Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Best of 2012

Two Thousand and Twelve...the calender only has a few more days on it - but enough to go out and pick up copies of the best albums, books or movies. Here's some of my favorites:

Books (read in 2012, not necessarily published in 2012)

Union with Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church, Todd Billings. This one is an accessible treatment of a doctrine that is getting a lot of attention over the past five years or so. Billings does a great job relating this doctrine to real life concerns of the church.

Grace-Based Parenting, Tim Kimmel. Every parent needs grace. This book was a great reminder of the call in parenting without being legalistic and beating up already beaten down parents.

Calvin's Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension, Julie Canlis. This is the most academic book on my list, but I loved it. Canlis does a fantastic job showing how union with Christ is at the core of Calvin's theology.

Preaching to a Post-Everything World:, Zack Eswine. I read more than 3000 pages on preaching this past year (I can hear the jokes now - "when's it gonn pay off Dan?"), but this was very helpful in that it was very unique. Most dealt with interpreting the text, this highlighted the responsiblity to interpret the world.

Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, Christopher Wright. Ok, this is pretty academic also. It is, however, a fantastic help for the believer looking to the Old Testament and wondering how all the laws and ethical injunctions apply today.

Knowing God, JI Packer. This isn't the first time this book has been on my 'best of' list, and it won't be the last. I reread it again (I think that's number four). It's one of the best devotional books I've ever read, and the best this year.

Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures, Dennis Johnson. This was another very good preaching book. Johnson does a great job navigating the extremes of several approaches. Helpful and worshipful.

Favorite Albums (Released in 2012):

Hard Rock:
King Animal, Soundgarden
Amaryllis, Shinedown
Oceania, Smashing Pumpkins
House of Gold and Bones, Stone Sour
Days Go By, The Offspring

Blues, Southern Rock, Folk, Etc.
La Futura, ZZ Top
Somewhere Beneath These Southern Skies, Dirty Guv'nahs
Wrecking Ball, Bruce Springsteen
Drive Towards the Daylight, Joe Bonamassa
The Longing (EP), All Sons and Daughters
The Peace of Wild Things, Paper Route
Babel, Mumford and Sons
Once Upon a Time in the West, The White Buffalo
Uncaged, Zac Brown Band

Movies (Released in 2012)*:
Dark Knight Rises
The Avengers
The Amazing Spiderman

*This list is sad. I need to see more movies. Cmon Lynn, we're going on a date!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Two Very Different 'O Come' Songs

Take a moment and listen to these two wonderful Christmas songs.

David Crowder Band, "O Come O Come Emmanuel"

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel by David Crowder Band on Grooveshark

Justin McRoberts, "Come all ye Faithful" (you're lucky, I almost posted the Stryper version of his carol!)

Come All Ye Faithful by Justin McRoberts on Grooveshark

These two songs were a part of the last Connexion of the fall semester when Bob preached the sermon "Merry Christmas from the Old Testament".  We actually sang these two songs back to back, 'O Come O Come Emmanuel' first, then "Come All Ye Faithful".  The band sounded absolutely fantastic - I was overwhelmed, especially during 'O Come O Come Emmanuel'.

But something hit me as we sang these two songs back to back - the tone of these two songs is so different. I don't just mean musically, but lyrically as well. The first, while certainly speaking of rejoicing, set's it in the context of mourning and exile, of gloom and 'death's dark shadow'.  The second speaks of choirs of angels, of exultation and of the 'happy morning'.  What hit me is that both are true now of the church - mourning and exile, joy and exultation.

No one makes more clear our status as exiles in this world than Peter. Three times, at least, in his short epistle he uses the word exile or exiles (1Peter 1:1, 17 and 2:11). Peter highlights that this is a time of suffering and trial, and who among us doesn't fee this.

But, the truths of 'O Come all Ye Faithful' should not be ignored either. Maybe Paul emphasizes joy more than Peter (though Peter does say in 1 Peter 1:8 that believers, even in the midst of their suffering, 'rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory'). Paul though wrote the letter to the Philippians that has become known as 'The Epistle of Joy'.  This epistle, however, was written from jail as Paul was suffering for his faith!

The mourning and gloom of 'O Come O Come Emmanuel' is a reality for the church until the second advent of Christ. The joy and exultation of 'O Come All Ye Faithful' is a reality for the church because of Christ's first advent. We live between the two, between the climax of history and the end of history. We need to hold to both truths or our message will be misshapen and not reflect the full reality of who we are as the body of Christ.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Is God Schizophrenic?

Is God schizophrenic? I believe a lot of the debate about whether science conflicts with Scripture can be boiled down, from a Christian perspective, to this question.

Both nature, which is the scientists realm of exploration, and the Bible are God's speech, God's word. One is more general and the other more specific (special), but both nature and Scripture are God's speech.

Scientists make reasonable guesses as to what the laws of nature are, try to determine the orderliness of the world around us. This is a very good endeavor, and only possible because there is order to be discovered and laws to be ascertained. But, as Vern Poythress reminds us, "The real laws, according to the Bible, are God's speech" (Inerrancy and Worldview, pg. 190).

Consider Psalm 33:6, "By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and the breath of his mouth all their hosts." Think also of Genesis 1 where God speaks, sends forth his word, and all that is comes into being. Or Hebrews 1:3, "He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power." Or John 1:1-3, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made."

So the wonderful work of science is the investigation of God's word which lies behind all order in the universe.

So, can science conflict with the Bible? Is God's word that upholds the universe a different, conflicting word than what he spoke through the prophets and apostles?

The same questions could be posed to the historian. Who guides history to its proper telos? Is there any stream of history that is outside the purview of God's sovereign control?

It's beyond the scope of this post to give a detailed account of all the aspects of history that God explicitly says he controls, but they include the casting of lots, the decisions of kings, the locations of all the peoples on the earth, the rising and falling of kingdoms, etc. In essence, the study of history is the study of God doing all he pleases - it reveals his wise plan for the cosmos. Consider Psalm 135:5-6:

For I know that the LORD is great,
      and that our Lord is above all gods.
Whatever the LORD pleases, he does,
      in heaven and on earth,
      in the seas and all deeps.

(The immediate context of this psalm goes on to speak of God's sovereign control over nature in things like the sending of snow and ice AND his sovereign control over nations, delivering Israel from Egypt and bringing down many nations that surrounded Israel.)

So history is God's self revelation (of his purposes and his will), and the Bible is God's self revelation. Would God's self revelation conflict with itself?

Without a doubt, this still leaves open the questions concerning how we understand what science is saying or what history is telling us, or what the Bible is communicating. Maybe history has misread the data and come to erroneous conclusions. Maybe science's guesses regarding the laws of the universe and attempts at discerning order have been misguided. Maybe my understanding of Scripture is flawed. All could be true, but in the end, there can be no conflict between history or science properly understood and the Bible properly understood. After all, God is not schizophrenic.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Piper's Wrong

Earlier today (11/17/12) John Piper, a theologian/pastor I respect immensely, tweeted: "If you're not living by the joy of the Holy Spirit the only category you have for spiritual disciplines is legalism." I think Piper is wrong on this.

