Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Jeremiah in his bloodstream...

"A Christian who has David in his bones, Jeremiah in his bloodstream, Paul in his fingertips and Christ in his heart will know how much and how little value to put on his own momentary feelings and the experience of the past week."

- Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, 167.


Another Reason NOT to Get Divorced

There is a great word that is scattered throughout the New Testament: hupomone.

It means 'patient endurance'. Plato asked, "In what does courage consist? It is a certain endurance of the soul." For the Greek this was a sort of stoic virtue, a manly bearing up of one's resolve to face trials and struggle for the sake of some greater, more noble ideal. Aristotle said, "one endures despite the fear that one feels...for the beauty of the deed" [from Spicq, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, pp. 414-415].

The New Testament writers use this word to describe the fortitude of a soul firmly grounded in the life of Christ and the power of God. We 'endure patiently' becuase of our great hope in Christ, because of the surity of his promises, and his faithful Word. Consider the Apostle Paul's wonderful exposition of the effects of justification by faith alone in the life of the believer:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. - Romans 5:1-4

We have been made righteous through faith- we have peace with God through Christ- we stand in grace. These realities give us more than just some stoic resolve when things aren't as we would have them. The Word says they give us joy in hope. These realities give us joy even, especially in, sufferings. The cross of Christ brought us the joy of our salvation. The crosses we face daily are part of a great work of God through us. Our struggles provide for us an opportunity to hold forth the deep truths of our faith to a lost and unbelieving world. And, we believe that these struggles produce wonderful fruit by the Spirit of God in our lives.

So, patient endurance is generally seen and understood as good and right in a secular context.
And for those of us who have put our trust in God and have been transformed by the work of Christ, we know that patient endurance is part of a wonderful providence of our Father to mold and shape us into the image of His Son, who endured the cross for the joy set before him.

Consider this quote from a great site -- www.divorcereform.org

Cited in a posting from Smart Marriages Listserv Feb 28, 2005."For most people, marital unhappiness [in marriage] was not permanent," says University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite, Ph.D.Recent findings indicate that two-thirds of all unhappy marriages are repaired within five years. Dr. Waite's study also showed that only 19 percent of all divorced subjects were happily remarried.

"When researchers examined data from the late 1980s on 5,232 married adults, they found that 645 subjects reported marital dissatisfaction. When the unhappy spouses were surveyed five years later, those who had remained married were more likely than divorced subjects to state that they were happy. In fact, the most miserable marriages had the most dramatic turnarounds: 78 percent of people who stayed in "very unhappy" marriages said that the marriages were currently happy. " [Kary, T. (2002) Don't Divorce, Be Happy. Psychology Today, v35 i6 p26(1). Retrieved June 9, 2004 from Expanded Academic ASAP.]

For so many, the great area of conflict and pain in their lives is in their marriage. They are dissolusioned, hurt, angry, or just plain bored. The deception of the world, the flesh, and the devil is that there is greener grass over there somewhere. Another relationship, another person, a new start, a different locale would make you happy. But these things will not change the sin of your own heart that is the root of your unhappiness and discontent. Patience in marriage pays off no matter who you are because it is an institution made by God for our good and it reveals his Trinitarian glory. But, for believers, it is a wonderful arena to display God's grace, his redeeming love, and find his promises true. The grace, love, and faithfulness of God is found and held forth as we patiently endure.

Are you unhappy in your marriage? Trust God and patiently endure. This is not some human centered stoicism. It is a trust in a sovereign grace working good in all things to the glory of God.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Major or Minor?

Someone sent me a good question via email and I thought I'd let the rest of you in on the discussion.

Question: What hermeneutical standard should we look to in determining what to be dogmatic over and what not to be so dogmatic over?

Also, closely related to that one (but still distinct from it in a sense):

How do we decide what is essential and what is not (primary and secondary whereas Biblical doctrines are concerned), seeing as how all scripture is inspired by God and sufficient?

[good question, Scott!]

A very good, and blog worthy, question. I have battled a very unsettling 'seeker sensitive' ethos in the evangelical sub culture at large that uses glib jargon like, 'Major on the majors and minor on the minors." Whenever I hear that statement, which I did often for the first two or so years after I came to Four Oaks, I would always inquire as to what the 'majors' might be and what the 'minors' might be. I often got a lot of uh, ah, uh sort of responses. Then I'd say, "well, for instance, do you believe that whether or not babies should be baptized is a 'major'?" Most of the time people said no. Then I'd say, "well, why then don't we have a baby baptism next Sunday?" And they say, "uh, ah, uh..."

