Friday, September 30, 2005

More Mindless Travel Blogging

I never read USA Today except for when a hotel employee puts it outside my door for "free." An article in today's edition about an on-plane dating service gave me a chuckle, particularly this closing paragraph:
With airline load factors running high, Shankman acknowledges that switching seats at the gate could mean that one of the "matched" parties ends up in the loathsome middle seat.

"You're not going to go from coach to first (class) or from 34A by the bathroom to an exit row. But if you're with someone you want to talk to, it doesn't matter," says Shankman, who is unmarried. "If a beautiful woman e-mailed me and said, 'I want to sit next to you,' I would chew off my right arm to sit in 34B."
Eat your heart out, Eharmony.

P.S. I promise I will post something substantial—eventually.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

This Is Insignificant; Don't Waste Time Reading It

Just for fun, another prediction: President Bush will nominate Justice Janice Rogers Brown to fill Sandra Day O'Connor's seat on the Supreme Court by the end of the day Monday. I have a rationale for this prediction, but I won't make you read it and wish you could get those 45 seconds of your life back.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Travel Blogging

I don't do much of the "diary-blogging" stuff, but a couple things struck me on my trip west today that I just wanted to blather about for my own amusement if no one else's. First, the airline I flew on today was apparently bought out by another yesterday. So we were told when the gate attendant announced the new name to our surprise. But after sitting through various delays caused by fuel pumps that wouldn't pump, electrical glitches, and autopilot warning lights (don't they know how to fly them manually anymore?), I concluded that whatever the purchasing airline paid was, well, too much. Even if it did get to keep its own name.

A few minute ago I checked into my name-brand hotel. Most of you who travel have seen the "Reuse your towels . . . blah, blah, blah . . . water is precious, save the planet" stuff. Now my hotel feels compelled to assure me that "Your bed linens are fresh when you arrive." Did I miss something, or isn't that supposed to be understood? I had my doubts before, but the fact that this hotel thinks they have to convince me they change the sheets reminds me altogether my reaction when I hear a preacher say, "Now this is a true story . . ."

But How Did They Know It Was God's Will?

This article about why pastors change churches reveals something. I'm just not sure what. Here's the portion that perked my attention:
Ellison Research president Ron Sellers says only a small minority of pastors said they moved to another church primarily because of God's will. "Pastors are not saying that they are ignoring what God wants for them and doing whatever they want," he explains. "What we are seeing is that only 12 percent of them simply said the primary reason they moved was that God wanted them in a different place. But, at the same time, it really is a difficult balance between ministry and career." . . . On the other hand, the researcher notes, "Southern Baptists were twice as likely as average to change jobs simply because they had heard God's call and felt God's leading to move to a different church." The survey also found that Southern Baptist ministers are more likely than average to have held multiple positions over their years in the ministry.
I have to wonder exactly how some pastors "heard God's call and felt God's leading to move." I suppose they must have had peace about it. Just for fun sometime, categorize the use of the words "call," "called," and "calling" in the NT and see how many of them refer to each of: salvation, sanctification, the calling of Paul to be an apostle, the calling of a believer to a particular vocation, and the calling of a believer to vocational ministry.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Suffering and Missions

Several factors have coincided in recent weeks to cause me to reflect on the contented obesity and apathy of so many American professing Christians. One of those factors is reading Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions by John Piper. Chapter 3, "The Supremacy of God in Missions Through Suffering," has been particularly rebuking to me. Here are a few statements that were most poignant to me:
[Concerning Matthew 13:44] The extent of his sacrifice and the depth of his joy display the worth he puts on the treasure of God. Loss and suffering, joyfully accepted for the kingdom of God, show the supremacy of God’s worth more clearly in the world than all worship and prayer. (p. 71)*

The domestication of cross-bearing into coughs and cranky spouses takes the radical thrust out of Christ’s call. (p. 74)

We must not water down the call to suffer. We must not domesticate the New Testament teaching on affliction and persecution just because our lives are so smooth. (p. 76)

Christ died for us so that we would not have to die for sin, not so that we would not have to die for others . . . The call to suffer with Christ is not a call to bear our sins the way he bore them but to love the way he loved. (p. 77)

If he must, God will use the suffering of his devoted emissaries to make a sleeping church wake up and take risks for God.(p. 90)

Comfort and ease and prosperity and safety and freedom often cause a tremendous inertia in the church. (p. 95) [This quote reminded me of a comment I heard some time ago from a godly parent who had sent a child off to a Christian college who was grateful because the child was "safe and happy." The comment was well-intentioned, but I wonder if it betrays the temptation towards a subtle acceptance of a love for this world.]

