Thursday, May 17, 2012

Pinky, are you pondering what I'm pondering?

It's time to take over the world!

I've been pondering Pinky and the Brain lately for a couple reasons. One, we bought the complete 3rd season for our family entertainment on our way to Florida. And two, I have lately been seeing a lot of the Brain in my children. Two of them in particular have developed the attitude of "Let justice be done, though the heavens fall!" And in their minds, justice always involves their vindication as being right and life, from the distribution of Power-Ade to the age at which a person can be compensated for mowing the grass must come out perfectly fair, lest the parental unit be accused of injustice. Moreover, since life is inherently unequal, the cry "It's not fair!" has become a relative constant at our house. Thus the similarity to the Brain, who thinks that all would be right with the world, if only he were King over it. My kids really do think that and long for the day "When I am grown up..." so that life will always bend their direction.

On further reflection though, I find the same dynamic at work in most of us. It's an election year, which means we are in the process of choosing which particular megalomaniac we like best, and which world altering vision we find most compatible with our own. Closer to home, we think that if only our vision for our homes, or our churches could be fully enacted, then all would be right and good. The problem is that all of us are like Kramer and George playing Risk in the classic Seinfeld episode: "Two people playing a game of world domination who can't even run their own lives." None of us is really capable of being fair or has any real sense of justice. Instead, what we are really after is a way of regularly tilting life our direction, of taking the world over and remaking it so that it pleases us.

But what's funny in a cartoon or a sitcom is frustrating and sad when I see it in my children and terrifying when given free reign in a government. Indeed, the desire for that kind of power goes back to the Garden and the Serpent's original lie: "You will be like the Most High." For that reason we must put to death the pride within us that drives us to make life bend our way and instead bend the knee to the only One who is truly just, and who set each person in the place He designed, according to his gracious and loving, but not fully "fair," plan and purpose.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Warning for my Reformed Brethren

I'm a reformed pastor. I use the small "r" because I do not find myself fitting comfortably in the capital "R" reformed tradition, since I believe in believer's baptism, pre-tribulational, pre-millennial eschatology, and a future for ethnic Israel as the restored "natural branches" who will return to God after the times of the Gentiles are completed (Rom. 11).

That said, I find a lot to enjoy among my "big R" brethren. I find their commitments to the inerrant Scriptures, the doctrines of grace, and the revelation of Christ in all the Scriptures refreshing in our mushy evangelical world. I love their appreciation for church history and the consequent realization that the Christian life did not begin and will not end with them. I love the emphasis on expository preaching as the way which brings the Scripture to life such that God is allowed to speak old words to new days. I have attended and deeply benefited from their conferences (Together for the Gospel and the Gospel Coalition) and look forward to going again the future for soul refreshment and the encouragement that only comes from the Word of God faithfully preached and the fellowship of the saints.

That said, I am deeply concerned about some of the things I see in the broader Cool Calvinists movement:
  1. The inability to disagree in an irenic way. I see this in everything from John MacArthur's well-publicized theological shiv for those who disagree with him on alcohol use to the commenters on the average theology blog, most of which comments I can no longer read for this very reason. There simply has to be some setting between "not a big deal" and "bury the needle." The sky is not falling nor is someone a hypocrite, a false teacher, or a heretic simply because he or she disagrees with you. This is closely related to #2, which is...
  2. Pride. We who hold to the doctrines of grace are right about many important things, but it is simply arrogance to assume we are personally correct about them all. We do well to remember that we are not the definition of theologically orthodoxy, nor does disagreement with me (whoever "me" is) equal departure from "the faith once for all delivered to all the saints."
  3. Exclusion. I never cease to find it odd that while Reformed Charismatics like C.J. Mahaney and Mark Driscoll are welcomed, Reformed Dispensationalists are the treated like the proverbial red-headed stepchild. Chuck Swindoll, Chip Ingram, Tommy Nelson, and others of like mind do not appear anywhere, but James McDonald was a headliner prior to that unfortunate Elephant Room business. Which is weird, to say the least. We shun those who could be reliable friends when we need them and we are limiting the potential unifying effect of what could be a much broader and deeper movement to renew evangelicalism.
These are worrisome not just because they involve sinful attitudes and behaviors, but because, if they are not corrected, I fear that the broader movement will fall apart just as it begins to have real influence and is most needed. Indeed, I fear it is already happening.

