Friday, February 27, 2009

A Visual History of My Vehicles

I have no idea why but this week I was feeling car nastalgic. So, here's a visual history of all the POS's I've owned since I turned sixteen:

1979 Chevy Vandura: Ok, so mine was blue and had more rust...Have I ever told you how loud this beast was! Coke cans and coat hanger don't make a good exhaust system. On the plus side, it had wood floors, paneling, a gun rack inside and captains chairs (oh, but they weren't bolted down).

1978 VW Rabbit: Yep, baby blue it was, though I called it carolina blue. I remember it leaked and in the winter you had to scrape the inside of the windows. I did learn how to drive a stick shift on this bad baby blue boy though.

1984 Chevy S-10: My S-10 started off nicer than this (and no stupid flag). It was white. Then after a year it was white with black on the bottom (to hide the rust). Then I painted like a tonka truck (it actually said tonka on the side. Lynn's parents said they knew she loved me when I showed up to there house in that and she was in it). Then I painted it flat black and had to have 2x4's holding the bed together. I bought it for $1000, beat the crap out of it for four years and sold it for $1000. Not bad.

1982 Honda CB650: I only had this for a summer. It was fun, but it's hard when all you have is a motorcycle. Sucks in the rain. Big time. If you could help me talk Lynn into letting me another one, I'd appreciate it (they save money on gas - that's the selling point!).

1990 Chevy Cheyenne: This truck was by far the best, and most expensive vehicle I've ever owned. Of course, I bought it right out of college. Then, when I decided to go to seminary in Chicago I decided a truck wasn't the most practical ride. So, I traded it in for the 94 Cavalier below.

1994 Chevy Cavalier: I traded it that awesome truck for this pos. I hated it. I drove it for 10 years though. Mine was grey - the kids called it the 'Grey Ghost'.

Believe it or not, I traded in the 94 Cavalier (it got towed away after the frame rusted through)for an 88 Nissan 200SX. They kids dubbed that one 'Sand Storm'. Worst part of this car: no radio. Best part: sunroof.

That brings us to my current truck. I like it - though not as much as the Cheyenne. Lynn however can drive this one (it's automatic).

That was fun.

Love is Hard Work

This past Sunday I took Caleb to experience Renovo (Connexion's ministry to the homeless community in Bloomington). Actually, it's probably more accurate to say that Caleb took me - he's been asking constantly for about 3 months, ever since the Renovo video was shown in Underground (ECC's kids ministry). After being there for a couple of hours here are some of my thoughts:

1. Loving the needy isn't a part time or one time deal. I'm not a regular at Renovo, not by a long shot. Thing is, you could tell. I got into a few conversations, but I also `watched those who were regulars and it was different. The people being served knew them, trusted them, connected with them, loved them. It was evident. I'm sure it wasn't always that way for those who are regulars, but that level of fellowship between the men and women being served and those regular students doing the service has developed over months and sometimes years. That's awesome. So often we volunteer for a soup kitchen or shelter and do it once a year or once a month. We come and get our 'service' merit badge (literally or figuratively) and then walk out feeling good about ourselves. This crew is different. They are there and involved in these people's lives (sometimes against pastoral warnings). I never had a sense that any of the students were their to get their 'service cards' punched. They were there because the loved the people and loved sharing the love of Christ with them.

2. Love is hard work. I went home really tired (and I hadnt' done any of the prep work or the clean up). I personally find making conversation very tiring, and this was even more tiring than most conversation making. It takes energy as well as time to love well. In addition, trying to turn the conversations to spiritual matters was not at all easy. Yet I overheard several of the regular students involved in fairly deep spiritual conversations with the guests. My hat really goes off to them for all the hard work that is put in week in and week out.

3. College students can make a huge impact. College students are naive, and I love it. They believe they can change the world. While the impact of these students work may not quite have global impact, they are having a huge impact on their churches and this community (do that in enough places and there will be a global impact!). There are now churches involved in serving the community in ways they never had before. Why? Because some college students showed them by their example that they should!

I know I'll be back. Caleb will make sure of it. He loved it and had about a billion questions afterwards (like, "Dad, what's an existentialist?" Thanks Hal!). I was tired and energized all at the same time. Thank you all for the hard work you put into this ministry and the love you pour out. God bless.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

the world of "I & It" vs. the world of "I & You"

We relate to and come to know 'Yous' differently that we relate to and come to know 'Its'. That's one of the points Newbigin makes a strong case for in his discussion of the relation of "Reason, Revelation, and Experience" (The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society). With things we come to know them by dissecting them, studying them, analyzing them. I don't need an chemical compound to reveal itself to me, I am sovereign in the process of getting to know about it. This is not the case, however, in the world of human relationships. I can come to know some things about you by studying your past, observing you, etc. But to really know you I'll need you to reveal yourself to me - to answer my questions, to speak. I just can't really know anyone apart from their self revelation. This doesn't mean that in personal relationships we have abandoned reason. Instead, Newbigin notes, "Reason has become the servant of a listening and trusting openness instead of being the servant of a masterful autonomy" (pg. 61).

