Archive for March, 2012

Someone sent me a link today for an article in Psychology Today called Why Atheism Will Replace Religion.  It claims to have evidence to support this assertion. To steal a phrase, “that’s mighty bold talk for a one-eyed fat man, I mean soft science!”

What is the evidence offered? First, atheism is on the rise in industrialized nations. It is most prominent in Europe, and nearly non-existent in sub-Sahara Africa.

Atheism is correlated with higher education and affluence. The author sees religion as a way of coping with fear. In those prosperous nations, there is less to fear. This is particularly true as they have developed extensive social welfare programs.

These nations, he notes, are also marked by a decreasing birth rate. This is because fewer people are needed to work the land. He sees a tie between an agrarian economy, birthrates and atheism.  The modern man has “tamed” much of life’s unpredictability, he thinks, and no longer needs God. Or children.

As an “evolutionary psychologist’ the author, Nigel Barber sees this as a good evolution.

So, what is the problem?

11 “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, 12 lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God,… Deuteronomy 8 (ESV)

Approximate 3,400 years ago God predicted this exact pattern in the life of Israel. It is not a new thing. Prosperity produces pride which means that people forget God. This begins with practical atheism and morphs into theoretical atheism. The rise of theoretical atheism in Europe should not surprise the biblically informed person. This has been happening for thousands of years!

But I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. 5 It was I who knew you in the wilderness,    in the land of drought; but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me. Hosea 13 (ESV)

But can atheism replace religion? In the short term, yes. In the long term, no.


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I just finished reading Acts this morning in my new office at home. It is more peaceful there than at the kitchen table when I’m done with my reading in the morning. I could spend some more time pondering it.

Paul made the most of unexpected opportunities to preach the gospel. Chapter 27 is the storm and shipwreck. They endured a 2-week long storm that blew them off course to Malta. They didn’t expect to be there. The captain was not a wise man, and didn’t listen to advice. He put everyone’s life in danger.

Thankfully, for them, Paul was on board too.  God preserved them because of Paul. I am reminded of Lot’s family (and Noah’s) who were preserved from judgment because they were with him. That is, until Lot’s wife looked back. Of course, it may have been better if the daughters had too. Bad stuff, that.

But God spared the whole crew, the soldiers and the other prisoners (and any other passengers). He encouraged them through Paul so they did not lose heart.

It was because of the shipwreck, however, that they ended up on Malta and Paul ended up making Christ known on Malta. Paul could have complained about being shipwrecked and not making it to Rome. I tend to get frustrated by the unexpected. I wouldn’t make a good missionary, or apostle.

Paul trusted the Father, and made good use of this unexpected opportunity. We have no idea when the gospel would have come to Malta had Paul not been stranded there. But this was no accident. He was sent there by God’s providence that some of the people of Malta would believe the gospel and begin building the church there. God met them in their weakness, for it was begun my Paul healing many of their illnesses.

God kept His promise of getting Paul safely to Rome. It just wasn’t on Paul’s time table. God will be faithful to us. He will accomplish His purposes for us and in us. We have to remember that it is not going to be how we expect or demand that it be. But along the way, the unexpected path, we will have the opportunity to make Christ and His saving work known to people that may have never heard otherwise.

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Most of us probably don’t spend much time thinking about our prayer requests. We must make them. Perhaps we ought to think about them.  John Stott, in his commentary on Ephesians, notes that our requests express our desires.

We also ought to consider what Paul prayed for people. His desires reflected God’s desires for those churches. One of his most significant prayers comes in Ephesians 3.

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. ESV

Paul was preoccupied here with 4 things: strength, love, knowledge and fullness. He wanted these for the Ephesian Christians. Are we so different that we don’t need these 4 things.

His strength is made perfect in weakness.


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One of the phrases that sticks with me from The Meaning of Marriage is that of future glory. Keller points to places like Ephesians 5 to contemplate this idea of our future glory.

