28 July 2010

Another Holocaust: North Korea

I'm not sure why God has put North Korea on my heart lately, but he has.  It started with references to the Christians there, coming out of hiding in 1950, when US forces marched north toward the Yalu River.  When we were pushed back late that year, these believers were forced back into hiding.  Who knows how many suffered and died under the hands of their oppressors, some 'ratted out' by their neighbors in order to gain favor with the communist authorities.

Richard Land has written a good article on the problem here-

http://www.christianpost.com/article/20100728/we-must-not-be-silent-on-north-korea/index.html

It doesn't cover all the details, but gives a good introduction to the problem.  Please pray for the liberation of these people, many of whom are Christian, and all of whom are suffering and need the gospel proclaimed openly in their land.

24 July 2010

Just Found Out I'm Preaching in Two Weeks

I was just asked to preach to an unusual group on Sunday, August 15th.  My church sponsors a worship service on Sunday mornings out at the Palo Duro Canyon campgrounds, and I get to be the speaker that day.

I don't know what scripture passage I'll speak on, and will be praying about it.  I'm betting it will have something to do with the gospel!

Wish me providence.

22 July 2010

Taking Care of the Screeners

Here's a job I bet most of us didn't know existed- internet content screener.  Maybe you did know, but like me, assumed it was a one- or two-person job in the offices of the bigger content hosting companies, like Facebook, MySpace, etc.  Try four-and-a-half MILLION images per day.  Not a two-person job.  And this is mostly just user-flagged content.

This article in the NY Times (no, I don't read the Times...I found a link to it) describes one company that takes on outsourcing for screening of internet content posted by users.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/19/technology/19screen.html?_r=4&src=me&ref=technology

What a job.  These folks look at photos, articles, stories, and any other content posted to sites like MySpace to detect illegal material or material contrary to the rules of the site (which are usually focused around what is legal).  I can't imagine all the skubalon they must look at each day.  The article goes into detail about how it affects these workers psychologically.

I don't see this problem getting any better.  How can we control such a beast as the internet?  It is basically a platform for viewing the imaginations of (almost) everybody in the world, and there are some sick dudes (and dude-ettes) out there.  Just how much control do you think we'll ever have over something as large as the internet, considering the radical corruption of man, the critter who created it (sorry Al Gore) and keeps it stocked with images and words that feed the beast?


As G. K. Chesterton said, total depravity is the one thing from scripture that can be empirically proven.  Here's the database- the internet.

19 July 2010

The Prescience View of Salvation

For much of my life, I believed what is called by theologians the 'Prescience' or 'Prescient' view of salvation.  It was explained to me as a youth (around age 14, if I recall), and I just accepted it without much thought.

Funny how things change when we learn that for every doctrine we accept, we learn there is a set of assumptions that go along with the doctrine.  We buy the assumptions when we buy the doctrine.  (Sort of a metaphysical buy-one-get-one-free deal.)  Often, upon hearing these assumptions and their implications, people will just dismiss them out-of-hand so as to not have to deal with them.  I've heard this said directly to me in my adult Sunday School class ("I think its both", referring in this case to particular redemption versus universal redemption).  When this happens, the implications of the dismissed assumptions are not considered (they can't be considered, or the logical inconsistencies will drive one away from the held doctrine, or drive one crazy trying to synthesize them).

So what is this thing I believed that I no longer believe?  First, what its not- it isn't a rejection of the biblical doctrine of election (as some have tried to make it out to be).  What it does though is change how 'election' is defined.  The prescience view of salvation basically says that, yes, there is an elect, and God pre-destined the elect to salvation by looking down the corridors of time and seeing who would freely choose Him, then as a result of that choice, electing that person to eternal life.  Seems simple.  Makes sense, on the surface, and preserves our cherished 'free will'.

But there is a serious problem with the view, and with what it implies.  (Those nasty assumptions we buy with the doctrine again...).

Here's the problem-  scripture teaches very clearly that no one, unless God regenerates their hearts and allows them, can 'choose Christ' on their own.  Start with John 6:65.  Throw in John 6:44, John 3, Romans 9, especially Romans 9:15-16, John 15:16, Ephesians 1:3-12, and so on (I could cite a bunch more, but I'd have to drag out some references as these are the ones I can remember right now).  Fallen man has not lost his ability to make choices (liberium arbitrium), but he has indeed lost his liberty (libertas).  We choose what we want, and outside of Christ, God is the last thing we want.  So in effect, if God looked down the corridors of time, what He would see would be that no one would choose him of their own free will.  Thus Romans 3:10-11.   This would throw a serious wooden shoe (sabot) into the whole idea of election, wouldn't it?  After all, if there was no one to elect, what is a non-sovereign God to do?  (Yes, that's where we get the word sabotage, from the old expression about throwing a shoe into the machine.)  I've heard this idea expressed this way in the past- 'God's sovereignty ends at our free will.'  Proponents of this view say that God would never interfere in the free will of a creature He loves and force that creature to change its mind.  Do you see the problem with this idea?

