Tuesday, May 31, 2011

BookTuesday: The Next Story

BookTuesday this week features a book received from Zondervan Publishers by the Internet-famous (at least in some circles) Tim Challies. It’s Challies’ book about life and faith after the digital explosion entitled The Next Story. You should know that I received a free copy of this book in exchange for the review, although I’d likely have bought it anyway.

Here’s what it looks like:

The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion

I have had difficulty getting this review written for Tim Challies’ book, The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion. Why? Well, my Blackberry has been buzzing, I’ve got a few comment streams on blogs to keep up with, and then there’s the podcasts to listen to in the process. Plus, since I’m paying for unlimited Netflix streaming, I’ve got to have a movie going in the background.

Now, if that sounds nothing like any moment you’ve ever had, then you could probably skip this particular book for a few months. If you’re decently in control of your technology use, you can wait a little while too.

What is Challies up to with this book? Why should you read it? Is it ironic that this book is available for Kindle and other e-readers? Is it wrong that a man who became famous blogging and made his living doing web design to write about how we should view technology?

Let’s answer those questions:

1. Tim Challies is presenting recommendations of how to utilize technology without being dominated by it. The primary perspective that he holds is a Protestant/Reformed Christianity, so be prepared to see references to God, Jesus Christ as Lord, and the Bible as authority. If you hold the same beliefs, that’s not a problem, but if you don’t, you might bog down a bit. There’s still valuable information for you, but some of this just won’t make sense to you.

Challies is striking at two targets in this book. The first is the “technology is evil” target. In the early chapters of the book, he addresses what is good and useful in technology. The second is the “I want every thing beeping at all times” target. This target receives the bulk of the words here.

A large portion of the method here is to raise awareness of the issues underlying the technology we use. He is not trying to state that we ought to all use cell phones or ought to avoid them, nor even whether you should answer your phone during church. Rather, he wants the reader to ask this question: “How is carrying a cell phone at all times changing the way I think about life?” Then, address the question of when you should or should not answer the phone.

2. I’m going out on a limb and saying that you should read this book. Even if you are one of the aforementioned non-technology people, you should read this book. First of all, you cannot escape the technology. Even the Amish occasionally use the telephone: you cannot escape it. The Next Story will help you build a moral and theological grid about how to use the technology.

If you’re addicted to your iPhone, iPad, and MacBook or the various other devices, you need to read this book. It will help you think about what is happening in the world around you and the mindset within you because of these devices. You may choose to continue your prior behavior, but you will at least know what you’re getting into at that point.

3. It’s less ironic that you can read this on a Kindle than on an iPad. A Kindle’s at least a uni-tasker (as Alton Brown would describe single-use tools), so you don’t develop the mental-fragmenting from it. However, it is kind of funny to think of losing ourselves to technology and reading about it on a technological device. It supports the idea of the book: these advances are here to stay---so what are you going to do about it? Gutenberg perhaps had detractors that preferred calligraphy: but who has read a hand-copied book lately? (Ph.D. nerds excluded.)

4. If we exclude people who have used technology from writing books, we’ll never learn anything. Actually, Challies has a good blend of work in publishing, web design, ministry, and internet interaction that provides a good viewpoint to this book.

This book helps put together a viewpoint that helps us not fear the coming technology. It is also not a wide-ranging futuristic view, addressing deeply artificial intelligence or raising fears of SkyNet and Terminators, but rather a book that says: this is what is now. This is what is most likely for the next several years. Now, what are you going to do with it?

Worth the purchase.


Free book provided by Zondervan in exchange for the review.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day 2011

100 years ago today, nothing of any real, global significance happened. At least, not that I'm aware of. However, today is the day we observe Memorial Day in the United States. It's a day that we are supposed to stop and remember something that's been said so much it's almost a cliché: Freedom is not free.

What is Memorial Day? It started as Decoration Day, a set aside time to clean up and make, pardon the expression, beautiful the graves of those who died in the Civil War. A great deal of the fighting had taken place in the South, so many of the North's dead were buried far from home, and special effort had to be made by families to keep clean the gravesites of their dead. Columbus, Mississippi, is remembered as the place where the graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers were cared for by the same people.

Over time, the day came to be known as Memorial Day, a time to stop and remember those who died for our nation. This is an important thing for us to do, yet over time we've lost a lot of that focus. There is something about the sacrifice of lives for us that we seem to want to forget.

Yet we cannot risk forgetting. Whether we are talking about the martyrs that died for our faith in Christ or those who died for our freedom in America, we need to realize the invaluable gift they have preserved for us. If we have freedom, we ought to give thanks first to God for it, but then to realize the sacrifice it cost for us to continue to have it.

And we need to begin contemplating what it's going to take to preserve that freedom. There are continuing costs for freedom. The down payment was paid by patriots in centuries gone by, but the interest must be continued. What will it cost us? When we defer those payments, put off those sacrifices, the next generation has to pay double or more…

Is that what we want? Is that what the sacrifices of those before us were for? Many of our (my generation) grandparents survived the Great Depression and fought the tyranny of the Axis powers. Our parents fought the Cold War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Our friends and siblings are fighting terrorism.

