Thursday, March 30, 2006

Saying No to Me

It's impossible to follow Christ without a radical, wholehearted commitment to deny self.

Though that runs contrary to everything our culture tells us, we as Christians must constantly remind ourselves and each other that we can not truly follow Christ without saying no to ourselves.

I say that for a number of reasons:

I say it because following Christ means calling Him Lord. And calling Him Lord means saying He gets to call the shots, and saying He gets to call the shots means you don't, and you not calling the shots requires self-denial.

I say it because the purpose of following Christ is to glorify God. Living to glorify God means being done with living to glorify self.

I say it because Jesus taught that those who follow Him must be characterized by love. And everything about the way the Bible defines love requires self-denial.

Think about it.

Love is patient - why are we impatient? We're not denying self.

Love is kind - what is kindness? Looking out for someone other than yourself.

Love does not envy - what is envy? Wanting what's best for one self.

To love is to deny self.

I say it because Jesus has called us to follow Him for the purpose of helping others.

I say it because the nature of what we are as group of Christ followers requires self-denial. We are a body. A body where every part is looking out for itself is a freak show. If my hand decides it wants to do what it wants to do without paying attention to the rest of my body, I'm going to end up a pretty frightening person.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A Meaningless Post

With all the talking I'm doing at school and at church, on top of the other responsibilities of life, I haven't been posting as much of late.

I've found I haven't had quite enough time to write anything meaningful.

So I'm sitting here staring at the computer asking myself, why start now?

Instead, let's talk T.V.

It pains me to admit, I watch American Idol.

Though honestly I'm a little less ashamed after reading this article by an eminent American theologian.

He's a great writer and he's much smarter than me...I love what he has to say, still after reading this particular article, I have to admit I have a bone to pick.

Just listen to his explanation why American idol is such a hit.

"I think it is the pleasure of watching others fail, of having their dreams torn down, of being crushed by the cutting comments of the English hardman on the panel, that exerts the attraction... It is the weekly spectacle of seeing more wannabes biting the dust which keeps everyone tuning in, episode after episode. Indeed, I confess it: I like nothing more than seeing the fresh faced Jessica or Mary-Lou or Brad or Chad having their hopes of stardom ripped from their hands and then being dispatched back to supermarket checkout from whence they came. Nasty, but true. To quote two sayings of the cynic’s cynic, Gore Vidal: it is not enough to succeed; others must fail; and (perhaps even more horribly honest) every time I hear of the success of a friend, a little piece of me dies. Idol plays unashamedly to such basic instincts, instincts found in all of us."

Now I believe in depravity and all that and I appreciate Trueman's honesty - plus I'm guessing he's going a little bit over the top, but still I've honestly never once thought of it like that.

In fact, to sound a little less like a theologian or a pastor and probably more like an elementary school student out at recess, I have to you really think most people are that mean?

I'm serious.

Do you really think a lot of people really think like that? That they enjoy watching something to see someone fail?

Or am I just another naive American?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Fighting for Happiness

I'm having the kids at school work their way through Jonathan Edwards' resolutions.

I was particularly struck by this one:

"Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power; might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of. "

I'm not sure what was in Edwards' mind as he wrote this, and perhaps speaking hundreds of years later our language might need to be more careful, but I can't help thinking he was simply bouncing off Jesus' words in Matthew 6.

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

There are lots of things we could say about the typical American Christian lifestyle. But I wonder if one of the main things we should say about it is that it is just dumb. Sure, there's a lot that is sinful, there's a lot that is wrong, but bottom line it's all pretty dumb.

I mean, why the mad rush to obtain as much happiness as we can in this world when the happiness we can obtain in this world is so fleeting and so empty? Why the mad rush to store up as many treasures as we can in this world when our time in this world is so short?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Mondays with Calvin

Preachers, get specific...

"...the intellect is very rarely deceived in general definition or in the essence of the thing; but that it is illusory when it goes farther, that is, applies the principle to particular cases. In reply to the general question, every man will affirm that murder is evil. But he who is plotting the death of an enemy contemplates murder as something good. The adulterer will condemn adultery in general, but will flatter himself in his own adultery. Herein is man's ignorance: when he comes to a particular case, he forgets the general principle that he has just laid down..."

Counselors, think about who you are talking to...

