Monday, December 12, 2011

Welcome Kent Kloter

On Sunday night, our church unanimously voted to affirm hiring Kent Kloter as our newest associate pastor. It’s hard to express the joy I feel about our plans to have Kent join our staff on January 1, 2012, but let me give you just three of the many reasons I’m so eager for him to join our staff.

1. I’m excited by his shepherd’s heart.

Kent loves the flock at Bethany Community Church.  One of the most convicting passages for me as a pastor is God's rebuke to self-serving shepherds in Ezekiel 34.  “The weak you have not strengthened," God tells them. "The sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them" (v. 4)

Kent is the very anti-thesis of these uncaring shepherds.  I have witnessed the pain he feels as he ministers to those who are hurting.  I believe that his love for the church will cause us to grow in our ability to minister to one another.

2. I’m excited by his love for God’s Word and belief in the power of the gospel.

Kent’s care for the flock is coupled with a deep understanding of God’s Word and appreciation of its power. Like Paul, he is “not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Romans 1:16-17).

3. I’m excited by his spiritual maturity.

Kent likes to joke about being an “old man.” He’s not, of course, even though he does raise the average age of the staff (in a good way).  There is a strength of perspective and wisdom that Kent will add to our staff and I’m glad that God is allowing us to benefit from his experience.

So this is a thrilling time for our church.  Thank you for allowing me to serve as a pastor here.  Thank you for the confidence you have showed in the leadership by affirming Kent in this position.  Please pray for Kent and Janell as they make the transition to Bethany Community Church. Pray that their ministry for the Lord will be joyful and bear much fruit.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Christians and Love for Homosexuals

A friend asked me to post a response to a blog article entitled, “I’m Christian Unless You’re Gay,” by Dan Pearce (warning: some language). While I normally refuse such requests on the “you’re not the boss of me” principle, this request intrigued me.  The article has generated lots of responses and hits upon a topic with which many Christians are wrestling.

Let me share four thoughts I had as I read the article.  I hope that my friends who would identify themselves as homosexuals would read the entire post and know the spirit of love in which I write this.

1. The post is about Christianity and Homosexuality.

At the beginning of his article, Pearce writes:
Before I go on, I feel I must say something one time. Today’s post is not about homosexuality. It’s not about Christians. It’s not about religion. It’s not about politics. It’s about something else altogether. Something greater. Something simpler.

It’s about love.

It’s about kindness.

It’s about friendship

And love, kindness, and friendship are three things that Jacob [Pearce's friend] hasn’t felt in a long time. 
In many of the follow-up comments to the post, some claim that if you think the post is about homosexuality and Christianity, you’ve missed the point. If that’s so, please count me among those who missed the point.

Certainly the article touches tangentially on other topics. The themes that Pearce claims are the main points are certainly discussed. But the themes that dominate both the article and the follow-up posts are Christianity and homosexuality. Those who write to Pearce to express how much the article has meant to them primarily address the issue of homosexuality. Those who are angered by the article identify themselves primarily as Christians.

If the article isn’t about Christianity and homosexuality, (1) it was poorly titled and (2) most people have responded to it for reasons that were not the author’s intent. I don’t believer either of those is true, however. I think the title expressed the intention of Pearce and people have responded pretty much as he anticipated, except maybe for the intensity of their responses.

2. Some who claim to follow Christ act in a way that is contradictory to that claim.

In his article that is not about Christianity (ahem), Pearce contends that many who claim to follow Christ act in a way that is contradictory to that claim.
Love others.


So if this is the founding directive of all the major religions… why is it that sometimes the most “Christlike” people are they who have no religion at all?

Let me repeat that.

Why is it that sometimes the most Christlike people are they who have no religion at all?
Of course it is true that those who claim to be Christians do not act in a Christ-like manner. It would be very foolish to argue the contrary.  Jesus said that there would be those who named His name and yet He would tell them that He never knew them. The apostle John tells us that those who claim to be followers of Christ yet do not have love are deceiving themselves (1 John 4:7-8).

So I agree with the truth of Pearce’s statement if by “Christ-like” he is referring to those claiming the mantle of Christ while denying Christ’s teaching. That certainly happens and it is grievous when it does.

3. Defining the terms "loving" and "unloving" is crucial.

And here we come to the most significant problem with the article. What is it about Christians' actions towards homosexuals that Pearce finds so unloving?

Mostly, the article is full of vague statements about unloving conduct that simply assume the truth he’s claiming.  One specific instance that Pearce notes is the shunning of his friend “Jacob.” After Jacob revealed that he was practicing homosexuality, he claims his friends deserted him and refused to even talk to him. If this is indeed what happened, certainly we can agree that this is unloving.

And in some places I agree with Pearce’s exhortations. Of course we should be willing to put our arm around someone who is hurting.

But in other places in the article, “loving” is defined in a way with which I disagree.
I think it doesn’t matter if you or I or anybody else thinks homosexuality is a sin. It doesn’t matter if you or I think anything is a sin. It doesn’t matter if homosexuality is a sin or not. In fact, it doesn’t matter if anything anybody else does is a sin or not.

Because sin is a very personal thing! It always has been and it always will be!

And it has nothing to do with love.

Absolutely nothing.
But sin is not simply a personal choice and is very much related to love. James 5:19-20 tells us:
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
If Scripture teaches us that one of the most loving things we can do is warn someone who is headed for a path that will end in misery, I think we should do so.

The problem is that our actions may be perceived as unloving by those whom we care about. And those who claim Christ’s name and behave in an unloving don’t make it easier for those of us who truly care about homosexuals. Reading many of the comments posted on Pearce’s article, there were some claiming to be Christians who seemed to relish the idea of eternal destruction for homosexuals. Such an attitude does not reveal a heart that has truly been transformed by faith in Christ.

The unstated thesis in my opinion is: Christians need to love those who are practicing homosexuality. But with Pearce’s definition of love, the expanded thesis is: Christians need to love those who are practicing homosexuality by refusing to say that it is contrary to how God says to live.

4. We must think rightly about how to minister to those struggling with homosexuality.

Those who wish to promote the homosexual lifestyle would have us believe that sexuality is predetermined. We are what we are and we need to accept how we feel about how to express our sexuality.

Sexuality is much more complicated, in my opinion. All aspects of our human nature have been tainted by our sin nature, including our sexuality. No person save Jesus Christ has ever been sinless in the area of sexuality. We all have or have had wrong views or thoughts or actions in regards to sex. Based upon our past experiences and current temptations, the way in which we fail to honor God in this area differs.

The solution to these wrong opinions is not to look within ourselves to see what seems “best” to us. The solution is to see what God says regarding how we are to live our lives. Then our responsibility is to lovingly proclaim that message to others.

How do I believe Christians demonstrate love to those struggling to rightly follow God’s instructions for sexuality?

With those who claim to be Christ-followers yet are living immoral lifestyles, other believers should talk with them about what God’s Word says regarding how we are to conduct ourselves as saints. If those who are members of your church refuse to turn from sin, this may end in removing them from membership (Matthew 18:15-20; Galatians 6:1-3).

The purpose of removing them from membership is not to shun them but rather communicate to them the danger of knowingly following a path that is contrary to what God has told us to do. The goal and heart attitude is always complete and full restoration.

As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:7-8 regarding a man who had committed immorality and was now repentant: “you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.”

This is true love, according to Scripture. Holding fast to Biblical principles of sexuality, yet caring for those who have turned from these principles. We encourage Christians to pursue holiness not to rob them of joy but so that they may know the fullness of joy!

With those who are outside the church and make no claims of being Christ-followers, other believers should pursue friendships the way one would with anyone else. As the opportunity allows, proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, not focusing first and foremost on the question of sexuality but rather the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Love is not the absence of conflict.  Love is sacrificially caring about another person for the glory of God.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ben Davidson: Guest Blogger

As I am on vacation this week, Ben steps up to the plate and does the weekly blog update...