Now, of course, I'm a good reformed baptist. And I will not be holding a baptism for babies next Sunday. And it's because I believe that while the application of the two ordinances (or sacraments, whatever you'd like to call them) of the church are not 'major' in the same way the person and work of Christ are 'majors' - I do believe that all doctrines and beliefs are 'webs of multiple reciprocities' (a quote from my old hermeneutics and hebrew prof Richard Pratt) and we cannot so simply categorize them or minimize them in the life of the church or the individual believer.

There is the overused quote, I believe from Chrysostom or Augustine, "In essentials, unity; in non essentials liberty; in al things, charity". This is a good aphorism, but it doesn't help much in bringing clarity to what are those 'things most suredly believed amongst us', I'm all for being characterized by unity, liberty, and charity as much as it is up to me. And historically we see certain confessional and creedal categories and affirmations that have consistently established the various 'essentials' of Christian belief (centering on those general categories of belief- theology, anthropology, soteriology).

I'm becoming more and more 'confessional' in terms of the daily life of the local church. What I mean by this is that I believe that clarity and affirmation of doctrinal truth is good and right and we should pursue it in the daily life of the church (this seems to be swimming against the tide of the emerging postmodern ethos). At a local level I think it is crucial to define things as best we can to align ourselves and increase our intimacy as a body. A good example of this sort of thing might be found in the way I approach the question of complementarianism or egalitarianism or church polity. I can be in broad, general harmony with a brother who is an egalitarian and believes women should be preachers. We are still brothers, we'll be in heaven together, we'll stand together for Jesus, etc. But, I won't embrace a 'harmony' with him that binds my own conscience before the Lord, and I won't go to his church if a woman is preaching. And in our local fellowship, definition of the bounds of this sort thing should be asserted and affirmed as much as possible. Doctrinal definition, in my humble experience as a pastor, has only enhanced and improved our body life. As it should. The same goes for what sort of government we believe is most aligned with God's Word. I am in general harmony with my Anglican brothers and sisters. And I would possibly join an Anglican fellowship if I moved to East Bumble, Tennessee and it happened to be the only bible believing fellowship (though, it is hard to imagine this scenario). But, we disagree over the biblical order of church life. I believe that pastors, presbyters, and overseers are all titles for the same office and should be employed as a plurality in every local church. An Anglican would disagree. An Anglican holds that the hierarchical episcopacy is biblical and on stands on good historic precedent. I would disagree. So, in a broad sense, we can be in harmony. But, not in a local, more narrow sense.

And some might say that is just the problem. Why can't we all just hold hands and sing Kumbayah? And there might be times for this sort of thing. But the Bible calls us to find harmony with one another based on sound biblical convictions in the sphere of local church life. And, in this effort, we pursue doctrinal truth and harmony with our brother. So, the level of doctrinal distinctiveness in many things should match the level of harmony and unity we need to live together with a clear conscience before God. So, while I might disagree with a lot of what goes on over at the charismatic church down the road, I enjoy a basic harmony with them by the Spirit of Christ as we serve together at the Pregnancy Center. I just probably wouldn't be an elder at their church. And that's okay.

Well, I've sure muddied up the water here, haven't I? I'll let others chime in for now.

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Blah Like Postfoundationalism

In first service sermon time yesterday I 'bashed' Donald Miller. I say 'bashed' because someone said to me that I shouldn't 'bash' people. I agree. When I was in 10th grade I got into a nasty tustle with a kid named Bobby and he 'bashed' me in the face. It really hurt and I bled all over my Members Only jacket. It was a heart -and nose- breaking experience.

