Friday, December 31, 2010

Christianity and Culture

At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. His life completely altered world history. It is easy to overlook this. The trees of current events are so upfront and personal that we are unable to see the forest of Christianity's dominance of history. In addition, the assumptions of cultural pluralism, i.e. all cultures are equally beneficial, make the obvious embarrasing. In all that follows I am going to assume the best definiton of culture that I have heard, culture is just religion externalized.

The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western SuccessChristianity is the world’s largest religion. In 2005 the world’s population hit 6 billion. 2 billion are Christian, 1 billion are Moslem, 1 billion are Hindu/Buddhist and 2 billion are a polyglot of different beliefs.
Christianity is also the world’s most influential religion. It affects culture powerfully. To the degree that a culture embraces Christianity it has become dominant in world affairs. It is no accident that the Christian West has prevailed militarily, economically, and technologically for 2,000 years.

By contrast, the cultures dominated by Hinduism/Buddhism, Confucianism, Taosim, and especially Islam have been weak and backward. One critic recently observed that middle eastern culture, with the exception of Israel, is still culturally and technologically in the 8th century.

Christianity is dominant because it is all about Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrated last week. Christ affects individuals and cultures positively. Here is the history since the Reformation.

At the time of the Reformation, 16th century, Spain was the world's dominant power. It was the last time a Catholic country would hold that distinction.

By the 17th century Holland, under the influence of Calvinism, became the world’s greatest maritime power.

The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global FaithIn the 18th and 19th century, England, transformed and fortified by 17th century Puritanism, dominated world culture. By 1914 England controlled 25% of the world’s land mass. She exported political liberty, justice, the industrial revolution, the scientific revolution, and capitalism, and thousands of missionaries to her dominions. The nineteenth century, dominated by Great Brittain, witnessed the greatest missionary expansion in history. See The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith by Mark Noll.
Then after WWII America, also influenced by Puritanism, picked up where England left off. We have been the world power for the last 100 years.
This is no accident. The Protestant faith heightens the value of the individual, fortifies families, provides a basis for social justice, liberates creativity, and motivates hard work, perseverance and productivity.

This is exactly what the prophet, Daniel, predicted. (Dan. 2:35) “The stone that struck the image became a great mountain that filled the earth.”  Jesus anticipated this development. “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.  It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches”(Matthew 13:31–32).

Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950Good Books on this subject are  The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (above) by Rodney Stark, professor at Baylor University. Also commended is Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950 by Charles Murray, one of my favorite authors. Murray is not a Christian. He is an agnostic.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Questions for Non Christian Relatives and Friends

Many of you will spend the holidays with relatives and friends that are not Christians. Some of you look forward to this with trepidation. What is there to  talk about? We have so little in common. Often we find conversation difficult. Here are ten questions, supplied by Donald Whitney, to start great conversation this Christmas. Check them out here. God might use some of these to open conversation about deeper things.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Reccomended Christmas Movies

White Christmas (Anniversary Edition)Christmas classics such as “Home Alone”, “Elf”, “The Santa Clause”, “Miracle on 34th Street”, “Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”, “Its A Wonderful Life”, “The Nativity Story”, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”, “Meet Me In St. Louis” and “A Christmas Story” are always a joy to re-watch come December, however, my two favorite Christmas movies remain “White Christmas” and “While You Were Sleeping”.

Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye star as Bob Wallace and Phil Davis in Irving Berlin’s 1954 musical “White Christmas”. After serving together in WWII Wallace and Davis partner as a song and dance duo quickly becoming the most sought after act in show business. Along the way they team up with a sister act, Betty and Judy Haynes, played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. In an effort to save a financially troubled General they served under during the war Bob and Phil eventually move their entire show from New York City to Pinetree, Vermont for the Christmas season. True to its time, “White Christmas” remains profanity free and the only sexual content are a few tasteful kisses here and there. The songs are fun and infectious and the dancing often leaves me awestruck but invigorated. If for no other reason then to experience from where one of the most famous Christmas songs originated, “White Christmas” should be viewed by all at least once in their life time, if not every Christmas season.

While You Were SleepingSet during a bitter cold Chicago winter in 1995 “While You Were Sleeping” captures the heart from the beginning. Sandra Bullock stars as Lucy Eleanor Moderatz, a ticket collector for the “L” train who looks forward to her daily sighting of Peter Callaghan (Peter Gallagher). When Peter ends up in a coma Lucy is mistaken as his fiance thus causing strife in the family. Eventually she is welcomed with opened arms by everyone but Peter’s brother Jack (Bill Pullman). Jack is less accepting of Peter and Lucy’s engagement, but finds it is not because he doesn’t like her, it is because he does. The everyday life of the Callaghan family is portrayed with love, joy and humor, but Lucy’s neighbor Joe Fusco, Jr. (Michael Rispoli) often steals the scene. Profanity is slipped in every once in awhile and there are a few sexual references, but overall “While You Were Sleeping” offers fun for those in the family of junior high age and older.... Stephanie Spurgetis

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Paradox of the Incarnation

At this blog you will find a thoughtful, short exposition of the paradoxes that the Incarnation represents. Read, think, meditate, and enjoy.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Most Important Gift to give at Christmas

C. J. Mahaney meditates on the most important gift that we can give our loved ones at this Holiday Season. You will be surprised. It is not what you expect. Go here  and you will find a wonderful gift idea, one that will do much good, and one that I am sure you have not yet considered. Merry Christmas

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Joy of Sin

(This is an excerpt from my forthcomin book, The Power of a Humbling Gospel). No one can be used by God to help others grow in humility until they have come face to face with the biblical doctrine of sin. I recently overheard a Christian say, “No matter how badly you think of yourself, no matter how guilty you feel, no matter how deep your sense of moral bankruptcy and failure, you have not yet seen the depth of your sin. It is always worse than you think.” That was Dr. Plumer’s point in the nineteenth century. “The truth is, no man ever thought himself a greater sinner before God than he really was. Nor was any man ever more distressed at his sins than he had just cause to be.”

