Monday, November 21, 2016

Race, election, and the future, my 2016 vote as a white, evangelical pastor...

Like many Iowans, one of my greatest difficulties is I rarely think of race. It is a difficulty for I've come to learn from my ethnic-minority teachers that only majority cultures fail to see such things. I don't see race because it does not affect me Monday-Sunday. I don't see race because I've never been discriminated against, prejudged as dangerous in the middle of the night, or suspected as an illegal immigrant or potential terrorist. I am free, powerful, and protected by a history favoring my cultural background.

Still, at some capacity, I am labeled by some a backward fool, as a professed evangelical Christian. It is true my evangelical beliefs were attacked during my public university days by multiple professors. My desire to teach as an adjunct in public institutions is an uphill battle. Some of my cherished beliefs, especially the protection of life for the unborn, are considered dangerous to humanity.

So where did that leave me when I entered the voting box on November 8, 2016? And where has my heart been these past 10 days?

#1: I did not vote for either of the two major party candidates. Their character and/or platform kept me from voting for them. I believe the command-in-chief should be chief in character. I did not have a clear conscience voting for two people known by scandal and self-promotion.

#2: I stand with the scared citizens who fear Trump as leader. His "America-first" rhetoric can be translated into whatever "America" exists in his imagination. Is this the America of late 19th century Ellis Island where all people were welcomed into our country? Or is this the America of WWII when FDR threw Japanese citizens into war camps? Will we be marked by fear and reaction or by faith and receptivity? This country was built on the contributions of 1st generation immigrants, people of color, people fleeing persecution in search of hope. May that "America" stay fiercely present come inauguration day.

#3: I stand with the celebratory citizens who have said "no" to an amoral America. There has been a radical abandonment of ideas once believed foundational truths giving America solid footing. When the created order is reimagined by fallible humans, the fabric of society tears into pieces. Many citizens voted on November 8 to challenge this trajectory. They voted because they want little boys and little girls to grow up with a sense of gender. They voted because the concept of marriage for 3-4 millennia should not be rewritten in a single generation. They voted because law-breakers should have consequences, law enforcement honored, and government promises kept. They believe that the 1932 Little House on the Prairie carries more wisdom than 21st century Hollywood.

#4: I stand with all Americans (and non-Americans) who believe love and truth must be weld together. Civility, non-violence, and persuasion mark America at its best, whether its suffragettes or Civil Rights heroes. May the "right" and the "left" refuse to turn to cruelty to (re)gain power. No matter the winner, we all lose. The greatest force in the world is love, so may your charity be known to all. At the end of life, when we stand in judgment before God and history, the winners are those who sacrificed most not those who gained most.

#5: I do not stand with Americans savagely protecting their pocket books and places of power. It's not surprising that independent business owners vote toward the right and that government employees vote toward the left. Those not receiving government assistance vote right, those receiving assistance vote left. We've turned our political loyalties into a veiled cover-up for self-promotion. May there be a day when we pursue justice for others, protection for others, freedom for others, dignity for others, without the election directly benefiting ourselves.

#6: I bend before Almighty both in a posture of prayer and with a sense of peace. I went to bed on election night at 10PM unaware of the next President. The future of our country was not going to be set by the reports on CNN or FoxNews. The Sovereign Lord still held the reigns of history, regardless of the outcome of millions of American voters. This Sovereign Lord, Jesus Christ, died on a cross to deal with the treachery and sin that lives in human hearts. He will allow evil to stretch to a certain place and then no farther. Nothing happens and no one is elected outside of His will. Whether it's a Churchill or a a Hitler, an Obama or a Trump, the heart of the king can be turned by the LORD. And so I pray for the new President-elect: may he be a Churchill, not a Putin. And yet, my confidence does not ride or fall on legislation or changes in leadership, but in a crucified and risen LORD who offers clemency, peace, and hope to all who will bow before Him.

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Review of Tim Keller's "Making Sense of God"

Tim Keller has put out new books year in and year out going on over a decade. I've read most of them, and I've yet to be disappointed. There are three types of books Keller writes: (1) Deep, heavily-footnoted, books to make secular and Christian people think (Reason for God); (2) Theologically sharp books that invite Christians to marvel and act (e.g. Generous Justice, Prayer); and (3) Practical books that invite Christians and religious seekers to see life according to the Gospel (e.g. Prodigal God).

Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical (2016) falls squarely into the first category.

