Tuesday, March 29, 2011

On ice cream and favoritism

One of my greatest joys is seeing my children start to put together the pieces of their own faith. Karen and I have had lots of good conversations with our kids, often in the car or just before bed. Last night was another occasion for another conversation. Karen's van was out of gas, so I drove it to the Cub Scout Pack Meeting last night, thinking that John and I could get gas on the way home.

Pack meeting was fun, as usual, and I suggested to John as we got back into the van that maybe we could get an ice cream bar at the gas station when we filled up. He proceeded to thank me for offering, and then asked, "Well, what about Sara and Ashley and Nathan?" I told him that since they weren't with me, they probably wouldn't get anything. He then proceeded to tell me that, in that case, he'd rather not have anything, because that would be favoritism, like Jacob did with his kids, and "Favoritism is bad, Daddy. And you love us all the same, don't you?"

I assured him that I did, but inside I was pretty impressed that the kid is taking his faith so seriously. After all, what kid turns down an ice cream bar, even if his siblings probably aren't getting one? And then goes on to question his Dad about favoritism?

So tonight, I'm stopping off at Kroger on the way home to pick up a box of ice cream bars...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Doctrine: A book review

I have been a bit leery of writing a review of any books by Mark Driscoll, the lead pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Mostly, that leeriness comes, not from concern over the content, which is often brilliant, but over the baggage that seems to instantly arrive any time Pastor Mark comes up in conversation. Christians seem to be of two minds about him: either they condemn him as a man whose preaching has in the past included vulgarity and even profanity, or else they endorse him as a bold preacher effectively reaching the lost in a very lost place. For myself, I take the line first used by John Piper about Mark: "I can't endorse where you've been, but I like where you are headed." That seems to me about right. Pastor Mark has said and done some things in the past which I cannot endorse nor encourage others to imitate. Yet I also see in his preaching and writing a deep awareness of his own sin, a commitment to repentance, and a tremendous gifts being well used to proclaim "the faith once for all delivered to all the saints" (Jude 3). He is, in this way not unlike Martin Luther, a deeply flawed but deeply gifted man whom God used to reach many people with the Gospel.

With that caveat in mind, then, let me offer my review of Pastor Mark's book Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe, which is the fourth book he has written with Prof. Gerry Breshears of Western Seminary. Briefly, I think it's brilliant, solid, and as biblically orthodox as any basic theology book I have ever read. It definitely leans toward and supports the Reformed part of the Christian tradition, but all orthodox evangelical Christians from all traditions should find themselves learning from, agreeing with, and cheering the presentation of Christian teaching contained in these pages. The book is organized around 13 of God's biblically described actions (e.g., "Trinity: God Is", "Creation: God Makes", "Incarnation: God Comes", etc.). Thus, the book follows the flow of salvation history from eternity past all the way to its consummation in the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. Those looking for debates about miraculous spiritual gifts, a resolution of the covenant vs. dispensational hermeneutical question, or other hotly debated points will need to look elsewhere. Instead, what you find is a lively, engaging presentation of classical Christian faith and a firm stand against all that deviates from it. For this, I think Driscoll and Breshears deserve three cheers.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Lions at the zoo

We have been so busy as a family lately that it has often felt like ships passing in the night. Between Scouts (both Girl and Cub), AWANA, MOPs, ministry board meetings, discipleship and counseling meetings, school activities, Karen's childcare business, and general work responsibilities for me, there hasn't been a whole ton of time to just relax and enjoy being a family. So today, after I got back from the men's breakfast and workday at church, we all took off for the zoo.

A couple things struck me as we did this. Number one, I wish I had Nathan's zest for life and joy at all times. He literally ran through almost the entire zoo, punctuating the air with exclamations: "Dad, did you see that!" "Mom! Come look at this! Isn't that amazing?" And when you think about it, God's creatures really are pretty amazing. To me, none is more so than the lion, which truly is the king of beasts. Number two, I was reminded that it is through time together that families and relationships are built. No time = no relationship. I know that's hardly profound, but the crush of good activities can tend to obscure the basics.

