Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Dangerous Disorientation

The speed, fragility, glut, and gloom of events within in a 24 hour news cycle acts like a continuous pounding of stormy seas on our souls.

The rapid change and complication of worldview opinion without real thought or analysis is a constant erosion of necessary essentials of civilization and survival.

There has never been a more important time for steady and sturdy truth-telling. We are in need of precision and authentic application of these truths to the sandstorm of conflict and chaos.

PRESSURES ON CHURCHES: The more I read the 7 letters to the churches in Revelation, the more astounded I am on the relevance of the message. The church today faces many of the same problems that the first century church faced- it is just clouded in technology and shrouded by the withdrawal of gospel light in the world.

What is the pressure? It is always compromise.When you study the decline of gospel impact, it is proportional to the surrender and retreat of the church. A quick study of liberalism will always point to good intentions- a desire to remain relevant as culture grew to rely on science/technology more and supernatural faith less. It is a divorce that did not have to happen- but is an area that we still struggle with.

It has always been my belief that if science moves honestly through its method and the church honestly studies the Word as written there doesn't have to be a disharmony. It is when science extrapolates into mere speculation and theology presupposes science in Scripture, that is where we get into conflicting conundrums.

By the way, I am not talking about  a situation where the church expresses legitimate doubt on a scientific theory as long as the effort is made to thoroughly look at it and patiently persevere as the evidence is weighed.

I always point to Charles Hodge as an example of how the Church should have responded to the explosion of science. He saw it fitting in with how Calvin perceived it.

Science is the elegant structure of the world and serves as a mirror in which we see God." 
  Science gives us the full accord of facts. It costs the church a severe struggle to give up one interpretation and adopt another, but no evil need to be apprehended. The Bible still stands in the presence of the whole scientific community, unshaken
His compatriot, Archibald Alexander agreed:
 Science and the Bible are allies in establishing truth. God is author of both revelations. The truth has nothing to fear from the truth

Charles Hodge and the Princetonians successfully navigated through the Origin of the Species

Princeton received “Origin” with great interest in 1859.

In 1862, Charles Hodge noted Darwin’s own admissions: “his frank admission of  the difficulties of the theory and in the absurdity of its conclusion”.

Hodge’s main problem with Darwinism was its commitment to random chance and not directed by God.

According to Hodge, the fatal flaw of Darwinism is the denial of design in nature. “If you deny design,you in effect deny God. Darwin says he believes in a creator, but if the creator, billions of eons ago, called a germ in existence and abandoned its development to chance has pretty much consigned himself to non-existence. So what is Darwinism? It is Atheism.

Hodge rejected Darwin’s views, with respect in1862.

And I believe that their analysis remains valid when you consider how much of Darwinian theory still stands and how much of it has not endured.


Where the church really dropped the ball was an unwillingness to engage from a conservative point of view the various challenges that began to surface in the wake of Darwin and the rise of skepticism. If we are honest, we will agree that the venue for legitimate debate was slanted- but liberalism's fatal flaw was to capitulate in academic arenas to maintain peer prominence. The pressure to keep the money flowing and academic credibility in tact allowed for certain worldviews to gain a foothold without challenge. And we all know the tragic result- the philosophy in the classroom of one generation will be the philosophy in the stateroom of the next.

Even today, great Christian leaders will back away from doctrine like it is a cancer. But what sound doctrine does is keep us oriented in the storm. Without the precision of doctrine, we get lost in the shadows.


Another problem is that where we find sound theology, it often is presented without a deep heart confirmation. We have a religion of the head, but no fire from the heart. We beat people to death with the truth... right and DEAD RIGHT. Boldness with coldness.

The preachers of the reformation and great awakenings brought the Word to life. It doesn't mean emotionalism- no one could accuse Jonathan Edwards of that- but it was an intensity of the Spirit. Men who were moved to tears- unafraid of criticism- and held out their hearts even though the world often shattered them.

