Thoughts


[Tim Challies…shoots…scores! Enjoy!   -Steve]

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly saying, hooray for our side
It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
– From “For What It’s Worth” by Stephen Stills

Every so often I’ve contemplated what a Saturday Night Live type of variety program might look like if the topic was “Christendom.” There’s definitely enough material. One of the recurring skits would involve some Christians from the 1400’s about to be burned at the stake. They would be visited by contemporary Christians who would thank them for their sacrifice and tell them how such a great sacrifice gained later Christians ________. You could fill in the blank with all sorts of things. “Your sacrifice has helped give us a world in which our children can learn theology from talking vegetables. Your suffering will all seem worth it when a handsome Texan with a great smile can renovate a sports stadium and broadcast feel-good, gospel-free theology to all the world. Thank you for your noble sacrifice, brother.” Tyndale might have been willing to face the stake for the sake of the Bible, but would he have faced it for a Bible-zine for girls that looks and reads like Cosmo?

I’m a writer, not a comedian, so perhaps it’s not that funny. But the point is that real people died real deaths to pass to us a heritage of the gospel. They were serious, dead serious, and weren’t in the business of printing silly bumper stickers. We evangelicals have long done a remarkable job of trivializing that heritage. Maybe this is what happens when the danger of persecution passes and we enjoy a time of safety, a time of freedom. Or maybe this is what happens when we lose sight of the seriousness of the gospel and the countless sacrifices that made it available to us, when we begin to replace theology with something else, something less.

 A friend of mine became the Senior Pastor of his church in 2003, when everyone and their grandmother was writing and talking about how to make church relevant and more attractive to postmoderns. My friend had read Rick Warren and Bill Hybels but found them unsatisfying. Then in the spring of 2004 he had the opportunity to attend a 9Marks conference. He had not heard of Mark Dever and knew nothing of 9Marks but it was close to home and it seemed to him like such an event might be helpful to his ministry. It ended up being far more than that. It was life-changing.

The 9Marks conference, as it has done with so many other pastors, drew him back to the heart of what the Bible says about church, ministry and the gospel. And as a new Senior Pastor (with 23 years already behind him as an associate in the same church), it gave him a clear and renewed sense of direction for the conduct of his ministry. It pulled him out of anything-works-pragmatism and steered him toward a gospel-centered, gospel-focused, gospel-infused ministry.

Through 9Marks he was introduced to the world of what has now come to be known as the Young, Restless and Reformed (or the New Calvinism depending on who you ask). He had been a Calvinist for most of his ministry, but he had found most Calvinists he met tended toward the grumpy, the provincial. This new movement joined people like him to a Presbyterian crowd and even a Charismatic crowd. It built something that was unique, at least in our day and something that was really and objectively delightful—a people united around theology, not methodology. The church rediscovered theology that in so many circles had long since lay dormant.

His story is not at all unusual; it’s representative, perhaps, of the stories of thousands of other pastors who have revolutionized their understanding of the church, of its function and message and importance. And for every older pastor who has joyfully adapted his ministry, many more young pastors have grown into just this kind of ministry through mentors or through seminaries. All indications are that the movement continues to grow, to gain strength, to gain a prominent voice in the church even if not far beyond. And I am genuinely thrilled to see theology supplanting pragmatism at the center of the church.

So maybe this is a good time to ask, what’s next? Will we remain faithful to the gospel and look for more ways to be faithful to it? Or will we get, well, goofy?

Back to the martyr’s skit. What will we bring these guys? What will we have to show Huss and Tyndale and Cranmer and so many others like them? No doubt there will be good things to bring to the places of their sacrifice—evidence that the gospel they worked for and in some cases died for was alive and well and being passed on to another generation. Much of the theology they mined from the Bible is alive today in the Young, Restless and Reformed. But I fear that along with the good, and maybe eventually overwhelming much of the good, we’d bring our clutter, our junk, our nonsense, our bobble-heads. And there is an increasingly large pile of it waiting to be sorted through.

A friend recently told me “Slap the word Reformed on anything and I’ll buy it.” He was joking, thankfully, but he makes a point. We baptize products, people, musical styles, ministries, stores with the word Reformed to initiate them into our camp, to say that they are now part of the in-crowd. Slap the label Reformed on it and we suddenly do develop a new interest in it.

