Count it all joy when you face various trials. --James the brother of Jesus

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Don't Rip Off the Young People in Your Church!

I once heard the testimony of a man who had grown up in a church that was very contemporary in its music style. After graduating and gowing away to college he visited a church that sang more of the old hymns. It angered him, but he wasn't angry that the music was old. He was angry because until then he had no idea that the Church had such a rich tradition of hymns. He felt that his home church had ripped him off because all they ever sang were the new choruses. 

I'm NOT arguing that we ought to sing only hymns, nor am I arguing that we should sing hymns in the same style as in the 1950's. What I'm saying is that we shouldn't cut ourselves off from the past as if somehow we finally learned how to worship when Matt Redman or Hillsong started writing music. We have an ancient tradition of hymns that goes back for literally millennia! The richness of these song connects the ages of the Church. We can sing the old songs and know we are a part of something that goes back long before we were born.  Something that will still be around long after we're gone. The most important thing about our time of worship is not what makes a church unique, but what makes faithful churches the same across ages of time and diverse cultures. 

What I'm advocating is singing the old songs in a new way. There are many today who endeavor to do this very thing. I'm not able to list them all here, but I will share one of my favorites--Indellible Grace. http://www.igracemusic.com 

In the 90's there seemed to be much more talk about "worship wars" where people divides over the labels of traditional and contemporary. I don't think "either or" is a healthy way to think about the issue. The music of the church MUST always be contemporary. It must be music that connects with the congregation. The music of the church MUST also be traditional--not in style, but in substance. Christianity is a faith that is defined by the passing on of a body of doctrine from one generation to the next. We are fools if we think we can divorce ourselves from the ancient hymns and not be missing out. The worship wheel does not have to be reinvented in every generation. In fact, to think it does is a recipe for idolatry. 

I urge you, if you are reading this, to take the time to connect with the old hymns of church history. Don't sing them in a dry and boring manner. Sing them in your own style and in the language of your own culture.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

My Life: A Hallmark Movie?

With the timing of my move home, I can't shake the feeling that I've seen a Hallmark holiday movie with some parallels. A man hits hard times and moves to his hometown  just before Christmas. He reunites with old friends or has some breakthrough of self discovery. Maybe you've seen a story like this too. 

While I cannot predict what may happen in the coming year, I can't help but face it with optimistic expectation that something good will come, and not just because it always does in the Hallmark movies. I have eager hope because of the gospel. I have hope because of Christmas and the incarnation. Because God became an infant human child, I have hope. A light has shown in the darkness! I must trust that God is good and is working my life together for my good and His glory. I may not necessarily see the physical blessings I hope for this year, but I wait with an eager hope that I will know Jesus better in the coming year whether it be through tangible blessing or identifying with his suffering. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Thankful to Be Working

Well, we are pretty well moved in. On December 1, my family of 5 moved in with my parents in Pocahontas, IL. For the last 2 1/2 years we've been in Kansas City, MO, and I've been working on a PhD. How did we get where we are? I have to admit that is because I've made decisions based on fear. In 2012, I came to realize that teaching middle school was not what I was cut out for, so my last good job came to an end. I was at a loss of what to do. I was frantically looking for any job I could find that could replace my income, but could find nothing. On a friends suggestion I looked into Midwestern's PhD program and got accepted. Though it probably wasn't a good financial move, we went--largely because I was fearful. Jobs were provided, but nothing EVER materialized that would provide sufficiently for our family. After 2 1/2 years in the program I took a semester off to seriously look for better work and still nothing. A good friend finally spoke the truth to me in love and said it looked like we were probably going to have to move in with my parents--which we now have. 

I'm 36 years old, and I'm finding out that life just hasn't worked out like I've planned. I trust that God is good. In spite of the difficulty we have faced we have also experienced many blessings. 

In Kansas City, Amy has developed one of the closest friendships she has had since we've been married. I've also made many friends and I have grown further on my journey of self discovery. 

Employment has been a major struggle for me. I always get lots of recognition for a job well done. Last Christmas I even got a thank you card sent to my home from my team leadership to recognize my good work. But all that verbal affirmation would never translate to career advancement! 

