28 December 2011

Tilling hard soil


Some days, being a dad is hard. Really hard. When my kids are bickering (again), which inevitably leads to tears and blame casting (again), I feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility. I know the importance of a father. I see it in the Bible. I see it in the news.  I see it in my kid's eyes. Still, in his sovereignty, God has entrusted me with the role of leading and teaching these little ones.

So when I get a phone call at work from my wife who seems ready to throw in the towel in the third round because the fight has been hard that day, I wonder what I am doing wrong. When my son looks me in the eyes and nods as I tell him to listen to his little sister's words and stop wrestling with her, yet he continues on, I sigh and realize that parenting--for me at least--is often really tough. 

Particularly during these challenging times as a father, I think of our garden.  Heather and Grace wanted a garden last year. I set to tilling the soil and it was tough going. Though enabled with the right tools for the job, I still fought desperately to break up the soil. I had to go over it again and again and again until it was finally ready.

It would be easier if my children's hearts were rich, black topsoil, ready for me to plant God's word. I would like it to take root easily and grow quickly. Their hearts aren't that way, though. They are sinners, just like I am. And according to Ezekiel 11:19, the hearts of sinners are "hearts of stone."

The work of parenting is hard. Breaking up the rocky soil of their hearts is an arduous, ongoing process, but I praise God that he allows me to be a part of it--both the good and the bad.  Because on the other side of the process, there is fruit. Grace lovingly serving her brother.  The name of Jesus on Tessa's lips. Ian saying that in the next year, he wants to learn more of God's word. Each of these little buds a sign of new growth.

And so I grab my spade and keep working the soil. 

I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.-Ezekiel 11:19-20

27 December 2011

Book Review: The Symphony of Scripture

The Symphony of scripture: Making sense of the Bible's many themes by Mark Strom (1990) was required reading for the next class CCEF biblical counseling class I am taking, this one focused on biblical interpretation.  It had to be read before the class begins, so I tackled it over this Christmas break. The author provides a survey overview of the Bible, looking for the university in diversity. It is certainly Christocentric in its focus, a major strength of the book. The author cautions against our tendency to interpret details without considering the overall theme of scripture. As Christians, I believe we have the tendency to do this with first things and last things. We try to make sense of the many details grounded in Genesis and Revelation, without realizing the centrality of Christ. For example, Strom rightly points out the central theme of Revelation is not whether people will be literally marked with a 666, or whether it is a literal 1000 years, but that Christ will win and will be restored in the end. Believers are called to persevere, knowing that Jesus has accomplished all, and that God is sovereign.  That is the point of Revelation. When we move from that, we end up with things like Left Behind or even worse, Harold Camping. 

I admit this book was a hard slog for me. The print was hard on the eyes and Strom was more academic than I (yes, even I) like. He does know his stuff, however.  3.0 stars. 

26 December 2011

Bible Study plans-2012

Any day is a great day to start reading your Bible, but people often start a new plan in a new year.  Last year, I spent several days highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of various programs.  If you look at the sidebar over there ----------> and click on "Bible Study" it will take you to all of the programs that I recommended. 

Here is a brief rundown.

The One Year Bible--This is a fine option. You know exactly what to read each day. You need a special Bible though and it isn't organized like a regular Bible, a distinctive drawback, as far as I am concerned.

M'Cheyne--You will be reading sections from 4 different places each day and if you follow it, you will go through the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice.

John MacArthur approach--From what I have heard, John MacArthur knows the Bible as well or better than any man I have ever heard. His method is to read through the Old Testament straight through, a few chapters a day, and then start over again when you reach the end.  The New Testament is handled a little differently. You break each book into sections of chapters (4-6) and read each section once a day for a whole month.  So, for example, you would read Romans 1-5 every day for a month. Then the next month you might read Romans 6-11 and finally, in the third month, you would read Romans 12-16.

Meditative plan--This is a great plan from my good friend Eric Johnson, a Christian psychologist and a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, which encourages meditating more deeply upon God's word. 

Grant Horner approach--This is my Bible plan. I have been doing it since September 2009. In that time, I have read each book at least 3 times.  Some sections I have read much more often.  For example, I have read Proverbs 28 times, Acts and Romans 20 times, and the New Testament epistles 14 times each. 

If you cannot find anything in the list I have provided, try here. Ligonier has another dozen approaches or so.  Pick one and read.  It will be time well invested. 

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.--Psalm 119:11

25 December 2011

The Light Broke Through-A Christmas Meditation


The world was lost and without hope, the darkness pervasive. The prophets of old had long been silent. The fervent hope for the promised Messiah, the One who would come to redeem Israel, the One who would set all things right, had dwindled long ago. Of course, the teachers of Israel knew what was written about the Promised One. They studied the law and prophets diligently. Yet, so many silent centuries later, they were more about ritual than hope. Every day, they would follow the routines set forth by previous generations, not really believing that one was to come to save them.

We see this in the man, Zechariah, one of the temple priests. He certainly knew the stories of old. He knew about Abraham, and as a Jew, would hold him in high esteem. He knew that Abraham was promised a child in his old age, yet when the angel of the Lord appeared to him and promised him a child, he said simply, “How shall I know this because I am old?” Zechariah knew the Scriptures and believed them, but he did not really believe them for himself. Gabriel, the angel of the Lord, basically says to him, “I stand in God’s presence and He Himself told me this. Because you don’t believe it, you will be silent and be amazed by Him!” (Luke 1:5-23). Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were among the first to see and believe God was breaking into the darkness. 

Just over a year later, the Light broke into the darkness. In a small town, with her fiancée at her side, a young girl gave birth to Jesus.  God in the flesh.  The Word eternal, breaking into human history, to rescue His own. He was “the true light, which gives light to everyone” come into human history (John 1:9). 

Sadly, his own people did not receive him (John 1:11).  They knew the word, but did they believe it? Did they believe the prophets, who foretold God rescuing his people? Many had lost their hope of a Redeemer, believing God was no longer invested in His people. Many were so dedicated to learning about God that they missed God, come in the flesh. Many had their own ideas about who the Messiah would be and to their estimation, Jesus wasn’t him. Many were so busy going about their lives that they did not slow down enough to know that the Rescuer had come.

God did send His son Jesus, delivered in the flesh by a young girl, to save the world. His birthday divides human history.  A.D. stands for anno domini-the year of our Lord. Just like the Messiah was prophesied in the Old Testament, so has His return been foretold and that will also be a time of a great divide in human history.

Though it has been 2000 years, do not lose hope in Christ’s return—He is still invested in His people.  He is still in control.

Do not become so dedicated to studying theology that you miss the beautiful fact that God will return to rescue His own.

Do not assume that God does not exist or that He is just one of many ways to salvation. He is the only way and He will return again, in the flesh to save those who have put their faith in Him, and Him alone.

Do not become so busy that you fail to marvel at God’s intense love for you. 

Just as He came once, He is coming again. Maybe not today, maybe not this year, but he will return--just as He promised--and He will make all things new.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4 ESV)

17 December 2011

Book Review--Living the Cross Centered Life

Last night, I finished reading CJ Mahaney's Living the Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing.  I really like the way Mahaney writes. As the book title would suggest, he tries to be Gospel centered, but he also writes humbly and from his heart. He passionately encourages Christians to keep the cross of Christ the main thing, to not "move on" from it. In the opening chapter, he cites David Pryor, who said "we never move on from the cross, only into a more profound understanding of the cross." That seems to be the heart of this book, to encourage readers to really sink their teeth into what the cross means in the life of believers.  At 166 pages, it is a quick read, and one you will benefit from. 4 stars.

11 December 2011

Velvet Brick

For my daily quiet times, I am still using Grant Horner's system. I have tried to switch away from it, but I always end up coming back to it. One of its benefits is that it allows me to see connections and relationships between various passages. As I read through, I write out passages I find interesting. This morning, I wrote down sections from Titus 3 and Malachi 2.

