Monday, October 31, 2011

Reformation Day!

Note: this post is huge. There is no natural break point. Sorry.

At the risk of over-simplifying world history and religion, 500 years ago, everyone in Western Europe was either a Catholic, a Jew, or a pagan. There weren't too many pagans, the Jews were not always (unfortunately most always) treated well and so kept to themselves, and many of the Catholics weren't all that clear about what they believed nor were they in line with what the official doctrines of the day were. Partially because survival comes before Sunday School and there's no real distinct Catholic way of growing wheat or minding the herds, and those were the main concerns of life. Well, that and keeping the warring king next door from overrunning your warring king and killing you.

Anyway, this led to a great deal of corruption within the religious beliefs and structures of the day. There's probably a dissertation that needs to undergird this, but I think that corruption grows best in prosperous times and second-best in desperate times. In prosperous times, people often overlook anything that doesn't hurt their prosperity: who cares if nepotism is the rule and not the exception? In desperate times, people are willing to overlook many things in hopes that times will improve. Well-fed people are too often willing to ignore things while well-fed, and starving people will do whatever it takes to get to eat---even at great cost to ideals or abstract values.

So, since there were some extremely wealthy folks dwelling in nice homes living off the fat of the land, and meanwhile a great many poor folks wishing for some fat, the behavior of the clergy was often overlooked. Because of a stability of descending lines and no division tolerated, the church of the time acquired a great deal of material wealth and political influence. (Side note: those who fuss that Christians have too much say in American politics need to read some history: Popes of the Middle Ages picked kings, removed kings, and such---no group has that power in America.)

Since the church structures were not completely locked into a small group of families like the nobility was, the church became the place to go for those who wanted wealth and power. While a good many basic priests, monks, nuns, and ordinary Christians worked to get through the days and tried to teach the basic faith to the generations to come, there were  a few that learned to work the system and rise the ranks. These aimed for the positions that lived in opulence that excelled kings.

Except that this opulence required funding. Lots of funding. Keep in mind that the economy of those days was "mixed:" there was some monetary, but a lot of folks lived, raised food, ate most of it and paid the rest as their taxes, tithes, tributes, and so forth. There wasn't much "money" in the hands of ordinary folks. The wealthy had it: the corrupt power-brokers in the church system wanted it. The wealthy, though, weren't parting with the wealth for no reason.

Enter guilt. Guilt is an astounding motivator. Most people know that they've done wrong things and feel guilt for it. Guilt causes people to pay an extra fee when they buy a computer for the computer company to plant a tree---even though the fee far exceeds what the person could pay to plant their own tree. Guilt causes you to buy half of your Christmas gifts. Getting guilt to go away is a big part of life. So, what can make it go away?

Well, this guilt is a psychological feeling. We're not talking forensic guilt: nothing takes away that you are guilty of stealing if you intentionally walked out of Wal-Mart without paying for those 4 flat-screen TVs. We're talking about the "I feel guilty because I haven't done x enough" guilt. And there's always something to feel that guilt about. Yet the emotions can be relieved if we're convinced that we've done something right to balance out the guilt. So, for the meanness to a cat, we adopt a stray cat. For missing an event, we buy a fancy gift.

The religious establishment of the Middle Ages found a way to capitalize on this. The church was in a position to express to people both their guilt and the release of that guilt. Moreover, the church could tell people what caused their guilt. So, the list of guilt-causing behaviors could grow. The guilt-releasing actions could be directed. This became big business---the church's power over guilt extended beyond the grave in people's mind. Guilt meant heaven, hell, or a tormented wait for heaven. You didn't want guilt and you didn't want a loved one to have it.

Enter the indulgence. An indulgence could be earned, but most were purchased and it was a release from guilt. It could even be pre-purchased: got plans for mischief? Stock up. The theology was questionable and the practice grew to abominable proportions. The wealthy would pay for the guilt they felt (probably could have alleviated it by feeding the hungry instead), the poor would pay for their guilt, and powers that held power would keep it.

That is, until the biggest salesman of indulgences hit the town of Wittenberg, Germany. The local pastor-priest was a man fed up with guilt. He had bought indulgences, gone on pilgrimages, and was now trying to teach both young priests and a congregation to alleviate his guilt. When Johann Tetzel, the indulgence salesman hit town, the pastor-priest had enough. He went to the church door, posted a list of things he wanted to have a civil, religious discussion about, and then went home. The list was long, but the statements built on each other to make a clear point.

Yet the civil discussion of theology never happened. The list was put onto a recent invention, the printing press, and spread. As did the pastor's other writings and ideas. These ideas connected with other like-minded men who came to realize that they were neither alone nor wrong. They realized something was wrong with the way things were and times had to change.

The end result was a split unlike the church had seen in about 500 years, but not one that resulted in "you stay on your side of the line, we'll stay on ours" like the Great Schism of 1054. Instead, it was one that affected the political power of the church as "the church" became "the churches" and they had to live side-by-side. No longer could one religious leader elevate or devastate the world. It was not pretty and some of the cure was as bad as the disease, but the end was born a renewed effort to base Christianity at its source: The Bible. The rallying cries of sola Scriptura & sola fide, Scripture alone and faith alone, resound through to today: pure Christianity teaches, based in the Bible, that God paid for sin through Christ and our faith cleanses us from guilt. That our obedience and loyalty are owed to the Only One, the One who died for us, who rose on the third day, and who ascended on high to reign at the right hand of God.

Would we have gotten there without Martin Luther and his 95 Theses on the door at Wittenberg, posted October 31, 1517? Possibly, and possibly not. But we owe a huge debt to the idea that the human conscience is bound captive only to God. That no authority, be it church or state, has the right to monopolize life. This is a good thing.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sermon Round-up October 30

Here's the morning audio link

There's not an evening link because I wasn't there and didn't want my fill-in to be intimidated by the recording system. Maybe next time.

