Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Top 7 Christmas Carol Remakes

Everybody's done the traditional Christmas songs, but I really like it when they jazz it up a bit. These are my favorites.

7) God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen — Jars of Clay



6) It Came Upon a Midnight Clear — Caedmon's Call



5) Little Drummer Boy — Jars of Clay



4) O Come, O Come Emmanuel — Big Daddy Weave

I couldn't find a video — or even the whole song — but it's too good to not list. This link will take you to Amazon where you can hear a clip.

3) What Child is This? — Mercy Me



2) Silent Night — Jaci Velasquez with Burlap to Cashmere

This arrangement, which I've seen called One Silent Night, is a combination of Silent Night with her God So Loved to beautiful effect.



1) I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day — Casting Crowns

This arrangement of the old poem manages to be heart-rending and hopeful as well as beautiful. It is absolutely worth your time to listen. Twice.



Honorable mention: Anointed's version of Joy to the World is a lot of fun, but I couldn't find a good link. A sample can be heard on this album on Amazon.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Most Important Verse for Christmas

The Christmas season is a time of fun, food, and family. And rampant skepticism. The Christmas story goes from one supernatural element to another climaxing with the virgin birth — elements that many people can't quite stomach.

Though there are certainly plenty of atheists, agnostics, and deists among the doubters, many of these skeptics are theists of one stripe or another — even Christians.

Why do people who believe in the resurrection doubt the virgin birth? I have no idea. But what do we do?

For the doubting Christian, one verse in the Bible out weighs all the rest:
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
Do you believe God made the universe from scratch? If not, there's not much I can say about Christmas, but if you do, ask yourself: If God can make a universe, is a virgin birth or a special "star" (whatever it may have been) really that hard?

Can't the God who made DNA make some for a virgin birth? Can't the one who made the heavens find a way to get the magi to Bethlehem?

Asking questions is healthy; stubborn skepticism is not. Don't let a few miracles ruin the Christmas season.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Free books!

RC Sproul's Can I Know God's Will? (Crucial Questions Series) and Jerry Bridges' Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts are available as free downloads for the Kindle and/or the free Kindle app. These books often don't remain free for long, so if you're interested, grab them quickly.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Another Freebie

For who-knows-how-long, Lee Strobel's The Case for Christmas is free in Kindle format.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Free Sproul eBook

RC Sproul's commentary on John is available as a free download for the Kindle and/or the free Kindle app. His books rarely remain free for long, so if you're interested, grab it quickly.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Saying Grace

Do we need to bless leftovers if we blessed the food the first time?

What about people who show up late — do they need to say their own blessing?

When should we say the blessing — do we need to bless leftovers if we blessed the food the first time?

What about people who show up late — do they need to say their own blessing?

When should we say the blessing — before the bread, the salad, or the main course?

Or maybe the very question reveals the problem: treating "the blessing" as magic words rather than as pausing to recognize that all that we have is a gift, to be greatful for all the kindness God has shown us, and to remind ourselves of those who have not been similarly blessed.

So what do you think is a better name? Saying grace? Giving thanks? What do you call it your house?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sin, BC

Have you heard of "testimony crimes?" Apparently young Christians are committing crimes to improve upon their testimony.

OK, that's an Onion-esque joke, but it's based on the truth that some people try to exaggerate their past sinfulness to make their conversion story more flashy. It's a silly idea that comes from our skewed notion of "big sins." You can make a case that God views pride, hate, and divisiveness as worse sins than stealing and adultery, but the latter are more of a big deal to our culture.

The opposite error is those believers who can't let go of their past, who continue to beat themselves up over things they did before they came to Christ.

The Bible tells us that believers are not the same people they were prior to their conversion. Before Christ, we do not want and cannot do the right things. Human beings are ruled by their carnal desires and a spirit that is opposed to God.

But in Christ we are "a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come." The person who committed those sins no longer exists. Someone else now lives in that body.

We all have things in our past we wish hadn't happened. We all have things we wish we could forget. Sometimes we're still paying the temporal consequences for those choices. But with God, it's over. The debt has been paid, the sin is gone, and those things we regret have been cast as far away as "the east is from the west."

Have you struggled with forgiving yourself, or accepting God's forgiveness, for past sins? Or have you continued to hold BC sins against someone? Or has someone done that to you?

How did you get beyond it? What advice would you give to someone with this problem?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Another Free Book

Another book free on Kindle at present: Surprised by Suffering: The Role of Pain and Death in The Christian Life by RC Sproul

Free Electronic Bible

I came across something I thought I should share.