Are we taking those efforts for granted? Will we pass on to our children the costs of liberty without the benefits?

Let us act. Act to preserve freedom and to extend it. Act to honor those who guard it. Act to pass on the blessing of freedom and the wisdom to defend it to our children and our children's children.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sermon Sunday May 29

Audio link here

1 John 3:13-18

13   Do not be surprised, brethren, if athe world hates you.

  14   We know that we have apassed out of death into life, bbecause we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.

  15   Everyone who ahates his brother is a murderer; and you know that bno murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

  16   We know love by this, that aHe laid down His life for us; and bwe ought to lay down our lives for thecbrethren.

  17   But awhoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and bcloses his 1heart 2against him,chow does the love of God abide in him?

  18   aLittle children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and btruth. 1

On January 6, 1941, the President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, stood before Congress and gave the State of the Union Address. Included in that speech were these words:

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way--everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.

Before the end of that year, the United States had joined dozens of other nations in a conflict that would cost nearly 25 million soldiers' lives to finish, only to discover that more than 50 million non-combatants had also lost their lives. The Four Freedoms that sound so good were for several years nothing but a feel-good prop, an idea, some propaganda used to sell war bonds.

Yet the idea of the Four Freedoms lived on, and became enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. These freedoms echo the US Declaration of Independence, that all men are endowed by their Creator with the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Across more than 200 years of US History, hundreds of thousands have died to preserve those freedoms for us, from  British Colonists at Lexington and Concord (technically, they weren't Americans: we declared ourselves a nation over a year later!) to the men and women who have lost their lives this past week for us.

But have these lives been enough?

Is there freedom from want in this world? Keep in mind that Roosevelt's Freedom from want was not "freedom from wanting more..." but could also be phrased as freedom from need: not going to bed hungry. Not lacking in the basics of human necessity: clothing, food shelter....yet we are not there.

Is there freedom of speech and expression? Not even within our own country, sometimes: look at the challenge of people like the Americans arrested in Michigan last year simply for sharing the Gospel. Look at the efforts over the last ten years to quiet dissent and discussion. Consider around the world: in some nations, one cannot "defame" a dead man without prosecution, while other countries see violence as the means to silence it.

Is there freedom from fear? Fear? When boarding an aircraft in the United States requires either a virtual strip-search via computer or pat-down at the hands of the government, are we free from fear? No--we live with it. Students pass through metal detectors to enter their schools: churches hire armed security. We cringe at the sight of others who look different from ourselves. We have plenty of fear.

Then there is freedom of belief. Do we have that? Roosevelt stated that all people deserved the freedom to worship God in his own way--everywhere in the world. Do we see that freedom? Do we have it? Are we willing to stand for it for others?

You see, as we take time as a nation to consider the cost of our country being as close to seeing these freedoms exist as any other place on earth, we need to ponder a few things:

1. What is the source of these freedoms? It is important to realize that men and women have died to safeguard and secure our freedom, but that freedom is a gift ultimately from God.

2. What is the purpose of these freedoms? This is where we must put our focus as a church and as Christian people. If our freedom is a gift from God, why did He give it? Why is it worth preserving at the cost of human life? Looking all the way back to Genesis: people are made in the image of God and the life of even one is precious. Why do we have them?

Let's look to 1 John 3:13-18 to find part of the answer to this question.

1. It is not to be liked: God has not granted us freedom that the world will like us. One of the biggest mistakes that we as Christian people make is to seek approval from those not of God. We should expect the hatred of those who hate God. And do not be deceived: no one is neutral to the Almighty. One is either for Him or against Him.

2. It is not to amass stuff (v. 17): the stuff we received is for us to use to the glory of God, whether through

3. It is not to fight amongst ourselves: we spend enormous amounts of energy bickering over unimportant things---and it is leading to the decline of the influence of Christians in America. Why should the world listen to us when we cannot agree over trivial matters? Truth must be stood for---it is not a trifle for a church to stand for the Word of God, but it is a trifle to bicker over many other things----and it is unproductive to fight over non-Scripture traditions.

4. It is to come to Christ: v. 14/16: the freedom to worship is endowed by our Creator that we may come to Christ for salvation. One mistake we must not make is to think that we are free to worship God on our own terms. While this is what should be seen from other people, we need to understand that we must come to God on His own terms. We must see what Scripture commands: that no one comes to the Father without Christ (John 14:6) and that He is able to save any who come to Him (Hebrews 7:25)

5. It is to love in action: John speaks to the same issue as James: love is not still. Love acts---love serves---love meets needs. A quick note on love, though: love is acting in the best interest of someone else---it does not always do what another wants, but does what they need. To love is to treat as God treated

6. It is to love in teaching: truth here is teaching---making disciples----following Christ.

7. It is to love by sacrifice: if we love, our lives are forfeit for the Gospel of Christ and for the sake of our fellow believers. Jesus said it (John 15:13) and here His disciple, John repeats the idea. If we love, we will sacrifice.