I don't make a habit of calling out pastor's/theologians when I disagree with them. And let me say again, John Piper is someone I have tremendous admiration for. He, maybe more than any other contemporary writer, has shaped my theology and understanding of the Christian life. I read Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist right out of seminary. I've never been the same since. I know I've drifted away from his influence some over the years as I've read more confessional writers, and this may or may not be good.

So, I'm calling out a man I respect greatly, and I don't do it lightly.


Because I think his tweet is highly discouraging for many believers who aren't being legalistic in their use of the disciplines but don't experience they joy they long for. I'm positive that's not what Piper is aiming to do, and certainly a tweet isn't a good tool for offering subtlety or nuance. But, I know I'm not alone in the fact that I often lack the joy that I desire - the joy I know is glorifying to God. Should I (or you, if you're in the same boat) stop singing songs of worship till we feel the joy? Should we stay off our knees till the joy of the Lord drives us to them? Should we cease reading the Bible out of fear that we're simply doing it out of a sense of obligation - that legalism is wrapping it's tentacles around our heart and squeezing the life and joy out of it?


I remember preaching a sermon on this topic several years ago when I was going through it. Ministry was discouraging. My joy was slipping away from me. My advice? In the desert 'Joyless', keep going back to the places you know you'll find the waters of joy. Spend even more time reading in faith trusting that the Bible opens up God's heart to you. God reveals himself in those pages. He is the source of joy. Read and get to know God better. Dig. Dig. And pray. Pray the Spirit will guide you to joy. Pray he'll open your eyes to what is right there before you! Meditate. Worship. Go to church, for in the presence of God's people, maybe God will remind you of your'e glorious destination and kindle the joy again (kinda like the psalmist in Psalm 73).

So brother Piper, I love you, but you're wrong. Please be more tender to us bruised reeds in the future.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"Rowing," by Soundgarden

I don't dance, but I did when I heard Soundgarden would be releasing a new album with Chris Cornell back where he belongs. You can pick up King Animal for $3.99 this week at amazon. Do it!

The first song on the album, "Rowing," is one of my favorites on this new release. It's gotta a cool grove.

Rowing by Soundgarden on Grooveshark

The lyrics aren't complicated, but they are revealing.
Don't know where I'm going I just keep on rowing
I just keep on polling, gotta row
Don't know where I'm going I just keep on rowing
I just keep on polling, gotta row
Can't see the sky, nothing's on the horizon
Can't feel my hands and the water keeps risin'
Can't fall asleep 'cause I wake up dead
These lyrics are the antithesis of Socrates' famous quote, "The unexamined life is not worth living." In this song, there's no pondering or reflecting - just rowing. The verse says,
Moving is breathing and breathing is life
Stopping is dying
You'll be alright
Life is a hammer waiting to drop
Drifting the shallows and the rowing won't stop
Don't know where I'm going I just keep on rowing
This song reminds me of a quote that my dad had hanging on his office wall for years, "Beware the bareness of a busy life." I gotta admit, if I'm not real careful, life and even my ministry can be like this. Just keep doing. Don't stop doing. Why are we doing? Don't know, but don't stop. This kind of thinking can creep into our spiritual lives too. Read, Pray, Bible Study, Row, Church, Volunteering, Read, Pray, Row.

Pick your eyes up and look to the horizon. Where are you rowing? What's the goal - the destination?

The goal is glorious - it's deep union with God through Christ and his Spirit. We're moving in that direction, being propelled, not by our effort but by the currents of the Spirit. Rowing to row, rowing without a destination has to be discouraging. Rowing to get somewhere is invigorating, even if the water gets rough the pulling hard.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Jonah Study #2: A Revealing Roll of the Die

In the first study of Jonah we were introduced to a prophet who was willing to proclaim God's blessings on Israel but not on the pagan Nineveh. Having received his call to go east to the capital of the Assyrian empire, Jonah runs west instead.

This second study looks at Jonah 1:4-17. These verses record God's pursuit of Jonah, the sailors response to the storm, the questioning of Jonah, Jonah's answer, the sailor's reluctance to jettison Jonah, and Jonah's experience as flotsam in the sea.

I think the best place to start is by focusing on what we see of God's character revealed in these verses. First, you see God's omnipotence/sovereignty. You see his is sovereign over nature: he sends a storm to do his bidding and then calms it again, he beckons a great fish and the fish obeys. Moreover, he's omnipotent over the casting of the lot - it falls to Jonah, not by chance but because God wanted Jonah found out. Second, you see something of God's persistence. He is the Hound of Heaven  - Jonah can't escape his call (notice how closely the captains words resemble God's!). Third, you also see that God is not a petty local deity. He is, as Jonah declares ,"the God of heaven, who made sea and dry land."  Moreover, he's not an ethnocentric God. While Israel is God's chosen people, they are chosen for the purpose of blessing all the nations of the earth. Here we see that this will happen whether Israel, as represented by Jonah, is a willing participant or not. Already we've seen God's concern for the people of Nineveh. Here we see that Jonah unwittingly testifies to God and turn pagan sailors into YHWH worshipers! God's grace to these sailors comes from a rebellious prophet. Gotta chuckle at that. Lastly, you see God's grace. Rebellious Jonah isn't left to drown. God rescues him with a big fish.

It's interesting to compare all the characters in these verses. If you do, you see everyone gets it except Jonah. The wind hears and obeys. So does the fish. Even the boat realized the danger - the language is literally 'the boat thought is was going to break up'. The pagan sailors hear of God and respond with fear and worship. But Jonah, Jonah shows no signs of repentance. No real fear of the Lord. He doesn't get it, he persists in his disobedience.

Jonah's  persistent rebellion is stunning, especially in light of his declaration that God is the one who created the sea. The sailors had to be thinking, "And you thought you could run away from this God. What kind of idiot are you?"  But, then again, I'm that kind of idiot a lot. I say one thing, think I really believe it, but betray my lack of belief with actions that don't line up. There a little does of Jonah in all of us.

I may be reading a little bit too much into the story, but I really don't like Jonah. He knows he's the problem, the one who's put the ship and all the sailors in danger. Have you ever wondered why he said the sailors needed to throw him overboard? Why didn't he just jump? I think the sailors were a little suspicious. Is God going to hold us accountable for killing one of his prophets? Why don't you just jump? Are you trying to take us down with you? That's why they pray, 'don't let his blood be on our hands God'. I believe Jonah's intentions were far less than noble.

I think we need to remember that this story was written either in the years preceding Israel's subjugation by Assyria or during the period of their exile. What was God trying to communicate to his people living either in fear of Assyria or in exile in Assyria? How were they to respond to this?