If you have or think you ever might have a Kindle or the Kindle software for PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android, or Blackberry (the software is free to install and use whether or not you own a Kindle), you might want to grab a free electronic version of the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). It's not as widely used as the NIV or ESV, but it's reasonably well-respected and free in Kindle format.

I don't know how long it'll last, but while it's there, you might want to grab it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

New Design

Those who read this blog via a feed reader probably don't care, but I changed the layout and color scheme of the site.

Let me know what you think — especially if it's hard to read.

Illegal Aliens and Blind Justice

Where does "love your neighbor" end?

We feel sorry for poor people who are just trying to get by. We want to give them a break, and we want to see others do the same. If we're honestly trying to love our neighbor, we'll probably help them out — with money, food, or an odd job if we can.

But we don't help them jack someone's car.

The comments on the previous post, "Loving Your Illegal Neighbor," called to mind a very hard-nosed Proverb:

"Men do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving. Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold, though it costs him all the wealth of his house" (6:30-31).

Loving your neighbor has its limits. Those limits are the law, and the law is supposed to be "one size fits all:"

"Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly" (Lev 19:15).

In the illegal immigration debates, poverty cannot be an excuse to violate the law. If it's treated as an excuse to violate immigration law, we shouldn't be surprised if some think it's an excuse to violate other laws.

We can change our laws, and I think we should, but we can't ignore those who broke the law. If a reasonable price isn't paid, the law loses respect required to make our society function.

What's a reasonable price? That's a question for another time.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Loving Your Illegal Neighbor

How does the command to love our neighbor as ourselves relate to illegal immigration?

Should Christians support an open border policy or amnesty or something like that? Aren't these people just looking to make a better life for themselves and their families? They just want the opportunity to work and feed their kids. Wouldn't we do the same thing if we were in their place? How can we deny them that chance? We shouldn't discriminate against them just for being born on the other side of an imaginary line. If we want the poor to help themselves, what more can we ask than these people who simply want to come here and work?

Is that what the golden rule requires? If so, we're in heap big trouble.

If loving our neighbor requires allowing anyone to come here, we certainly can't limit that to those born in Mexico or even South America. Why should we discriminate against those who were born in Africa or China. Don't they deserve the same chance to strive for a better life?

But if we say anyone anywhere who wants can come here, how can we limit that to those who have the means to get here? If we care about the poor, how can we neglect the poorest of the poor who could never afford to travel here? We will have to go get anyone who wants to immigrate here and bring them back.

How could it be otherwise?

Now, if you want to say we should do all of this ... well, at least you're consistent.

But does loving your neighbor really require such open immigration policies? I don't think so. There are three things we need to consider as we approach this problem.

1) Borders like we have today are a relatively modern invention. Nothing in the Bible directly addresses the issue because it didn't exist then.

2) While we're loving our Mexican, etc, neighbors who want to move here, we still have to love our Mexican, etc, neighbors who don't want to. Is the best thing for the people of Mexico to make it easy for their young, hardworking, talented people to abandon their country and come contribute to ours? Wouldn't open borders just be putting a band-aid on the real problem — a third-world country existing next to two of the most prosperous nations in history?

3) While we're loving our neighbors who want to immigrate illegally, we have to love our neighbors who did it legally. If we just throw open the borders, what do we say to someone who waded through the paperwork, waited for permission, fought with the bureaucracy, and otherwise obeyed all the rules? "Yeah, great, but this guy wants to be here, too."

It's easy to treat the Golden Rule as a feel-good, bumper-sticker slogan that can be tossed out to trump someone else's argument, but when thought through, it doesn't present much of a solution to our immigration woes.

I'm not prescribing any particular solution to the illegal immigration situation — right now, at least. I just want people to stop abusing "love your neighbor as yourself" as justification for their liberal views.

------
Related:
Immigration Reform and Christianity 1: Justice
Immigration Reform and Christianity 2: Mercy
Immigration Reform and Christianity 3: Pragmatism
Immigration Reform and Christianity 4: Solutions

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sovereign in Sin

Exodus 4 contains one of my favorite passages in the Bible.

Moses has encountered the burning bush. He's been commissioned to confront the king of Egypt, given the Divine Name, and equipped with signs that prove his authority. How does he respond?
(10) Moses said to the LORD, "O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue."

The LORD said to him, "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say."

But Moses said, "O Lord, please send someone else to do it."

Then the LORD's anger burned against Moses and he said, "What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do.
After all Moses has been given, after meeting God Himself, all he can say is, "Can't you pick someone else?"

When the Lord sees Moses' lack of faith, his fear, He is justifiably angry. But "Aaron ... is already on his way."