Newbigin applies this idea to our knowledge of God. We can, through a study of the natural world come to know some things about God ("natural theology"). However, to real know God we need God to speak, to reveal himself. This doesn't mean, again, that in relying on revelation we have abandoned reason. Again he writes, "If it is the case that the ultimate reality which lies behind all our experience is, in some sense, personal; if - that is to say - we approach an understanding of that ultimate reality most closely by following the clues which are given to us in personal relationship, the it will follow that personal knowledge of that reality will only be available in the way in which we come to know another person, or at least in a way which is more like this than the way in which we come to know the working of the electrical circuits in the human brain" (pg. 61).

The common contrast set between faith and reason or reason and revelation don't really make sense. Instead, what is really happening is that one type of reasoning established upon one presuppositional foundation is being confronted with another type of reasoning established upon another presuppositional foundation. These starting points and the traditions built upon them (he argues strongly that science is built and dependent on tradition as much as religion. very interesting discussion) determine one's 'plausibility structures' (what is deemed possible). So, for much of the scientific community talk of God working (or even an intelligent designer working) is deemed ridiculous and unscientific. Why? Because it's outside the 'plausibility structure' that has been erected by the tradition (including peer review journals, tenure position hirings at universities, etc.) . Then the other camp, religion or even those scientists who advocate an ID position, is cast in an unreasonable light - as if they have checked their critical thinking skills at the door and chosen to be told via revelation how things work instead of using scienctific methods. This is the way the science v. religion debate is often framed and it is profoundly wrong headed.

I think his evaluation is brilliant and look forward to reading his prescription for how to move forward. I just watched Ben Stein's 'Expelled' last week and what he exposes certainly backs the conclusions Newbigin comes to.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Insights from Green's 'Evangelism in the Early Church', pt. 3

I'm going to wrap up this series with this post. There is probably a lot more to glean from this book and I look forward to rereading it sometime down the line. For now though I have many other books I need to get to and think on.

The fifth practical/ministry insight I'm taking from Green's book is the importance of non-legalistic motivations for doing the work of evangelism. Green asserts that the early church had a more multi-faceted approach, finding motivation to take up the work from more that just a few verses at the end of Matthew's gospel. First, he notes that the Christians were primarily motivated out of gratitude to God for all he had done for them. This doesn't mean the Great Commission wasn't important, but it does not appear with frequency in the writings of the early church. Green cites Roland Allen, arguing, "it would be only a minor loss if the textual doubts surrounding those verses [Matthew 28:16-20] prove justified [they don't], and if it could be clearly demonstrated that Jesus never spoke those works. 'The obligation to preach the gospel to all nations would not have been diminished by a single iota. For the obligations depends not upon the letter but upon the Spirit of Christ, not upon what he orders but upon what he is, and the Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of Divine love and compassion and desire for souls astray from God" (pg. 278). Coupled with this sense of gratitude and the 'thrill' it was to represent Christ to the world was a healthy sense of accountability. While the early Christians certainly believed one's future was secure in Christ, they were also aware that everyone would stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account of how they had stewarded their lives, including the opportunities to share the gospel (see for example Matthew 25:14-30). Green points out that while in the 2nd century this sometimes degenerates into a crude system of rewards and punishments it was not so in the earliest church writings, including the NT. Added to these two motives to preach the gospel was a genuine concern for the lost. Green comments, "Mankind is divided into those who accept him as the way to God and those who do not...It is one of the most objectionable elements in the gospel to modern man. No doubt it was to people of the first century. The scandal of Christ's particularity has always been the supreme obstacle to Christian commitment. But these early Christians believed implicitly that Jesus was the only hope for the world, the only way to God for the human race. Now if you believe that outside of Christ there is no hope, it is impossible to possess an atom of human love and kindness without being gripped with a great desire to bring people to this one way of salvation. We are not surprised, therefore, to find that concern for the state of the unevangelized was one of the great driving forces behind Christian preaching of the gospel in the early church" (pg. 290). Green also points out that this concern for the unevangelized was fueled by a healthy theology of the end (eschatology). The church really believed, and not just in their formal theological statements, in Jesus' imminent personal return to judge the world and in the reality of hell. Even in the second and third centuries when the hope of an immediate return had faded, "eschatological expectation played a notable part in galvanizing the church into mission" (pg. 369).

Why have so few in the modern church been equally motivated? Honestly, the is certainly a problem drawing parallels between the early church and the modern church on this point. When we look at the early church we are looking at those who were most active and recorded their activities. There may well have been large segments of the early church that didn't do much by way of evangelism and weren't motivated by gratitude or concern. Still, we can learn from those who were were active and properly motivated. One of the reasons people don't respond with overwhelming gratitude for the grace they have been given is they don't understand the ridiculous nature of that grace. We have grown up hearing we are really good. At church we may here a different story, yet I suspect notions of our inherit goodness still lay just beneath the surface in many evangelicals (I'm sure Barna's got a statistic somewhere). I really don't know that we'll feel the proper gratitude for what God has done in Christ till we appreciate the horror of what we have done in our rebellion against God. If we don't feel that we won't be motivated much by it either.