[This] rule, however is not without exception. Sometimes the shamefulness of evil-doing presses upon the conscience so that one, imposing upon himself no false image of the good, knowingly and willingly rushes into wickedness. Out of such disposition of mind comes statements like this: 'I see what is better and approve it, but I follow the worse.' To my mind, Aristotle has made a very shrewd distinction between incontinence and intemperance: 'Where incontinence reigns,' he says, 'the disturbed mental state or passion so deprives the mind of particular knowledge that it cannot mark the evil in its own misdeed which it generally discerns in like instances; when the perturbation subsides, repentance straightway returns. Intemperance, however, is not extinguished or shattered by the awareness of sin, but on the contrary, stubbornly persists in choosing its habitual evil."

Calvin's Institutes vol. 1, p.282,283

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Depravity and its effects


I have always believed in it, but frankly I have three girls and well, I've kind of struggled because they are so cute.

Struggled that is until the other day.

We were flipping through the channels when we came across an ice-skating competition, and they actually wanted to watch.

It's reminded once again of my responsibility to train my children. So I'm using March Madness as an opportunity to help them learn the difference between right and wrong.

Watching basketball, right.

Watching ice-skating, that's just wrong.

Friday, March 17, 2006


I'd encourage you to check out a fantastic article by Phil Ryken entitled How the Devil Wants to Run Our Church....

Jesus is Scarier Than You Might Think

I thought maybe we could play a little word association game.

I'll write a word and you say the first word that comes into your mind.


I say Jesus and you say…

There are a lot of words that come into our mind when we hear the name of Jesus. Important, perfect, Son of God, Savior, Redeemer, Friend.

But there's one word I doubt would come into anybody’s mind, and that's the word scary.

It’s not really a term we associate with Jesus.

Warm, accepting, loving…not frightening…not Jesus.

That’s a problem.

You've probably seen the movie version of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I did and I loved it. But there were some reviews that made a criticism I found interesting.

It’s that Aslan, the lion that represents Jesus Christ…is too tame. He’s simply not awe-inspiring.

I don’t know if they are right about the movie or not, but I do think that pretty accurately sums up one of the problems with the way modern people view Jesus. They just don’t get how frightening he really is.

The people in Jesus’ day did.

That in fact is a response, as we read through the gospels and in particular Mark, that we find coming up over and over again.

The disciples…

Mark 4:37-40,

“And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this?’


Mark 5:6,7,

“And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.

The crowds…

Mark 5:14,15,

“The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.

If you can get your minds away from your, maybe, mental picture of Jesus for a minute and think about Jesus as he actually existed, you’ve got to admit that kind of response, it makes some sense.

I mean, just imagine knowing someone like Jesus.

I definitely can’t describe it the way I ought, but just imagine being out in a boat in the middle of a storm and being scared for your life and then having your friend look at the storm and say, be quiet and have it actually stop.

Or maybe you and he are out in center city one night and you have these two insane criminals that you’ve seen on the news, they’ve just been terrorizing the city, and they are running straight at you two, they are screaming and waving their arms, you are looking around wondering what to do, but when they finally get to where you are they fall flat on their faces and cry out to your friend, please, whatever you do, don’t hurt us.

There’s only one logical initial reaction to a person who is as powerful and as important as that; someone who has control over nature, over sickness, over demons; and that is being scared at your mind.


If you can stop imagining, just add some theology to stories like that. It only makes this person Jesus more awe-inspiring.

For starters, He’s God.

If you or I met somebody who claimed to be God, we’d probably think he was crazy. But if we met somebody who actually was God, if we weren’t scared a little bit, we’d be crazy.

But beyond even that, the Bible says our entire eternal destiny hangs upon our relationship with Him.

I don’t know if you are like me, but I get a little nervous before interviews. I know it’s important to make a good impression…that he like me. And that’s just a job.

When it comes to my relationship with Jesus Christ, we’re talking eternity.

The Bible’s really quite clear about that. There’s always as you read through the New Testament this very definite contrast. It’s all very black and white.

With Christ, in Christ, peace.

Outside of Christ, condemned.

In Christ, beloved by God.

Outside of Christ, children of wrath.

In Christ, free to do what God wants.

Outside of Christ, enslaved to futile desires.

In Christ, enjoying the blessing of God for all eternity.

Outside of Christ, enduring the punishment of God for time without end.

I'm certainly not trying to overstate this, but when you think about meeting someone that important, someone on whom your whole eternal future rests, you can’t tell me you wouldn’t be a little bit frightened.

I say all that, because really you know when you encounter the real Jesus, the Jesus of the gospels it changes the questions you ask.