Generally, this is not how the church sees sin at the beginning of the twenty first century. D. A. Carson, Professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, has been conducting missions on college campuses since the 1970s. “The hardest truth to get across to [university students],” he writes, “is not the existence of God, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, Jesus’ substitutionary atonement, or Jesus’ resurrection…No, the hardest truth to get across to this generation is what the Bible says about sin.” Students are resistant to this teaching because it humbles them, and they have been taught since infancy that they are inherently good and wonderful. The therapeutic self-esteem movement has evangelized us more successfully than we have evangelized them. We speak a humbling message to a proud culture, but God can open the heart to its potency.

After all is said and done, all defective views of sin can be traced to unbelief or ignorance. We just don’t believe the Bible, or we don’t know what it says. “In all unbelief there are these two things,” noted Horatius Bonar (1808-89), “a good opinion of one’s self, and a bad opinion of God.”

Bonar’s words sound foreign to the modern ear for several reasons. Either we have never been taught about sin (common today), or we have been taught about it, but do not want to believe it. Pride resists the doctrine of sin. It is a humbling subject. It is an unpleasant subject. Like death, one wants to hear about it or discuss it. The obituaries don’t use the word “death, dying, or died.” They talk about “passing away.” Sin is the same way, but until we come face to face with the doctrine of indwelling sin there will be little growth in humility, few conversions, and little Christ-likeness in our character. We will experience little joy, insecurity about God’s love, and little desire to love others.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How Can God be Loving and Wrathful, Part 2

Two readers have posted excellent questions to my blog of a few days ago by this same title. On the basis of this blog "Anonymous" even labelled me extremely arrogant and unsaved . I understand his or her consternation.

In his quote D. A. Carson, probably the worlds foremost New Testament scholar (Doctorate from Cambridge) notes that the Bible consistently labels sinners as God's enemies. That is what makes his love so amazing and extravagant. He loves those upon his anger/wrath rests. Is it possible to distinguish wrath from hatred? The Bible often describes God's hatred of evil-doers. "You [God] hate all evildoers" (Ps. 5:5). "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" (Mal. 1:2-3). Ps 11:5 reads, "The Lord's soul...hates the wicked.  Ps 106:40 even tells us that God "abhorred" Israel. And the Israelites were his favorites.

This is what makes God's love so amazing. He loves his enemies (might we say those he hates) with an extavagant love. To understand this we need to remember that love is an action whereas hatred is a feeling. Carson wants us to know that God served and loved us even when he didn't like us. If God did this for us, we are duty bound to do the same.

Reconciliation with his enemies cost him his Son's death by slow agonizing torture. For this reason Jesus tells us to love our enemies. "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:44-45). Why? God loved his enemies. For this reason D. A. Carson can write "so why should love and hatred be exclusive in us? " If God loved those that he hated, so should we, and we should love them extravagantly. Remember, love is something we do. Hatred is something we feel. We can serve and love those that we don't like.

Hints on how to "Preach the Gospel to Yourself"

Blake Rispens sent me this link It is an ordinary pastor telling us how to preach the gospel to yourself. He puts a unique and important emphasis on delighting in the God the gospel reveals. Enjoy and apply...

Unstoppable (Movie Review)

UnstoppableInspired by the true story of the unmanned train incident in Ohio in 2001, director Tony Scott’s latest film “ Unstoppable (rated PG-13) is entertaining and kept me on the edge of my seat. Denzel Washington, Chris Pine (Star Trek) and Rosario Dawson (Seven Pounds) star in this true story of an unmanned, half mile long train charging through Pennsylvania while carrying a toxic load of molten phenol.

We begin in Fuller Yard in Northern Pennsylvania when Dewey, played by Ethan Suplee, a train yard employee, is ordered by the yardmaster (Dawson) to move a train to a different track to make room for an outgoing train full of school children on a field trip. While moving the train, against a co-workers advice, Dewey sets the gears to a low speed and jumps off to switch the tracks leaving it unmanned. While Dewey is off the train the levers fall of their own devices leaving it to pick up speed and causing Dewey to unsuccessfully re-board the train thus allowing it to leave the yard unmanned.