On the whole it seems what is needed in the church is a deeper and truer love for Christ. (I feel like I'm getting repetitive in saying I include myself in this critique, but that if I don't keep including myself I run the risk of coming off as self righteous). The task of spreading the good news of Jesus wouldn't be something we do only when the level of guilt for not doing it rises to a critical level. Instead, it would be praising and commending the God we adore to others, calling them to adore him for who he is and what he has done.

Finally, the sixth insight, which may be the most important for me personally, comes in Green's chapter on evangelistic methods. He begins his section on 'teaching evangelism' with a critique of Dodd's 'arbitrary separation between preaching and teaching, between kerygma and didache" (pg. 313). He goes on to write, "in early Christianity there was no such clear-cut distinction between the work of the evangelist and that of the teacher. This is, in fact, apparent throughout the period from St. Paul to Origen. Both of them evangelized through teaching the Christian faith" (pg. 313).

We have come to think of evangelism and teaching as two entirely separate functions - some texts are evangelist texts, some are meant for the believer. Some truths are useful for evangelism, some are not. I think the whole body of truths the church has been given are useful for instruction and evangelism. This can be pushed to far, for in the first post I outlined the particular evangelistic message used in ministry to the Jews and Gentiles. However, what I want to assert is the evangelistic potential of every passage of Scripture (I remember hearing RC Sproul talk about how he was brought to faith in a service where the preacher was preaching on an obscure passage from the prophets). All passages of Scripture are useful in evangelism because 1) all Scripture leads to or flows from the cross, and 2) God is sovereign and his Spirit and his Word are powerful instruments to do what is humanly impossible.

As I said, this has been a challenging insight, especially as I am thinking through plans for next semester and the college ministry. Last year we walked through the book of Revelation and were heavy on the teaching aspect. This year has been entirely topical and more weighted to the evangelistic component. How do we wed these two aspects of ministry? That is the challenge and one I am really enjoying contemplating. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this (if any of you have been keeping up with these really long posts).

two great links on evangelical fadism

I stumbled upon these posts today and since they tie in with my post from yesterday (Insights, pt. 2), I thought I pass them along (doing so as someone who has, in the past, been very guilty carrying on Christian fads).

The first, "Evangelical Fads Don't Always Reach Others: Internet Manifesto Calls For More Lasting Relationships" comes from The Morning News (Northwest Arkansas). Here's a taste: "[Joe] Carter is convinced that evangelicals need to spend less time striving to make quick conversions and more time training disciples who stay the course."

That article refers to Joe Carters Manifesto ("Fads and Fixtures: Ten Deadly Trappings of Evangelism") which I tracked down. It's actually a couple of years old and is posted on the Evangelical Outpost website. Here's a sneak peak: "'Virtually all the people on Time magazine's list of 'The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals' share at least one glaringly significant trait,' says Phillip Johnson, 'For the most part, these are the fadmakers.' Phil goes on to list a number of 'cheerleaders for whatever is fashionable', including the usual suspects such as Rick Warren and Tim LaHaye, and explains why their programs are fads: Not one of those movements or programs even existed 35 years ago. Most of them would not have been dreamed of by evangelicals merely a generation ago. And, frankly, most of them will not last another generation....The following are ten fixtures of evangelism that I find particularly harmful. None of them are inherently pernicious (well, except for #10) but they have a tendency to be used in ways that are counterproductive to their intended purposes."

Monday, February 23, 2009

Insights from Green's 'Evangelism in the Early Church', pt. 2

I think I should have explained in Part 1 of this three part series that I have intended these posts on Greens book to be more practical and not a formal review or critique of Green's work. Many have done that and there is probably a fair bit to critique. These posts are more of a personal/ministry reflection on the work and tries to apply some of the trends and principles Green sees at work in the early church to our modern church context (inherent in that comment is a critique of Green - he does little work applying what he sees in the early church to the modern church save his epilogue of 8pgs.).

The third thing I am taking away from Green's book is a desire to reclaim a more robust understanding of conversion. Green points out that the early church proclaimed the person of Jesus, the gift of forgiveness and salvation, and they called for a response. In other words, they expected results, namely repentance, faith and baptism. It is very accurate to say that the early church (first century) didn't consider conversion quite complete until the convert was baptized (this changed by the second century where converts were catechized extensively before being baptized). Green points out, I believe correctly, that Paul intentionally places his discussion of baptism in Romans 6 immediately following his discussion of justification in Romans 5 - one naturally flows from the other. Greene writes, "they all make it abundantly clear that baptism and conversion belong together; is is the sacrament of the once-for-allness of incorporation into Christ" (pg 215).

Without falling into any sense of our work in baptism contributing to our right standing before God, re-emphasizing the role of baptism would go a long way, maybe, in abating the rising tide of 'easy believism' so prevalent in the church today. We offer salvation without repentance, call for faith and neglect obedience. We do it in the hopes that by offering a minimalist gospel we will be removing any/all barriers to people coming to Christ. This problems with this are legion. I'll mention just one here because I'm coming back to it later - holiness is one of the church's most compelling evangelistic tools. This minimalist gospel is detracting from the holiness of the church and will ultimately have (is having) devastating affects on the 'believability' of the gospel we preach. [Note on picture: this is a 4th century baptistry in Milan where St. Augustine was baptized by St. Ambrose.]