As we stop this weekend and think about freedom, let us consider the sacrifices that have made our freedom possible:

The lives given for our earthly, temporary, and imperfect freedom---are we living well in light of those freedoms or do we take them for granted?

Even more importantly, are we using them as God intended? Are we using our freedom for the Glory of God? Or do we count in as our own and hold it tightly?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Not running

Well, this past month has seen a few official announcements regarding next year’s Presidential Election in the United States. News releases ranged from the ridiculously obvious: President Obama is running for re-election (gee, name the last President that didn’t run? none in my lifetime); to the curious: Mitch Daniels might have had a change; to the relieving: Donald Trump? Really? Are we that stupid?

One other announcement was that Mike Huckabee was not going to run. I think that’s a good decision by him, for a variety of reasons. I think Hillary Clinton has announced that she’s not running, but that’s not surprising: sitting President in her own party? President Obama would have to do something stupid in the eyes of Democrats for her to do that (it’s kind of a given that, as President Bush was consistently mocked by Democrats, President Obama is mocked by Republicans).

Well, back in 2008 I had stated that I would run for President in 2012. At the moment, I want to announce that I have changed my mind. I will not be running for President this time (or next time).

Why not?

1.) I don’t want to.

That’s it. I know with a numbered list, you expect more, but there’s no more. To run for President these days invites such an intrusion into your life, the life of your family and friends, that you shouldn’t do it if you don’t want to.

Now, why do I think you care?

There are several ways to make a decision. As Christians, we make decisions based on our faith and what we consider to be the leadership of God Almighty. How we discern that matters, and I want to use my decision not to run for President as an illustration:

1. Our decisions must not run directly opposite the Word of God. Murder, theft, adultery are never what Christians ought to be doing. There are more complex ethics related to wartime---I do not find it “unChristian” to shoot Osama bin Laden, for example, but that’s a longer post for another day.

2. Our decisions must run along things we are directly commanded to do. That’s right, even under the New Covenant of “grace” and “free-will” there are commands for followers of Christ.

3. Our decisions ought to include wisdom from the combined witness of Scripture. For example, Scripture does not explicitly forbid running down the middle of interstate, but the wisdom of Scripture, that life is precious, shows us that we ought not do so.

4. Our decisions ought to be driven by what we are created to do. That includes the big picture: created for God’s glory; and the little picture: what are your natural talents? For example, I can’t sing---so I can’t decide that God wants me to go on American Idol and win. I’m not made for that. I’ve thought about Last Comic Standing or Next Iron Chef, but so far, not yet…

So, how does not running for President fit?

1. Scripture does not forbid a Christian from seeking to influence or even direct the secular government. Again, there are complex ethics related to how, but a simple look does not demand avoiding the process.

2. Scripture does not explicitly command me to run. I am commanded to make disciples, to assemble with believers for encouragement, and to love my neighbor as myself. So, I don’t have to do it.

3. Scriptural wisdom speaks to being honorable, but being careful about being involved with kings. Also, about the king needing to be very wise and very patient. I’m not very patient and am often not wise---even though we’re not talking king.

4. Finally, what am I made for? In seeking God’s glory---how does a small-town pastor trying to run for President glorify God? My family and my church need me more than that. My skills and talents, beyond that, are not what the country needs right now. I am not made for running a country. I’m an academic-type, and academic-types sometimes have trouble with the real world.

So, how about you?

How are you making decisions? Do you just take what comes? Do you have any other suggestions about how to choose what you’re doing?



Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ten Years

Ten years ago today, Ann woke up feeling a little odd. Of course, given the fact that she had been pregnant for about nine months, it wasn’t unexpected that she would feel odd at some point :)

By the end of the day, May 26, 2001, we had our first daughter in our hands. We had also broken my first laptop computer, but if one was going to get dropped----well, you know, priorities. Witnessing childbirth was an amazing moment. Seeing all that was involved multiplied immeasurably the love and respect I have for my wife. I don’t think I could do that. I know I couldn’t do that and then start, immediately, caring for the little munchkin that resulted.

So, for ten years we’ve watched Olivia grow, change, mature, and do various and sundry other things. What struck me this time around with her birthday is that we’re more than half-done with her. If all goes well, by the time she’s twice this age, she’ll be living in a college dorm, responsible for herself as much as possible, and I’ll still be paying her bills. Well, hopefully she’ll be on a scholarship.

The last ten years have flown, really, in retrospect. There were long days, and long stretches, but it’s flown. We’ve moved that little girl five times, she’s learned to read, and she still thinks I’m silly. This is good, because over the years I know I’ve made a good many mistakes as her father. However, she’ll get over it.

One thing we’re constantly working on as a family is this: there’s always areas that we need to grow, but there’s always areas that we need encouragement in as well. We’re seeing Olivia grow as a writer, and I’m even contemplating letting her have one of the old computers in the house to practice her writing with.

Ten years ago I was too young to be a parent, but I knew enough to know what I was doing. Now, I’m ten years older and know a whole lot less than I did then!