I place myself in this category and I often pray that God would prevent me from acting like a cold robot... I am discovering little slivers of change within deep prayer and thirst for worship.


This is going to sound confusing- but a help in this disorientation is an INSTITUTION and a problem in this area is an INSTITUTION.

I often feel the Lord challenging me to step beyond my institutional faith.

That is a faith that is just built into my routine. I work in a Christian School... which means on my calendar is prayer time, worship time, devotional time, instructional time, fellowship time, study time.

But if all I have is the routine, all I have is the ritual.

Does this mean we reject institutions? Heavens no! Where would we be without solid institutions of family, school, churches, civic organizations to uphold values and integrity. What is a strength of institutions is the ability to change slowly. The negative aspect of this is that the form of institutional values can be cemented in a tradition where the human touch is lost through decay and only a fossil remains.

But is that all lost? No. I can tell you walking the halls of places like Princeton, the US Capitol, or Westminster Abbey... the stones themselves cry out the glory of gospel truth!


My role in the arena of presuppositional opinions and kaleidoscope buffet ethics is to keep my feet firmly planted in the historic stream of gospel proclamation.

A Christian in today's world needs to pay closer attention to the historic narrative and cling to the historic writing that was paid for by spilled blood. The message is not quantum physics- it is a simple proclamation.

"The witness is this, God has given us eternal life and this life is in His Son, He who has the Son has life. He who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things have been written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know you have eternal life. I John 5:11-13"


If we are willing to know the Word and give a defense of the existence of God- the reliability of His revelation- the testimony of the Saints- worship in Spirit and truth- boldly serve and love without condemnation- we can suffer the slings and arrows of turbulent times.

FOR EXAMPLE- Much is being made of the recent battle of Gay Marriage and the NBA basketball player coming out of the closet. How does gospel proclamation and precise doctrine help us in the arena of endless soundbites and opinions?

In the end- all men have to answer 1 question- it has nothing to do with morals or orientation- "What have you done with the Holy God's crucified and resurrected Son?" Everything else is trivial.

If we stay on that question and harp on that subject- we can stay on true North in the dizzying chaos!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Going Forward When Everything Screams Stop

Over and over again yesterday, like reliving a bad dream, I watched video of the bomb going off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Each time my eyes focused on an elderly man, just yards from the finish line, in a bright orange running shirt- knocked down by the concussion of the blow or maybe even a victim of shrapnel.

Today I learned his name- Bill Iffrig, 78 a retired builder who was running his 3rd Boston.

The picture posted on this blog was a lead photo in a number of news sites, I just stared at it for a solid 6 or 7 minutes. When tragedy strikes, there are always heroic responses. Seeing the full detail and resolve of the Boston policemen and women is motivation enough.

But it is what happened after this photo took place. It is what happened after the video view moved and I spent all day wondering what happened to the man in orange.

Bill Iffrig got up and finished the race.

Not only that, he found his son who was waiting for him, and they walked back to his hotel room about a half mile away.

This 2009 Washington Herald's Man of the Year- did what he was trained to do- finish. Move forward when everything was screaming to quit.

Where does that come from?

News reports say that Bill began running in the 1970's. I see where he was going to finish yesterday's race in just over 4 hours. Elite marathoners or accomplished distance runners may not even blink at that. But I'm thinking "78!" not only is he a qualifier and three time finisher- but he is pushing a great pace for those 26.2 miles!

The long hours.. the grueling training- fighting pain and discouraging injuries. Being on a road all alone with no one to keep you going. Hearing an inner voice that says 'slow down and walk' but learning how to say 'No' to those cries- marathoners know those moments.

No matter how good they are- a marathoner will hit the wall when every fiber of their body says "Quit"- but the ones who finish learn to say 'march on' no matter what.

People will say how 'brilliant' the evil person or persons who did this were to move in, pass by, and get out while hurting such a soft target.

I say those evil perpetrators are actually stupid.

They picked on some of the best people in our society and will lose.