I'm always encouraged by the reminder that God may be disappointed or even angered by our sin, lack of belief, or failure, but He is never taken by surprise. I'm also encouraged by the reminder that the success of God's Kingdom work does not depend on me.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Great Realignment

A few years ago we started hearing that America's roaring economy was fueled by credit; millions of Americans, including a great many Christians, were up to their ears in debt. The fuel for that roaring economy wasn't just credit but also materialism as millions bought things they didn't need with money they didn't have.

And it was abundantly clear that changing that, getting Americans and especially Christians to refocus their desires and spend less than they earn, would cut our economy off at the knees.

Well, that's no longer a problem. Our economy is on its knees. Millions are out of work. Millions have taken pay cuts or lower paying jobs. Credit is harder to come by. Even the affluent have cut back on their spending — out of caution, guilt, or simply a desire to blend in.

So where do we go from here?

A major disruption in your life presents an opportunity to change bad habits. We're at one. We can decide to do things differently than before.

The "Great Recession" can result in a great realignment. We can re-evaluate what we're going to value. Instead of toys, we can decide to value simple pleasures.

Recently I took a stay-at-home vacation. Originally I did it because I have much more vacation than my wife. (Where am I going to go without her? Why would I want to?)

But as it approached, I began to look forward to it more and more. The simplicity was so appealing. Instead of going somewhere with the hassles of driving or flying, I stayed home. Instead of bustling the kids around on a schedule of all the sights we wanted to see, I sat in my reading chair. No hotels, no looking for a decent restaurant, no packing or unpacking. I slept in my bed, ate in my kitchen, watched my tv, read my books, and generally had a marvelous, relaxing week. And my expenses that week were less than they would have been if I'd gone to work — and much less than if I'd gone to Disneyland.

Now I plan to make it an annual event — hopefully even with my wife.

I read a while back that in Finland they don't have big houses or nice cars but enjoy a quiet, simple life. (In part, because of their confiscatory tax system, which we do not need to emulate.) I hope and pray we can move in that direction, if not all Americans, at least the American church.

If we live a lifestyle that allows us to give away 10% of our income and save 10% of our income, we'll find a happiness that can't be bought for 110% of our income.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lighter Links

How about an assortment of light and entertaining links?

Pictures taken from the space station.

Ten Books that Influenced C.S. Lewis
"Reading everything C. S. Lewis tells you to read is not a bad stimulus for a continuing education project."

How to save water-damaged books and photos

I hope you never need this. My parents did.
When a child puts something up his nose

For the book lover's book lover: Pictures of the world's most beautiful libraries
(HT: Tony Reinke)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Are Bats Birds?

Are bats birds? Who would even ask such a question?

Skeptics. Here's why:

"These are the birds you are to detest and not eat because they are detestable: the eagle, the vulture, ... the hoopoe and the bat" (Lev 11:13, 19).

Are bats birds, or is this a scientific or factual error in the Bible?

Neither; it's actually a translation issue.

Our society categorizes animals based on all sorts of characteristics — physical, behavioral, internal, and external. We have people who are paid to sit around doing nothing but this; our system is going to be more complicated. Ancient Hebrews used a much simpler system, for example, things-that-swim, things-that-crawl, and things-with-wings. Their system wasn't wrong, just different.

But their system doesn't always translate smoothly into English. "Things-with-wings" translates fine as "bird" until you get to bats.

That's the case with many passages of the Bible, whether they appear to be "errors" or not. To properly understand the Bible, we have to strive to put ourselves in the heads of the authors and their audiences. When we read the scriptures as if they were written by and to twenty-first century Americans, we are bound to go astray.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Normative Argument

A lot of modern evangelicals are pretty old-fashioned — especially where gender roles are concerned. Being the contrarian I am, I always have to ask why.

It's not unusual to get a response that appeals to what was "normative" during the time when the Bible was being written.

While I don't think that's completely invalid, we need to be able to base our answers on more than that simply because there are a lot of things that were normal during ancient times that aren't now.

During Jesus' lifetime, it was normal for extended families to live close together. The men worked while the women kept the home and raised the kids. They honored the aged, disciplined the young, worshipped together, and took care of their neighbors.

That all sounds great. This doesn't:

The men performed back-breaking labor from sun up to sun down hoping desperately to scratch a living out of the earth. The women stayed home because there was little else they could do, and someone had to watch the kids. They tended to have lots of them because ... well, there wasn't much else for a married couple to do for entertainment once the sun went down. Plus, the mortality rate made it necessary to have lots of children so that a few would reach adulthood.

"Aged" was fifty. A man answered to his father for as long as his father lived. In some parts of the ancient world, a father could kill his children at any point for any reason, even into adulthood (though that was rare).

