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Archive for October, 2008


Started in on The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Tim Keller tonight.  I couldn’t wait.  I’ve heard his sermons on the Parable, but I like books.  So much easier to interact with the content. 

So I found this at the end of the first chapter:

“Jesus’ teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day.  However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. … The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church.  That can only mean one thing.  If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did.  If our churches aren’t appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers than we’d like to think.

Hard to hear, but I suspect it is more true than we want to believe.  Many churches hear messages of moralism and self-help.  The broken remain broken, unable to discover the balm of the gospel.

I have ministered in “Elder Brother-ville” for lo these many years.  I know I have a tendency to be an older brother (though in my family I’m the one who wandered off the reservation only to be discovered by Jesus).  Grace just doesn’t seem to register to most church folks here.  It’s like “that’s nice, but can you give me something to do?”  They refuse to see themselves as lost and in need of rescue- they think they just need some direction and maybe a little assistance.  As a result, most churches are filled with smug, “we’re okay,” living in denial, self-righteous people.

I ponder those I “ran off” in my years of ministry here.  They fall into 2 categories: those who wanted cheap grace- acceptance without any need to change, justification with no sanctification- and those who didn’t understand how grace applied to them- the self-righteous looking for tips on being a better person, sanctification without justification.  But there was a group who “got it,” recognizing grace was for them, that God loved them despite their sin AND wanted to remake them in his image.

Pastors who play into the hands of cheap grace are often called liberals.  Pastors who play into the hands of the self-righteousness look like conservatives.  Both are missing the point of ministry, and offer people partial or false gospels.  We have to start realizing that our churches are filled with lost people- and some of that is our fault.

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We Own the Night takes place in drug plagued late 80’s New York City.  It is the story of a father and his two sons.  To say there are dad issues in this movie is quite the understatement.  I was reminded of the story of the Prodigal Son(s).  Joaquin Phoenix plays Bobby, the son of the Police Chief (played by Robert Duvall) who takes the last name of his late mother.  He avoids the Police Department and ends up running a night club.  He also avoids his family since he is a big disappointment to his father.  He finds a substitute in the club owner, a Russian who imports fur.  He is like family to the Russian and his family.  The man’s wife tries to fatten him up and treats him like the son she never had.

Mark Wahlberg plays the obedient, trusted son Joseph.  He joined the Police Department and has risen to the rank of Captain.  He is angry at his brother for leaving home and the family business.  Bobby is angry at him for messing up the good thing he thinks he has going, and the condemnation he feels.

Tensions heighten because Joe is the head of the new drug task force.  He and his father inform Bobby that the owner’s nephew is a Russian mobster dealing drugs out of the club.  Soon Bobby will have to choose between his real family and the family he thinks he loves- the one that tolerates and supports his very indulgent lifestyle.

What emerges is an average cop drama with a fantastic performance by Joaquin.  Not all that happens makes sense, particularly during the car chase.  The ending seems a bit under-whelming as well.  The most interesting aspect of the movie was the family relationships as Bobby comes home seeking redemption.  Like Jesus’ story of the Prodigal, the ‘stay-at-home’ brother resents the welcome home the licentious brother receives.  Only time reveals Joseph’s true motivations for the “righteous” life he led.  Funny how we just can’t escape Christ’s teaching, no matter how hard we try.

The movie starts off with more Eva Mendes than I needed to see, and some topless dancers.  After about 5 minutes the nudity is done.  Being a crime drama, there is plenty of bad language.  Though there is plenty of action, it is not graphic- except for a fight in an apartment.

Unfortunately this movie has had much better competition in this genre (American Gangster, The Departed).  We Own the Night doesn’t own the genre, but makes a respectable showing.

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I received my latest order from WTS Books today.  It has been some time between orders.  First, I had to wait until I got over $50 due to referrals.  Then I waited until the first book listed was available.  Finally, new stuff to read.

  • The Prodigal God by Tim Keller.  I should start this one this weekend, and hope to have a review shortly.  Very much looking forward to this book.
  • Love Walked Among Us by Paul Miller.  Paul is the son of Jack Miller, and wrote the early edition of Transforming Grace.  His ministry, See Jesus, has some curriculum to consider like the Person of Jesus (based on this book) and Prayer Life.  I look forward to using them in my next church position.
  • Man Overboard! by Sinclair Ferguson.  This is his short commentary on Jonah which was not available in this country until recently.  Rejoice!  Now I’m ready to preach on Jonah.
  • Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges.  Been afraid to read this one 🙂  I know many of my sins are “respectable” but sin none the less.  There is also a Study Guide available which means it might be a great study for groups.
  • Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics by Graeme Goldsworthy.  I’ve been wanting to read this for some time.  I’ve enjoyed and been challenged by some other stuff he’s written.  It will be interesting to see how he approaches this, and if it fits well with the triperspective approach (Christ’s work for us, in us & thru us) that I’ve been using.

I’ve got a good patch of reading ahead of me!

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Here are some more of the ‘controversial’ doctrines as I go through the Westminster Confession of Faith for licensure to preach.  Remember, no arguments- but if you think I misunderstood the Confession, let me know.