Titus 3 essentially speaks to our character as Christ's ambassadors. Titus 3:2-7 reminds us that we are, "to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another." 


Too often churches are filled with people who lack these character qualities. Rather than "speaking evil of no one," they slander, gossip, and criticize. They quarrel rather valuing love and gentleness. They hunt out heresies. They are eager to paint scarlet letters upon sinners. But we are called to something better. We were all dead to rights, running fast away from God, but in His mercy, he saved us based upon nothing good in us. Reflecting upon God's mercy, we should seek to show this patience and gentleness with nonbelievers and believers alike, even in the midst of sin.

I also wrote down Malachi 2:17 this morning. "You have wearied the LORD with your words. But you say, 'How have we wearied him?' By saying, 'Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them.' Or by asking, 'Where is the God of justice?'"  In this verse, we are told that God is wearied by saying that evildoers are good in the sight of God. This seems to be the classic universalist position and, more frequently, the position of many people in the modern church. Many believe that God loves everybody no matter what, but that does not appear to be the biblical position (e.g., Psalm 5:5, Psalm 11:5, Leviticus 20:23, Proverbs 6:16-19, Hosea 9:15). These verses suggest that God does hate evildoers.

So how are we to reconcile these passages? As ambassadors for Christ, I believe we should not avoid hard conversations. Wavering on discussions of sin or of separation from a God who hates sin does nothing for people separated from Christ and facing eternity in Hell. At the same time, we are to gently and patiently love the broken. We are to tell them that there is a remedy for that sinfulness and our separation from God. The greatest love we can show to sinners is to point them to Jesus Christ. Titus 2:4-7 reads, "But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life."

In other words, we are to be velvet bricks. We have a hard message, but we are to share it with gentleness and respect because we were shown the same through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

25 November 2011

Book Review: Unfashionable

It is no secret that I like Tullian Tchvidjian. He is probably one of my top 3 current writers. I picked up Unfashionable: Making a difference in the world by being different (2009) at a recent conference. Tchvidjian issues a call to people to return to some of the basics of the faith that we have lost by the wayside. For example, he strongly encourages involvement with the church, not just the building, but the body of believers. He expounds upon the importance of relationships for believers by closely examining the book of Ephesians in the later parts of the book. He also makes the case for Christians to rebuild society rather than wait expectantly for a heavenly society. Although I can see his point, I am not sure he builds his case well biblically. Interestingly, I went back and read Tim Challies review of this book afterward and see that he shared a similar concern to mine, though expressed much eloquently, which is no surprise. Now, onto Jesus + Nothing Equals Everything. 3 stars.

24 November 2011

Book Review: Come Let Us Reason

Come let us reason: An introduction to logical thinking by Norman Geisler and Ronald Brooks (1990) was more detailed than the book I read earlier in the week, Being Logical. I appreciated the additional depth, though Being Logical will be a great go to resource. With that said, the first several chapters of Come let us reason were difficult to understand. The complex notation of categorical syllogisms were challenging for me to grasp. As he began to flesh these thoughts out in the later chapters, however, I really found the initial information to be an important foundation. I will probably need to read through this book a few times to understand logic and be able to spot it in daily life. All in all, the authors not only establish the importance of logic for the Christian but the inherent logic of the Bible. 3.5 stars.

22 November 2011

Are You Worried You're Too Bad for God?

Often when I am getting down on myself for my own sinfulness or talking with others about their self-perceived depravity, I am reminded of Hebrews 11. This chapter chronicles several heroes of the faith.  Let's consider them each individually.

We don't know much about Abel except that he was a shepherd and was faithful to God. Enoch walked with God. Hebrews 11 says that he "pleased" God. So far, we read of two righteous men commended for their faith. But, if you are a sinner like I am, you will draw encouragement from some of the others. They were sinners, like us (to be clear, so were Abel and Enoch. We just don't have enough info about them).

Noah was a guy who found favor, but we don't necessarily know why, though he was described as blameless in his generation. After he got off the ark, however, he planted a vineyard, made wine, and passed out naked and drunk in his tent.

Next up is Abraham, the father of nations. Abraham was scared of getting killed by the Egyptians, so he pretended his wife Sarah was his sister. It says in Genesis 12:15 that "she was taken in to Pharaoh's house."  To be clear, she did not go there for tea--you will need to read between the lines here a bit. Lest you think this was a one time thing, Abraham does it again in Genesis 20. He lies to Abimelech, king of Gerar saying that Sarah was his sister. Abimelech also takes her into his harem, but God keeps him from touching her. Abraham has given his wife away--twice--because he is scared. Oh yeah, he also slept with his wife's handmaiden, Hagar, because Sarah told him to.

Which brings us to Sarah, Abraham's wife. She seemed to lead when Abraham didn't want to. She told him to sleep with her servant, so he did. She became bitterly jealous of her servant and sent her away. Abraham didn't prevent her saying, "your servant is in your power. Do as you please."

Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah, loved one of his sons more than the other. But catch this...he and his wife Rebekah settled in Gehar, the same place Abraham and Sarah were. Isaac tells the same lie to Abimelech about Rebekah (that she was his sister) that Abraham told about Sarah.

Isaac's son Jacob is next. He regularly lied to his father and deceived his brother Esau, often at the request of his mother, once to steal the rightful birthright of his brother. He then becomes a bigamist, marrying two sisters.

Joseph is next in line. He had dreams about his brothers bowing to him. His brothers saw him as arrogant. He later lied to his brothers in their time of deepest need.

Moses was a murderer. And he hid the body. He was also a coward who didn't believe God even when he was talking to him face to face. He asked God to send someone else so he didn't have to do what God asked of him. He actually questioned God a lot.

Rahab was a prostitute.

Gideon, one of the judges, had a 70 sons because he had "many" wives. So, he was a polygamist. He also doubted God and put him to the test--twice--because he didn't believe God's miraculous sign the first time.

Barak, another one of the judges, appears to have been a pretty good warrior. But he only would go to war if Deborah promised to go with him.

Samson, remembered for his hair and his strength was another judge of Israel. He was disobedient to his parents, marrying against their express wishes. His wife was then given to his best man and he became mad, so he burned their city. He then hooked up with a prostitute before meeting Delilah. He lied to her several times about the source of his strength. He was excessively proud. If you want to take it that far, he was also cruel to animals.

Jepthah was the son of a prostitute. He made his virgin daughter as a burnt offering because of the tragic vow he made to God.

David, the man after God's own heart, was at least an adulterer and perhaps even a rapist. In any case, he appeared to use his position of power to seduce Bathsheba. He then covered it up by having her husband killed.

Samuel, the final one mentioned does not seem to have the egregious sins mentioned with some of the others either.

The list of sins in these heroes of the faith is profound. We read of murder, cover-up, drunkenness, lust, adultery, cowardice, bitterness, lying, jealousy, favoritism, prostitution, polygamy and a host of other things.

To me, this list of people reminds me that God loves those who are faithful to him, even though we sin egregiously..  He counts our faith as righteousness, as we read in Romans 4.  Hebrews 11:1 reads, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."  Our only hope is faith in the One who does not sin, who does not falter, and who does not leave us or forsake us.

If you are a sinner, find comfort in this passage. The Bible is full of stories of God forgiving murderers and rapists and adulterers and sinners of every stripe. He will forgive you too if you have the faith to confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9)

21 November 2011

Book Review: Being Logical

I decided about a week ago that I wanted to study the field of logic more directly than I have. As someone interested in apologetics and philosophy of religion, logic is a necessary field of study. The first book I picked up is a basic primer, Being logical: A guide to good thinking, by D.Q. McInerny (2005). This book is a mere 130 pages. It is written clearly and concisely, the author deliberately seeking to write after the fashion of Strunk and White (which you should also read, if you have not).