I didn't 'bash' Donald Miller. Yes, I know, I know, sticks and stones, right? Yet, I didn't call him any bad names or make fun of him (though there is some room for that, isn't there? I mean, you know, in good fun, of course. Maybe a little of this at the end of this post, where most people have stopped reading). I simply said that he is a best selling 'evangelical' author who represents the new 'emerging' pop evangelical culture that is rife with unbiblical thinking. My main point was that Miller has popularized the underlying philosophical tenets of the emergent community set forth by guys like Franke and Grenz. The philosophical tenets- mainly postfoundationalism and postcritical thought- are in my humble estimation, unbiblical and irrational (but then, I am a foundationalist- so of course I would think emergent philosophy and theology irrational and illogical! Oh, why can I not just embrace the mystery!). Miller is a good writer (though hardly the genius that most of the FSU sophomores claim him to be) and a winsome and likeable guy. I enjoyed reading 'Blue Like Jazz' when I wasn't throwing it at the wall. But, he is popularizing a view of Christian faith (or 'nonreligious thoughts on spirituality' or 'nonspiritual emotions on religiousity' or whatever the subtitle is) that is dangerous.

I'll let Leonard Sweet (another emerging, post-everything 'evangelical') define 'foundationalism' for us (to give you an idea of how the emerging logic runs):

In the foundationalist world, people assumed that through careful reason, logic, and research a complete structure of knowledge could be erected and mysteries could be gradually be replaced with knowledge. This knowledge would accumulate like bricks cemented on a foundation, and assuming the foundation is secure and certain, humans could have rock solid certainty from the bottom up. Modern scientists tended to rely only on sensory data for their "bricks", while modern Christians mined their bricks from the Bible, which was assumed to be intended by God as a source from which propositions could be extracted. In either case, it was assumed that knowledge was like a wall or building engineered upon an undoubtable, unshakable foundation. (Sweet, McLaren, Haselmayer; A is for Abductive, pp. 128-129)

Sweet (or McLaren or whoever) has made a pretty flimsy straw man here. This definition is filled with false dichotomies (we can have careful reason and logic without having hopes of a complete structure of knowledge; we can have true knowledge that isn't complete in the sense that I think Sweet intends to communicate here)- but I gave it to you so you get the idea. And, I suppose, this does define a sliver of the more entrenched rationalistic, Cartesian sort of modern thought that I rarely have encountered in evangelical circles. But the question must be asked, "Can we know anything?" Or, "Are there true propositions to be 'extracted' from the Bible?" Or, "Do Christians have any certainty?" Or, "Is all a 'mystery'?" And, again, let me say that my own epistemology has always been more of a reformed presuppositional sort (http://www.philosophyofreligion.info/reformedepistemology.html; and http://www.carm.org/apologetics/presuppositional.htm) that isn't reducible to a merely foundationalist or post-foundationalist label.

You can read more about the foundationalism/postfoundationalism debate in a great book, Reclaiming the Center by Erickson, Helseth, Taylor, eds. (especially part two: Truth, Foundationalism, and Language, specifically chapter four, "The Premature Report of Foundationalism's Demise" by J.P. Moreland and Garrett DeWeese). There is a good review of the themes of this book here over at http://www.reformation21.org/.

Ok, ok, back on topic. What does all this have to do with Donald Miller? Hmmm. Here is the first paragraph of his chapter in Blue Like Jazz titled, "Belief":

My most recent faith struggle is not one of intellect. I don't really do that anymore. Sooner or later you just figure out there are some guys who don't believe in God and they can prove He doesn't exist, and some other guys who do believe in God and they can prove He does exist, and the argument stopped being about God a long time ago and now it's about who is smarter, and honestly I don't care. I don't believe I will ever walk away from God for intellectual reasons. Who knows anything anyway? If I walk away from Him, and please pray that I never do, I will walk away for social reasons, identity reasons, deep emotional reasons, the same reasons that any of us do anything.

Go over to Doug Groothuis' blog for a detailed critique and review of Miller's best-seller http://theconstructivecurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2006/02/blue-like-jazz-deliver-us-from.html.

What can we deduce from Miller's statement? Here's five things:
  1. Intellect (reason, logic, sound thinking, and the like) is unimportant and basically useless. Thankfully, Miller didn't build my house.
  2. There are people that are convinced that God doesn't exist, and the same number who believe he does. So, we just throw our hands up and pick a side for arbitrary reasons.
  3. Christian apologists are just trying to show how smart they are. Its not that they love Jesus and want people to trust him and avoid the flames of hell.
  4. Nobody knows anything. Except for maybe the meaning of words and basic syntax, allowing us to read the sentences that Miller crafted and his basic propositions, like
  5. The only reasons anyone does anything are sociological and deeply emotional.