Disease was rampant, there wasn't enough food, and what food they had couldn't be stored for long. Sanitation was non-existent. People bathed infrequently, and they went to the bathroom in a hole dug in the ground.

This was normative.

You think it's best that women stay home and raise the kids? You think large families, homeschooling, and careful religious instruction of your children is healthy? Great, so do I. You think it's required? Why?

We can't just appeal to what was normal during Jesus' day without explaining why we no longer poop in a hole.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Does God Promise to Speak?

"Pay attention, and listen to me;
be silent, and I will speak."


I've seen this verse from Job used a few times lately to say God will speak if we'll only listen. Do we have that promise from God?

Not from this verse. It's Elihu speaking to Job.

This is a danger inherent in using concordances and Bible search programs — it's too easy to find something that falsely appears to support your position when removed from its context. Of course, there are plenty of other ways to take verses out of context too.

Why is this a big deal? When people mistakenly take statements in the Bible to be promises to them, they are frequently disappointed. They're disappointed with God, even though He never made them a promise.

Remember, never read a Bible verse. Read a paragraph or more to be sure you're reading in context.

It's no small thing to decide to live your life after the precepts of the Bible. Let's make sure we're living by what it actually says.

--------
Related:
All for Good?
Bad Verses on Tithing

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Resurrection: No Myth

Were the Gospels written to flesh out Paul's mythological Jesus? Of course not.

The Gospels tell a story that no one in his right mind would make up — certainly not if you're trying to found, or support, a religion.

Of the many elements of the story that no one would fabricate, three really stand out to me:

1) The cross — If you've got to explain how your founder died, you wouldn't make up his execution as a criminal. And you wouldn't risk making an enemy of the government by making them look bad.

2) The women at the tomb — If you wanted to pass a story off as truth, it wouldn't star the town drunk as the witness. That's about how that society viewed the testimony of women. They would not have fabricated the women as being first to the tomb.

3) The Twelve — If you wanted to found a religion around the surviving apostles, you wouldn't make them look like buffoons. For three years they didn't understand a word Jesus said, and when He rose from the dead, they didn't believe it. You can spin up an explanation as to how this isn't fatal to the new religion, but no one would tell a story like this if they didn't have to.

There are many elements of the Gospel stories that simply don't need to be there. Why explain them away? Just don't make them up. Unless they're not made up.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Gospel According to Isaiah

See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.

Just as there were many who were appalled at him —
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man
and his form marred beyond human likeness—
so will he sprinkle many nations,
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.

Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (New International Version)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Twice Betrayed

Before His crucifixion, Christ was betrayed by two different people in different ways.

One honored Him; one denied Him.
One kissed Him; one cursed.
One loved money; one feared men.

One died in guilt; one repented and was forgiven.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Why Did Christ Die at Passover?

If, as I believe the scriptures teach, Christ died to atone for our sins, why did He die at Passover instead of the Day of Atonement?

The Day of Atonement is the one day of the year when the priest could enter the Most Holy Place (where the glory of God appeared over the Ark of the Covenant) and make sacrifices for his sins and sins of the people of Israel.

Passover commemorates the tenth plague of the Exodus and God's protection of Israel from it and their subsequent rescue from slavery in Egypt.

The former is natural day for Christ's sacrifice, right?

But that's not how it happened. I think the reason can be illuminated by considering what took place in that first Passover.

God did at least three things on that day:
1) He called a people out for Himself.
2) He freed His people from slavery.
3) He rescued His people from the wrath that He was going to show His enemies — in this case, Egypt.

In Christ's death, God did all of those things again.

Christ's blood "purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation" (Rev 5:9) "by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace" (Eph 2:15). Now we are "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1Pet 2:9).

"We were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, ... to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. ... So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir" (Gal 4:3-7).

"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men" (Rom 1:18) but "God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1Thes 5:9).

The forgiveness of our sins, achieved by the shedding of that precious blood, is the vehicle by which the purposes of God are achieved. And so it was totally appropriate that Christ should atone for our sins on the day God rescued His people.

Friday, March 26, 2010

ROI

Recently I got something in the mail I'd never seen before.

Last year I donated some money to a local crisis pregnancy center. They sent me a letter saying that last year they saw
170 lives saved
80 souls saved
I call that a good return on my investment.

If there are any crisis pregnancy centers in your area, I hope you'll support them. Not just because we don't want to be people who only say "no" to abortion (though I hope that is always true) but because real lives are affected when we reach out to those in need.

If we can give a cup of cold water, a sonogram, medical care, a few hundred diapers, a few gallons of formula, a baby bed, and some clothes to a frightened young woman, she can know that we care about her and her baby and that someone will be there to hold her hand along the way.

