Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Midwest Winter

Right now it is the coldest it has been since my arrival here. The temperature is a mere 50 degrees. Needless to say this is still like the summer months in the Caribbean compared to what the winter brings come December-June or something hideous like that.

Every person I talk to, after hearing that I am from Florida, gets a frightened look on his or her face. "Have you ever experienced a Midwest winter?" is the immediate question they ask. I say I am originally from New Mexico and then I must quickly back that statement by mentioning that there are mountains in Santa Fe, it actually snows there, and there is some pretty good skiing as well. Once they get over the shock that New Mexico isn't just flat desert lands, they say, "But have you ever experienced a Midwest winter?" I come back with a confident, "No, but I sure do like seasons!" They laugh and say I am in for a big surprise.

Each conversation has constructed a more solidified image of this Midwest winter, where temperatures drop below 100, sometimes even making it close to -273 Celsius--the temperature where all motion ceases. People can't leave home without 15 layers, 12 jackets, and 5 pair of long johns. Then come the 16 pairs of socks, 22 pairs of gloves, and 5 pairs of boots--all at the same time! This just won't do for a Midwest winter though. One has to purchase clothes that have built-in heating systems so that at the touch of a button one can experience bursts of steam and a slight warming through a hot-water filtration system. It's all quite compelling actually. The snow stacks up so high we are actually holding class on the rooftops of the buildings and small city systems come out through the burrowed tunnels created under the snow. But I am sure my imagination in no way compares to what it's actually going to be like--it's probably worse!

Today in class someone actually prayed that I can make it through the winter. As for now, with the temperature being what it is, all I can do is brew a nice pot of delicious coffee, pull out my Bible, and enjoy life. All I can hope for as the weather gets colder is that I don't turn out like this guy:

By His Grace.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Desiring God Conference

So I just got home from my first real conference that wasn't associated with Campus Crusade for Christ. Ryan and I drove up to Minneapolis to hit up the annual Desiring God National Conference, which is part of Pastor John Piper's extensive ministry. This year's conference theme was The Power of Words and the Wonder of God. I remember the title so well thanks to Dr. Piper's humorous explanation of it this morning.

If the theme title peaks your interest at all, I am going to suggest you watch (not just listen, but watch) these three videos I am listing below from the speakers this weekend. These three were the most powerful for me personally and from those with who I have chatted the consensus seems to agree with me. I do hope you will take the time to watch to at least the first, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, who hails from Scotland so you will at least get a sweet accent to hear the entire time. If you have the time, however, watch not only to these three, but to all of them. They are all free so you might as well take advantage of them!

Dr. Sinclair Ferguson: "The Tongue, The Bridle, The Blessing"
Mark Driscoll: "How Sharp the Edge: Christ, Controversy, and Cutting Words"
Paul Tripp: “War of Words: Getting to the Heart for God’s Sake”

For a little humor you can also check out the first speaker panel, where Driscoll gives Dr. Piper a "special" gift.

I am very thankful for all the speakers and their unique contribution to this really amazing conference. God used them, the worship through music, and the conversations about the conference in amazing ways that I am just now beginning to unpack. I was able to get away to a nice coffee shop today in Stillwater, MN, which is right on the St. Croix River. During that time I was able to flesh out things regarding my calling, as I look more into that, and particularly how Dr. Ferguson's idea of "taming the tongue through the ministry of the Word in our hearts" plays a role--or lacks a role for that matter--in my life. I was convicted of my sin, and convinced of His grace this weekend. Christ was very much exalted and I hope that you will listen to these talks that He may be exalted through you as well.

By His Grace.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Skeptic? Critical? Envious? See How He Loves Us!

Jesus wept. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?"
-The Gospel of John, Chapter 11

Envy. I would be exactly like those who spoke against Jesus. God has taught me a lot about envy these past few days as I grow to understand it more from the perspective of "sorrow at another man's success." I could be envious of some guy in the marketplace who is doing extremely well for himself according to this world's standards, making more money than I could ever know what to do with in my lifetime. Envy is not sorry over his soul; it's over his possessions. Anytime I walk in a big city like Chicago I am quickly tempted to be envious of the people who valet park their cars at the gigantic Marriot. I watch the valet drive away in their Mercedes as bell hops rush to get their Gucci bags for them so they can be waiting upstairs at their suites. I could be envious of the former CEO of Merril Lynch who used to be helicoptered over to a golf course after work in order to get 18 holes in before the day ended. I am tempted and sometimes fall for that temptation by putting them down, not angry at their sin or their indulgence, but angry because they have what my flesh wants. I could be envious of the guy who is better looking, more athletic, smarter than me, in a happy relationship, but none of these compare to being envious of someone alongside me in the Christian walk.

There were Jews who had come with Mary to the tomb of her brother, Lazarus. As best as I can understand, they must have somehow been connected with the family and wanted to pay condolences. They also seemed to be intrigued by the person of Jesus as they had heard that just days before he had healed the blindness of a man. Jesus was deeply moved by mary and the Jews' response to Lazarus' death and he asked where they had laid him. She took him over to the tomb and Jesus' immediate, initial reaction is to weep. To weep. Jesus. Wept. He wept. This does not connote tears just welling up in his eyes, or one tiny droplet running down his cheek. Could you imagine losing one of your closest friends? How would you react at his or her funeral? I know some try to hold their emotions in at a funeral, not wanting to be perceived as weak, but that wasn't Jesus' take. This breaks all the stereotypes of the stone-faced Jesus who knew no emotion. This was his care. His compassion. His love. Weeping does not equal weakness and he would soon show how strong he really was.