After the zoo, we took long naps, watched Butler whip Penn, and an episode of Lie to Me, read stories with the boys, prayed together, and tucked everyone off to sleep. Then I went to work finishing up a sermon and getting caught up on a long-neglected blog. But now it's 1:00 a.m., the coffee is wearing off, and it's time for bed so I can rise and worship tomorrow. I am excited to see what tomorrow brings.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Think dark

I think what we may be witnessing is the setting of the stage for a grand scale "clash of civilizations," (to borrow Samuel Huntington's phrase), in which the rising Islamic world will be pitted against the West. Consider the following:
  1. Turkey is Islamifying under Erdogan. No longer an ally, even though still nominally a NATO member, Turkey's culture is going away from Ataturk and toward Islamification.
  2. Iran crushed the opposition moved that briefly flowered in 2009 in protest against the rigged election of Ahmadinejad.
  3. Afghanistan does not appear to be moving toward Western values, and we are in negotiations for a withdrawal which allows us to leave and the Taliban to have some role in a post-American state.
  4. Iraq is fragile, and will probably experience revolution after we leave in December of this year.
  5. Saudi Arabia invaded Bahrain to crush opposition forces there and may not ever leave. After all, what can tiny Bahrain do if the Saudis stay?
  6. Libya is aflame, but the rebels are most likely affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, so what replaces Qaddafi will probably be more Islamist, not less.
  7. Egypt will rid itself of Mubarak, but will probably find a replacement not among the country's tiny population of secular democrats, but from the Brotherhood. Ditto Tunisia.
What does all this mean? It means that, the revolutions now sweeping the Islamic Middle East will likely produce Islamization, not secular democracies. It means that the direction of that part of the world is toward radicalism and away from peace. It means that American blood and treasure have been and are being sacrificed in a way that enables this process to proceed faster. And it means, finally, that within a few years, we will see the re-emergence of a de facto Islamic Caliphate, stretching from the border of China all the way across North Africa and dedicated to the destruction or submission of the West.

And while that idea is perhaps too scary or too politically incorrect to contemplate, it will nevertheless be the reality facing us in the not-too-distant future. Meanwhile Japan is weak, we are broke, and Europe itself is being overtaken by Muslim immigrants. The Chinese are rising in the East and their military might is paid for by the interest on American borrowing. India is strengthening and democratic, and most importantly populous, but still relatively weaker than China.

The world is about to become a darker, more frightening place.

If ever you were inclined to pray and seek the Lord's favor, now is a good time.

The debt we owe

I'm not a person who is normally inclined to pessimism, but I've recently become pretty cynical about the seriousness of our elected officials when it comes to trying to actually live within our means as a country. Everybody now knows that we Americans owe the world more money than has ever been owed to anybody. What is unclear is how we will ever begin to pay it back absent serious reforms. If this is a household budget, the current negotiations between the House Republicans and the Senate Democrats and Obama amount to deciding whether to eat out at Steak and Shake or the Olive Garden rather than whether to stop eating out altogether. Here's the critical numbers that put it all in perspective:
  • Total unfunded state pension obligations: $3 Trillion, or 1/5 of our current GDP.
  • Total unfunded federal obligations (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid): $88.6 Trillion, according to the Government Accountability Office, the federal agency tasked with tracking such things.
  • Total world GDP: $66.1 Trillion (pre-crash 2008).
So the wealth of the entire world, added together, is not enough to pay off the debt we owe. The fact that not all of this debt is due today is irrelevant. It will come due, and the fact that we owe $22 Trillion more than the entire world possesses will be highly relevant to our ability to ever pay it. The time for entitlement reform is now, before the world wakes us to reality, and comes to the conclusion that, whatever our intentions, there is no plausible scenario in which our debt is repaid, and the situation in America make the convulsions wracking the Greek economy look like a Sunday School picnic.

The question is: Will the Obama Democrats summon the courage to do what is necessary to dismantle, or at least substantially re-structure, the programs the have spent most of the last 80 years building and expanding before we become Argentina, a once-prosperous nation which is now poor?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The wind changed

One of the great privileges of my life was taking Church History at Dallas Seminary from Dr. John Hannah. He was and is a man of authentic faith and real piety, but besides that he possesses a deep well of wise insight into not only church history, but life in general. He would frequently get off to the side after talking about some historic incident and give us all some pastoral counsel.
I remember one particular day when we were talking about the Reformation, and Dr. Hannah said, You know, there were a lot of guys saying the kind of things Luther said back well before before Luther said them, men like Jan Hus and John Wycliffe and William Tyndale and even some of the earlier reform movements like the Cluny movement. But none of them ever touched off a Reformation like Luther did. Why not? Well those men were all spitting into the wind. And for whatever reason in God's purposes and plan, with Luther, the wind changed. Men, you need to remember that there will be seasons in your ministry when you will be spitting into the wind. But you need to keep on spitting, in faith trusting God for the day when the wind changes.
I have never forgotten that, though I can't be sure why. What I do know is that right now I am in a season of ministry where I am spitting with the wind. And for that, I am deeply thankful. I'm sure that it has very little do with me, and a great deal to do with the purposes and plans of God, but I'm really enjoying where we are right now with our church. We are growing like crazy: There are 23 adults in our new members class, and their kids bring the total up to 36 that we are feeding, teaching, and fellowshiping with. AWANA and MOPs are still growing, still reaching people with the Gospel, and still motivating our people to serve. I have begun discipling young men again, and they are showing real promise for future leadership. People are hungry to know God's Word and to start new ministries to reach the community and serve the Body. What has brought all these about? The wind changed. The Spirit of God works where He chooses, and He has, for the moment, chosen to work in and through us.
May God be praised and exalted for what He produces and enables in His people, and may I, as their shepherd, faithfully lead them closer to Christ, taking no credit that rightfully belongs only to Jesus, the Chief Shepherd.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Man Church