The bottom line assumption that comes with the prescience view is that in the end, if God looks at man's choice to determine what His will would be, then ultimately man, and not God, is sovereign.  I can't live in that world, and I hope any thinking Christian will come quickly to the same conclusion about God's sovereignty.  (And by the way, why would anyone who holds the stated view above ever bother to pray for a lost friend or family member?  After all, if God won't intervene and change the lost person's heart, why bother?  It is only knowing that God remains sovereign over salvation that we can pray for the lost with the faith to know that God does indeed intervene in the human heart to bring fallen people to him...see John 6:44.)

What do I believe now?  I believe in the sovereign view of election.  As Romans 9:10-16 says, election is God's choice, not based on anything we do, but based solely on His good pleasure.  The best picture of this in the New Testament is the story of the raising of Lazarus, but I'll save that for another article.

17 July 2010

Feds Shut Down Host with 73,000 Blogs

This is chilling-

http://torrentfreak.com/u-s-authorities-shut-down-wordpress-host-with-73000-blogs-100716/

The federal government has shut down a web host that hosted seventy-three thousand blogs.  Kinda makes the constitution look like a joke, doesn't it?  I can't wait to see what they offer as an excuse for 'due process' on this one.

16 July 2010

MacArthur Study Bible in ESV, Soon

One of my favorite study bibles for a number of years has been the MacArthur Study Bible.  It has been traditionally available in the NASB and NKJV versions.  I have a couple copies of the NKJV version (one I keep at work, one at home).  MacArthur's notes are conservative, evangelical, reformed, and aimed at helping the reader understand the passage in a way that is meaningful to personal application rather than a dry, academic approach.  Certainly, Dr. MacArthur has the academic credentials to write a set of notes aimed at academics, but he doesn't do that here, and the value of the study notes is exponentially higher to the non-seminary-educated reader.

I got my first ESV bible about 10 years ago, and immediately took a liking to it.  Over time, I've come to appreciate the version even more...it is an essentially literal word-for-word translation (it has "all the words", as John Piper spins it).  It is written in contemporary English without losing the high nature of certain parts of scripture.  In the past couple years, many new versions have become available, such as the comprehensive ESV Study Bible (a great tool, especially if you like carrying around a BIG bible), and the Reformation Study Bible (edited by R. C. Sproul), which is my main carry-to-church-every-Sunday bible.

Now, they are putting the two (ESV and MacArthur) together.  The bibles are due out at the end of August, but you can pre-order them from amazon.com, or christianbook.com, where I pre-ordered mine.  (I got the brown with woodcut design cover).  I'm very excited to get this tool, but it will be interesting trying to decide which one to carry to church (MacArthur or Sproul).

14 July 2010

The Truth of the Cross (book review)

I'm always on the lookout for a certain type of book- a book that explains the gospel (or critical parts of it) that isn't overly scholarly, isn't too simplified, and most of all, is short enough that someone who wasn't planning to read a book like that would choose to read it upon request.

R. C. Sproul's name comes up automatically in such a search, as he has empirically shown over 40-plus years that he has a gift of making difficult and controversial topics simple and understandable.  The effect of his ministry on my own life is hard to measure, as his books and audio/video sermons and conference messages have increased both my understanding of and love for the gospel, the bible in general, and evangelism as a whole.

When I saw this book become available, I quickly requested a PDF copy from Ligonier.org for review.  (FCC note:  the publisher provided me with a free copy of the book for review purposes; no other benefit or payment was or is forthcoming).  I wanted to know if this book fit the bill as a book I could hand to folks who don't have a good understanding of need for the substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross (whether new believers or old ones who really haven't heard much gospel preached in their lives).

It does.

The book is short (167 pages), has a lot of good stuff in it, and is accessable by the new believer.  Anyone with a high-school education can understand it, as the more complex theological arguments are, typical of Dr. Sproul, made accessible in terms and word-pictures that are easy to understand.  There are nine chapters plus a chapter at the end called, 'Questions and Answers'.  I have learned over time that the Q&A sessions at the Ligonier (and other) conferences can be some of the best teaching times, so the Q&A chapter in the book is particularly helpful.  And, Dr. Sproul is really at his best when dialoging one-on-one with students.