I made my interest known, that I desired to advance into management, but it never went anywhere. I've been given other explanations, but I'm convinced that they stem from the root of the fact that I'm seriously over qualified! 

Just consider, like I've said, I have two master's degrees and some post graduate study. So why would my employee want to risk the expense of training me for management? They know they can't pay me what I'm worth, and that I'll be gone as soon as I have a better opportunity comes. The tough part is that NO BETTER OPPORTUNITIES HAVE COME! I'm still hanging from a ledge hoping I can improve my situation and I'm stuck doing jobs that don't even require a high school degree! Oh well, as the title of this post says. I'm thankful to be working. I'd rather work for $9 and something than be unemployed. God is good. At least we have somewhere to go. We have a great relationship with our families. Many who suffer homelessness are there because they literally don't have any family to take them in or their relationships are strained to the point that they would not be welcome. 

I'm trying to keep hope. I believe I am worth a salary that I can support my family with. I just have to find an employer in can convince of that too.

Friday, December 19, 2014

I'm a Free Agent

I hereby declare that I am a free agent. In sports this term refers to an athlete who's contract has expired with a team and is available for negotiations with other teams. I have no contract to expire, but I want to take a different approach in my employment negotiations. Typically I've approached employers with the attitude that I'm powerless and my only option is to take what they are willing to give--but I think I can do better. I graduated magna cum laude with my BA. I have two masters degrees and some post graduate study. I have a strong work ethic. I'm dependable, teachable, and a quick learner. I think I'm worth more than barely above minimum wage, and at the mercy of my employer for the few hours I can get! So if there is anyone reading this out there who is looking to hire and think they can make me an offer good enough that I can put food on my table, please message me. I'll make it worth your while if you make it worth mine.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Brief Review of Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas


My whole family went to see Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas on the night the movie was released. It was the first time we had all gone together to the movies since our son Josh, who had just turned four, was born.

As a whole, I liked the movie. I found it to be a good positive argument for why Christians should embrace the celebration of Christmas. However, that very thing may be the movie's downfall. In this review I'll share two of the weaknesses to the film, and I will end with stating what I appreciate about it.

Weaknesses:

1. There wasn't a story. Good movies are driven by a good story. Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and Courageous were all movies that were driven by stories. They connected with audiences on an emotional level in so far as they told a believable story. Saving Christmas was not driven by a story. Rather, it was driven by a theological argument--with a story as window dressing.

2. It is an insider's Movie. As noted above, the movie was explicitly aimed at Christians. It seems that there was no attempt to hide this within the movie itself. One of the examples of this is the fact that the character of Kirk's brother-in-law is named Christian. I think this must have been very intentional. At one point, Kirk was making a statement to Christian about why all the modern trappings of Christmas are really about Jesus. His argument was addressed to "Christian," his brother-in-law; it's not too much to say that Cameron was really addressing his audience with the argument. The insider's feeling to the movie is understandable and to be expected with Christians as the target audience; however, I can imagine that this tone could be perceived as quite offensive to anyone who watches it from the outside of the faith. This is probably the reason why critics have been so merciless to the film. If you don't share the assumed worldview of the target audience, you probably won't like the movie at all.

Appreciation:

1. The film maintains an authentic Christian worldview. While this is very close to what I stated as a weakness. As one who shares the worldview, I appreciate what Cameron was doing.

2. The film was informative. The story of Saint Nicolas is one that is probably unfamiliar to most Christians; however, it was one I had been familiar with for some time now. I really appreciate his attempt to redeem the image of Santa Claus, and to show that the real Nicolas was a Christian pastor who was passionate about orthodox Christology and who was known for his generosity--not to mention his concern for the purity of marriage.

3. The film was positive. It can be the temptation of many Christians making a film like this to get very negative and point to all the things wrong with how we celebrate Christmas. Cameron's film was anything but that. This movie about saving Christmas took a very different approach.

