Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"God Is Love" and Election

There is a question which I hear a lot. I hear it often enough that it deserves some attention. The question is, to state it plainly, about the doctrine of election and the doctrine of God's love. If election is true, then how does God call Himself love when the majority of His creation is going to be separated from Him for all eternity?

The first thing to do when approaching this question is to get the concepts right from the get-go. When most people hear the phrase "God is love," they think to themselves that it means "God loves me." In reality, it is a statement that is rooted in the ontology (the nature) of God's very character. If God is love, then He has always eternally been love; and this love cannot be predicated merely upon the existence of human beings. Otherwise, John would have rooted the concept of God's love in mankind. Rather, the Apostle John says, "God is love." God loves Himself, and has always loved Himself. All of his action reflects a love of and a commitment to His own name, his own glory, his own fame, etc. This relates to the doctrine of divine simplicity in that even God's wrath is loving, because it contains no compromise of Himself. When God is wrathful, he is upholding and loving His own name, His own glory, by punishing those who slight it.

So the idea that God loves Himself does not exclude His showing that love which He already has to humanity. But all deeds and expressions of love which God demonstrates serve this primary purpose: expressing God's self-love. If this does not happen, then God's love is compromised. It becomes an idolatrous and unfaithful kind of love. Any and everything which God does is rooted in love... of Himself, first and foremost.

So when we see God's wrath, we are seeing love. Albeit, a very God-centered type of love which most evangelicals have scarcely ever considered. In the same way, when we hear and receive the offer of salvation found in Jesus, we are also seeing God's love for Himself. This salvation serves to emphasize and display God's graciousness to his enemies. Evangelicals, for the most part, have exclusivized God's love to this second manifestation. They can scarcely see what is so loving about God's wrath, but they think they see lots of loving things about His mercy.

If we have really been thinking in this way, then we will be more troubled by salvation than we will by damnation. Salvation presents enormous problems for God's love. This is because in salvation, we have God, a good judge, acting like a bad judge and acquitting the guilty. He appears to regard His own name lightly. In saving sinners, He appears not to love and defend His own name. There are far more problems in God's pardoning the wicked than there are in his executing justice upon deserving sinners.

So look at the complaint before us, once again. "How does God call Himself love when the majority of His creation is going to be separated from Him for all eternity?" The question assumes that the height of love is for the creature to find union with God in eternity. And no doubt, there is a tremendous amount of truth to that - especially from the human perspective. But when looked at from the divine perspective, the complaint becomes a wash. "God is love" is compatible with any and all of God's actions, so long as He is always acting in a way which primarily promotes His own fame.

This understanding of God's essence as "loving" lays the essential groundwork for a true, robust, Biblically faithful understanding of election. If we don't have this groundwork, then we'll constantly be saying, "But He could have done more! He could have been more loving!" These complaints fall away once we can see God's love in his wrath and his justice. The Biblical mindset, then, does not protest, but instead cries out, "Show us your glory! Show us your justice! Show us your grace! Show us Yourself!" It does not - nay, it cannot - complain that God has not been enough of this, or enough of that.

We ought to consider, as well, that the number of the elect who will inhabit heaven and worship the Lord of Glory will be more numerous than the sands of the sea (Jer. 33:22). This is no small number. I have pointed out in another post that around 635 billion people are estimated to have lived throughout history. If even a small fraction of this number receive the gift of salvation, then we would regard the population of heaven as being numberless. Consider that the population of Phoenix, AZ, where I used to live has a population of around 4.3 million. I daresay that if God had only saved 4 million people in all of human history, we ought to consider it a tremendous number. And yet the number is surely even larger than that. The hosts of heaven will be so many that we will be daunted by the men and women purchased by our Lord.

Given what I have already said, even here there is no room to complain. There is no room to struggle against the doctrine of election or the number of the saved. Any complaint or charge of injustice or cruelty on the part of God is dwarfed by the love of God for Himself and His own name.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Putting the Historical Population Into Perspective

It is estimated that 271 million people lived in the world prior to the time of Christ. Since the coming of Jesus, 635 billion have been born and died.* To put this into perspective, I created this graph to accurately represent the ratio in visible form:


I'm not even sure you can see the blue section that represents the world population, B.C. but it is the thin blue sliver in the top of the chart. So in all of history, it is estimated that roughly 635.3 billion people have walked the earth, and of that number, only 0.3 billion lived prior to the sacrifice of Christ and the ingrafting of the Gentiles into the seed of Abraham.

I'm sure that this data has apologetic significance. Especially for those who think it was cruel of God to wait thousands of years into human history before sending the Savior to redeem the world.

*I got this data from Wikipedia, so if Dave in Cincinatti decides to revise the world population, then this chart will have to be modified, as well.