And if you can volunteer, at some point you'll probably get to hold the baby :)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Question on Christ & Passover

UPDATED
I've got a question for you. But first I need to set it up.

Though it clearly isn't the whole story, the major reason Christ died was as a sacrifice, atoning for our sins:
"The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45).

"Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people" (Heb 9:28).

"In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses" (Eph 1:7).
So why did Jesus die at Passover instead of the Day of Atonement?

Or to put it another way, what is the significance of Christ's dying at Passover rather than the Day of Atonement?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Truth and Parenting

"That's not true."

Almost every day my six-year-old comes home from Kindergarten and shares a little tidbit of wisdom she got from a teacher. It's usually something profound like "green means go, red means stop" or "sugar causes cavities" (which didn't seem to impress her when I told her that).

The other day she told me, "Water is healthy; tea is not."

What could I say? "That's not true." (With caveats like "if that's what he really said.")

I was briefly concerned about undermining her teachers, and I certainly don't want her going to school and challenging one, but I decided she should learn early that everyone is fallable, even her teachers. (She already knows that about me.) And given the state of public schools, it can't hurt to start her off early with the knowledge that a teacher that contradicts Mom and Dad can be wrong.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Some Recommended Reading

Essentials and Non-Essentials: How to Choose Your Battles Carefully
"I often tell people that there are some things that I believe that I would die for; there are some things that I believe that I would lose an arm for; there are some things that I believe that I would lose a finger for; and then there are some things that I believe that I would not even get a manicure for."
Includes a handy chart.

Related: A Practical 9-Step Guide to Studying any Theological Issue

It's Not the Church's Job
"The church cannot ensure that all goes well with you. Most of life is your responsibility."

Look Who's Talking Now, or Thoughts on Leviticus
"Is Leviticus dry? Unless you enjoy reading blueprints and law textbooks, yes. Is it boring? When you remember that God is doing most of the speaking, it becomes much less boring."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Hate the Sin...

It's impossible to "hate the sin and love the sinner."

At least that's what I've been told. Repeatedly.

Let's be honest: Not everyone who hates the sin loves the sinner. And sometimes the love is buried very, very deep.

But it's not impossible. Everybody does it all the time. Especially parents.

Yes, the best example of hating the sin and loving the sinner is child rearing. We hate certain behaviors. We want better than that from our children because we want better than that for our children. Parents ground, spank, and occasionally even kick out their children because they love them, because their deepest fear is that the child will not become the man or woman they could be.

And we can oppose — even strongly oppose — behavior in other people because we want better than that for them.

Of course, one reason people don't believe in this is that too often we only appear to hate sexual sins. Sexual sin in destructive to the sinner. So are gluttony, greed, pride, and gossip. If we love our friends and family, we won't turn a blind eye to those sins either.

Friday, March 5, 2010

How Much Depth?

How deep do our worship songs need to be?

On one end of the spectrum are songs that are pretty but have no theological content whatsoever — they may not be about God, they may not even be true. Example: Breathe.

On the other end are songs where every phrase is packed with meaning, that are nearly a theological treatise. Example: Amazing Grace.

There are a whole lot of songs in the middle.

Some people really don't care. Some think every song sung in church needs to be on the deep end.

Of the latter, one said his church sings "music that is rich in theology, melody and lyric. As a result, most of our music consists of hymns written in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries."

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that. I'm asking if it's necessary.

Actually, I'm saying it's not. Take this beautiful song:
Praise the LORD.
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with tambourine and dancing,
praise him with the strings and flute,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD.
This short and to-the-point song praises God without going into any real theological detail. It just magnifies God. Is there anything wrong with that?

If you didn't recognize it, that song is Psalm 150.

Now for a more modern song:
Lord of all creation
Of water earth and sky
The heavens are your Tabernacle
Glory to the Lord on high

God of wonders beyond our galaxy
You are holy, holy
The universe declares your Majesty
And you are holy, holy
This song doesn't have a lot of theological depth. But it magnifies God for who He is. I'm cool with that.

I love deep songs. But I don't think every song has to be one. As long as it's true, well-written, and preferably God-focused, I can live with some theologically shallow music in church.

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

2012

The world will end on December 21, 2012, according to some interpretations of the Mayan calendar. It shouldn't surprise us that some in our society have grabbed onto that to preach the end of the world.

It should surprise us when Christians do it. Yes, I've heard some do it.

When will the world end? Jesus said, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."

And the Mayans.

Really? Why are we even having this conversation?

We don't know when the end will come. Maybe it will be a thousand years from now. Maybe it will be today. Plan like it's the former; live like it's the latter.