(Somewhat tangentially is a lengthy discussion of Newbigin's three understandings of the church in the NT, "each with it's appropriate means of entry". Newbigin points to the NT teaching of the church as the New Israel, and on this understanding it is baptism that marks one's entrance just into the covenant community just as circumcision marked one's entrance into the Old Covenant community of Israel. Added to this is the understanding of the church as the fellowship of believers for which repentance and faith were necessary conditions of acceptance. Finally, the church is also understood as the community of the Holy Spirit, so it is the reception of the Spirit and living the Spirit led life that are marks of entrance to the church. Green points out that that each of these modes of entrance have been picked up by certain wings of the Christian church - the Catholic church picked up on the requirement of baptism, the Protestant on the necessity of faith and repentance and the Pentecostal on the importance of the Spirit. He argues that each is valid and necessary, but that "all become falsified if taken in isolation and to its logical extreme."(pg. 222). There's a lot to ponder in this discussion, but as I said, somewhat tangential to this post.)

Green continues the main line of his argument on the robustness of the early churches theology of conversion pointing to the conversion of Paul as normative for all Christians (though obviously the Damascus road experience isn't, the effects of his conversion are). Green comments, "This encounter with Christ touched Paul at every level of his being. His minds was informed and illuminated...His conscience was reached...His emotions were stirred...His will was bent...His life was transformed" (pg. 225).

This leads me to insight four (hinted at above), which really isn't new but Green does an excellent job of reminding his reader of the necessary connection between belief and behavior. Green cites the uniqueness of the Christian fellowship, the transformation of individual lives, their irrepressible joy, their endurance even to the point of death and their power in the Spirit as behaviors that backed up their beliefs and gave the early church so much success in evangelizing both Jew and Greek. Quoting Green at some length, "The truth of their claims must have been assessed to a very large degree by the consistency of their lives with what they professed. That is why the emphasis on the link between mission and holiness of life is given such prominence both in the New Testament and the second century literature...Life and lip went together in commending the Christian cause...The two cannot be separated without disastrous results, among them the end of effective evangelism. That is why the New Testament writers are so intolerant of both doctrinal and moral defections among their converts" (pg. 250). (Note on the picture: the painting is called the "Choice of Perpetua". Read her amazing story of courage.)

For the promise of immediate results and numbers to make us feel good, I fear much of the evangelical church has cut it's nose of to spite its face. The numbers of converts won by such easy-believism type evangelism are dubious to begin with and the great danger is that the next generation (possibly this generation) has entirely lost its credibility with the world. David Wells argues this point at length in his book The Courage to be Protestant (which I began posting about but ran out of steam). I think those who say we need a massive reformation of the church (revival in the old sense of the word) before we will experience any great successes in the mission of the church are right on the mark. Yet it seems that for a large swatch of evangelicalism holiness is an after thought, seriousness about God is viewed as a hindrance and the game is numbers. Best way to get numbers is to be fun and high energy. But, in the midst of this push we are loosing credibility and I see it in the faces of students who I talk to - both the non-Christians who think we're all a bunch of hypocrites and the Christians who are reluctant to share their faith because they know their lives don't back up what they proclaim.

I'm glad that while this may be the rule there are many exceptions. Some ministries take holiness and seriousness seriously. Even in those that don't there are students who do. Praise God. And I am praying that many more will be added to the joyfully serious who love holiness and show people their convictions not with mere verbiage but by living well (and need I say it, I pray that I'll be included in that group too).

One more post to go...

Training in Godliness vs. Silly Myths

I found this over at Justin Taylor's blog. I have not idea who this guy is but what he says very challenging. Since Connexion has been more topical this year this comes as a great reminder to keep the sermons Christian (preach in a way that a Muslim would disagree) and gospel focused. (Oh, and does he use a lot of hand gestures or what?).

Song of the Week

A mellow song from my favorite hard rock group out there.

Shadow Of The Day - Linkin Park

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Greats

The cartoon got Caleb and me talking baseball. He asked me who my favorite baseball ever was (when I asked him who he thought it was he said Grady Sizemore - not yet). Here's a clip of my favorite player ever Lou Gehrig. What a classy guy.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Insights from Green's "Evangelism in the Early Church", pt. 1

Green’s book makes a unique contribution to our understanding of Evangelism in the Early Church. His work is unique in that it is both a wonderful examination of relevant New Testament material and a thorough study of the church’s evangelistic methods for the first three centuries of its missions endeavors. Here are a few of the key insights, mostly practical, I have gleaned from Green’s work.