To read this book, you need two bookmarks, one pen, and a note-taking journal or device. You'll need the second bookmark to check the end notes as you read along (why, oh why, do publishers not use footnotes?). My book has 2-3 underlines, comments, and questions on each page, and I circle or make a notation every 5th end note. In short, the book is full of gold nuggets. Keller reads and reads, thinks and thinks, and then interprets these ideas so the rest of us can understand what's being written and believed around the world.

This is a great book to read with a few Christian and secular and/or scientific friends. This book encourages conversation and dialog about the leading ideas of our day. In the end, Dr. Keller will present why he believes Christianity is a rational choice that relates best with human thinking, desires, and experience. Still, he gives a fair reading of the best and brightest thinkers of our day.

Let me offer 5 brief take-aways from the book that I hope stir your appetite to devour the book:

1) It takes as much faith to believe in science as in Christianity.
2) The search for meaning is a cul-de-sac for the secular thinker. You can come in, but you have no place to come out.
3) A self-created identity provides no substance for which to build or maintain self worth.
4) Moralistic religion has done more for human flourishing throughout history than atheistic relativism/secularism.
5) Believing in God and Christianity is more reasonable than not (but that doesn't mean you'll want to believe but you just might).

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

A multiverse and a myriad of dimensions...

"Professor, how do you explain the unlikely collision of physical properties that have allowed organic life to exist on the earth?"

"We live in one universe of millions--the multiverse theory. By mere chance, our world is capable of life. All others are most likely dark, chaotic voids."

"Could it be possible that a supernatural, divine being fine-tuned, one single universe in such a way to sustain life?"

"No, believing in divinity is an idea that cannot be postulated. We cannot see, test, or prove God's existence."

"So, you're telling me I'm supposed to be believe in millions of universes I cannot see, test or prove, instead of a single being that I cannot see, test or prove?"


Tuesday, November 08, 2016

I stand with "the Christians" on Election Day

Some would say election day is the most divisive day in our country. It cuts across people, neighborhoods, and even families.

But let me say, for the record, that I am standing today with the Christians...all those who profess Jesus Christ as LORD.

I am with you, brother Christian, when you cast your vote for straight party Democrat.
I am with you, sister Christian, when you fill in the bubble for straight party Republican.
I am with you, disappointed Christian, who refuses to cast a vote.
I am with you, senior citizen Christian, as you fear your medical future.
I am with you, unemployed Christian, as you face today's mail and its certain bills.
I am with you, Christian of the 1%, as you carry the burden of financial stewardship.
I am with Christian independents, Green Party Christians, Libertarian Christians, evolution-believing Christians, flat-earth convinced Christians, and confused Christians.
I am not ashamed to call you brother; I am not ashamed to call you sister.

Through the blood of Jesus Christ, we are one family. When one of us succeeds, we rejoice. When one suffers, we all mourn. Today I see not a divided family, but one united through the Cross. And by our love for one another, the world (the desperate, broken, and decaying world) will know we are disciples of Jesus.

This is not our home; we're just a passing through. May we be good stewards of each day. May our civility and charity be known to all.

And yes, please, God bless America.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

World Series 2016 - The glory and danger of sports

For all the non-Cleveland Indian fans, today is a day of thrilling joy. A 108 year "curse" is lifted.

I find it fascinating that this century old condition has been called "a curse." The Bible refers often to curses and blessings. To be blessed is to find joy, contentment, and satisfaction. To be cursed is to be under judgment, discontent, and unsatisfied.

Sports have this uncanny ability to produce such sensations of blessing or curse. If I play well on the basketball court, I walk a little taller the rest of the day. If I shoot 0-10, I wallow. Some would say, "That's just sports." But I wonder if we realize that something more could be in play.

Many of us look for sports to give us something that will never last. Let's call this, "The Ultimate Blessing." Even if your team has a perfect season (oh the joy) or wins the World Series (yippee), they will lose again in the future. Even the greatest athletes (cough, cough, Tiger Woods) can crash.

If we've put our greatest hopes in sports or our sports' teams, we will never taste a blessing that can never be taken away. The curse will come back. The sense of dissatisfaction and judgment cannot be totally averted.

The Bible uses the language of idolatry to address this condition. An idol is a created thing that cannot deliver on the ultimate blessing. Whether it's sports, money, sex, or power, such things can only provide momentary joy. Now we all know that, and yet, we all seem to be chained to our idol factories, expecting them to manufacture that ultimate blessing eventually. Or some of us have learned to hedge our bets, so we cheer for a team, play the game ourselves, work hard, save money, buy toys, pursue romance, and attempt great things...hopefully there's enough success from enough of these created things that we'll have enough joy to make it through enough days with enough satisfaction.