Finishing the race

I finished my first 1/2 marathon on May 5th. It was the 500 Festival Mini-Marathon in Indianapolis, which is the largest half-marathon in the country with over 35,000 runners. I finished in the middle of the mob, not the fastest, but neither was I among the very slowest. But when you run for over two hours (again, I was not among the fleet of foot!), you get a lot of time to think. Some random thoughts:
  1.  It's not an accident that running is used as a metaphor for the Christian life. Both are marked by pain, trials, training, and being pushed beyond what you think you can endure. Both are also battles which are primarily fought in your mind even more than in your body. Moreover, there is great reward and a sense of godly pride (if such a thing exists!) which characterizes finishing well (1 Cor. 9:24; Heb. 12:1). And finally, there is extra baggage which must be shed to run well, a bit more 'round the middle physically, and a lot more in my heart spiritually.
  2. Success or failure for most of us doesn't come down to who came across the line first, but who came across the line still hittin' it. I'll never be a slim-hipped Kenyan who jogs across in just over an hour breathing about as hard as a me watching Swamp People on my couch. If I work really hard and get a whole lot sleeker (say 40 lbs. or so), I might get to where I could finish in 1:40. Likewise, from a spiritual perspective, I'd say I'm not a five talent pastor, but probably a two talent guy on my best days (Matt. 25:14-30). Recognizing that, I'm going to do my best to earn the Master a good return while not being envious of those to whom He has entrusted more since I don't have more for the same reason my running isn't not sponsored by Nike: lack of capability.
  3. There is value in learning to say "No" to what your body desires. Just before the race, I visted by GI doc, who told me that my liver enzymes and blood pressure are down, my kidney function is up, and he didn't need to see me again for 6 months. As a Crohn's patient, finding out that my health has turned around is nothing short of miraculous. Yet even now, many times when I am running, I want nothing so much as to quit. But quitting does not help me become a more healthy person. In the same way, indulging every desire we have does not help us become more spiritually healthy. In fact, it does the opposite, plunging us further into slavery and death.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Slow martyrs

When I sat in the crowd at the latest Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference in Louisville a few weeks ago, my heart was filled with conviction and joy listening to David Platt talk about God's sovereignty and death-defying missions. He made the thoroughly biblical point that, if we really believe in God's sovereignty, then we ought to have more courage as we confront difficult and even dangerous situations. We ought to willingly face down the prospect of martyrdom with both confidence and joy no matter the outcome. And I couldn't agree more. In fact, as I sat in that stadium, I was ready, not simply on an emotional high, but actually ready, I think, to lay my life down for the cause of Christ and the spread of the Gospel.

Not gonna happen.

Oh, it's not that I know the future. I am neither a prophet nor a prophet's son. But living as I do in the United States, and being called to pastoral ministry here, I think the odds are not in my favor. I won't, in all probability, have one of those great do-or-die, renounce-Jesus-and-go-free-or-stay-faithful-and-lose-your-head moments that make for such inspiring reading later and which serve as pungent testimony to the reality of one's faith. I probably won't have the words of my sermons sealed in blood to be read and heard by future generations of the faithful.

You probably won't either.

Instead, what will most likely happen to me is that I will face, like most of you, a different set of challenges in being faithful. It won't be renounce Jesus or die, it will be the smaller, daily challenge of being faithful to Jesus in renouncing sin and pursuing Him. Of trusting Jesus not to stand with me as the fire is kindled, but to stand with me as I go through chronic disease, disappointing and painful relationship conflicts, raise my children to (hopefully!) fear God and love Him with all their hearts, keep preaching though I wonder on many Mondays whether it works, keep loving dear Karen sacrificially even when we are in conflict, and so on until death or Jesus comes. It's not fast martyrdom, in other words, but slow martyrdom, learning to daily put to death the deeds of darkness and my old man, put on the new self created to be like Christ, and trust Jesus to work in and through me to make me wholly his. This too, is a sacrifice, this too, a form of dying for Jesus, albeit a more normal, less spectacular one. But still, it is a sacrifice, and one I pray that God finds acceptable in His sight and glorifying to Him.