25  Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Jesus gave himself up for the church for a few reasons mentioned here (and others elsewhere). He sets her apart. He has cleansed her in order to present her to himself. Her new condition is one of splendor, without blemish. Paul is mentioning the future glory of the church. And this is to be the model for the husband, to consider the future glory of his own wife.

I’m currently editing my own book on marriage, and grappling with this passage. We tend to get stuck in the tension between their dignity as image bearers and their depravity as sinners. Each of us tends to err in one or the other extreme. We can focus on their dignity so much that we idealize them, worship them and don’t address the sin they do commit. It is almost like you remain forever in that infatuation phase when all you see is what is good about a person and not their faults and failings.

But most people who are married for any length of time tend to slowly drift toward the other extreme. Their failures and faults loom large since we see them on display regularly. We grow weary of these things, apart from grace.

This grace is two-fold. First, there is forgiveness. No marriage, or any relationship, can survive without forgiveness. It is like grace’s in-door plumbing system. It refreshes those how are guilty, and removes our “waste” from the relationship. Without it the relationship begins to look like one of those houses in Hoarders, filled with animal excrement, mold and filth. It is an assault on one’s senses. Forgiving one another is rooted in Christ’s atonement. Paul goes there at the end of Ephesians 4. Since we have received grace from God, we are to grace one another. We forgive because we have been forgiven!

Second, there is contemplating their future glory. Your spouse will not always remain as they are now. In our saner moments we notice how much God has changed them already. My wife sees this most clearly whenever we spend time with my family. I am increasingly less like them.

But we also need hope, and God provides that in passages like this. All of the members of Christ’s bride will appear before him in splendor, without blemish. We need to keep this thought before us. He or she will one day be just like Jesus in their character. Their personality will remain, in purified form, but they will no longer have their faults and failings. Their blemishes will be gone.

And one of the means that God uses to accomplish this, one set of circumstances in which he applies the work of Christ, is marriage. If you are married, this is probably the primary place. He has others, so if you are single don’t worry, he’ll apply them to you as well. You are one of the means as you increasingly treat their sin as Jesus does. Yes, you become a living representative of Jesus to them as one in whom the image of God is being restored. You are patient, merciful and yet firm with their sin. You call them out, AND to repentance on the basis of God’s mercy in Christ. You aren’t doing it to win an argument or keep them in their place so you can feel superior. You are pursuing their sanctification with humility and love.

In our community group recently I also applied this to our experience with the church. We often begin our time at a church in an infatuation phase. The pastor’s sermons are awesome, people friendly etc. Eventually we being to see their sin. We begin to be sinned against. What do we do? Depends. If we are not actively impacted by grace, we get angry and leave. But grace enables us to forgive the sins of the local church and contemplate (as well as pursue) her future glory.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1

Paul here contemplates that future glory with regard to the Philippian church. God is the one who began this, and will finish it. Paul rested in that. We need to as well. If we are sure of this, like Paul was, we can be patient and merciful with our fellow church members- forgiving them, correcting them, offering them mercy in the midst of their sin.

If we don’t, our church life will become like so many marriages: cold, distant, lifeless and ending in divorce.

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There is a church here in town that goes by the name, The Cool Church. I’m not talking about that today. Maybe some other day. But today I am tired and distracted, so this may not go in a good direction …

I’m talking about when the climate change agenda takes root in the church.

Note the wind turbine in the place of the cross.

I got a letter from a different local church today inviting us to their Cool Congregations Workshop. It is sponsored by the church’s Green Team. Yes, they have a “green team” to help them become better stewards of creation. I’m all for good stewardship, but this needs a whole team?

They are bringing the crowd from the Arizona Interfaith Power and Light down from Tempe to discuss a religious response to climate change.