Text: 1 John 2:15-17

 

  1. We are finite creatures: our ability to focus is limited

    1. Focus in attention

    2. Focus in affection

  2. These two things define our heart:

    1. Attention: what we give our mental strength to

    2. Affection: what we allow to drive our emotions

    3. With these two things, our heart is given

    4. Without them, your “whole heart” isn't really in it

  3. We can give our hearts to a variety of things:

    1. Painful:

      1. Lusts of the flesh or eyes

      2. Boastful Pride

    2. Passing:

      1. Earthly pursuits

      2. Comforts

    3. Permanent

      1. Love of the Father

      2. Will of God

  4. Where is your heart?

    1. Pleasing self at the pain of your soul?

    2. Passive and taking whatever comes?

    3. Pleasing God for permanent joy?

  5. Your choice.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Quick-hits w/e October 29, 2011

1. I own an Amazon Kindle, and love it, but I've realized something: Kindles are not high-tech books. They're fancy scrolls. Well-designed for back and forth, linear activity, but not for jumping about to various places. Apparently, we need to develop the "Kindle Codex" for that. In the meantime, would Bible developers make one for the Kindle Touch that has the old-school jump tabs on the side? Like the thumb-index Bibles for quick changes? Thanks.

2. Saw this week that Vice-President Biden is considering running in 2016. Can we please finish the 2012 election, that started last year, first? Thanks. Also, given what happened last time a VP ran: start training Florida vote counters now. And Florida voters: punch the whole chad out, ok? Thanks.

3. It is time for a mercy rule in College Football and in the NFL for all teams playing against the Colts. After a team is up by 4 touchdowns (28 points), the 22 named starters for that team must sit out. The 11 defensive starters can return if the score becomes tied. The 11 offensive starters can return if their team falls behind. Or when Peyton Manning comes back.

4. Baseball note: umpires make bad calls. This is a fact of life. When the World Series is at stake, replay might be helpful. Even if you just tell them to huddle up, debate it, and sneak a peak at the big screen. It will not slow the pace down too much. That play in Game 3? I could see it was wrong as it was happening. An umpire has two eyes. This umpire was looking at the base, the runner's feet, and the fielder's feet. He was listening for the ball to hit the glove. That's standard happenings, right there---but he could not also watch for the throw, the arm, and the tag. It's not physically possible. Get the man some help.

5. Additional baseball note: shorten the season. Start April 15. World Series ends by October 10—starts October 1. To be a new "Mr. October" you have to play in the Series. Figure out how many games you can play in the middle of those dates. More people will watch them.

6. Economics news: we're all going to die. Or at the very least, we're going to sue ourselves into distress. Apparently, something happened in the stock market when Del Monte did something with their stock, and now they're being sued class-action style. Who's got the wealth in this country? The shady lawyers. Not the honest ones. Those three are as broke as the rest of us.

7. For all the politicians, both D, R, L, and G: grasp this concept, ok? Then don't do it.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Homeschooling part 1

I thought I would take a few posts in the coming days and explain about our family. Most folks that know us know that I am the pastor of a small-town Baptist church (empirically small), and that I am married with three kids who take after their mother in all the good ways. We choose that our kids do their education, right now Kindergarten, 3rd grade, and 5th grade, here at home instead of going down the road to the county school system.

I wanted to give a little bit of perspective on reasons that we made the decision to do it this way. Some of these are fact-based reasons, some faith-based, and some emotion-based. And since none of the rest of you are the Hibbards, you've got to make your own choices anyway, but in case you're pondering what to do, here's part of how we made our decision.

First, let's hit some basics:

1. Homeschooling can be done very, very badly. In some cases, parents use homeschooling as cover for educational neglect and let their kids do nothing all the time. Some parents use it for social neglect and never let their kids interact with anybody ever.

We strive not to be that type of family. It is true that our kids don't have huge peer groups to interact with. They do, however, interact with a diverse range of people. Is it as diverse as it should be? No. We're working on that.

2. Most homeschoolers are well aware of the need to put positive effort into helping their kids overcome the drawbacks in homeschooling. That's why we get a little exasperated the fiftieth time we're asked by someone about our children's needs for "socialization." Because the question is often being asked by someone at a social event, where our children are interacting with people of a variety of ages and backgrounds, and doing so quite well. Then, we get asked "How will they learn to interact with people?" Really? Why do you think we bring them out in public at all hours of the day?

Trust me, most of us know our shortcomings and don't need your help seeing them.

3.Homeschooling should never be used to fake academic achievement. That's one problem I have with some of these "equal-access" pushes to allow homeschool participation in school extra-curricular activities. I know what my kids have done, but I don't know quite how it grades. Would they get a good enough GPA to be eligible? Well, they ought to, but is it fair?

Our version of homeschooling does have requirements and prescribed assignments and subjects. Not everyone homeschools that way, but we do.

4. This is also not about pure religious indoctrination. Yes, we blend Bible and our Christian faith into our schoolwork. It's not impossible, though, to teach your faith to your children without taking them out of school.

Homeschooling is not about building a wall that keeps the world out or blocking all alternative views. It does allow for blending more aspects into education: no one is going to sue us for our kids singing Christmas songs about Jesus in school. That has happened in public schools, and it's sad, because that's putting up a wall and blocking alternative views.

5. Most homeschoolers are not in it for the money. Truth is, we spend as little as possible but as much as necessary, and it runs about $1000 a year so far for books and materials. We could spend less if we wanted to go the library every week and more if we wanted to blow cash on more fun things. That's a cost we're wiling to pay. Most of us wouldn't mind if we got to count our education expenses as a tax deduction like college expenses are, but we can live with what we've got.

And, no, it doesn't bother me that "we pay for a school system we don't use." My parents pay taxes for the Ouachita Parish School System in Louisiana, and they don't use it. Lots of taxpayers pay for schools because of the societal benefit from them, not because of personal use. Now, am I concerned that greater dollar amounts go into schools now than did 20 years ago but we have worse results? Everybody should be concerned with that, and the solution is more complex than adjusting the dollar amount (up or down). But I don't think we're entitled to a refund just because our kids don't use the local school. (But, an income tax deduction would be nice. At the state level, since that's where most of my state income taxes go.)

