27 May 2010

Vietnamese-American Congressman Answers Hanoi

Representative Joseph Cao was approached by the embassy from Hanoi to
help fix up things between the VN-American community and Viet Nam. Here
is his reply to them.

Here is more info on Congressman Cao- http://josephcao.house.gov/Biography/

26 May 2010

Too Much Information

How in the world does one keep up with all the (good) information being posted on all those blogs? It's not like most of it is a waste of time. Now, if you look at the entire spectrum of blogs, yes, most of it IS a waste of time. But I'm talking about the dozen or so blogs that I follow, because almost everything that appears there is useful, good information and opinion.

I guess one can't keep up with it all. Even all the really good stuff. But that doesn't mean we should throw up our hands and walk away. I suppose the best choice right now is to pick the five to ten very best, follow them, keep the ears and eyes open for new stuff that is gold, and follow these.

This is nuts, sometimes.

24 May 2010

Community in the Church

I ran across this quote in Mark Driscoll’s blog today-

“If you’re cause-oriented, you get affinity. All the people who agree with you come together. If you’re Christ-oriented, people who disagree on a whole lot of things, they come together. That’s actual community. What passes for community in our day is pretty much affinity. Everybody like me hangs out and does what I like. Community is people totally unlike me, who don’t have much in common with me, come together with me, because we’re Christ-centered.” (M Driscoll, http://theresurgence.com/weird_teams_are_the_best_teams )

I’ve noted that oftentimes, people who go to church together don’t really like each other, at least socially, if not literally.  They don’t hang out together, don’t run in the same social circles, and generally have very little in common.  Not being ‘like’ other church members is to be expected in a biblical church…after all, we don’t get to choose our fellow believers in the body of Christ (Acts 2:42; 13:48).  God appoints the members of the body, and funny thing, he doesn’t always choose the way we would!

Now, I understand completely how a church of hundreds or thousands of members cannot all do the same stuff together very often.  Even Sunday School classes are sometimes too big to be socially active on a regular basis.  But does anyone besides me see a problem with ‘never’?  In other words, shouldn’t members of the body of Christ do some social things together on occasion?  (I’m not talking about church functions, or even socials put together around a SS class or group…these things are good, and we should do them…but I’m talking about strictly personal, social functions.)  If we don’t, how are we ever going to get involved in each others’ lives?

That's one of the problems with Arminian theology...we tend to convince those who are like us (look like us, act like us, hang out with us, etc.).  We don't seem to be very convincing to those who don't look like us or think like us.  That's one reason why the evangelical church in America is so demographically homogeneous.  If we approached evangelism in a scriptural way, knowing that God was going to do all the 'convincing' (that is, regeneration and saving faith), I think the church would look more like the culture in terms of ethnicity.  I know I'm imposing a bit of statistical constraint on God's work, and I don't mean to do that...what I'm trying to get at is the fact that scripture talks about people of every tongue and every nation being part of the elect, and most every tongue and every nation is represented right here in the good ole USA.

This brings me back again to a fellow churchmember's comment a few weeks ago about us as individuals and families living out our Christian calling…in my mind, we should live it out together, in community.  In the 8th grade bible study group that my wife and I host at our house on Sunday nights, we’ve leaned heavily on the kids to meld together as a peer group to support each other when temptation comes during their upcoming high school years.  I strongly believe in positive peer pressure (because I’ve seen it work so positively in my life).  It is interesting that we tell this to our youth, but don’t seem to model it for them as well as we could.

This isn’t meant as a criticism…I know some folks run the race well, with fellow believers around them at critical times.  Women seem better at this than men.  Men have a hard time making the kind of friendships that women make (who knows?).  Throw in the apparent tension of the call to live outside our church network (get into the lost community, right?), and the balance is difficult to strike.  But it needs to be struck.

19 May 2010

Trivialization of Sin

One of the biggest problems of moralistic, therapeutic deism (or MTD, on which I've written in the past) is its engulfing power to trivialize our sin.  One of the key findings, if you read the book of Hebrews, is the danger of trivializing sin.  Sin was a big deal in the garden, it was a big deal in the Old Testament, it was a big deal at the time of Christ, but in recent days it has been turned into anything other than a big deal.  It has been called quite a few things less than it is, including a bad habit, an addiction, and even 'the way God made me'.  I can't think of a more egregious bit of blasphemy, but it is a common bit these days.