McInerny lays out the basic building blocks of logic, quite simply. He dedicates a few pages to each basic argument, a useful form to expose the reader to logic, but lacking the depth of coverage if you really want to dig in deeply.

The author suggests that logic is a basic educational component missing from nearly all of our schools in modern society. I think he is right on. Given that, this book would be good for Logic 101. 4 stars.

Brief Reflection on Psalm 8:5 use of Elohiym

Yesterday, one of our pastors shared an extended reflection on Psalm 8. I really enjoy walking through a passage in this way as it can really deepen our learning of Scripture. We came upon verse 5, and I was left with some questions.  In the ESV, the first part of Psalm 8:5 reads, "Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings."  Heavenly beings is from the Hebrew word Elohiym. Here's where the rub comes in, however. Although NIV sides with ESV in interpreting this as "heavenly beings", NASB (traditionally the most literal interpretation) and NLT translate this word as "God." KJV renders it as "angels", which is closer to the ESV/NIV.

In the Old Testament, the word Elohiym is nearly always translated as "God", though there is precedence for other renderings as well, including "heavenly beings." I have two reasons, one scriptural and one philosophical, to favor interpreting this as "heavenly beings" or "angels" rather than "God."

First, with regard to Scripture, Psalm 8 is cited in Hebrews 2 and the writer of Hebrews interprets this as "angels" (ἀγγέλους). The interpreters of the NLT and NASB also render this "angels". Furthermore, in the Greek Septuagint, which is the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, Elohiym is translated as "angels" (also ἀγγέλους).  So it would seem that the precedent, even for the inspired biblical author of Hebrews, was to interpret this as "angels."

Second, with regard to philosophy. It is a clear and consistent teaching of the Christian church that God is infinite in a number of divine attributes. A complete understanding of infinity would suggest that one cannot be made a "little lower than" something infinite. Because there is no point at which God becomes limited, it is meaningless to say we were made a little lower than Him.

For these reasons, I favor the interpretations made by ESV, KJV, and NIV.

20 November 2011

A Thankful Husband

Today, I have been contemplating my wife's character, which regularly astounds me. Her deepening character has been observable to everyone who knows her, though her growth has been particularly true since she had cancer, two years ago. As her husband, I have been deeply encouraged by the way people are drawn to her. Younger women regularly seek her counsel or comfort and she is gracious with her time. She finds a way to balance the demands of motherhood with meetings. She loves widely and deeply.  She is peaceful and gracious.

I have been working on a certificate in biblical counseling, which is largely focused on personal discipleship. As I study, I see my wife living out the lessons I am learning with practical wisdom. She teaches me a lot and I am thankful to call her my wife.

Heather, I love you.

12 November 2011

Book Review--Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air

I just finished reading Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Beckwith and Koukl (1998). Written 13 years ago, this book was at the height of post-modern relativism. Although the clay feet of relativism are becoming increasingly evident, it's tendrils continue to influence many people today. Relativism is the idea that truth and morality are relative to the person--in other words, subjective. The basic idea is that whatever feels right to me is what is true and correct, if they acknowledge truthfulness at all. However, relativism cannot live consistently within its own system.

In the center of the book, the authors point out seven fatal flaws of relativism:

  • relativists cannot accuse others of wrongdoing.
  • relativists cannot complain about the problem of evil.
  • relativists cannot place blame or accept praise.
  • relativists cannot make charges of unfairness or injustice.
  • relativists cannot improve their morality.
  • relativists cannot hold meaningful moral discourse. 
  • relativists cannot promote the obligation of tolerance.
The authors rightly point out that if relativism is true, if morality is truly self-governed, the hero of the viewpoint is a sociopath who has no regard for absolute morality or moral oughtness.  As you talk with people who claim this viewpoint, it's flaws are easily revealed by attacking their hot-button issue through a process of "taking the roof off."

All in all it was a good book. Some chapters were better than others, but if you are looking for a book to better understand the problems with relative morality, this is a good place to start. 4 stars.

08 November 2011

Eyes Toward Home

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her-Ephesians 5:25

Over the past several weeks, I have been thinking about starting another master's degree program. I have been enamored with the Master of Arts in Science and Religion program at Biola University. Admittedly, I already have several degrees. I am also currently completing master's level work toward a certificate in biblical counseling. All this is to say that the challenges of academia are a siren song to me. I enjoy pushing myself to learn, though a darker part of me also must admit to the draw of the recognition that comes with the degree. I prefer not to acknowledge that part, but it is there. My wife has been faithfully at my side every step of the way.

When I asked my wife a few days ago to begin praying about this possibility, her response lacked enthusiasm. She sounded tired, as if she wanted to say, "not again." Thankfully, we had the opportunity to talk about it last night. It turns out that while I am peering off into the distance seeking to conquer the next big thing, she plods along at home, managing the household and educating our children. She often feels alone in this task and I suppose that in many ways, she is.

As I laid in bed last night thinking about what she said, I realized that my gaze is too often on the horizon. I think about the possibilities "out there", but my calling is to home. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 calls fathers to their homes: "And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." God's word is to be consistently before my family and in our home and I am to take the lead in teaching them about Him. I cannot lead well when my focus is often directed elsewhere.

So, for now, Biola will be moved to the back burner. If I profess to love my wife and my children and if I claim to trust God's word for my life, I need to do a better job of turning my eyes toward home. My family does not care if I earn another master's degree, they want papa at home and engaged.

Now, a brief note to the men (of which I hope I am still included): there are so many things that mess with our priorities and we are great at justifying them. We cover our hobbies, jobs, and other activities with a false veneer of righteousness. We tell ourselves that working every evening, burying our noses in a book, or spending time away from home with other believers is ministry. Sometimes it is, but I would argue that often it is not. If we are not defending our homes, if we are not actively and consistently pouring ourselves into our kids, we are missing the mark. God calls us to "give ourselves up" for our wives.  That means spending time at home and getting to know our wives and kids and what is going on in their lives. I know more about current apologetics arguments than I do about what my kids are doing in math.  Other men know football stats, or deer movement patterns, or stock market fluctuations better than they know about their children's friendships.  Men, our primary ministry is to our families. Other activities are not inherently bad, but we must ask ourselves "where are we planting our flags? Where are we directing our gaze?" I have a good friend who is fond of saying, "men, we are in a fight." Let's make sure we know what we are fighting for. 

05 November 2011

Book Review: When Skeptics Ask

I read When Skeptics Ask as a part of an apologetics course that I am taking through Biola University. It is a good overall introduction to apologetics and reasons for the faith. It covers several different areas such as morality, questions about Jesus, questions about evolution and so forth.  Geisler is a good communicator.  Other books are better suited for specific questions, but as a general overview, this is a good start. 3.5 stars.

03 November 2011

Apologetics Program Reviews: A summary

I must first say that there I have been blessed to take advantage of many fine apologetics training programs.  They vary in cost, they vary in content, but all are quality in their own way.  The Biola program is the Cadillac program, but certainly the most costly with regard to money and time.  Keller's Reason for God DVD perhaps should not even be classified as an apologetics training set, but it serves it's own niche in showing how conversations could go with non-believers.  The Foundations of Apologetics Course from Ravi Zacharias International Ministries is different from the others, I suspect due to the European background of the presenters, which certainly carries with it advantages in broadening our understanding of apologetic issues, particularly as the US begins to mirror Europe's post-Christian mores.  Dr Sproul's Defending the Faith Series is both philosophical and theological, a worthwhile resource.  My personal favorite, all factors considered, is Greg Koukl's Ambassador Basic Curriculum.  Though they are all good, I think that for most people, this series will be the most useful, educational, and enjoyable.