I think in part, this was meant to serve as a partial explanation for their exile. They had been called, as God's people, to participate in God's mission - a redemptive mission that was cosmic in scope, not limited to the people living within the borders of Israel. They were to be a light to the nations. They failed at this. They hadn't kept themselves pure and they had begun to look like every other nation around them. This is God's way of reminding them of his mission and their failure to line up with it. It was a failure God was punishing and using the Assyrians as his instrument.

What about for us living on this side of the cross? Well, Israel's failure helps us understand we needed a better Israel - the true Israel who would keep covenant and be entirely on board with God's redemptive mission. Jesus is that - he is the True Israel. And, all who are 'in Christ' are a part of this True Israel. Like the Israel of the Old Testament, we have a role to play in God's mission. Jonah is a reminder to take that calling seriously and not to begrudge God's grace given to the outsider. It's a reminder that God is still sovereign and when he says 'Go!', we ought to be willing servants - anitJonah's.

Next study...Jonah in the fish. Gross. 

Quick Review: Church Marketing 101

I finished up Church Marketing 101: Preparing Your Church for Greater Growth last week. I don't want to write a full review of it, and you probably don't want to read a long review of it either. But maybe a few quick thoughts.

Let's start with the good.

Ok, now onto the bad. Why, why do Christians need to 'baptize' everything with a Bible verse or story. This book was one of the worst offenders I've seen in a while. The first chapter includes a section labeled "The Biblical Foundation of Marketing" in which the author outlines Jesus' marketing strategy. When discussing the importance of building upkeep and astetics the author uses Solomon and the impression he left on the Queen of Sheba as his case study. Reflecting on 1 Kings 10 he writes, "Wow! So how Solomon's ushers dressed mattered? How the building was built mattered? How the greeters greeted mattered? You better believe it! To the queen, they were all evidence that validated the reality of God at work in Solomon's temple."

I wish authors of marketing, management, leadership, etc. books realized that this approach to Scripture doesn't make their books better, it makes them bad. I picked up the book because I know we as a church need to be more intentional about our marketing efforts. I didn't need to be convinced. In fact, his attempts to use the Bible to build a case made me question his credibility, not trust him more. The book would have been better had he, in a short paragraph, stated simply that marketing is one of the things we're called to do because we're Christ's ambassadors. Ambassadors try to represent their kings well. Or, that we're called to be crafty as serpents in our mission to reach the world. Or, that it simply flows from the great commission - we're attempting to use every means possible to spread the good news, and getting people into our churches is one good means.

Ok, back to the good, and there was more good in this book that I thought there would be. The most helpful idea was simple: people have perceptions of you already - you ought to be proactive in shaping that perception. People in Blooomington have a perception of our church that has been shaped by their ideas regarding church in general and about evangelical broadly (after all, it is in our name). Also, our church's particular history (gulp) and reputation in the community has shaped their perception. Those things, to some extent, are beyond our control. But, there's a lot we can and should do to undermine the incorrect perceptions people have of our church. We ought not just go down without a fight, but work hard to recast this perception. Everything we do matters in this regard - from keeping the grounds to developing a website, from greeters to signage in the church, from the sermons to the ease with which we enable people to connect to ministries.

Beyond that simple idea, this book was brimming with great checklists. It's easy as someone to who's been in church a long time to loose sight of the fact that there are people walking in the doors for the very first time. This book did a tremendous job of putting me in the visitors shoes - what do they experience? What fears to they have coming in? What are immediate turn-offs? Etc. These checklists made the book worth the price I paid for it and the time I invested in it.

Lastly, there was good reminders in this book that to communicate well an organization needs to over communicate. I know we all get tired of saying the same things over and over again, but if they define who we are, if they are essential to understanding how life in our church works, then they need to be repeated often. And un-apologetically! The book wasn't long and you can skip all the 'Biblical basis for' sections. If you're wondering what first time visitors or un-churched people see when they come into a church or how the church can shaped itself (without dumming itself down) to reach them, its a worthwhile read.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

"Strong Enough," by Apocalyptica

"Strong Enough", by Apocalyptica featuring Brent Smith on 7th Symphony

Not Strong Enough (feat. Brent Smith) by Apocalyptica on Grooveshark

Cellos and heavy metal? Yep, that's Apocalyptica . At first, many thought Apocalyptica was meant to be a parody of metal music. But, well, they rock - and they've got some great singers to sing with them, especially on the last album 7th Symphony. On this track, Brent Smith from Shinedown - another of my favorite hard rock groups, lends his vocals to the band.

There a lot to comment on regarding these song lyrics - several themes that strike me as very true.

First,  this song reminds me of the important admonition from Proverbs 4:23, "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life" (ESV).  The word 'keep' here is much stronger than it sounds and has been translated in other versions 'guard' or 'protect'. It is counsel my dad offered nearly weekly, especially as I entered into the those teen years and began allowing my heart to be romantically involved with girls. Protect your heart. Don't let yourself get to the place where you sing, "There's nothing I can do, My heart is chained to you, And I can't get free, Look what this love's done to me." That doesn't mean we should protect our hearts from getting hurt, but protect our loves from getting improperly ordered - of allowing a human relationship to the thing that most enthralls us and captivates us.

Second, this relationship described in this song is a mixture "between pleasure and the pain" and leaves the singer with a choice - stay through the pain to find the pleasure, or leave the pain behind and forfeit the pleasure. I think that's true of ever relationship. The more intimate the relationship, the more pain will have to be endured. No one has hurt me more deeply than Lynn, and I know I've wounded her more deeply than any one else. We're not proud of that, and we've sought forgiveness from each other, but I doubt we're done hurting each other. We're still sinners who sin against the ones we love. At the same time, however, I've never had more joy and delight in a relationship. This isn't the way it was supposed to be, but is a testimony to the fall and how the curse effects everthing (see especially Gen 3:16).

Third, this song speaks of the dis-integrity of our beings in the fallen state. The word integrity comes from the same Latin root as integer and implies a wholeness of person. The main word used for integrity in the Hebrew Bible is tom. Interestingly, it can mean simplicity also. The ideas overlap significantly - a heart of integrity is one in where all the intentions of the heart are moving in the same direction. A man of integrity doesn't compartmentalize his private and public lives, his heart and his actions, etc. He is simple. His heart is simple as God is simple, meaning not divided, not double-minded (see James 1:7-8). This song shows a person deeply divided, a person who is not whole - "I know it's wrong and I know it's right. Even if I try to win the fight, my heart would overrule my mind."  We are all, this side of Christ's return, fractured in our loyalties, divided between serving God wholeheartedly (simply and with integrity) and serving self. The Spirit, as he does his sanctifying work restores the image of God in us, bringing us back to that place of wholeness and integrity. We've got a long way to go, but we can pray with the Psalmist, "Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name" (Ps 86:11, ESV). Ultimately, this songs testimony to mans disintegration points us ahead to the eschaton when all things are made right the the fracturing effects of sin are undone.

