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Archive for January, 2011


When I first saw Flight Plan: Your Mission to Become a Man by Lee Burns and Braxton Brady, I wondered if I should read and review it.  Since we don’t technically have a youth group, I thought it might be a helpful resource for our teenage boys.  So I requested a copy.

The book was developed as a curriculum at a private boys school to assist them in those difficult years.  It covers most of the topics I could think need to be covered to prepare them for manhood.  As is the case in all books of this type, the purpose is not to be exhaustive as it covers each topic.  There remains plenty to be said, but it is intended to get the conversation and process started.  Each chapter has discussion questions to further this process.

There are plenty of pictures of planes, which my friend who is a pilot found fascinating.  There are also a number of very interesting stories about pilots and flights used to illustrate the message of the book.  I am sure CavSon will also find these stories and pictures very interesting as well (when the time arrives).

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I'm Excited, But It's Early

It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.

My congregants know I’m a Boston sports fan from my childhood.  As part of pastor appreciation in October, I was given 2 tickets to the Celtics-Suns game when the Celtics made their only appearance in Phoenix (unless both teams inexplicably end up in the the Finals).  The long-awaited day finally arrived.  The night before I watched the Celtics play a tough game in Portland, and expected them to come out flat.  I couldn’t have expected what unfolded.

Around 3:30, the guy who lives with us (henceforth known as CavFriend) and I departed Casa Cav for Phoenix.  He grew up in Phoenix, so I was glad to have him as navigator.  It was pretty much smooth sailing on good ol’ I-10.  While driving, CavFriend finalized plans for us to have dinner with some of his family members.  We were going to meet his dad at Tom’s Tavern at 6:30.

We arrived into town a bit early and drove around trying to find parking.  Plenty of open meters to choose from.  But, unlike anyplace I’ve ever been the meters were operational until 8 pm.  While we could have moved the car after the 2 hour limit (7:30), we didn’t have enough quarters to get us that far.  So, we bit the bullet and paid for the $8 event parking in a garage a few blocks from the arena.  The closer garage was $10, and the closest was $15, so a good move.

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I can’t remember where I saw it.  It was a blog post on questions to ask a prospective pastor.  Many of them were good, convicting questions.  One of them was regarding sermon preparation (a standard question on many forms I filled out).  In answering the question, he made some good points for churches to consider.  But something was nagging at me.

His suggestion was 16-20 hours maximum for sermon preparation.  He made the very good point that a pastor can’t spend 40 hours on a sermon and fulfill his other responsibilities.

What I say now is not to refute anything he said, real or imagined ( this won’t be a John MacArthur-Darrin Patrick thing especially since I’m no one important and I don’t even remember who he was though they were more important than me).  It is to supplement.

Part of it is born of experience, including this week.  Sermon preparation is not a formula.  Certain tasks are required (working with the original languages and translations to exegete the text, reading a few trusted commentaries to make sure you exegeted it well, exegeting your congregation and community, thinking about the application and sermon structure).  Those tasks take time.  But they do not a sermon make.

The work of the Spirit to illumine the text is essential.  You can do all the “academic” prep work you want, but until the Spirit shines the light on what pulls it all together and points it toward Jesus- all you’ve got is the beginnings of a paper for seminary or Bible college.

Different Decade, Same Experience

This week I’ve been pounding my head on the table, wall and any other hard object I can find.  I did my analysis in Hebrew, looked at parallel passages, read 4 commentaries and a book about this portion of Scripture.  Yet, I left the office Wednesday without a “Big Idea” and therefore no sermon structure.  I was at an impasse.

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I took a stab at the Controversy a few years ago after reading (or trying to read) Herman Hoeksema’s book.  That post remains quite popular.  I’ve been meaning to read Van Til on the incomprehensibility of God, but more important matters have hindered me from investing the time necessary.

But I finally began John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God.  Early on in the book, he interacts with the Controversy and makes what I think are some helpful comments on it.  I’ve been meaning to blog about this, but have been (yes) busy.  Since today is something of a sick day, I’ve got a bit more time.

“We should be gentle with those who differ from us; they may not be rebellious or sinful in their disagreement, only immature (in other respects they may surpass us).  And, of course, we must always recognize the possibility that we may be wrong, that a brother or sister who disagrees with us may have something to teach us.”

Frame asserts that this controversy was not the highlight of either man’s career, and that they seriously misunderstood one another.  As the first, such controversies tend to bring out the worst in us.  This is why many godly men offered warnings about how to conduct themselves in theological controversy.  It is quite easy for pride to deceive us and distort our thinking, motive and goals.  Part of that deception ties into the misunderstanding of the other person’s actual views that takes place.  As I mentioned in the earlier post, controversy tends to move us to further extremes in the quest to be right (as opposed to understanding truth).