First, while Green does a very good job of detailing the providential conjunction of circumstance in the first century that were very advantageous to the birth of the new Christian movement, he does an equally good job of describing the massive obstacles that the early Christians faced. The message of a crucified Messiah who was, in fact, the LORD of the Hebrew Scripture, put the early church immediately at odds with the Jews (though they were themselves, by and large, Jews). Green explains in his chapter titled “Evangelizing the Jews” that the hostility was heightened by the Christians claim to be the true Israel, their ‘theft’ of the Hebrew Scriptures, their disregard for the Law and the “spiritualizing” of Israel’s sacred rites. Being pushed out from their Jewish home the early Christians were not welcomed with open arms in the broader Graeco-Roman culture either. There they were met with suspicion due, in part, to wild rumors of immorality and their refusal to participate in the imperial cult and much of civil life. To these obstacles were added several intellectual obstacles: Christianity was new, it was ridiculous and it was culturally inferior. Moreover, it was narrow. Christians didn’t lobby to add Jesus to the pantheon, but declared he was the only hope of salvation and called upon people leave their idols to worship the one and true God. This was a wonderful reminder of how difficult the mission of the church was (and is) and how heroic the early churches effort was. As Green comments, “If they had stopped to weigh up the probabilities of succeeding in their mission, even granted their conviction that Jesus was alive and that his Spirit went with them to equip them for their task, their hearts must surely have sunk, so heavily were the odds weighted against them (29).” It also points to the importance of the Spirit in their early endeavors. The task was impossible if it were not for the power of the Spirit at work in the early church.

The task before the church today is also daunting. We need to take courage from the work of those early Christians and learn lessons from them about reliance on the Spirit and faith in Christ whose church we labor to build.

The second theme that struck me as practically important was the adaptability of the early Christians. Green comments, “the proclamation of the early Christians [was] united in its witness to Jesus, varied in its presentation of his relevance to the varied needs of the listeners, urgent in the demand for decision (pg. 101).” Green thoroughly describes the various methods, places and persons involved in the mission task. To the Jews the early evangelists quoted Scripture to show Jesus as the Messiah and the fulfillment of the promises of God. While the message continued to be thoroughly biblical, the evangelists did not quote nearly as much Scripture to those who were unfamiliar with it. Instead they quoted poets and philosophers and emphasized Jesus as Lord instead of Jesus as Messiah. With the Jews the early witnesses to Jesus could cut to the gospel chase. Among the pagans however there was a good deal of remedial work that needed to be done, namely an attack on idolatry, a proclamation of the one true God and exploration of the moral implications of this proclamation (pg. 179). This ‘translation’ of the gospel from one milieu to another was not without its dangers, but it was absolutely necessary. Green reminds us that “Evangelism is never proclamation in a vacuum, but always to people, and the message must be given in terms that make sense to them (pg. 165)”

Beyond the translation of the message, the early evangelists were also very adept with regards to the methods they employed. The early Christians evangelized in public places and in homes. They went to the upper echelons’ of society and to the working class and poor. They sometimes won people with a carefully reasoned argument and sometimes through displays of the Spirit’s power over demons and disease. The modern church can and should learn from the early church and be ready and willing to adapt new methods and do the hard work of faithfully translating the gospel message across cultures. It is incredibly easy to become tethered to one specific approach to evangelism (i.e. home visitation, the Four Spiritual Laws, Evangelism Explosion, friendship evangelism, etc.). All of these approaches have value and can be used by God to reach different kinds of people. We ought to allow ourselves to become comfortable in sharing the gospel in a variety of ways and allow freedom to others as well. It makes sense that our approach to a college student who has grown up in the church but has never made a personal faith commitment will be very different than our approach with a professor of religious studies who is hostile to the narrowness of Christianity just as Paul’s approach to the philosophers was different than his approach to God fearing Lydia. Green concludes, “When Christians have the will to speak of their Lord, they find no shortage of ways in which to do it (386).”

This diversity of approach is also the byproduct of the fact that every baptized believer considered it his privilege and duty to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. It was not just the itinerant evangelists and the professional missionaries that were commending Jesus to the people. Everyone from the intellectual theologians to the believing slave, from the bishops to wealthy aristocrats took it upon themselves to sow the seed. Thus the proclamation took on the ‘personality’ of those active in evangelistic work of the church. Again, there is much we need to learn from their example. Evangelism has increasingly been seen as the calling of the professionals or the privilege of those with the gift of evangelism (interestingly, the proportion of people who claim to have the gift of evangelism is shockingly low compared to those who claim to have the other gifts. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because so few people have tried to be an evangelist and so haven’t experienced the working of the Spirit in this way?!). As a pastor I see calling people and motivating people to be Christ’s ambassadors as an important focus, one that I have honestly been negligent in.

More to follow...

NRO Top Conservative Movies

National Review Online has compiled a list of the top conservative movies - "great movies that offer compelling messages about freedom, families, patriotism, traditions, and more".

1. The Lives of Others (2007)
2. The Incredibles (2004)
3. Metropolitan (1990)
4. Forrest Gump (1994)
5. 300 (2007)
6. Groundhog Day (1993)
7. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
8. Juno (2007)
9. Blast from the Past (1999)
10. Ghostbusters (1984)
11. The Lord of the Rings (2001, 2002, 2003)
12. The Dark Knight (2008)
13. Braveheart (1995)
14. A Simple Plan (1998)
15. Red Dawn (1984)
16. Master and Commander (2003)
17. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (2005)
18. The Edge (1997)
19. We Were Soldiers (2002)
20. Gattaca (1997)
21. Heartbreak Ridge (1986)
22. Brazil (1985)
23. United 93 (2006)
24. Team America: World Police (2004)
25. Gran Torino (2008)

Ok, so anyone want to guess how many I've seen? Here's a hint, I haven't seen Gran Torino yet - Lynn didn't think it would be a good Valentine's Day date movie - still not sure why? Check out the whole list (25 more honorable mentions) with comment on why they made the list.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Getting ready for baseball

With only 5days, 18hrs and 11minutes left till the first game of the spring season, it's time to prepare. Too cold outside. Hmm, try this:

Games at - Baseball

It is bottom of the ninth; rally your team to win the game with only 3 outs left

Play this free game now!!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Christian kitsch as an ancient tool in evangelism?