Like so many songs, these lyrics give us great insight into the human heart apart from God - enslaved, fractured, hurting. Thank God that in Christ, "Everything sad is going to come untrue" (Sam Gamgee, Lord of the Rings, with some liberty).

Monday, November 05, 2012

Fantasy Kills Imagination (and Hurts the Church)

Last week I read a great post from Donald Miller, How Fantasy is Killing Your Imagination.  It was a convicting piece, forcing me to ponder what kinds of dreams I indulge.

Miller writes,
I’m capable of living almost exclusively in my mind. I can walk and daydream for hours. But some of these daydreams haven’t proved helpful. And the ones that aren’t helpful are daydreams about my own glory.
C.S. Lewis delineated between the two in his book “Surprised by Joy.” In the book, he talks about his early days imagining “Animal Land” which was a world he made up with his older brother. The time he spent imagining Animal Land, he noted, was great practice for becoming a writer. But fantasies about his own glory, he noted, (he would often spend time fantasizing about being a good dancer) was only practice for becoming a fool.
When it comes to the church, I have dreams. Some are great ones - dreams of the church changing the town  I live in through service, dreams of the college ministry making a significant impact on the darkness surrounding the campus, dreams of revival, of lives changed. I can sit in prayer over these dreams and be brought to tears. They are good dreams. But, they're not the only daydreams I have. Too often I catch myself practicing to be a fool - imagining its my sermon that sparks the revival and my name gets spoken generations from now in the same sentences as Edward or Whitfield. I dream that a book I want to write will become a classic (with dust-jacket blurbs written by the 'big guns' in the Reformed academic community).  These self-focused daydreams may get in the way of the bigger dreams, or at least render me unfit servant for their accomplishment.

I remember hearing years ago that as we mature, we move from focusing solely on what we do (behavior/goals) to how we do it (means) to why we do it (motives).  I'm praying that God will truly expose self-serving motives. I doubt I'll be able to set them aside entirely - not this side of Christ's return. I will pray, however, that God will use me despite my being a bag of mixed up motives and self-centered imaginings.

So, where does your mind run as you daydream?

Friday, November 02, 2012

Jonah Intro

Rebellion. Ethnocentrism. Anger. Bitterness. Hatred. Folly. Not exactly virtues that seem desirable. Not in anyone; certainly not in a prophet of God.  But, there's Jonah.

For the second half of the fall semester, the cgroups are studying the book of Jonah. It's a book I've loved since my seminary days where it was used to aid first year students in their study of Hebrew. Since I wrote the study guide, I thought I could use the blog to give the cgroup leaders some insight into the book and at the same time think through these chapters devotionally.

We actually began our study on Jonah by examining 2 Kings 14:23-29. Since the author of the book of Jonah, which probably wasn't Jonah himself, doesn't give us any background information, we turn to 2 Kings 14 where Jonah, the son of Amittai is also mentioned. Still, we don't have much, but this does put it in some historical context.

Jonah is ministering in the early part of the 8th century BC. Jonah is speaking God's word at a time when Assyria (Nineveh was the capital city) was building its empire, conquering nations neighboring Israel and threatening Israel's peace and security. Jonah is a prophet in the northern kingdom under the reign of Jereboam II, a king who, like so many, "did what was evil in the sight of the LORD."  What we read in 2 Kings 14 is that God, through Jereboam II, restored and extended Israel's border. This was, as we read in 2 Kings 14, "according the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah."

When you first read it, this seems to be a non-sequitor. Jereboam is evil. God blesses Israel under and through him. What? The editor of 2 Kings explains, "the LORD saw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter...and there was none to help Israel. But the LORD had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash."  The editor of 2 Kings put these words there to highlight God's continued faithfulness despite Israel's unfaithfulness. Bad kings would lead Israel astray, but the True King would be merciful and save his undeserving servant anyway.

Interestingly, Jonah isn’t the only prophet speaking the word of the Lord in Israel at the time. Hosea is a contemporary, as is Amos. Hosea depicts Israel’s unfaithfulness with several enacted prophesies, including marrying a prostitute who leaves him and returns to her prostitution. While Hosea does speak words of restoration and reminds Israel of God’s relentless faithfulness, he also confronts Israel for her ‘whoredom’. Likewise, Amos speaks words of judgment against Israel’s enemies, but also shocked Israel by declaring God would come in judgment against his own people. God’s justice is universal and Israel would be held to the same, actually higher, standard as the surrounding nations.

It seems almost like Jonah is a "health-and-wealth-prosperity-preacher" for Israel. While faithful ministers are calling God's people to account for their infidelity, Jonah proclaims "God will prosper you and extend your borders."  It is the word of the Lord that Jonah proclaims, but one has to wonder, is it the whole word of God (a question that comes up again when Jonah proclaims God's message to Nineveh)?  Is he telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth to Jereboam II?

Turning to Jonah 1:1-3 we are immediately met with another set of dissonant assertions. The word of God comes to Jonah saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh", but we read "Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish". Jonah's plan, run to Joppa and get on a ship heading west - the opposite direction of Nineveh.  The prepositions in these verses are interesting (and intentional). God says that Nineveh's sin has "come up before me". But Jonah goes "down to Joppa" and after paying his fair to board the ship "went down into it". If you've read Jonah before you know his descent is just starting.

Jonah is more than an interesting story for Israelite parents to tell their children at bed time. I believe Israel was suppose to see themselves in the person of Jonah. Hence, the church as the New Testament continuation of Israel is supposed to see themselves in Jonah too.Why is Jonah not willing to go to Nineveh? Some have speculated that it was out of fear that he refused to go. What would the Ninevites do to him if he confronted their sin? That may be, but I don't think it fits the rest of the story well. Insight into Jonah's frame of mind will have to wait till later in the book. But even at the outset, if we lay Jonah 1:1-3 alongside 2 Kings 14, we see that Jonah is willing to preach grace to some, but not to others - grace and mercy to Israel, but not to pagan Assyria.

Would that Jonah's selectivity was a thing of the past, but it isn't. Shamefully, churches can still be found who won't welcome other races into their community, refusing to extend God's grace in all its multifaceted forms to those that are 'other'.  I doubt we'd have to think too long or too hard to come up with other ways God's people are shamefully selective with whom they will share grace.

From the get go, we should see that Jonah's plan is doomed to failure. After all, God has seen what's going on in Nineveh and is going to do something about it. Clearly Jonah can't flee God's jurisdiction - it's universal.