Both, however had valid concerns.  Van Til wished to preserve the Creator-creature distinction in the realm of knowledge, and Clark wished to prevent an skeptical deductions from the doctrine of incomprehensibility, to insist that we really do know God on the basis of revelation.  Van Til, therefore, insisted that even when God and man were thinking of the same thing (a particular rose, for example), their thoughts about it were never identical– God’s were the thoughts of the Creator, man’s of the creature.  Such language made Clark fear skepticism.

Here is how they were talking past each other in some ways (there was a real disagreement, but not as vast as either made it out to be perhaps).  They wanted to protect different ideas in their discussion of the topic.  Different agendas or concerns, which led to different expressions and therefore misunderstanding.

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This weekend our Community Group wrapped up our study of Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul Tripp.  In that final chapter Tripp talked about self-identity and accountability.  I thought them an odd choice.

That was until we met together, I showed a few clips from Cool Runnings to illustrate the points and it all began to click as we talked together.

“We always live out some kind of identity, and the identities we assign ourselves powerfully influence our responses to life.”

Often our sins or our afflictions define us.  “My name is Fred, and I’m an alcoholic.”  You could substitute sex addict, bulimic or any number of sins.  We begin to identify ourselves with the patterns of sin in our lives.

We can also identify ourselves with our afflictions.  For some time I assigned myself “Failure”.  The church had “failed” and many seemed all too quick to assign that to me.  I began to own it.  Sometimes it starts with others assigning us the identity, but eventually we own it for ourselves.  I could be “loser”, “wimp”, “handicapped”, “divorced”, “single parent” or any host of self-identities.

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In the past week speech and rhetoric has become a hot topic.  Like many people, I’ve been sitting and soaking it all in.  I don’t want to fall into the trap of the knee jerk reaction, as many have.

On the one hand, many have blamed the current political climate for the shootings in Tucson.  Thankfully, after 5 days of hearing this the President rightfully said such speech is not to blame for the actions of the shooter.  What is odd to me is that those making such charges were blind to their own use (or that of others sharing their political views) of such rhetoric.  Too many times I heard and seen “XXXXXX’s don’t talk like that.”  The internet is full of examples of people from both sides of the political spectrum talking just like that.  Our inner Pharisees were working overtime!

Sadly, the President, in calling for “healing speech” didn’t disavow his own documented use of such rhetoric.  Such would be the move of a great leader, acknowledging his own failings even as he calls all of us to a better, higher standard.

At the same time, the New York Jets seem to be living in a bubble.  Their coach is an inflammatory quote machine.  His arrogance, not to be confused with confidence, is astounding as he apparently has knowledge of what happens when other teams and their players prepare for a game.  He also, apparently, knows what people say behind closed doors.

But worse than his arrogance (which is pretty bad since God opposes the proud) is the verbal attacks of Antonio Cromartie.  He doesn’t have to like Tom Brady.  He doesn’t have to shower Brady with man love.  But his choice of words denies Brady’s dignity as made in the image of God, and is abusive.  It is the “rotten speech” of which Paul warned in Ephesians.  It is the same root from which all the political rhetoric has blossomed.

Here is where I see idolatry at work.  When your allegiance to a team doesn’t allow you to see their guilt in a matter, it is idolatrous.  When SpyGate erupted, I did not condone the actions of the Patriots.  But I put it in context as well, since this seemed to be a fairly common practice (sort like the steroid era).  The Patriots “only” got caught because then Jets’ coach Eric Mangini wanted a competitive edge.  He most likely engaged in that practice while a member of the Patriots’ coaching staff.  [The lack of impact on the game was revealed by the Patriots finishing that regular season undefeated.]

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Been looking at addictions lately.  As Calvin says, the human heart is a factory of idols.  We are a mass of addictions.  Some of our additions seem innocuous, like caffeine.  Others only seem troublesome when they are out of control- like when your shoe collection rivals Imelda Marcos (or you’re always broke because you feed that addiction.

Oddly enough, some addictions are becoming “mainstream”.  I am disheartened to see the popularity of pornography.  Looking at pornography used to be a shameful thing: dark, seedy theaters, brown covered magazines.  It was something you did alone, except for bachelor parties.  After all, no one looks at porn just to look at porn as if it is a work of art.  You look at it to stimulate and facilitate sexual release (either alone or with a partner).

But today porn is viewed differently.  It is apparently for women too.  There are porn parties- with both sexes watching.  I just can’t comprehend that.  Even as a young, sex-crazed heathen I couldn’t conceive of such a thing.  But I was “unliberated”, shackled by the smothering guilt of a Roman Catholic upbringing.  [Actually, I think my conscience was still functioning- barely- to restrain some sin in my life.]

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