Happy Birthday, Olivia. May you continue to be a better child than your father deserves.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What is that pain?

Yesterday, we were headed to Little Rock to take a few pictures of Olivia in celebration of her 10th birthday. I’m sure that you’ll be able to see them if you go over to the family webpage after they’ve been posted.

Except there was one problem. As we were headed out of town, I started to feel a familiar stabbing pain in my right side. It was the same place and feeling that my previous three kidney stones have brought me. And such things are not pleasant.

The result? We went home. I took some ‘leftover’ prescription painkillers that we have, and drank lots of cranberry juice and water. That was my Tuesday. It wasn’t exactly pleasant…

Yet the pain has passed. So has, I think, my self-diagnosed medical issue. In retrospect, I want to offer a few thoughts on this whole thing:

1. Familiarity can be helpful: there was no panic, no freak out, no multi-thousand dollar medical bills for this kidney stone. That’s good.

2. Familiarity can be deceptive: the human body uses pain to communicate things, and locating that pain is fuzzy at best. The right side kidney and the appendix are fairly close, and for many people have of appendicitis starts with pain---about right there. Had this been more than a stone, I might have gotten myself in trouble.

3. Familiarity can be dangerous: I know what it was, and I know how to to treat the symptoms. Yet what if there’s a larger issue? Should I, perhaps, rather than just be casual, make sure there’s nothing else going on? Should I also consult on how to prevent the problem altogether?

It’s challenging for many of us: we know what our problems are, we’re aware of how to treat the symptoms, but we end up a little too casual about really fixing the problem. What do I need to do about kidney stones? Less Coke, more water---more exercise, less sedentary life.

What about the rest of life? What do we need to do?



Tuesday, May 24, 2011

BookTuesday: MacArthur

This week for BookTuesday, I read MacArthur, one of the biographies in Thomas Nelson Publishers’ The Generals series. You should know that BookSneeze sent me a free copy of this book in exchange for the review, but they don’t tell me what to say. Check it out if you’re interested in free books for blogging.

The overall goal of the series is to examine the lives of some of the famous generals of American history. Other volumes have highlighted Generals Lee and Washington, and this volume looks at General Douglas MacArthur.

Reading biographies is one of the better ways to gain wisdom: the reader is able to learn from the good and the bad of history and see it applied in the life of individuals. The challenge, which series editor Stephen Mansfield highlights in his introduction, is to balance criticism with hagiography, making sure to show that the subjects are real people that were both heroic and, well, not so heroic as well.

General of the Army Douglas MacArthur was definitely both types of man. He was heroic in battle, though rough and sometimes too independent. He was not always socially correct and neither was he quite politically astute at all times. Yet he helped build post-war Japan into the economic force it remains to this day.

Now, since I’m supposed to be reviewing the book and not the man, how well does Mitchell Yockelson present the life of General MacArthur?

First, this biography is a short one. For comparison, Eric Metaxas’ recent Bonhoeffer spent over 600 pages to delve into Bonhoeffer’s 39 years of life. Yockelson spends just over 200 pages to address General MacArthur’s 84. This is not a shortcoming, as the goal here is to provide an introduction, not an intimacy. By nature, one gets to the end of this book and realizes that there is much more to the life of MacArthur.

Second, this work, coming from a religious publisher, could have overplayed views on MacArthur’s faith and beliefs. However, Yockelson has shown restraint here. The speeches and sayings of MacArthur that reference his religious opinions are present, but there is no effort to portray General MacArthur as an ideal Christian. Rather, he is presented as a man with faith and foibles. This is a good thing.

Third, while some discussion of military matters is present, this book does not bog the reader down with too many details of military strategy and logistics. While some will find the dearth of exact detail frustrating, this book does, generally, help a person with a lack of military knowledge understand the life of a career military officer. There are points that could have used a little more explanation: there are times that phrases like “military protocol” that leave one wondering, in all, though, it’s not a major problem.

Finally, presentation: the book is hardcover, contains a few pictures, and seems like the binding will hold up well over time.

In all, I recommend this book, as well as the entire series.

MacArthur: America's General (The Generals)


As always: free book for the review.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sermon---May 22

Audio link

A few quick notes on this message:

1. Yes, I did what a great many preachers did Sunday—addressed the whole issue with predicting the end of the world and getting it wrong. We fall into different traps at times with preaching: one trap is to completely ignore current events and the other is to be driven at all times by them. I felt this one was worth commenting on.

2. While I did address that issue, I also waited until after the projected date. Why? Because no Biblically honest preacher can preach a sermon setting a date that Jesus won't return. I could not have said last week that May 21 wouldn't be the Rapture. Why not? Because…."no one knows the day or the hour." Matthew 24:36. Not knowing the day means, by extension, not knowing the not-day. I'd have felt pretty stupid to preach that and then gone to heaven that day.

3. In the sermon, I use college finals as the illustration of the end-times. Other times I've used Mom coming to visit the college student as the illustration. The overall force is this idea: we're here with a purpose, much like a college student is there with a purpose. Both purposes involve deadlines and expectations; accountability and evaluations. We know the time is coming---why put off being ready?