The Jews saw this. Most of them. Most responded by witnessing the love of Christ being poured out through His flood of tears over Lazarus' death. These Jews rightly commented on Jesus' reaction saying, "See how he loved him!" But there were some who reacted another way. Others said, "How is it that this Jesus could heal a blind man, but couldn't even prevent his close friend from dying? Who does he think he is?" Some might say these other Jews were skeptical, much like the critics today, who challenge God, saying "God, if you are truly real, reveal yourself to me. Show up at my door. Just for a second. If you are real and you want me to know you, that's all I need. Then I will believe. If not, you're not much of a God and I don't want to believe in you anyway."

Although this might be part of the truth, I think there might be more to it. I think these folk were envious of him, knowing the stories being told, knowing there was something mysterious about him. They were there, seeking him only weeping and their response wasn't continual sorrow alongside him over the loss of Lazarus; instead it was a critical attitude toward Jesus, saying if he had healed the blind man, why couldn't he prevent this? What kind of healer are you, Jesus?

Their response was in part a critique from envy toward Jesus, who many were calling "The Prophet" and even "The Messiah!" But who does he think he is? He can't even prevent this man's death! This is a bitterness that is pinned up against the beautiful, caring, loving, powerful, mighty Jesus Christ. The envy holds strong enough to the poin that even after he conquers Lazarus' death by raising him to life--an action that should silence any skeptic or critic--these Jews go and report it to the Pharisees who, from that day, "made plans to put him to death." These people who claimed to be religious were steeped deep in envy and were unable to enjoy God and his might works.

Here is the danger for Christians who are envious of other Christians. Our Triune God is restoring his Kingdom right now. That is beyond questioning. This same God is also choosing to do so as he sees fit with whom he chooses when he chooses where he chooses and how he chooses. His plan and actions are greater than ours and his lowliest work is infinitely greater than 10,000 valiant human acts. As a result different parts of the body function in different capacities and serve a wide-range of purposes. All the parts of the body are working together for the glory of God and his Kingdom. But envy takes our eyes off Christ and off this purpose, instead fixing them on the other parts of the body as a hand now wants to be a foot. Rather than rejoicing in how God is using his feet, the hand criticizes it and think it deserves to take the foot's place or receive as much recognition or responsibility as the foot. The hand forgets its job, its responsibility, and stops serving the body or it tries to do more than God has given it to do, overworking itself, the body, and making things disjointed all together.

Sadly this happens in so many ways--in the Church and in my life. I am too often envious of the more theologically sound Christian, the Christian who has written books, the Christian who is a great preacher, the Christian who sees thousands come to Christ, the Christian who is a missionary in a "glorified" location, the Christian who pastors a large church. And instead of immediately rejoicing in what God is doing, I jump right into critical thoughts filled with envy and questions of, "Why not me?" and "When is it going to be my turn?" I am sorrow-filled at another Christian's so-called success. This is a worldly sorrow, which only produces death.

So I pray for the skeptic non-Christians, who continually present challenges to God as if he owes it to them to reveal himself in a greater way than through the love of Christ that has already been put on display through his death on the Cross and his own beautiful resurrection. But I also pray for Christians and myself, that we can be like those Jews who saw the true love of Christ toward his friend, able to see in the lives of Christians all around me and the world how the Holy Spirit truly is working in their hearts, through their lives, for the Kingdom and for God's glory.

By His Grace.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Is Jesus "Made in America"?

Here is a book review on Steve Nichols' recently published book, Jesus Made in America.

In his book, Jesus Made in America, author Steve Nichols poses the thesis that the Jesus known from generation to generation is more of a culturally created Jesus than the biblically centered Christ Jesus. He posits that theology is not done in a vacuum, interpretation is not made through a crystal clear, unbiased lens, and that “Jesus, like most cultural heroes, is malleable.” Nichols sees a special way in which American evangelicalism contemporizes Christ on four counts: they are consistently antitraditionalistic, meaning they have a tendency to be suspicious of tradition; when they do follow tradition, it’s to the tune of Luther’s sola scriptura, creating a naïve hermeneutic of Scripture; they “tend toward an objectivist or foundational epistemology,” meaning a belief becomes the belief; and finally they highly value pietism, or the experiential, over doctrine. According to Nichols, these four factors make American evangelicals vulnerable to root their Christology in the ever evolving, rapidly changing American culture. If rooted in culture, it thus follows that what grows will be a Jesus truly “made in America” (pg. 12).