God ordains suffering because through all the other reasons it displays to all the world the supremacy of His worth above all treasures . . . Suffering with joy proves to the world that our treasure is in heaven, not on earth, and that this treasure is greater than anything the world has to offer. The supremacy of God’s worth shines through the pain that his people will gladly bear for his name. (p. 99)

What proves that the giver is precious is the glad-hearted readiness to leave all his gifts to be with him. (p. 101)

God is calling us to be conduits of his grace, not cul-de-sacs. Our great danger today is thinking that the conduit should be lined with gold. It shouldn’t. Copper will do. No matter how grateful we are, gold will not make the world think that our God is good; it will make people think that our God is gold. That is no honor to the supremacy of his worth. (p. 102)

God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. And the supremacy of that glory shines most brightly when the satisfaction that we have in him endures in spite of suffering and pain in the mission of love. (p. 107)
*Page numbers taken from the second edition.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Ordinary Preaching

Yesterday afternoon I reflected on the text of the morning sermon at my church, 1 Corinthians 2:1–5. In this passage Paul seems to make two points about his approach to preaching the Gospel.

First, Paul says that he avoided oratorical and philosophical flourishes in order to maximize the knowledge of the crucified Christ. Second, he ministered to the Corinthians in weakness and without persuasive argumentation so that their faith would rest not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God alone.

I heard a second or third-hand report about a pastor who manuscripts his sermons to minimize their oratorical impact. I know him to be an unusually gifted communicator, and I have no doubt that he could leave the congregation in awe of his homiletical skills. Yet, he has made the uncommon choice to limit his persuasive powers so that the impact of the message preached will be grounded in the power of the Spirit, not in his tactical ability to "draw the net."

A MacArthur Study Bible note succinctly describes this attitude: "There were no theatrics or techniques to manipulate people's response. [Paul's] fear and shaking was because of the seriousness of his mission."

How refreshing to think of Paul's strategy to make himself so small and obscure! He seems intentionally to have minimized his own personality and apostolic authority so that they would fade in contrast to the blazing light of the glory of Christ in the gospel he preached. How at odds would Paul be with our modern concept of "power in the pulpit," which often refers more to the personality or technique of the preacher than to any sense that lasting spiritual fruit is a supernatural work of God that no human can invoke.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Sox, the Nats, and the Chaplains [or] Locker Room Access at What Price?

I read two constrasting stories over the past two days about evangelical Christianity in Major League Baseball. The Sox article is interesting and maybe even encouraging; the Nats article is disappointing but hardly surprising.

I found this section from the Sox article most interesting:
"I'm learning through Christ that I can become the kind of person I want to become," [Bill] Mueller, who also won the 2003 AL batting title, said on the DVD. "That's more fulfilling to me than any batting title or World Series."

[Trot] Nixon said in an intervew that he felt a brief sense of emptiness the day after winning the World Series because he had placed such a high priority on the achievement.

"I knew I had to put God on that pedestal [instead]," Nixon said.

Day, who also serves as chaplain for the Patriots, has seen a common theme among professional athletes who turn to God.

"Some of these guys get everything they think they always wanted in life at a young age and then find that it still leaves them a bit empty," he said. "They become more open to spiritual things and it can lead to a personal relationship with God."
Concerning the Nats article, the growing trend of punishing chaplains who affirm the exclusivity of Christ is just further evidence that the only thing American culture forbids Christians to believe is that what they believe is actually true. I wonder how many chaplains in athletics or any other venue exchange the gospel for ongoing access.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Yoga and Youth Ministry

Some folks will see this as a big problem. To them, when "a leading Christian publisher of youth ministry material" is teaching youth leaders to incorporate New Age activities into their churches in order to invite "direct experiences with God," it's a big problem.