Futile though it is, Jonah attempts to resist the word of God. It does seem foolish when we see Jonah rebelling against God's will, doesn't it? But why then are we so blind to our own folly. I know I've been guilty of resisting God's will and disobeying his word just as blatantly as Jonah did. Why didn't I see the folly in it? It may be a great illustration that seeing the speck in another's eye is easier than acknowledging the plank in your own.

We may be quick to make excuses. "I wanted to do God's will, but didn't know." That may be true sometimes because aren't as wise as we ought to be (yes, ought - it's something we're commanded to be).  But, there are so many times when God's will is clearly taught in Scripture and, though it's clear and I know it, I rise up and run to Joppa/Tarshish.

Thank God for his never ending grace!

Before we leave these verses, I think it's appropriate to stop and think, "What does God show about himself in these verses?" and "How were God's people to respond to this self-revelation?"  You certainly see God's authority - he commands Jonah and expects to be obeyed.  We should respond in complete obedience. You see that God isn't a petty local deity, but is God of the Israelites and the Ninevites (though they do not acknowledge him as such).  We cannot allow ourselves to get sucked into the pluralistic notion that the LORD is the God for Christians, but not for those Muslims or Buddhists, etc. You see God is involved in his world - keeping an eye and ear on it. Evil doesn't go unnoticed. We ought to act as though all our actions are laid bare before the LORD. He sees what we do when no one else does. This ought to breed deep integrity in us. The LORD is also a God of surprising grace - extending too even the enemies of his people. Thank God, for we too were once his enemies!

Thursday, November 01, 2012

I'm Back

Well, after a three month break from blogging, I've decided to return from retirement. The break was good - it helped me, hopefully, be less obsessive about the blog. And, I was running out of things to say! My reading had been very technical (read 'boring') and wasn't sparking any good blog ideas.

I'm done with that reading now and am eager to dive into the books that have been piling up on my desk waiting for attention. Books you'll be hearing from soon include Poythress' Inerrancy and Worldview, Trueman's The Creedal ImperativeWalton's The Lost World of Genesis One, Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, and maybe even some Church Marketing 101

I'm also planning on using the CGroup study on Jonah I wrote as a series of blog posts - hoping it will be a good resource for the cgroup leaders.

Lastly, you may notice a new button in the sidebar "Playlist Theology." I've always posted some of my favorite songs/songs-I'm-currently-listening-to. Now, inspired by my summer devotional with the boys (and Dr. Moore's 'The Cross and the Jukebox' podcast), I plan on posting reflections to go along with the songs on a weekly basis.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Wavering Faith in a Widow, Serving in a Wicked State, and Near Total Apostasy

I was reading today in 1 Kings, the very familiar stories of Elijah - Elijah and the widow (ch. 17), Elijah and the prophets of Baal (ch. 18), Elijah in the cave (ch. 19). It's so familiar, I have to be honest, I was surprised that I saw a few new things in these chapters. I know I shouldn't be, God's word is living, and his Spirit is actively revealing, but I was. Here's a few things that jumped out to me this time round:

1. The widow really is an enigma. Elijah tells her to cook him a cake, which is the last of her food. Her son and her were going to eat it and get ready to die (the famine/drought was having an impact not just on wicked Ahab and Jezebel, but everyone in the land). She was told by Elijah that if she did this, her jar of flour wouldn't run out until the drought had ended. She believed Elijah and gave him the food.

Shortly after this, her son gets sick and dies. She's devastated and says to Elijah, "What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!"

Her memory is short - she and her son would have already been dead had it not been for Elijah.
Her faith which seemed so strong - she gave up  the last of her food - now seems weak.
Her sin and guilt are weighing heavy on her. It's Elijah's fault, but only in the sense that he brought her sin to remembrance. It's her fault - she's the one who's sinned (in her mind).

But Elijah pleads with God and he restores the boy to life and health. The widow exclaims, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is true."

Now you know? The endless supply of flour didn't convince you? You seemed to know earlier when you cried, "What have you against me, O man of God!"

Like I said, she's an enigma. Full of faith - so much she gives up her small families last supply of food because she believes the word of God through his prophet Elijah. Weak of faith when tragedy strikes what is dear to her, her son.

How much like the widow are we? Oscillating between boldness and fear, faith and doubt.

Oh, and Elijah is the same:
450 prophets of Baal - no problem, bring em on. I mock them and their God. Jezebel - RUN!

2. Elijah and Obadiah both served the Lord. Ahab was a wicked king, the most wicked in Israel to this point - "Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him." Elijah was God's mouthpiece of judgment - he called Ahab and his pagan wife out, confronted their sin head on, took on their false prophets, proclaimed judgment. He was outside the court of the king speaking into it. Obadiah, on the other hand, was inside the court of this wicked king. He too served and feared the Lord (1 King 18:3-4, 12-13). See also Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, Nehemiah, Esther, etc.

We live in a wicked nation, under a wicked government - every nation, every government is, more or less. Certainly some will be called to be the prophetic voice that proclaim judgment. Some, on the other hand, will follow the example of Obadiah and serve God from with the fallen system. Which is harder, more dangerous? I think serving from within is probably harder. It takes wisdom, discernment, courage, patience.

Both are needed. Both are God-honoring.The tendency is deny the validity of one or the other. Those who serve God from the outside can't imagine how one could work alongside and for the benefit of pagan rulers. Those on the inside wish the prophets would shut up and stop making it harder for them. But each needs the other, each have been appointed by God for their specific task.

3. It hit me this time just how far Israel had fallen away from God. Israel had always been plagued with an unhealthy willingness to tolerate pagan deities in their midst. And, at times, Israel had fallen into syncretism - worshiping other God's alongside the Lord. This scene, however, paints a different picture. In the people's mind, there was serious doubt that the Lord was the true God. Maybe Baal was really the man in charge. Look at 1 Kings 19: 22-24 closely. Elijah's test is well known. But that the people even needed this test is stunning. Really, Baal may be the true God? Did you forget the Red Sea? Forget Jericho? Forget how God drove out all the Baal worshipers from before you when he gave you the land? Yep.

Again, those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. I hate reading Judges and the books of Kings & Chronicles. I hate it because I see myself so often in the cycles of sin and forgetting.

May God give us good, strong memories!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Israel, the Land & Being 'in Christ'

Christopher Wright's treatment of 'the land' in Old Testament Ethics for the People of God is truly thought provoking. Central to his treatment are the dual themes of divine ownership and divine gift. The land as divine gift lies at the core of God's promises to Abraham - there would be seed, land, and blessing. The land was far more important that we, as NT Christians, probably acknowledge. In many ways, the land would be a gauge within Israel of their relationship to God - it was given as an inheritance, which speaks of unique sonship. Moreover, removal from the land was the ultimate in threats and punishment, realized in the exile and subsequent return.