The thrust of Nichols’ thesis is found subtly in the main titling of each chapter, as chapter one is the only that refers to Jesus as Christ. The rest, two through eight, all use the name, Jesus. This may simply be a coincidence, but it is telling nonetheless. Explicitly, Nichols’ defends that the Puritans were orthodox in doctrine, with lifestyle and practice stemming from their strong and thorough understanding of the two-natured Christology of Jesus being both God and man as he writes, “The Puritans, to put it another way, were stout of mind and heart” (pg. 38). Yet right on the heels of Puritans like Jonathan Edwards, who rightly predicted an Arian influence arriving in America, was a wave of dissolved Christology, where “the heart overtook the head,” first being introduced through William Ellery Channing and his religion, Unitarianism. Nichols then spends the following chapters telling the history and exposing the impact of our culture in the making of the American Jesus, a culture that never has returned to its Puritan roots, seemingly living in their constant shadow as each generation tries to break more and more free.

In the New Republic era a literal cut and paste job of the Gospels done by Thomas Jefferson marks a time when he and other influential fathers of our nation like Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Paine were not only bringing about a new identity for America as an independent nation, but were also giving Jesus an identity that fit their cause. Nichols notes that, “the founders were deeply religious, but, with the exception here or there, not Christian in any orthodox sense—precisely because they answered the question of the identity of Jesus of Nazareth wrongly” (pg. 51). Though the founders have been Christianized over the years, Nichols strongly argues that what they really sought from Jesus was his virtue, summing it up by stating that, “Franklin and Jefferson’s moralizing, as well as Paine’s rationalizing, have a direct impact on the early nineteenth-century evangelical Jesus…It was not what Jesus taught, and certainly not what was taught bout him, that mattered, but instead what Jesus did” (pg. 71).

In the nineteenth-century, “Jesus is no longer the God above, the God-man who breaks into this world. Instead, he becomes interpreted by this world, conformed to cultural mores and ideological pressures, be they of Jacksonian era politics, frontier sensibilities, genteel Victorian manners or even Union ideals or Confederate dreams” (pg. 76). For frontiersmen like Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone, Jesus needed to be a “suitable Savior, not one of the theological exactitude of the creeds but one that reflects the simple stories of the Gospels” (pg. 82); Victorians like J. Paterson-Smyth needed the gentle Jesus, making up stories about his childhood and also taking the ones of him blessing children, narrowing his life and person, making him, in the words of Mark Driscoll, a “marginalized, Galilean peasant.”

Nichols is dead on in his assessment of our contemporary evangelical Christian culture by looking at four major influences on Americans: music, films, goods, and politics. Earlier in the book he hinted at how the shaping of Jesus would affect us today by writing that, “Jefferson wanted…a religion fit for public consumption. Curiously that’s exactly what Jefferson found” (pg. 55, emphasis added). And that’s exactly what Americans find today in our overly consumeristic culture—Big Business Jesus fit for the consumption of all. Christ lost out to capitalism a long time ago.

Whether it’s the Jesus Movement turning into the behemoth known as Contemporary Christian Music (CCM), or films such as The Passion of the Christ raking in millions of dollars, or entrepreneurs taking a slice of the Jesus market, or politicians using “faith in Jesus” as a way of winning votes—at the heart of it all for Nichols is the utter lack of orthodoxy in American evangelicalism. Some, like the Jesus Movement, made great strides for the sake of the gospel as it was being preached by ex-drug addicts and the like, which Nichols begrudgingly acknowledges: “But the Jesus People, if numbers count, were effective at winning souls” (pg. 128). However, with an overwhelming amount of evidence, such as Precious Moments and the Precious Moments Chapel, countless songs like “I Can Only Imagine,” which emphasize feeling and experience over theological accuracy, and the politicizing of Jesus as he becomes “a man of the issues,” Nichols exposes an popular American Evangelicalism that doesn’t know Jesus, the Christ.

Nichols is also right in being cautious in his critique. He does not call MercyMe singing heretics. He does not call for the burning of all the movies portraying Jesus or all Jesus gear. He recognizes that certain songs express longings similar to those in the Psalms and that movies such as the Jesus Film Project seek to be as real and authentic as possible. But the caution enters as he is keenly aware of the fact that most American Evangelicals get their theology from pop Christian culture instead of the solid study of Scripture as he writes, “Evangelicals tend to get their theology from popular novels, learning about spiritual warfare from Frank Peretti and learning about all things ‘rapture’ from the dynamic duo of LaHaye and Jenkins. They also get their theology from popular music. If numbers can be trusted, then the amount of albums bought, songs downloaded and hours logged listening to Christian radio cannot lie” (pg. 143). Nichols sums it up best by quoting Mark Noll: “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”

Although I agree with most of Nichols’ critique and analysis my question is, “against which tradition is America always in rebellion?” How does it not follow that, like with many other cultural trends, the pendulum doesn’t really seem to swing back to a “Puritan” view of Jesus? Instead, Nichols paints a picture of how Jesus, the Christ, has been increasingly watered down to slogans like “WWJD” or “Try Jesus” since the days of the Puritans and that the “tradition” continually rebelled against is theirs? Do Americans, this “Christian” nation, really live in the shadow of its Puritan foundations, each generation fighting to break free? I think this is a weakness in Nichols’ argument, as he only loosely states and rarely defends throughout the book that “for every Harry Emerson Fosdick, there is a J.Gresham Machen” (pg. 12).