I just finished up an excellent book by Michael Green titled Evangelism in the Early Church. It has given me much to think about, and I'll probably post my book review when I get it done. In the midst of this insightful and well researched book there is this very weird section in the chapter on evangelistic methods. The subheading is "indirect evangelism in the home". Green writes, "The earliest Christian meetings took place in homes. It is only to be expected, therefore, that Christians should have borne witness to their faith through the decoration of these homes. The evidence shows that they did so in a tentative and allusive way. They affected decorations which would mean much to a fellow Christian , but would either seem unremarkable to the non-Christian or might excite mild comment, which in turn could give the Christian householder an opportunity to bear witness to his faith."

Ok, did I just read that the early church used Jesus junk (aka witness wear) to evangelize? Green gives many examples, the oddest is a pair of oranti (not exactly sure what an orante is, but from context I'd guess its' a tile mosaic) from Pompeii dated before 79AD. One of the orante is of a typical 'pagan' style and pictures a man with the "upper arms to the side of the body, while extending the forearms in supplication". The Christian orante is similar but the image stretch out the whole arms in supplication. Green comments, "The similarity to the pagan type would allow the Christian orante to go unchallenged by most visitors to the home. But the churchman would recognize it at once [maybe you have to see it to understand?], and the pagan acquaintance interested enough to enquire about its peculiarities would provide his host with an ideal opportunity of explaining the faith to him."

It is very easy to make fun of the kinds of Christian merchandising [and, if I'm being fully honest, I too once wore such silly clothing and bought all the greatest Christian rock music and went to the festivals...Cut me some slack, I was 16 and in a fundi type church]. I think it would make a fun hobby. However, maybe there's something in the heart of those who wear their "His Pain, Your Gain" t-shirts that we should emulate. I do think such merchandising trivializes Christ and his church, making both look silly. But many people do buy this stuff hoping it will spark some kind of spiritual conversation. I want to applaud that. I don't think it's the best method; in fact, I would discourage it. However, the impulse behind it is very good, and ancient, and God honoring. We should be looking for opportunities to speak about the good news of Jesus Christ with people and far to many of us do not look to do so in any intentional way at all. Why we might want to laugh at those who wear such tacky Christian merchandise, they might look on us and wonder if you care at all that people are lost without Christ, wondering what effort we are making to speak to people of Christ's love and salvation.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Scott McKnight on the Neo Reformed

Scott McKnight over at Jesus Creed has a great new post on the NeoReformed. I guess I'm a part of the NeoReformed movement in that I'm young (ish) and reformed. I would, however, like to think of myself as a reformed neoreformer. I hope I'm not mean-spirited and that I haven't erected any 'gates on the gateless green of evangelicalism'. You can read Scott's whole post.

As I said, I'm very much into Reformed theology, but I'm also very concerned by trends I see in many a young Calvin wannabe. First is the divisive spirit which McKnight contends with in his article. The second issue I have with many young Reformed guys is the drift away from sola scriptura to a scripture + piper or scripture + carson, scripture = the Institutes, etc. Again, I think I was probably there ten years ago (maybe even five) and I think I burned bridges. I don't mean this to come off as holier than thou. Rather, hear it as a plea. Maybe hear it as a challenge: figure out how to hold tightly to correct doctrine without being contentious. Don't allow the Christian faith to shrink to a few key doctrines, YET make sure their is enough room in your tent for those who disagree on the nonessential. Don't be wishy washy on doctrine, but don't be a bristly brush either. Know what you believe and still love others who disagree with you.

Song of the Week

This song comes off Kristian Stanfill's new(ish) EP "Attention". I also really like the songs 'Faithful' and 'Lord of All', though I really don't like 'Kingdom' (the theology is a little off). I could take or leave 'Wake Up' and 'Alive and Running'.

I Need You - Kristian Stanfill

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Silly Things Kids Cling To

For the last few days Luke has been grasping a few Pirates of the Caribbean Playing Cards, the 2-3-5-8-Queen of hearts and the Queen of Diamonds to be exact. He's taken them everywhere he's gone. He tried to take them into the bath, but mean old dad wouldn't let him. A while ago, Caleb was obsessed with a paper Chinese Star I made him and Jake clings to a piece of paper on which we drew all the NFL football helmets. Weird. I have no idea where these cards came from, maybe a birthday party or something. I'm pretty sure the deck is worth less than a dollar. Why do they hold onto things of so little worth so tightly?

I don't know, but I'm guessing God wonders about the same thing. Why do they cling to their status, to their homes, to their...It's not worth much and it'll all be gone soon enough:

1 John 2:15- 17, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever."

See also, Philippians 3:8, Romans 8:18, Matthew 13:44, Matthew 13:45-46.