Meanwhile, Will Colson (Pine), a young conductor four months out of training, and veteran engineer Frank Barnes (Washington) begin their day in Southern Pennsylvania with a routine drive of their locomotive to a nearby yard where they pick-up their train for the day. Only after attaching their train to the locomotive and beginning their drive are Colson and Barnes given orders to pull off the track. While idling in the siding, they witness the unmanned train speed past them. Hearing of several failed attempts by the company to stop its runaway train Barnes decides to put his train in reverse and catch the unmanned train, coupling it to his and stopping it from behind.
Knowing full well “Unstoppable” would be predictable I still experienced the intended suspense. Washington, Pines and Dawson perform their roles beautifully keeping me on edge for the full hour and a half. While I do not believe “Unstoppable” must be viewed on the big screen I do recommend it at least be viewed, by ages Jr. High and up, as a weekend rental. There are a few swear words spoken in fits of frustration, and Barnes’ daughters earn their way through college working as waitresses at Hooters, but overall it is clean and focused mainly on the action. (Reviewed by Stephanie Spurgetis)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

How can God be both Loving and Wrathful?

John 3:16 is often called the "end zone verse" because of its ubiquitous appearance on football game posters. "God so love the world that he gave his only begotten Son." God does love us, and the depth of his love surpasses all knowledge (Eph. 3:19). It is higher than the Heavens (Ps 103:11).
However, John 3:16 needs to always be held in tension with another important verse, Rom. 1:18. "For the wrath of God is being revealed from Heaven against all the ungodliness and wickedness of men."
When these two verses collide, as they eventually do with all sober, thinking Christians, they present us with a problem. How can they both be true? Do we just ignore the wrath of God and cling to his love? Or, do we honestly attempt to find a solution? Does God love man and hate man at the same time? If so, can we reconcile these seemingly contrary ideas?

They reconcile at the cross. There God's love and God's wrath meet and shake hands. They become friends. That is because the cross of Christ is simultaneously a display of God's wrath towards sinners and his love for sinners. Jesus stands in our place and God pours out his intense anger on his Son in our place. God the Father does this so that he can lavish his divine love on us. Martin Luther summed it all up with the idea that we see God's love through his wrath.
For these reasons and others noted New Testamen scholar, D. A. Carson, wrote, “The Bible can simultaneously affirm God’s wrath toward people and his love for them: it does not intimate that God’s love and his judicial “hatred” are necessarily mutually exclusive. So why should love and hatred be exclusive in us? (Love in Hard Places, pg 42)

Have you grappled with this idea? Would love to hear your solutions.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Toy Story III: Fun for the Family

Toy Story 3Disney/Pixar does it again in the third (and supposedly final) installment in the Toy Story franchise. “Toy Story 3” (rated G) is fun for the whole family. The original cast of characters are all present. Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and Joan Cusack return as the voices of Woody, Buzz Lightyear and Jessie. All our old favorites are present and accounted for as well as new characters who are introduced with finesse and trademark Pixar humor.

As Andy prepares to leave for college we are reminded of the fun which began fifteen years ago in 1995 with Pixar’s first movie “Toy Story”. As Andy cleans his room in preparation for leaving home to begin his Freshman year of college he finds all the old gang buried in his toy chest. Through a series of unfortunate events all of Andy’s toys, minus Woody, are sent to the curb as opposed to the attic like he originally planned.

Believing Andy has abandoned them they end up at a day care center where they are excited to enjoy kids who will finally play with them. Thinking they have caught their big break Slinky, Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head, Rex, Hamm and the rest settle into their new home looking forward to endless hours of playtime with the toddlers. However, the real test of their friendship comes with the introduction of Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear (aka Lotso) as the King of the day care. He rules with an iron fist striking fear into the hearts of the new comers. Predictably, Woody arrives to save the day, and his friends, from destruction at the hands of Lotso and his gang of misfits. Eventually they make their way back to Andy where he finds his old friends waiting. What becomes of their fate is left up to you to find out.

I enjoyed this movie from start to finish. While I did get a little misty eyed as Andy and his mom wrestle through their emotions of Andy leaving home, I admittedly laughed the whole way through. Buzz’s spanish mode steals the show followed closely by Ken and Barbie who bring joy and laughter with their stereotypical ditzy personalities. I highly recommend “Toy Story 3” as a family event where dad, mom and the kids can enjoy a night of fun together. - Stephanie Spurgetis

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Doe the gospel begin with Sin?

God Who Justifies, TheIn his excellent book, The God Who Justifies,  James White writes, “Paul’s indictment of the entirety of mankind forms the foundation of the gospel message. There is no good news where the bad news of man’s sinful state is not clearly proclaimed and perceived. The results of sin (The depravity of man) demand a God-centered gospel.”

What do you think? Does White have it right? Do we begin with the knowledge of man lost in sin, or do we begin with the love, mercy, and grace of God? Why or why not?

As always, your thoughts are deeply appreciated.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Humility Always Precedes Conversion

Over the next few blogs I want to insert some material from a manuscript I am preparing for publication by P&R . It concerns the importance of humility for the Christian life. The first reason humility matters is that it is necessary for conversion.

God saves those who believe, not those who work. But the belief that saves always includes some level of humbling. However, millions confess Christianity whose faith accomplished little or no humbling. Millions attend church regularly that have never been humbled under the doctrine of sin. According to R. C. Sproul, over 75% of North American professing Christians don’t even believe in Original Sin. But true faith, the faith that saves, always humbles. If there is no humbling, it is unlikely that saving faith exists.