In the epilogue, Nichols offers some fairly hope-filled advice to his readers to look to Scripture first before tradition or experience, to challenge what is acceptable, to build each other up, to teach “the cardinal doctrine of the person of Christ” (pg. 226), and to not shrink back from the complex truths in Scripture, particularly two-natured Christology. Sadly though, Nichols’ critique never really comes with the glimmers of light for the present era, such as the theologically sound music of The David Crowder Band and The Cross Movement or the impact of the Christ-saturated preaching and writing of John Piper, Tim Keller, CJ Mahaney, Matt Chandler, and Mark Driscoll. Although the warning is well warranted and there is a much greater need for orthodox Christianity to invade and impact all aspects of our culture, Nichols and others can be somewhat encouraged that our sovereign God is in complete control and that there are people who don’t just say, “experience our American Jesus,” but are confessing, like Peter, that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16).

By His Grace.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

This "Day" in Chicago History

In case you've been keeping up with me at all, you know that I am making somewhat of a concerted effort to know the beautiful city of Chicago a little bit more as my time here progresses. I have done a few things to encourage that: I went to the Art Institute, hit up the annual Jazz Festival, and most recently went to Cubs game this past Friday (sadly they got destroyed). Adding to this I have watched two classic films that have featured the city--Ferris Bueller's Day Off and High Fidelity. The process is slow, but I have a few other things in the works.

One thing I have decided to do is read at least an article a week on something that happened in Chicago that has helped shape it into the city it is today. Fortunately for me, the The Chicago Tribune has compiled a series of articles marking important events in the city's history over the last 150 years! My hope is to find something on the exact day I post these notes, but if I cannot, the article will pertain to something loosely associated with the "day." Most of the articles will be from contemporary journalists looking back on that certain day, though I hope to produce some originals as I develop my research skillz.

The Chicago Seven trial and the 1968 Democratic National Convention

Everybody knew it would be interesting, the trial of eight people charged with conspiring to incite the riots that erupted during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. How could it not be, with a cast of characters that included hippie leaders Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, Black Panther Party leader Bobby Seale, activist ideologues Tom Hayden and Rennie Davis, old-time liberal David Dellinger, and strict and conservative U.S. District Judge Julius J. Hoffman?

But nobody knew as the trial began on this morning that the trial would drag out over 4 1/2 months and disintegrate into a chaotic shambles that came to symbolize the widening gap between generations cleaved by the war in Vietnam.

Beginning as the Chicago Eight Trial, it quickly became the Chicago Seven when Seale, after loudly disrupting the trial when he could not have the lawyer of his choice, was at first bound and gagged in the courtroom and then severed from the case for a later trial, which never occurred. Judge Hoffman, a stickler for courtroom decorum, was challenged daily by the defendants, especially Abbie Hoffman, who called the judge "Julie" and once entered the courtroom wearing judicial robes, which he threw to the floor and trod upon. The trial became a three-sided war involving the defendants and their lawyers, William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass; the prosecutors, Thomas Foran and Richard Schultz; and the judge.

That war extended to the streets as well, with almost daily demonstrations gathering in the South Loop. On Oct. 11, a Loop rally turned violent in the notorious Days of Rage riots, when members of the Weatherman faction and other anti-war groups ran amok in the city streets, breaking windows, fighting police and leaving an assistant city corporation counsel, Richard Elrod, partially paralyzed when he tried to seize a demonstrator.

It ended with the jury deciding that five of the defendants-- Rubin, Hoffman, Hayden, Davis and Dellinger--had incited riots but had not conspired to do so. Defendants Lee Weiner and John Froines were acquitted of all charges. But Judge Hoffman sentenced all seven defendants and two defense lawyers to contempt-of-court jail sentences.

Eventually, all of the contempt sentences and the riot charges were either dismissed by higher courts or dropped by the government. At the time, it was the Trial of the Century, but in the end, the Chicago Seven Trial seemed to mean nothing at all.

By Robert Davis, Chicago Tribune

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Three Major Take-Aways From "The Call"

My two previous posts alluded to a book I was reading for a class which was also one that I had been planning to read for personal pleasure as well. The book is entitled The Call: Finding and Fulling the Central Purpose for Your Life.As one who hopes to have a stronger idea of what exactly God is calling me to, I assumed that reading a book with such an apt title written by a seasoned, intellectual Christian would provide concrete answers and steps to discover my calling. Guinness’ book did everything but what I was expecting; although that was the case I thoroughly enjoyed the read. From this book I gleaned three major pieces of wisdom that have truly helped shape my understanding of calling in general and how I personally should be approaching God’s calling on my life.

The first is from one of the opening chapters where Guinness makes a powerful distinction in calling that is not talked about much in Christian circles as he writes, “Our primary calling as followers of Christ is by him, to him, and for him. First and foremost we are called to Someone (God), not to something (such as motherhood, politics, or teaching) or to somewhere (such as the inner city or Outer Mongolia). Building off of this in a later chapter he writes of Abraham and the Israelites, “In both cases their sense of direction and meaning came solely from God’s call, not from their foresight, their wisdom, or their ability to read their circumstances. Being in seminary one of the first questions asked me is, “What are you doing after?” or “What are you called to do?” I am so tempted just several weeks in to give them answer to what I will be doing three or four years from now and often I give one. But what I learned from these passages is that my calling is primarily to God, not to do something or go somewhere. I am learning to be content in my calling first to God, living for Him each day, trusting that the rest will be revealed as He chooses.