This fall, a number of us at Bethany Community Church participated in short term compassion projects presented by BCC’s Community Compassion ministry. The purpose of the Community Compassion ministry is to glorify God by meeting the spiritual and physical needs of our neighbors (Matthew 9:35-38).

The purpose of these projects was to give short term exposure to compassion ministry and see where the Lord may lead our church in future compassion ministries.

Historically, the universal church has struggled to know the balance between gospel-proclamation ministry and a perceived separate ministry of caring for the poor. I believe these two ministries are beautifully wed together in the Scripture:

James 1:27 - Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Galatians 6:10 - So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Colossians 1:28-29 - Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

Matthew 9:35-38 - And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
(All Scripture quotations from the ESV)

What does it mean to minister to the poor and still hold fast to the gospel? What is the Good News? Is it simply making the world a better place? Watch this video entitled “Ministries of Mercy” as John Piper, D.A. Carson, and Tim Keller interact over this topic. The conversation speaks to what John Piper means when he says, “we exist to relieve all suffering—especially eternal suffering (hell).” View it at:

May our hearts be infatuated with the gospel and its implications for our lives!

Pastor Ben

Monday, November 14, 2011

Occupy My Street

Anxiety and materialism are close cousins.  The anxious person fears his or her lack: lack of security, lack of wealth, lack of safety.  This Sunday, we will discover that our tendency to become anxious reveals we don't trust our heavenly Father.

This past Sunday, I mentioned an article by Frank Turk at the Team Pyro blog.  The graphs I showed may have been a little hard to see, so I thought I'd reproduce the two graphs I showed here and direct you to his article here for his excellent observations:

By the way, Turk used Gapminder World to construct his graphs and make his observations, which you can find here

The first graph, if you recall, shows the average life expectancy and median per capita income in the year 1800.

The second graph shows us in 2010:

Turk writes:
The green line there is the median household income for the United States in 2010. If you have forgotten 6th grade math, the "median" in a series of numbers is not the average of the series: it is the number in the middle of the series. So if you lined up the incomes for all 113,146,000 households with incomes in 2010, the value in the dead center of the list is $ 44,389.00 This is an interesting number as it shows how incomes skew either to the high end or the low end of the distribution -- and given that the mean household income is north of $60,000, I grant you it shows that the household incomes in the U.S. skew lower than average.
But see here: that green line has a startling place on the graph of world economies. There are only 4 nations that have an average per cap GDP higher than our median household income -- so the median household in the U.S. has it pretty good. And that value has special meaning relative to Rosling's video: Rosling classifies income of $40,000 as rich.
Rich! Isn't that awesome? That puts your complaints into a certain light, but there's one more vertical line I want to stripe in here:

You may not be familiar with the quintile rankings for income, so briefly: if you took that list of 113,146,000 households again in lowest-to-highest rank, and broke them up into five evenly-sized groups, you would have quintiles of income. The break point between the 1st (lowest) and 2nd quintile is at $18,500 -- meaning the bottom 1/5th of households in the US have an annual income of under $18,500. That sounds pretty scary, right? That's the kind of thing you are out in the street trying to educate us about, yes?

But check it out: the line where you and I would say is the line which designates the poorest of the poor is well above the per capita income of more than 85% of the world's population. It's a level of income 80% greater than the per cap GDP of South Africa, 30% greater than Russia, and six times greater than that of India.

That is: we define poverty in an opulent way. Compared to the UK in 1800, we have defined the crown of Western Civilization to that time down to a dirty little country which we would be offended to live in. The great part about this is the punchline: it's because we're greedy.
"It's because we're greedy."  His words are hard to take, but he's right.  The problem with the world is not only found in greedy fat cats on Wall Street, nor grungy kids in the streets.  The problem is within men.  The protestors, if they want to find examples of greed need not go to Wall Street--they can come to My Street.
I'm excited to be going through the Gospel of Luke with you and being challenged to live for God's glory in a more profound and radical way.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Fool, Money, and Marriage

This Sunday, as we continue to go through the Gospel of Luke we will look at "The Parable of the Foolish Rich Man."  It is one of those parables that makes us squirm.  In it, a man decides to build larger barns to store his vast resources.  Finally, he tells his soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” 

But God calls this man a fool, for his life comes to an end that very night and, God asks, “now who will own what you have prepared?”  Jesus concludes: “So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

We’ll deal with the text Sunday, but it should be obvious that there is no shortage of sermon illustrations on this subject.  Let me share just one study with you that demonstrates how foolish those of us who believe we can find joy and peace in the material things of this world.  The original story can be found here:

Can't buy me love: Study shows materialistic couples have more money and more problems

New research to be published Oct. 13 confirms The Beatles' lyrical hypothesis and finds that "the kind of thing that money just can't buy" is a happy and stable marriage.

Scholars at Brigham Young University studied 1,734 married couples across the country. Each couple completed a relationship evaluation, part of which asked how much they value "having money and lots of things."

The researchers' statistical analysis showed that couples who say money is not important to them score about 10 to 15 percent better on marriage stability and other measures of relationship quality than couples where one or both are materialistic.

"Couples where both spouses are materialistic were worse off on nearly every measure we looked at," said Jason Carroll, a BYU professor of family life and lead author of the study. "There is a pervasive pattern in the data of eroding communication, poor conflict resolution and low responsiveness to each other."

The findings will be published Oct. 13 in the Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy.

For one in five couples in the study, both partners admitted a strong love of money. Though these couples were better off financially, money was often a bigger source of conflict for them.

"How these couples perceive their finances seems to be more important to their marital health than their actual financial situation," Carroll said.

And despite their shared materialism, materialistic couples' relationships were in poorer shape than couples who were mismatched and had just one materialist in the marriage.

The study's overall findings were somewhat surprising to Carroll because materialism was only measured by self-evaluations.

"Sometimes people can deceive themselves about how important their relationships are to them," Carroll said. "It's helpful to step back and look at where you focus your time."

Brothers and Sisters, only the fool pursues a path that will not bring him joy.  Pursue the pearl of great price instead of the guady trinkets of self-destruction.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Thankful for Bethany Community Church

On Sunday, Dave Robinson publically thanked the pastoral staff.  That was very kind and we appreciate the kind words in the cards many of you wrote. 

But there is a certain awkwardness to Pastor's Appreciation Month.  It feels like we're receiving thanks for something we don't deserve.  First, we know that it is God who works in us to will and to work for His good pleasure.  Second... you all make our job pretty easy!  I speak for all the staff when I say that we are the ones who feel grateful for those of you who are part of our church body. 

No church, of course, is perfect.  You know there are ways we could improve in our shepherding and I trust that you pray for God to be gracious and allow us to grow in those areas.  And we know there are ways that God will continue to perfect your faith.  The labor of ministry is very heavy at times.

Even still, I can't imagine a more joyful place to serve the Lord. I can honestly say, along with Paul:
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Cor 1:4-9).
Thank you for allowing the Lord Jesus Christ to be glorified in your worship!

Daniel, Ben, and Mike

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Intellectual Evangelical

Several friends forwarded me an article from Friday’s edition of the New York Times. The article, entitled “The Evangelical Rejection of Reason,” is a blistering attack on Evangelical Christians by self-identified Evangelicals. I’ve found it difficult to respond to because I don’t find it to be very well-written.

If you have a moment, check out the article before reading on:

The one point that comes through clearly is that Giberson and Stephens are really disdainful of other Christians. The article seems to be their opportunity to unload on conservative Christians—and they don’t hold back.

In fact, the article made me think of a poorly-argued high school debate match I once watched. One student laid out his argument and as you watched his opponent, you could tell he was getting more and more frustrated. He rolled his eyes, he condescendingly sighed, and tapped his pen impatiently. Only by sheer will power did he manage to wait until it was his turn to offer a rebuttal. And, boy, did he rebut!