Here is the agenda:

  • Address the ABC’s of climate change
  • Explore how climate change is a moral and spiritual issue
  • Measure your own carbon footprint and find ways to reduce it
  • Learn about The Other Side of the Meter: Local, state and federal policies on energy and climate change
  • Discover how to organize a Cool Congregations program in your own congregation


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I was born in New England. I grew up in New Hampshire (part of New England for those whose knowledge of geography is fuzzy). I became a Christian while attending college in New England. My formative years as a Christian were in New England. When I left home in 1991 to attend seminary in Florida, my intention was to return to the area. God had other plans for me (sort of like how Paul was sent to the Gentiles instead of his fellow Jews), but I still have a heart for New England (much to the frustration of some friends) and long to see the Reformed church return to New England. The PCA and OPC are trying to plant churches in the region.


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There is a place for “bite-sized” reflections on ethical issues. Al Mohler provides just that in Culture Shift: The Battle for the Moral Heart of America.  I suspect this book is taken from his blog posts from 2001-2005. I read the expanded edition which contains some newer chapters from 2010-11. The chapters are short enough to read in less than 30 minutes. Mohler interacts with events and controversies, so these pieces are not abstract. As John Piper notes, he is clear-headed.

While he tackles some complex issues, I never got the sense I was in over my head. He makes the material accessible to ordinary people. He has 3 chapters on Public Law, first laying out 3 secular arguments, then 3 secular myths and finally 5 theses. Many of these chapters are still relevant, like his chapter on Offendedness. There are chapters wrestling with 9/11, the Tsumani, abortion, Darwinism and more. These are things to think about. At times you can see how perceptive he is.

“Instead, Saletan argued that the pro-abortion movement should coalesce around an agenda of lowering the total number of abortions and increasing the use of contraceptives.”

This, for instance, has been the rhetoric of our President.

But he looks not merely at personal sins, but at structures. This is not as common for conservatives. This is part of the tension between conservatives and progressives today. The one sees personal morality as the main issue, and the other public morality as the main issue so sin is found either in the individual or the structures. For a Christian, we should recognize both. And both need to be addressed.

“Sin is so interwoven in our lives and institutional structures that we often cannot even see it.”


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Theirs was an amazing friendship marked by triumph and tragedy. It was a friendship that produced the most famous, well-loved hymn of all time, and one of my favorite hymns.

After years of seeking a call to a church, and ordination, John Newton was called to pastor the church at Olney. He would become an increasingly influential figure in 18th century England. When they met for the first time in 1767, Cowper (sounds like Cooper) was a troubled young man. He was unstable and unemployed. They shared some common experiences, and helped each other reach greater heights than they could have if they had not met. God, in his providence, brought them together in order to give the church many good gifts..

William Cowper

Cowper was born in a well-established family that was well-connected in image conscious England. There were many expectations upon William. He grandfather, Spencer Cowper, was England’s Lord Chief Justice. Spenser’s brother Earl was Lord Chancellor.  William’s mother Ann was a descendent of John Donne, the 17th century poet and Dean of St. Paul’s. His father was a pastor and a fellow of Merton College Oxford.

William, like John, lost his mother when he was six. Where this seemed to harden John it appears to have broken William.

William studied law and a cousin had gotten him an appointment in the office of the Clerk of the Journals in the House of Lords. First he had to make a preliminary before the bar of the House to answer some formal questions. Fear of this exam put him into an emotional tailspin that resulted in 3 attempts at suicide. He would be institutionalized for 2 years as a result.

Leaving the asylum, Cowper moved in with Rev. Unwin and his wife in Huntingdon. He stayed with them for 2 years, receiving instruction from the Rev. Unwin. In 1767, Morley Unwin was thrown from his horse and died. In God’s providence, Newton was visiting Huntingdon at the time. He planned on meeting the Unwins, carrying a letter of introduction for that purpose. Arriving in the midst of the tragedy, Newton comforted the grieving widow and her “adopted son” William. They shared an evangelical faith, and a love for long walks, good books and discussing topics of interest. After learning they would have to leave Huntingdon, Newton offered to help them find a place to live in Olney.


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