The second somewhat stems from this and is the main idea of the chapter The Audience of One. Guinness writes, “A life lived listening to the decisive call of God is a life lived before one audience that trumps all others—the Audience of One.” I read this knowing that I live before an audience greater than God, namely the audience of my family. For reasons I am still discovering, I feel as though I am living in the shadow of a family that does not approve nor fully understand why I am doing what I am doing and Who I am called to. Much of my hope is this though which says, “one day they will see exactly the great things God does through me as I preach in front of thousands and write dozens of books.” I want their praise, though I know I shouldn’t nor will I ever be satisfied in it. Reading this chapter was one step closer to freeing me to help me see that I live for God and God alone.

The final piece of wisdom brought a lot of practical light to my Christian life and calling. In the chapter What is That to You? Guinness deals with the sin of envy, using Thomas Aquinas’ definition—“sorrow at another’s good.” Sadly envy has characterized much of my Christian walk up this point as I can recall countless times where I would compare myself with other believers who were better theologians, better speakers, better writers, more accomplished at my age, more compassionate—the list could go on. After reading this chapter I was led to go before the Lord in repentance of this disgusting sin, knowing that it hinders me from rejoicing in what God is doing in and through my brothers and sisters in Christ. I know that it also hinders my calling to God in terms of seeing the best in others and utilizing that for the sake of his Kingdom.

I am very thankful to have read The Call, seeing God’s faithfulness in revealing more of himself to me each day. I pray to heed the words Guinness concludes each chapter with: “Listen to Jesus of Nazareth; answer his call.”

By His Grace.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Sin of Sloth

Here is another convicting and frightening quote from Guinness' book The Call. This quote is from Václav Havel, the famous president of Czechoslovakia and first president of the free Czech Republic. Before rising to power and fame, Havel was imprisoned for his outspoken dissidence again Soviet totalitarianism. He wrote what are known as the Letters to Olga, which "has joined Dietrich Bonhoeffer's World War II Letters and Papers from Prison and Boethius's sixth-century Consolation of Philosophy as the three classic prison letters of the West.

For the quote to make any sense, I must use Guinness definition of sloth, which is, "a condition of explicitly spiritual dejection that has given up on the pursuit of God, the true, the good, and the beautiful. Sloth is inner despair at the worthwhileness of the worthwhile that finally slumps into an attitude of ‘Who cares?’”

In his Letters, Havel commented on how modern man has grown cynical, having "lost faith in everything." As he continues with this thought, here is what Havel writes with what I consider an ominously prophetic voice:

The temptation of Nothingness is enormous and omnipresent, and it has more and more to rest its case on, more to appeal to. Against it, man stands alone, weak and poorly armed, his position worse than ever before in history. The tragedy of modern man is not that he knows less and less about the meaning of his own life, but that it bothers him less and less…

Friday, September 12, 2008

Do You See These Days As A Time To Stand

I am reading this book by one of the great thinkers of our time, Os Guinness. Yes, he is a direct descendant of Arthur Guinness, the brewer and founder of Guinness beer. The book I am reading is entitled The Call, which was written to help Christians really discover and understand the concept of calling as it is spelled out for us in Scripture, establishing from the get go that we are not called to do something or go somewhere, but primarily we are called to Someone. I am not halfway through it, but I am already amazed at the balance he maintains between intellect and real pastoral care (though I don't think he is a pastor or ever has been one).

These words are from his chapter, A Time To Stand and I think they are some of the most powerful words for this generation of believers, requiring serious consideration:
Many followers of Jesus today have not begun to wrestle with the full dimensions of the truths of calling because they have not been stretched by the real challenges of today's world and by the momentousness of the present hour. "A time to stand" is a time to behave as our Lord would wish us to behave. A time to behave is a time to believe as he has taught us to believe. A time to believer is a time to move from small, cozy formulations of faith to knowing what it is to be called by him as the deepest, most stirring, and most consuming passion of our lives.

Do you see what he is getting at? Do you understand the magnitude of these words? The days have passed where you could get by with saying, "Yeah, Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior." Gone are the days where you could live a formulaic, comfortable, easy Christian life, never really considering why you believe what you believe. Gone are the days when you could insulate yourself in a little bubble and try to run as far away as possible from ever trying to understand the world and its ways.

Now are the days where we need to be versed in Scripture, willing to take a stand on the Rock of our salvation, the One in Whom we say our whole lives are wrapped? Now are the days where we need to embrace and engage culture, not shying away because we don't understand. Now are the days of learning, reading, writing, growing, and challenging ourselves and others with us to share the truth of God's love for all of us, of Christ's death for our disobedience against God, our Creator, and the foundation for why we believe--because Jesus Christ is risen! Now are the days of submission to our Lord and an obedience to our King who reigns on high, he who was and is and is to come.

These are the days. Do you see them as a time to stand?

By His Grace.

Change? How Intolerant!

You really think there's a need for change?
What are you trying to say?
Are you saying that there is actually something wrong with the way things are done?
On what basis are you making this claim?
What gives you the authority to say something's wrong and needs to change?
The audacity! The gall!
How intolerant of you!