In chapter one, 'The Necessity of an Atonement' Dr. Sproul moves the reader's view of the cross from a religious symbol to a necessary response to the seriousness of sin (that we usually underemphasize).  He describes the three basic views of historic Christian theology (Pelagianism, Semi-pelagianism, and Augustinianism) and how the mindset found in each pre-determines one's view of the cross. 

In chapter two, 'The Just God' Sproul talks about the holiness of God and how it would be unjust (and therefore un-God-like) for God to ignore sin rather than deal with it.

Chapter three talks about our place (nature) in the debate about sin, and Dr. Sproul uses his idea of Cosmic Treason that he has developed previously to describe the seriousness of sin before God.

Chapters four and five describe Christ as a ransom and a substitute (respectively).  Here the importance of substitutionary atonement is developed.

Chapter six is on the humanity of Christ, and the importance to us of his perfect, sinless obedience to God. Without this, his substitution wouldn't mean much to us.

Chapter seven, 'The Suffering Servant' is a development of the old testament view of the messiah. It ties together the two testaments and serves to show the plan of God from the beginning was a salvation by faith alone.

Chapter eight is on the crucifixion itself.  Importantly, Sproul points out the curse of God, not the pain of the cross itself, should be the focus of the passion event.  Many people were crucified in this era, but only one suffered the full wrath of God at the same time.

Chapter nine is on the limited nature of the atonement (how the atonement applies to the elect).  Sproul does an excellent job of communicating that the atonement wasn't a potential atonement actuated by the sinner, but an actual atonement initiated by the savior.

In summary, I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for an overview of the cross and its meaning to the Christian and not wanting a highly technical, seminary-intended-audience coverage of the subject.  I've never given a bad review to an R. C. Sproul-authored book, and this one is no exception.  I've bought several to hand to folks who are interested. I'll probably make an outline of it for a series of Sunday School lessons for my adult SS class; it is small enough and inexpensive enough to be purchased as 'notes' for such a study. You won't be disappointed in this book.

Five stars.

.

12 July 2010

Update on my Kid Pitching in the World Series

I didn't know that I'd be so proud of my son given that they didn't win the championship.  They finished second in the tournament.  My son, Will, pitched all seven innings of the championship game, and (while I wasn't able to be there) I was told he pitched well enough to win, notwithstanding the umpire's bad calls.

Sounds like a usual blame-it-on-the-umpire story from a whining loser, again, doesn't it?

This one is a bit different.  Shortly after both of my son's coaches were ejected, the tournament director was brought over to the game.  The onfield drama continued, with faux balks called and all.  There were at least four put-outs at first base where the umpire ruled the first baseman's foot was ruled 'off the bag'.  But the clincher was what happened immediately after the game.  Apparently, the tournament director fired the umpire on the spot (he was not allowed to call any additional games and was told to leave the complex).  The director then re-instated the two coaches, and the USSSA director apologized to the fans and coaches for the fiasco. 

I have to say, I've never seen that happen before, even where I was convinced the umpire was evil (the evil umpire...ha ha).  Too late for the kids involved, but at least 'blue' was held accountable, which doesn't happen very often.

Life's not fair...and baseball is remarkably good at teaching life's lessons to boys and girls.  In spite of the frustrations, I highly recommend youth baseball for most kids.

11 July 2010

In the Mean Time: Being a Church Member between Pastors

The Pastor of my church, Dr. David Lowrie, recently resigned to take the pastorate of First Baptist Church in El Paso, Texas. Dr. Lowrie was an excellent pastor, a very good preacher who preached the gospel instead of the other nonsense that some churches have to put up with these days, and a good leader (he is the current president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas).

That means a couple things: we will have a mish-mash of fill-in pastors for a while, then, if we are a good little congregation, we'll get an interim pastor until a new one is found and called. According to some stats I've heard (second hand) that come from Nashville, a church should have an interim for 2 months per year that the last pastor was in residence. Since Dr. Lowrie was here for 9 years, that means, if we follow the rules, we'll have an interim for about 18 months. I'm hoping we can cut that short.

What do we garden-variety laypersons do in the mean time? In my experience, a group of us will use the excuse to leave the church for the next cool thing in town. Another group will pull strings and play politics and try to get involved with the pastor search committee and have some say in who the next pastor is. A few will just fade into the background and not really do much of anything.  Worst of all, a few will talk bad about people or things and cause some trouble.  As Kevin DeYoung said in his 2010 NEXT conference talk, the Church is the bride of Christ, so why are there so many people who want to *diss Jesus' girlfriend?*

Here's what I think (and wish) we would all do-

(1) We should pray daily for the man God has planned for our church.
(2) We should pray daily that the man God is calling to us will be gospel-centered.
(3) We should continue to serve where we've been serving.
(4) We should 'pick up the slack' in personal ministry where we see a need.

