Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Response to A Great Chapel at BCS

To be honest- I let Tanner's message deeply challenge me: What lines do I need to be willing to cross to love Jesus more deeply and glorify God more?

C.S. Lewis mentions this in his book, Miracles:
An impersonal God- well and good.
A subjective God of beauty, truth, and goodness inside our own heads- better still.
A formless, life surging force...a power we can tap- best of all.

But God himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps  approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband- that is quite another matter.....

There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling with religion suddenly  draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant to come to that! Worse still, supposing that He had found us?

This then is what we desire- we want to move beyond a historical or speculative faith into a saving faith. And the reality is this: it has to be a regenerative work of God's Spirit.

I thought it was interesting that B.B. Warfield saw value in the historical faith. He saw part of apologetics as staging the ground for saving faith. I see this in my work with students. I am not trying to argue them into the kingdom- I am actually demonstrating that my faith is reasonable. But mere reason will never produce saving faith just as writing/speaking about fatherhood serves as a substitute for the actual birth experience.

At some point- we ask that God intervene and pour out His Spirit on an individual and change their inclinations- a heart that responds in repentance and saving faith.

This is where I am the silliest- I prepare my chats- my words- my writings- my arguments- my analogies and stories- but how often do I pray? Have I ever fasted for it?

I end today with a sincere question- Do I want revival? It seems like a simple question. But I am not so sure. A.W. Tozer argued that a revival of the current Christianity would be a tragedy which would set the church back a hundred years.

So let me re-think this. What 'R' word do I want? Reformation? Renewal? Restitution? Revelation? Realization? Resolution?

No- let me start with regeneration. Lord, keep regenerating me- Holy Spirit empowered sight and hearing. Let this regeneration lead me to repentance. Let repentance lead me back to You! Then there will be reformation. Then there will be renewal. Then there may come revival. I will drink in deep refreshment!

Move our faith/ my faith off of the merely speculative or historical- I'm tired of 'holding to a form of godliness but denying the power' (2 Timothy 3:5).

Psalm 85:4 Restore us again, O God of our salvation,and put away your indignation toward us! 5 Will you be angry with us forever?Will you prolong your anger to all generations? 6 Will you not revive us again,that your people may rejoice in you? 7 Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,and grant us your salvation.

How often I forget one of the most important prayer requests. How can I forget to cry out as the Psalmist here does? “Restore us please!

As I pray this, I am reminded of God’s glory and His sovereignty. “Revival is a work of God where He enlivens His people by accelerating and intensifying His work in individual’s lives” (Jonathan Edwards). If enough people have this personal renewal at any one time and in any one place, then the reality of God’s presence is demonstrated in spiritual sensitivity and a community pursuit of holiness.

So as I pray this, I am reminded that revival begins in me.

Isaiah 64:1 Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains might quake at your presence—
2 as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
and that the nations might tremble at your presence!
3 When you did awesome things that we did not look for,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
4 From of old no one has heard
or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
who acts for those who wait for him.
5 You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,
those who remember you in your ways.
Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;
in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?

Do I really desire this? Is there not a sense of fear that God would actually do this? Is there not a subtle secret doubt that God actually can or will do this anymore?

J.I. Packer gave a lecture at a “Desiring God Conference” in 2003. He made some interesting points about the nature of revival that come from his study of the theology and thoughts of Jonathan Edwards.

#1 Revival is more about holy living than new conversions
#2 We cannot pray revival down – we cannot force God’s hand. It happens in His timing.
#3 Revival will not solve all of the churches problems. It can even create more!
#4 Revival is tied up in a deep desire to glorify God.
#5 Revival causes a deep repentance, responding in holy living, which draws outsiders in.

I ask that Saints everywhere join me in keeping this a regular request-

I was especially encouraged by the response today- students praying- confessing sin- and it was in the spirit of LOVE and not condemnation. A lot of hugs and 'thank-you's". I was really impressed. God is GOOD!

I saw a lot of genuine- gospel fueled- desire to glorify God- lift high HIS word- and not any man. Thanks students! You made my day!

Monday, October 17, 2011

You Have To Celebrate

Saturday morning was just one of those God ordained days.....