Why can't you just accept things the way they are?
Why can't you accept me for who I am?
I don't do harm to anyone.
I don't know anyone who does.
I think things are going fine.
How is it that now you want to impose some kind of change on me?
Why are you seeking to oppress me and the way I live?

On top of that, you guys just won't leave me alone!
Everywhere I go I see your faces.
Everywhere I am I hear your words;
I know you're trying to persuade me with your speech.
You have these big meetings.
And everyone is screaming, waving their hands, going crazy.
I think you're kind of weird. All of you.
Yet you want to tell me that things need to change.
You have got to be some of the most intolerant people in the world.

More on where I am going with this later...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Words Can't Describe This

Welcome to the "Village" of Wheeling

Besides Chicago, there doesn't seem to be any cities here in close proximity. I have this odd feeling that the great State of Illinois just wants to give that city the only distinction as a city, thus call it the City of Chicago.

There are no towns. There are no townships. Instead, there are villages. Village of Deerfield. Village of Bannockburn. Village of Wheeling. Within 3 minutes one could drive through all three of these and many more, never knowing exactly which village one is in.

Unless, there are those banners on light posts; you know, the same exact ones on each light post. Those are what I saw today. On each post was written, "Welcome to the Village of Wheeling."

But here is the interesting fact about where I live. The light posts are not like quaint, victorianesque light posts one would expect for a village. Instead they are your regular, tall, gangly light post that curves out at the top over the street. To add to this is the fact that while I am driving through this "village" I am on a six-lane road next to semi trucks and other large carrier vehicles. The "village" is made complete with an enormous outdoor shopping plaza filled with your everyday neighborhood stores like Barnes N' Noble & the IMAX movie theater.

So how is this a village you might ask? Well to make sure everyone knows they are not in a city, or a town, but in a village, the local chief decides to make the speed limit on the six-lane country road 35 mph.

This is where I live.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Why Pro-Life?

I am pro-life. I don't think that by my saying that many are surprised. However, I'm not pro life in the "I-will-embarrass-maim-brutalize-kill-anyone-with-a-pro-choice" kind of way that seems to be a popular way of trying to get a message across.

I am pro life basically because I believe that there is a beautiful result and benefit from sex besides pleasure, and that is the power to create a new life. Sometimes that power is not exercised (i.e. contraception). But when a sperm and an egg do join, this power is unleashed and life begins. Once that life does begin, to take it away is murder. And finally I care for life in general, both for the mother and for the child that is forming inside of her.

At its core, this is not a political position I am taking; I do not think that this is essentially a "law" issue because if we are honest with ourselves as human beings we would recognize that abortions have occurred over the decades and centuries whether or not it is allowable by law. An overturn of Roe v. Wade is something I do desire because I do believe it is wrong to have a government that is legally sanctioning murder, but I would be ignorant to believe that this would rid our country of the atrocity of abortion.

So why I am writing about this then? Well I read two interesting pieces today that I wanted to share with the audience who reads this blog. The first was an article in the International Herald Tribune on Joe Biden's stance on when life begins, which he says, "I'm prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception."

Here is the rest article

But the other piece I read today was a little more startling. Again, although this is not just a law thing, Roe v. Wade gets most of the attention, yet other laws we have established on the state and federal level are telling of some major inconsistencies in thought. I am reading a book called Why Pro-Life? Caring for the Unborn and Their Mothers by Randy Alcorn. I suggest this read for anyone interested in the issue, regardless of what end of the spectrum from which you are coming. It's really short and an easy read with some compelling evidence. In one section he provides some of the very inconsistencies in the law, which also reveal inconsistencies on where many of our nations leaders stand with regards to the life of an unborn child. Here is what he writes:
At the Medical University of South Carolina, if a pregnant woman's urine test indicates cocaine use, she can be arrested for distributing drugs to a minor. Similarly, in Illinois a pregnant woman who takes an illegal drug can be prosecuted for "delivering a controlled substance to a minor." This is an explicit recognition that the unborn is a person with rights, deserving protection even from his mother.

However, that same woman who's prosecuted and jailed for endangering her child is free to abort that same child. In America today, it's illegal to harm your preborn child, but it's perfectly legal to kill him.

The U.S. Congress voted unanimously to delay capital punishment of a pregnant woman until after her delivery. Every congressman, even if pro-choice, knew that this unborn baby was a separate person, innocent of his mother's crime...

Many states have passed fetal homicide laws, declaring it murder for anyone but the mother to deliberately take the life of a preborn child. These laws are explicit affirmations that the child is a human being. In 2004 Congress passed the "Unborn Victims of Violence Act," which states that someone who "intentionally kills or attempts to kill the unborn child...be punished...for intentionally killing or attempting to kill a human being."

Consider the bizarre implications of this double standard. If a woman is scheduled to get an abortion, but on her way to the abortion clinic her baby is killed in-utero, the baby's killer will be prosecuted for murder. But if this murder doesn't occur, an hour later the doctor will be paid to perform a legal procedure killing exactly the same child (in a way that is probably more gruesome).

To the child, what's the difference who kills her?

This is just one bit of evidence Alcorn provides and find much of his argument compelling, though I know I already come from his perspective on things. If you'd like to hear the rest, again, I suggest picking up the book.