A stream-of-consciousness attack on his opponent spewed out of his mouth. Some of his points were valid, but the general presentation of his argument was overshadowed by faulty logic and unhidden disdain for his opponent and his relevant points went unnoticed.

Like that debater, Giberson and Stephens have some valid arguments, but their contempt for Evangelicals has caused them to make those arguments ineffectively. They seem angry and guilty of several logical fallacies.

The Argument

The general complaint the authors are making is that Evangelicals are anti-intellectual. Evangelicals fail to hold beliefs viewed acceptable by the general scientific community, such as global warming and evolution. They do so in willful defiance of reason and the use of intellect. They also cling stubbornly to a literalistic understanding of Scripture. As illustrations of this phenomenon, the authors cite Ken Ham, David Barton, and James Dobson.

The answer to Evangelical’s assault on reason, they argue, is to integrate secular knowledge with faith. This means promoting social justice instead of opposing gay marriage, incorporating Darwinism with Christianity, and striving to flourish in a pluralistic society.

Areas of Agreement

Giberson and Stephens hit upon something that I have noticed as well. At times, Evangelicals are reactionary. There is such a distrust of secular culture that sometimes Evangelicals fail to really listen to what their opponents are saying.

In fact, I, too, have sometimes disagreed with approaches taken by the three Evangelical leaders the article cites. I’ve sometimes thought Ken Ham should interact more with some of the counter-arguments of secular scientists. David Barton, while rightly realizing the importance the Christian faith has played in our culture, tends to overly romanticize the degree to which our country was ever truly “Christian.” And I’ve differed with James Dobson sometimes as he’s blurred politically conservative opinions with truly biblical positions.

In short, the article is right when it argues that Evangelicals have sometimes been sloppy in their intellectual endeavors, in my opinion.

Poor Argumentation

These valid points are buried within an article that is poorly argued and developed. It’s hard to refute an article like this because so many different accusations are leveled and so many generalizations are made that it’s hard to tackle them all. It’s like a person who gets angry with you and begins to accuse you of so many things, their valid criticism is overshadowed by their frustration and it's hard to address all the issues they've raised. Let me just give a few examples of the faulty logic used.

1. Poor definition of a key term

According to Miriam-Webster, anti-intellectualism is “opposing or hostile to intellectuals or to an intellectual view or approach.” Intellectual refers to that which is “relating to the intellect and its use" or to be “developed or chiefly guided by the intellect rather than emotion or experience.”

But Giberson and Stephens have taken a hodge-podge of positions with which they disagree and labeled them “anti-intellectual.” In their view, not only is opposition to evolution “anti-intellectual” but so is the moral opposition to homosexuality. Those who disagree with climate change are anti-intellectual. Those who interpret the Bible literally are anti-intellectual. In short, those who disagree with them are guilty of “rejection of knowledge.”

To paraphrase Inigo Montoya, they keep using the phrase “anti-intellectual” but I do not think it means what they think it means. For instance, the authors argue that they “look to the Bible as our sacred book” but those who believe in approaching that book literally are “against reason.” But being literalistic isn’t the same as anti-intellectual. In fact, one could argue that it might be more intellectually honest to jettison Scripture than alter its meaning beyond recognition.

Just because someone disagrees with you is not evidence that they are against the use of the intellect or are simply being guided by emotion.

2. Ad hominem attacks

The article would have been far more convincing if the authors would have displayed a little charity toward those they claim are fellow-Christians. Ham, Barton, and Dobson aren’t just wrong. They are “self-appointed” leaders who are “orchestrators” of a parallel culture in which they are the “beneficiaries” of a “rejection of knowledge.”

3. Gross generalizations and Guilt by Association

The authors are also guilty of gross generalizations. Everyone with whom they seem to have some sort of beef is thrown together. The literalist is a David Barton apologist. The pro-life pastor is for one of three Republican presidential candidates.

Such generalizations, which occur in almost every paragraph of the piece, make it very difficult to respond to the substance of the article. Am I the one being attacked because I believe the Bible is literally true and I reject knowledge? Or does the article have a more narrow focus? Maybe there is some guy out there who is voting for Rick Perry, owns every book by Ken Ham/David Barton/James Dobson, believes in a vast secular conspiracy, is for prayer in schools, is angry about the removal of the nativity, against pornography, can’t read, and is against any sort of multi-culturalism. And that’s the guy they’re really ticked off at.

But in reality, they are committing the logical fallacy of guilt by association. If I believe that if the Bible says it I believe it and another guy who believes the Bible is true is a cultural isolationist, I must be a cultural isolationist as well.  And if I take a stand on a moral issue like homosexuality, then it means that I have the same opinions as others who are opposed to homosexuality.  This isn’t a well-thought piece and it betrays a lack of understanding of the diversity of conservative Evangelical thought.


1. Conservative Evangelical Christians are not the only group guilty of reactionary positions and poorly thought out positions.

This article is a great illustration of the truth that Evangelicals do not have a monopoly on poorly thought out positions. For instance, the Occupy Wall Street Crowd could surely give us some great examples of secular argumentation that fails to pass the mustard in terms of logical cohesiveness. There is nothing uniquely Evangelical about intellectual laziness.

2. The goal of Christianity is not to be found intellectually appealing to the lost.

Paul is very clear that Christianity’s worldview will not be accepted by the secular world.

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

1 Corinthians 1:18-24
This was true in the first century and it remains true today. This doesn’t mean Christianity is anti-intellectual but rather that intellectuals are often anti-Christian.

There is a profound difference.

The understanding of reality as advocated by God has been actively resisted and rejected by many intellectuals.

3. A person doesn’t need to be intellectual to be right.

I say this somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but there’s a great deal of truth in this. David Stowe writes that John Stuart Mill called “Conservatives ‘the stupidest part,’ [and they were] but they were also right….”

Being intelligent doesn’t make you right. Being anti-intellectual doesn’t make you wrong—just ask your average financial advisor who has struggled to navigate the current economic crisis.  What makes you right--or wrong--is the degree to which your thinking aligns with how things truly are.  My prayer is for God to give us the grace to understand and rightly process reality.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Forgive and Forget?

At the beginning of Sunday's sermon, I addressed a question that had cropped up frequently after last week's sermon: If God forgives our sin, how is it possible that it will be brought up in the future?

During the week, I tried to find out how others had answered this question pastorally.  I was encouraged that Pastor John Piper found it necessary to address this question a few days after he preached a sermon dealing with a similar theme.  If I'm not always going to be as clear as I like, I'd at least like to make the same mistakes as John Piper. . . .

Here are four truths that are helpful to develop a biblical understanding of God's forgiveness and future accountability for sin.

1. Everything we’ve done will be known.  Scripture is very clear on this point--good and evil will be made manifest.

Luke 8:17 "For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light."

1 Tim 5:24-25 "The sins of some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden."

Ecc 12:13-14 "The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil."

Matt 16:27 "For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done."

2. Our sins will not condemn us. There will be no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1).  Romans 4:7-8 tells us our sin will not be counted against us (cf. v. 22).  It is in this sense that I believe our sins are forgiven. They will not be brought up in any context in which the purpose is condemnation or punishment.  There is no sin credit in our account, only Christ's righteousness.  God "forgets" our sin when it comes to punishment.  All He sees is Christ's righteousness.

3. We will suffer loss of reward (1 Cor 3:10-14).  Even though we won't suffer condemnation for our sin, we will suffer loss of reward for our disobedience.  As our lives are laid out before God, our sinful acts will be consumed with fire.

4. Our future joy is dependent upon our current obedience.  Your current obedience causes you to grow in your ability to experience God's joy in the future (e.g. Matthew 25: 14-30).  This doesn't mean that some won't enjoy heaven.  It means some will be able to experience more fully the joys of heaven because of their obedience.