I went to bed Friday night between 1 and 2- we had a great football win which clinched the region championship. The only tough part was seeing one of my dearest brothers coaching on the other sideline and coming to tears over how much I miss him. It was a beautiful sight to see our players, parents, and students giving him hugs and well wishes. It was fun to see he and his son talking to reporters about coaching against each other. So I went to bed with my heart full....

I slept late... almost 8:00! I woke up happy because for the first time since school started, I did not have Saturday school! But from the time I opened my eyes until the time I went to sleep on Saturday, I just celebrated... it is a stream of consciousness.. it goes in pieces like this.

My opening prayer almost every morning is Gal 2:20- "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me." It is a reminder that this day is a gift and my life is a gift- how do people really live without the good news of the grace of God?

I started the morning on my front porch- a cool part of our new house. The weather was fantastic- the right temp- the right amount of freshening breeze- the right cup of coffee- and my ipad.. I read from an app called Glo Bible- the first chapter of Ephesians- there was a cool phrase that made me stop. "- to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ" (Eph 1:10B).

I then read a few chapters in "Hope Unseen" the story of Capt. Scott Smiley who lost his sight in Iraq. Amazing story!

The celebration continued as I started out a morning run- I had my iphone in ipod mode and every song hit me just right:

One inspiring song has always been Bruce Springsteen's My City of Ruins... when he starts singing 'Gonna Rise Up' and .."with these hands..with these hands I pray Lord, I pray for the grace Lord..." it gets me going.

I was taking in the glory of a fall morning- crisp air, the backdop of a blue sky, the leaves of color- breathing and sweating and praising the Creator of such glory and joy!

Mile 2 the song by Casting Crowns 'Let my lifesong sing to You'. Mile 3 had some fun songs by Journey and the Cars. Everything felt orchestrated by the Maestro- He wanted me to feast and revel in His goodness- to suck the marrow out of life- and it is only a taste of what will come one day...

Lisa joined me for miles 3-6. It was a good time of enjoying the day- even though the hill at mile 5 was tough.

We had a great lunch of fried chicken, potato salad, cole slaw, and Edgar's cookies for dessert!

Then it was off to Samford for a 2:00 football kick-off. The beautiful weather stayed perfect and the pageantry of college football on a manicured campus is always vibrant. Saw good friends- saw my daughter Julie smile as big as Texas as she cheered.

We picked up the Pita Stop for dinner- chicken and steak kabobs. I had DVR'd the Bama game. And loved fast forwarding through the commercials. Trent Richardson's run in the 3rd quarter was amazing!

And finally, this tired guy got in bed... the peace in my heart- the joy on my face. My evening prayer always ends with Romans 8:1 "There is therefore now NO CONDEMNATION to those who are in Christ Jesus."

Sunday morning... you get up excited to worship- how can I not?

I know that there are dark days that God ordains- I know there are just average days... but I loved every minute of last Saturday... You have to celebrate and you have to thank the Father... how can you not?

Thank you Lord for bringing it it all under the unity of Christ! I am a blessed man!

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Three Important Biblical Passages for Those Who Parent or Work with Teens

This year marks 20 years that I have been involved in Christian Education and I wanted to reflect a little on my ministry philosophy.


Luke 5:33-39: 33 They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”
34 Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? 35 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”
36 He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’” 

This passage has always helped me in my work with students AND as a parent. I know that the applications may be less direct in my line of work, but some clear principles are here both for the teacher/parent and for the students. And even though the context here is the nature of the New Covenant Kingdom- the applications are valid.