This insight began with Augustine (354-430). He suggested that humility is the soil from which all the virtues grow and pride the soil that produces the vices. Up until the Reformation this was generally accepted. John Calvin (1509-1564), who was a student and fan of Augustine, suggested a deeper analysis. Just as unbelief is the source of pride, faith is the beginning and source of humility. Think about it. Real heart-felt faith in the gospel always humbles. After all, it is a message about man in sin, under judgment, standing before an angry God who wants to be our friend. Our predicament is so bad that we cannot improve it with human effort. God is the only One that can solve our problem, and God commands us to respond not by “trying harder.” Rather, we are to abandon all confidence in human effort. We are to merely believe, repent, and live by unmerited favor. No matter how you slice it, this is humbling. By contrast, failure to believe says “I am good enough. Surely, if God exists he will accept me. After all, I am every bit as good as my neighbor.” These express arrogance.

In other words, biblical faith always initiates a humbling process. By contrast, unbelief leaves us in our arrogance. You can profess belief in an orthodox creed and lack this humbling faith. If the above is true, it stands to reason that God has designed the gospel to produce this faith, to humble men and women, to bring them face to face with their moral and spiritual bankruptcy and God’s gracious solution.

That is the contention of this book. I hope to convince you, and change the way you conduct ministry.

In order for this humbling to happen saving faith must assent to several vital truths. For example, I am justified by faith alone. Justification by faith alone implies that I am hopelessly lost, that my moral condition is so desperate that my best efforts will avail me nothing. I am a sinner and cannot save myself. I can only be saved by casting myself on God’s mercy. I find God’s favor by believing not working. This is a humbling message.

Saving faith also confesses that I am not smart enough to make my own rules for life. It agrees with the Bible about who God is, the sinfulness of sin, man’s nature, God’s sovereignty in creation, the nature of Jesus Christ, and a host of other issues. Saving faith confesses that Hell is real, that I am in deep trouble with God, and that I will end up in Hell unless I put my trust in Christ’s sinless life and substitutionary death. Saving faith confesses that Christ is Lord and decides to obey him. Each of these confessions makes us smaller and Christ larger.

Therefore, we should not be surprised at these texts. "You save a humble people” (Psalm 18:27). "The Lord…adorns the humble with salvation" (Psalm 149:4). "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). “Poverty of Spirit,” is a synonym for humility. Later Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3). Becoming childlike implies simplicity, dependence, and above all humility. Each of these texts implies one thing: Humility is a precedent to conversion. If that is the case, our message should provoke a faith that humbles. To do this our gospel must begin with the Bad News and then progress to the Good News.

None of this should surprise us. If the great sin is pride, God must have designed the mechanics of conversion to produce its opposite—humility. Jonathan Edwards noted that humility “is a great and most essential thing in true religion.” Then he notes, “The whole frame of the gospel, and everything appertaining to the new covenant, and all God’s dispensations towards fallen man, are calculated to bring to pass this effect [humility] in the hearts of men. They that are destitute of this, have no true religion, whatever profession they may make, and how high soever their religious affections may be.”

The Pharisees were Jesus’ enemies. They resisted him at every turn. Why? They were proud, and their pride barred them from salvation. They refused to do what those that get saved do. They refused to humble themselves. With this in mind Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). For the Pharisee salvation meant renouncing confidence in their righteousness. It meant admitting that, despite their formidable self-discipline, they were “sick.” This they were unwilling to do.

The Pharisees were the neediest people in Israel. They were sinners under the wrath of God, hurtling head long towards final judgment, yet they refused to humble themselves and believe. Why? They were convinced of their goodness. They thought they could merit God’s favor. It is no different today. The default condition of every unbeliever is Pharisee to the core.

If this is true, we should seek to humble those to whom we communicate the gospel. In later chapters we will see that this is exactly what God has designed the gospel to do. We will also discuss ways to help those to whom we minster humble themselves so that they can be converted.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

"Eat, Pray, Love," Should you watch it!

Director Ryan Murphy’s Eat, Pray, Love (rated PG-13 for language and sexual references) was as I anticipated. While Julia Roberts’ laugh is infectious, James Franco’s lazy smile leaves you wondering what mischief he is hiding and Javier Bardem’s accent is enticing this movie left me discouraged.

We are invited to experience the true story of author Liz Gilbert’s (Julia Roberts) quest for self-discovery through Italy, India and Bali. The catalyst for this trip is Liz’s divorce. After a seven year relationship, and an affair with David Piccolo (James Franco), she simply can’t be married anymore. It’s too hard. He’s too unfocused. He’s just not into her. She’s bored. They’ve hit a lull and leaving is the only answer. Stephen (Billy Crudup), proclaims he doesn’t want a divorce. He intends to keep his vows. He wants to work it out. Liz doesn’t give him a choice.

With Stephen and David both gone Liz’s first stop is Italy, remaining for four months where she eats and enjoys life. Next we find Liz in India at a Hindu retreat where she prays for strength to forgive herself for leaving Stephen, finding peace through meditation and the worship of Hindu gods. Next she’s off to Bali revisiting a medicine man she met years before. With Bali comes love through Felipe (Javier Bardem) a Brazilian businessman.