Not sure if it's true of you, but I know it is of me - I need to be in constant prayer on this matter, asking God to give me eyes to see the true value of things.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Is Abortion a Private Issue?

Yesterday I took a few minutes and sent a letter to my Congressman urging him to sign the Jordan/Schuler letter to Nancy Pelosi encouraging her to keep the prolife 'riders' in upcoming appropriation bills ('riders' prevent taxpayer dollars from being used to promote or perform abortion, protect the consciences of health care, professionals, and prevent funding for unethical human embryo experiments). While the Freedom of Choice Act has not yet been introduced, there is a proper fear that many parts of this ghastly bill are being stealthily snuck into the Stimulus Package. Jordan and Schuler are "requesting that the pro-life riders be included in any legislation reported out of the Appropriations Committee. If the riders are not added to the appropriations bills, then we are asking the Rules Committee to report a rule that allows for consideration of any deleted riders on the floor of the House of Representatives. We believe that failure to include all of the current policies with regard to the right to life will mark a radical departure from a policy many Americans support." I would encourage you to write/email your Congressman and encourage them to sign the letter as well.

I definitely appreciate the fact that my Congressman (or a staffer) took the time to respond to me. While I don't know if he will sign the letter, he did point out that he opposes partial birth abortion and voted yes on H.R. 3660, the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2000. Also, he voted for H.R. 1218, the Child Custody Protection Act, which would "make it a federal crime for an adult, other than a parent, to transport a minor across state lines to have an abortion in order to circumvent parental consent laws." He also voted for H.R. 2436, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act which "would impose criminal penalties on people who, through violent acts against pregnant women, cause prenatal injuries or terminate pregnancies." Finally, he pointed out that he is a cosponsor of H.R. 1074, the Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act, which "aims to reduce the abortion rate by preventing unintended pregnancies, supporting pregnant women, and assisting new parents."

I am very appreciative of his efforts to reduce the number of abortions and his willingness to stand for life in these ways. I am hopeful that HR 1074 will have a big impact on the number of women seeking to have an abortion.

Having said that, I am also somewhat puzzled by the conclusion to his email. He writes, "While I personally oppose abortion, I ultimately believe abortion is a private matter in which the federal government should not be involved." I am confused, in part, because the majority of the email was spent showing the ways he has, as a government agent, supported government involvement in the issue.

More to the point, however, I need clarification on why the taking of life is strictly a private matter and not an issue that government should involve themselves in. I am sure that the Congressman and others of this opinion do not see fetus' (at least those that are not viable outside the womb) as fully human. This then, in their mind, is the great difference between abortion and infanticide (which I am sure he would be opposed to). But in what way exactly is a fetus different. Is it different because it is dependent upon the mother for survival? So are most six month olds. Certainly independence isn't a test of personhood. If it was, many elderly would not be considered full persons (fully human). Is the fetus different anatomically? No, not really. Hearts start beating before week 6 and the head, eyes, liver and intestines are forming as well. Is it different with regard to DNA? No.

My point is that any distinction between a fetus (who is not protected under law) and a person (who is) is completely arbitrary and sets us down a slippery slope of determining which lives are valuable and deserving of protection and which are not. John Piper makes this point clearly, relying on the logic of Abraham Lincoln (appropriate today, Lincoln's birthday). Piper's Jan 22nd blog post (in part):

What are the differences between this child before and after birth that would justify its protection just after birth but not just before? There are none. This is why Abraham Lincoln’s reasoning about slavery is relevant in ways he could not foresee. He wrote:

You say A. is white, and B. is black. It is color, then; the lighter, having the right to enslave the darker? Take care. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with a fairer skin than your own's.

You do not mean color exactly? You mean the whites are intellectually the superiors of the blacks, and, therefore have the right to enslave them? Take care again. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with an intellect superior to your own.

But, say you, it is a question of interest; and, if you can make it your interest; you have the right to enslave another. Very well. And if he can make it his interest, he has the right to enslave you. (“Fragments: On Slavery")

There are no morally relevant differences between white and black or between child-in-the-womb and child-outside-the-womb that would give a right to either to enslave or kill the other.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Explaining A-Rod to Caleb

On Friday Caleb came home all excited. That morning we sent him with $7 to buy a book from the schools book fair. He came home with "The 50 Best Baseball Players of 2008". By the way, three Indians made the list (Sizemore, Sabbathia and Martinez). In the number one spot, Alex Rodriguez. Saturday, the news broke that in 2003 that A-Rod tested positive for two different kinds of steroids. The discussion came on Sunday when Caleb asked the question, "Did A-Rod cheat?" Yep, it appears he did (so put your bat down and stop gloating you jackass). It was actually a great chance to talk to Caleb about what I'd call 'cultural sins', though I didn't use those words. We spoke about how sometimes so many people are doing something, like taking drugs to make themselves better athletes, that it seems okay to do it. It might even seem like a necessity (I'm sure many ball player thought they needed to cheat to keep up, and I'm sure many kids have been tempted to cheat in school to keep up too). Problem is, it's still wrong. Now A-Rod will have the asterisk next to his name too (along with Bonds, Sosa, McGuire, Clemens, and all the rest).