R.C. Sproul's Commentary on John Free Today for Kindle

Many thanks to Reformation Trust for giving us a truly exciting Cyber Monday. For the rest of the day, R.C. Sproul's John from the St. Andrews Expositional Commentary Series has been made available for free on the Amazon Kindle. Here is Amazon's description of the book and its origin:
In John, Dr. Sproul confesses that he attained a new depth of understanding of the Gospel when he preached through the book. Nevertheless, he came to the Gospel after much study of it, and that familiarity is readily apparent from the first chapter on the Prologue of John's Gospel to the final chapter on Peter's restoration.

John includes fifty-seven chapters, each of which began as a St. Andrew's sermon. Dr. Sproul deals with major themes as he moves through the book passage by passage. Though the book is an "expositional commentary" that is, it does not deal with each and every verse, it unpacks major themes in Dr. Sproul's easily understandable style. Readers will find invaluable insights into the goals John had in writing his Gospel, the background for Jesus' time, and the meanings of some of John's most difficult passages.

John is an easily readable introduction to this unique record of Jesus' life, packed with insights and exhortations that will draw the reader closer to the Savior and encourage him or her to a greater depth of love and devotion to Him.

Let me just say that you can still download and read this book on your computer, even if you don't have a Kindle (yet). You can learn about reading these books on your computer here.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Turning Tail on Black Friday (And Repenting)

Here's the thing, folks. Just because I believe in Total Depravity does not mean that I wish to be a willing party in displaying its reality to all the watching world. I am, of course, referring to the absolutely insane dash for cash and prizes that Americans term 'Black Friday.' I understand that the name refers to retailers actually making a profit. But believe me when I say that there is evil afoot, and it is a dark and ominous evil; which renders the day's name all to appropriate.

I will confess; I originally intended to go to Walmart at midnight because I heard from their ad that I could get a Buzz and Jessie doll (from Toy Story) for $15 (marked down from $25). These were two toys my wife and I had decided we would purchase for our children for Christmas, and the prospect of saving $20 piqued my curiosity.

So, 11:30 rolls around and I decide I will mosey into Walmart and scope out the situation. The first thing I notice is that all of the carts are gone. A most terrifying omen, indeed. As I enter the store, things were calm and quiet. I thought, "All is well here. Perhaps these Toy Story figurines are in the back of the store." I assumed correctly. As I enter the rear of the store, the first sight I see is about twenty women standing in a circle, surrounding a display case which is covered from top to bottom in black plastic. These women are standing perfectly still, like disciplined soldiers. They are shoulder to shoulder, and there is no room to get between them. You can't even tell what they're waiting for, except for the fact that Buzz Lightyear's arm sees visible through a gap in the plastic.

"Holy moly!" I think. "If I want one of those toys, I have to - what - crawl over these people or something?" The other thought in my head was, "Do I dare join them?" But a glance at my watch told me there were still twenty minutes to go before these midnight sales became available. Now, aside from these women surrounding the display case, there were many more people who had not fully committed to the level the early birds were committed to, because they were all hanging back trying to look all casual. Much like myself, you see.

Further down the length of the store, another even larger crowd had conglomerated around a case of DVDs. Apparently, people were willing to wait in this giant crowd so they could get a copy of Ice Age for $5. Trust me, I've seen the movie; it's not that great. Plus, you could probably find it for $2 on Craigslist if you looked hard enough.

So I turned on my heels and left as fast as I could. There is no way that this was me. I may be one of these people at heart, but I refuse to live like them. I may be an American, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. Other people can fight like animals so they can save a few bucks. As for me, I'd rather turn tail, go home, and blog about it so that I can confirm myself in my self-righteousness.

What I really needed to do is go home and repent of my worldliness and beg God to help me love and not disdain the people in this crowd. I think that's what I'll do right now.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How Miley Cyrus' 18th B-Day Exposes Modern Man's Hypocricy

Apparently, today, men the world over are quietly celebrating a milestone in human history - for disturbing reasons. As I am told, today was Miley Cyrus' birthday, and she is now 18 years old. This quiet celebration is one of the more disturbing sides to American mores, as men all over the world now believe that it is morally acceptable for them to lust after this young woman. Apparently, this socially established norm declares that the 18th birthday constitutes a barrier which, once broken, entitles men the world over to let their minds run wild over this young woman.

Society is composed of individuals, the majority of whom disregard Jesus' command not to lust after someone. In fact, society at large has augmented the command to "thou shalt not lust after someone who is under age."

Secular man is a tremendously effective moralist - provided he be allowed to set the rules. If you don't believe this, simply watch an episode of Dateline: To Catch a Predator. If there is one group of monsters which Americans are happy to lynch unmercifully, it is pedophiles. Americans can all agree that pedophilia is wrong, and they will jump on the first person who has sex with a person who is under 18 years old. And yet what of lust in the heart?