While I enjoyed watching the scenery of these three countries, Julia Roberts’ performance was lacking leaving me bored in parts. I believe the movie is less about Liz “discovering” herself, but more about her justifying her actions in having an affair and divorcing her husband. I do not recommend this movie for any age group. I found Liz’s selfish quest to be exactly what our culture proclaims as truth, when in fact as Christians we are to die to self and lean on God’s grace to carry us. We don’t just give up and leave when the going gets tough. Liz was also quick to jump into bed with David and Felipe even while still married to Stephen or not yet being married to Felipe. Eat, Pray, Love eloquently pays homage to our culture’s “live for yourself” mantra, but left me feeling as if I had wasted my time and money...Stephanie Spurgetis

Movie Review Bio:
I have been asked to periodically provide movie reviews for The Raven. In the event that you read my opinions, I thought it pertinent to tell you who I am. My name is Stephanie Spurgetis. Bill Farley is my Uncle. I work full time as a Paralegal. I earned a Bachelors of Liberal Arts with an emphasis in English and Communications from Washington State University in 2005. In June of this year I earned a Paralegal certificate from the University of Washington. However, despite my temporary lapse in judgment, I still bleed crimson and grey.
I love movies. My favorite being The Sandlot followed closely by The Village. I love to watch them, quote them and dissect them. I love when they make me cry, laugh and cringe, but don’t love when they frighten me. I believe there to be an appropriate You’ve Got Mail quote for every aspect of life and am never one to resist anything done by Masterpiece Theater. I acutely feel the pain of love scorned by Margaret in North and South or Lizzy in Pride and Prejudice but empathize with Fran in Strictly Ballroom. I have an unhealthy love of Amanda Bynes and an even unhealthier love of Ashton Kutcher (please don’t hold it against me). I believe Stardust and Penelope have earned the right to be deemed creative and worthy of multiple viewings.
I am not, however, a book to movie purest. I have adopted E.W Eagan’s quote “Never judge a book by its movie” as my mantra.While some felt director and screenwriter Andrew Adamson too liberally changed C.S. Lewis’s original story in Prince Caspian I thoroughly enjoyed the movie despite Susan and Prince Caspian’s fling. While I loved the book The Power of One I cannot recommend the movie simply because I didn’t like it. However, despite not needing the movie to perfectly match the book, I prefer to read the book first.I have yet to view Sandra Bullock’s Oscar winning performance in The Blind Side because I have not had time to read the book. I have not seen My Sister’s Keeper due to waiting for a friend to finish the book so we can watch it together (I read the book years ago).
Despite this long diatribe on movies the only important thing you must know about me is that above all else I love Jesus. My opinions and reviews will hopefully stem from a Biblical worldview that is constantly being molded by Biblical truth.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Controlling the Video Game craze!

In many homes the video game craze has all but taken over. What can Christian parents do for sons hooked on this form of entertainment? C. J. Mahaney has some insightful suggestions here. I think you will find them very helpful.

How to Battle Anxiety

For most of us anxiety is a recurring theme. Here are some great tips on how to battle and defeat this monster. Your thoughts are always appreciated.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Population Collapse or Population Explosion? You Decide!

The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity And What To Do About ItSince the early seventies, it has been fashinably assumed that our great global problem is overpopulation. A rash of books from the early seventies like Silent Spring and The Population Bomb have convinced most citizens of the industrialized west that population explosion is a crucial global issue. 

However, according to demographer, Philip Longman, the exact opposite is unfolding. His book The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity And What To Do About It argues that world population growth is slowing dramatically. If current trends continue, t will soon reverse and begin to go South. Nations such as Japan, Russian, Italy, and many other western countries actually have falling birth rates, and the resulting consequence have been falling popluations. The United States would be in this same predicament but for the many immigrants whose fertility rates are above the norm.

This is a problem. Our social programs assume growing numbers of young workers to pay the taxes to fund our government's promises. In addition, growing populations are necessary to fuel increased demand for goods and services that make our economy tick. In addition, no country has maintained a position of world leadership with a stagnant or falling population.

Longman argues for the changes in assumptions and attitudes needed to fuel population growth. This book is cut-across-the-grain reading. It is not politically correct. Nevertheless, Longman has his facts and he cites them loquaitiously.

I recommend heartily. What do you think? Is our problem overpopulation or underpopulation? If the latter, what attitudes in our culture contribute to falling birthrates?

Friday, October 8, 2010

How to Become Becoming one of God's Favorites!

Although God loves every Christian, he does have his favorites. Isaiah 66:2 describes the qualities inherent in one for which God has special regard. “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” God esteems the humble!

Why humility? Humility always metamorphoses into something more beautiful. It is the root of all the other virtues. In this verse it leads to real contrition, which then deepens into trembling at God’s word. It ends by sensitizing us to God’s word, equipping us to hear. Paul’s humility led him to work out his salvation “with fear and trembling” [Ph 2:12]. David’s humility led him to “rejoice with trembling” [Ps 2:11]. Because humility expands our felt need for God it enhances our esteem for His word. The Bible comes alive. We read it trembling with holy joy and fear.