Yet, God makes it clear that the land is his prior to Israel's possession of it (Exodus 15:13, 15) and will remain his even during their conquest and possession of it (Lev. 25:23). Ownership hasn't completely passed from God to Israel; God retains ownership of it and Israel possess/uses the land under terms of a covenant. Israel is called to remember the sojourner/alien in their land because they are likewise aliens and sojourners in God's land. In fact, God's land cannot permanently be bought and sold, but has been allotted to his people in an equitable way. The people of Israel couldn't use and abuse the land any way they saw fit - living in the land came with profound responsibilities to the land and to fellow Israelites living in the land.

Interestingly, the notion of land all but disappears in the New Testament. Does this mean that it has no bearing on us as New Testament believers? Wright argues that it still has bearing, in three distinct ways: paradigmatically, eschatalogically, and typologically (my spell-check loved those words). Paradigmatically, Israel was to live in the land, in relation to the land and to one another in the land, as a model for how God intended his people to live. In many ways, Israel is spoken of in Edenic terms. Yet, there is an understanding that sin has now tainted the experience of living in Eden. Israel's life in the land is meant to be a model for how people are to live out the reality of being God's people. The broad commands to love neighbor and love God were to be made concrete in Israel's life.

Eschatologically, we now see that Isreal's life in the land had an already but not yet aspect to it. They already experienced the blessing of dwelling with God in his land, of living out kingdom principles. But, there was a not yet element to it - they never quite experienced the rest they were promised, and what they did experience was still tainted by the presence of struggle and sin. All their hopes and promises point us ahead to the eschaton. Israel was a foretaste of a restored Eden - small and imperfect. It points to a more universal and more perfected restoration - a renewed creation where harmony between God's earth and his people is restored. The prophets especially point us in this direction.

Wright's most interesting contribution, in my humble opinion, is in the typological way of understanding the land. As stated above, the theme of the land all but disappears in the New Testament. But, Wright contends it is replaced, in large measure, by the language of being 'in Christ'. Wright articulates this succinctly,
"To be in Christ, just as to be in the land, denotes first, a status and a relationship that have been given by God; second a position of inclusion and security in God's family; and third, a commitment to live worthily by fulfilling the practical responsibilities towards those who share the same relationship with you" (pg. 192). 
This is certainly evident in Paul (see especially Ephesians 2:11-3:6, and also much of Galatians), but also in the author of Hebrews insistence what we have in Christ is better than what God's people experienced in the old covenant.

The ethical implications of this parrallel are striking. Just as the ancient Israelite bore responsibility for those who shared the land with him - and this is foundational to the whole ethical and economic systems in Israel - so Christians bear a responsibility for those who are in Christ. Wright contends,
"The extent of this kind of language in the New Testament [Christian fellowship and the responsibilities it entails] leads me to the view that it has deep roots in the socio-economic ethics of the Old Testament. There are so many similarities which show that the experience of felloship - in its full, rich, 'concrete' New Testament sense - fulfills analogous theological and ethical functions for the Christian as the possession of the land did for Old Testament Israelites. Both (land in the Old Testament, fellowship in the New) must be seen as part of the purpose and pattern of redemption, not just as accidental or incidental to it...This gives to both that deeply practical mutual responsibility that pervades both Old and New Testament ethics." 
 While I certainly want to study and ponder Wright's assertions more, it confirms my suspicions that the concpet of being 'in Christ' is maybe the most important idea in the whole of the Bible - foundational to our identity, our understanding of sanctification and ethical living, and at the very core of what it means to be saved. Great stuff!

Song of the Week

I really like this song, but haven't heard much else by Finger Eleven.

Finger Eleven, "One Thing"

One Thing by Finger 11 on Grooveshark

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Metallica's "One": some devotional thoughts

This summer they boys are looking at some of their favorite songs from a biblical perspective. A few weeks ago, they dove into one of the best metal songs of all time - Metallica's "One".  Here's the lyrics:

I can't remember anything
Can't tell if this is true or dream
Deep down inside I feel to scream
This terrible silence stops with me

Now that the war is through with me
I'm waking up, I cannot see
That there's not much left of me
Nothing is real but pain now

Hold my breath as I wish for death
Oh, please God, wake me

Back in the womb it's much too real
In pumps life that I must feel
But can't look forward to reveal
Look to the time when I'll live

Fed through the tube that sticks in me
Just like a wartime novelty
Tied to machines that make me be
Cut this life off from me

Hold my breath as I wish for death
Oh, please God, wake me

Now the world is gone I'm just one
Oh God, help me
Hold my breath as I wish for death
Oh please God, help me

Darkness, imprisoning me
All that I see,
Absolute horror
I cannot live,
 cannot die
Trapped in myself, body my holding cell
Landmine has taken my sight,
Taken my speech, taken my hearing
Taken my arms, taken my legs
Taken my soul Left me with life in hell

Here's some of the questions they considered:
1. In a sentence, how would you describe the mood of this song?

2. The song's theme and lyrics are based on Dalton Trumbo's 1939 novel Johnny Got His Gun, telling the tale of a soldier who is hit by an artillery shell and loses his limbs, eyes, ears and mouth. His mind functions perfectly, however, leaving him trapped inside his own body. What war do you think this novel is about?

3. War has been a part of our world’s history almost since the beginning (but not in the Garden). Read Genesis 3 & 4 and explain in a paragraph why you think war is a part of our world now?

4. Is God always opposed to war? Why or why not?

5. What about this song do you think is true/right?

6. What about this song do you think is false/wrong?

7. Imagine you are a friend of this soldier from the same platoon. You visit him in the hospital. What do you think you might want to share with him (maybe look at Revelation 21:1-8 before you go talk with him)?

8. Creative writing: Imagine that this soldier became a Christian and believes the story of the Bible. Write a four line epilogue from a Christians point of view (try and rhyme a few lines, but don’t get stuck on that). Before you write, consider the following Biblical people who suffered and how they responded: - Job (read Job 1:1-22; Job 42:1-6) - The prophet Habakkuk (read Habakkuk 3:17-19) - Paul (read 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, also 2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

And, finally, here's the final verses as written by the boys.

Caleb's version:

As I lie in my bed
As I watch the days float away
One thing helps aid my pain
It's Jesus, holy Jesus, and everything he has done

And Jake's:
The Sovereign Lord is my strength
He enables me to go onward.
There was a man named Job who was very upright
He put up a great fight against sin.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Spiritual Lessons from Baseball 4

Baseball is a cruel game, and a game that defies predictability. The best players strike out at the most inopportune time. The bottom of the line up comes through when you think there's no hope. You see it all the time.

This past week in my boys little league playoffs, I saw the clean up hitter go down looking in the bottom of the sixth inning with his team down by two. I saw the best hitter on another team ground out with the bases loaded to end the inning. At the same time, I saw a triple from an unlikely hero, and a kid get his first (maybe second) hit of the season to drive in a run. Crazy. And it's not just little league. Remember Billy Buckner - the Red Sox first-base man who let the ball roll through his legs in game six of the world series? Yeah, for his career he had only 128 errors on more almost 14,000 chances. In other words, he messed up less than 1% of the time! Inopportune time for a solid player to make a mistake...but it happens.