The answer isn't necessarily found in the fundamentalist/liberal dichotomy (as if that were an accurate description in the first place).  Fundamentalism reduces sin to certain behaviors.  Sin is what those other people do. Liberalism reduces sin to social structures (what others aren't doing).  Spiritualism reduces God to something inside us that simply needs enlightened, so that there is no such thing as sin, only 'inner darkness'.

Christian Smith (UNC, now at Notre Dame), came up with the term, MTD.  He has now published a follow-up to his 2005 book, called 'Souls in Transition'.  (Buy it here- http://fwd4.me/P0t ).  It looks at where they (the subjects of the 2001-2005 study) are now.  The statistics are fascinating, though too numerous to list here.  For a good overview, watch/listen to Michael Horton's speech at this years Christless Christianity: 2010 West Coast Conference, called Moralistic & Therapeutic Deism.  It can be found here-


This doctrine is the natural fallout of the idea that people are inherently good and the American corollary, "God helps those who help themselves."  (A majority of evangelicals thought that was a verse from the bible in a recent Barna survey.)  The problem is, it trivializes sin to the utmost.  Failure to preach about sin is pastoral cruelty (C Fitzsimmons Allison).  Eliminating sin by eliminating a holy God (which is what MTD does) is more than that, it is spiritual malpractice.  One of Smith's findings was, the more a person attended an evangelical church or youth group, the more likely they were to embrace MTD.  That's an ugly picture of what is happening in many of our churches and youth groups today.

When you hear sin depersonalized (it doesn't hurt anyone else, it's just a problem to your self-esteem), generalized (not a specific act, just a set of feelings or depression, etc.), and deflected to outsiders (those other people 'out there'), you know you are hearing MTD.  2 Tim. 3:2-5 is the biblical response to this kind of thinking.  Flee.

[Note:  I have not received any compensation for mentioning the book or the video above.]

15 May 2010

Creeds, Creedalism, and the Church in the 21st Century

I strongly believe that the Bible is our primary and authoritative source for theological information.  I also strongly believe that statements of faith (creeds, but that’s a bad word in Baptist circles, unfortunately) are important tools in studying the bible, sharing the gospel, and making disciples.

A creed is simply a concise statement of what one (or one’s group) believes.  It is a miniature systematic theology.  The church found creeds to be essential by the 4th century AD, and has used them effectively for the past 1600 years.  The only time things go wrong is when the creeds become the foundation rather than a reflection of scripture.  I don’t think that will be a problem in a 21st-century Baptist church.  In fact, even mentioning them to a few particular folks can get one run out of town on a rail.

Without creeds, things go awry in a hurry.  Just look at the drift of the SBC in the first half of the 20th century when ‘creedalism’ was a bad word through the convention.  In fact, the reformation doctrine of “the priesthood of all believers” was corrupted into what you now hear from many Baptists as, “the priesthood of the believer”, wherein they think any individual believer has the right and ability to interpret scripture apart from apostolic teaching, church history, or elder guidance.  I’ve had it thrown in my face in my own church.  Here's what Timothy George had to say about it-

"The priesthood of all believers was a cardinal principle of the Reformation of the 16th century. It was used by the reformers to buttress an evangelical understanding of the church over against the clericalism and sacerdotalism of medieval Catholicism. In modern theology, however, the ecclesial context of this Reformation principle has been almost totally eclipsed. For example, in the current SBC debate on the issue, both sides have referred (uncritically) to the "priesthood of the believer." The reformers talked instead of the "priesthood of all believers" (plural). For them it was never a question of a lonely, isolated seeker of truth, but rather of a band of faithful believers united in a common confession as a local, visible congregatio sanctorum."