4. Date-setting is a waste of your time. Every time someone has done this in western church history, the focus has come off of the message of the Gospel and gone on to the method of picking the date. EVERY TIME. (There are few absolutes in historical studies, but I'll state that one.) If the goal is to glorify God and point people to Christ: do not try to set dates. Even getting on the edge of setting dates by putting the story in a current context, such as the Left Behind series gets a little too close. We don't know the future.

5. We do know the past, and the past is what is, really, most relevant: at a specific time in the past (though the date is debated): the Son of God put on flesh; dwelt sinlessly among sinful humanity; preach, taught, healed, raised the dead, corrected and rebuked; was crucified at the hands of mankind; was dead and buried; and rose up on the third day. He now lives forever and saves those who come to Him. That death paid for our sins---we know not exactly how, whether by ransom or substitution (though I think substitution is the best explanation, sorry Jack), but we know He paid.

What we need about the future is plain: Christ is coming back. That should be the sole focus.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Another semester down…

Well, it's official that I have finished another semester in my seemingly never-ending quest to get smart. I do not have grades yet, so I'm proceeding on a couple of assumptions: 1. I passed everything; 2. I could have done better. The latter is definitely true, and I hope for the former.

What did I learn these past 4.5 months?

I took the second semester of Hebrew. I learned that it doesn't get any easier in the second half. In fact, just like in football, if you dig too deep a hole in the first half, you can't come back. Other than that, I learned a great deal about the process and deep appreciation for those who translate the Scriptures into the common language of common people. Why? Because I'm not going to be doing my Old Testament readings in the original.

What did I learn for future reference? Cultural understanding is probably more important than pure language understanding: if you only grasp the English meaning of the Hebrew word, you haven't gained anything. You need to understand the way the Hebrews lived, what the land was like, what daily life was like. If you have that understanding in English that is better than a modern American life understanding in Hebrew. If you have an understanding of Israelite life in Hebrew, that's best.

I took Hermeneutics, which is the fancy word for the science of Biblical interpretation. There are principles of studying Scripture that can be learned and should be learned. I've been through this before, and it's a good study. It should be a part of what every church teaches in the process of discipleship---unfortunately we don't. The seminary coursework may be more detailed than everyone needs, but it's valid principles: try to understand what the words meant to the first people that saw them---then try to understand how that applies to us. Good stuff. Still waiting on my paper grade for that class, though. I may think I understand it and really don't.

Finally, there was the class that's right up my alley: History of Christianity. Really, any kind of history is fun. The truth is that I could study and read history all day, half the night, and then do it all again tomorrow. What did I learn from this? There's much of the heritage of where we have come from as believers that we just don't know. I'm not sure if being Baptist builds that ignorance or if it's just modern America, but we've got to get past this. It's fascinating to see that some of what we argue about today is the same stuff that was argued about years ago. And by years, I mean centuries.

One realization: Biblical Christianity has never truly defined a government---Constantine's Rome had to make immediate compromises, America was founded on a blend of Judeo-Christian Ethics and Natural Philosophy, and most other countries have flirted with blending religion and government. There's much more. Hopefully I'll get the chance to really chase the history studies as far as I'd like. We'll see.

That's this semester. In a few weeks, I'll be doing a one-week intensive in counseling. That'll be interesting….


Friday, May 20, 2011

Tomorrow is the end of the world…

I know this for certain.

For someone, tomorrow is the end of the world. It may actually be the end for all of us. It may be the end of many people due to a collective bad decision. It will be the end for some people on the highways, some in homes and hospitals, and some at the hands of violent and lawless people. This could, honestly, be the last blog post of mine that you read. You could be gone----so could I.

As to the overall hullaballoo over dates and times, I would pose for us all this question:

Since you don't know if tomorrow's really the end or not, why are you not living your life as if it is the end?

We frequently read inspiring stories of how someone found out their death was near and then lived out marvelously. We hear of being told to "put your affairs in order" and how someone seeks love and forgiveness after years of bitterness.

Why do we wait? What if it is the end? It could be---even if it's just the end of your life. You may not get to go to church Sunday to gloat that you weren't sucked in. There may be no future for you.

What decisions need to be made? What choices should you be making differently?

Why will we not do them?

There are long-term plans I want to accomplish, and I am working on the plans and processes to see them happen. Yet this I know: I do not want my last thought to be a regret of what I didn't do that I could have done.

True, I may never make it around the world. I will probably never get to preach in Scotland or set foot in the library at Oxford. Rome will likely always be known through pictures, and Athens through books. Is that any excuse not to preach in Arkansas or see what I can?

There will always be people guessing when the end for all of us is near. Harold Camping has it this weekend, with summation in October. Timothy Geithner has the collapse of the US in August (debt limit thing). Stephen Hawking puts it in another 4.5 billion years.