That's just a few random thoughts on this. More to come later.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

You cannot preserve the status quo

I was pondering what to blog about for the day, and this thought hit me: You cannot preserve the status quo and change the world. Some wise person can probably source that and find it came from other than me. I'm okay with that and would give credit if I knew for sure where it came from. I don't but I will gladly acknowledge it could come from elsewhere.

Think about it for a minute: You cannot preserve the status quo and change the world.

If you're Ray Kroc and making a good living selling and servicing Mixmaster Milkshake Machines and walk into the McDonald Brother's Restaurant and see their operation, you can preserve the status quo: you can keep your good job and let them keep theirs.

If you're Truett Cathy and the world is obsessed with hamburgers and your restaurant is across the street from a seven-day a week manufacturing plant, you can preserve the status quo and cook hamburgers 24/7. You can make a good living, turn a profit, and drive nice cars.

If you're John Adams or Paul Revere, you can assume that kings don't give up, because they never have, and decide to keep your heads and fortunes. You can put your sacred honor safely behind preserving the status quo, and not make waves.

If you're William Wilberforce, you can assume that slavery always has been and always will be. You can see defeat by many Parliaments, and see the good that comes in men like John Newton when individuals are saved from enslaving their fellow men. You can safely preserve the economy, preserve the institutions, preserve the status quo and retire into wealthy obscurity.

If you're a kicked-out Pharisee named Saul, you can see the Way you've joined growing safely in the Jewish world. You can see that there's some movement in the rest of the world, and hope and pray that it goes smoothly and calmly. You can preserve the status quo of a division based on heritage and Law, and simply be a tentmaker in Cyprus.

If you're William Carey or Lottie Moon or Jim Elliot or a Moravian, you can look at the comfortable people sitting in church, and pray that they have good days. You can join in teaching them about the Bible and pray that God's light will shine among “the heathen.” You can preserve the status quo, go about your life, and share the Gospel with your neighbors.

OR...

You can decide to copy a great idea (with appropriate credit), and build a host of restaurants all over the place, where good quality food and friendly service makes job opportunities and wealth for you and many others. (Of course, it doesn't always work that way.)

You can decide to slap a piece of chicken on a bun instead of a slab of hamburger meat. You can close down Saturday night and open up Monday morning and focus on what is truly important to you. In the process, you can find enough income to build foster homes, give employees over $17 million in college scholarships, and still drive pretty cool cars. Oh, and how many fast-food restaurants serve chicken now? How many mall food courts are there?

You can decide that the king is not all he thinks he is and rebel. In time, your efforts for liberty lead to emancipation, women's rights, and a host of other ideas of freedom that no one imagined. An economy that could put man on the moon and, at one time, provide employment to nearly all. An economy and standard of living that astounds the world, where the ones who are poor and struggling here have things the wealthy dream of elsewhere.

You can decide that the world may have always had slaves but that it should not always have them. You can determine that the moral dimension is at least as important as the economic dimension and give your life to fighting for others to have the rights you do. You can wear yourself out fighting for “now” instead of “gradually” and die, just barely knowing the change that you have made.

You can decide that the world must hear of what you know. You can decide that even a great one such as Peter can be confronted and corrected. You can give your life traveling to places you've never seen to show the love of God to people who have never heard it. You can plan on places like Rome and Spain and the extremes of the Empire and see to it that it happens.

You can decide that comfort means nothing if the world is perishing. You can decide that what you have always known, what you have always done, is not going to be enough. You can sacrifice, pray, give, go, and do, you can live out what is most precious to you and give it your last breath.

You cannot preserve the status quo and change the world. So choose. Because you're going to do one or the other. Choose.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

BookTuesday: Has God Spoken?

I spend a great deal of time trying to help people see that the Bible is a trustworthy book. In fact, my effort is to persuade more than mere trustworthiness, but to show that the Bible can be trusted as divinely inspired and without any error. It's a discussion that comes up with people in church, out of church, and even those who are 'in ministry.' Most of the information I tend to use comes from a hodge-podge of sermon notes, lecture notes, book comments, and websites.

The information is good and reliable, but most of what I have is chaotic in nature. Into this scene comes Hank Hanegraaff's new book, Has God Spoken?

Has God Spoken?: Proof of the Bible’s Divine Inspiration

Hanegraaff presents arguments and evidence sets that I have seen in other places and from other writers and speakers. He has some newer material, but most of that newer material is about the critics of the Bible and not about evidence for the Bible. It's interesting to note that the names of the critics have changed, but the answer remains very similar: the Bible can be trusted.

Has God Spoken? has its strength not in the arguments present, but rather in the organization and skill with which they are presented. It is clear that Hanegraaff's main work is teaching people out of an academic environment. His work is not light and fluffy, but it is organized for easy recall. This book utilizes interwoven acronyms to help the reader trace the line of thought.

His overall theme is "MAPS:" that Manuscript c-o-p-i-e-s, the Archaeologist's s-p-a-d-e, Prophetic s-t-a-r-s, and Scriptural l-i-g-h-t-s support the truth of the Bible. The spelled out words are the acronyms for those sections.

This structure makes the work helpful and easy to grasp.

As to shortfalls in this work, I'd raise the question of whether or not the material is dated because I've heard most of it, but I do spend a lot of effort to stay pretty caught up in this field. So, I've probably read or heard a lot of the same basic reports that Hanegraaff based the work on. That's not much of a weakness. Hanegraaff presents the info well, as I've already said.

I think if I were to find one fault, it's this: Hanegraaff gives a fair amount of type and space to those who contradict the Bible. He will spend several pages detailing the faults that, for example, Bart Ehrman finds with the New Testament, and then set out to explain the case for Scripture. That's not quite the type of argument I'd prefer to see. I'd rather see the positive case for Scripture given and then rebuttals to criticisms that arise.