Praying for you today as you strive to begin today to worship God for eternity,
Pastor Daniel

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Task Unfulfilled

I was sitting at my computer on Wednesday evening when I decided to do a quick check of the news. “Steve Jobs Dead” read the headline on the Drudge Report.

Since Wednesday night, I’ve read a great deal about Jobs and his life. I found out he was adopted, wondered how he managed to keep so much of his life a secret and, of course, marveled at how his accomplishments have impacted so many lives.

But it was his comments in one of his final interviews that really captivated my thoughts. When asked why he had authorized a tell-all biography, Jobs responded: “I wanted my kids to know me. . . . I wasn't always there for them, and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did."

It was a sad statement to read.  Jobs didn’t necessarily express regret that he had made the decisions that he had, but he certainly realized he had made a choice. Jobs had chosen to pursue his career at the expense of allowing his children to know him. 

For all of his accomplishments, it was a tragic decision and one that Scripture warns those of us who are parents to avoid. It is especially tragic for the believing parent who has a special charge to bring up their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4).

To fulfill this charge takes time.  Our children do not know God intuitively.  It is the joyful task of each parent to spend the time necessary to help them know the Lord. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Great Prosperity and the Great Regression

There is a fascinating info-graph on the New York Times website, which can be found here.  There are a lot of nuggets to be gleaned from the graph, but let me make just a few observations.
1. For those who are wealthy: There is a disturbing lack of correlation between the increase in productivity  and the increase in wages.  Perhaps there is more data that is relevant here, but it appears that those who have access to resources are leverging those resources in such a way as to hoard profits. 
James' words to the wealthy are strong: "Look, the pay you have held back from the workers who mowed your fields cries out against you, and hte cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.  You have lived indulgently and luxuriously on the earth.  You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter" (James 5:4-5).
2. For those who are "poor": Do not envy the wealthy.  It is easy to lament one's condition when one compares oneself to the very wealthy.  But the wealthy have troubles of their own.  Consider: Do you believe that greater access to wealth would increase your spiritual maturity?  Or do you believe that the odds are greater that more wealth would tempt you to be drawn away from God and more in love with the material world (Prov. 30:7-9)? 
3. For all of us: Our increasing level of debt is a symptom of a culture that refuses to deny itself anything. 
Some will see this chart as symptomatic of the greed of the wealthy.  Others will see it as a sign of our economic misfortune.  I see in it the signs of a nation that has jettisoned not only biblical principles but human wisdom as well.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Christians, Injustice and the Death Penalty

While speaking about Jesus’ words on justice from Luke 11 on Sunday morning, an example of injustice popped into my head.  I thought about sharing it but was hesitant to speak “off the cuff” on what is an extremely controversial topic.  I decided I would instead spend some time mulling it over before sharing it publically. I wanted to make sure I worded my thoughts as carefully as possible. If you plan on reading my next sentence, please commit to reading the entire article.

Christians who are concerned about justice should be uneasy about the death penalty.

At a recent Republican primary debate, when moderator Tom Brokaw noted to Texas Governor Rick Perry that his state has executed 234 death-row inmates while he has been governor, Brokaw had to pause because of the cheering. Brokaw was eventually able to ask his question: has Perry ever struggled to sleep at night, wondering if any of those inmates were innocent.

Perry’s answer was firm. “No, sir. I’ve never struggled with that at all.”

Really? Never?

There have been 234 (actually, now the number is 235) executions since Perry has been governor--that is almost two executions every month.  There has never been a moment where he felt unease and lost sleep as he thought about the fate of those men and women?   Perhaps there has been and he simply can’t say so because of the political implications.

I’m in favor of the death penalty because I believe the government has the right to “wield the sword” and punish the wicked as well as reward the just. Even so, here are four things that I believe should burden a Christian’s heart as he or she thinks about justice and the death penalty.

1. Racism. Christians should be troubled by the fact that ethnic minorities face a far greater likelihood than Caucasians when convicted for the same crime.

2. Poverty. Christians should be distressed by the fact that those who are poor often receive inadequate legal counsel. One study found that two-fifths of all errors in capital punishment trials were due to gross incompetence on the part of the defense legal team.

3. Capriciousness. There seems to be a lack of uniformity regarding when crimes warrant the death penalty.

4. Vindictiveness. The believer should not wildly applaud the death of the wicked. When justice means that a human life is taken, there should be mourning and a sobriety of spirit. A spirit of vindictiveness is not a spirit of justice.

This is not meant to be an argument in favor of abolishing the death penalty. However, the believer who is passionate about justice should consider carefully their acceptance of a system that seems to be riddled with injustice.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Weight Gain, Self-Control, and the Grace of God

You should be familiar with the basic plot of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  The short story by Robert Louis Stevenson has been subjected to numerous adaptations. In 1931, there was an Oscar winning movie version, but most versions have been b-grade movies at best. 1951 saw the birth of Son of Jekyll, so to speak. Six years later came Daughter of Jekyll. In 1944 Mighty Mouse met Jekyll and Hyde Cat and Abbott and Costello had a run in with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1953. Perhaps the most creative adaptation, which I have only heard about and not seen, was The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Rock ‘n Roll Musical.

But just in case, let me review the basic details of the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: a scientist concocts a potion that divides him into two personalities: the benevolent, kind Dr. Jekyll and the evil, murderous Mr. Hyde.  At first, Dr. Jekyll enjoys the freedom to commit various crimes under the guise of Mr. Hyde. However, as time progresses he finds the anecdote that turns him back into Dr. Jekyll to be less effective and the demon that is Hyde grows stronger and stronger until he is overpowered. No longer is Jekyll able to resist the power of Mr. Hyde. He is trapped.

It should come as no surprise to you that many adaptations, such as The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Rock ‘n Roll Musical fail to capture the finer nuances of the story. It was not originally some sci-fi horror story. It was written in the late 1800s by Stevenson not about the horrors of scientific hubris but rather about the horror within every human heart.

Dr. Jekyll struggles against his sin nature and speaks of the struggle in terms similar to Romans 7. The potion that he concocts was designed to free him of these rather unpleasant urges; to separate him from his evil side. However, the power of his evil side begins to overwhelm him. This is not just a story about a creepy scientist—it is about every person and the terror of the power of sin!

This should be a struggle that every believer feels.  We have a desire to control our sin nature but at times are completely overwhelmed by it. 

I've felt this reality in my struggle with gluttony.  I knew that my metabolism would slow down when I made the transition from my 20's to my 30's, but no one warned me that my metabolism in my mid-30's would be slower than my metabolism of my early-30's.  I am approaching the point where my gluttony can't be concealed by a fast metabolism!

Let me quickly present four principles on self-control from the book of Titus, especially Titus 2:11-14. 

1. All of us are to exercise self-control.

Throughout the book, various groups are either explicitly or implicitly told to have self-control: children of leaders of the church (implied, 1:6); leaders themselves (1:8); older Men (2:2); older women (in relation to wine); young women (2:5); young men (2:6); and slaves (2:9)

God expects the members of His church to be able to live sensible lives—to be in control of their actions.  This attacks the insinuation of many that some people are incapable of controlling their baser urges. 

2. Our ability to exercise self-control is the grace of God.

In Titus 2:11, Paul says that "the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men."  This grace "teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness... and to live self-controlled... and godly lives in this present age" (v. 12). 

Salvation protects us from ungodly behavior and promotes self-controlled, godly behavior.  Self-control is itself a fruit of the Spirit.
3. Part of the motivation for our self-control is our future.

When I'm failing to practice self-control in my eating, I'm thinking very little about the future.  I'm thinking about the present enjoyment of another chocolate-chip cookie.  But Paul tells Titus that we are to live in expectation of "the blessed hope" which is "the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior."

I'm not motivated by slogans or cute sayings.  I'm motivated by the future appearing of my Lord Jesus Christ!