When I was a baseball novice, I'd look at who was coming up in the lineup and say, "Oh good, we got this," or, "Nope, we're done." I've seen to much now - baseball is fickle. It's unpredictable.

The spiritual lesson here is that sinners and saints be equally unpredictable. In the Christian sphere we place certain saints on pedestals. We hold them up as exemplars of godliness. That isn't all bad - it's good to have examples to emulate (see 1 Cor. 11:1). But, we have to remember, just as baseball hero's strike out, spiritual hero's stumble and fall.

The difference between a great ball player and a not so good one - they don't allow the errors, strikeouts, etc, to become habit. They'll figure out what they did wrong, and make adjustments. They won't dwell on their failure, but learn from it. You have to have a real short memory in baseball. You made an error in the field, you better shake it off cause you're up in the bottom half of the inning.

So it is with the saint. When a saint stumbles and fall, they don't wallow in self pity and become morose. They have short memories - enabled by the grace and forgiveness of God to leave past failures in the past.  They learn from their stumble - what led me to this uncharacteristic sin? Did I neglect prayer? Have I not been regular in meeting with God, with his people? What string did the devil pull when he was tempting me and why did it work? They'll learn, but they won't be fixated. They'll learn so that their journey to Christ-likeness isn't derailed, but advanced.

I like what  Daniel Doriani says in Putting the Truth to Work. He writes,
"Character changes slowly, but change it does, so that no single action is absolutely predetermined by it. It is possible to do something that is out of character and so to violate our nature. Yet when we do so, we may begin to change who we are. Aristotle, with pagan wisdom says, "We become just by doing just acts." CS Lewis, with Christian wisdom, says, "Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you...into something different from what it was before. And taking your life  as a whole, with all you innumerable choices, all you life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature."

The saint may do something out of character, something hellish. He must guard against it become habitual and a part of his character. On the other hand, those of us who don't feel very 'saintly' can, by slight increments, be formed into the holy ones we are. By God's grace we can, little by little become what we are - turning from sinners to saints. There wonderful hope in that.

The number nine hitter can make adjustments and get better! The liar can become a man of integrity. The scoundrel, a person of faithfulness.

Song of the Week

I'm in a Rush mood.

 Rush, 'Stick it Out'

Stick It Out by R U S H on Grooveshark

Oh, and I have to include 'The Trees'

The Trees by Rush on Grooveshark

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pastors are not Political Leaders

I haven't listened to this whole sermon, but his clip is great. A hardy 'Amen!'

Monday, June 25, 2012

Song of the Week

Queensryche was one of my favorite bands in the early to mid 90s. I liked the progressive heavy metal - sounded like Pink Floyd crossed with some Iron Maiden.

Queensryche, "Revolution Calling"

Revolution Calling by Queensryche on Grooveshark

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Spiritual Lessons from Baseball, Part 3

We absolutely love the watching our kids play ball. That's not to say the season doesn't get a little frustrating at times - it gets hot, the schedule seems to change frequently (especially this year in the recreational league), etc.  The most frustrating part of having three kids playing baseball on four different teams is having to constantly make decisions about what you're going to miss, and what the kids are going to miss.

For example, one of Jacob's games fell on the same night as an end of the year school program. One of Caleb's games was on the same night as the meeting for kids who wanted to play an instrument in band next year. Jake's had to miss games for one team to be at games for the other. (So far, Luke's social calendar includes baseball only, so not too many conflicts for the five year old).

These decisions are hard to make...Jake is committed to both teams. He hates to shaft one for the other. He's committed to his school and class, so hates to miss something there. Caleb loves his team and hated to miss a game to do the band stuff. But sometimes you are left with impossible situations - you aren't choosing between good and bad, but between good and good. You have competing commitments.

To me, this is just a small illustration of one of the big challenges of living the Christian life outside of Eden. Think about all the things that compete for your time, money, energy, etc. Most of them are pretty good. For example, how much time should you give to Bible studies, small groups, church services, etc. Lots? But in doing so you are cutting down on the time you can spend in the community, forging relationships, being salt and light, etc. Hmmm. On the other hand, if you short change your own spiritual growth and the church, will you loose your saltiness? Or take money for instance...should you give to the missionary who asks for support, or to the youth missions trip, or the relief agency in town?

Few of us will ever likely find ourselves in the situation Rahab did when she was forced to lie to protect the Israelite spies - a situation where to commitments/values came into sharp conflict. We are to value life and truth. But, in a broken world, we will often be forced to to make tough decisions about which values and commitments will trump others. Will we be a good employee even when our boss requires us to lie? Will we honor our parents when they demand we act dishonorably? Etc.

Frankly, we just aren't wise enough to see our way clear of a lot of these situations. Yet. We'll make mistakes, poor evaluations...we'll sin even when we're trying to do good. Thank God for his patience and grace. Thank God that he will eventually put the world to right so these situations will no longer ensnare us.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Song of the Week

My kids got me the new Springsteen album for Father's Day. I love it, here's one of my favorite tracks:

Springsteen, 'Rocky Ground'

Rocky Ground by Bruce Springsteen on Grooveshark

Monday, June 11, 2012

Spiritual Lessons from Baseball, Part 2

Yesterday Jake's travel team went out to Bloomfield for a double header. It was a long hot day, but the boys did incredibly well. The played up a level - we're a team of 7's & 8's with two 9 yr. olds, and we played teams with 8's and mostly 9's. In addition, it was the first time we had ever done kid pitch (vs. coach pitch, which usually begins at the 9yr. old level). We won both games, which was amazing.  But, something hit me yesterday - a parallel between how we often encourage and coach kids in sports and how we coach people in their spiritual lives.

Jake was the first kid to take the mound for us. Everyone - coaches, parents, teammates - was incredibly encouraging. The most oft repeated phrase, from the kids and parents (including me)  was "just throw strikes". He did. But I doubt he went up to the mound thinking, "should I throw strikes or balls?"  The question wasn't a matter of volition, but ability. He, and every other pitcher, wants to throw strikes. But how? Sometimes one of the coaches would offer helpful advice - adjust your sights, finish your pitches, etc. (thanks Matt). But most of us just offered the same cliche piece of wisdom - throw strikes.

It happens at every level, from the older kids to the tballers, and on the other end of the deal too. Just hit the ball. No kidding - but how?

How often do we adopt the 'just do it' mentality or offer this simplistic wisdom when it comes to spiritual matters?  More than I would probably like to admit. To the person struggling with porn, we say, 'just quit it'. To the person who's afraid to share their faith, we urge, 'just be bold'.