I predict a record turnout on Patriot's Day 2014- in both runners and spectators.

I already imagine someone finishing on a prosthetic, defying the odds of recovery from yesterday's carnage.

The terrorist messed up- he picked the wrong city, wrong event, and wrong target.

A terror event is meant to paralyze a people into fear and hiding.

But marathoners don't know how to quit and they won't.

As Americans- we need to dig deep down and find that same resolve to get up and finish well.

They won't win because we never say 'quit'.

I'm going to pray and serve and run a little harder today.... how about you?

Bill Iffrig Finishes

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

How Worship Elevates Everything

I have blogged before about the now decade long struggle I have had with a Biblical understanding of worship. It is an area where I have had to learn so many of the nuances, because my default understanding of worship is as flawed as my default understanding of the gospel is.

And this is no declaration that I have 'arrived' in this area. It is just like the gospel in that the 'sweet center' of Spirit led understanding seems to always leak out of me. I need to constantly pay close attention the simple gospel and I need to constantly challenge my understanding and experience of Biblical worship.

I want to stop here and reference our outstanding pastor/teacher at Briarwood Presbyterian Church, Harry Reeder and his recent series: 'Worship God' on this vitally important issue. Click this link for links to this series: REV. HARRY REEDER- WORSHIP GOD

There are two aspects of worship- Life Worship and Corporate Worship- both having connections with each other and very important in the life of a believer.

I enjoy hiking and running. In a sense, both accentuate heart desires I have and represent aspects of worship.

This past Saturday though- I have a real life example of how by prayer and preparation- Biblical illumination and Spirit initiated intentionality- a 'normal' run became a mini clinic of how we can worship our way through life.

The tough thing about the following example is that it is not as common as I wished it were and I don't expect it to be an every time type of thing. I think part of real worship is doing the routines faithfully and trusting God to add the Spirit/Truth/Circumstances/Awareness as needed for our growth.

And the following example is easy to mis-understand. I am NOT a mystic, nor am I a Christian version of a transcendentalist. The experience and practice of worship begins and ends with the reality of God, who HE is, and what He has accomplished... no other additives are needed. But in His grace and tender understanding, He adds the things we need as our hearts cry out for 'more of Him'!

So... I wake up this past Saturday, knowing that I am supposed to run at least 12 miles in preparation for the half marathon race I have coming up. I was excited to get an early phone call from my oldest daughter- she wants to join us!

Our plan is to meet at O'Henry's Coffee shop in Homewood and use it as our central point for the run.
We would do our normal 7 mile loop and then I could drop the girls off to enjoy coffee and the new Target while I did about another hour of training.

Create Maps or search from 80 million at MapMyRun

This running part of Birmingham is one of the great places in our city. You go though Mountain Brook Parkway, past Mountain Brook Country Club cut across Montevallo Road, past Crestline Village, by Birmingham Country Club, through Mountain Brook Village and then I do the Samford/Homewood Greenway on the other side of the coffee shop. It is flat, beautiful, woods, water, quaint shops, golf courses, amazing homes.. terrific place to run!

But true worship 'elevates' this experience... here is how....

It started with Scripture and prayer. As I was getting ready, God's Word was rich in my mind. I was meditating on the Psalms, especially the Psalms of Ascent which I am teaching on right now in Sunday School.

Being with my wife and daughter is a great part of this. I can be alone and worship- but when you have the joy of being with loved ones- it lifts the soul!

We had our coffee, we laughed- small talk stuff and then we started the run...

As we got into the trail part of Mountain Brook Parkway, I couldn't miss the CREATOR aspect of God. It was a gorgeous spring morning. Birds and blooms and bubbling brooks. A lot of my worship has always been centered on the design, intricate beauty, power, and life of all creation. From pictures of distant galaxies taken by Hubble, to animal planet cameras capturing beasts and deep sea creatures, contemplating the double helix of DNA, to having my breath stolen by majestic seasides, mountains, or canyons- My heart leaps in awe of the Creator. Always has.... Always will.