Pride, on the other hand, metamorphoses into something more dreadful. It is the foundation of all vice. Instead of contrition, pride leads to self-righteousness, and instead of trembling at God’s word, self-righteousness deadens us to God’s word. This was Ahab. Rejecting God’s warning through the prophet Micah, he rode out in battle to his death [1Kgs 22]. Deafened by self-righteous pride, Jehoiakim read Jeremiah’s words then arrogantly tossed the prophetic scroll into the fire [Jer 36]. He had no capacity to fear God. In fact, arrogance doesn’t end in ambivalence, it ends in actually despising God’s word. When Nathan confronted David about his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah it was for the sin of “despising the word of the LORD” [2Sa 12:9]. If David, the man after God’s own heart, could despise God’s word so can you and I

Why is humility the key to intimacy with God? Since humility makes us tremble at God’s word, it brings us into real communion with God. It sensitizes us to God. It opens our ears to His voice. It deepens our gratitude, and it unlocks our dependence upon God. It is the chief thing. “This (humility)is a great and most essential thing in true religion,” wrote Jonathan Edwards. “The whole frame of the gospel, every thing appertaining to the new covenant, and all God’s dispensations towards fallen man, are calculated to bring to pass this effect.”

The edifice upon which God builds humility is the revelation of Himself. In His Light we see ourselves. We become humble by looking at God, not ourselves. John Calvin opened his Institutes with this sentence. “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves… Man is never sufficiently touched and affected by the awareness of his lowly state until he has compared himself with God’s majesty.”

This “majesty” teaches us several things. First, God is indescribably holy. He hates sin and evil. Second, He acts righteously when he rejects every person blemished with imperfection. Third, we are sinners. We are by nature His enemies and under His wrath. Fourth, God only owes us justice. He does not owe us mercy or grace. But fifth, God so loved the world that He died for His enemies, that we might be made perfect in His sight and eternally reconciled to Him.

Our need is incalculable. To the degree that we see God, and ourselves, in this light we will be humble, increasingly contrite, and will tremble with joy, delight, and sobriety at His word.

How should you resond? Humble yourself under God's mighty hand and he will exalt you. The best way to humble yourself is to obey God's commands.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Do You Pray?

In his book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald Whitney records the following. “During the 1980’s, more than seventeen thousand members of a major evangelical denomination were surveyed about their prayer habits while attending seminars on prayer for spiritual awakening. Because they attended this kind of seminar, we can assume these people are above average in their interest in prayer. And yet, the surveys revealed that they pray an average of less than five minutes each day. There were two thousand pastors and wives at these same seminars. By their own admission, they pray less than seven minutes a day…To be like Jesus we must pray.”[1]
What do you think? Are these statistics true? If so, why don't we pray more?

[1] Whitney, Donald, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian life, pg 66 (Colorado Springs, NAV Press, 1991)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Overflowing with Thanksgiving

Paul began most of his letters with profuse thanksgiving. Despite their many problems, Paul always saw the church as a glass half full. Even when his churches faced immense problems, Paul always saw them through the lense of gratefulness. Why?

Paul knew that neither he nor any of the churches he planted were getting what they deserve. If God were just there would be no Christian churches anywhere. We live in a fallen world, and if God were only just this planet would be living Hell, utterly devoid of hope, lacking any gospel light or Christian witness. When the angels sinned God offered them no hope of redemption, and he owes us the same justice.

But, the amazing reality is different. There is hope. Because God is merciful, gracious, and kind there is light in the midst of darkness. There is hope in a fallen world. This light—local churches centered in the gospel—came at infinite expense to God. Therefore, Paul overflows with gratitude.

In other words, humility is the ground of gratitude, and gratitude is the first sign of humility. Humble people are thankful. On the other hand, the opposite of thanksgiving—complaining, self-pity, pouting, fits of anger—are symptoms of pride. A proud heart thinks, “I deserve, I deserve, I deserve, and I am not getting what what God owes me.” By contrast, Paul was humble. We know this because he was incredibly thankful. Paul was humble and thankful because he understood what the cross said about what he deserved.

I remember the story of a Viet Nam vet who lost both legs to a claymore mine. As he lay recovering in a veterans’ hospital, self-pity oppressed him. One day his nurse wheeled him into an adjoining ward. There he saw a man whose face was burnt off, another who had lost all four limbs, a different man completely paralyzed, and one who had lost both sight and hearing. The contrast between his problems and theirs completely changed his perspective. He returned to his ward filled with gratitude for how good he had it.

What the cross tells us about what we deserve has the same affect. It wheels us into an adjoining ward. There I see Jesus suffering as my substitute. I see him taking what I deserve. I deserve crucifixion. I don’t deserve good things from God. In fact, such is the measure of my sin (in God’s eyes) that I deserve to be tortured to death slowly and then cast away as refuse.

Crucifixion was a barbaric form of capital punishment. Since blood loss was minimal, death usually came after two or three days. Spasms tore the wounds against the hard nails. Waves of excruciating pain surged through the victim. The thirst was unbearable. The person being crucified longed for a death that would not come. He longed for the moment when he would finally lapse into unconsciousness.

To the one who resists thanksgiving and yields to complaining the cross says, “You have it upside down. You don’t deserve good. You deserve death by slow torture. Anything short of crucifixion is infinite grace bestowed by a loving God on one utterly unworthy.”

Because of all this, the cross makes us joyful and thankful in even the worst of conditions. No matter how bad your circumstances, you are getting better than you deserve. And because of Christ’s cross, one day God will clothe you in glory and plant you on a New Earth.