I'll leave it to just those five things for now. Let me ask you, dear reader, if there is anything biblically wrong (apart from the fact that Miller doesn't make much sense, like so many who don't believe in making sense, but are all about being 'deeply emotional') with these statements? Should we as believers not challenge such assertions about the nature of God, his revelation, our knowledge of Him, and our duty before Him to set forth this knowledge to an unbelieving and lost world?

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Church Planting in Ephesus

The New Testament Scriptures provide us with a wonderful portrait of ‘body life’ in a local church through the first century Ephesian church. We probably have more information about this group of believers over a larger span of time than any other fellowship we encounter throughout the New Testament. First, there is the extended narrative in Acts 19 describing the Apostle Paul’s labors there during his third missionary journey. There is as well, the very personal and tearful sermon delivered by Paul to the elders of the Ephesian church at the shore of Miletus recorded by Luke in Acts 20:17-38. And of course we have Paul’s prison epistle to the Ephesians, written (depending upon whom you rely) between 58-63 AD. We also have the so called ‘Pastoral Epistles’ which were written at the end of Paul’s life to Timothy (1 and 2 Timothy), his young protégé whom he had left to shepherd the church in Ephesus (along with his letter to Titus, pastoring the church in Crete). Finally, there is a letter to the Ephesian church from the Lord himself, by the hand of John, in Revelation 2, part of the Lord’s ‘letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor’.

As I was preparing this past week for my sermon on Paul’s ‘farewell address’ to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, I was fascinated by the way in which Jesus planted churches through the Apostles. I pulled some of the rather interesting methods that the Lord used in starting this fellowship in Ephesus from Acts 19 that we might do well to consider. Perhaps this could be my first book. Tell me what you think.

1. Start with a ‘launch team’ of 12 men filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues and prophesying (Acts 19:7).
2. Find a venue where you might have some influence (for Paul it was the synagogue) to boldly proclaim the gospel and reason with people daily about the kingdom of God. Do this every day for at least three months, or until people are thoroughly sick of you and begin persecuting you (Acts 19:8-9).
3. After you are kicked out of this venue, find a place to rent out and continue this business of preaching, teaching, reasoning, and persuading daily. Do this for about three years (Acts 19:9-10).
4. Pray for wacky and miraculous things to happen. Cast out evil spirits and such (Acts 19:11-16).
5. Pray and preach in such a way that people are filled with fear and Jesus is praised (Acts 19:17).
6. Hold a prayer meeting that includes an extended time of public confession (Acts 19:18).
7. After your time of public confession, have a big bonfire party and burn a bunch of books (Acts 19:19).
8. After your time of public confession and book burning, collect massive amounts of money from the people for the mission of the gospel (Acts 19:19).
9. Hire a pastor who refuses to let you pay him, has absolutely ridiculous strategies and goals for his ministry and the mission of the church, and leaves young and inexperienced men to take over the ministries he begins (Acts 20:34; 19:21-23).
10. Stir up a city wide riot by preaching against idolatry and pagan worship (Acts 19:23-41).
11. Don’t be surprised by, and even anticipate, encouraging and uplifting promises from God like, “Bonds and afflictions await you in every city!” (Acts 20:23).
12. Have another prayer meeting, encourage the folks, and leave (Acts 20:1).

It's kind of funny to me that there is nothing in Acts 19-20 about what kind of praise band you should have, how much parking should be available, whether or not you should serve Starbucks at coffee break (and spend more $ on that than you do on global missions), how casual your hip and cool pastor should dress, or getting up to speed on the latest philosophical trend. Yet, these things are the main focus in most church plants today. I say let's opt for Paul's model, whether we are a church 'plant' (whatever that actually is) or not.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Children and God's Glory

Sorry I’ve been woefully neglectful in keeping up with the blog. Our family moved into a new home this past week and I’ve been consumed with packing, cleaning, loading, unloading, searching, dusting, unpacking, fixing, breaking, calling repairman, assembling, dissembling, re-assembling, re-dissembling…you get the picture. All the joys which attend putting your family into boxes and taking them to another abode.