I'd also prefer to present the criticisms without names. Footnotes (or endnotes, but footnotes are better) are the place to cite names and works. Why? What happens if Bart Ehrman recants and joins the Evangelical Theological Society next year? A book that would be useful for Bible students, which Has God Spoken? is, now seems too dated and out of touch. After all, it's a book to counter Ehrman, right?

It's not. Yet some chapters would have the reader thinking it is. The emphasis on critics, especially the current ones, is a weakness here. I would attribute that to Hanegraaff's primary work: radio/internet teaching. He's normally responding to the question of the moment. In this field, Ehrman is the question of the moment. Unfortunately, focusing a book on moment questions gives it a bit of a weakness.

Not enough of one, though, to discard the book. Hopefully this one will still be being read and utilized when the name of Ehrman goes the way of the Colossian Heresy: unknown but for the continuing existence of the rebuttals.

Doug

 

(Note: free book from Booksneeze in exchange for the review!)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sermon Recap Oct. 23

Morning Audio is in this link

Evening Audio in this link.

(Or you could copy and paste this into iTunes or another Podcast software and get these things automatically: http://feeds.feedburner.com/DougHibbardPodcast
but that’s up to you.)

 

Sunday morning we were in 1 John 2:7-11. Here’s the outline:

1. New commandment/Old Commandment: 

Not a new set of laws or legalistic followings

Yet still a command

Not a novelty or unheard of thought,

But one that echoes from the Beginning

2. The Light is shining

God's people follow it.

God's people follow it together.

God's people follow it together in harmony.

God's people follow it together in harmony without hatred.

The closing challenge was this: write down the names of 3 people:

1. A person in your own household

2. A person in church that you don’t know/are not super-relational with.

3. A person that is not in church anywhere: either never has been or used-to-be way back when…

Once you have those three names, here’s what to do with the names:

Every time you eat this week, pray for those three people. Pray that: 1. God would work in their lives. Nothing more specific is necessary: you don’t have to detail what you think God should do. You probably shouldn’t do that anyway. 2. That God will show you how to show love to that person this week.

That’s it. Every time you eat. Meals, snacks, every time. Pray for these folks.

And when God answers part #2: do it. Don’t pray for God to provide an answer and then ignore Him. That’s not a good plan.

Evening sermon was 1 John 2:12-14. Here’s the outline:

1. Little Children: those who are fresh to the kingdom

2. Fathers: Those who have long been in the kingdom as well as carrying other wisdom

3. Young men: those in the middle.

Fundamentals:

1. All know the Father. All have been forgiven---for the sake of the name of Christ.

2. Young men: have the Word, have strength, and have overcome the evil one

     A. understand "overcome the evil one" as making the first strides towards maturity    

     B. The first target is derailing new or undiscipled believers

3. Fathers: wisdom. From both time in serving the Lord God and from life.

Closing challenge: find people to grow with. People that you can help grow, and seek out those who can help you grow. And do it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Does it matter #1: Theology

Some time past, I told you to look for occasional posts in the vein of asking the question: “Does it matter?”

Here’s the first question to ask and answer: Does theology matter?

The answer is yes. You didn’t come for that simple of an answer, though, did you?

First point to address is the definition of theology. Taken at its simplest level, theology is the study of God. If you push, you could also say the study of gods or the gods and take the definition back from monotheism to simply theism. (Theism being the belief system that there’s some form of God/god somewhere.)

That’s really it. It’s something that nearly everyone does. If you have beliefs about God, you “do theology.” You may be doing it wrong, but you’re doing it just the same. Even atheists do theology: they’ve decided what they believe about God: that there is none. While some will say that’s not belief, it’s provable fact, that’s an unscientific viewpoint. There is no verifiable, objective test to prove or disprove the existence of Deity, so it does come back to a belief.

Now, whether you believe that God is the same as the God revealed in the Bible or is the same as the Allah of the Koran or is the same as the pantheon (group of gods) on Mount Olympus comes back to your theology.

So, the first reason that theology matters is that everyone (nearly) does it. Only those who have never considered spiritual beliefs of any sort don’t have a theology. Understand this: it’s a fancy-sounding word that stands in for the phrase “whatever you believe about God to be true and the methods by which you decided it was true.” See why there’s one word?

The second half of the long definition above is an additional aspect that needs discussion. Theology encompasses not just what you believe but how you came to that conclusion. Did you reach that conclusion through logic? Revelation? Dream-seeking? Listening to authoritative others? Studying pressed rose leaves?

What we believe hinges, in no small part, on how we get to the answer. Unlike other sciences (for many centuries theology was classed as a science: the underlying connection being that there is an objective reality to be studied) that can generally assert a method apart from a question, theology’s methods drive the questions. Astronomy can define its method as observing the observable universe, biology can define how to use a microscope to look at paramecia, but theology cannot define how to determine the reality of God without taking a guess or two first.

We have to start with an assumption about whether or not there is a God: we have evidences, but do we have certainty? That depends on your method: I, personally, find that God has chosen to reveal truths about God. My theology is based in God’s revelation of God. From that point, I look at the Bible as God’s revelation of Himself and Creation as a general portion of His revelation.

Yet that is not the only method. Some use logic alone, some use feelings or hopes, others impressions. For the one who uses logic, their picture of God will change depending on the logic system they use. Feelings change, so a theology based in feelings will shift.

It matters---how we reach those answers matters.

In conclusion, theology matters because we will then act based on our theology. If we believe in a God, we will act differently than if we don’t. If we believe in a God who reveals Himself, we will search for that revelation. If we have a theology that’s based on our own happiness, we’ll seek that instead.

Theology matters. It’s not just a fancy subject for Bible nerds. We Bible nerds do like it, but it’s more than just that.

Doug

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

BookTuesday: A Heart for Freedom

Today's book comes from Tyndale Publishers, who graciously provided me a nice, hardcover book in exchange for the review.

