Thursday, March 27, 2008

Eldredge's New Silliness

Tim Challies has a review of John Eldredge's (of Wild at Heart fame) new book Walking With God. Check it out. I have not read the new book, nor will I. But if Challies' review is a faithful representation of the gist of Eldredge's latest foray into evangelical mysticism- then I'm glad to steer clear. Just a teaser: Eldredge saw God (almost?) look at him through the eyes of a hawk and also heard his recently perished dog bark from beyond the grave. Yikes. For a second I thought I was reading an article from Lark News.

I would laugh at this silliness and schlock, but then I realize that many will read this book - and it makes me sad and angry.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Easter in Raleigh

Take a moment this weekend to pray for our brothers and sisters of Fellowship Raleigh who will be celebrating Easter for the first time as a church family.
  • Praise God for his work in this church planting partnership,
  • ask the Lord to send lost people through the doors to hear the gospel,
  • seek God's provision through families that might join the team to build a church in downtown Raleigh.

The Angry Tears of Christ

I've been embedded in John 11 for the past few days gearing up for Easter morn. In a sense I am a bit chagrined at having chosen such a heavy, long, and dense narrative. Get ready for a doozy, dear Oakster. And by doozy, I mean a 55 minute long sermon. And by 55 minute long sermon I mean an hour and 10 minute long sermon. (I'm kidding. Don't be afraid to bring your friends and neighbors. I promise to play nice.)

Here in John's account (the only gospel record actually) of Jesus' resurrection of Lazarus we have that rather famous two word verse, "Jesus wept." (John 11:35) This chapter is so powerful and wonderful because it is rich and full of the mystery of Trinitarian and Christological truth. We are faced with the power of Christ's deity as Lord over life and death itself. We meet here also the humanity of Christ seen in his intimate friendships with Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. We are struck, as were the bystanders, with the tears of Christ.

Along with the record of his tears, there is the interesting phrase in verse 33 (repeated in verse 38), "[Jesus] was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled". The word translated 'deeply moved' (embrimaomai) by the NAS, NIV, and ESV is a bit of an odd word. It usually means, 'to speak harshly' and normally communicates anger and indignation. It is used outside the canon to refer to the angry snorting of horses. King James translates this word 'groaned in the spirit'. It is a hard phrase to capture in English especially given the context here.

Why is Jesus angry? What are we to do with the anger of Jesus? Do we have room in our hearts for the just anger of our Lord?

We read here of a showdown between Jesus Christ and the enemy of humanity - the wages of sin. Jesus waited to go to Bethany for two days, and by the time he arrived his dear friend was, as they say, 'good and dead'. Martha begs Jesus not to open the tomb because the body of her brother was decomposing. The dead body smelled.

Here in John 11 we have angry, confused, weeping sisters. We have disciples pleading with Jesus not to go to Judea, fearful for their own lives as much as for Jesus' safety. We have a crowd of unbelieving, questioning, and befuddled Jews. We have a humble cave with a rotting corpse inside. All the elements of a fleeting and vain world are here. All the elements of sinful and unbelieving flesh are here.

Jesus stands on the living side of the tomb and the stone and demonstrates the power of heaven over the darkness of sin and death. Soon he would stand on the other side and demonstrate with his own death and his own life that he is 'the resurrection and the life'.

We see in this passage that the battle is pitched. Jesus on one side, all the power of hell on the other. The Savior calls forth and all flesh must give account. The quick and the dead alike. The quick have but one life to live by faith in Christ, and then judgment. The dead will be raised and called to account.

Jesus stands on the battlefield as any warrior stands on the battlefield. Full of anger and tears. Anger over the power of sin and death. Tears of grief and compassion for his beloved.

Don Carson puts it well in his comments on this passage, "those who follow Jesus as his disciples today do well to learn the same tension - that grief and compassion without outrage reduce to mere sentiment, while outrage without grief hardens into self-righteous arrogance and irascibility."

We all stand on the battlefield with Christ and call out with the good news. We do so with outrage over sin and tears of love for the lost.

Or, do we?


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Resurrection Thoughts

In choosing my sermon text for Easter Sunday I've been working through various 'resurrection' passages from the NT. Not only those resurrection narratives from the gospels, but the passages which speak of the resurrection in the epistles as well. Here is a familiar passage from Paul's letter to the Philippian church:

"that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible i may attain to the resurrection from the dead" (Phil. 3:10-11)

This isn't the text I've chosen for this Sunday (I'll be preaching from John 11 on the resurrection of Lazarus). But I did spend a little bit of time meditating and thinking about Paul's words here. There is much we could say, but I was struck by the past, present, and future significance of the resurrection to the believer's faith and life.

The resurrection is a real and historical fact. This is critical to our faith. As Paul says over in 1 Corinthians 15, "if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain...your faith is futile and you are still in your sins". There is to be no spiritualizing when it comes to the resurrection act. It was not a metaphor, it was not a parable, it was not story. It was delivered as fact confirmed by eye witnesses and as central to the Christian faith. If the resurrection never happened, then there is no power to be known from it.