Down the line, there are other programs I would like to pursue.  Ligonier Ministries offers an advanced level certificate in apologetics that takes several years to complete.  This program clearly is not for the faint of heart.  There are also master's programs at Biola and Southern Evangelical Seminary that I would I would really enjoy tackling if I ever have the time and money.

1 Peter 3:15 tells us, "but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect".  Apologetics may not be for everyone, but we are called to defend the faith.  These programs will all provide you with increased confidence when you talk with others about the hope that is within you.

02 November 2011

Biola University Certificate in Apologetics

I am currently working my way through the Biola University certificate program in Christian apologetics.  Biola university is a hub for Christian apologetics with such well known faculty members as JP Moreland, Gary Habermas, Kenneth Samples, and William Lane Craig as well as many others.  Their master's degree in Christian apologetics is probably the finest program in the nation.  For us regular folk, they have developed a certificate training program, which I am currently about 1/3 of the way through.  The certificate is comprised of 24 lectures, each about 2 hours in length, covering a broad range of topics.
  1. The Case for Faith: A Personal Exploration
  2. The Absurdity of Life Without God
  3. Arguments for the Existence of God
  4. Solving the Problem of Evil
  5. Defending the Gospel Accounts of Jesus
  6. Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ
  7. Christianity and the Problem of Popular Culture
  8. Responding to Relativism
  9. Christianity and the Nature of Science
  10. The Historical Jesus
  11. Contending for the Christian Worldview
  12. Reading Scripture with All Your Mind
  13. Responding to the Cults
  14. What About Those Who Have Never Heard?
  15. Christianity Among the World Religions
  16. Miracles and the Modern Mind
  17. In Defense of the Soul
  18. The Case for Moral Absolutes
  19. Answers to Bioethical Challenges
  20. Darwinism in Crisis
  21. Key Issues in New Testament Textual Criticism
  22. Jesus: The Smartest Man Who Ever Lived?
  23. Successful Tactics in the Defense of the Faith
  24. Apologetics and the Spiritual Life
Lecturing faculty include: Francis J. Beckwith, John A. Bloom, John Coe, William Lane Craig, Garrett DeWeese, Alan Gomes, Gary Habermas,Craig Hawkins, Craig J. Hazen, David Horner, Phillip E. Johnson, Clay B. Jones, Greg Koukl, Kevin Lewis, JP Moreland, Scott Rae, John Mark Reynolds, Ron Rhodes, Walt Russell, Os Guinness, Hugh Hewitt, Alvin Plantinga, Lee Strobel, and Dallas Willard. This is a veritable who's who of apologetics.  The lectures thus far have been top-notch.  I am learning things now that I have not encountered in any of the previous courses I have taken.  I cannot speak highly enough about this program.  I had emailed Greg Koukl about this program and he simply responded, "it's excellent."  I could not agree more heartily.

In addition to the audio lectures, there is also supplemental reading.  For this first module, I am reading When Skeptics Ask by Norman Geisler and Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-air by Francis Beckwith and Gregory Koukl.  At the end of each module, there is also a quiz, again to demonstrate learning.

Summary: If you are not as concerned about cost, this is definitely the way to go. This program is amazing in its depth and breadth.

Here is the beginning of the Dr Craig's lecture, "The Absurdity of Life Without God."

01 November 2011

Review: Defending Your Faith-RC Sproul

As a reminder, I have been reviewing apologetics training courses over the past several days.  Today, I want to review the lecture series, Defending the Faith, put out by RC Sproul, one of the elder statesmen of Reformed theology and the head of Ligonier Ministries. Dr Sproul is well trained as a philosopher and theologian and is a wonderful apologist.  I picked up this series on a $5 Fridays deal about a year ago.  It was well worth that price.  There are 32 lectures, as follows:
  1. Introduction
  2. Why Apologetics
  3. Pre-Evangelism
  4. Four Steps Backward
  5. Law of Contradiction
  6. Law of Causality
  7. Reliability of Sense Perception
  8. Analogical Language (2 lectures)
  9. Contradiction and Paradox
  10. Mystery
  11. Natural Theology (2 lectures)
  12. Aquinas vs. Kant
  13. The Case for God
  14. Four Possibilities
  15. The Illusion of Descartes
  16. Self-Creation (2 lectures)
  17. Self-Existence
  18. Necessary Being
  19. God of the Bible vs God of Philosophy
  20. Kant's Moral Argument
  21. Vanity of Vanity
  22. The Psychology of Atheism
  23. The Bible and Apologetics (5 parts)
  24. The Deity of Christ
  25. Questions and Answers 
 Sproul's philosophical training is evident in his selection of topics and his logical presentation of the material.  However, it is also evident that he is first and foremonst a biblically committed pastor-theologian.  His wisdom and knowledge is enhanced by his wonderful sense of humor.  This series has the advantage that you can also watch or listen, depending on your preference.  I listened to it as I drove to work and will probably work through it again when I am done with the Biola Course (watch for it tomorrow).

Summary:  Sproul is an excellent teacher.  This is a fairly comprehensive, though philosophically slanted, approach to apologetics training.  It is worth the money, especially if you get it for 5 bucks.  

You can watch the first lecture for free:


   
   
   
   
   



31 October 2011

Review: Ambassador Basic Curriculum-Greg Koukl

Over the past two days, I have reviewed two different apologetics training resources--the first from Ravi Zacharias and the second from Tim Keller.  Today, we move on to the Ambassador Basic Curriculum by my favorite apologist, Greg Koukl. Koukl seems to connect much better with the everyday Christian, but does not sacrifice intellectual sophistication.  I don't want to disparage the man (indeed this is meant as a compliment), but I would consider him a blue-collar apologist.  He is very good at taking the ivory tower arguments and ideas and bringing them to the populous.  He produced a series of 15 audio CDs that build upon one another.  The first five are foundational, the second five build on the first, and the final five address specific apologetic issues.  The topics are as follows:
  1. Ambassadors for Christ: The Essential Skills
  2. Truth is Not Ice Cream, Faith is Not Wishing
  3. The Bible: Has God Spoken?
  4. Tactics in Defending the Faith (2 CDs)
  5. Never Read a Bible Verse
  6. How to Keep from Being Spiritually Weird
  7. Decision Making and the Will of God (3 CDs)
  8. Why I'm Not an Evolutionist
  9. The Bankruptcy of Moral Relativism
  10. Abortion: Only One Question
  11. Setting the Record Straight: The Bible and Homosexuality
  12. Any Old God Won't Do
 This is my favorite collection.  You can listen to it in the car, a distinct advantage over the DVD collections.  He also addresses issues in an understandable, but wise manner.  I have listened to many of these CDs three or four times because I find them so valuable.  Another advantage, if you are interested, is that they offer online testing, if you wish, to prove your learning.  I highly recommend this series.

Summary: If you want a great all around apologetics training course that won't break the bank but will help you to learn more about becoming an ambassador for Christ, this is a great way to go. 

Although not a video series, this will give you a flavor for Greg.

When does the apple ripen?

Since Grace was very young, we have tried to make an annual trip to the orchard to pick apples.  My favorite orchard was somewhere outside of Iowa City, Iowa though the name escapes me.  There were row upon row of well groomed trees, a knowledgeable old man with a tractor, and an ancient German shorthair named Hawkeye.  One of the first lessons learned from picking apples is that there are dozens of varieties of apples at each orchard with different tastes and textures.  What you also learn is that the fruits ripen at different times and that different trees yield different amounts of fruit.  Some trees bear fruit in August whereas others wait until October.  Some trees bear bushels of fruit, some not as much.  Those who live with the trees year after year, like the old tractor driver, also know that in some seasons, some trees just don't bear as much fruit.