4. The provider of our self-control is our savior.

Finally, Paul tells Titus, the one who provides our salvaiton and ability to practice self-control is our savior.  He "gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good" (2:14).
I hope you find these principles encouraging.  Self-control is a challenge each of us has.  May God lavishly bestow His grace upon us!

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Little End-of-Summer Cleaning

When I find an article that interests me, I sometimes copy and paste a link to it and save it for use in a future weekly blog. When I find I have a bit of a back-log of articles, I end up tossing a lot of them out.

But as I was getting ready to throw out some of the articles I knew wouldn’t make it into a blog, I found two that I wanted to make sure I mentioned. I believe I found out about both of them through

The first article is about a new booklet from Kevin DeYoung describing why his congregation switched to the ESV translation. It can be found here. In the article and the comments that follow are some great thoughts on the nature and purpose of translation.

The second article is by Rodney Stark and Byron Johnson, writing in the WSJ, and correcting the assumption that the church is losing young people in droves.

What interested me about this article is that it directly attacks many of the narratives put out by George Barna. Barna has been highlighting the declining attendance of young people in the church and proposing some ways to combat the trend that I believe would only make the problem he purports to observe worse. This is an important article for many of those who are so desperate to appear relevant to read. Check it out here.

Thanks for letting me clean out some of my summer junk! 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Prayer at Congressman's Dinner

What would you pray if you had the opportunity to pray at an event for some of your elected officials?  Tonight, Congressman Aaron Schock graciously invited me to pray at the beginning of his fundraising dinner, with Speaker Boehner in attendance as well.  This is essentially what I prayed:

Heavenly Father,

I thank you for Representative Schock’s kind invitation to me this evening, to allow me the privilege of praying for my congressman, the man you have sovereignly placed in leadership over me, and to pray for Speaker Boehner, and to pray for our meal and our time together this evening.

Father, in your word, you tell us there are two loves that cannot coexist in our hearts--a love for the things of this world and a love for You. 

And so my prayer is first for those of us who are guests this evening. We confess that as individuals, we are sometimes motivated to engage in the political process by a love for the things of this world instead of a love for you. In this tent are people who have been entrusted with vast resources. Each of us here are wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of the majority of the billions of souls in this world. And, yet, our heart’s temptation is to be motivated to engage in the political process simply to gain more resources.  We love the things you have given us instead of loving you.

At times, we have distorted conservatism to mean that not only should government be limited but our own personal generosity should be limited as well. We pursue wealth and as individuals ignore the plight of the widow, the orphan, the poor and the foreigner.

Let us hold the material things you have given us loosely. Help us to participate in the democratic process not because we are angry or afraid of what others may do to us but instead because we have a desire for your honor and glory.

I also pray this evening for Speaker Boehner. I pray that he would not love the things of this world; that he would not seek after the approval and applause of men; that he would see even the Speaker’s gavel as a tool to be used instead of a prize to which to cling to whatever cost; that he would not crave the approval of influential or seductive voices within his party who have only their own good as a goal.

Instead, may he seek to pursue your desire for government. May he be your instrument to bring about a government that protects its citizens, rewards the one who does good and punishes the one who does evil. .

As I think about our country Father, I know of no greater atrocity than the evil of abortion. May Speaker Boehner lead the Republican party to do more than cynically play lip service to the protection of the unborn for pro-life votes. May Speaker Boehner unite pro-life Republicans and Democrats to promote the sanctity of life.

And finally this evening, I pray for Representative Schock. May he not love with the things of this world. Even as he prepares for the 2012 elections, let him see this congressional seat as yours and not His own. Let him not be in love with the approval of his party, his party’s leadership or even, Father, the approval of we his constituents. Let him be willing to do the hard things that are the right things even when we disagree with him. Protect him morally as he lives and works within a culture that loves power and prestige and the exaltation of self. Allow him to have the attitude of Christ Jesus, who humbled Himself even to death on a cross. Allow Aaron to serve in a spirit of humility and treat others as more important than himself.

And Father, because we cannot love both the things of this world and You, I pray that You would teach us how to love You. I pray that the gospel of your son Jesus Christ would be boldly proclaimed. I pray that men and women here and in our country would recognize their need for a savior, repent of their sins, and place their faith in your son Jesus Christ alone for their salvation.

In Jesus' Name I Pray,

Monday, August 29, 2011

Eugene Nida's Legacy

Last week, Eugene Nida passed away at the age of 96. Many have never heard of Nida but anyone who has read a modern Bible translation has been influenced by his work.

What is the best way to translate the Bible? Some argue that one should make the translation as literal—or as close to the original text—as possible. This means preserving the original language word order and sentence structure as closely as possible. The resulting translation is often hard to read, but close to the original language. This type of translation philosophy is called “formal equivalence.”

Nida argued for a type of translation he called “dynamic equivalence.” He believed that one should attempt to aim for a “thought-by-thought” translation. Phrases and idioms in the original language should even sometimes be changed to make the most sense in the culture of the people who are receiving the text.

Morgan Feddes, reflecting on his passing in Christianity Today, writes:
In his work, Nida emphasized the importance of cultural context—both the cultural context of Bible and the cultural context of the language into which the Bible is being translated. One example he liked to use was the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25, where the sheep represent those who have done the Lord's will, and the goats are those who haven't. "Look out, because in most of Africa, sheep are regarded as very bad animals!" he said in his 2002 interview. "The translator, of course, cannot change all the sheep into goats and the goats into sheep. But you've got to have footnotes to explain the cultural difference. Otherwise, you're going to give an entirely wrong impression."
As I think about the influence of dynamic equivalence on Bible translation, I see both positives and negatives.  Positively, it forces us to think realistically about the changing nature of language. Idioms, phrases, and definitions of words are constantly evolving. Bible translation should recognize that.

I also appreciate the way in which dynamic equivalence strives for clarity in communication. Our goal in coming to God’s Word should not just be to know that our translation is right but also that it is understandable.

Finally, I appreciate the philosophy’s emphasis on application. God’s Word is not lifeless but living and active.

On the other hand, I do have some concerns with translations that rely too heavily upon the dynamic equivalence philosophy. First, in an attempt for greater readibilty in English, dynamic translations can distort the actual meaning of the text. For example, compare the NIV (a somewhat dynamic translation) with the ESV (a more formal equivalence translation).

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:6-7, NIV)

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:6-7, ESV)
The NIV has created two sentences and two separate commands: “Humble yourselves” and “cast all your anxiety.” The ESV, however, correctly translates the passage to show us that there is only one command: “Humble yourselves” and one of the ways we obey that command is by casting our anxieties upon God.

Second, the attempt for greater clarity can mar the intricacies of Scripture. As Robert Thomas argues, if Paul wrote an epistle that was a “10” in terms of complexities in syntax and argumentation, have we translated it faithfully if we make the reading level a “3” or “4”?

Finally, by having Bible translators make interpretive decisions for us, we limit the possibilities. As Thomas writes:

Which interpretation is right in 1 Thess. 4:4, the one which says that Paul speaks of control over one’s own body, as in the JB, NEB, NIV, PME, or the one that says he speaks of taking a wife in marriage, as in the LB, RSV, and GNB? Or should the translator shun the responsibility of making a choice, as is done in the KJV, the NKJV, and the NASB?
I believe that the more formal translations are more faithful to the text and help us understand the Word more accurately.  Dynamic translations, however, can be helpful in allowing us to understand the force of some texts.  All good translations involve a certain amount of interpretation and Nida helped us understand how to think more carefully about what is being communicated in a translation...and that's a good thing.