This "works" for many people. They can go a very long time happy enough with their created things (idols). But there are those flashes of insight when we're honest enough to say, "I'm in bondage to these created things." I'm not free, happy, or fully satisfied. And even when we have it all, joy is still elusive. This is why so many stars in People Magazine see psychiatrists, do drugs, invite scandal, and do all manner of public craziness to stay in the limelight. You can have "it all" and fall short.

Christianity says "ultimate blessing" is possible. Great, unending, never-stopping, fully-satisfying joy is available...God Himself. The ultimate goal for humanity is to be blessed in (with/by) God. The ultimate danger is to be cursed by God.

Jesus Christ came to expose all idols as mere created things that can never deliver and only enslave. But He could really save. For starters, he dies for our sins, the treachery of idolatry, the curse we deserve for loving things other than God. But this salvation includes reconciliation with God. We are brought into God's family--the perfect Being becomes our Father and Friend. We have an unending intimacy with the person who has unending joy.

The great curse of sin falls on Jesus so we can have the great blessing of God with us.

So today, Cubs' fans, enjoy the glimpse of glory. But remember it's only a glimpse of glory...the real thing is God himself. There is a victory that can never end, a curse that can never come back, and a God who will never turn his back.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Armchair Political Meanderings from a Christian Pastor

I'm seeing letters, emails, and speeches galore on the impending elections. On one hand I agree with everything they say, and on the other hand, I think they overstate some things. Let me give it a crack:

1) You do not have to vote. Despite what people say, you can express your political opinion by not voting. You can be a good citizen and not be a voting one. Not voting says, "Something's rigged; the candidates are unfit; I refuse to believe our voting and governmental systems are right." Personally, I will vote, but it is not a requirement (Christian and or otherwise).

2) This election is not make or break. The pundits warn the end of America as we know it if either major party candidate is elected. The reality is our world will change minimally based on the president, Senators, and the like (the world is already fallen, is is not?). Yes, leaders influence, and yes, policies matter. But the sum and substance of history flows through the human heart. 1930s Germany became what it did not because of Adolph Hitler, but because of the hearts of post-WWI Germans crying out for power and vengeance. It's easy to point the finger at party leaders and political heroes/villains, but culture is shaped by individuals. Change the heart, change the world. Each election is simply a reflection of the culmination of individual values; lament that before you lament and lampoon any particular candidate. Vote your conscience, but more importantly, check your conscience. Do you know what is good? Are you living a good life? How you assess the condition of your own soul is make or break. Are you ready to meet your Maker?

3) The world will not be transformed by political power (good thoughts on this in J.D. Hunter's To Change the World). Whether we vote left or right, we trust in the coercive power of law to make the world aright. The right wants laws to protect the unborn. The left want laws to force others to finance certain programs. And yet, history has shown that coercive power offers little for substantive change. Love changes the world--love marked by service, sacrifice, persuasion, and mercy (cf. 1 Corinthians 13 and Christ's example in 1 John 3-4). Abraham Lincoln won over our nation not by winning the Civil War, but by passing on his conviction of one nation, under God. Martin Luther King, Jr., transformed people through his words, life, and martyrdom. William Wilberforce's success in Parliament fell on the heels of cultural transformation through evangelical preaching and anti-slavery teaching (both amid great suffering and persecution). The coercive power of the state cannot transform the culture. Love (or hate) does. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A quote worth our cogitation...

In Donald Bloech's fantastic God the Almighty: Power, Wisdom, Holiness, and Love, he writes,

"God has new experiences, but they do not so much enrich his being or add to his perfection as bring out the perfection that he already possesses."

Theologically, we know that God does not change and that His plans and purposes are eternal. But that does not mean he is some inept father unaware or unconcerned about his children at play or in the throes of suffering. God is not aloof or absent to creation. He really does experience things with spiritual beings, human persons, created species, and the like.

The LORD experiences these things in His unique God-like way, and then He acts (a free act, done in love, never by compulsion). And when He acts, his eternal, unchanging perfections are on display for anyone willing to look, notice, and admire. God was perfect prior to sending Jesus to die on the cross for human sin, but through seeing and experiencing our experience of sin, God chose to bring out His perfections in the glorious gift of Jesus' life and death. He is the powerful Father who sees all that His children face and not for one second keeps from them exactly what they need. Your experiences today are seen by Father, and His unchanging perfection remains our unchanging hope.

Glory to God--"God has new experiences, but they do not so much enrich his being or add to his perfection as bring out the perfection that he already possesses."