4. The film was prophetic. I don't mean this in the sense that it tells of future events (like another of Cameron's earlier movies). The finger of correction was not pointed to those on the outside of the faith, it was pointed at Christians themselves. It was an in-house corrective argument. Cameron was clearly communicating a message to Christians that we should embrace and enjoy the Christmas season, and to focus on how each aspect of Christmas can help us to worship Jesus. In this sense, I think the film is right on the money.

Conclusion:
While the film seems to be taking a beating by many critics, I don't think that this is because they are somehow persecuting Kirk Cameron or Christians in general. Rather, I really don't think the film has what it takes to merit good reviews based on the standard that we normally use when we choose what movies we like. The fact that the movie was strictly driven by a theological argument and it has such an insider's feel to it will probably alienate many who go to see it who do not share the Christian world view.

One other thing: I also wouldn't recommend bringing an active 4 year old boy. It was good for our family to be together and enjoy a night out at the movies, but Josh really didn't have the attention span to sit through it.

All in all, I recommend the movie for Christians, but I think that any attempt to convince our unbelieving neighbors to go see the film might be frustrated by the weaknesses I've mentioned above.

Thank you to Kirk Cameron for making this movie!

Thursday, October 02, 2014

What is the Gospel?

This is an audio file of a sermon I preached some time around Easter of 2012. The volume is not that loud on the file, so you may have to turn it up pretty loud to hear. In it I examined 1 Corinthians 15 and state that it is Paul's definition of the Gospel.

UPDATE:
Here are two more recordings. One is a thematic message from biblical theology on the concept of "sheep without a shepherd." I trace the development of the phrase from it's first occurrence in the book of Numbers into the New Testament. The other recording is a later recording of the same message that I posted above. This one I preached at Colbern Road Baptist Church in Lee's Summit in August, 2012. The sound quality is much better. It includes the music portion of the service, so the sermon starts around 18:50 minutes in.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Christian Bashing and an Anti-Religious Bigot's House of Mirror's

After the recent uproar concerning Louie Gigliio, many have already commented on the impression given that Christians are now unwelcome in the public square--Albert Mohler, Russell Moore, Denny Burk, and Ed Stetzer to name a few.

On the other end of the spectrum, John Shore has written over at the Huffington Post an article claiming that Christians have no support for their position on homosexuality outside the Bible, and that Christians have looked at Jesus as a mirror and seen their own views in the reflection. As a conservative Christian who holds to the view of marriage held by Christians of all traditions from the time of Christ until very recently, I felt an inclination to respond to his argument.

1. His first line of argument is a claim that apart from the Bible, Christians have nothing to say about why homosexuality is wrong. He states:
"Challenge a Christian to make one single argument for homosexuality being wrong that doesn't quote or reference the Bible, and suddenly they're in a house of mirrors; suddenly the only thing they can only point to is themselves."
Basically he's arguing (according to his view) that apart from the Bible, Christians are just harboring bigotry and they really just don't like gay people.

I object to this claim on two counts. First, Mr. Shore demands a test that is impossible for a Christian to submit to. A Christian's entire view of the world is (or ought to be) shaped by Scripture. The authority of the  Bible is fundamental Christian belief. To require Christians to exclude our sacred text in order to speak intelligently about any issue, is to require us to stop thinking like Christians. Second, there are arguments being made by Christians that are not entirely dependent on Biblical texts. Justin Taylor draws attention to such a discussion here.

2. Shore then makes the claim that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality. Now, I'm not exactly sure what he's reading, but the Bible I read says things like:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1Co 6:9-10)
(One of Giglio's controversial quotations was almost a direct quote from this one.)
Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. (1Ti 1:8-11)
(Notice that right next to the word "homosexuality" is the word "enslavers. Giglio is praised by the president for his condemnation of the one, and pushed out for his condemnation of the other)
  You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (Lev 18:22)
Yes, I know that one's in the Old Testament. Why should that matter? Both Old and New Testaments are together accepted by Christians as the word of God. Marcion was condemned as a heretic for his rejection of the Old Testament. The New Testament is organically connected to the Old Testament. It assumes everything in the Old Testament. If you come to the New Testament without the Hebrew Scriptures, you are bound to misunderstand it because you have cut yourself off from the context within which it was written.