It's called A Heart for Freedom and authored by Chai Ling. Here's the cover:

A Heart for Freedom: The Remarkable Journey of a Young Dissident, Her Daring Escape, and Her Quest to Free China's Daughters

I remember being in Junior High school during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in Beijing in 1989. At the time, I didn't know what to make of the whole thing: I knew China was a country dominated by communism, but what do you make of people that just won't go to work, school, or whatever and hang around and protest? Besides, if they were really that oppressed, how do they know about freedom and where's the news coming from?

All that changed in early June when the news carried video of tanks and soldiers clearing Tiananmen Square. As a middle-class American kid, I had harbored doubts about people that didn't go home when their parents or the police told them to…I was, after all, 12. Yet when I saw that what these people were protesting was a government that used armor and infantry against signs and megaphones, that sealed in my mind that the protester were right, and they deserved to be added to the colonists of Lexington, Concord, and Boston.

But freedom didn't come to China in those months. I remember the breakdown of communist control in Poland, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and German reunification. Yet China didn't change.

I've wondered, off and on through the years, what happened to the people involved. Not having studied much about it, I've never known names.

Until now.

After reading this book, I've learned a few names. The author mentions them, because she was there. She also mentions some of the information about what happened to the students and others involved in the protesting. And had this book been only a memoir of the events leading up to Jun 4, 1989, it would be a worthwhile read. For every one of us who wants to protest filling out an extra form to buy a gun, for every person who thinks the government is the solution to our problems, for every person who wants to dismantle the American system, that book needs to be read: in Tiananmen, there was something to fight for, something to die for, something to rise up and remove.

Yet this book is not that memoir. Certainly, a great deal of space is dedicated to the events of that year. I can see two reasons for that: 1. It will help sell the book; 2. Those events were key in Chai Ling's life. Her plans, her future, and her present life were destroyed that day. What she became had to change, between the protests, the violence, and the time in hiding before fleeing China.

This book, though, is about more than these things. It starts with her life as a young child, how she was raised, what she was taught. Her writing puts a human view on China: this is not a faceless, evil land. It is a land of many people, most compassionate, loving, and just trying to survive and raise families. The evil is not the people at large, but the system and those it has empowered.

Further, this book follows Chai Ling's life since Tiananmen, her coming to America and becoming a successful business woman. Her finding happiness in marriage. And, at the pinnacle, her coming to faith in Jesus Christ.

The book then works through how she is striving to live out that faith when combined with her love of China and the people there. She speaks of her work on behalf of the women of China, and the activism that has led to her being nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. (I would also assume that her commitment to non-violence at Tiananmen is involved in that nomination as well: here is one who did something for peace by doing nothing.)

What can I say about this book?

That it should be read. My daughters will be expected to read this book in the coming years. I want them to see an important picture: a woman who stood for what is right and continues to do so. They expect to see that in their mother, but I want them to see that there is a world out there where evil abounds, but people rise up against it just the same. I want them to have heroes who are real, who have struggled, but who are working to overcome. And those heroes don't have to all have the same last name as they do.

I urge you to read this book.

I would also urge you to check out http://www.allgirlsallowed.org which is the website for Chai Ling's efforts on behalf of Chinese girls and women.

Doug

Monday, October 17, 2011

Sermon Roundup October 16

Sunday Morning Audio Link is here

I. Holiness and perfection of God:

A. Perfect, with no darkness or evil

B. No weakness either.

II. Where do we fellowship?

A. If we have darkness, can we fellowship with God?

B. Only when we have been cleansed by the blood of Christ, the atonement God made for us, can we fellowship with God

III. Our fellowship with each other hinges on our relationship with God

 

Sunday Evening Audio Link is here

A. Salvation is by grace through faith

B. Salvation leads to us obeying Christ

1. Works do not make us righteous

2. Works do not even earn us a favorable response from God

3. Works are part of our response of gratitude to God: we live in holiness because we can and we want to---if our hearts are made new in Christ.

 

Note: I'm going to try a little harder to get written outlines this week. Hopefully something that will preach and blog!

Doug

Friday, October 14, 2011

A few quick questions

1. Did the Occupy Little Rock protest pick this weekend because it's a bye week for the Razorbacks?

2. If we're supposed to acknowledge that the "Occupy" groups are not defined by the radical fruitcakes among them, like the guy in Los Angeles calling for a revolution like the French Revolution, can we apply that to the Tea Party type folks as well? You know, the other batch of ordinary Americans that would like to be left alone by the government and voice their anger? Or does that only apply to this group?

3. Does Michele Bachmann really think people will vote for her when she suggests silly things like flipping over the "9-9-9" of Herman Cain's tax plan to see that it becomes "6-6-6"? There's a decent question or two about the merits of Cain's plan, but really, flip over the numbers?

4. When classifying religious beliefs, you're either a "religion" or a "cult." A "religion" claims to stand on its own two feet. A "cult" claims to be part of a "religion" that doesn't want it. The line is blurry, and the word "cult" gets pretty loaded because of groups like Jim Jones and David Koresh, but that's the use of it. So, a group that claims to be "Christian" or "Muslim" but is not considered to be so by the mainstream of those religions would be labeled a "cult" by the mainstream. So, is Mormonism a cult? If they claim to be a branch of mainstream Christianity, than yes. If they claim to be a different religion altogether, one that has similarities to Christianity but stands on its own, then no. So, ask a Mormon if a Baptist is a Christian that would be acceptable to their religion to balance the rhetoric about Jeffress' statement about Romney. 

Meanwhile, I'd vote against Romney because he's about as liberal as you can be and get past the guard dogs with tinfoil hats at party headquarters. If he gets to the general election, I'll vote for him then---but for now, I'd lean between Cain and…..not sure. Perry annoys me, Bachmann's not much better, and Ron Paul's world doesn't meet reality enough. Who else is left? Especially with me not running…

5. Would it be possible to shorten the campaign season rather than lengthen it? Primaries in the summer, election in the fall, perhaps? It's not like we're really vetting these candidates anyway.