Does it really matter? None of us have any control over it anyway. Make the decisions now that will cause you to be ready for it whenever it is…




Oh yeah---gratuitous inspirational video link:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Not so secret Secret Service

Over the past week, there have been at least two majorly stupid statements released on Twitter. One came from the official Secret Service Twitter account, another from the president of a Baptist college in Georgia.

A brief digression---why does the Secret Service have a twitter account?

(From the Secret Service): @CounterfeitJackson this is the @SecretService we're coming to get you!

(Reply from Counterfeiter): @SecretService you'll never find me! #quitwastingyourtime

(Reply from Secret Service): @CounterfeitJackson you forgot to turn off the geotagging on your twitter stream! We can find you. #gpsrocks

The individual employee of the Secret Service that has access to the account said something mean about Fox News. Of course, not knowing the time of day, it could have been a completely accurate statement (something about can't stand the blathering. Have you watched anyone's news programs lately? They all blather.) However, it came from the "official" feed, so apologies had to be issued, my fellow right-wing conspirators are convinced, again, that the Executive Branch hates us all, and CNN is laughing about it. Anyway, the likely source of this tweet probably uses TweetDeck or Seesmic or another Twitter management program and clicked the wrong account. I do this sometimes, too, on the "official" FBC Almyra Twitter feed.

Emir Caner, President of Truett-McConnell College, made a remark that equated a church-planting group, Acts 29 (I'm not one of their fans, but that's another story), with the pornography stash found at Osama bin Laden's hideout. That was rude and wrong, and it came from his personal account, so it's hard to blame a staffer.

People, here are three things to remember about Twitter, Facebook, and any other social media/internet device:

1. It is a public stream. Comments on the internet are as private as a conversation in the mall or in the dining room of a McDonalds. People can hear you. Even text messages sometimes go where you don't intend them to go.

2. It is a permanent stream. Forget that the "delete post" option even exists. Once you put it out there, it's out there. End of story. Someone, somewhere, saw what you said, and they captured it. You will not be able to wiggle out and say you didn't say it.

3. It is a partitioned stream. You cannot say and explain everything you mean to say in one post. Which means that what you say can and will be taken out of context sometimes.

What to do?

Realize that: anything you put online will last forever if you don't want it to. (Failures of critical data storage are a different discussion).

Check what you are logged-in to: if you are responsible for an agency, company, or other group, use a completely different software or phone app. UberSocial is where all of my organization tweets are on my phone. Twitter for Blackberry has all of my personal ones. I have to intentionally activate work tweets. It adds 60 seconds that are better spent there than the countless hours addressing any oopses---

However, avoid the oopses: is this something you would shout in a crowded movie house? (or a crowded firehouse?) If not, do not say it on social media. Seriously. The world, and you, can live without it.

If you are managing the feed for someone else, be doubly sure of what you say and where you're saying it.

If you are in charge of an organization, be triple sure: people are watching.

There's more to say about the idea that 140 characters is hard to make a joke in, that some people don't get your humor anyway, and keep it to yourself. If you have nothing nice to say, then say nothing.

Especially for us Christians: don't type something you wouldn't say! You are as responsible for the words you type as for the words you speak.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Right on the small, wrong on the big

I've spent a good bit of time these past weeks reading in early medieval Britain. Fortunately for me, the books have been mostly translated into modern English. Except for one from the 1800s that left the most important quotes in the original Latin. Shows a bit of a focus change in education: Latin was once a bigger deal than it is now. Of course, I'm now going to be spending this summer getting a better grasp of it…

Moving on, one of the situations I learned about in this process was the conflict in the fifth and sixth centuries between Celtic and Roman expressions of Christianity. It seems that the distance between Britain, Ireland, and the centers of Christianity in the Mediterranean region had caused a division in the way that church practices and calendars were set. Ireland had, since it was never under Rome, developed a fairly independent mindset, while Britain retained a connection with Rome in both government and religion.

Ireland, home of many of the Celtic peoples, had come to the Christian faith primarily under Patrick. As they had come to faith under a missionary monk, missionary monks were held in high regard. So, Celtic Christianity developed many monasteries and sent out missionaries. They also celebrated Easter a week different from Rome, owing to an older source used to set the date. Two other distinctives existed: the style of haircut, or tonsure, for monks and the manner of confession. Celtic Christianity favored private confession and penance while the existing Roman system was more public. The Celts believed in "seal of the confessional:" the priest should be free to hear anything without having to disclose it. The Romans? The tight connection between church and state did not allow, then, for the priest to hear confession of criminal activity and not report it.

Simply, the Roman expression ran the opposite of the Celtic. The Roman Christians of the time saw a connection between church and state, and so expanded the Gospel only with allied nations. Wouldn't want to fight Christian brethren, after all, would you? Romans cut their monks' hair differently, celebrated Easter a week later, and had monasteries. Roman monasteries, though, were considered under the authority of the nearest bishop while Celtic monasteries were independent----and often the home of the nearest bishop.

As the missionary Celts came into Britain, they spread their faith among the people that the Romans had not evangelized. Additionally, the politics of royal marriage put together families from different cultures and therefore with different expressions of the faith. The Celts began seeking space for monasteries, and the Roman religious leaders weren't up for independent monks roamin' their territory.