It’s not, will I accept Jesus?

The real question is will he accept me?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Names have been removed to protect the...well, you decide!

From a recent newspaper article:

"You approach ... at Drink or Crush on a weekend night and ask him what he's doing there, he'll say this:

"Are you sure you want to know?"

... is a shaggy-haired 25-year-old who wears an earring in each ear and loves techno, house and drum-and-bass music. He's also an intern pastor at .... Church

And if you do want to know why ... is at the bar, he's quick to tell you. He's there to talk about Jesus Christ along with the nightclub ministry he recently started...

"Just meet people where they're at," ... told me, explaining why bars are a great place for ministry. "We believe not to condemn people, not to beat them over the head by the Bible. We're not passing out tracts, not cramming Bible verses down their throat. . . . We want to show people we are just like they are."

Whatever about the earring and the shaggy hair.

Whatever about the music, I'm so out of touch, I don't even know what that kind of music is.

Talking about Jesus Christ, great. Developing relationships with people to do it, fantastic.

Nightclub ministry, I don't get it.

Not condemning people, what's that mean anyway? I know I couldn't do that even if I wanted to. I definitely don't have that kind of power. I can't condemn anyone.

Not beating people over the head with the Bible, hard to be against that.

Whatever about the tracts and whatever about not cramming Bible verses.

What really gets me is this, the motivation. "We want to show people we are just like they are."

I mean, where in the world is the hope in that? If I am an unbeliever, I'm sitting there thinking, if you are the same as me why are you even taking the time to tell me about Jesus?

Monday, March 13, 2006

"Did I ever tell you I have no hero..."

I was kind of surprised today.

I like to ask the students I teach questions and so today I asked them who was their hero. They couldn't pick Jesus because that was too obvious. They had to pick someone from history, and you know what, the large majority, couldn't name one. The other day I asked another class the same question and their response wasn't a whole lot better, they by and large, chose actors.

When I say I was kind of suprised, I'm putting it mildly. I was shocked. I know something is up with that. There's got to be a reason.

It could be I guess that I didn't ask the question well, it's a Monday, whatever. Or it could be something else.

I'm trying to figure out exactly what and why it's so concerning to me...because it is.

I think part of the reason it concerns me is because Christianity requires us to look outside of ourselves, to be amazed by someone else; and I just wonder if what's happening in our culture is that we've become so self-focused, so inner-directed that it's hard for us to see anyone outside of us, anyone else as great.

The other day I was reading something Chesterton once wrote, and though he wasn't directly talking about this issue, and though he states things a little differently than I would, I still think it relates.

"Of all the horrible religions the most horrible is the worship of the God within. Anyone who knows anybody knows how it would work...That Jones should worship the God within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones should worship Jones. Let Jones worship the sun or the moon, anything rather than the Inner light; let Jones worship cats or crocodiles, if he can find any on his street, but not the God within. Christianity came into the world firstly in order to assert with violence that a man had not only to look inward, but to look outward, to behold with astonishment and enthusiasm a divine company and a divine captain. The only fun being a Christian was that a man was not left alone with the Inner light, but definitely recognized an outer light, fair as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners."

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Failure might not be such a failure after all...

If you were to ask me what I wanted, really wanted and I was going to be honest, I think I often want, really want my life to be easy.

If I had my way, everything would go my way...without a whole lot of effort.

To put it another way, when I look at what I wish for, I find that I often wish for success.

And you know, I'm not sure that desire is wholly wrong. After all, things are going to be easy in heaven. And I don't really think that when we go to share the gospel or teach we should want people not to understand and want people not to be impacted.

Success, ease has got a whole lot going for it.

But the thing is, so does failure.

It's funny, we fear failure so much. We don't want things to be difficult. But spiritually, failure can bring all sorts of blessings. Difficulties, God can use them to take somewhere we've never been spiritually.

For one thing, failure it can humble us.

Self-righteousness and pride are probably the most difficult sins to kill. They are especially difficult to kill when things are going well. The truth is, there's hardly anything like a big old failure to help you in the war against these sins. In that sense, we can kind of glory in our failure because as we think about our failure, it reminds us of how desperate and needy we really are.

It keeps us sane.

After all pride is really a form of insanity, isn't it? Insanity is thinking you are someone you are not. Pride is thinking you are someone you are not. Failure, it can help rid you of some of your delusions.

Failure can free us.