6. Irony: that Occupy Wherever people are using free, corporate paid-for social media to organize and operate their actions. Additional irony: that Tea Party folks use tax-funded streets and police for protection. Although, admittedly, most of us Tea Party types would gladly handle our own protection if the police would let us.

7. Meanwhile, fellow preachers: do we really want to tie our credibility regarding the Gospel, the Word of God, and righteousness to any of these candidates? Or any party? Honestly? A committed Christian who truly lived, voted, and guided the country based on Scripture would have to form a third-party to have a platform. So, can we spend our effort better? From time to time, sure, say something---but put the best of your resources behind spreading the Gospel. After all, we're not about a President anyway. We're all about a King.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What is your Christian Experience?

For some non-work paperwork that I’ve been working on today, I am having to write out the answer to this question: What is your past Christian Experience? That’s gotten my thinking. A lot.

Why? There’s a couple of things involved in my mind.

Number 1: It’s a hard-simple question in general. I can tell you about being raised in a believing family, about becoming a believer in Christ myself, and that I’ve grown (hopefully) in faith since then. But at the same time, there’s much more to “Christian Experience” than just the date on a baptism certificate. There are the ways that I’ve grown, stumbled, and gotten back up. The influences that have been there along the way.

And what are the current influences? How has this shaped me or that event affected me? It’s a remarkable mass of situations to put together. And then to reduce to a page or two---that’s the rub!

Number 2: I’ve had to do this before. Many times for different reasons---and I’m sitting here wondering what the comparison would be between prior answers and the one I’ll get written today. How have I changed over the years in my own perception of what “Christian experience” means? What is different about that? When I went to seminary, all I wrote out was my testimony of salvation and baptism. Yet those brief moments do not an instant Christian make: there is more to life than that.

The idea of your own Christian experience should have grown as you’ve grown in faith. It’s not static: both your own testimony should record growth, but also how you see it should mature as well. If it all reads like cut and paste from a testimony book, it’s probably not what it should be. It would be well worth your time to stop and consider the question. You may not be as articulate as others, but it’s your own story---be able to put it together and share it.

 

Doug

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

4 Things a Church MUST Do

These are not original to me. The inimitable Gregg Greenway, pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Stuttgart, Arkansas, shared these Monday night at the annual meeting of our Baptist Association. He spoke about four things that a church must do if they're going to survive as a church. There were several Scripture references under each one, and I didn't write them all down. I'll give you what I remember. Here they are:

1. Preach the Word: that church which does not grow spiritually in discipleship on a steady stream of the Word of God will cease to be a church that is a force for the Kingdom of God. The Word of God must be preached/taught/shared/learned/use-whatever-verb-fits-for-explaining-and-understanding or the individual local church is done for. No matter the denomination.

2. Pray. Why in the world do we have to say this? But we do: too many Western Christians just don't pray. Too many Western Churches just don't pray. If you are not pouring out before God for Him to work, then you're not doing anything worth doing, because it's all trivial. If you're not praying, it's because you think God is unnecessary to your plan. Is that a church of the Living God?

3. Evangelize: there are people within rock-throwin' distance of most Christians that do not know Jesus. If church people aren't telling others about Jesus, who will? TV preachers? Honestly, folks, find someone to tell about Jesus, and do it now. Then find someone else and do it again.

4. Get Along: If you're fighting in church, are you accomplishing anything useful? Not likely. You're too busy fighting. Stop it. If it's not about immorality or heresy, why are you stressed about it? We fail on this because we're not doing the first 3 things. We need to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and learn to get along with each other. After all, that other guy in church? He's likely to be in heaven with you. What are you going to do if his room in the many mansions (John 14:1-6) is next to yours? Practice now.

This is just a summary, but I think you get the idea. Bro. Gregg Greenway preached this October 10, 2011, at Southside Baptist in Stuttgart. If you're in Stuttgart, go hear him on a Sunday. It won't hurt you one bit.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

BookTuesday: Pershing

In my ever-running effort to post later and later each day, this afternoon I've got a book review for you. It is one of the latest in Thomas Nelson's The Generals Series, and the General in this case General Pershing. The full title is Pershing: Commander of the Great War. I received a free copy from BookSneeze, and you can buy it from Amazon here:

Pershing: Commander of the Great War (The Generals)

Notes on The Generals series: these books are written to provide short biographies of some of the great military leaders of American History. One of the intentions is to include a look at the personal and religious life of the generals in question as well as their military success. I've reviewed MacArthur from this series and Ann has reviewed Washington and Lee. At present, the only other title in the series is Sherman.

John Perry has tackled several biographies, including the aforementioned biography of Lee in this series. Here, he crafts a compelling tale of General "Black Jack" Pershing who commanded the American Expeditionary Force during the Great War, World War I. Pershing is perhaps the least known of the few Generals of the Army that the United States has had.

The book covers the span of Pershing's life, beginning with his first memories of a border battle in the Civil War. Further details about the early life of Pershing include his teaching of children of former slaves and the impact of the end of the Franco-Prussian War on his family. The first chapter moves at a great clip from the childhood of Pershing to his graduation from West Point.

The following chapters summarize Pershing's life in the military. His personal life is mentioned but not heavily dwelt on until his marriage, and his religious beliefs are vaguely alluded to at one point. Perry gives the reader a look at where Pershing served, what his life was like, and where he went next.

Details are served in highlighting short incidents, with an eye toward illuminating the man through vignettes. Those details flesh out his family life, including the tragedy of losing his wife and daughters to a house fire. Further information shows Pershing as a man willing to not only fight but also negotiate, and one more tolerant than many others of his day.

Perry gives a great deal more detail of Pershing's war years in 1917-1918. This is, arguably, the time more people are interested in, so more detail is helpful. The reader is presented with a picture of a man who saw the need for war but wept over the first American casualties in combat. One who demanded perfection on seemingly trivial details, but did so in hopes of making better soldiers of his men.