By the way, what's the big deal about Easter? Well, we Baptists don't do much of it, but many traditions fast and mourn in remembrance of the cost of sin, the Crucifixion, for 40 days prior to Easter. This controversy had some Christians feasting while their neighbors were fasting---and even had a King and Queen on opposite sides.

This issue had to be settled. The view of the time was that there should only be one church---completely unified in all things. So, King Oswy called in the highest thinkers for both sides and listened to them present their views. The clinching argument? The Romans claimed that they celebrated Easter the same day Peter did, Peter held the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and you wouldn't want to upset Peter, would you?

This persuaded Oswy. It's based on the argument that Matthew 16:16-20 put Peter completely in charge of who goes to heaven and who does not. The better understanding, though, is that the "rock" on which the church is built is Christ himself—the word "Peter" comes from the Greek for "stone" while the word "rock" comes from the Greek for "big, unmovable rock." Peter is not the decision-maker for all humanity. The keys are better understood as the preaching and teaching which began with the Apostles and is now available in Scripture. So, there's no reason to stress about what day Peter ate chocolate bunnies---

In fact, King Oswy settled the debate over Easter and more than likely disturbed Peter by the end results. By favoring the Roman Easter date, he approved all of the hallmarks of Roman Christianity, including its lack of missionary interest.

The end result? Roman-British Christianity won but by its nature did not spread. As new people groups moved onto the island, Christianity began to stutter and the flame flickered a bit. The churches were big, the priests and bishops well-regarded, but their influence waned. The teaching of the faith to future generations began to collapse.

A course correction was necessary, and by the end of the seventh century, the better parts of Celtic Christianity were blending into Britain. Why? Monks of Britain hosted their brother-monks of Celtic heritage. They learned from each other, and passed that learning on. Then, monasteries became centers of learning and teaching.

Finally, efforts to spread the Gospel returned with zeal. The monks were passionate to spread the faith, not only to the wealthy but to all the people. This was a good turning in history, as the unifying effect of shared faith enabled Alfred the Great to help repel the Vikings in the tenth century. It provided a shared heritage among the people of the Britain as they progressed toward the unified nations they are today.

Yet we learn here an important fact: separate the important points of a debate. Was the date of Easter more important than spreading the Gospel? Does the haircut matter or the heart? When we make decisions based on haircuts and calendars, not hearts and obedience, we start making right decisions on small things and wrong decisions on big things.

Let's not be right on the small and wrong on the big.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Form, Function, and Content

I've been hit or miss lately with blogging. I have written more than you've read, but I've deleted most of it for not making enough sense even to its author. I've also been having to finish up a semester of graduate coursework, and so I've been doing a lot of writing for professors.
That's the writing I'm focused on this week. It's taking all of my energy and mental effort to do. I've written an interpretation on Colossians 3 for one class, and I'm writing a history research paper.
One thing that is bogging me down is the difference between blogging and academic writing. I already bounce back and forth between writing/composing sermons and writing blog posts, but adding the third flavor, graduate research paper, has been a little tougher.
For example, if in a sermon I quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I'll say "Bonhoeffer said ' (fill in the quote).'" For a blog, I may go ahead and state that "In his book, Discipleship, Bonhoeffer said '(fill in the quote)'." In academic writing, there is the need to: determine if the quote should be inline or block; determine if the professor wants Turabian in-line or footnote; then provide the citation featuring not only the author, book title, but the city of publication? Really? Do you not realize by now that Zondervan is in Grand Rapids? Just like Baker Books. And, even more shocking, Cambridge University Press is in Cambridge? Not Massachusetts, but United Kingdom.
The mandated form is challenging, not because I don't want to credit sources, but because of how they must be credited. Also, it's challenging to determine exactly what to cite. The rule is that anything not general knowledge has to be cited. Yet when I've read a half-dozen books over the last 3 months to write, it's hard to imagine that this stuff isn't common knowledge. Everybody knows early medieval British history, right?
I'd really like to just write out for the professor all that I've learned, attach a list of references that I probably learned it from, and then go on with my life. That's frequently the way I blog: I write, then if a resource is connected, I'll give a little credit to it. When I preach, I'll frequently quote individuals and give their name, but tell you the page number? Not likely. If you ask, I'll show you the book. If you want to pass academically, though, you're going to need to footnote accurately.
However, content, while most important, has to be presented in an acceptable way. The audience drives the form with which you present content.
This is not, in the end, a bad thing. It's easy to get grouchy and say that only content should matter, but is this true? Food provides nutrition, and all food provides some, but some forms are better than others, right?
Most preachers have the same content as other preachers----but it's the form that keeps you listening to one over another. (If you count 'preachers' as only those who actually preach the Bible, the content is similar. Fruitcake pseudo-preachers aren't included.)
Books, blogs, and so forth all contain content, but the form affects how it is received. Academia has its rules
So, while it is necessary to provide good content, make sure your form fits your audience. It's helpful for them: they know where to find it.
It's also helpful for you: by being forced to develop the form based on the audience, rather than yourself, you remember something: the function of communication is not about just you. The function of communication is about you, the message, and the audience. Considering them helps your message come across more clearly.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

BookTuesday: The Treasure Principle

Well, the good news is that I've got BookTuesday back on Tuesdays for the next month. The other news is that I've got about a month's worth of books left to do. Let's get to business, shall we?