We have our Reformed celebrities. When John MacArthur speaks there is an immediate dissection of his words to see if he is tacitly critiquing someone or something. Mark Dever calls paedobaptism a sin and the headlines blare. When John Piper sneezes, the blogosphere is abuzz. Taken in isolation these may not mean very much at all. Taken together they start to sound like a Reformed edition of People magazine. Are we about the gospel here? Or are we about the people, the leaders, the voices? Want to hear some gossip about why a famous pastor took a sabbatical? Check the back pages of Reformed People.

I’ve got nothing against Edwards t-shirts or Luther bobble-heads or Calvin rally towels. Put it all together, though, throw it all into a box or lay it all out in a bookstore table, and it starts to come into focus. We’re always in danger of becoming a parody of ourselves, a deformed version of the very movements we have come out of. We could so easily become as much about the stuff as the theology, as much about the swag as the doctrine. If it happened to them it could happen to us, right?

I love the word Reformed; it has a long and noble heritage. And yet somehow it seems that Reformed has transitioned from a kind of theological short-hand, a useful way of describing a lot of theology in just one word, and has instead become an identity, a flag which I run up a flagpole as a means of self-identification. Reformed used to be a terse and convenient short-hand to express “I believe in the doctrines of grace, I believe in God’s total sovereignty, I adhere to certain creeds and confessions, and so on.” In one word we could summarize an entire theological position. Today, though, I fear that it is associated far more with names and personalities than theology. Reformed means “I listen to this pastor, I read these books, I go to these conferences.” But my theology may be vastly different from the Reformed guy beside me. It is an identity, not a theology, a connection to a group, not a belief. It’s a pass card, credentials allowing admittance into a community, an experience. And as such it generates swag, it generates junk, it generates all of that stuff like talking vegetables, Bible superheroes and Bible-zines.

We will need to work hard to prevent Reformed from becoming a mere fad. Fads come and fads go and usually they go on for just a bit too long. By the time they disappear we are glad to see them go since they’ve long since outlived their usefulness or their enjoyment. Rickrolling was funny for three days but lasted for six months; WWJD made a few people think over the course of a few weeks but stuck around for years. But both were fads and both eventually died an inevitable death. No one shed a tear for either one. We need to be all about the gospel lest we become yet another passing fad, a puff of smoke in the wind.

Up the street a little way sits a small Baptist Church that must subscribe to a newsletter for the world’s worst church sign slogans—things like like “Become an Organ Donor—Give Your Heart to Jesus.” Quality stuff. I drive by there often and, while fighting to keep my car from running it down “by accident,” I wonder if anyone takes them seriously. How could they? It’s a sharp display of the way the Gospel can be trivialized. “Prayer—Wireless Access to God with No Roaming Fee.”

I know that kind of nonsense has been going on for decades. But are we next? Could this Reformed movement become a parody of itself? I hope and pray that it’s not but I can’t deny that it’s beginning to show some hints that it could become that way. Sure it’s fun and inspiring even, but am I the only one who is starting to feel that if we aren’t careful we will just become “a thousand people in the street, singing songs and carrying signs, mostly saying, Hooray for our side.” I think it’s time that we paused to consider whether we’re all about the gospel, all about what the Bible commands us to believe, or if we’re increasingly becoming about who we are. The difference between the two is immeasurable.

It certainly wouldn’t hurt us to stop, hey, what’s that sound, and everybody look what’s going down.

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by Ray Dillon

Most of the United States and, perhaps, the western world stands amazed at the actions of a US citizen with an MBA degree who sets out to bomb Times Square in order to create panic, destruction, as well as death.  Many ask why someone would travel multiple times to Pakistan to study the art and craft of bomb making.  He had a family, a good job, and the potential for “making it” in this country.

So we start looking for reasons.  A foreclosed house is given as the inciting incident.  However, there are millions who have had their houses taken back by the bank but, to my knowledge, none of them went on a shooting spree or constructed a bomb to set off in a major city.  Another possibility that is put forward is the deceptive recruiting power of Islamic radicals.  Yet, no one can give an idea of why a bright American citizen would fall prey to these “phantom” recruiters.

Most recently, there has been a recognition that the cause of the 9/11 tragedy, Fort Hood shootings, the “underwear bomber”, and now the Times Square bomber is that we are in a religious war.  There are still many who believe that taking on radical acts of violence are due to poverty or a lack of knowledge of the West (if they knew us they would love us).  These views are being discounted in large part because of recent events.  The radicals in London who bombed the subway system were from middle and upper-middle class English families, for example.  Osama Bin Laden and some of his closest leaders were educated in the west.  They know people here and in other western countries and still hate us and what we stand for.  Further, this doesn’t explain the bombings in Indonesia by Islamist radical groups.