When I talk about church history and elder guidance, I'm not envisioning a teaching magisterium or even an inerrant body of teaching from the mother church.  I'm envisioning the spirit-led and God-gifted men (and women) throughout the history of the church who have kept the church on the straight and narrow in the midst of heresies and movements that tried to drag her away.  Whether that be Aurelius Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, or Spurgeon, these men have been mightily used of God in keeping secularism, Pelagianism, and other falsehoods from dragging the church off-course.  While scripture is authoritative, the writings of these men are valuable resources in how the scriptures are interpreted and applied in an orthodox manner.
So a systematic approach to bible study is warranted in the culture of the SBC, I think.  J. I. Packer, in a recent Modern Reformation article, says it thusly- “It has often been said that Christianity in North America is 3,000 miles wide and half an inch deep. Something similar is true, by all accounts, in Africa and Asia, and (I can testify to this) in Britain also. Worshipers in evangelical churches, from the very young to the very old, and particularly the youth and the twenty- and thirty-somethings, know far less about the Bible and the faith than one would hope and than they themselves need to know for holy living. This is because the teaching mode of Christian communication is out of fashion, and all the emphasis in sermons and small groups is laid on experience in its various aspects. The result is a pietist form of piety, ardent and emotional, in which realizing the reality of fellowship with the Father and the Son is central while living one’s life with Spirit-given wisdom and discernment is neglected both as a topic and as a task. In the Western world in particular, where Christianity is marginalized and secular culture dismisses it as an ideological has-been, where daily we rub shoulders with persons of other faiths and of no faith, and where within the older Protestant churches tolerating the intolerable is advocated as a requirement of justice, versions of Christianity that care more for experiences of life than for principles of truth will neither strengthen churches nor glorify God.”

What is Packer’s answer to this?  Teaching of the truth of the gospel, of course!  He says, “The well-being of Christianity worldwide for this twenty-first century directly depends, I am convinced, on the recovery of what has historically been called catechesis—that is, the ministry of systematically teaching people in and coming into our churches the sinew-truths that Christians live by, and the faithful, practical, consistent way for Christians to live by them. During the past three centuries, catechesis as defined has shrunk, even in evangelical churches, from an all-age project to instruction for children and in some cases has vanished altogether. As one who for half a century has been attempting an essentially catechetical ministry by voice and pen, I long for the day when in all our churches systematic catechesis will come back into its own.”

I agree. 

I think this is one of the more important  answers to why we lose so much of our youth (I’m speaking of the church at large) when they leave for college.  Those statistics are appalling.  I also know that catechesis done in a dry and non-community environment will lead nowhere for most people.  It is essential it is done in a faith-community environment where people have each other’s ‘six’ and are willing to live out the truths they learn by giving of themselves and by service to both their brothers and the lost. 

This all comes back to basic Christian living…we as individuals and families need to live out the Christian life apart from church programming as well as within it, and we’ll find an amazing connection to our culture suddenly appear that we didn’t know was there.  The bible study, catechism, systematic theology, or whatever you call it (centered on the gospel, of course) is the foundation for living that life, and the actions and service, primarily the preaching and teaching of the word,  will be the means that God uses to bring the elect into His presence.

I’m looking forward to re-reading the book of Acts with an eye toward how the early church engaged their culture.  If I recall from the last time I read it, there’s a whole bunch of individuals sharing the gospel with other individuals, and not a lot of church-organized events and formal programs which lean on a professional pastorate to do the evangelization for the church.  And primarily, there was a tremendous dependence of all Christians to rely on the holy spirit to turn the hearts of the converts, rather than convincing them with methods and amusements, and this dependence was most faithfully demonstrated by an active and fervent prayer life among the believers.  And it was effected by sharing the gospel, which consisted of God’s judgment on sin, our hopelessness in sin, and God’s provision in Christ (all shared using the Old Testament, of course).

14 May 2010

Contextualizing Randall County- What is Our Culture?

Because of the discussions recently with a group meeting at my church (Once-a-month-Lunch Group), I’ve been doing some thinking about how we can contextualize where FBC is in relation to our culture, which is Randall County and more specifically, the city of Canyon and surrounding subdivisions.