Forgive me, but I'm not that concerned about it.

Why? Simply because I doubt that very many churches that are now committed to the sufficiency of Scripture are likely to abandon it impulsively in favor of yoga, transcendental meditation, and centering "prayers." I suspect that this sudden love for ancient exercises of "spirituality" is simply a reaction to the already-present-but-only-now-recognized emptiness in youth ministry grounded in feelings, felt needs, friends, and fun. Is yoga bad for the Church? Sure, but it's just a symptom, not the cancer itself.

I wonder if this trend is arising because young people are bright enough to figure out what their purpose-driven youth pastor is only beginning to sense—that their shepherd has no clue how to find clean, thirst-quenching water. That their shepherd only seems to find stale, putrid pools of storm run-off. That their shepherd has never learned for himself that his soul must thirst to know and worship the God of the Word, not the god conjured by the imaginations of the fallen mind. The bad news is that these New Age shepherds are only taking the sheep to another dirty puddle.

This might be a good thing. Maybe—just maybe—a few pastors will sprout some discernment when they see that some of the leaders in youth minstry are leading, but in the wrong direction. Or maybe I'm just an optimist.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Finally: The Best Bible News I've Heard This Year!

MacArthur Study Bible coming in NASB.

I hate to ask, but would the fire of gratitude be dying on the altar of my heart if I put in a request for the ESV too?

Online Directory to Discussions of Baptism and Membership

Ardel Caneday has compiled a directory to online conversations about Bethlehem Baptist's Church's move toward changing its requirements for baptism prior to church membership.

HT: Justin Taylor at Reformation 21 Blog

By the way, Caneday is the co-author with Tom Schreiner of the best book I've ever read that no one knows about—The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance. Schreiner and Caneday have given us a great gift in their thorough exegesis of biblical passages about the certainty and necessity of progressive sanctification. If you want to understand the warning passages in Hebrews and other texts, your study will be incomplete without reading this book. It's not an easy read, but it will be a worthwhile investment.

Gospel-Centered Accreditation

A tremendous amount of misinformation and confusing statements about Christian colleges and secular accreditation has been available during the past thirty years. A recent World Magazine article [free registration required] about the state of Christian colleges offers in its closing paragraphs some fresh insight in a brief discussion about accreditation.

One of the common speculations has been that schools will become dependent on accreditation and its associated benefits and lack the courage to relinquish it when the accreditation association makes demands that are incompatible with biblical faith. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College, discusses in the statement below his response to a severe problem with accreditation that his institution faced. (It is unclear whether he is referring to SBTS or Boyce, but it seems unlikely that SBTS would have had a social work program.)
Secularist accrediting agencies can also pressure a school away from its Christian identity. Mr. Mohler told about his institution's social work program. "The Council on Social Work Education is adamantly pro-homosexual and committed to 'non-judgmentalism.' That led to an impasse here, the closing of the school.
The article closes with some surprising indications of a trend within at least one accrediting agency:
“We spent years working to convince our regional accreditation agency that confessionalism allows an authentic academic experience," Mr. Mohler said. "It was so foreign to the visiting committee (in the main) that they were simply at a loss." And yet, eventually, his school did get the accreditation. As did Westminster, said Mr. Logan, after a tough battle.

Thanks in part to the church institutions that stood their ground, most accreditors have switched their approach. Today, said Mr. Logan, "they are generally more likely now to allow Christian schools to define their own missions and to evaluate those schools on the degree to which the schools can demonstrate that they are accomplishing those missions." Mr. White agreed: "My experience is that accreditation is almost always helpful."

So despite the continuing problems, it may be easier now than before, given resolute leadership, constituent support, and faculty committed to the school's Christian mission and identity, to resist the secularizing tide.
In other words, by engaging the presuppositions of the academic elites, SBTS and Westminster were able to make an effective case for the fact that genuine learning can take place in institutions that 1) believe in objective truth, and 2) believe that objective truth is grounded in the Word of God. Some might argue that this engagement is a vain attempt to gain respect and affirmation from the world. I wonder if it is not rather gospel-centered infiltration of the world—“in it, but not of it.”