Apple trees provide important lessons for us as Christians.  Many of us believe that the moment we are saved, we will be suddenly and radically transformed.  In a sense we are, but perhaps not in the way we think.  Our fruit bearing may not be as quick or abundant as we would hope.  We want bushels of fruit from season one until we come to glory.  But what does the parable of the sower say?

As it is described in Luke, it says "As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience."  Patience can also be translated perseverance.  Our fruit takes time to grow.  In fact, often when it springs up quickly, it burns out (Luke 8:13).

As Mark describes the parable, he reminds us that  "other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold" (Mark 4:8). In other words, not every tree bears fruit in the same measure.  We must be careful when we look at the fruit of others, or ourselves, assuming we are not bearing enough.

We have a patient vinedresser who loves us and is patient with us.  If we abide in Him (John 15), at the proper time he will cause the right amount of fruit to grow on each tree.

30 October 2011

Review: Reason for God DVD-Tim Keller

Yesterday, I started a series where I am reviewing apologetics training courses.  I first covered the series by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.  Today, I will discuss The Reason for God DVD by Tim Keller.

Tim Keller, pastor and author of The Reason for God, also produced a DVD series that involved a series of conversations that Dr Keller had with a small group of atheists and skeptics.  They discussed:
  1. Isn'tthe Bible a myth?
  2. How can you say there is only one God?  
  3. What gives you the right to tell me how to live my life?
  4. Why does God allow suffering?
  5. Why is the church responsible for so much injustice?
  6. How can God be full of love and wrath at the same time?
The uniqueness of this series is that it involves a civil discussion with unbelievers, rather than training provided to a group of believers.  The real strength of this program is that it demonstrates Tim Keller as a winsome ambassador for Christ engaging questions from real people in a loving, but intelligent fashion.  They do not reach resolution on any of the questions; rather you observe their conversations.  It is worth watching, but should not be considered a traditional apologetics training program.

Summary: If you are looking for an inexpensive DVD that provides questions and a great example of how to engage non-believers, this is for you.

Below is the trailer for the series.




Are your ears itching?

If a man should go about and utter wind and lies, saying "I will preach to you of wine and strong drink," he would be the preacher for his people!-Micah 2:11  

When I read this verse during my quiet time this morning, I was reminded of Beer Church.  Yes, beer church is a real thing--they celebrate, perhaps even worship, beer.  You can even become ordained by Beer Church--I have a friend who has his ordination through this organization.  According to the prophet Micah, it is no wonder that something akin to Beer Church has taken off.  When overindulgence is promoted as acceptable or even righteous, people will gladly respond.

Sadly, many churches are much more insidious.  2 Timothy 4:3 reads, "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions."  The largest church in America teaches that God's primary goal in your life is to make you rich, healthy, and happy and people flock to him.  One of the fastest growing "churches" in the United States is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Mormonism.  They promote the idea that you can become deity.  They sooth itching ears by preaching lies and people follow.

It seems to me that itching ears are one of the most unfortunate problems associated with postmodernism.  People assume that truth is relative. People assume that whatever you believe is true--just don't impose your beliefs upon anyone else.  It is no wonder that churches that teach truth from the Scriptures, addressing God's holiness and wrath as well as his love and mercy, are so criticized by modern culture.  People don't want to hear that they are sinful.  They do not want to hear that God hates sin and punishes sinners eternally apart from Christ.  They want to continue to believe what their parents, their schools, and the media have told them all along--that no matter what, they are good people and that they deserve always to be above the national average with regard to happiness, income, and image. When pastors tell them what they don't want to hear, they just leave rather than continuing to wrestle for the truth. 

There is absolute truth. There is a God.  He is holy.  We are separated from Him because we are unrighteous. But there is hope. Jesus Christ. John 1:12 says, "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God."

Find a church that preaches truth--absolute truth, Scriptural truth--the truth of Jesus Christ. 

29 October 2011

Review: Foundations of Apologetics-Ravi Zacharias International Ministries

I was someone who had intellectual questions before the Holy Spirit grabbed me.  I worked through the reasons for faith first, elementary though my thinking was at the time.  I have devoured several books on the reasonableness of the Christian faith including Mere Christianity by CS Lewis, On Guard by William Lane Craig, Letters from a Skeptic by Greg Boyd, More than a Theory by Hugh Ross as well as perhaps a dozen others.  Each of these resources provides a different slant or addresses a different issue. My belief in the validity of Christianity has only been strengthened by availing myself of these resources.

I have also undertaken to more intensive study through the many training courses available.  I thought it might be useful for me to give my impression of the ones I have done for those who are interested in delving more deeply into the defense of the Christian faith.  Over the next few days, I will be reviewing these one by one. 

Let's start with Ravi Zacharias. 

Foundations of Apologetics--Ravi Zacharias International Ministries has a 12 DVD series based upon a number of lectures delivered at Oxford University.  Each lecture is about an hour in length.  The topics include:
  1. Conversations that Count-Michael Ramsden
  2. Truth and Reality-Stuart McAllister
  3. The Existence of God-Alister McGrath
  4. Establishing a Worldview-Ravi Zacharias
  5. Trustworthiness of Scripture-Amy Orr-Ewing
  6. Uniqueness of Christ-Joe Boot
  7. Trinity and Apologetics-LT Jeyachandran
  8. Pluralism: Do All Religions Lead to the Same Goal?-John Lennox
  9. Faith, Reason and Integration-John Lennox
  10. God, Evil, and Suffering-Ravi Zacharias
  11. Seeing and Exploring Cultural Connections-Stuart McAlister
  12. Reasoning from the Scriptures-Michael Ramsden

I enjoyed this series, but it took me several months to work through it.  This series, though highly informative, is not for many people.  Unless you enjoy watching video of someone standing behind a podium lecturing, it will probably not be for you.  It is probably more academic than many people might like, though I personally enjoyed it a great deal and learned a lot from it.  My wife would catch glimpses of it while I was watching and it was clear that she did not connect with the material on the same level that I did.  I particularly liked the lectures by John Lennox, Michael Ramsden and of course, Ravi Zacharias.  Others were less engaging.  They were very strong on certain areas, including things such as establishing a Christian worldview, but weaker on others such as creation science/intelligent design, likely due to their European audience. 

Summary: This is a good series if you would rather watch than listen, don't mind the more academic presentation, or like British/Scottish accents.

Below is an example of the series from a lecture by Michael Ramsden





Reformation Sunday

Tomorrow is Reformation Sunday.  I know that many of you probably don't care about this as much as you do Halloween, but you should.  Almost 500 years ago, Martin Luther turned the Christian world on it's head when he pounded his 95 theses on the Wittenberg Door.  For any of you who are protestants, it all started then.  Tomorrow, we celebrate the early reformers.  Here are several resources if you wish to learn more about the Reformation. 

Reformation and the Gospel--Matthew Barrett writes an extended summary of events involved with the Reformation, centering on the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which cam to be a central tenet of the Reformation. 

Justin Taylor's resources--Justin Taylor has assembled numerous resources for people who want to learn more about the Reformation.  He highlights the movie, "Luther", which is a good movie that will help you to understand what happened during the Reformation and what Luther's part was in it.

Reformer Biographies--Steven Lawson, at the Ligonier ministries site, has assembled biographies of many of the early reformers including: Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, William Tyndale, Heinrich Bullinger, and John Calvin. Bob Kellemen at RPM Ministries has also assembled some worthwhile biographical information

If you are really feeling ambitious, track down some of the longer pieces from these authors.  Read Martin Luther's Commentary on Galatians, or delve into Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion

27 October 2011

The Fertile Soil of Foolish Talk

Many evenings, as our children are playing or watching a movie, Heather and I will be sitting in our twin recliners, each with a computer in our lap.  We move briskly from page to page, checking emails, reading Facebook updates, perhaps researching a topic of interest.  More often than not, however, we are scrolling through the endless posts on Failblog, Failbooking, metapicture, Awkward Family Photos, or People of Walmart.  I confess that I have had endless hours of pleasure reveling in the randomness these sites provide. 