Granted, sometimes we need to be reminded of the simple things. The kid whose over-thinking every pitch and stressed about where to put the ball into play may need to hear, 'just do it'.  But the kid who's walked the bases loaded needs more than that. The kid who's struck out 9 times in a row needs more insight than just hit the ball. Similarly, the person who is indulging in sin or just being lazy may need the reminder to 'just ___________." But rare are those instances.

More often, as spiritual friends, we need to have better answers, or admit we don't. Put away the cliches. Remember, and remind others, that we can't 'just do it.' We can't do what we called to do. Don't give the religious 'pull yourself up by your own bootstraps' mentality get a foothold.  Moralism is a friend of phariseeism, but not of genuine faith or holiness (holiness without faith is, after all, a sham). Remember, you need God's provision - his grace, his power, his Spirit -  to obey God's commands.

So, step in and help the brother dissect where their spiritual swing is off - where is God's grace being offered but not made avail of? Where are the hic-ups in their delivery - where are the relying on self instead of Spirit. Most importantly, how can we abide more in Christ, since without this "you can do nothing."

Don't pull a Newhart:

Song of the Week

Going with some old school Rock n Roll


  TNT by AC/DC on Grooveshark

Friday, June 08, 2012

Belated Song of the Week

Come All Ye Pining by Red Mountain Church on Grooveshark

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Song of the Week

Brokenness Aside by All Sons & Daughters on Grooveshark

Monday, May 14, 2012

Toxic Idea #1

For the summer I'm leading the Connexion study on "Toxic Ideas" - ideas/presuppositions we've swallowed, often knowingly and usually uncritically. 

Last Thursday we looked at the idea prevalent in our iPhone obsessed culture that newer is always better, thinking through several key passages that command us to remember and hold onto the past and the Tradition we've been entrusted with.

I'm not going to recap, but a blog I frequent has started a series on the importance of knowing some church history, so I thought I'd link to it.

Introduction to Ten Reasons to Study History & Reason #1: the nagging sense that no one has dealt with these issues before

Reason #2: It will curb the arrogance of the present

Song (s) of the Week

A friend of mine, yes you Mark, educated me last week on some good modern Blues musicians. Wow, I've been missing out. It's a pleasant change from my head-banging-metal and burn-the-system-down-punk. Plus, it makes me feel like a real grown up adult (matching my the increasing numbers of gray hairs).

Sonny Landreth, "I Know You Rider"

  I Know You Rider by Sonny Landreth on Grooveshark

Joe Bonamassa, "Walking Blues"

  Walking Blues by Joe Bonamassa on Grooveshark

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Hamilton interview

Pretty awesome interview with Hamilton. Love the humility, the talk of the means of grace in his life, the cross and forgiveness. Oh, and hitting the ball square and not trying to crush it.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Song of the Week

There aren't many worship songs out there that have a sorrowful, mournful note in them. I think that's a problem - it certainly doesn't correspond to the tenor of the churches only inspired worship book - the Psalms. Anyway, here is one that does seem to mourn sin (and thereby celebrate grace): All Sons and Daughters, "Brokenness Aside"

  Brokenness Aside by All Sons & Daughters on Grooveshark

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Spiritual Lessons from Baseball

Okay, so I spend inordinate amounts of the spring, summer and even fall on a baseball field. We pretty much live there for four months. Last week: three practices on Saturday plus a double header in Bloomfield, two games on Tuesday night, one on Wednesday night, then a tournament Saturday/Sunday in Jasper. Don't get me wrong, we love it. But, putting that much time in on the fields, certain spiritual truths have been confirmed and doors have been opened to teach my kids valuable lessons about life with Christ through a game. This series will be infrequent (like most blog series), and irregular, but I hope profitable to me, my boys, and those who read this blog.

This weekend was a roller coaster for Jake. He played incredibly well and we are always proud of his attitude and work ethic (he was up at 5:45am to hit the road for a 9am game). In the first game of the tournament (a great win for the whole team that played great defense and had timely hitting) Jake had four RBI's and was just solid all around. We looked great in the second game for five of the six innings, but the wheels fell off the buggy in one inning and the opposing team scored four runs on a lot of errors. We found ourselves down 3-4 (Jake had one of those runs and batted another one of the runs in). With one last at bat to tie it up or pull ahead, the first two batters struck out. We were down to our last out. The next three reached on infield bloops and/or errors. So Jake came up with two outs, bases loaded in the last inning. He swang at the first pitch and hit a pretty shard ground ball to the right side of the infield. He was thrown out and the game ended. He was crushed, feeling he had let the team down.

As a parent, it was hard, but good too. It was a character building moment. Jake was upset, and that was good - if he wasn't I would question his competitive drive. But how would he respond? Would he quit, blame others or have a defeatist attitude in the next game?

(It brought to mind this Jordan commercial:)

To me, it seems like that is a situation very parallel to my struggle against sin. Some days I feel triumphant. I feel like I've got old sinful patterns licked - I haven't been rude to Lynn, haven't lost my temper with the boys, haven't let arrogance gain a foothold, etc. Honestly, those days are rare - I'm no Spiritual Allstar!

Other days, I've struck out in the bottom of the ninth - I've let myself, my family, the church, and more importantly my Savior down. I've been a poor witness in the world, done things I ought not have done and left things undone I should have done. I've bit my tongue would I should have spoken, spoken when I should have shut up. Those days happen more frequently than I would like to admit. But, the coach keeps putting me back in the game! I have to decide daily, will I quit and wallow in my sin? Will I just make room for my sin, resigning myself to it? Will I rationalize it and feed it? Or will I shake the dust off and get back in the game?

Jake played great the next game. I wasn't there, but he was quick to tell he wasn't perfect (he went 2 for 4), but a productive and contributing member of the team (with a few RBI's and a couple of runs scored). They won 11-3 and went on to the tournament semifinal where they lost. They ended up taking third place in the tournament (out of eight teams), which is a pretty impressive showing. Certainly they wanted to win instead of lose the semifinal game, but they'll get back up and be ready to fight in the next tournament!

That's all you can ask for. Keep on getting back in there. I pray my family and I learn that lesson in relationship to our spiritual lives too.

Last night we ended Connexion with the song "Give Me Faith."  The chorus says, "My flesh may fail, but my God never will." Not exactly. Your flesh will fail, but God calls us to get back up and get in the fight (ok, now I'm mixing my metaphors).  And certainly, he gives us the grace and strength to do it.

  Give Me Faith by Elevation Worship on Grooveshark

Monday, April 30, 2012


For grandparents who don't get to come to games, here's a look at Jake's double down the right field line. Forgive the cameraman.

BackYard BlueJay

I love the birds in our backyard. We regularly see cardinals, redwing blackbirds, robins, eastern bluebirds, turkey vultures (overhead), and more. I know there's a coopers hawk somewhere close by, can't wait to catch em all with the lens.