Chapter IX: Of Free Will

102. How is man’s will free, and not free? Can a sinner do anything good?   All we do, we do freely- without coercion- in accordance with our nature.  As those who have a corrupt nature, we are unable to do anything good.  We hate God, freely, and freely choose sin.  Even when we choose the right course of action, we do it for sinful reasons.

103.Why is man responsible for his actions if he is not morally free?  Though not morally free, we are volitionally free.  We love our sin and choose it freely.  We hate righteousness and avoid it freely.

104. When will a man be made perfectly free to do good?  Only at our glorification will we be perfectly and immutably free to good alone.

105.What do we mean when we way that a Christian is freed from sin? We are freed from the penalty and power of sin, but not its presence until glorification.

106. Describe the biblical teaching concerning total inability? Are you personally committed to the doctrine of total inability? We are unable to convert ourselves.  Faith and repentance are graces that must be given to us that we might be converted.  Yes, I am personally committed to the doctrine of total inability.

  (more…)

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This is a very interesting election season, to say the least.  I’ve been reading people’s blog posts, looking at internet boards my wife and I are involved in, etc. and seeing some interesting shifts among people of faith.

Words are interesting things- they have both the power to reveal AND conceal.  I am not a one issue voter.  Seems that people think Christians are supposed to be, or have been, one issue voters.  As a result, they hear another candidate talk about some issues close to their heart and they begin to align with that candidate.

As a Christian, I am concerned about the poor, the environment, abortion, justice and more things than you can shake a stick at.  Some candidates, and parties, are better than others about mentioning some of those issues.  Both Presidential candidates, if you have been listening, say they want to reduce abortions, address climate change issues, eliminate torture, pursue economic advancement to reduce poverty, etc.  So they seem equal.

But we must be careful- raising an issue is not to be confused with having a good solution for that issue.  All proposals are not created equally, so we must examine how the various candidates want to address those issues.

Poverty seems to be one of the issues that touches base with a number of other issues.  You can’t talk about abortion without talking about poverty.  You can’t talk about the environment without talking about poverty.  You can’t talk about taxes without talking about poverty.  That is because some of the solutions to those issues will greatly impact poverty here in America, and therefore around the world.  Solutions that actually reduce jobs (for instance, taxes on small businesses making over $250k- which is NOT much if you own a small business- will put people out of work increasing poverty, or climate change initiatives that strangle an economy increase poverty) will increase poverty here and abroad.  Issues do not exist in a vacuum.  There are unintended consequences that idealists tend not to recognize. 

I find it hard to believe that a candidate cares for America when he does not care for its most vulnerable members.  I find it hard to believe that a candidate cares for America when his economic policies will put people out of work and on the government dole.  Don’t vote on the basis of emotion (he talks about the issues I care about), but take some time to learn how he approaches those issues and if that makes sound sense (not just a great emotional appeal).  Discover HOW the economy works so you can choose a candidate who will make choices that facilitate its growth so people have opportunities to advance and voluntarily spread their wealth (called charitable giving).  Vote with your head AND your heart.

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Some great thoughts from William Gurnall’s The Christian in Complete Armour (Oct. 23) on the differences between doubt and unbelief.

“A person should no more sit down and be content in his unresolved doubt than one who thinks he smells fire in his house would go to bed and sleep.  He will look in every room and corner until he is satisfied that everything is safe.

“The doubting soul is much more afraid of waking with hellfire about it, but a soul under the power of unbelief is falsely secure and careless. … In spite of his doubts the true believer leans on and desires still to cling to Christ. … The weak Christian’s doubting is like the wavering of a ship at anchor- he is moved, yet not removed from his hold on Christ; but the unbeliever’s doubting is like the wavering of a wave which has nothing to anchor it and is wholly at the mercy of the wind.”

In a section on faith and unbelief (October 24) we are reminded of this scary, yet oddly comforting, reality.

“This dispute is from two contrary principles, faith and unbelief, which lust against each other; and your unbelief, which is the elder- no matter how hard it fights for mastery- shall serve the younger.  Presumptuous faith lacks balance.”

Faith and unbelief are at war in the Christian’s heart.  This is part of the conflict between the Spirit and the flesh.  When we follow the lead of the Spirit, we live by faith and grow in grace.  When we follow the lead of the flesh, we experience spiritual entropy & apathy, or spiritual decline.  This stuff isn’t talked about much these days.  We lack the spiritual insight of the Puritans, and suffer for it.

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My friend, Dr. Chris Probst, got his Ph.D. in history over the pond studying the connection between Martin Luther and Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews.  He’s currently a fellow in Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, but he’s doing some lectures in Chicago next week.

Friday night, October 31st- a workshop at the Lessons & Legacies Conference on Holocaust Education at Northwestern University. 

Monday, November 3rd- lectures in 2 classes at Wheaton College.

Monday evening, November 3rd- a public lecture in the Phelps Room of the Beamer Center at Wheaton beginning at 7 pm.

If you live in the area, you may want to attend the lecture.  And tell him the Cavman sent you!

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