Here's what I think (and hope) we should NOT do-

(1) We should not be busybodies with the search committee and try to give input that isn't needed or welcome (those of us who prayed for the search committee know there's a reason God did not see fit to have us on that committee).
(2) We should not try to change the nature of our church in the interim time...God gave church leadership to pastors and elders, not laypersons.
(3) We should not gossip about the process around town.
(4) We should not give up on God in the process.

Our church has been struggling lately with the ideas of becoming contextual or relevant; mostly because we've seen a decline in membership (or at least, a failure to grow at the same pace as the community). This time is certainly promising in terms of providing an opportunity to re-focus on the gospel as our source relevance and method of contextuality. It can be hard to maintain continuity with guest preachers, but on the other hand, as we saw two weeks ago with Michael Kelley, we can hear some outstanding exposition of the gospel from folks we don't normally hear from.  My boss, Wayland President Dr. Paul Armes, spoke last week and did a great job.  Several of our staff members are also excellent preachers, so I look forward to the variety even though consistency is hard in the process.  [Update: Today (Sunday, the day after I posted this blog article) we heard from a former pastor, Dr. Charlie Price; and he did a great job...focused on the gospel and the kingdom, and not on fixin' our lives and other nonsense.]

I've been participating in the 10.02(b) virus prayer program for a couple months.  Every Tuesday and Thursday at precisely 10:02 am, my Outlook alarm goes off, and I stop what I'm doing to pray for workers for the harvest in our community.  The prayer time has morphed into praying for the search committee and the pastor-to-be as well.  I'm looking forward to what God is going to do in our church.

06 July 2010

My Kid is in the World Series

OK, so it's not the big leagues, but my oldest, Will, is pitching in the USSSA AAA World Series this week in Dallas. I'm excited, nervous, and proud all at the same time.

He is 6' tall, has size 15 feet, and an 80-mph fastball, and he's a lefty. On top of that, he's only 14 years old. If that arm holds out, he might be a better investment than my 401K (especially with Obamanomics around).

Of course, his twin brother, Brice, who scored in the mid 20s on the ACT test as a 7th grader, might do even better (you remember the old joke about Michael Jordan and Bill Gates, right?).

OK, I'll quit braggin' on my kids.

01 July 2010

Of Kindles, iPads, and Such

There was a big sale over on woot.com on Kindles this morning- $149 for the first 5000 folks to get there. I was about two hours too late. Not that I really wanted to buy one...I don't. But I might. Maybe.

The problem is, I've used technology long enough now that I know all of it will become obsolete at some point in the future. I started using the personal computer in 1979. It was a Radio Shack TRS-80 (we called it the 'trash eighty' even back then). I've also been buying books for a longer time than that. I don't exactly know when I bought my first book with my own money, but it was probably around 1972. The TRS-80 is a museum piece now, and I wonder if there are any working models left. If you've ever had to save your programming on a cassette player, you'd wonder if the thing was working even then, but it was, all 4K of memory and such.

Funny though, none of my books have ever become obsolete. Granted, I've tossed a few in the trash because they were worthless, but they still worked exactly the same when I tossed them as when they were printed. The only risk was over-zealous salesmanship on the back cover, not a change in technology rendering the thing unusable.

So I have this distaste in my mouth about buying a Kindle or similar reading device. I wonder how much of my investment in books will eventually be lost to technological upgrades (or just hardware failures). The iPad is even more frightening...it costs about two or three times as much as a Kindle. Yes, it does more stuff, but I really don't know how much of that stuff would be useful to me verses how much would be a distraction and time waste. I fear about two-thirds or more of the appeal of the iPad would be time-wasting activities. At least a Kindle-type device is dedicated to reading books, which is rarely a waste of time.

I have jumped into the bible-software revolution with Logos 4, which has several thousand books in digital format. It wasn't cheap, but the thing about Logos is, they guarantee your investment will carry over to the next platform (and have demonstrated it in the move from L3 to L4). Plus, the per-book cost of Logos titles in the upgrade was so much lower than the cost of paper-and-ink books, it was too good a deal to pass up. One of the temptations with the Kindle is, it has a built-in PDF reader. And if I understand the platform, it will read text files, .doc files, .gif files, etc. Any of my Logos titles can be saved in such a format and then loaded onto the Kindle, which makes reading the Logos titles much more accessible (after all, carrying a Kindle is easier than a laptop or even a netbook, and reading from the Kindle screen is supposedly much easier on the eyes than reading from a computer screen). So I'm not totally against digital literature, just worried about it on a long-term basis.

Hmmmmm.

Reftagger