Context and Overview: Jesus is being carefully watched and critiqued. It is interesting how the flow fits here, and you almost paint a narrative though I admit it brings in some speculation. Jesus is getting active and drawing interest and the implications of His ministry is causing uneasiness. The status quo is being challenged and it always attacks rivals. The key word is found right above this passage, in verse 29 “But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect ‘complained’. What is the difference in a complaint and a question? What is the dividing line of helpful critique and a damaging complaint? We know the answer- matters of intentionality.
Their first critique is that they are eating and drinking with sinners. Jesus answers the sinner issue. The second criticism is that they are eating and drinking. In their understanding, religious zeal is regulated and evaluated by ascetic lifestyle. I find it interesting that Jesus uses a wine analogy to answer the charge.
Of course the biblical principle centers around the timeliness of behavior and allowance of the pleasurable when appropriate. Basically Jesus is saying- sometimes the time is right and sometimes the time is not right. Ultimately we enjoy pleasure at the allowance of our King who also is our Father. We serve at his will and not ours. There are times for feasting and there are times of fasting- it’s not important what we do, it is important why and for who we do it.
This seems to be an important point of the New Testament and the emphasis on conscience and concern for the weaker brother- or in other words- not using freedom as an offense (another day and another topic).
Jesus implies that He is involved in a process and the first step is preparation. You prepare a new wineskin, then fill it with new wine, as it ferments both the wineskin and wine are changed. The structure influences the substance and the substance changes the structure. The process takes time and involves pressure and constriction and contraction.
At some point, the wineskin is opened and the aged, desirous, aromatic and beneficent drink is used.
To put new wine into an old/used wineskin is foolish. The old skin cannot withstand the new process – it can only take so much for so long. And it is senseless to patch an old with a new piece- you ruin both. You must make allowances for time and pressure to produce the good stuff.
The overall point is that Jesus is bringing in a new administration of the covenant of grace and these disciples are going to carry this new wine into a new structure. They will face pressure and suffering- they will fast in time-AND the product will be beautiful.

PATIENCE- wineskins are in process. As sophisticated as a senior seems, they are still just a new wineskin that will be filled and capped in time. My guess is that they will pour out the gospel in whole new structures and I have no clue what it will look like. I will not be able to work in that new structure- I just need to pour out my wine in faithfulness to my Father.
PROPRIETY: In a weird twist- we should teach the teens to serve at the Lord’s will, not their hasty whim. The bridegroom is away for now- so we need to fast and practice self discipline- enjoying pleasure- YES- but in His timing and in His way.
So we have a strange application- the trials of life are coming- be patient. I do not expect my senior daughter to have the sanctification of a 30 year old. God will fill her and ferment her in circumstances and time to produce a beneficial fruit. She will be changed and the world will be impacted- at His pleasure and for His glory.
At the same time- trust God in this timing by obeying Him. There is a reason He wants abstinence and soberness- pleasure is not sinful- using pleasure outside his allowances is sinful. As a parent/teacher I am to be patient with their spiritual immaturity and they are to be patient with God’s restrictions. Both are points of perseverance.


II TIMOTHY 3:1-9  "1 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. 6 They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, 7 always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. 9 But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone."

Passage was more optimistic- be patient- God will get them where they need to be.

Passage 2 is more pessimistic- there is a downward spiral that doesn’t offer much promise to change.

Every time I read the above passage I get sad. I grieve over the slow decay of society and pray for renewal. Oh Lord please rend the heavens and delay this decay! 

Yet, it is important to be realistic- the city of man will have a consistent testimony throughout history- and the bottom line is not a pretty picture.

G.K. Beale has a very interesting quote regarding this: “Worldliness is what any culture does to make sin seem normal and righteousness seem strange.” 

The list above is where all of us are headed without an intervention. Don’t I see these base impulses in myself? At my core nature I am selfish-materialistic-arrogant and boastful- autonomous- slanderous, especially of the weak or downtrodden- an addict- an animal self and a diabolical self- pursuer of leisure and pleasure more than a pursuer of God- living in a Christ haunted land – holding to my rituals- but cold in my relationships. I am manipulative. The more I learn, the less I know. And the fruit is shameful.

The application of this verse is to combat the decay and the trend. What tools are at my disposal to see that this ‘default mode’ is resisted at every point?

Fortunately, the gospel takes aim right at the root of the issue. The renewal that comes in by embracing justification by grace through faith strikes a mighty blow to this cycle of cynicism and addiction. The employment of all the means of grace can stop and reverse these deadly trends and issues.  

For me personally, and for those who dwell in these communities of faith, it is incumbent to encourage and stir one another up in love and good deeds- to memorize, study, and meditate on God’s Word, to assemble for worship, to proclaim Christ, and participate in the sacraments to fight against the domain of darkness.