And maybe we should stop listening to people who want to predict the end.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Surprising Scripture on Suffering

Being a Christian doesn't mean you won't suffer in life. In fact, you probably will. The Bible doesn't tell us how to avoid suffering, but it does tell us how to respond to it.

And its message is sometimes surprising:

"'Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.' But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord" (1Pet 3:14b-15a).

"Set apart Christ as Lord." There's a lot packed into that simple statement. The most important thing for the one who's suffering is realize how much is meant by "Lord."

Jesus is my owner, my master, my teacher, my lawgiver. But more importantly, Jesus is God.

"For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (Col 1:16-17).

Our King not only made the world but rules it. It turns because He wills it. The sun shines by His command. Nothing happens without His permission.

And when we suffer, when we struggle, when we feel like life is using us as its punching bag, we can know that Jesus is Lord and is aware of our plight. He will use it "for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Rom 8:28), which is that we should be like Him.

And He cares; He has promised, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" (Heb 13:5). "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matt 28:20).

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Related:
All for Good
Can You Handle It?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Slavery Links

Last year I made it my goal to learn about modern slavery. This year I'm going to encourage you to do the same.

Organizations:
Not for Sale — the group, not the book
International Justice Mission

Articles:
If This Isn’t Slavery, What Is? — NY Times
be very angry about slavery — Eugene Cho
Slave Labor & Bible Covers — Skyebox
Iowa Man Convicted of Human Trafficking, Sold Teens In Prostitution — Fox News

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Review: Not for Sale

Contrary to popular belief, slavery was not eradicated in 1865. It still exists today. It still exists in the United States.

In Not for Sale, David Batstone tells the stories of slavery today — sex slaves, forced laborers, and child soldiers — and what is being done to combat it.

In it you'll meet Srey Neang, a Cambodian girl who truly lived the saying that the light at the end of the tunnel is the headlamp of an oncoming train. For years, every time it seemed like her life might get a little better it got much worse. You'll walk with Charles, a Ugandan boy, as he is kidnapped and turned into a murderer in the name of Jesus.

Not for Sale will also introduce you to people like Lucy Borja, who rescues children from the streets of Peru, and Louis Etongwe, who rescues slaves in modern-day Virginia, and some of the organizations that are working to rescue people from their chains, both here and abroad.

Is this a good book? The question just doesn't fit. The book is well-written. It's a page-turner. It's horrible. You want to stop, but you can't.

And you shouldn't. Because in a time when freedom is supposed to be on the march, there are millions of people — many of them children — who are being treated like cattle. Right now.

And the Church needs to be on the forefront of the battle just as we were before.

Rating: Must Read

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Bible and Archeology

I recently came across an old and surprisingly even-handed Time article on the Bible and archeology. It's a quite readable piece and reminded me of some things I wanted to say about the topic here.

1) Lack of proof is not disproof.

Just because we haven't proven someone or something existed, that doesn't mean we know they didn't. I doubt we'll ever have proof Abraham existed. A few thousand years from now, there probably won't be proof Bill Gates existed. Archeology is limited to what we find, and what we can find is limited to what survived.

2) The experts are often proven wrong.

There are a number of things in the Bible every "expert" once knew to be fiction that has since been shown to be factual — e.g., the existence of the Hittites or King David. There is no point in getting worked up about archeologists saying something or someone didn't exist.

3) Archeology isn't an exact science.

Archeologists find bits and pieces that survived the ravages of time and try to reconstruct the world of thousands of years ago. Many of their conclusions are based on assumptions that may later be disproved — e.g., that this Egyptian king corresponds to this guy mentioned in an Assyrian record which is used to date the Exodus out of Egypt. It's not fair to say they're guessing, but there certainly are huge error bars on some of their assessments.

4) Use with caution.

As interesting as this stuff can be, and as illuminating as it occasionally is, we don't want to push it farther than warranted. I wouldn't put to much weight on any "proof" or "disproof" that comes out of this field.

That said, we have learned some very interesting things from study of the distant past, things that can shed some light on the OT. I hope to share some of that in the not-too-distant future.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Grief

My wife's grandmother — the one whose sudden illness caused the unexpected trip to Missouri — passed on in the wee hours Friday morning. She lived a good, long life, and she was ready to go, so the family's as at peace with things as they can be. But we weren't sure how our six-year-old would take it. (The little one really doesn't know what's going on.)

When mommy sat down to tell her Grandma had died, my little girl's reaction caught us by surprise:

"You mean she's gone to be with Jesus? That's awesome!"

I do believe she gets it.

We grieve. It's natural to miss those we love and will not see for decades. But we expect to see them again. From the beginning Christians have described it as "falling asleep" because we know it's temporary.