I know people get really worked up over this issue and I am not seeking to start an enormous fire. I am willing to be conversant and hear where people are coming from, discussing it in a civil manner because we are, after all, human beings.

By His Grace.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

I Wish The Gator Nation Was At Trinity!

I admit it was tough being away from Gainesville today. Gameday in Gainesville is an experience I wish so many others could partake in. And tonight I was reminded just how far away from that experience I was.

Ryan Fields, a buddy who just moved up here from Gainesville along with me, and a fellow Gator, Kahem, seem to be the only three UF Alumni in this entire area just outside of Chicago.

We decided to go to this restaurant/brewery just down the road, thinking we'd be able to watch it on the big screen. Contrary to popular belief, Christians are allowed to go to bars, and are actually able to drink alcohol without melting or disappearing. We saw promise as we walked into the bar area, which was had the capacity and potential to be filled with hundreds of Gator fans for this sweet game. Instead there were five people randomly scattered throughout, two of them playing darts over in the corner.

To add to the excitement, the bar had an enormous high def screen front and center for us to enjoy. We sat down at the perfect table thinking that if we just asked them, they would be more than willing to change the channel, which I might add was showing a Cubs game. Building upon all was the surprisingly refreshing, great tasting Harvest Amber Ale I ordered, brewed right in front of us as the brewery was situated behind the big screen we were expecting to watch the Gator game on.

The waitress delivered the drinks and took our food order. Right before she walked away one of us said, "Excuse me, but is it possible for us to put the Gator game on the big screen here seeing as how we are the only paying patrons in this entire establishment and they are of course The University of Florida Gators?" It may not have been worded exactly that way, but the response was a death blow: "Ummm...nooo...are you serious? Like the Cubs are playing right now. In fact, we only get one channel for that big screen and it's called 'Cub Station.' Sorry." She went on to say, "But for your convenience we have this 4-inch TV over there in the corner right above those two playing darts that you can watch. Oh, and there's no sound, but it is a flat screen. We try to accommodate all our patrons with the finest service."

WHAT??? So it may be a bit of an exaggeration because it was a nice TV, but it sure felt that way. We had to move our seat so we could be closer to the TV, which really was above to dart-playing duo and it really didn't have sound (or closed captioning). The place was dead quiet except for the occasional clapping that came when Alfonso Soriano hit home runs. And worst of all, we felt weird cheering. How does that happen?

So we left at halftime. Got back to campus and watched it on a big screen here with sound. It was still rough. The city didn't shut down. People weren't wearing orange and blue around campus. We were able to drive the car and find parking immediately. It was all just wack.

But this is my life now. I must take the bad along with the good.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Preview: Death By Love

This new book written by Pastor Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Church in Seattle and Dr. Gerry Bershears at Western Seminary is greatly anticipated. The subtitle is "Letters from the Cross," and should reach many people where they are at in life without any watered-down, weak-kneed theology. Here is a beautifully made video preview of this book I hope to get when it comes out:

More Americans Killed In Chicago Than Iraq This Summer

One major reason for my attending Trinity was to be near the great City of Chicago, which is truly one of the most historic cities in our nation. An unspoken, unwritten, yet well-intended goal of mine while living here was to give myself a good education of this city--its origins, its characteristics, its people, its culture--so as to grow in greater appreciation for why God has me here in these years.

That honestly has proven hard since first arriving, but the goal has been renewed as I ran across this saddening article posted on one of the news sites. Although the article indirectly reveals the successes we are having in the Middle East thanks to "The Surge," it is disheartening in terms of intranational crime here America.

My hope for the future is that as I educate myself on beautiful--and ugly--sides of Chicago, I will in turn give you a glimpse for you to develop a greater understanding and appreciation for this great city.

By His Grace.

The DNC & RNC Reveal One Thing: Worship

It's 12:30 am here in Deerfield, where the temperatures continue to drop. I, and many others so I don't just come off as Floridian, had to wear sweatshirts for parts of the day, which was just amazing and refreshing. Yeah, it was a bit overcast, but I don't mind. I will take that over being drenched with sweat the moment I step outside my house in Florida.

Because of time I cannot take too much time to write, but wanted to share one thought that, like many, I hope to build upon at some point in time (knowing me it will go unfinished, but hope one day to develop better discipline).

What I have noticed in both the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention is the same: The worship of both politics and politicians. One need go no further than to either listen to or look at the transcripts of the speeches made by both Senator Obama and Governor Palin who spoke tonight.

Click here for a link to Palin's

I am making myself even more vulnerable by saying I am not too much into politics, though I do hold opinions and am a registered voter. This means I am not too aware of protocol at such events like the DNC & RNC. However, I hope I am not the only one who finds it a bit crazy that after nearly every sentence there is loud applause, cheering, or boos. Videos show people waving stuff, jumping all over the place, fainting, screaming, foaming at the mouth...wait, that's more like a Hanna Montana concert, minus the foaming at the mouth stuff...or not. The environments are similar, though the object of worship on stage may look a little older, a little more mom-ish, or be a different gender or race.

And so I've introduced a term that needs defining--worship.