But knowing this God through Jesus creates an intimate awareness of these variety of colors, shapes, sounds, and smells- He did this because He loves us! He designs these things with us in mind! And these are just the temporary wall hangings- ready to be burned and changed... what an amazing God!

And then, by God's grace and Spirit.. I got another blessing. I was just behind my wife and daughter... and they were jogging and talking and laughing, what an uplifting moment. I just thanked God right there in my mind, "Lord, they are really loving this! Thank-you!"

Praising God for His creation and thanking Him for this beautiful picture of mother/daughter are aspects of worship.

Then as we came toward Crestline Village, I was blessed (as I have been many times) by the Cross in front of St Luke's Episcopal Church on Old Leeds Road. They have it up throughout Easter season, but it doesn't stay up all year.

I go right by it on the sidewalk.

At that point songs and thoughts of Christ's sacrifice came flooding in my mind. What He had done for me and how I don't deserve it.

My slight discomfort in running is NOTHING compared to His suffering on that tree.

Thorns on His head, wounds on His body... and that also became a part of this ordinary run that God allowed to become a time of life worship.

Once I dropped the girls off at O'Henry's and continued on- all of these elements continued to carry on. The Creator God, the thankfulness of all of his blessings especially rich relationships of family, the Savior God and the sacrifice needed, and the joy of persevering in a pursuit to 'finish the course'.

I have had other memorable experiences like that. I remember a day at Shoal Creek years ago with my spiritual mentor, Mr. Bill Stegall. I remember a time fishing out of Venice, LA with my good friend, Bill Hawkins. And there have been a myriad of other times- even just sitting at my desk or eating a meal.

So what are some common factors in these life worship experiences? And is there a way for it to be more common?


It is easy to slide through a day with little acknowledgement of God. "Many hours for the world and few minutes for Christ" There are times at the end of a day I come to a disappointing realization that I rarely addressed the Lord, if at all. There are times I realize I have gone a short season with little prayer, thought. no Bible reading.

But there are other times where I have had that 'prayer without ceasing' time of a day long conversation with the Lord. Usually spurred on by Scripture, or listening to a good sermon or devotional, Christian music.

I wish I INITIATED this invitation more often and I realize without the Holy Spirit prompting me, I likely would not do it. But I am slowly improving in my practice of asking the Lord to be with and engage in whatever I am doing

 "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."                     I Corinthians 10:31


Jesus: God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth. John 4:24
Part of my journey in understanding the nature of acceptable worship is the process of learning from God's Word the truth...who God is, the grand narrative of history, the covenant promise, the act of redemption, the growth and function of God's church.

The craziest aspect of this is that no matter how well I know the Word, I must keep re-visiting it over and over- because it is a dynamic and living Word. Without worship, we shrink and without God's Word, we starve.

Prayers and petitions, supplications... the discipline of prayer- prostrating before the King in submission, yet pleading with Him at the same time.


Philippians 4 says "with thanksgiving" let our requests be made known to God. When I count my blessings it keeps me in a positive frame of mind. Observing/experiencing life positively allows me to love better, to hope better, to bear better, to overlook more.

When I get weighed down with how unfair and hard life is- I see things more negatively and I become more cynical and sarcastic. It is hard to grow a tree of worship in such foul soil.


The message of God's grace has to be central in this quest for worship. We don't worship to somehow earn a merit badge. We don't do it because we are good. We don't do it in our strength. We have to be aware that worship could become an idol. We have to be suspicious of our on sinful hearts to slide... prone to wander.


We can effectively worship God alone. But God has designed us to fellowship with one another. My best friends deepen my thirst for God. I can play golf alone. But it is always better with a friend. Even better with 3 friends. And even better when we all commune with God-glorifying talk in the process.
Life goes better when I learn to enjoy it with others and focus on them more than me.


Finally, as much as we would like for it to happen- a powerful worship experience will not always take place. And it is good that it doesn't, because our expectations spoil reality. We are still swimming upstream in a now but not yet existence.