I've reviewed a book or two by Randy Alcorn before (see here, here, and he's got a chapter in the book here). I've also mentioned a few of his blog posts. In all, I've found his work to be challenging and thought-provoking, even when I haven't found it agreeable.

What work of his do I have today?

It's entitled The Treasure Principle and it looks like this:

The Treasure Principle: Unlocking the Secret of Joyful Giving (LifeChange Books)

First, some basics: this is a small book. It's printed on 120 pages of 4x6 paper. The font is big enough, but not oversized. No pages are wasted with fluffy illustrations, so the book is all content. We're just not looking at a large amount of content.

Since, then, we're not talking a lot of content, to be worth the time, the content had better be good. Is it?

Alcorn has an accessible writing style. Between work, graduate study, and free books for blog reviews (like this one, from Multnomah), I read a broad spread of books. The ones I read range from work for the general public to people with doctorates who are just showing off. Alcorn writes at a level that I would hand to teens and above.

The content of The Treasure Principle is focused on…..stuff. Money, most specifically, but material stuff is the theme. This book is helpful to wrestle with the question of what Christians should do with their money. How to handle what we have in the abundance many of us live in.

Alcorn is direct. He expresses that Christians need to understand that none of the stuff they have is actually their own stuff, which it isn't. It truly does belong to God because we all belong to God. Beyond this, he has several practical suggestions of where and how to start.

Finally, though, as to value: this book is small. I'm not entirely sure it's worth buying at the cover price for an individual, but books like this are rarely sold at that price. If it's on sale, it's worth purchasing. It would also make for an excellent, affordable small group study.

In all, 4 stars out of 5.


Monday, May 2, 2011

Tornado Aid Suggestions

For those of you who are looking for ways to help in the wake of the storm outbreaks in the Southern USA, here are a few suggestions of disaster relief efforts to support:

Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief. This would help support efforts in Arkansas as well as when Arkansas Disaster Relief teams go out of the state to help with other situations.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. This will help with Baptist-operated disaster efforts anywhere they happen. This includes the feeding units and chainsaw teams that are across the Southeast right now.

Westmont Baptist Church in Birmingham. This is a local church right in the midst of the mess that is Birmingham right now. The church sustained minor damage and is doing the best they can to feed, shelter, help out the community around them. It’s not likely that they will get more in donations than they can use. Here is the address:

Westmont Baptist Church Disaster Relief
2963 Mulga Loop Road
Birmingham, AL 35224

The good ting about giving through any of these channels is that the structure to deliver aid is already in place. You are not going to be funding salaries, mortgage payments, and capital improvements. All of the support-type apparatus is funded through various other methods: regular church offerings, state and national missions offerings.  If you choose to give, you can be confident that what you give will go to help people in the midst of these disasters.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May 1 Sermons

AM Sermon Audio

PM Sermon Audio

No going back----

After the Resurrection there is no going back:

What do Peter and many of the disciples do before they start following Jesus?

Luke 5:

“Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat. When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered and said, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.” When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.” When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him. ” (Luke 5:1–11, NASB95)

They fish.

Matthew collected taxes, but that's a no going back situation

They're apparently good fishermen, or at least good enough: not only are they making a living at it, but Zebedee & Sons even have hired servants (Mark 1:19-20)

Then what happens?

They spend the next 3 years following Jesus---they've preached, they've healed, cast out demons, prepared for an overthrow (Peter and swords)

Then the crucifixion happens, the Resurrection. The disciples know Jesus is risen.

Yet they don't know what to do. Really.

So they go back and do what they were doing before. Fish.

They're not any good at it. They fish all night. They catch....nothing.


Because they're not supposed to fishing for the sake of fish anymore. Those days are gone. What are they supposed to be doing?

Being followers of Christ.

When the Lord shows up, they catch fish. 153 of them, to be exact.

What do we learn?

After the Resurrection, we must be different----


We are not even capable of what we once were. That part of us is supposed to be dead: Galatians 2:20---it is crucified.

Our life is found first as a disciple, and then second in whatever else we do----let us do it all for the glory of God.



Do we see?

Do we understand?

All of the Law, the Prophets, the Old Testament: intended to point us to Christ.

Yet apart from a relationship with Him we don't get it.

When we are buried in our sadness----we don't get it.

When we are buried in our traditions---we don't get it.

When we are buried in our busyness---we don't get it.

We must take the time:

To hear the Word

To fellowship with one another

To meet the Master.

Take the time for these things. Otherwise we miss what we need most: reminding of the Living Christ.

Sermon from May 19 2024

 Good morning! Yesterday we talked about Simon Magus. Didn't actually hit on the sin of simony, because we don't really see it that ...