Because of the cross Paul would not yield to self-pity, complaining, pouting, or grumbling. Bound in stocks in a Philippian jail, he sang God’s praises (Acts 16:25). Confined in a Roman prison, he wrote to the church at Philippi, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God" (Phil. 4:4-7).

New Testament scholar, P.T. O’Brien, notes, “Paul mentions the subject of thanksgiving in his letters more often, line for line, than any other Hellenistic author, pagan or Christian.” Why? Paul knew what he deserved. At the end of his life, he wrote Timothy, “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners of which I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15). He saw both himself and his sins nailed to the cross. This insight banished all thoughts of self-pity.

Therefore, every circumstance in Paul’s life—beatings, shipwrecks, hunger, betrayal, persecution, imprisonment, sleeplessness, hard work, and more— was an occasion for joyous thanksgiving. Even in these circumstances, Paul was not getting what he deserved.

No matter how sour your circumstances, you and I are not getting what we deserve either, and that is why we also should be grateful. In summary, Paul overflows with thanksgiving because he is not getting what he deserves and neither are the Christians he serves.

It is no different for us today. If this is true, in the words of Paul, we should "Overflow with thanksgiving! (Col. 2:7).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Get This Podcast!

Al Mohler, President of Southern Seminary, and one of the most astute observers of American culture, has two new free podcasts. The first is called "The Briefing," a fifteen minute summary of each day's major new stories presented through the lens of a Christian worldview. You can get it podcasted free to your computer each day. I listen to it on my drive into work each morning.

The second program is more periodic. Titled "Thinking in Public" it is a weekly extended discussion of a topic of interest. It also is available free by podcast to your computer at regular intervals. To find out more go to Albert

Friday, September 10, 2010

Are the Cities the Future?

Al Mohler, in a recent blog, here suggests the cities are quickly becoming the nations of the future. What do you think, and should these facts change anything about how we do church?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Whats Wrong With Teen Christianity in America?

A few days back I pointed you to a Wall Street Journal editorial asking "Why are young people leaving the church?"

A new article entitled "More Teens Becoming 'fake' Christians" just appeared at You can read it here. The author correctly diagnoses the problem. But does she get the solution right? What is good about her solution and what is missing ?

Your observations will be appreciated.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Family and Call of God, Part 2

A few days ago I posted on "Family and the Call of God." I emphasized that we must leave family in order to really love God. I used Abraham as an example.

But it is also true that God commands us to love our families. The fifth commandment reads, "Honor your father and your mother" (Ex. 20:12), and Paul tells husbands to "love their wives as Christ loves his church" (Eph. 5:25). So, what should we to do, leave our families or love them?

The answer is both. These seemingly irreconcilable commandments culminate and synthesize in the commandment to love God above all other things, especially family. In other words if we love our family members because we love God, if that is truly our motive, then we will leave them in our hearts and love them at the same time. In fact, we will love them more. We will love them because it pleases God, not because we need their relationship. Our love will be disinterested. It will always be for the good of the beloved, not for selfish reasons.

Does this describe how you love your family members? As always your thoughtful responses are welcomed.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Holy Is the Lord!

A couple of days ago I blogged about Abraham's struggle to leave father, kin, and clan for God and his City. It terminated with God's command to offer up the son of promise, little Isaac. Here is a powerful music video on this theme. Take a moment to watch. I don't think you will be disappointed.

As always your comments are appreciated.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Have We Ignored the Resurrection?

I have written three books. They have all focused on the cross. Some ask, "Have we focused too much on the cross at the expense of the Resurrection?" That is a valid and insightful question. Here is a short and most prescient response from a pastor/scholar of repute.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Are We Losing our Youth?

Does the church need to "be cool" to attract young people? Is that the answer to the decline in attendance for the twenty somethings? The Wall Street Journal, of all places, has an interesting take on this question.

Grace Christian Fellowship is a young church. In your opinion, what attracts the the twenty somethings? Even more importantly, what should attract the youth?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Family and the call of God!

The first recorded conversion appears in Genesis 12:1. It was the call of Abram. This man lived in what is now modern Baghdad. In 2000 BC these people worshiped the moon. Abram worshiped the moon with them.

The Cost of Discipleship
It is important to note that his call to follow God included a call to leave family and kindred. "Now the Lord said to Abram, 'Go from your country and kindred and your fathers house to the land that I will show you." In Abraham's day family and kin were everything, they were God-substitutes, potential idols. Abraham must have been very close to his extended family. They probably thought he was crazy. It is unlikely that they understood. "God told you what?" they must have mocked. But he left, and the reason was the promise of eternal reward.  "He was looking forward to the City, that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (Heb. 11:10). 

Jesus stressed the same theme. "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, and yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26). The cost to follow Christ has always radical and total.

In Abraham's case applying this principle was costly. God tested Abraham's loyalty by putting his finger on his relationship with his family. He will do the same with each of us. About 35 years after his initial call God asked for Abraham's son, Isaac, as a living sacrifice. Abraham obeyed. We all know the story. At the last moment the Angel of the Lord restrained Abraham and provided an alternate. God honored Abraham's faith. Ultimately, he gave Abraham his own Son in replacement. Such is the love of God. He richly rewards those who forsake family to gain inherit God's promises.