I don't know about you, but I'm so prone to go back to the I've got to earn my approval with God way of living and thinking. Failure reminds me how foolish and hopeless that attitude really is. It frees me up to just enjoy the work of Christ. It reminds me that God loves me not because of how great I've been but because of how great Christ has been.

Sometimes I feel like my heart is constantly looking for anyone or anything to trust in instead of Christ. I keep wanting to bring the smallest little work to God and show him how great I really am. Failure, it strips me of all that and forces me back to the one person I should be trusting in in the first place, my great and precious Savior Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


If I hit my thumb with a hammer, I feel pain.

Shocking, I know.

Pain is an automatic reaction. I don't consciously look at my thumb and say thumb, now is the time to hurt. It just does.

If anybody came up to me and told me to stop hurting, that it was wrong for me to feel pain when I struck my thumb with a hammer, and that it was an evidence I was stuck in serious sin...

Well, we'd probably both say they had some serious mental problems.

You can't help it if your thumb hurts when it is hit with a hammer and people can't expect you to feel anything else; which illustrates why it is so important we think and we help others think very carefully about how we use the word feel.

Let me give you an example.

We use the word feel to describe a whole lot of other things besides our thumbs getting hit with a hammer.

Sometimes we use it to describe an emotion. Say our reaction to someone who hurts us, "I feel angry."

Now is that true?

Yes. It describes what is happening.

But if I stop there, if I say I feel angry and if when I say that, I'm thinking of anger solely in terms of feelings, I'm in danger of making a couple dangerous mistakes.

One, my understanding of what happens when I get angry is too simplistic.

Every time I hit my thumb, I feel pain.

But the same thing can happen to me two times, and one time I feel angry and the other time I don't. Why?

Anger is a feeling, but at the same time it is more than a feeling. It involves my thoughts, my actions, and my perspectives.

Two, because my understanding of what happens when I get angry is too simplistic, I'll get really angry when you try to confront me about it.

If I think of anger soley in terms of feelings, when you come and say I shouldn't be angry, I'll probably respond much like I would if you came and said my thumb shouldn't hurt.

How can I help it?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

How do you feel?

I know some people say the devil is in the details.

While I am not sure about that, I am sure that the devil is in the distortions. He loves to take the truth and twist it.

I've been thinking about that alot lately specifically in regards to feelings.
Years ago, there was a philosophy called Stoicism. Now I'm no expert, but I think bottom line it had something to do with denying one's feelings. If it didn't, there are plenty of people who do think that; that the more spiritual you are the less you'll feel.

Today, there are probably more people who go to the opposite extreme. Feelings are their everything. It's become standard for people to use how they feel as the final authority in their life, so standard that nobody even questions it.

In fact, I can't tell you how many times I've heard people use the old phrase, "I feel..." as an argument stopper. You'll be in the middle of a discussion, thinking things through, and then they'll pull that statement out and you know no matter how much more there is to say, in their eyes, you are done. When they say that, they mean I'm ready for you to be done talking.

And they are not unusual.

I mean, think about it.

In our culture:

Feelings are used as a basis for one's actions.

Feelings are used as an explanation for one's actions.

Feelings are regarded as the key to understanding one's problems.

Feelings are viewed as the solution to one's problems.

But what does the Bible say? In the next few blogs, I want to bounce off an article by David Powlison on the subject, and consider more carefully what the Bible teaches about feelings.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Mondays with Calvin

"If we are...not our own, but the Lord's, it is clear what error we must flee, and how we must direct all the acts of our life.

We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore sway our plans or deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us forget ourselves and all that is ours.

Conversely, we are God's: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God's: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God's: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our own lawful goal.

O how much has that man profited who having been taught that he has is not his own, has taken away dominion and rule from his own reason that he may yield it to God. For, as consulting our own self-interestence is the pestilence that most effectively leads to our destruction, so the sole haven is to be wise in nothing and to will nothing through ourselves but to follow the leading of the Lord."

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol.1 p.690

Friday, March 03, 2006


* AIDS has killed twenty-five million people since it first emerged in the early 1980s-more deaths than occurred in World Wars I and 2
* Every minute five people die of AIDS; every day 8,000 people die from AIDS
* There are approximately fourteen million children orphaned by HIV/AIDS
* At current rates, 100 million people worldwide will be infected with HIV by 2010
* Of the 14,000 new people infected every day, 85% live in the develop¬ing world
* In Botswana, nearly four in ten adults are infected
* Eastern Europe is experiencing the fastest-growing AIDS epidemic in the world
* Former Secretary of State Colin Powell called HIV/AIDS the most serious threat to humankind and "the greatest weapon of mass destruction on earth."