The words of the KJV translators in the preface to their monumental work are a fitting conclusion to this discussion on the nature of translation:

“To those who point out defects in [the translators works], they answer that perfection is never attainable by man, but the word of God may be recognized in the very meanest translation of the Bible, just as the king’s speech addressed to Parliament remains the king’s speech when translated into other languages than that in which it was spoken, even if it be not translated word for word, and even if some of the renderings are capable of improvement. To those who complain that [the translators] have introduces so many changes in relation to the older English version, they answer by expressing surprise that revision and correction should be imputes as faults. The whole history of Bible translation in any language, they say, is a history of repeated revision and correction.”

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Morality of Intellectual Simplicity

David Warren, a Canadian journalist for the Ottawa Citizen, wrote this intriguing paragraph in a recent column:

There are some issues that are too simple for intelligent people to understand. Most moral issues are like that. The problem isn't distinguishing between right and wrong. That is not always as plain as day, but usually it is. The problem is finding a way to justify doing the wrong thing. And once you think you have found it, the people still arguing for doing the right thing may be dismissed as "simplistic."
He was contrasting competing economic theories and, while he may or may not be right about his conclusions, he accurately describes a real phenomenon.  Often human beings use their intellect to justify evil. Paul tells us much the same thing in Romans 1:21-23:

21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
The unregenerate heart leads us astray. Self-proclaimed wise persons behave foolishly. They turn their God-given ability to think and reason toward useless ends as they pursue evil instead of God’s glory. Their thinking becomes futile. Like those Warren writes of, their intellect is turned toward exercises in justifying evil.  Intellectual sophism presents a labyrinth of complex arguments to reach a rather simple conclusion: reject God and His authority for your life.

Does this mean that we as Christians should reject intellectual endeavors? The criticism leveled by the secular humanist is that Christians are intellectually bankrupt. We are fools who fail to understand sophisticated, nuanced arguments.

But our critics have presented us with a false dichotomy. I do not have to choose between the futility of human-centered reasoning or the vapidness of a mindless, zombie-like Christianity.

The problem that Paul describes in Romans 1 and to which Warren alludes is not that people are being intellectual. Intellect is a gift that has been given by God to be used.  The problem is the fallen nature that attempts to utilize that intellect, oftetimes to construct complicated arguments advocating rebellion against God.

It is not as though the intellect exists outside our person or is a tool impervious to the biases of our selves. Our intellect is twisted. Our pride causes us to turn our intellect away from self-introspection of deeply held beliefs and direct it toward defending our prejudices and attacking others. Our intellect is wielded by a mind that has been shaped and modled by this current world and its thought patterns. Indeed, those who are heralded as “revolutionary thinkers” are often those most enslaved to the mores and thought patterns of our time.

The answer lies in the gospel. The redeemed mind can be renewed (Rom 12:1) and set itself on things above not on things below (Col 3:2).

My encouragement to you is to engage your mind. Think critically. Think carefully. Challenge your old thought patterns. But do all this not in your own pride but in submission to God as He reveals Himself in His Word.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

In Defense of Sunday School

On Sunday afternoons, our family piles onto the couch and the kids begin to tell me what they learned at church in the morning. Each child is able to tell me what they learned about God and His Word as a result of their time worshipping with our family at Bethany Community Church. I find these times with the kids encouraging for several reasons, one of which is the joy of having others in the church re-enforce the things that we are trying to teach our children about God and His Word.

Some believers argue that age-segregated Sunday School classes are—at best—detrimental to the family or—at worst—unbiblical and contrary to Scripture’s design for the church and family. Many argue for what they call a “Family Integrated Church (FIC),” which they define as the entire family staying together for times of teaching and instruction.

My purpose in this article is not to attack the FIC model. Indeed, there are several strengths to that philosophy of ministry. It rightly recognizes the importance of parents—especially fathers—shepherding their children. It also draws attention to the failure of many youth ministries to fulfill the purpose for which they were intended. Youth ministries sometimes degenerate into a playground for adolescents. Instead of fostering deeper maturity they exacerbate the immaturity.

At the same time, age-segregated ministries like children’s Sunday School are not unbiblical. On the contrary, there are some very biblical, God-glorifying aspects of ministries that allow for a period of time of age-based instruction. Here are a few of the reasons I rejoice that we offer special ministries for children.

1. Children have a special need for instruction.

Broad, generalizing statements like “modern youth ministry is contrary to Scripture” are problematic because Scripture does seem very much concerned that children receive special instruction. Moses in Deuteronomy, the psalmist, Solomon in the book of Proverbs, all understand that children have a special need for instruction. Paul refers to the understanding he had as a child and how he put it away as he became a man (1 Cor 13:11).

A good youth ministry recognizes that children have a special need for instruction to help them gain wisdom. A more accurate statement than the one above is “many modern youth ministries are failing to fulfill the Biblical mandate for the church to disciple its younger members.” This does not invalidate the concept of having times of age-targeted instruction.

2. Children need a proper theological understanding of the family of God.

While parents are to be the primary tool God uses to disciple children, they are not the only tool. In the Old Testament, the entire community punished the wayward and rebellious child (Deut 21:18-21). The New Testament expands the idea of family and teaches us that every believer is part of the family of God (Eph 2:19). A Sunday School system that encourages other adults to speak into the spiritual development of my children helps them see that the church body is larger than just our family.

3. Children must learn not to idolize their nuclear family.

The way we center our lives around the nuclear family is a recent cultural phenomenon. A far more prevalent understanding of “family” throughout human history includes uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins, and crazy fourth-cousins.

It is important to teach children not to idolize the nuclear family. This means training them that the family exists not just to spend time with itself but to be engaged in ministry in the lives of others outside the family. This means that families will have to do difficult and inconvenient things for the health of the church.

This improves the ability of the church to minister to individuals who do not have a spouse or children. It also helps provide a structure for children who do not have the nuclear family that may be the cultural norm in the church.

4. Children should be innocent of that which is evil.

It is important for adults to be innocent of evil (Rom 16:9). How much more should we strive to protect the innocence of our children! Allowing some times of age-segregated ministry allows adults to discuss concepts that children amy not be prepared to consider. It also allows them display transparency about issues in their lives—such as parenting—that children might not understand.

I applaud much of the motivation behind the family integrated church movement. I pray that our church is able to offer additional ministries that provide for the integration of the family into the church. I encourage us at BCC to take the lead in discipling our children. At the same time, I praise God that He has provided other men and women to disciple my boys and girls.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Vacations, Homes, and Heaven

This past week, our family went to Horn Creek Christian Camp, near Westcliffe, Colorado. It was a wonderful but long week.  After we arrived home on Sunday evening, our youngest daughter went around the home exclaiming, “We’re home! It’s a miracle! It’s a miracle!” We obviously have some work to do on our daughter’s theology (she has made a habit lately of proclaiming any positive event a ‘miracle,’ but given my driving, maybe she’s on to something).

Even though I wouldn’t call our arrival home miraculous, I am grateful to God for bringing us home safely. I enjoy travelling and seeing my children have fun, but at heart I’m a homebody. On vacation, the bed isn’t my bed. The kitchen isn't my kitchen. The shower isn’t my shower. When I arrive home, I look around and there is a sense of “Yes, this is how things are supposed to be.”

That is why, when I travel, Hebrews 11:13-16 often comes to mind. After describing those whose lives displayed extraordinary faith, the writer of Hebrews explains why they had the ability to live such lives:

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city (ESV).
The appropriate response for believers in this world is to feel like they are “strangers and exiles”—they are not at home in the trappings of this world. The entertainment and financial systems and political structures of this world have their place in our lives but we recognize our distance from these things even as we interact with them.

My prayer for you this week would be that you have a godly sense that things are not quite right and that you long for heaven as you live for God’s glory in this world. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Pro-"Choice", Anti-Woman

On my way back home from Texas, I listened to quite a bit of talk radio. In between St. Louis and Peoria, a comment by an angry listener caught my attention. She made the statement that she would never vote for a politician that was “anti-choice.” Such an individual, she claimed, demonstrated too little respect for women.