Speaking of families…this past Sunday I preached on Matthew 19:13-15 which is the familiar passage of Jesus blessing the children. A couple of things I said seemed to stir the ire of a few out there (I know this because I anticipated such a reaction in my preparation, and because I’ve received a few comments so far). So, some further comments might be in order. Or, as they often are from my computer, might be way out of order. Nonetheless, please read on.

First, I said that in embracing the little children (and blessing them according Mark 10:16) the Lord is affirming the value and worth of these littlest ones contra the world and the flesh which denigrates and disparages their value. This is an important point to make in our culture of death that aborts 1.3 million children yearly. This is an important point to make in our culture of perversion, prioritizing wealth and comfort above the glorious privilege of childrearing. I said that children, like you and I, are made in the image of God and so are glory bearers and glory givers. So, more children means more glory to God. And more glory to God is always, always, a good thing. To be sure, because of sin, the struggles of this life, the weakness of our flesh, the demands of the world, and the strategies of Satan- glorifying God above all things is difficult. When I say more children means more glory I do not at all mean that this is easy. I do not think that it is without a great price. Glorious things are often not easy- this is part of what makes them so glorious.

Second, I said in reference to Matthew 19:13 that someone brought the children to Jesus. I noted that there is a burden upon parents to bring their children to be blessed by Christ. It is the duty of parents to ‘bless’ their children by bringing them to the Word, bringing them to the body of Christ, bringing them to God in prayer, bringing them the Lord through love and care. There is a burden that Fathers bear especially in this call to care for and spiritually lead their homes in subjection to God and the Word (consider Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 which direct commands to the fathers as the heads of the household). There is a burden that Mothers bear to nurture and care for their children as more valuable than professions, affluence, reputation, or comfort. And so, we find the repeated call to women to be ‘builders of the home’- Titus 2:4-5; 1 Timothy 5:14; Proverbs 31. I said that if God has blessed you with children, then they are the vocation he has given you for at least an extended season. Does this mean that women with little ones should not work outside the home? Well, that is often my general counsel to couples (without extenuating circumstances- such as single parenting- and even so, I believe that in many ways more than others, children of a single parent need the constant nurture of a mother rather than paid daycare employees)- if you are able, then the mother should commit herself to the full time care of the little ones.

As I said Sunday- in all these things there is liberty. And to say there is liberty is not to say there are not boundaries and biblical directives. The liberty comes in each one’s life as they make their decisions and order their lives, marriages, and homes under the authority of Jesus and His revealed Word. As it says in God’s Word,

For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God." So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God. (Romans 14:7-12)

I fear that, for many, the decisions about whether or not we have children, how many we do have, or whether or not we will stay home and care for them (or who will stay home and care for them) are made according to the demands and agenda of the world and our own flesh rather than in subjection to our Lord Jesus Christ and a thorough commitment to His Word.

Let me give you an example. Just the other day I was talking to a Christian man about whether or not he would have any more children. He has two already. He was very cynical about the idea of more children, and scoffed and joked at the thought. I asked why he has made this decision and why he is so cynical. First, he talked about finances (even though he is a pretty stable guy financially, and wealthy according to most standards). Then he talked about how tired he and his wife were. Then he talked about how much private schooling is. Then he talked about his desire to travel later. Then he talked about the world’s population problem (all valid considerations in their own right, save the stupidity of population concerns).

I asked him what he thought the bible has to say about such a decision. He laughed and said that the bible probably says to have more children. My point in bringing up God’s Word was not to prove to him that you can find how many children you are to have by looking in a concordance- but to show him that he essentially doesn’t care what God says about such things because he hasn’t searched the Word of God, or put himself under it, and actually has willfully neglected it in fear of what obedience might look like. I asked him if he was praying with his wife about this. The answer was an ahem, ahem, and then an uh, well, and finally a well, kind of and then ultimately a no. I asked him if he was praying with other brothers in Christ about such a decision. The response was flatly no. Like so many decisions we make, the decision of this man was fundamentally based upon secular assumptions, fleshly concerns, and worldly fears.

Now, let me assure you, I have this sort of conversation, with this sort of response constantly. Yes, this example is incidental and anecdotal. But I want to portray what is a cultural reality and generally true in many an evangelical home. And I want to challenge this ethos with God’s Word and the heart of Christ. Don’t you?

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