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Book Review: "Don't Fire Your Church Members"

                What would you do if you had a long-standing attender, who recently left his wife and moved in with his girlfriend, show up on communion Sunday? That happened during my first year as a senior pastor. How does a local church hire its first part-time staff members after years of paying only a single pastor? That question came up recently. What would you do if a member of your church left their husband accusing him of emotional abuse/neglect, refused to meet with any sisters in Christ or the elders, then started dating someone else, and then submitted her resignation for membership? That happened too.
                Who makes decisions in such situations? What decisions go before the entire church body? What tasks fall to appointed leaders? Jonathan Leeman, a veteran writer on all things ecclesiology, weighs in:

Practically speaking, that means the gathered assembly should probably not waste its time debating the color of curtains or approving photocopier purchases. It means they have been tasked with receiving and dismissing members (the who [of the Gospel]), with ensuring that the teachers are teaching biblical doctrine (the what [of the Gospel]), and by inference, with being involved in any significant decision that sustains or directs that church’s existence as a gospel-bearing witness.

In short, the keys of the kingdom belong to the membership of a local church. Bishops and presbyters are not invested with the authority; the local church is.  The church (according to the pithy and theological accurate song) is the “people….I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together.” Or as Leeman defines, “A particular church is a gathering of two or three witnesses who together testify to the name of Jesus and to their shared membership in him. They do this by preaching the gospel and by employing the keys of the kingdom through the ordinances.” (italics original)
                Let me give three reasons you should read Don’t Fire Your ChurchMembers.
#1:  Leeman offers biblical rationale for duties that the local church body should be doing. Even if you are not convinced that congregationalism is the biblically-stipulated polity, you should consider Leeman’s arguments for the responsibilities of church members, individually and corporately.
#2: Leeman makes a compelling case that congregationalism takes seriously all the blessings of the New Covenant (cf. Jer. 31:31-34) and thus, that New Covenant people are capable to make authoritative decisions for a church. Likewise, Leeman warns if we take away New Covenant responsibilities from New Covenant people, they will not mature or serve, as they should.
#3: Leeman challenges elder-pastors to lead, but not do, the work of the flock (cf. Ephesians 4:10-12).  This was by far the most convicting theme for this already-convinced adherent of congregationalism. I am quick to do the work of ministry rather than equip the saints to do the work. Because it is hard to communicate and invite the congregation into importance decisions, I often by-pass them, and thus, I miss out on the congregation’s full participation. Sure, I’ll let the congregation eventually vote or eventually affirm decisions (the bylaws require it), but I’m seeing ways I need to equip the saints now so they can help exercise authority more faithfully in the future.

This glorious mystery, the church, is God’s means to display His wisdom to the visible and invisible world. Let us serve this glorious gift well.

Should You Care about the Work in Front of You Today?

Do you find yourself living out this instruction from Colossians 3:22-23 in your daily work, serving "with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters [read: bosses, children, fame, power or paychecks]."
Are you engaged in work as defined by Dorothy Sayers: "The only Christian work is good work, well done."
If you need a pick-me-up today to engage your daily calling(s), consider listening to one of the sermons I preached in a Fall 2015 series: "Contributing to God's Kingdom."




Thursday, October 06, 2016

Should Christians 10% to God?

Here's a great article from Pastor Sam Storms on financial stewardship as it relates to supporting a local church and global missions...

I like how he starts summarizing his ideas at point #9:

(9) Is it permissible for a New Covenant Christian to tithe, i.e., to give 10% of his/her income to the work of the church? Not only is it permissible, I would strongly recommend and urge you to do so. In choosing to give 10% of our income to the Lord, we are honoring a God-given, Old Testament principle. In the absence of a prescribed percentage for giving in the New Testament, why not adopt the Old Testament pattern? However, this does not mean you are sinning if you don't. To give only 8% or to give 15% is equally permissible. Not to give at all, or to give disproportionately to your income (which is the case with most Christians today), or to give grudgingly, is indeed sin. Let us be joyful and generous in our giving. After all, everything we own belongs to God anyway!

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Sage Advice on Choosing a Church...