Such thinking, I believe, is ultimately demonic. Like all demonic thinking, it deceives people into believing that which is false and calling evil good and good evil. I was reminded of her comment this morning when I read the following post by Pastor John Piper:

163,000,000 unborn baby girls have been killed in Asia over the last three decades. That’s more than the entire female population of the United States.

Aside from the mounting up of blood-guilt, and the treasonous shredding of God’s image, the result is a dangerously imbalanced population. “Normally, about 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. The ratio in India is 112 to 100, in China 121 to 100, with some Chinese cities reaching 150 to 100” (First Things, Aug/Sept, 2011, 69).

This is dangerous for women not only because females are the ones being killed, but also because of what men will do when there are not enough women to marry—prostitution, rape, polygamy, and who knows how many other destructive forces unleashed in such societies. Such efforts to predict the poisonous fruit of girl-killing are unnecessary for those who simply say: It’s wrong. Don’t do it.

But where the goddess 'choice' is still enthroned, we may pray that the people will see the painful price of her deceitful rule before long.

For if ‘choice’ is the moral imperative guiding abortion, then there is no way to take a stand against ‘gendercide.’ Aborting a baby because she is a girl is no different from aborting a baby because she has Down syndrome or because the mother’s ‘mental health’ requires it. Choice is choice (First Things, Aug/Sept, 2011, 69).

And of course, killing any baby because of any disability, is monstrous. Perhaps killing her because she is a girl will help us see this.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Grandma Jean and Children's Ministry

This week, the kids and I will be travelling to Texas to attend memorial services for Whitney’s grandmother.  Grandma Jean passed away suddenly on Saturday afternoon and Whitney has been with her family since Saturday evening. 
I’m grateful that Whitney’s sister and brother-in-law graciously drove Grandma Jean and Grandpa Bob up here last month.  We were able to visit with them and have a cook out.  Grandma took Hannah to get her ears pierced, just like she had taken Whitney when she was a little girl.  We also were able to pray and read God's Word together as a family in the evenings. 
Whitney often thanks God for our family’s “legacy of faith” and Grandma Jean embodied that legacy.  Her love for the Lord has impacted our immediate family in significant ways.
Her devotion to her husband was a model for how spouses should sacrificially love one another.  Her care for her family was a model for parents who desire to nurture their children.  Her prayer for the proclamation of the gospel was a model for those who love the glory of God.
When Grandma Jean prayed in our home, it was obvious that one of her greatest desires was that her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would walk with the Lord.
That’s the essence of effective children’s ministry, of course: having such a love for the Lord Jesus Christ that you are passionate about seeing the next generation carry on that legacy of faith.  It is a tragedy when, as the writer of Judges tells us, a generation arises that does not know the Lord or the great things He has done.
Grandma Jean strove to ensure that the generations that followed her would know both the Lord and the great things He has done.  Please pray for Whitney's family, especially her grandfather, as they minister to one another during this loss.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Worship and Architecture

Worship & Architecture

Can the design of a building help us worship God? I would suggest that the answer is yes…but not for the reasons you might think. It is a question many of us in the church ponder with greater frequency as we watch the amount of our outstanding debt rapidly decrease due to your generous giving.

Let me first say this very clearly: A building should not be the impetus for our worship. The building itself is not a “sacred space” (see link below). It troubles me to hear believers talk of “feeling closer to God” when they visit ornate churches or historically significant buildings of worship. While it is appropriate to praise God for the creativity He has given His creation, our contemplation of man-made buildings should not be the cause of our worship.

This is not to say that the design of a building is unimportant or unrelated to worship. There is, I believe, such a thing as God-glorifying design in building. A well-designed building helps us in our worship in the following ways…

1. A well-designed building will help us proclaim the Word of God effectively. The auditorium, sound system, and classrooms in a God-glorifying structure will help the church fulfill her task of teaching Scripture.

2. A well-designed building provides us with space to serve others. A God-glorifying structure is designed with the needs of others in mind.

3. A well-designed building will point people to God and not us. This does not mean it should be an elaborate structure. It means that the building should not distract people from God. As we build a church building, we are not designing a Tower of Babel that will serve as a shrine to ourselves. It will not be so ornate that it distracts people from the contemplation of God.

4. A well-designed building will ensure that we have resources for doing ministry. A wise church will not tie up so much of its financial resources in its building that it is unable to do anything else.

5. A well-designed building will demonstrate to the community our commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. Building a church gives the community of faith a common goal and our shared giving reveals a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of the gospel.

As your read through this list, notice that a building is not essential for our worship to take place. A well-designed building is an outgrowth of worship and not a prerequisite for worship. I can proclaim the Word of God with or without a building. The building simply helps me do so more effectively. I can serve others with or without a building. The building simply helps me do so more effectively.

My friend Luke sent me a link to an ongoing conversation at the Gospel Coalition blog: As you can see, some godly men are wrestling with how best to construct God-glorifying buildings. I am sure our own church will wrestle with these questions as well as we think about how best to implement these principles.

Praise God for His continued provision…and pray that God would give us wisdom as we consider the church building in which we will gather to glorify His name.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Unanswered Questions About Unanswered Prayers

Yesterday’s sermon provoked some great questions. Thanks of the emails! Many of the questions revolved around people wanting to make sure that the prayers they are praying are the right kind of bold prayers.

One man expressed concern that a bold prayer his family had prayed was in accordance with God’s will. A woman emailed me to ask whether or not one of her prayers could be prayed in a bold manner or if she was being selfish and ungrateful for the things God has already provided her.

Let me provide a few more thoughts that may be helpful as you pray.

1. Mundane issues should provoke extraordinary prayer.

The problem with our prayers isn’t that we’re concerned with the little things in life. The problem is that we fail to see the eternal importance of the little things. Praying for Aunt Mabel’s big toe to heal isn’t wrong. What's wrong is when the focus of the prayer becomes the toe instead of God.

2. God-glorifying motivation is at the heart of God-glorifying bold prayers.

The key—as is so often the case—is to determine what our motives are as we pray. Is our desire our own kingdom or God’s? Mundane prayers are focused on our own glory. Bold prayers begin by glorifying God and praying for the establishment of His eternal kingdom.

3. As we continue to pray, our prayers should become more refined and our wrong motivations filtered out.

After considering the second principle, some might object: “But the problem is that I can pray for a request and justify my motives even if those motives aren’t pure. I can pray for a job promotion and say that it is for God to be more glorified in the workplace, but I’m not sure that’s truly my motives."

Perhaps this is another reason God allows our requests to not be answered right away. The longer we pray, the more pure our prayers should become. God continues to show things in our heart that aren’t right and it allows our soul to be more focused on Him. As the Psalmist prays: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!" (Ps. 139:23-24; cf. Ps 19:12).

I told the young woman who was concerned that her prayers might be selfish that what she wanted to pray for was Biblical and just to make sure that her motives were right. She replied that after considering her motives, she had confessed to God that her desire was not His glory but her own ease of life. Continuing in prayer in this area has been a refining process for her, she told me.

May you and I similarly be refined by a loving and generous Heavenly Father.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Jane Austen for Men

File:Jane Austen.jpgOn Sunday morning, a young lady approached me and asked me to defend Jane Austen.  “Will you please tell my dad that it’s manly to like Jane Austen?” she pleaded.

I declined. I didn’t want to look like a wimp.  Which, ironically, is exactly how you'd expect a Jane Austen fan to act.

I felt ashamed of my cowardice later. After all, my love for Jane Austen novels is great.  People assume that my son is named after the capital of Texas, but my love for a certain 19th century author had as much to do with his name as the state from which I hail. And, although we call her Ellie, it is not a coincidence that my daughter Elizabeth Bennett shares the name of the most famous heroine in all of English literature.