In what way has following Christ cost you with immediate family? How can we reconcile these scriptures with the fifth commandment, "Honor your father and mother?" As always, your comments will be appreciated.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Must Saving Faith Humble?

Martin Luther
Speaking of Martin Luther, Alister McGrath, professor of theology at Oxford, wrote, "By late 1514 Luther had arrived at the fundamental insight that the proper disposition for justification is humility…God humiliates man, in order that he may justify him; he makes man a sinner, in order that he may make him righteous─and both aspects of this matter are increasingly seen by Luther as works of God."(Luther's Theology of the Cross, pg 153).

Was Luther right? Does saving faith include a fundamental humbling? Must it motivate us to admit that "God is right. I am a sinner. God is holy. I cannot make it on my own. I need God's help?"

If Luther is right, to bring people to this place we must tell them the truth. That's what Paul did. He describes his methods in Romans 1:18-3:20. First he spent several paragraphs on the wrath of God. Then he turned to the inevitability of judgment. Last, he laid out mankinds utter moral bankruptcy. Only then did he present the Good News.

What do you think? Was Luther right? Why or why not?  

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Reformation in Scotland

See my previous post on London and Oxford.

The next day Judy and I drove to Edinburgh, Scotland, to catch up on our old friends Paul and Shiona Rees. We spent Thursday night with them in Edinburgh. Paul gave us a tour of his church, Charlotte Chapel. It is a "new" church having only been founded in about 1800.

Royal Castle at one end of the Royal Mile
The next day we walked the Royal mile. At one end is the Royal castle where John Knox confronted Mary Queen of Scotts. This was the city of Edinburgh as it had existed for centuries until it began to expand around1800. The old city is on a ridge. At one end is the Royal castle, at the other St. Giles church where John Knox preached. The streets are narrow and still paved with old stone. Many shops lure in the tourists. The Old Town takes one back to life as it must have been in the 18th century.

St. Giles Church
 At the other end of the Royal Mile is St. Giles church where John Knox thundered sermons that transformed Scotland into a protestant nation. All of this occurred in the 16th century. Knox grave is under a parking lot. The old church graveyard was needed for parking.

Grey Friars Church

 Between the castle and St. Giles was the old Grey Friars church. It was here that the Scottish people covenanted with each other in 1638 to resist the encroachment of Anglicanism. Charles I and Archbishop Laud tried to impose the Anglican prayer book upon the people. The first time the bishop attempted to read it in divine services a maid named Jenny Geddes picked up her folding stool and threw it at him instigating a riot. The British jailed many of the covenanters at Grey Friars. We toured the prisons and the graves. The Scottish people remember this as "the killing times."

The ruins of St. Andrews Castle
Where Wishart was burnt
Next we took the 1 hour drive Northeast to the town of St. Andrews known for the University, Golf Course, and Castle by the same name.It was in this castle that the Scottish reformation began. The Reformers holed up in the castle for safety. While there they called the young John Knox to be their preacher. Knox had been the body of guard of George Wishart, one of the first reformers, for the six weeks prior to his death. Wishart was burnt at the stake. (There is a GW in the pavement in front of the castle on the spot of his death). Knowing full well the suffering that it would bring Knox burst into tears and fled the room.

The Roman Catholic French navy came to the aid of Scotland's Roman Catholics. Their canon pulverized the castle walls. (The crumbling ruins remain). Then the French impressed Knox as a Galley slave for 19 months.

On the way home we passed through the little village of Dunbar where Oliver Cromwell defeated the Scottish army in the crucial battle of Dunbar in the 1650s.

Emily and Father
We arrived back in Durham just in time to spend more quality time with our new grandaughter, Emily.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Historical Notes on the United Kingdom

I am blogging from the United Kingdom. My daughter, Sarah, just gave birth to a new granddaughter, Emily Alice Victoria Jones. Her father, Tony, is a pastor in Durham, a Cathedral town in North England just South of the Scottish border.

Tower of London
Tony took me on a whirlwind tour of London, Oxford, and other places of interest. He lived in Oxford for  9 years. In addition he worked as a Barrister in downtown London. So, he knows these areas well. We toured Westminster Cathedral, the Tower of London, the Supreme Court building, watched the changing of the guard in front of Buckingham Palace, and shared dinner next to Shakespeare's Globe Theater. We also visited the National Portrait Gallery where we saw, amongst others, original portraits of Cromwell, Charles I, Wesley, and Bunyan. Fascinating.

Place where Latimer and Ridley died
At Oxford we ate lunch at little pub called the Eagle and Child. It was there that the Inklings, a small group of writers led by C.S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkein, met every Tuesday morning to drink a pint (or two) of Ale and read their writing to each other. Also stood in the very place where in the 16th century Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer were burnt at the stake for their gospel convictions. Also got a peek at the apartment in Lincoln College where John Wesley lived when before his conversion he worked as a tutor. Stood in front of the pulpit in St. Mary's church at Oxford where he preached his very controversial sermon on justification by faith alone. We also strolled through Pembroke College from whence George Whitfield received his degree. The history is amazing, and as Tony sadly reminded me, most Englishman have never heard of George Whitfield today.

Emily Alice Victoria Jones
Oh, and of course, my new granddaughter is absolutely beautiful.