My premise is that these conventions reveal to us just one of so many ways in which we worship and that worship is at the very core of our being. Sadly, we have replaced the God of all things with idols, man-made gods that in reality are just vain expressions of ourselves.

For many tonight it is politics and politicians.
For others it's Hanna Montana
For others it's money
...a comfortable life...
...The American Dream...

When will we repent of these things and turn back to the One True God who has fully revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ? He has come. He has spoken. He has died. He has risen. And He has called us all to repent from our sin of vain idol worship and fall down at His feet in adoration and awe to worship Him, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Without defining worship explicitly, maybe you get the idea of what I'm saying. If not, I know I have left myself open for a strong critique of my logic and premises. That's fine. I'm tired. But this also weighs heavily on my heart.

By His Grace.

In no way should this be read as an endorsement of one candidate over the other. Please do not infer my political affiliation based on comments in this post.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Have Liberals Kissed Dating Goodbye?

To be honest, this is a book I have stayed away from ever since I heard the buzz going around back in 2003-2004. Furthermore, I am not too aware of the content, merely the concept. What Joshua Harris suggests in his book is that dating isn't necessarily bad (he would go for a more courtship method), but bottom line is that one should not pursue romance until one is ready to really commit. He writes on his website that "many readers who start out critics [I admittedly have been one] of I Kissed Dating Goodbye are surprised to learn that the core message of the book isn't about "dating," but living your life for God."

Well without having done any real research or inquiry until now, I am a bit curious. And it seems that others, including non-Christians are curious as well. C.J. Mahaney, leader of Sovereign Grace Ministries wrote in his blog about a curious endorsement from an unlikely source:
An endorsement for Joshua Harris’s bookI Kissed Dating Goodbye (Multnomah, 1997) has come from an unlikely source: Donna Freitas, a feminist and liberal professor of religion at Boston University.

To read the rest of the article, click here

By His Grace.

How You Can Be Praying For Me...Through Fearing God?

Some people have told me they will be praying for me while I am here at seminary, which I am extremely grateful for. Paul wrote to the Roman church:
I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf...
Flowing from that were some specific requests for prayer. With that in mind, I appeal like Paul to whoever reads this as a brother or sister in Christ to strive with me on my behalf in prayer:

  • To Know That I Am Known By God. This comes from Paul's letter to the church in Corinth. He begins writing about food for idols, but begins by briefly giving a general teaching about knowledge, arrogance, love, and God's knowing us, stating, "We know that 'all of us possess knowledge.' This 'knowledge' puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God." I find this extremely important for me as I come to a institution of learning to learn about God and His Word. I ask that I never lose sight of why I am here, namely because of my personal relationship with God through Christ which is rooted in love. Knowledge, like prophecy and tongues, is nothing without love (see 1 Cor. 13:1-3).

  • To Know The Love Of Christ Surpasses Knowledge. Knowing that I am rooted and grounded in love, I ask that you pray for me as Paul prayed for the church in Ephesus that I "may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge," that I may will then be "filled with all the fullness of God." Here I recognized that if rooted in love, living out of the joy of being known by God, my comprehension and knowledge with be of heavenly things, not worldly. These will help serve Christ's purposes more than 10,000 books read just for the sake of knowing more.

  • To Know That True Knowledge & Wisdom Are Rooted In The Fear Of The Lord. Solomon wrote in his many Proverbs that the beginning of both knowledge and wisdom are found in "the fear of the Lord" (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10). My purpose of being here is not in vain. Pursuing knowledge is not wrong in and of itself. My prayer for myself--for that matter my prayer for all professing Christians--is that I pursue knowledge rightly, with the godly motive of love and the fear of the Lord.

This leads me to the conclusion of my prayer requests for now. More specific ones may arise, but for those of you praying for me, these requests will remain on the list for the remainder of my time here on earth.

I wanted to end with some words regarding the fear of the Lord because the term is somewhat misleading. I am reading this book by Graeme Goldsworthy called According To Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible for Biblical Theology that helps flesh out the phrase and its meaning in both a biblical and historical context. Here is what he has to say:
"Sin...involved a rejection of the order of creation and a refusal to accept revelation as the basis of true knowledge. It was the rejection of the principle that underlies the book of Proverbs: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (Prov 1:7). We saw how important the process of thought was in the human relationship to God and to the creation. Crooked thinking led to crooked relationships. It stands to reason, then, that the process of redemption involves the restoration of the right way of thinking. The human mind is as much the object of regeneration as is the body or the soul.

If the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov. 1:7) and the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10), what is it and where does it come from? According to Solomon's dedicatory prayer, the fear of the Lord is linked with the covenant and the ministry of the temple (1 Kings 8:38-43). This is not a terror of God, rather it is a response of reverent awe and trust to the redemptive revelation of God (Deut 4:10; 6:2; 10:12, 20-21). It is the Old Testament equivalent of trusting Christ or believing the gospel. The fear of the Lord is the response of faith to all that God has done to redeem his people, as he himself interprets what he has done by his Word. -pp. 173-174

As you pray for me, a prayer of mine for you is that out of trust and love in Christ you too will pursue biblical knowledge and godly wisdom, knowing that your mind is as much the object of regeneration as is the body or the soul.

Thank you for your prayers.

By His Grace.