I have long been opposed to the idea that church is only for "sensitive guys" and that real men, warrior dudes with testosterone coursing through their veins need not apply. Here's the best comic take on that concept I've ever seen, courtesy of Brad Stine:

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Dad's lessons about hunting...and life: #3

Let the creation point you to the Creator...

I am convinced that God loves hunters and fishermen. After all, God put the universe’s two biggest bears and its biggest fish in the northern sky for all of us to see. (How's that for a trophy room?) And who but God would put the star that points us north in the constellation of the Bear, so that we who love His creation would find that He is the True North to which the stars point?

I don’t think these things are accidental. And I think most hunters and fishermen I know also know that. They know when they are outdoors, God is speaking to them through his creation. I remember years ago, when I was hunting at the Baptist campground where I shot one of the bucks that hangs on my church office wall. It was one of those perfect November mornings when everything is crisp and still. I was back home in Indiana, having flown up from Texas for Thanksgiving and the annual family deer hunt. The sun came up out of the east, and as rays of sunlight filtered through the trees, the woods started coming to life. A red-tailed hawk screamed overhead, squirrels were rustling in the leaves, and setting my heart racing as my mind thought “Was that a deer or a squirrel?” After a while a great blue heron swooped in and started fishing in the creek below my stand, totally oblivious to my presence. The fact that I got a deer later that day was just a bonus.

And I’m convinced that God has given us these sorts of experiences to remind us that He is seeking us. Those of you who know the stars know that God also put Orion, the Hunter, in the sky. And I think God put Orion there to remind us that like us, God is a hunter, and we are the quarry He is seeking. And He needs to seek us out, because the most fundamental truth about every human being in all the world is this: None of us are straight shooters, and so we all wound and break things we can't make right. Oh you might be a AA trap shooter, and qualify for the Olympic biathalon team, and be able to shoot prairie dogs at 1200 yards all day long with your .220 Laser Zapper, but from God’s perspective, you aren’t a straight shooter. At least not morally and spiritually speaking. In fact the Bible says this in Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” To "fall short”is a term from archery that refers to not just missing the target, but deliberately shooting the wrong one on purpose. In other words, our sins aren’t just embarrassing or shameful, they are also all forms of deliberate rebellion against the God who made us.

Moreover, according to the Bible, when we sin we separate ourselves from God, and that brings death: “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). And boy, do we get paid. Death comes into every one of lives every time we sin. So we sin against our wives and kill our marriages, against our children and kill our families, against our buddies and kill our friendships, and against God and kill ourselves on the inside. Sin is the ultimate reason why the world is the way it is and why our bodies die. It’s also the reason why some people choose to live in rebellion against God their entire lives and to spend eternity separated from Him in Hell.

This is the reason why Dad taught me that the creation should lead us back to the Creator, for God is not only the Hunter who seeks us out; He is also the God who hung the Southern Cross in the sky so that we could follow the blood trail He has left all the way back to Him. If you ever get to the game fields of Africa, you can’t miss the Southern Cross in those skies. And as each person lives out his life on this planet, God intends for him not to miss the Cross of Calvary, because sin is a capital crime of treason against God and its penalty is death.

Yet the God who made all things (even the stars) point to Him, does so because He loves us and does not want us to die carrying the load of our sin all the way to death and hell. Through the Cross, God provides a substitute who bore our penalty and offers us new life. If you hunt every day of the season all the days of your life; if you claim all the best trophies from all the world’s game species; if you become the most renowned hunter in all the world and yet die without finding a relationship with the Creator to whom all the creation points through faith in Jesus Christ, your life will end as a tragedy, for you will have missed the most important quarry: an eternal loving relationship with God as your Father.