The book then moves rapidly through the waning years of Pershing's life, including his warnings about the rise of Germany in the 1930s and his heartbrokenness at the outbreak of World War II. This was a man who fought the War to End All Wars, and yet it did not last. Here was a soldier who longed for a life away from the battlefield: in law or in teaching for himself, in whatever peaceful pursuits for everyone else, yet did not flinch to handle his duty when the time came.

In all, I feel like I know a little more about General Pershing at the end of this. I saw some of his faults, some of his personality quirks, and some traits not worth emulating. I also saw his greatness, his compassion, and his genius. Perry has provided a sweeping portrait of the man, and it's one worth having.

Recommended for history buffs, students, and military folks. And for those who think that the military are always the ones that want war: you see in Pershing as in others that it's often the politicians that want war. Soldiers know what happens in war and would avoid it if possible.

Doug

Free book from Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for the review. A hardcover, at that, but still---no influence, no demands. Just honest reviews for a free book.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sunday Recap Oct 10

Sunday morning we heard from David Horton of the Gideons International about the work of the Gideons to spread the Word of God. I’d encourage you to check out their information. As I said Sunday, while I’m a firm believer and strong supporter of most everything Southern Baptists do through the Cooperative Program and all the missions and ministry involved, I don’t think you would go wrong supporting the Gideons and Wycliffe Bible Translators either.

Sunday night we started into 1 John. We’re going to be there for the next few weeks looking at what the Apostle John has to say in this book. Here’s the link to last night’s sermon audio post. You can pull the feed here, but if that doesn’t make sense for you, just skip it.

A little background on 1 John: if you want to grab a good debate about authorship, I’ll point you to Pate’s

The Writings of John: A Survey of the Gospel, Epistles, and Apocalypse

I’ll side with the majority of tradition here: the Apostle John wrote the Gospel of John, 1, 2, and 3 John, and Revelation. There are some other suggestions, namely that an early church leader named “John” wrote some of these or that John’s disciples may have written portions. The evidence is there and worth examining, but I’d stick with the traditional interpretation for now.

John begins with the reminder that he, and those with him, are not merely making up what they are teaching and preaching. Rather, that it is a matter of eyewitness record---not only John but others have seen and heard.

So, there will be more on 1 John in the weeks to come!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Presidential Campaign Announcement

While no one has asked for this information:

Due to the Hibbard for President 2012 Exploratory Committee receiving precisely $0 in donations, I feel that the time is not right for me to enter the Presidential Campaign. At the present time, I make no endorsement of a specific current candidate. I remain available for any position in the upcoming administration, including Vice President and Cabinet positions.

So, I join Chris Christie, Sarah Palin, and Mike Huckabee as a person who would have lost either the nomination or the general election choosing not to run. I do look forward to my interview coming up on Fox, MSNBC, CNN, or, at the very least, The Cooking Channel.

Thank you to all who helped me make this decision by not giving me a dime. Your clarity of purpose for the upcoming election is something you can always be proud of: you made my non-election happen.

And really, folks, that's a good thing. For all of us. Smile

(If you can't at least chuckle at this, please just go on about your business. There's some good blogs elsewhere to read. My brain is toast).

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Does it matter? The Introduction

For some time now, I've been a little spotty with the blog writing. I'm supposed to be writing for my own dear readers here and for the occasional post at a team blogging project that I'm one of the low-end contributors.

Part of my difficulty has been knowing what to write to you dear folks who take the time to read my writings. I was using the leftover material from sermons, but I felt like that was just beating those passages to death. I may bring that back if I can find a way to focus it better.

Considering that, on top of being the least famous blogger in Almyra, I'm also trying to keep up with real work and school work, I was looking for some method to keep fresh ideas without spending hours every day on the ole' blog.

So, I'm going to work my way into a couple of different series of blog posts. Here's the one I'm going to start with: Does it matter?

Why?

I spend a lot of time in research and learning, reading and writing. Right now, I'm working on a school project for Systematic Theology about the authority of the Bible, and the big issue isn't filling 10 pages, it's reducing to it. Last year I wrote more than 20 on an old British monk who is known as The Venerable Bede, and had to reduce it for school. I'm reading on the history of churches east of the Roman Empire in the first millennium after Christ as well as a few other, lesser tasks.

That's all in what time isn't spent on preaching and teaching (which need a lot of preparation work) or refreshing my memory for Greek.

And I began to wonder "Why do I do this stuff?" There's days I don't enjoy it, times this is no fun. Why do it? Ultimately, I reduced that question to this: "Does it matter?"

That's an important question. Partly because if it doesn't, then I should do other things. Also, though, because if the stuff I spend my time on doesn't matter, do I? Really and truly?

I can't really answer the second question without taking apart the first one. So, if you, my beloved audience, will take a read in from time to time, you can be the hands involved answering both questions: "Does it matter?" and the bigger question, "Do I matter?"

What I intend to do is find various items and activities, habits and decisions, to fill in for "it" in the question. Does Theology Matter? Does my vote matter? Do politics matter? Does education, prayer, exercise, reading, writing, family----well, you get the point.

I won't guarantee the results: I will make the case for whatever subject I find and we'll see about them all. Some things might not matter: if so, let's look at how to cut them out.

Look for the first installment in "Does it matter" soon. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow—but someday.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Genesis 1-25 Recap Part I

So, last week I gave you Part II and said that Part I would come. I may have suggested Friday, but it didn't happen. Sorry about that.

However, better late than never, so here it is:

Genesis 1-11 are the chapters that address more than the origin of Israel in the Biblical narrative. These chapters address the origin of everything. This is the contextual foundation for the rest of the Bible: if Genesis 12 begins the story of God's work to redeem mankind back to Himself, why do we need redeemed?

Abraham is called out from amidst a group of people---where did they come from? When you get to the Cross of Christ and the substitution of the Son of God in death for us, the question becomes: Was there not another way?