In a recent Christianity Today blog post, Gina Dalfonzo argues men should read Jane Austen. Her blog was prompted by the controversy stirred by V.S. Naipaul, who arrogantly pronounced that no woman writer was his literary match. When asked specifically about Jane Austen, Naipaul replied he “couldn’t possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world.” It is a woman’s “sentimentality, the narrow view of the world” that limits her writing, he argued.

Naipaul’s comments surely resonate within the hearts of many men. There is a sense in which literature that deals with romance and the inner-workings of the heart is not “real” and “weighty” and “manly.”

To make amends for my momentary cowardice, allow me to offer a few thoughts regarding why I think it is helpful for men to read Jane Austen.

Jane Austen affirms gender distinctions. Bombarded by a culture that seems unwilling to affirm the truth that men and women are different, Austen offers a welcome reprieve. In her novels, men and women think and feel differently.

Neither are inherently superior. Both are capable of great good and great evil. Both can be silly and petty and vindictive and foolish. Both can be kind and self-sacrificing and generous. But the novels celebrate unique qualities of each gender.

Jane Austen helps men understand women.  I somtimes hear men complain that their wives speak a different language; they simply “don’t understand” them. In Scripture, of course, women are not instructed to understand their husbands. Instead, it is the husband who is tasked to live with his wife in an understanding manner (1 Peter 3:7).

Men, while reading Jane Austen won’t cause you to suddenly fully understand all the emotional intricacies of your wife, it may help you think more clearly about the complicated nature of her thought processes.  Austen will help you understand better human foibles and the necessity for clear communication with others.

Jane Austen increases the value we place upon the home. The drama that fills the pages of an Austen novel only rarely delves into the global affairs of the day. Wars and political mechanizations are relevant only in their affect upon the lives of loved ones. Austen’s myopic scope doesn't triviliaze the home but instead shows that it has equal importance with affairs of state.  The home as an important place, not a place to "escape" for something more grand.

I can still remember the first time I read a Jane Austen novel.  My college schedule had forced me to take a Women's Literature course.  The first novel we were assigned was Pride and Prejudice.  I delayed and delayed reading the first three chapters we were supposed to read until 10 PM the night before the class.  I opened the book and read those famous first lines, full of wit and sarcasm, and was hooked.  I didn't stop reading until the morning, having finished the novel in a single night.

There is nothing feminine about understanding human nature.  It is a manly endeavor and Jane Austen helps us in that pursuit.

Eerily similar to what I experience every Sunday morning...


Whitney's friend and famed blogger put a plug in for the book. Thanks, Amy!


Monday, June 13, 2011

But a Breath...

On Sunday at BCC, we considered how to rightly approach God in prayer. Last night, I read this prayer in Psalm 39:4-5:

“O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!”

What an odd thing to pray.  The psalmist does not pray for improved self-esteem or a greater sense of self worth.  Instead: “Lord, help me remember my smallness and keep me mindful of my frailty.” “Lord, let me be reminded of how short my life will be.”

Without understanding our frailty, our ability to see God rightly is hindered. How can we exalt the Creator if we are consumed with the laborious task of exalting ourselves?

So, my prayer for you and me this week is: “Lord, consume us with a sense of our own insignificance.”

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

John MacArthur's Legacy and Expository Preaching

This past Sunday—June 5, 2011—Pastor John MacArthur accomplished a rather tremendous feat, by God's grace. He completed preaching through the New Testament, an endeavor begun some forty-odd years ago.

In the Christian blogosphere, negative stories get a lot of attention. If an emergent guy sneezes, we take to our blogs and pulpits to discuss the impact on the health of the church. Vigilance is necessary, of course, but it’s sad when important stories fail to receive the attention they deserve.

The reaction to MaArthur’s accomplishment has been surprisingly muted. As of the time I am writing this, I have only seen one announcement on the subject. On Monday morning, a Tweet by Al Mohler simply read:

“Congratulations to my dear friend John MacArthur, who completed a 30 year project of preaching through the New Testament today. Incredible.”

That was it. A Tweet—and one that got the timeline wrong to boot—is all that I’ve seen to commemorate this milestone.

As I think about how God has used John MacArthur, it invigorates me with a renewed passion for expository preaching at our church. The faithful proclamation of His truth through sustained study of it a portion at a time has already yielded spiritual fruit and I am confident it will continue to do so. It encourages me to continue to be faithful to proclaim the whole counsel of God, reproving, rebuking and exhorting with great patience and instruction.

Here is an interview Phil Johnson did with John MacArthur earlier this year in anticipation of what God allowed to come to fruition yesterday:

I hope you find it edifying as well as you consider how God will be faithful to our bear fruit through the preaching and teaching minstry at Bethany Community Church.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Building the Family of God

The following is an update from Steve Hornbrook that I think many of you will find exciting.  At the end of our fiscal year, the Bethany Fellowship churches were able to bless many of our missionaries.  Steve shares the specifics below...

Join with us in celebrating some exciting news in Bethany Fellowship Missions! God provided some unusual circumstances this year which resulted in a significant portion of missions budget not required for its original purpose. The BFC Elders directed that any funding designated for missions purposes should always be used to bless missionaries by meeting the next highest priority needs. God’s faithfulness through your giving allowed us to make the following unexpected gifts:

• Beakleys-caring for Handsome, the orphan from Zimbabwe they have taken in
• Ausfahls-medical expenses
• Loseys- Global Partnership Ministries setup
• Wilmoths-personal needs and birth of Judah
• Hostetlers-laptop and personal needs
• Shannon Horn-start-up expenses
• Kloters-one-time BBCM expenses
• Schupps-Hope Medical Clinic
• Hornbrooks-church plant property
• Bagleys-El Shaddai property
• Cheri Geise-totaled car replacement
• Timchenkos-REALIS Christian Center development
• Bennetts-Rwandan church development (church roofing, Jesus film projection)
• Perez-replacing totaled car
• Cortez-Bibles for Ecuadorian Church leaders on Cayapas River
• Joseph Mahaola, Beakley South African missionary/lecturer co-worker-new laptop
• Dave Korb- Brazilian church leader training
• Cheryl Parks (Peoria Jobs Partnership)-ministry needs
• Emmerts-baby birth expenses
• Scarboroughs, pastor training in Lebanon
• Martins (former BBC missionary)-church planted in Italy

There are always more financial needs on the mission field than we can satisfy through our regular budget. Our missionaries were not expecting this assistance, and the surprise provision was indeed a special blessing from God through you. Thank you for your faithfulness which God uses to bless others! To God be the glory.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fads and Historical Theology

I just purchased a new book from Gregg Allison entitled Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine. Designed to be a companion to Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, Allison’s book traces the historic development of selected doctrines.

Allison’s words in the introduction regarding the benefits of historical theology are helpful. I specifically found his comments regarding the protection historical theology provides against the “novel” insightful:

"Similarly, historical theology can guard Christians and churches from the penchant for the novel, the yearning for relevancy, and the tendency to follow strong leaders who are biblically and theologically shallow. Lamenting evangelicalism’s radical proneness to destabilization, Alister McGrath urged this solution: 'Rediscovering the corporate and historic nature of the Christian faith reduces the danger of entire communities of faith being misled by charismatic individuals and affirms the ongoing importance of the Christian past as a stabilizing influence in potentially turbulent times.'”
In other words, it is far too easy for Christians to be carried away by strong individuals who claim to have new and fresh insights. Allison continues:

Coining bizarre new doctrines (such as the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel), tampering with traditional doctrines (such as minimizing the need for repentance from sin as part of the response to the gospel), and following dynamic leaders who boastfully minimize the importance of sound doctrines, are exposed as dangerous developments by a consideration of what the church has historically believed—or not believed
Historical theology is a tool that the believer can use to spot the vapidity that permeates much of Evangelical thought. May we be granted protection from the tumultuous fads of contemporary Christian life and cling to the Eternal Rock, Christ Jesus our Lord.