My experience with secular accreditation does not make me an expert, but it is enough to allow me to offer testimony that is consistent with what Mohler and others in the World conversation said. When I served for five years on the staff at an institution in the process of acquiring secular accreditation, the heavy lifting had been completed, but the ongoing process for maintaining accreditation was in constant motion.

Reports that came back to faculty and staff from College leadership consistently demonstrated that the institution’s commitment to core theological principles surprised, impacted, and impressed accreditation agency officials, as well as leaders of other member schools. It also affected their perspective on the legitimacy of Christian education. The result was that this school was selected several years ago to participate in a pilot program for periodic review towards maintaining accreditation status. This new program increased the year-to-year responsibility for self-study reviews, but it also granted an even higher level of autonomy to the institution.

The moral of these reports is not that Christian educational institutions can legitimately gain approval from the world, but that Christian educational institutions can be uncompromising salt and light, even in the corners of the world system that are the most godless. This is gospel-centered accreditation—a Christian academic strategy that recognizes and applies the power of the gospel.

Monday, September 19, 2005


Bill Boyd, a guest writer, wrote a great editorial for the August 20th issue of World Magazine (which I finally tackled late last week). Boyd draws some comparisons between Lance Armstrong's farewell speech to the Tour and the believer's approach to worship. Here are a couple clips:
This sermon on the podium brings to mind some challenges for Christians, starting with this one: What might it look like for Christians in particular and the church in general to participate in our "religion" the way Mr. Armstrong participates in his? What kind of schedule, training, endurance, thought, and rigor might we assume in our drive to "compete well?"
Mr. Armstrong's speech illustrates the biblical truth that as humans we must worship something, and we must serve that which we worship, "worship" meaning "ascribing worth to," in an ultimate sense. Furthermore, we all know what it is like to worship and serve false gods, and we know the solution: It is only in union with the One who has worshipped and served His Father purely that we gain the security and wisdom to begin identifying and disengaging from the other "gods" in our lives.
The whole editorial is worth a read, that is, if you want your approach to worship to be challenged.

[free registration required]

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Another Senior Pastor on God-Focused Ministry

Scot Shelburne is one of the speakers at the upcoming God Focused Youth Ministry Training Conference and also serves as the senior pastor of my church, Falls Road Baptist in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. I had the opportunity to sit down and interview him to hear his perspective on God-focused ministry in a local church.

It seems as though more and more people are emphasizing the nature of the Bible as God's self-revelation, not an inspired self-help book for finding "Twelve Steps to Becoming a Better Christian" or "Five Ways to Live Like Joseph." It is especially heartening to hear it from senior pastors like Scot and Bob Bixby. Keep it comin'.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Wal-Mart Police Looters Video


My favorite quote:

Reporter: "What're you doing?"

Police: "I'm doing my job."

Reporter: "Taking shoes?"

Still More Towards a Doctrinal Hierarchy

Pyromaniac has today once again set my thoughts a-swirling, but I'm going to do something that perhaps I should do more often: shut up and keep thinking.

The Lottery Mindset

A couple weeks ago the North Carolina Senate passed legislation by means of some back room sleight-of-hand and a couple coward absentee Senators. Governor Easley wrecked three race cars in his haste to sign the bill.

Earlier this week the Rocky Mount Telegram published this brilliant comment from an anonymous caller in the "Speak Up" section of its editorial page:
I'm so glad North Carolina is finally getting a lottery. It's about time we don't have to drive all the way to Virginia [50 minutes away] to get a ticket, especially with the way gas prices are going up.

It will save people a lot of money. I think it will be great for our state.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

More Towards a Doctrinal Hierarchy

For the three people on the planet who read this blog but not Phil Johnson's, he has another worthwhile post today on developing a biblically-based hierarchy of biblical doctrine. My opinion is that Phil is dead right that this is an important issue that isn't being talked about much today and, based on his analysis of history, hasn't been talked about much in the past either. The early Fundamentalists certainly prioritized doctrine, but it seems as though they intended mostly to respond to the immediate battles they faced with modernism, rather than to articulate a broad hierarchy of doctrine.