This morning, though, I was working through the study guide for the Cedarcreek fall series on being transformed and I came upon a passage well familiar to me from Ephesians 5:3-14,

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
    “Awake, O sleeper,
        and arise from the dead,
    and Christ will shine on you.”


Verse 4 reads, "let there be no filthiness nor nor foolish talking nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead, let there be thanksgiving."  I started thinking about these websites.  I have snickered and giggled at many of the things I have seen.  Often the content is innocent, even cute.  At many other times, though the content is insidious.  They often contain jokes of a crude, or sexual nature and I find myself groaning and perhaps saying, "oh wow...I cannot believe they wrote that/said that/did that/wore that."  One of the websites in particular is also antagonistic toward Christianity.  I have justified my actions by saying, "oh, I'll just skip over those posts."  But they undoubtedly have an effect upon me. 

One of the effects I think PG-13 websites like these may have is that they make consumers start wondering what might be found on the next website.  I know that for me, when my thoughts get away from me, I find myself entertaining impure thoughts, covetousness, and the like.  Seeds planted and watered tend to grow in the right soil.  Crude joking is just the right type of soil to quickly grow impurity.  Ephesians 5 provides an "herbicide" of sorts, however.  First, Paul tells us to give thanks.  In other words, he encourages us to talk with God about the gifts he has given.  Second, he tells us to "try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord."  We accomplish that by immersing ourselves in Scripture.  Third, he tells us to "not become partners with them."  In other words, we should actively avoid impurity.  Finally, he tells us to "expose unfruitful works of darkness."  We accomplish that by talking with God and with others about our impurity.  In other words, we may walk in the light through avoidance of foolishness, prayer, feeding on God's word, and honest fellowship with other believers.

If you proclaim to follow Christ, I would encourage you to think about your day.  What are you filling your mind with?  Are you filling it with filthiness, crude joking, foolish talk, and empty words or are you seeking to live more and more in the light? 


Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.-Philippians 4:8

23 October 2011

Book Review: Don't Call it a Comeback

Don't Call it a Comeback: The Old Faith for a New Day (DeYoung, 2011) has been on my shelf for a while.  It is an edited volume of short chapters on the essentials of the faith.  Presumably with intention, the authors for this book are all relatively young--no MacArthurs, Pipers, or Sprouls here, but the quality does not suffer at all. 

The opening chapter by Kevin DeYoung, "The Secret to Reaching the Next Generation", is alone worth the price of the book.  He encourages church leaders to grab people with passion, win them with love, hold them with holiness, challenge them with the Truth, and Amaze them with God. The next several chapters cover topics of systematic theology in an understandable way.  Topics such as God, Scripture, justification, and new birth are addressed.  In this section, I particularly appreciated Owen Strachan's chapter on sanctification as he provides a clear exposition of what sanctification entails.  In the final section, the authors address issues relevant to evangelical practice, topics such as abortion, missions, and worship.  Denny Burks chapter on "Gender confusion and a Gospel-shaped counterculture" was a beneficial read. 

I would happily recommend this book to anyone hoping to learn what being an evangelical means in real life today.  4 stars. 

22 October 2011

Passion of Youth, Wisdom of Age

The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.-Proverbs 20:29

Despite the increasing concerns in the media regarding the apathy of young people, particularly young men, I am encouraged by many of the young believers I see around me.  They demonstrate a desire to know God and scripture more deeply.  They want to grow in godly character.  They interact with one another and with many Christian pastors through YouTube, blogs, and Twitter. 

Older believers have walked the road for a longer time.  Their reputations among younger believers are often of having lost touch,  of not really understanding the Gospel, or attending church for its own sake.  But older believers have the wisdom of age.  They have endured seasons of hardship and blessing, continuing to walk with God. 

Younger believers are a fresh blaze.  They burn brightly, but haven't developed glowing coals.  Older believers are glowing coals, but the flames may appear to have died down.  Flames are unstable, coals are consistent.  Flames are bright, but coals are hot.  The flames look upon the coals as unexciting, dying out.  The coals view the flames as lacking substance. 

To the younger believers:
  • Read Scripture more than you listen to online teachers--significantly more.  Although men like John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Paul Washer and Tim Keller may be able to offer wise counsel, they are fallible.  Just because one of them says something, it does not make it Gospel.  What you learn from them must be balanced against and ultimately submit to Scripture, which you must swim in daily.  
  • Become a part of a local Bible-believing church.  YouTube is not church.  Reading books by Famous Christian Guys is not church.  Joining a congregation of believers who are as fallible as you are, sitting under Godly preaching, glorifying God, and loving one another in the brotherhood is church.  Learn from the men and women who have walked the road much longer than you have--real men and women whom you see on a weekly basis.  
  • Don't assume that because you read books about theology that you have a better developed sense of the Bible than others in the church.  Theology is important, but it is not all-important.  Theology, in wise hands, can be a wonderful tool for knowing and loving God more deeply.  In immature hands, it may be a dangerous weapon.  If you haven't read Kevin DeYoung's "A Tale of Two Corners", I would encourage you to do so right now.  It should be required for all young believers. 
  • Grow in character.  Pursue holiness.  Be self-controlled and disciplined. Pray for humility and practice it.
  • Don't lose your flame; that's how you develop coals.
To the older believers:
  • Listen to the younger believers.  Their passion leads to legitimate questions. Don't be quick to dismiss them.  Although Elihu was arrogant (Job 32 and following), he was accurate in many respects.  Allow younger believers to fan the flame of your faith.
  • Be sound in faith (Titus 2:2).  This may involve studying theology, pushing yourself to chew on some of the more difficult meat of Scripture.  Just like I said above, if you haven't read Kevin DeYoung's "A Tale of Two Corners", do so now.  It should be required reading for all older believers. 
  • Don't flaunt your experience.  It had nothing to do with you.  God has kept you by his grace even when you were a smoldering wick or a bruised reed. 
  • Mentor younger believers.  They will benefit from your experience of having walked the road.  
  • Fan your flames, that's how your coals become hotter still. 

God the Spirit

O Lord God,
I pray not so much for graces as for the Spirit Himself,
because I feel his absence,
and act by my own spirit in everything.
Give me not weak desires but the power of his presence,
for this is the surest way to have all his graces,
and when I have the seal, I have the impression also;
He can heal, help, quicken, humble suddenly and easily,
can work grace and life effectually,
and being eternal, he can give grace eternally.
Save me from great hinderances,
from being content with a little measure of the Spirit,
from thinking thou wilt not give me more.
When I feel my lack of him, light up life and faith,
for when I lose thee I am either in the dark or cannot see thee,
or Satan and my natural abilities content me with a little light,
so that I seek no further for the Spirit of life.
Teach me then what to do.
Should I merely humble myself and not stir up my heart?
Should I meditate and use all means to bring him near,
not being contented by one means,
but trust him to give me a blessing by the use of all,
depending only upon, and waiting always for, thy light,
by use of means?
Is it a duty or an error to pray
and look for the fullness of the Spirit in me?
Am I mistaken in feeling I am empty of the Spirit
because I do not sense his presence within,
when all the time I am most empty
and could be more full by faith in Christ?
Was the fullness of the Spirit in the apostles
chiefly a power,
giving the subsistence outside themselves in Christ,
in whom was their life and joy?
Teach me to find and know fullness of the Spirit only in Jesus.
-Valley of Vision

13 October 2011

Book Review: Luther's Commentary on Galatians

Recently, Mike Horton was asked what 5 books besides the Bible every Christian should read.  On the list was Martin Luther's Commentary on Galatians.  I downloaded it for free from Amazon. This book is quite simply spectacular.  It contains Luther's thoughts on the book of Galatians, Paul's epistle written to call a church back to the doctrine of justification by faith alone.  Considering his own predilections, it is not surprising that Luther would have such strong feelings about this book and he expounds upon them well.  I agree with Horton that every Christian should read this book.  It is much more accessible than his similarly excellent The Bondage of the Will.  Although I have underlined much of the book, I will share a few of my favorite quotes from his thoughts about chapters 1 and 2. 