I have learned to not be so cynical at religious routine. It is a dress rehearsal that points to future fulfillment. God gives shadows and hints of this in this life.

C.S. Lewis makes an astute point in Mere Christianity:

     Why? What is the good of pretending to be what you are not? Well, even on the human level, you know, there are two kinds of pretending. There is a bad kind, where the pretense is there instead of the real thing; as when a man pretends he is going to help you instead of really helping you. But there is also a good kind, where the pretense leads up to the real thing. When you are not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are. And in a few minutes, as we have all noticed, you will be really feeling friendlier than you were. Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already. That is why children’s games are so important. They are always pretending to be grownups—playing soldiers, playing shop. But all the time, they are hardening their muscles and sharpening their wits so that the pretence of being grown-up helps them to grow up in earnest    Now, the moment you realise ‘Here I am, dressing up as Christ,’ it is extremely likely that you will see at once some way in which at that very moment the pretense could be made less of a pretence and more of a reality. 
I will run again soon and though all of the elements will still be there, it still doesn't 'rise' to the level of God authorized approved worship- and that is OK.

But I eagerly prepare for enjoying Him again in that intense and intimate way.

I may fall today, I may fail today- but He is worth the pain of perseverance and the weariness of patience. Because true worship elevates everything.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Acts in April- Spring Time Renewal

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptizedwith the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Luke is writing his second volume to the Gospel of Luke. He is writing both accounts to Theophilus "Friend of God"- what a great title! It is interesting to me that Luke says 'all Jesus began to DO and teach'- we often reverse those. Jesus did both- but his acts gave weight to His words. We frequently lift up teachers and rarely notice those who speak less but do more.

There was a 40 day period after the resurrection where Jesus did essential work before His ascension. Some of it was presenting 'many proofs' presenting Himself alive. Human belief is difficult and clouded with doubt and presuppositions- it takes time to build the foundation of understanding.

I love that He COMMANDED them to wait- I'm sure they were ready to head out in the flesh- especially after the pep talk to take the good news to the world! But as good as the gospel message is- we need the Spirit to deliver it in power and effectiveness.

The disciples were yearning for the restoration of the Kingdom... they had seen how unjust man's world was- it had just killed the Prince of Glory.

Even though Jesus says over and over- it is not for us to know when- we still struggle over that 'need to know', reading tea leaves and charts.

All we really know is that the angel said, He will come back in the same way He went up.

I get caught gazing a lot- when there is important work to do.

Lord, I commit this month of April to you. A time of renewal. Who do I need to share with? Pray for? Serve?  

I wait this morning for Your Holy Spirit.

"You know, I have this sense of motivation, and I picked it up from the Apostle Paul and from my understanding of Acts 1:1...that I must finish the work that Christ has given me. Now I don't know how much time I have, but I know I have a limited amount of time." You know, we can finish the work that Jesus gives us to finish of His unfinished work...we can. We have everything...all the things we need...the right message, the right manifestation...the living Christ, the right power...the Holy Spirit, the right mystery...we don't know when He's coming, so we work all the time occupying until He gets here...the right mission, we're witnesses, and the right motive. He is coming to reward us who are faithful.
"What makes you think you're going to finish your work?" Well, I just have this tremendous inspiration that comes to my heart from my friend, the Apostle Paul, and I want you to hear what he said. 2 Timothy 4:6..."For I am now ready to be offered. Lord, I can die now. I'm ready to go. Please take me home. The time of my departure is at hand. It hasn't been easy. I have fought a good fight. I have" what? "Finished the course. I have kept the faith, henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness." Paul says, "Lord, I can die now; I'm done." Boy, wouldn't that be fantastic?
Listen, I can believe that a Christian can finish the work that Christ gives him to do. I don't think the Lord wants to frustrate us. But in order to do it, you've got to take advantage of all of the ingredients that are given to you, see, and maximize your ministry.