So we grieve, but not like "the rest of men, who have no hope." We grieve with the knowledge that death has been conquered. We grieve with the assurance that one day creation will be what it was meant to be and that we will have renewed bodies in a world with no more crying, no more pain, and no more death. We grieve as people who know death is the step before being with the Lord forever.

"Therefore encourage each other with this words" (1Thes 4.18).

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Let's Change "The Doctrines of Grace"

I've made no secret of the fact that I don't believe Calvinism is correct. But I can generally get along with Calvinists — and anyone who takes the Christian faith seriously and desires to love God with heart and mind.

But Calvinists have this one thing that drives me bonkers. The precepts of Calvinism, the TULIP, is often called the "doctrines of grace."

The not-so-subtle implication of that name is that the rest of us don't believe in grace. Since grace is the heart of the Christian religion and the foundation of the reformation and all protestant faiths, I take that as a bit of a slap in the face.

Whatever it's origin, I don't think most modern Calvinists mean to be offensive when they use the term. But it is offensive to many people.

So let's suggest some other names for this school of thought. Maybe one will catch on.

I think it would be simplest just to call it "Calvinism," but Calvinists will object that they aren't following Calvin but the Bible (yeah, I know), so they don't want to use the term Calvinism. Of course, "doctrines of grace" is no more biblical than Calvinism. But anyway...

I think "the doctrine of election" would get us in the neighborhood, but in truth Arminians believe in a kind of election. And TULIP is about more than election (though that's the heart of the matter IMHO).

Let's go back to "grace." Whatever may seem to be implied by their term, it's not the existence of grace but the functioning of it that is the issue. They believe in a very sovereign grace, one that does not merely save but chooses the saved.

Maybe we can borrow from that (and from C.J. Mahaney) then and call it "the doctrine of sovereign grace." Perhaps that will allow them to transmit the message they want without the poke in the eye. Unless, of course, that is the message they want.

What do you think? Anyone got another idea?

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Related:
Can’t We All Get Along? 1

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Links Again

I'd hoped to post something a little more meaty, but the wind got taken out of that by the emergency death-bed visit we're having to make to my wife's grandmother. Please pray for their family and for us as we drive through the snow.

Now for something lighter...

Do you know beans? Theologian Ben Witherington on ... coffee.

Newseum — the world's front pages

The Virtual Piano — play the piano online. Who needs a reason for these things?

Surviving Disaster — videos from Spike TV. Hopefully I won't need these this weekend.

Wish us luck. Texans don't know how to drive on snow.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Was Paul's Jesus Real?

Is this the next skeptic meme?

I've seen a couple of people claim Paul's Jesus wasn't a historical figure — that He was either pure fiction or perhaps a spiritual figure who died and rose all within another world.

Their evidence: He never talks about Jesus' life. If we had only the writings of Paul, we would know very little about Jesus' life and ministry. The Gospels, being later than Paul's letters (and probably all the other epistles), could then be fiction, stories created to give life to Paul's mystical savior.

Utter crap? Absolutely. Mostly this argument boils down to "I wouldn't have done it this way, so it's wrong." But that doesn't mean we don't have to address it.

It's true that Paul, as well as the other epistle authors, doesn't say much about Jesus' mortal life.

There are plausible explanations for this. Mostly, I'd say the New Testament epistles are an extended commentary on the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. His ministry and teachings aren't the focus of that part of the New Testament.

But is is possible that Paul was preaching a fictitious, or at least purely "spiritual," Jesus?

No.

You can argue against this from a number of things Paul wrote. Most of it, though, is theological — specifically, things that would make no theological sense unless Jesus was real. But since skeptics don't think any of his teachings make sense, that's not a helpful line of thought.

But Paul said three things that place Jesus firmly in real history:

Jesus was descended from David (Rom 1.3).
Though there are skeptics today, it's ridiculous to think Paul thought David was not a real person. And Jesus, according to Paul, was really descended from that real person.

There are witnesses to His post-resurrection appearances (1Cor 15.6).
Paul claims there are witnesses to an event — witnesses who were still alive, that his readers could find. The event, and therefore Jesus, must have happened in history.

Jesus spoke to Pilate (1Tim 6.13).
If Jesus' death and resurrection were purely fiction or an event of the "spiritual world," He wouldn't have been tried in front of Pilate. Jesus made His "good confession" in front of a real, historical figure, so He must have been one too.

Of course this won't be good enough for anyone who's already made up his mind. But that doesn't mean we have to let them get to us. Whatever reason Paul may have had for not talking about Jesus' mortal life, he clearly knew He had one.