My knee-jerk inclination in the past has been to prioritize biblical truth based on its proximity to the gospel, but that is nothing more than a personal working hypothesis. Perhaps a substantially brighter Paleoevangelical than I should write a biblical theology of doctrinal priority.

BJU in the Roberts Hearings

Read the full text here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Towards a Doctrinal Hierarchy

This kind of thinking is necessary. I'm still chewing on these particular thoughts myself, but I'm glad to see this kind of analysis. It seems far too easy to find examples of the binary thinking and the non-thinking that Phil Johnson refers to in these paragraphs:
Some rather extreme fellows have begun a quasi-Christian cult located not far from where I live, and they actually teach that all truth is primary and every disagreement is worth fighting about and ultimately dividing over if agreement cannot be reached. Either agree with them on everything, or you are going to hell.

Others—equally extreme—argue, in effect, that "truth" isn't primary at all; relationships are, and therefore no proposition or point of truth is ever worth arguing about with another professing Christian. The latter position is gaining adherents at a frightening pace.
"Going to hell" might be a bit of a stretch, but replace those words with "a disobedient brother" and it begins to sound familiar.

9Marks Near Detroit

If you've heard a little about Mark Dever and 9Marks Ministries and would like to find out a lot more, Cornerstone Baptist Church in Roseville, Michigan, is hosting a 9Marks seminar at its 2005 Builders Conference in late October. Don Whitney is also speaking, as well as another SBTS professor with whom I am not familiar. CBC Senior Pastor Robert Johnson is a DBTS alumnus.

If you have no idea who these people are, it's still a can't-miss at just $25 to register. If you are want to be challenged in your thinking about healthy churches, I suspect you will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

More on God-Focused Parenting

Here's some great teaching from Buff Powers, senior pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church in Sussex, Wisconsin and former pastor to my brother, sister, and brother-in-law. It sure seems as though there is a growing trend in God-centered preaching and teaching. Perhaps it's just my experience or the availability of sermons on the web.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Don't Waste Time on This Post If Your Church Is Healthy

Every now and then I have no qualms recommending a book without having read it. Check out Tim Challies' book review of The Deliberate Church.

Pick Your Poison

Which is worse: homosexual marriage or heterosexual divorce?

If we were to judge by the furor that has arisen in recent months among evangelical churches, it is clear that the answer would be the former. I'm not convinced.

Divorce has largely been accepted in evangelical churches. It is accommodated, not confronted. Few churches even in the most fundamental circles practice church discipline when members divorce. Far more typically, they merely drift away, cease to attend, and are quietly relegated to the "inactive" roll. Churches admit divorced individuals into membership with little consideration for whether they have repented of personal sin that led to the divorce or fulfilled their responsibility to seek reconciliation with their former spouses.

Professing Christians have paved the way for the breakdown of the biblical view of marriage by their cavalier participation in or acceptance of divorce in "Christian" church culture.

Still, somehow, churches and even denominations that could not be bothered during the past century to fight for the inerrancy of Scripture, the deity of Christ, or any of a plethora of other core doctrines of the faith, now rise up in horror to combat homosexual marriage.

Forgive me if I conclude that their disgust is based more on the "yuck factor" than on any shred of loyalty to God and His Word.

I must concede that I do know divorced individuals whom I would consider to have been the "innocent party," at the very least in the sense that they attempted to resolve marriage problems biblically. I cannot conceive of an innocent party in a homosexual marriage.

Still, let's not pretend that the battle over homosexual marriage is the place to take our stand. Our walls were breached long ago. The battle that still rages in American culture is over which defender of the Alamo will be the last to die.

The bright side is that Christians do not battle for "American culture." That is not our aim. Our objective is more like purity and godliness. Any hope for change must begin with a radical transformation of our churches. Physician, stop trusting in the next great political candidate or Supreme Court Justice, and heal thyself.