* 30 million people in Africa are HIV-positive, most of them young men and women. (The Economist, 2003)
* 75% of the world total of those with HIV/AIDS live in Africa. (The Economist, 2002)
* 20% of South Africans aged 15-49 are infected with HIV. (UNAIDS Fact Sheet, 2002)
* For those aged 15-34 in South Africa, it is estimated that there will be 17 times as many deaths in the years 2010-2015 because of AIDS. (UNAIDS Fact Sheet, 2002)
* It is estimated that in five years, HIV prevalence in South Africa will be between 25-30%. (The Natal Witness, 2003)
* Because of AIDS, life expectancy for women will be 37 years of age in 2010. (Pretoria News, 2002)
* Almost 30% of South Africa's workforce will be HIV-positive in 2005. (Pretoria News, 2002)
* South Africa's economically active population will be 35% lower in 2015 than it would have been if South Africans had remained AIDS-free. (Pretoria News, 2002)
*"The pandemic will take a dramatic toll on the most productive members of the population — those in their 20s, 30s and 40s." (MG-Levy Annual Report, 2002)
*"A recent study predicted that unless the government moved quickly to tackle AIDS, South Africa's economy would collapse within four generations." (The Economist, 2004)
*Among the many ways that [AIDS] is destabilizing the continent [of Africa], perhaps the most worrying is the exploding population of orphans." (The Economist, 2002)
*By 2010, there will be 42 million orphans in Africa, half due to AIDS. (The Economist, 2002)
*In 2002, it was estimated that 660,000 children had been orphaned because of AIDS in South Africa. (UNAIDS Fact Sheet, 2002)
*By 2010, there will be 2 million orphans in South Africa and 70% of them will be HIV-free. (SAFM, 2004)


If you would, please pray for us.

We love the work at our church in Coopersburg and believe that the ministry here is very important. It's been amazing to see what God has done in the lives of those here at the church. We love the people here. It's such a joy to minister the gospel in the Lehigh Valley. We've blessed with a wonderful, sweet church family. But at the same time have and have had a strong desire to serve the Lord in Africa.

Looking at our desires and our giftings, while we are so content here, we have this aching to serve the Lord among the poor in Africa. In particular we would like to go to Africa so that we could preach and teach, train up men for the ministry, and help the local church provide families and homes for orphans.

We have an opportunity to do just that. A South African we met while we were serving there last year, is donating land and working right now on administrating the details of the orphan work. There's a church that wants us to come and pastor and that wants to be deeply involved in this mercy-ministry work.

It's exciting. We'd love to see this orphanage be so much more than an orphanage, but become a training ground for future African leaders. We feel, what better way to train men and women up for the work of the ministry than beginning when they are children? If there is a need for godly Africans and there are thousands of children needing homes, what better place to start than by seeking to provide those children with godly families?

At the same time, we don't want to just press forward without being faithful to God's work for us here. More than going to Africa, we want to do God's will. We don't want people here to be discouraged or to wonder what's going to happen to them. If God wants us to go, we want them to be spiritually provided for. We are absolutely one hundred percent committed to that.

We've asked our church to help us think through these opportunities, and we meant that. We want them to help us make a godly decision. They've responded wonderfully and have committed to praying for us. I know I'd love it if you would as well.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Be Amazed!

I don't know if you've ever seen David Blaine.

He's this street magician and he can do some things that will make your jaw drop. He'll levitate. I remember seeing him bite a quarter in two, then blow on the quarter and have it instanteously restored. One time he burned this hole in his shirt, then had the guy watching look through it, and David had this tattoo or something of the guy's girlfriend...who Blaine apparently had never met.

Anyway, my point doesn't have to do with the magic as much as it has to do with the reactions. Usually people are quiet at first, then they start to become overwhelmed with emotion. Sometimes they'll start to shake. Other times they'll cry. If there are a group of guys there, they'll hit each other and grunt or something like that. But whatever they do, they are always in awe.


I guess power. That he can do something that they can't understand.

The thing is, what strikes me, and I don't want to burst anyone's bubble, but David Blaine, he's just pretending. I mean, he can't really do all that stuff. He's just good at getting you to think he is.

It's just funny, sad really. That we react with such awe and amazement to someone who is just pretending to be powerful and so often show such little emotion or awe or amazement when considering the One person who really is.