Friday, January 29, 2010

King of the Jungle

Contemporary Christian music has a lot of silly fluff, but there is some good, God-centered stuff.

Here's an important message from Steven Curtis Chapman's King of the Jungle:

What I see is telling me I'm going crazy, but
What is real says God's still on His throne
What I need is to remember one thing
That the Lord of the gentle breeze is Lord of the rough and tumble
And He is King of the Jungle

No matter how crazy things get, God is in control. Take a deep breath. Relax. He's got it covered.



Click here to watch at YouTube

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Weary in Doing Good 2

Just as we can get tired of doing good deeds, we can get tired of the struggle to do right.

Does that happen to you? Do you ever say, "I'll never get it right; why do I keep trying?"

Do you ever think you'll never be free of that temptation? Do you ever think everyone's given up on you but Satan?

I do, and I doubt I'm the only one. But when I feel that way, when my emotions betray me, my brain knows it's not true.

This is what's true: "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil 1.6).

So "let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us" (Heb 12.1) "for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Phil 2.13).

And when we fail, "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1John 1.9).

"Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us" (Rom 8.34).

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin" (Heb 4.15).

Now "let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (Heb 12.2-3).

Friday, January 22, 2010

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Weary in Doing Good

The parallels between the recent Haitian earthquake and the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami are inescapable. Hopefully this isn't a portent of things soon to come.

The Indian Ocean earthquake started off a very troubled year including terrorist attacks, train derailments, and a record number of hurricanes, Katrina among them, plus more local issues. And we, as Americans and especially the American church, had to respond.

After a while I became emotionally numb. I simply couldn't care anymore. I had no more sympathy to give.

As the scriptures warn, I had grown "weary in doing good."

What do we do when we just can't care anymore?

We go on. We act as if we care. Caring is an emotion. Doing good is a choice.

We give money, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked. We bind wounds and hug necks and do whatever else needs to be done.

It's trite but true: We are the only gospel many people hear. So we don't get a day off.

But we do get help.

Our Savior sent us a Counselor and Helper who works in, with, and through us. What we cannot do, He can do through us. And when we grow weary, He will give us strength.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Wealthy Jesus and Other Errors

A friend sent me an article where some teachers of the "prosperity gospel" claim Jesus was not poor. I shouldn't be surprised — this is natural considering what they teach — but I am; the picture painted in the Gospels has been understood for almost 2000 years to mean Jesus was poor.

I can't believe Jesus was rich when He was described as living off others' charity (Luke 8:3).

But the bigger issue here is one that anyone can fall victim to.

These folks are torturing the scriptures to make them conform to a pre-determined theology. I'm sure they'd say their theology is based in the scriptures (everyone does), but the problem comes when, after getting your system down, you start to judge the scriptures by your theology rather than your theology by the scriptures.

Don't get me wrong — there are difficult passages in the Bible that only make sense when interpreted in light of other, understood passages. That's normal and necessary.

But we must always be willing to re-evaluate our theology in light of scriptures we haven't considered before (or recently).

Mary and Joseph offered the sacrifice of a poor person (Luke 2:24, c.f., Lev 12:8) after the birth of Jesus. They were then given valuable gifts (though we're not told how valuable) that certainly made the flight to Egypt easier. But how long did that last? We don't know.

But we do know that the adult Jesus is described as homeless (Matt 8:20) and dependent on the charity of some of His disciples. He died a slave's death and was placed in a borrowed tomb. He had to ask someone to take care of His mother, and His apostles all lived off charity.

Is this the description of a rich man? Only if your theology requires it to be.

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Just Eisegesis
Debt Relief and the Jubilee
All for Good?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Goals Past and Present

Last year I suggested four goals to help us refocus our priorities:

Look up (to God)
Look around (at the need in our world)
Look away (from unwholesome things)
Step back (from the spotlight)

I'd love to say last year was a spectacular success at those things. I can't. But I did make gains in each of those areas.

For the first I turned to James Montgomery Boice's Foundations of the Christian Faith. For the second, I turned to David Batstone's Not for Sale - something I'll be bringing up here shortly.

On the third, well, there were successes and failures. There are many things in our popular culture that are unhealthy, unwholesome, even unseemly, and they're far easier to accept than avoid. But it's a new day and a new year.

On the last ... well, telling would ruin the whole thing, wouldn't it?

This year, I want to focus a little more carefully on looking up:
"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."
I may regret not stopping at "resurrection," but, let's face it, suffering with and for Christ has been part of the Way from the beginning. If we're doing it right, we won't be able to avoid that.

So that's my goal this year. I expect to share that journey here, and I hope you all will be along for the ride.