  • We are not to look upon our sins as insignificant trifles. On the other hand, we are not to regard them as so terrible that we must despair. Learn to believe that Christ was given, not for picayune and imaginary transgressions, but for mountainous sins; not for one or two, but for all; not for sins that can be discarded, but for sins that are stubbornly ingrained (in reference to Gal 1:4).  
  • Because my transgressions are multiplied and my own efforts at self-justification rather a hindrance than a furtherance, therefore Christ the Son of God gave Himself into death for my sins. To believe is to have eternal life (Gal 1:4).
  • Every teacher of works righteousness is a troublemaker. (Gal. 1:7).
  • The article of justification is fragile. Not in itself, of course, but in us. I know how quickly a person can forfeit the gospel. I know in what slippery places even those who stand who seem to have a good footing in the matters of the faith. In the midst of the conflict when we should be consoling ourselves with the Gospel, the Law rears up and begins to rage all over our conscience. I say the Gospel is frail because we are frail (Gal. 1:11-12). 
  • The Law terrorizes the conscience. The Law reveals the wrath and judgment of God. The Gospel does not threaten. The Gospel announces that Christ is come to forgive the sins of the world. The Gospel conveys to us the inestimable treasures of God. (Gal. 1:16). 
  • True faith lays hold of Christ and leans on Him alone. (Gal 2:4-5).
  • I must listen to the Gospel. It tells me, not what I must do, but what Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has done for me. (Gal 2:4-5).
  • No person has ever sunk so low that he cannot rise again (Gal 2:11). 
  • This imputation of righteousness we need very much, because we are far from perfect. As long as we have this body, sin will dwell in our flesh. Then too, we sometimes drive away the Holy Spirit; we fall into sin, like Peter, David, and other holy men. Nevertheless we may always take recourse to this fact, "that our sins are covered," and that "God will not lay them against our charge." Sin is not held against us for Christ's sake (Gal 2:16). 
  • Not that we reject good works. Far from it. But we will not allow ourselves to be removed from the anchorage of our salvation. (Gal 2:16). 
  • If we lose sight of Christ and begin to consider our past, we simply go to pieces. (Gal 2:20).
  • What awful presumption to imagine that there is any work good enough to pacify God, when to pacify God required the invaluable price of the death of blood of His own and only Son? (Gal 2:20).
  • Should I be so stupid as to reject the righteousness of Christ which cost me nothing, and slave like a fool to achieve the righteousness of the Law which God disdains? (Gal 2:21).
If you want more, get the book.  It is worth the price. 5 stars.

12 October 2011

Am I obtuse?

Surely I am too stupid to be a man. I have not the understanding of a man.-Proverbs 30:2

I like words.  I like ideas.  I spend a lot of time reading words and ideas that allow me to formulate thoughts about a wide variety of topics, though particularly related to Christian theology.  Because I have spent a lot of time reading deeply, people often ask my opinions regarding various matters.  Sometimes, I even share my opinions without being asked.  Despite my affinity for well-crafted arguments, I realized today that in my desire to share my knowledge, I sometimes entirely miss the person with whom I am communicating.


Too often, I am obtuse.  To be obtuse is to be lack tact or to be slow to understand.  Twice recently, I could have been labeled obtuse (though it could be more; an unfortunate condition of being obtuse is not always knowing that you are).  In each of these instances, I crafted my arguments well, but I missed the person.  In the first case, I missed the sense of loss the person was experiencing; in the second, I was insensitive to his feelings.

A well constructed exposition is meaningless if it misses the audience.  If I unintentionally hurt someone by my words, even if I believe that they are logically informed, the relationship is the worse for it.  I suspect growth in wisdom is not only accruing knowledge, but learning to use it to patiently and humbly love others. 

The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips.-Proverbs 16:23

01 October 2011

A Father's Son

Ian has increasingly grown emotional.  Wednesday, before I left, Ian must have reminded me 10,000 times that I must give him a hug and a kiss before I left.  "Don't forget to give me a hug and a kiss before you leave."  Those words, oft repeated, are imprinted in my brain. And what a fine imprint!  He is also the first to make sure that I kiss him good-bye every day before work and he insists I pass those blessings along to his sisters as well--sometimes twice. 

So often, people downplay or minimize emotionality in boys.  We don't want them to be feelers.  We expect them to be "strong", whatever that means.  The older I get though, the more I learn that true masculinity includes an emotional side.  Jesus wept. Jesus experienced sorrow.  Jesus felt hope. Jesus became angry.  Jesus is the definition of true masculinity, and he was emotional. 

I cherish the emotions of my children.  I am increasingly learning that even the negative ones can serve a purpose and that as a father, I need to learn to respond to those with grace as well, rather than with irritation.  Christian parenting is not about creating automatons, but loving our children and encouraging their passionate emotions, reminding them that God created them as passionate, emotional creatures. 

May we all have a passionate love for God, deep sorrow over losses, and appropriate anger. May we all have a heart after God, who created us to feel. 

27 September 2011

Wanton Disregard for Human Life

A few days ago, I came across this letter from Adolf Hitler to Philipp Bouhler and Karl Brandt regarding the medical termination of lives deemed unworthy.  The brief note states that they, "are instructed to broaden the powers of physicians designated by name, who will decide whether those who have - as far as can be humanly determined - incurable illnesses can, after the most careful evaluation, be granted a mercy death."  This letter followed a course of events you can read about on the website Letters of Note.  As you will learn, in 1933 compulsory sterilization was mandated for those deemed defective.  In 1939, Hitler granted a father permission to kill his 5 month old son, which gave way to a wider program of murder in the "Children's Euthanasia Program".  Eventually, Hitler expanded the program to allow, perhaps encourage, the murder of those "unworthy of life", all by legal mandate.   


Although the similarities to modern society are profound, I think we too easily miss the connection.  The current culture of abortion on demand also allows for the medical termination of lives deemed unworthy.  Each day, thousands of children are murdered in the United States, often for no reason other than they were unwanted by their parents.  The case of Canadian Katrina Effert, which has recently resurfaced in the news, raises concerns that the climate regarding the sanctity of life continues to deteriorate.  In 2005, as a new mother, she strangled her unwanted infant with her underwear and threw the baby over the fence into her neighbor's yard.  She was recently granted a suspended sentence. The judge presiding over the case, commented "while many Canadians undoubtedly view abortion as a less than ideal solution to unprotected sex and unwanted pregnancy, they generally understand, accept and sympathize with the onerous demands pregnancy and childbirth exact from mothers, especially mothers without support."  Effert received a suspended sentence.  For infanticide.

At what point may we conclude that a punishable offense has taken place?  When the child is 5 months old?  5 years old?  When will we acknowledge that we have justified murder as a legal medical procedure?  When will we realize that we accept the wholesale termination of helpless people as a matter of convenience? 

The ongoing abortion debate is not simply a political issue.  It is the wanton disregard of human life.  Like the holocaust.

I would also encourage you to watch this video.  Ray Comfort helps people to see the similarities between what Hitler did and modern abortion.