Here in Philippians Paul tells us that the resurrection is crucial to our present struggle for growth and sanctification. As we suffer in this age in conformity to Christ we share in his sufferings and display his death for sin to a sinful, dying world (2 Cor. 4:11-12). And we have hope and power in the struggle- because as we display the death of Christ, we are energized by his resurrection power. The same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead is at work in us, and will one day give life to our mortal bodies (Romans 8:11).

And the future hope? Paul says that as we believe in the truth of the resurrected Lord, as we live in his resurrection power and suffer with him, as we are conformed to his death, we are living (and dying) for the reality of a future and blessed hope. This future hope is our resurrection from the dead. I prefer the King Jimmy translation, "if by any means I may attain to the resurrection of the dead". The fact of the resurrection of Christ and the reality of its daily power and conforming strength compels Paul to live and strive for this future goal. This life is a vapor, the sufferings of today are momentary afflictions, the resurrection of the dead to glory is forever. Live for this future and blessed hope.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Rob Bell

Last week someone emailed me a question regarding the books and teaching ministry of Rob Bell. Christianity Today recently gave Bell the rather grandiose distinction of being the next Billy Graham. Problem is, I think for that placard to sit on your desk you need to be one who actually preaches the gospel. I cannot say this is true of Pastor Bell. There is a lot of questioning the gospel, a lot of talk about the gospel, a lot of conversations about the church, a lot of dialogue about the nature of truth- yes, a lot of all that. But preaching the gospel? Not so much.

Thankfully Greg Gilbert over at 9 Marks has done his homework on Rev. Bell, so I can get on with my oh-so-important life. Here is a very even handed review of Bell's Velvet Elvis. And here is the first of three installments on the ever popular Nooma series put out by Zondervan and Bell.

Here is a great summary paragraph by Gilbert on the gist of Bell's work:

. . . it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Bell actually ends up throwing the entire Christian gospel up for grabs. God is made so mysterious, doctrine is deemed so questionable, and biblical interpretations are so relativized that in the end, Bell leaves us wondering if anything can be known for sure, or if any understanding of the Christian faith and gospel is any better than any other.


Thursday, March 06, 2008

For the Discerning Ear...

Back to the present. A few good finds of late.

For those who like men who sing like women. These guys (and gals?) are sweet and easy on the ears. If you listen too long you might want to watch Sleepless in Seattle. So be careful.

A little more testosterone, a bit more twang, and some catchy hooks.

Like the band above, these dudes are from Winter Park, Florida. They're ok, and have a pretty cool name. And, I'm told they are believers in that 'rock n roll christians trying not to be christian radio christians' sort of way, if you catch my drift.

And these guys cover a great Thompson Twins song. Do you know which one it is? Can you name the classic 80's movie with this song in it's final scene?

Just a little diversion from a long day of sermon prep and other miscellany.


The Question of Character

Just to spread the love all round I thought I'd offer some choice words regarding nominee McCain. He has a firm grip on the Republican ticket and the endorsement of President Bush. He is a 'moderate' to say the least, and his pro-life commitments are sketchy. It'd be good to address the claim to 'character' that is blithely tossed about on both sides of the fight. Consider our President's endorsement of Senator McCain:

"John showed incredible courage and strength of character and perseverance in order to get to this moment and that is exactly what we need in a president," he said. "Somebody who can handle the tough decisions, somebody who won't flinch in the face of danger."

Undoubtedly our President is making a reference to the courage and strength necessary to survive through the brutal POW camp where McCain was detained for several years during the Vietnam war. And such survival takes immense courage and determination. McCain proved himself a soldier of the highest order and a leader among men.

But there is another crucible of a man's life that must be considered before we offer up a verdict just yet. In order to be a leader in the church a man's marriage and homelife is to be examined. Paul tell's Timothy that an elder should be 'the husband of one wife' or a 'one-woman man'. He must manage his home well if he is to manage and lead in God's house.

Now, I know what you're thinking. "But the church is different than the state." Or, "if we held all our leaders to such standards, we'd have few leaders indeed."

To the first statement I say, "Well, yes and no." Yes, leading in the state does not require the same qualifications as leading in the church. But, no, I would aver that there are issues of character qualification in a leader and in a man that are at work regardless of the context. The character of a man and leader is tested in a unique and crucial way in the realm of marriage and family. Commitment and fidelity in marriage is the basic covenant responsibility of a man and is absolutely crucial to society. Responsibility (beyond mere financial provision) to love and nurture children is a display of integrity and temperance in a man. In these areas, should we really require less of those who lead our nation than those who lead our communities (our church communities or otherwise)?

Regarding the second concern that standards of character will unrealistically bind us and leave us without any candidates at all. This sort of fatalistic pragmatism will never do. Citizens in a free republic should never resign themselves to allowing scoundrels to lead them. Raise the standard and oust the fools and the wicked. Of what use are the ideals of a free society if all other ideals are sacrificed to acheive them?