Don't misunderstand me. I am not trying to minimize the horror or evil of pedophilia. Pedophilia is gross and perverse. Instead of minimize the ugliness of pedophilia, I am actually trying to maximize the evil of lust in general and demonstrate how Americans set boundaries within which they can feel moral in exercising their lustful cravings, so long as they don't cross their own established line.

To relate this thought with the current subject, many men feel that they are 'behaving themselves' if they wait until a woman is of a particular age before thinking sexual thoughts about them. A version of this belief is actually tolerated by women as well, and so men alone cannot be blamed for our present state of affairs. Both genders create and tolerate their own mores. All things then considered, we actually live in a society of prudes and moralists who are very proud that they are obeying their own laws and who will utterly and mercilessly disembowel those who break their rules.

Our own society, while bragging of its tolerance and kindness, has a list of its own wrongs which it will not forgive. If John Hathorne was an unforgiving monster, then modern man is ten times the monster to those who break its own rules. But these rules are easy to follow, providing you are not a pedophile, a Christian, a serial killer or a bigot.

Crazy Kindle Price for Black Friday

Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful. Here's something to be thankful for. You know how much I keep trumpeting the Kindle and how much I love it. Well apparently on Black Friday, Amazon will be selling the old-school Kindle 2 (the model I have, which I love) for $89. Considering I paid over $200 for mine in January, that's a pretty significant deal. This is the Kindle, by the way, that already comes with free 3G access for life. The newer Kindles are a little smaller, a little lighter, and $40 cheaper, typically, but they come with wi-fi capability instead of the 3G. If you follow this link on Friday, then it should have a pretty amazing price listed on it although until then it won't say anything very exciting.

Also, I just thought I'd mention this. Right now, you can buy each of the Lord of the Rings movies (theatrical versions) for $7.99 each on Blu-Ray right now. I'm sure this will change by the end of the day, as Amazon keeps doing crazy stuff with their prices, leading up to Friday.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

St. Anselm's Cur Deus Homo: A Rookie's Eye View

Having been absolutely stunned by the greatness of St. Athanasius' The Incarnation of the Word of God earlier this year, I thought that I ought to read Anselm's classic work in defense of the penal satisfaction view of the atonement, Cur Deus Homo (or Why God Became Man). It turns out, this is a tremendously short and potent treatment of the subject.

I have little understanding of the nuances of Anselm's theology beyond my own reading of The Monologion and Proslogion during my undergraduate studies. Not a fan of the Ontological argument myself (and I believe Van Til regarded it as a completely autonomous, man-centered non-argument) I nevertheless have a huge appreciation for Anselm's piety, his wisdom, his intellect, and for his faithfulness in articulating and defending the Christian understanding of the atonement.

Having finished the book, however, I was most pleased to find such a remarkable and straightforward statement of the Gospel from a period which many Christians regard as a dark time in the church's history. To read someone like Athanasius or Anselm and to see the Gospel light shine so brightly and clearly is incredibly satisfying. Sure Anselm makes some questionable statements at times, but it is possible to have a problem with some of the trees and yet still completely love this forest. One thing which I have heard is that Calvin's understanding of the atonement differs somewhat from Anselm's. I would need to do further study to understand the nuances between their views, but for my own part I presently have not noticed any significant differences.

Among other things, I noticed in the book that Anselm has a very high view of Divine sovereignty. At one point in the book, Anselm states quite clearly that God decrees sins.

Another thing which I noticed was that Anselm's unfortunately named sparring partner, Boso, reminds me a great deal of a hip-hop style 'hype man.' Check out these zingers:
  • "No reasonable being can think otherwise."
  • "All that you say is satisfactory to me."
  • "Your speech gratifies my heart."
  • "Nothing can be more sound."
  • The list goes on. Boso really respects Anselm.
Overall, reading Anselm gave me another opportunity to enjoy the fragrance of freshness that good, old, true theology has wafting over it. It reminded me of Lewis' statement in the introduction to Athanasius' great work:
The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator.
Most importantly, reading Anselm's Cur Deus Homo reminded me of the terrible weight of my own sin before a holy God, and of the greatness of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who bore my own wrath on the tree and took upon himself all that was mine, so that I would receive all that is his.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jesus the Evangelist by Richard Phillips for Free Kindle Download

Although there's not much time left [in fact, as of 11/23 the sale has now ended] but Reformation Trust has made Jesus the Evangelist by Richard Phillips available for free in Kindle format. Here's what Tim Challies says about Jesus the Evangelist:
The book is written for two audiences. The first is the many committed Christians who do little in the way of evangelism. This book is meant to enhance the zeal of these people by emboldening their witness with biblical wisdom, guidance and instruction. The second audience is those who are zealous in their witness but who would profit from understanding Jesus' approach to evangelism that they may ensure they are evangelizing in a way that is consistent with Scripture. After all, many who seek to witness for Christ in reality do nothing that genuinely approaches biblical evangelism. Phillips hopes to instruct these people so their knowledge may match their zeal.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Extraordinary Afghani Prison Epistle