Have we not grown weary of the ineffective programs and snappy slogans? We must all agree with Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones “ I am never tired of saying that the church does not need to embark on some new methodology or program but must herself start living the Christian life.”

What can we do to inspire young leaders to fight against this 'default mode'? This is my largest goal and constant prayer!

PASSAGE 3- The Fruit of Faith Produces Obedience 

Ephesians 2:8-10 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

This last passage is one that will take some very special and careful explanation. We all love this verse- how can it be any clearer? Our justification is purely Christ alone! Nothing can be added to Christ as the atonement for our sin. He paid it all and we simply receive this immeasurable gift by trust. We can not work or earn God’s favor- we do not merit it by good deeds- we can not add to it.

But the Scriptures do present a part 2. We do not believe in faith plus works- but we do hold to a faith that works. The amazing forgiveness we receive and the indescribable love that accomplished this feat compels us to follow the one who gave so much. Over time- an understanding of the gospel and the presence of God’s Holy Spirit should produce a general trend of obedient and abundant living. It is a slow process, it is a frustrating up and down, forward and back, existence- but there is ample Scripture to show that Christ died so that we may live- not to our ourselves- but to Him.


Now, the biggest mistakes we make in this area is when we (1) try to sanctify others or (2) buy into a false belief that education equals reformation. Let’s take these two things separately. As soon as I begin to grow in obedience and receive the blessings of living within God’s design I want others to join me. Often, this is a good intention- and it can serve a dual purpose: I want to celebrate success and bring someone with me. But before long I see a subtle and sinister root take hold- I begin to expect things in others that I have done myself. I begin to compare my successes with failure in others and at some point I begin to demand in others MORE than I expect in myself. In a short amount of time- I have walked away from the gospel of grace and built a prison of legalism and instead of loving others, I am oppressing them. How quickly I have abandoned salvation by grace through faith.

The second mistake is to accept the notion that education is the key to reform. This is a tough one, because my entire professional life has centered round the value of education. There is a noble use of education and also a diabolical one. In its purest noble application, education is about teaching skills of observation, communication, thinking logically, reading, writing, and mathematical computations to allow for a greater degree of knowing God and evaluating all of life by His truth. The potential problem of education and its diabolical application is producing knowledge that creates pride and artificial division of people. A Christian is NEVER anti science/technology/or knowledge- but he must see this pursuit as what it is- a result of the Biblical mandate to subdue and rule the earth as a good steward and not a power grab. 

I guess the clearest example of this is what has transpired to human society in the wake of the enlightenment- once we elevate education over piety – it creates and unintended competition where we judge men according to academic credentials and not the content of character. And we begin to believe that advancements in knowledge will solve man’s biggest problems. The enlightenment, with all of its great achievements, unintentionally lifted up elites and gave them a voice based on knowledge, but not necessarily wisdom or morality. High intelligence has a hard time keeping an ego in check- and slowly trades questioning to cynicism or skepticism- and enthrones reason. As reason generates knowledge- it also creates power- and power in the hands of a man, especially one without a moral compass – can quickly generate oppression and greed.

Now, let me stop here and clarify what I am NOT saying. I am not saying that education is evil. I strongly lament the retreat that has happened in the evangelical world in regards to educational excellence and participation and I sadly admit to the intellectual laziness that places God in the gaps of knowledge and indulges in distraction and distaste for hard questions- we have no excuse here. What I am saying is that the church continues to evaluate progress on the city of man’s standards of intellectual arrogance and not the humility and gratitude of acknowledging that ALL TRUTH IS GOD’S TRUTH and placing everything under the authority of His Word.

Here is a subtle hint of how this is not ingrained in our current thinking. What do I spend the most time on and give the weightiest praise to? My daughter’s knowledge of the high priestly prayer in John 17 or her ACT score? What gets me more excited- her ability to speak in Spanish or her ability to quote Romans 1? Again- we should praise God if our children make a 29 on the ACT and get excited about foreign language… but wouldn’t it excite us if they loved the Bible so much that they read it….memorized it…used it… taught it…? And believe me, I am condemning myself as a parent as I write this.