So what’s the reason for all this mayhem, it is a belief in the teachings of Mohammed and in the clerics who take his words and use them to foster their own agendas.  One must remember that in the Koran there is never a mention of assurance of salvation and eternal bliss except in one case:  becoming involved in jihad.  Jihad means struggle and a holy jihad is a struggle with infidels (those who are not intensely following the rigorous faith of Islam).  Good works, prayer, giving, and attending Islamic tradition are a way to eternal bliss but they are never fully certain or have assurance of salvation. Holy Jihad does provide that assurance.

Therefore, those mentioned before are certain of their salvation because of their actions against those who stand against “puritanical” Islam, even if their efforts were not completely successful.

So why should the Christian fully understand where they are coming from.  This is not to suggest that Christians condone their actions.  The acts are abhorrent.  But radical (here I mean fundamental or going back to the root) Christians should understand faith in someone, a deep commitment to the writings or words of that person, and performing acts that the world will not understand.  Radical Christians have a deep faith in the work of Jesus known as the Christ.  The world recognizes Jesus as a philosopher, a prophet, as well as a Jewish carpenter turned radical and killed for his beliefs.  The world does not understand radical Christian faith any more than it understands radical Islamic faith.  The radical Christian has a deep reverence for Scripture and looks to it for faith and practice as God’s word.  The radical Christian believes that Scripture is inerrant and, while it is poetic and apocryphal at times, it is truth in its entirety.  The world often has a view of Scripture as a group of “holy” writings but is no more the word of God than a Fanny Farmer cookbook.

The radical Islamist has an even higher view of the Koran than the Christian.  There are Islamists in the world who have memorized the entire Koran but cannot read a word of it.  Desecrating one page of the Koran can result in death.  The world cannot understand this idea.

The radical Christian is sometimes called by God through Scripture or by internal promptings to do out-of-the-ordinary things:  give money in excess of their normal pattern, go to remote parts of the world to speak of their faith, or give their lives to serve people.  Radical Christians who have good jobs, homes, families, and MBA degrees sometimes do extraordinary things for, at least according to the world, peculiar reasons.

Christians have been doing unusual, out-of-the-ordinary, even seemingly weird things for centuries.  They don’t seem too strange to those who understand. Christians do these things, because we are in a holy war.  The enemy is defeated but the battles still go on and Christians are called to enter in to the fray.

So, while the world doesn’t understand the mindset of shoe bombers, underwear bombers, van bombers, and others of like mind, the Christian should understand.  Faith is only as good as the object of our faith.  Our object is Jesus and his finished work.  Because of that faith, we sometimes are called to do radical things.  Jesus called us to be ministers of reconciliation.  The pursuit of that call is something the world cannot understand.

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.  And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.   -Matthew 28:16-17

I slept alone last night.  Peacefully, quietly alone.  My doctor ordered a sleep study for me so, for a couple thousand dollars, I had a very restful night with a bunch of electrodes attached to my head.

One of the last things I remember before drifting off was the fact that the room was very dark, an inky black darkness like being immersed in swamp water.  This was not a darkness that your eyes could get used to; no, I was trapped in a pool of nothingness with no up or down, and no point of reference to tell me where I was.  A few times I woke up utterly lost.

Darkness is a great metaphor to illustrate lostness.  From the time we are small we fear what we do not know, what lurks, or could be lurking, under the cover of darkness.  Evil is expected to strike in the darkness.  How else can we explain the extra outrage we experience when a crime is committed “in broad daylight”?

Truth be told, I wasn’t really afraid of the darkness last night because I knew that Fred was doing his job well.  He had a camera and was watching me (yeah, it could have creeped me out, but Fred seemed a pretty decent fellow) and if I had a question, Fred was quick to respond.

Let me tell you about the darkness that I do fear.  Picture yourself running in a marathon.  You’ve run 23, 24 miles or so, and you begin to notice other runners by the road, exhausted, giving up.  Even at the 26 mile marker you find a man sitting by the roadside, head in hands, weeping.  He’s 365 yards from the finish line and he simply cannot make it any farther.

These ran the race in vain.  It was all for nothing.

It is said that faith and fear are at opposite ends of a continuum.  In the text quoted, we have no clear perspective on the doubting.  We only know that some of the disciples “doubted”.  Were they of the 11 disciples?  The larger group of disciples?  Did their doubt persist?  I mean, seriously, these people saw Jesus after His resurrection and still doubted…something.  How was that possible?

I think, brothers, that it simply is God’s way of reminding us that we are not perfect.  We may charge forward in faith, thinking we are doing God a favor by claiming great things for Him, but no matter how hard we try to deny it, our faith is not 100% perfect.