Lest Tin Cans Be Tied

A few years back a friend and I were talking with an authority-type figure about how John MacArthur's Ashamed of the Gospel shredded the ecumenical idea and the church-growth movement. We were told in response that MacArthur had been one of the signees to the Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) document and surely could not be relied upon to take a strong stand. By the grace of God and the power of Google, that allegation was quickly debunked. But I wondered how many people heard such a rumor and assumed it was true.

The fact that some folks have now been saying that John MacArthur has been going fuzzy on Mormonism is news to me. But just in case you have heard or eventually do hear such nonsense, read these three posts from Phil Johnson for the real story.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Fussball-Weltmeisterschaft Deutschland 2006!

With a 2-0 victory over Mexico, the USA is now one of just nine countries to have secured its place in World Cup 2006. With three games left in qualification, there is a vast difference from 2001 qualification, when the USA went into the final three games on a losing streak and in real danger of failing to qualify. This is really a tremendous feat for American soccer, not only to qualify, but also to continue to replace Mexico as the dominant soccer force in North and Central America. Perhaps the most amazing fact is that the USA was the third country in the world to earn qualification, with Argentina qualifying in June and Ukraine beating out the USA for second by only a few hours.

This is the fifth consecutive World Cup for which the USA has qualified (not counting 1994 since the USA gained automatic entry as the host). Anbody want to take a stab at the eight other countries in the world that have existing streaks of this length or greater? Hint: one of the countries' names ends in "razil," and another ends in "ermany."

True fanatics like me will enjoy the post-match celebration with a victory speech from Bruce Arena.

You can watch another great game tonight at 10:00 on ESPN2 from a hostile venue in Guatemala as the Guatemalans are in the middle of a dogfight for a remaining World Cup spot.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

9/6 Update: Gospel-Centered Hurricane Relief

Morning Star Baptist Church is getting its hands dirty.

I'm glad many churches have been quick to consider how they might contribute financially, but I sense in my own heart that, for me at least, writing a check is an easy way out—a simple, relatively painless way to salve my conscience.

The Morning Star approach is more radical. It strikes me as more like following Christ—not just contributing to His ministry.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

9/3 Update: Gospel-Oriented Hurricane Relief

Two new sources of gospel-oriented efforts:

Morning Star Baptist Church

Referrals at SharperIron

A friend on the East Coast and I are investigating heading down to help sometime in the next couple weeks. If you're in the VA/NC area and are looking for a way to lend a hand, drop me a note.


Forget about Army-Navy, Cowboys-Redskins, Yankees-Red Sox, and Auburn-Alabama. Outside of a certain Midwestern college football game that happens every November in Columbus or Ann Arbor, there is no sports rivalry in the Western Hemisphere like USA vs. Mexico. I know Truth and Justice will probably flap his yap about some Seminole-Hurricane garbage, and Paul will dutifully chime in about soccer being sissy, but friends, I'll let them wallow in mire of their own ignorance.

Watch it tonight. 7:30 eastern on ESPN Classic or Telemundo. The World Cup is on the line. Win and we're in.

P.S. Don't post results, please, since I won't get to watch it until tomorrow.

Friday, September 02, 2005

A Picture Cannot Compare to These Thousand Words

Watching the images and hearing the stories from New Orleans this week has given me as graphic a picture of Deuteronomy 28:47-68 as I hope I ever see. I'm not implying in any way that this disaster is divine judgment, but I am absolutely saying that this manifestation of natural evil pales in comparison to the full force of the vials of His wrath.

This May I heard Mark Dever preach from this passage and its broader context. It pierced my heart then, and it did again this week. You can access it here.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

9/1 Update: Gospel-Centered Relief

These images from are simply stunning.

I will continue to keep my ears open for gospel-centered relief efforts. I've heard about numerous churches that have been devastated, and in no way do I want to minimize the need for the Church universal to offer aid to their rebuilding efforts. My specific objective is to offer links to churches that will be combining their relief efforts with some specific offer of the gospel. To this point, the only one of which I'm aware is First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, Mississippi, pastored by Ligon Duncan. He describes his church's obstacles and their plans to distribute Bibles to displaced families.

Other suggestions are welcome, but I won't assume that because a group is sending aid that they they are necessarily engaging in gospel-centered activities.