Republicans are notorious for raising the question of character. And Democrats have been historically known to dodge the question. But it is standard PR to parade spouses and families of Republicans and Democrats alike during the campaign . Why? Because the public wants to see that you can maintain some basic commitments in life. If you can't manage them, or at least if you can't even manage the appearance of them, then what kind of leader would you be? We demand this of our leaders, and our leaders pay out the nose to PR firms to secure this image, because we intuitively understand the importance of such things. If only we would dig deeper than a glossy publicity photo to see if such commitments are real or not.

All that being said, I think that we should not be so quick to allow Citizen McCain a pass in the character department. At the end of his life he will answer to God for (most likely) repeated infidelity in his first marriage (and has been questioned recently regarding possible infidelity in his current marriage). He abandoned his marriage and vows to his wife while pursuing a beauty queen some 18 years his junior. This is reprehensible behavior and brings a man's character into question. If you want the whole story, you can read about McCain's early years here. Here are is a sad statement made by McCain's former wife from the article:

"The breakup of our marriage was not caused by my accident or Vietnam or any of those things. I don't know that it might not have happened if John had never been gone. I attribute it more to John turning 40 and wanting to be 25 again than I do to anything else."

McCain has expressed remorse for his past with candor. For this I am glad. And I hope that his failures from the past have formed character through repentance and change. Nonetheless, such failures as infidelity and abandonment of an invalid wife and one's children have lasting consequences. Should they bar one from laying hold to the position of highest leadership in the land? I actually think so. Will it keep me from casting my vote to McCain as the lesser of evils? Good question. These are all issues deserving thought and discussion. And such issues must certainly be under consideration when we examine the character of our leaders.


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Parable: A Sunday Meal

A family was preparing for Sunday supper. The Mother was working on the roast and fixin’s while the kids set the table. The Father was resting on the couch after a morning of setting up for church and teaching Sunday School. As was their habit for such family gatherings around the table, they had invited guests to share their meal.

The first guest was a man who claimed to be some sort of relation to the family. The claim was rather foggy, even the parents were unsure as to the nature of the connection. Nonetheless, they were all glad to not only have a guest and friend in the man, but also, perhaps, an uncle or cousin.

Their second visitor was a young man who was not only no relation to the family, but actually somewhat of a notorious scoundrel. He worked with the Father at the office and his profligate lifestyle was well known to all. Nonetheless, Dad had befriended the young sinner and brought him into the comforts and joys of his home.

The discussion around the table was lively indeed. The first guest was quite interesting. He made himself at home around the table in an instant, and acted and spoke as if it were his own family and his own house. This would have been endearing behavior if it weren’t so presumptuous and irritating. His manner of speech was filled with the graces of a thoroughly religious pedigree and he referred to the parents by their first names (he even gave them nicknames!). Yet he complained that the roast was too tough, the gravy too lumpy, and the service a bit slow. He also seemed to be one who frequented the homes of many families, and had sampled delights at many a table about town (he had a list of strengths and weaknesses of each). When one child left the table to refill his drink, he would remark upon the length of the child’s hair to a sister of brother sitting nearby. In all this he was able to make plain his spiritual integrity by humming the latest hit from positive and encouraging Christian radio or referencing his favorite popular Christian author.

The second guest was much less comfortable around the table and was very impressed by the service and the labors of the family on his behalf. He had eater much finer meals but not ever sampled such humble love. His speech was not refined, but peppered with the occasional expletive and attended by a blushing ‘excuse me’. While the family sang the doxology before the meal, the first guest harmonized while he could only move his lips as if he knew the words. He was interested to know more about ‘the heavenly host’ and inquired of the line to the Father. As the Father sought to answer, the first guest offered a sardonic chuckle and fidgeted about as if he had more important matters to discuss.

The meal was over and the Father had quite enough. He looked his first guest squarely in the eye and said, “You have three options. You can sit quietly and learn something, you can get up and help with the dishes, or you can find your own way to the door.”

The first guest was indignant. “How dare you! What would Jesus do?”

The Father replied in a flat tone, “From your response I gather you have chosen the last option. Don’t let the door hit you where the good Lord split you.”

The second guest was quite impressed with the saltiness of the exchange, being a rank pagan and all. He was also a bit fearful that he would be presented with his own set of options. Dad turned to him and smiled.

“Key Lime pie or cheesecake?”

Relieved, the young man responded, “Key Lime, thank you.” The eldest son left to fetch the dessert and the Father resumed their conversation.

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An Open Letter to Senator Obama

The National Review has a great open letter to Senator Obama from a Rhodes Scholar at Princeton University.

Here is a teaser paragraph:

As a prerequisite for any other right, the right to life is the great civil-rights issue of our time. It is what slavery and segregation were to generations past. Our response to this issue is the measure of our fidelity to a defining American principle: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life.”

. . . Can we become a society that does not sacrifice some people to help others? Or is that hope too audacious? You have said that abortion is necessary to protect women’s equality. But surely we can do better. Surely we can build an America where the equality of some is not purchased with the blood of others. Or would that mean too much change from politics as usual?

In case you are reading this blog and still questioning why the issue of life is crucial in the presidential race, read this important post over at the Evangelical Outpost.

HT: Josh Hughes

Monday, March 03, 2008

Pastoral Demolition

What can be said? Just wanted to post this on my blog until we can get it up on the website.