prayers and standing firmly with us in this. Paul asked us yesterday how the church could encourage us and come along side of us (in general)...well, I would say you are doing and have done that well. Thank you...

Bound to His Word

Josh and Kelly

Why blog on all this? First, to remind you of the battle that is being fought in every corner over the truth of God's Word. Secondly, to remind you of the battle that is being waged against the design of God for the roles of men and women in marriage. And thirdly, to remind you that God will bless you and provide for you as you stand upon the truth of His Word and hold fast to its teaching regarding ALL of life.

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