26 September 2011

Mortify Your Sin

"Put to death, therefore, what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passions, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry."-Colossians 3:5

Sometimes when I watch action movies, I do not understand the hero.  He has spent himself pursuing a bad guy who has left a wake of destruction and mayhem.  He finally apprehends the villain and wounds him, but he keeps him alive, perhaps for later questioning.  At the least, he does not make sure is dead.  The protagonist then turns his attention away from the now mortally wounded person and we all know that this action from an otherwise seemingly intelligent person will come back to cause later problems.  I understand that the villain remaining alive creates cinematic tension, but in real life it would reveal a profound stupidity.  The true hero would make sure the villain was unable to retaliate any further and he certainly would not take his eyes off of him until fully restrained. 

Too often as Christians, we do the same things, don't we?  We study God's word and increasingly learn what God desires of us.  We develop a more finely-tuned sense of what is sinful; we learn the patterns of our enemy.  There comes a point when we see our sin, take a shot and wound it.  We may even think the wound is mortal, but too often it is not.  Sometimes, we have developed a relationship with our sin.  Though it repulses us in many ways, there are also ways in which we don't want to get rid of it.  We keep it alive, not realizing it is regaining it's strength.  We make excuses for letting it live.

The verse from Colossians above reminds us that we need to put our sin to death.  The puritan John Owen says it this way: "be killing sin, or it will be killing you!"  We need to "make it [our] daily work; be always at it whilst [we] live; and cease not a day from this work."

Put a bullet in your sin.  Then another, and another.  Every day.   

21 September 2011

Heather's "mid September" update

Good Morning,
Just thought I would send everyone a quick update. 
 
This week we recieved the USCIS approval that we had been waiting for!  This basically pre-approves us to bring a child into the US for adoption.  This is what we were waiting for after we got our fingerprints done last month.  Whoo Hoo praise God it came so quick!
 
We still haven't heard how things are going at the orphange as far as finding a replacement for the man who passed away.  We have been assured that things should continue to progress and that they are still planning on holding their October family bonding week.  So as long as our dossier is at the orphange we can go.  So please be praying that our dossier gets to Haiti by the end of the month so we have time to make arrangements to go.  Otherwise we will be going the first week of December.  God's timing is perfect and we cannot wait to see what he has planned.
 
The kids started school the same week we started here.  It was a terribly hot and humid week for the kids in Haiti and in the photos of the kids doing their school work they look miserable.  Hopefully it has cooled down this week for them.
 
We got new photos of the children this week which is really fun.  Vladimy is growing like a weed and is almost as big as Yoldine now and it looks like Yoldine maybe lost her first tooth.  I cannot wait to meet them!
 
So please be praying for our dossier to get thru all the steps that we need it to go thru.  I am waiting to hear where it actually is so we can be praying specifically for each step  Thanks so much for your prayers.
Love,
The Kanz Family

Book Review-Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands

Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands by Paul Tripp is one of the required text books for my second class that I am taking through the CCEF.  Like Powlison, the author of most of what I read for the first class, Tripp is a gifted communicator.  He clearly presents a model for biblical change and how we can help people to grow in grace, providing numerous specific examples to demonstrate how his model has worked practically.  This would be a good book for any Christian seeking to understand themselves in relationship to others and to God as well as to learn how to relate to others.  4 stars. 

20 September 2011

Growth through the Word.


 
Growth in grace doesn’t come by lightning bolts and magical encounters but by humble, honest, obedient, and practical application of God’s Word to the specifics of everyday experience.” (Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, 326). 

Many Christians, when they think about personal change, expect magic from heaven.  So often, when I am talking with others, it seems that their concept of “waiting upon God” involves sitting nervously by, hoping God will act without any movement on their part.  When their lives do not change quickly or completely they become discouraged, wondering why God has not brought desired change. 

Listening to a teaching series this week from Greg Koukl on biblical decision making, I was reminded that this magic from heaven does not find place in scripture as the typical model for wisdom.  Certainly, God can and does intervene miraculously, but it was not the norm in the Bible.  Rather, wise decision making and “growth in grace” comes from applying God’s word to our particular circumstances.  How do we do this?

First, in order to obey God’s word, we need to know what it says.  So many today who proclaim to be Christians have no idea what God’s word says.  In fact, I think this is one of the primary issues in the church today.  Christians face ten thousand distractions every day—television, facebook, youtube—failing to realize that each of these things subtly influences their view of themselves, God, and the world around them.   Most of them, though, even if they may know all the nuances of World of Warcraft, or can name all the characters of Glee, have never read the Bible all the way through even once.  How can one adequately apply God’s word when they don’t even know what it says?

Second, in order to apply God’s word humbly and honestly, we need to be in relationship with other believers.  Wise friends who hold us accountable challenge our interpretations of Scripture, helping us to understand God’s word accurately.  This biblical accountability also promotes our humility.  It will promote the recognition that we do not know everything and need the mutual encouragement and exhortation from those who know us well. 

Rather than praying for thunder bolts, I hope to encourage others to study God’s word diligently, to pray through the Scriptures, and to surround themselves with people who know them well, through difficult situations and times of joy. 

12 September 2011

Closed Ears and Open Mouths

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.-Ephesians 4:29

I read with great interest the blog post "Ask a Calvinist" on Rachel Held Evans blog on September 8.  Ms Held-Evans has been featuring a series of posts where her readers pose questions to individuals representing various positions, within and outside of Christianity.  She chose Justin Taylor to answer the questions about Calvinism.  Mr Taylor was certainly a good choice.  He has a handle upon the current climate within Calvinism, having previously worked as John Piper's personal assistant and now as a vice president at Crossway Books.  He also authors the popular blog, Between Two Worlds.  Taylor fielded many of the common objections to Calvinism, providing what I read to be gracious informative responses, though admittedly, I consider myself inside his camp theologically. 

Held-Evans's initial post generated significant interest as demonstrated by the comments provided by her readership.  Before public commenting was closed, 223 responses were generated.  Although the comments started amicably enough, they seemed to devolve rather quickly into ad hominem attacks and straw man arguments.  There was also a lack of awareness of church history (e.g., Calvin's role in the burning of Michael Servetus), which is not necessarily a fault of the commenter, though seemed to reveal an attitude of animosity toward John Calvin and Calvinism.  One commenter compared the Calvinist God to Satan.  To her credit, Ms Held-Evans attempted to reign in the particularly egregious commenters.

Justin Taylor provided a link to Held-Evans post on his blog as well.  Given their differing theological opinions, I expected the background, viewpoints, and stated theology of the commenters to differ from those commenting upon Held-Evans blog.  Indeed that was the case.  Taylor's commenters, at least early on, tended toward reformed doctrines.  Like the commenters on Held-Evans blog, the comments here also began civilly enough, but unfortunately, they did not stay that way.  Commenters were questioning Held-Evans's salvation early on and the com-box again devolved into casting dispersions and emotional attacks.  In the effort toward one-upsmanship, no one was listening to anyone else. Everyone was blathering on (using their keyboards, of course) but not really listening.   

Admittedly, I disagree Held-Evans on many issues (e.g., complementarism vs. egalitarianism), but I really struggle when people go so far as to call her a false teacher.  I am not sure that is my determination to make.  Although she can be unduly provocative from time to time, she proved to be a gracious moderator on this post.

Taylor is consistently full of grace and I believe his blog posts regularly demonstrate that.  Like Held-Evans, he also did not engage in the attacks that were taking place.  Even though each of them clearly hold different perspectives, they were gracious and kind to one another.  I wish the same could be said for their readers.

To me, it is little wonder why those outside of Christianity want nothing to do with Christianity when they see such fighting on "Christian" blogs.  There is no grace, no love in this type of commenting.  We often forget that blog comments are public; not only do Christians read them, so do non-Christians.  We need to do a better job of speaking truth in love to one another.  Disagreements can be handled with more grace than we handle them.

Today, Justin Taylor posted a fitting follow up.  He shared some notes from John Newton in a post entitled "How Calvinists Should Engage in Controversy."  It is worthwhile reading for all Christians. 


Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.-Colossians 4:6