I think this is fantastic advice from the veteran Christian statesman, writer, and pastor, Eugene Peterson from a recent interview with Jonathan Merritt (whole interview available here):

JM: Eighty-one years is a long time. As you enter your final season of life, what would you like to say to younger Christians who are itchy for a deeper and more authentic discipleship? What’s your word to them? 
EP: Go to the nearest smallest church and commit yourself to being there for 6 months. If it doesn’t work out, find somewhere else. But don’t look for programs, don’t look for entertainment, and don’t look for a great preacher. A Christian congregation is not a glamorous place, not a romantic place. That’s what I always told people. If people were leaving my congregation to go to another place of work, I’d say, “The smallest church, the closest church, and stay there for 6 months.” Sometimes it doesn’t work. Some pastors are just incompetent. And some are flat out bad. So I don’t think that’s the answer to everything, but it’s a better place to start than going to the one with all the programs, the glitz, all that stuff.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Two Arguments for the Bible being God's Word

I believe these are two good arguments on why Christians can sincerely hold the Bible in their hands with deep trust of its sacred and divine origins. Note, I have not attempted a logical argument (syllogism), but more of a natural step-by-step process that a person might go through to trust the teaching, authority, and divine authorship of the Bible:

Case #1: Jesus and the Bible.

1. Jesus was a real person in space-time history who lived in 1st century Israel, was crucified under the Roman leader Pontius Pilate, and three days later was announced by His followers to have resurrected from the dead, causing a world-changing religion to form that is now called Christianity. (this can be confirmed from extra-biblical/secular sources of history)
2. The best explanation for Jesus' resurrection is that it really happened.
3. If the resurrection happened, all other miraculous reports of Jesus' ministry in the New Testament are most likely to be true as well.
4. If the miracle accounts are true, so are the authoritative statements and teaching of Jesus.
5. Jesus taught, believed, and assumed that the Old Testament was written by God and spoken by God.
6. Jesus prophesied that when the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles that they were to proclaim His life, death, resurrection, and its implications in His power (with the natural assumption it would be just as accurate as God's previous speaking in the Old Testament, cf. 2 Timothy 3:15-16). This is what we call the New Testament.
7. Thus, Christians should trust the authoritative teaching of Jesus that the Bible is the Word of God.

Case #2: The Bible and Reality

1. Humans have senses, reason, and innate ability to comprehend what is true, real, and rational.
2. The Bible makes claims to what is true, real, and rational.
3. The Bible best reflects reality, both in its history and its details regarding life, humanity, and the world.
4. Therefore, the Bible is true, real, and rational.
5. The most likely source for a true, real, and rational Bible is God Himself.
6. Thus, the Bible comes from God.

All that to say, a divine book will require divine assistance to fully understand and embrace (cf. 1 Corinthians 2). The Bible says the human heart and mind are broken and opposed to the things of God. A veil is over our eyes to fully understand the good news contained in the Holy Scriptures. Spirit of God, lift that veil. We need Jesus and His salvation.

Many people do not have to go through the process(es) described above to trust the Bible. God in His grace gives them confidence of His speaking through Scripture. Like a child who just knows the tone and tenor of their father's voice, some Christians just hear the Bible and hear God. Such people shouldn't look down on others who find it harder to trust God's Word, but rather say, "Thank you," for such a marvelous gift.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Dangerous Whispers

"Singleness is awful. Why be lonely when all you need to do is download this app? Your one click away from happiness."

"Marriage is a drag. Remember all the fun and freedom you had when you were single?"

"You're not a complete woman unless you have children. What's a couple of tens of thousands of dollars as long as you get a baby?"

"Kids have stolen your life. Is it too much to ask to have a few free days to yourself?"

"You're only 45 minutes late. She'll understand and the kids are too little to notice. How else will you afford this lifestyle if you bow out on work every time your wife needs a little help at home?"

"You'll only resent this job more and more if you don't get out of here right now. You've worked so hard, and this stress is over the top. A couple of beers will help you get to where you need to be so you can go home and help with a good attitude."

"That cake is exactly what you need to deal with the day you've had."

"Hey fatty, if you'd just skip food for 2 days, you could finally fit in that dress you used to wear."

"Those $200 shoes are what you need to perform at your best."

"Don't even think about going to Jesus. All he'll want to do is steal your soul and whisper things in your ear."

Friday, September 09, 2016

Brother Pastors, do you believe in the sufficiency of Scripture?

What grows churches? The Word rightly preached, taught, and believed in the power of the Holy Spirit, empowered by the prayer of God's people, or...

1. A fun children's ministry?
2. A fancy facility?
3. A fantastic website?
4. A flawless communicator?
5. A friendly atmosphere?
6. A fabulous choir?
7. A flurry of spiritual activity?
8. A functional program calendar?
9. A funny preacher?

I charge you, under God, preach the Word. (-The Apostle Paul)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Irony and Lotteries

It's ironic that a major goal of public education is to teach people basic mathematics, all the while, public education is funded by people playing the lottery.