It hasn’t been easy, and in doing research, there’s a lot more out there about cultures like Mark Driscoll’s (Seattle, one of the most secular cultures in the world) than cultures like this county and city.  I did manage to find one, a short video on YouTube by Matt Chandler, about the context he works in in the Fort Worth area, which church-wise, is similar to our own, even though economically and demographically, it is much different.  Take a look at the video and notice the parallels, and how we address them as a church and as individuals sharing the gospel.

I’ve heard about all the unchurched people in Randall County, but I’ve disagreed, both semantically and practically, with the way the term is used and the numbers are reported.  The terms I’ve used (and prefer) instead of ‘unchurched’ are de-churched and dys-churched.  By de-churched, I mean folks who at one time went to church, were possibly church members, but for whatever reasons, left the church and don’t attend or participate anymore.  By dys-churched, I mean folks who left church under bad circumstances, such as felt lik they were no longer believers, had a bad life experience and blamed God, bought into agnosticism or athiesm, or even were run out of church (rightly or wrongly) by other church members.

I think Matt addresses this problem in his video, but I don’t think he gives us as many answers as we need.  How does one address a culture inoculated against the gospel?

12 May 2010

With the Old Breed

The recent series on HBO called, The Pacific has generated new (and deserved) interest in the war in the Pacific Theatre during WWII. While I've heard of a few complaints from former marines over the poetic license taken during production of The Pacific, I've never heard anyone say the books on which the series is based have any problems with the way it was.

The series is based mainly on two books: Helmet For My Pillow by Robert Leckie, and With the Old Breed by E. B. Sledge.  I read Helmet back in high school, and it was a good book.  I didn't get around to Old Breed until just this year.  If you haven't read it, it is a must-read.  It is no-holds-barred in the way it tells of the life of a US Marine during the battles of Pelileu and Okinawa.  Sledge wrote a sequel, China Marine, a few years after the war detailing the rest of his time in the Corps.  Pick it up as well.

The Pacific won't ever be as good as Band of Brothers for various reasons, but the books on which it is based are...read them.

11 May 2010

Tullian's Blog

As I explore various blogs on the internet, I find most of them to be of little interest, but occasionally run across one that seems to be seeking me out. You'll find links to the blogs I love in the sidebar of this page.

One of the more recent blogs I've found is the one written by Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida. (By the way, I admire him for the simple reason it took him a lot more effort to learn to spell his name in kindergarten that it took me.)

Recently, he's been talking about who we are in Christ, and more specifically, what we have as opposed to what we have to seek out and find. Here's what he said a few days ago-

"I used to think Christian growth happened as we go out and get what we don’t have–if we’re going to grow we have to go out and get more patience, get more strength, get more joy, etc. But after reading the Bible more carefully I’ve learned that Christian growth does not happen by working hard to get something you don’t have; Christian growth happens by working hard to live in the reality of what you do have.

You could say that Christian growth does not happen first by behaving better, but believing better–believing in bigger, deeper, brighter ways what Christ has already secured for sinners. In other words, the hard work of sanctification that Paul talks about in Philippians 2:12 is a continuous, daily going back to the reality of your justification."

That's a great look at what the Christian life is, and how we often fail to understand it, working hard to get what we don't have instead of working hard to live in what we do. Then, just today, he posted this tidbit about the gospel-

"The gospel isn’t simply a set of truths that non-Christians must believe in order to become saved. It’s a reality that Christians must daily embrace in order to experience being saved. The gospel not only saves us from the penalty of sin (justification), but it also saves us from the power of sin (sanctification) day after day. Or, as John Piper has said, “The cross is not only a past place of objective substitution; it is a present place of subjective execution.” Our daily sin requires God’s daily grace—the grace that comes to us through the finished work of Jesus Christ."

I've been saying that the gospel is for the church, not just the lost. Pastor Tullian says it a lot better than I have been (with a little help from John Piper, who's blog you'll also find listed in the sidebar). This quote will certainly turn up in my SS lesson in the next couple weeks.

10 May 2010

Sundays Coming- the Movie Trailer

OK, this one is too funny to miss...a vimeo satire of the extreme relevance movement that is a riot-


Make sure you read the 'awards' on the closing title page.