If Caleb were a couple years older I would love to have pushed the conversation, urging him to consider what sins we as Christians living in the 21st century West are able to condone because so many people are doing it? What sins are we blinded to in our lives and churches? To me, it's a scary question to ask, but a scarier question not to ask.

Song (s) of the Week

Ok, so I couldn't decide between these two songs by Sojourn. Both Songs are off of the These Things I Remember album, but Before the Throne is excellent also.

The Christ Hymn - Sojourn

Crippled Soul - Sojourn

Saturday, February 07, 2009

We Need Some Old Time Religion

A couple of weeks ago I was in a discussion with a couple of guys about the word 'religion'. It's not a word that shows up often in the Bible, only five times by my count. It's a word that has fallen on hard times. As Christians we often say things like "Christianity isn't a religion, its' a relationship". We've come to associate religion with things people do to earn God's favor, the external trappings of faith. The word didn't always have such connotations. Edwards wrote in his treatise Religious Affections that "true religion consists so much in the affections, that there can be no true religion without them". Calvin's life work was titled The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Octavius Winslow's Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, and Matthew Henry wrote of the Pleasantness of the Religious Life. People prayed for a and talked about a revival in religion and it was a good thing. It included the internal realities of a relationship with God AND the externals that accompany these realities.

For this reason, I think we need to bring back the word 'religion' in its older (biblical) sense. The focus on relationship over religion may have been a healthy corrective to dead and stale orthodoxy without affections. However, the pendulum has swung to far the other way.

One of the points well argued by David Wells in The Courage to be Protestant is that the emphasis on spirituality, an emphasis than many churches are trying to tap into, is contrary to a biblical understanding of spirituality. This 'new spirituality' is all about accessing God from within, finding purpose and meaning within. This is all done without the trappings of organized religion. Spirituality is a private matter whereas religion is a publicly practiced matter. Christianity is increasingly feeling the affects of this new spirituality. All things external to self are deemed unnecessary to the relationship with God. These external things can include the church, the sacraments, revelation (the Word), fellowship with other believers, doctrine, etc. These are seen as the trappings of organized religion, not the ingredients of an internalized relationship.

But is that how the Bible views these things? Of course not. These 'external trappings' are a vital part of God's mission, his purposes, his communication of grace in our lives and his working for our eternal good. If the church embraces this new spirituality and ditches these 'external' aspects of religion, it will be her death. Here Wells may be guilty of some extra drama, but his point is good,

"Sometimes it [the new spirituality] is dressed up in sophisticated psychological language. More commonly we hear it in the everyday self-talk of our therapeutic culture. It is there in the television chatter, in the magazines near the checkout counter at the supermarket, and it is mentioned between neighbors. This understanding of being spiritual sounds plausible, compelling, innocent, and even commendable, but , let us make no mistake about it, it is lethal to biblical Christianity. That is why the biggest enigma we face today is the fact that it's chief enablers are evangelical churches, especially those who are seeker-sensitive and emergent who, for different reasons, are selling spirituality disconnected from biblical truth" (178).

Again, he might be overstating things to sell a book, but it's a good point. Many of us and our churches are trying to tap into our cultures heightened sense of spirituality but are doing so uncritically. The new spirituality is antithetical to biblical Christianity in that it minimizes the importance of the God who stands outside of self and reaches down to us. God, in the new spirituality, is accessed by reaching up to him in all our human potential, on our terms and without accountability. As we tap into the spirituality of those who are not believers, and we should (see Acts 17) we must confront these wrong assumptions and correct them in light of biblical truth (see Acts 17).

It's not that Christianity isn't about relationship (gotta love double negatives). It is. But this relationship comes to us as God who is above us reaches down to us, mediates his grace to us, calls us to believe and live his word and holds us to account. We cannot loose this.

The good news of the day

Good news for baseball fans: only 5 days till pitchers and catchers report for spring training and only 18 days till the Indians start their preseason! What to do in the meantime?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Thank You Michael Phelps

I want to thank Michael Phelps for illustrating something I think we all know real well - heroes suck. Ok, not like Phelps was a personal hero of mine, though he's an amazing swimmer, but still - he was a hero for a lot of people.

My hero's tend to be dead, but still, the more I learn about my hero's the more I realize how flawed they were. Luther was an anti-Semite, Servetus is a blemish on Calvin's ministry (though he was under the death sentence all over Europe), Edwards owned slaves, Wesley was Wesleyan, etc...Even those heroes whose sins aren't so public were still flawed. I'm sure of it.

As I've been reading through Genesis and Exodus, the same truth hits you square between the eyes. The Pentateuch is sometimes uncomfortable. Abraham pimps his wife out to powerful men to save his skin. Isaac follows dad's example. Jacob is just slimy. Moses is a murderer. We could go on, but point made. God uses people mired in sin to accomplish his purposes. Even after they are called and begin serving God the process of sanctification is slow and painful and never quite complete, at least not in this life.

As we consider our heroes we should come to a place of worship. Certainly not of our heroes but of the God who gave them the privilege of serving his purposes.