Genesis 1 through 11 helps us see the truth about these answers:

We need redeemed because we're broken. Dead, really, but broken works if you think of us as broken like a plate glass window: uselessly broken, hopelessly broken.We see that in the first 4 chapters. God creates a very good world, and Adam and Eve sin and bring death into the world. To reinforce that it wasn't an isolated incident, we see that  Cain and Abel still had trouble. It's not a few people that are dead in their trespasses, it's all of humanity.

Abraham is called out from the people who stayed fairly near to the Tower of Babel after God scattered the world and confounded their language. When you look in Genesis 11, God scatters the people by moving from one language to a polyglot of all sorts of tongues and speeches. God does this in judgment and most people scatter. A few stay nearby---and this is the culture from which Abraham is called. The ones so stubborn that they didn't leave the scene of the crime. You might think it was because they had a cleaner conscience. I think it's because they were stubborn.

As to the final question: was there not another way? When we read Genesis 1-11 we see that, no, there wasn't. We see that all of Creation is corrupt: man was the final point, and man wrecked himself. That trickles down, like a virus spreads. We see in the time of Noah that God removed all the people except for one faithful family, and still that led to a continuation of sinfulness.

The first 11 chapters of the Scriptures give us this fact: mankind's problems are not on the outside. It's not the environment or the temptations or even the other people. It's in the heart. Even without the other sinners, even with seeing God's judgment, man still slides away from God.

Man is defective on the inside: we've inherited that ever since Adam and Eve brought it in. And it takes the work of the Holy God of the universe to fix it. It takes redemption that pays the penalty for sin alongside regeneration to start us afresh with a heart to know God and follow Him.

The first 11 chapters of Genesis show me one thing above all the other truths that are revealed there:

We had to have the Cross. The sinless Son of God had to die for us, be raised, and ascend. Without this, we have no hope. The Almighty God knew it from Creation: it was His plan all along.

Surrender to it, and become a part of the redemption and regeneration. It is more than part of what you need. It's all of it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

BookTuesday: The World-Tilting Gospel #twtg

Back on Tuesdays with BookTuesday! This is good. Of course, not being up earlier in the day is a slip, but, these things happen.

Today, I want to point you to a book that I count as well-worth your time. It's The World-Tilting Gospel by Dan Phillips. The subtitle of "Embracing a Biblical Worldview & Hanging on Tight" sums the book up well, but I'd like to look through a few things in it. First of all, here's the cover:

The World-Tilting Gospel: Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight

Now, to the book:

Purpose: the author, in his introduction, makes the claim that modern Evangelicalism has lost something the early church had. He points to Acts 17:6-7 where the Christians are accused of "turning the world upside-down" and questions: why do modern Evangelical Christians not get accused of the same thing?  In other words, what did that group of under-trained social outcasts of the 1st Century have that we don't have?

His purpose, plainly stated, is to diagnose what's missing and provide sound, Biblical recourse to correct it. This book is intended to help the reader find where and how the Bible corrects our problem.

How does the author work towards this goal? He breaks the book down into four major sections. The first addresses the state of mankind: Phillips' theological assumption is that of totally hopeless, spiritually dead humanity. The first chapters of the book make the case for this assumption. The case is well-made: given that it's the truth, that's no surprise.

The next section addresses God's work to save, heal, and perfect fallen humanity. Phillips makes the case that God worked to save us not because He needed us, but rather that it was simply His will and plan from the beginning. The next section addresses the basic idea of what happens in people when God saves them: we are justified, or counted righteous, and regenerated, or born again. Phillips explains in detail---and those two chapters are worth the price of the book (note: as of today, the book is free on Kindle, but that's not the price I mean. Some things are priceless, some are worthless. If this book's free, it's being priceless).

The final section is the real strength of the book: practical application, with a few rebuttals of current fluffy-thinking built into it. Phillips addresses just how he sees the Christian should be living and acting in response to the sections that have gone before. He also dismantles a few of the arguments that speak against personal responsibility on the part of Christians for their own holiness. Some of the movements he addresses were probably not as guilty of the crimes of excess he mentions, but their successors are. (Much like the Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice would probably be angry with the state of Baptist missionary endeavor.

Does it come together? After all, if the last 120 pages are the practical, application section, what good are the preceding 180 pages? I'll answer your question with a question: Do you trust your doctor because he knows to stop the bleeding or because he knows how important the blood is to your body?

In a pinch, someone that knows to stop the bleeding is fine, but in the long run, you put your trust in those who know not just "what" but also "how" and furthermore, "why." You could take the "how" section of the book, but you'll find yourself asking "why do what?" Instead, by taking the time to establish the underlying principle of God's work of salvation, Phillips provides more than another how-to book. He provides the foundation for why one should keep going even when the feelings or results don't seem to be there: the Gospel is the reason.

The only fault I would find with this book is a bit picky, but here it is: I understand that all Bible translations make choices and sometimes mask original forms, especially in poetry. For my part, though, in this kind of book I prefer to see authors use established translations rather than do their own. At the very least, I'd rather see an available translation shown alongside points of the author's own translation when the author uses his own. Phillips utilizes his own translation where he feels it better shows the original intent. However, the reader is left to wonder: why change it? Is it to better reflect the original or to reinforce his own point?

On that, in a scholarly work or a reference work, I'm more than happy to see an author's own translation. Typically I use those alongside a printed Bible and compare, and usually the author justifies his differences in those.

However: that's no reason not to buy, read, re-read, and distribute this book. In fact, I doubt that the author would object to you grabbing a Bible and comparing his translation to what you have. I'm sure he'd recommend you use an ESV and not The Message, but so would I. (Though I really, really prefer NASB. That's another discussion.)

Grab a copy of this book. Looking for a study group book? Don't go fluffy. Grab this one for everybody in the class.

Because, really, we're supposed to be turning the world upside-down. We have no excuse not to—only our own choices hold us back. So let's get to it.

Doug

[Update: forgot the disclosure: yes it was a free book. No, Kregel didn't ask me to be positive, just to be honest. And I would have bought this one anyway---although getting it free on Kindle right now would have worked to.]

Sermon and Service Recap for November 8

Looks like I forgot to post this! Thank you!