3. Shore then turns to Jesus. He makes the claim that what Jesus was concerned about was compassion. He claims that Jesus didn't care about the 10 commandments; all he cared about was love and compassion. Shore then turns to a biblical story (something he tries to exclude Christians from being able to do). He tells of how in John 5 Jesus heals a man who was lame from birth and is then criticized by the legalists because it was done on the Sabbath. Shore states:
Also on the scene are some Jewish leaders. They object to what Jesus has done. And why? Have they so little compassion that they actually prefer the poor man remain a cripple?
Of course not. They're outraged because Jesus disobeyed the Bible. And not in any small way, either. In healing the man Jesus brazenly violated number eight of the Ten Commandments: He worked on the Sabbath. ("Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy ... on it you shall not do any work.")
Now, to someone who's cherry picking which teachings of Jesus to listen to, this is a reasonable argument to make. However, Jesus explains in Matthew 12 that his detractors actually misunderstood the Bible's teaching on the Sabbath.
He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath." (Mat 12:3-8)
 Jesus didn't break the Sabbath. Those who objected misunderstood the Bible's teaching, and Jesus' own explanation makes this clear.

Those who argue that Jesus never mentioned homosexuality may be "technically" right, only in the sense that he didn't use the word. However, Jesus accepted the authority of the Old Testament. He had Leviticus 18:22 in his Bible too. He was fully aware of that when he said:
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Mat 5:17)
Jesus accepted the sexual morality that was given in the Old Testament. If he wanted to change something he could have said so. Rather than loosen the biblical teaching of sexual morality, if anything Jesus made sexual ethics even more strict.
 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Mat 5:27-28)
4. Shore then makes the argument:

The response of the dedicatedly legalistic Christian to this clear and simple reasoning is as predictable as it is inevitable. He or she will say that just like the lame man was physically sick so the gay person is spiritually sick.
"See?" they will say, "Both need Jesus to heal them!"
Which sounds reasonable. Except it ignores the fact that there is something objectively wrong with the lame man, whereas there's nothing whatsoever objectively wrong with the gay person beyond what the Christian uses his Bible to claim there is.
Objective is not the right word here. Physical would fit better. Shore seems to think that in order for something to be "objective" it has to be scientifically verifiable. Moral categories are not scientifically verifiable. In fact, without a claim to revelation, moral categories are impossible to justify in the first place.

Homosexuality is a moral sickness. It is a deadly sin, along with all other sins like lying, stealing, and not loving God with your whole heart mind soul and strength. It is a sin that along with the others will one day be lain bare before a holy God who is coming in judgement, whom we all must answer to--both homosexual and heterosexual alike.

5. By stating that that Jesus only cared about compassion and not about keeping commandments, Shore falls into the same trap that he is accusing Christians of. He concludes his argument:
But when we turn to our legalistic Christian in hopes of a response to that we will find that he or she, having made their point, has disappeared back inside their hall of mirrors, there to spend their hours rapturously gazing at distorted images of themselves, and always mistaking them for God.
Shore is doing what Albert Schweitzer famously pointed out about 19th century liberals. In their quest for the historical Jesus they looked down into the well of history and saw the reflection 19th century liberal values. Shore is doing what we are all sometimes tempted to do. David Platt, in his book Radical, admits that conservative evangelical Christians have a tendency to reinvent Jesus into our own image as a nice middle class God who is cool with us having our stuff and our sin and wouldn't say a word about whatever sin that we deem acceptable.

I don't think that Shore is right about evangelical's simply reading into the Bible the teaching that they want to find about homosexuality. In fact, I think there are probably some who would likely abandon this issue if it didn't mean giving up the clear teaching of Scripture. However, it is without question that remaking Jesus is always the temptation for us all. It is much easier to deal with a Jesus of our own making than the Jesus of the Bible. If we shape and mold our Jesus into own image we can justify pretty much anything we want to, but then again, if we do that, what we are left with isn't really Jesus at all is it?

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