If it was impossible to fail to finish the race, there would be no glory in crossing the line.

Soli Deo Gloria

by Ray Dillon

We watch with sadness and almost disbelief to see results of the
earthquake and the agony of Haitian people.  Unfortunately, it has
given a platform for some Christians to become foolish and paint us
all with the brush of insensitivity and condemnation.  Such was the
case of Mr. Pat Robertson when he asserted that the Haitian people had
made a “pact with the devil” when they overthrew the French who were
occupying the land.  This according to Mr. Robertson was many years
ago and the poverty, political greed, corruption, hurricanes, and,
now, the most recent earthquake were all a result of that.

There is a possibility that those who follow Mr. Robertson clucked
their agreement and quoted “sins of the fathers are visited on the
sons…” and the many Psalms dealing with God’s vengeance.  However,
Mr. Robertson simply makes the assertion with no support except the
television media he uses.  Rather than pointing fingers at alleged
“pacts” it would be better for us to consider following Romans 12:15b
“weep with those who weep”.  Yes, Haiti has a reputation of syncretism
(bringing parts of other religions along with Christianity) but there
are believers on the island and there are countless innocent children
who are affected.

Perhaps Mr. Robertson wishes he had never said what he did on
television.  We can only hope so.  There are some things that we think
about God’s sovereignty and his providence that when spoken in an
unbelieving world can sound harsh.  Most of all we should remember
that God’s heart is soft toward us as is indicated here  2 Peter
3:9-10 “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count
slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should
perish, but that all should reach repentance.”  As we have continued
our moral and spiritual slide here in America, we believers should say
or think “but for the grace of God there go we”.  Keep praying for the
people of Haiti.

Peace,
Ray

Got to make a confession, guys.  I’m slammed at work, and I occasionally post from work.

So my content is down and my evening hours are too.

My company is acquiring a company in Ohio and I am back & forth there several times over the next few weeks.  Add in 2 trips to California and, well, you can do the math.

Ray Dillon sent me a post of his own, and now I open the door to you all – would you be willing to share something?  Your testimony, perhaps, or something the Lord has been impressing on your heart.  As you can see, I post mostly what other bloggers are talking about, but your own words have more meaning & impact because we know you.

In early March I hope things will be back to normal.

by Ray Dillon

I have often wanted to blog.  It seems like the thing to do but I didn’t want it to be like some others I had read that seemed to be more of a long tweet.  Anyway what I am thinking about is theology.  Some have now stopped reading and moved on so for those left I want to encourage us to be about the study of God more diligently this year.  Not to know more about Him, although there is virtue in that, but to know him better personally.
For those who are married, we should remember clearly how we wooed our spouse.  In that attraction, there was a desire to know him/her better and know the little things of their lives.  It was a way of becoming more intimate.  We studied their mannerisms, the way they thought, the way they talked, tried to understand what pleased and displeased them.  I suspect if your experience is like mine, the study never ceases and the knowledge continues to increase.  (You singles who seek to be married, take note.)
So, isn’t this the same way with God?  When we have established a relationship with Him through Jesus, we want to know this infinite, omnipotent, creator and sustainer of the universe.  For those of us who have studied our wives and husbands well, we sometimes find that we are thinking the same thoughts at the same time (pretty spooky, huh).  But wouldn’t that be incredible if we were to have that kind of deep relationship with God.  Thinking His thoughts as ours, just like Jesus did.  Knowing God more intimately, knowing about Him, leads to a more intimate relationship and communion.  That is what God wants from us.
If you are interested and are a computer geek or a committed user like me, you may find a theological tool to be helpful.  It is a theological toolbar that goes above your Internet Explorer right below the drop down menu selections.  I use it a lot because it has a lot of sites that are excellent for Bible study, muses from thoughtful believers, and other handy sites in the Christian community.
The site to get the toolbar is located at:
Reclaiming the Mind is a work started by Michael Patton a theologian out of Oklahoma.  He was on staff with Charles Swindoll in a Dallas church after finishing seminary.  You might be interested in his site as well.
Peace, guys.  Keep thinking God’s thoughts.

Ray

by Russell Moore

There’s a reason the “Cousin Eddie” character in the movie National Lampoon Christmas Vacation resonates with so many. We’ve all got a Cousin Eddie, or two, in our extended families. Some of us are Cousin Eddie. Our families weren’t designed for a televised Christmas special.

And despite the idyllic picture in Christmas cards and carol lyrics, human depravity doesn’t go (more…)

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