World Magazine obtained this extraordinary letter from our brother in the Lord, Sayed Mossa in Afghanistan. Simply extraordinary. I tried to read this letter aloud to my wife, but I kept crying. I hope my fellow Christians will read Mossa's letter, which is written in broken English and take courage from it. Let us pray that the government will have mercy and free our friend. In this letter, Mossa repeatedly calls himself a great sinner ("sinest man" is what he calls himself) and speaks of the suffering he endures because of his faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. He signs the letter "Your destitute brother in the Lord."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Top 10 Signs You Are No Longer Young, Restless, and Reformed

Sign #1: You've given up smoking your pipe because you want to actually be able to afford term life insurance.

Sign #2: Your 'Jonathan Edwards is My Homeboy' shirt is faded and now simply reads, 'Jonathan Edwards is My Home."

Sign #3: You now read your ESV Bible more than you read John Piper.

Sign #4: You've considered writing a book (for P&R rather than Crossway), Old, Well-Rested, and Reformed. [Copyright: Adam Parker, 2010] (You want the name, Collin Hansen!? Come back in 30 years and just try to get it!)

Sign #5: You find yourself warning newbies about 'the cage stage,' and then you find yourself reminiscing about terrorizing unsuspecting Arminians back in your day.

Sign #6: You actually know who Van Til is.

Sign #7: You have decided that is is okay to plod.

Sign #8: Your iPod now has more sermons by Sinclair Ferguson than it does of Mark Driscoll.

Sign #9: Drinking beer may still be a pleasure for you, but it isn't as cool as it used to be.

Sign #10: You just had your child baptized.

[What follows are the apocryphal signs, not to be confused with the top 10.]

Sign #11: Your Ty Pennington hairdo is starting to look less Pennington and more Luther.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

King and Servant Show 26


Blubrry player!

Jonathan discusses the authority and perspicuity of scripture, and the importance of holding to biblical propositional truth in a postmodern age.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Unfulfilled Romantics

In his book Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller shares a remarkable quote from Ernest Becker's book The Denial of Death. I wanted to share it as Keller quotes it because it puts into words a sentiment I have been chewing over for quite some time. Becker, in this quote, is talking about the modern secular man who is looking to fill his life with meaning, though he has abolished God as being the one to fulfill his desires:
He still needed to feel heroic, to know that his life mattered in the scheme of things....He still had to merge himself with some higher, self-absorbing meaning, in trust and gratitude....If he no longer had God, how was he to do this? One of the first ways that occurred to him, as [Otto] Rank saw, was the "romantic solution."...The self-glorification that he needed in his innermost nature he now looked for in the love partner. The love partner becomes the divine ideal within which to fulfill one's life. All spiritual and moral needs now become focused in one individual....In one word, the love object is God....Man reached for a "thou" when the world-view of the great religious community overseen by God died....After all, what is it that we want when we elevate the love partner to the position of God? We want redemption - nothing less.
[Keller, Page 28]
Our culture - and our Facebook profiles - are full of people who pursue romantic love as their chief object of fulfillment. We all know people who jump from person to person in hopes of finding "the one" (think of Ted Mosby on How I Met Your Mother). But "the one" never emerges, so long as "the one" is seen as a savior, as a redeemer, as the one who will fill our heart's emptiness. This widespread pursuit of romantic salvation is too ubiquitous to need any rigorous evidence.

And yet listen to the radio, or watch a daytime soap opera for three minutes (maybe even less than that). Look at the latest second-rate poem that the lovesick teenager has posted to her blog or at the numerous "dating simulators" that are sold on various game systems. Look at the latest Dove chocolate advertisement or listen to Taylor Swift's self-centered teenage ramblings which are being gobbled up by the millions. If you are not convinced, after this brief perusal of pop culture, that romance is seen as the only truly meaningful form of salvation, then you are blind and deluded (not in the cool way).

"The One" is a construct. It isn't real. It is a mirage. Beauty, grace, and fullness of character can only be found in an infinitely satisfying, never-let-you-down kind of way in the person of the infinitely satisfying, always faithful, and infinitely interesting person of God, come to us in the person of Jesus Christ. This is not a canned answer. It is the real answer. Have the other answers proposed by our culture delivered as promised? Without any qualification, they have not. This is attested to by the commonplace divorces and the constant adultery (in hearts if not in actual physical acts) of the so-called romantics. Considering that the romance-obsessed culturalists have yet to reach the event horizon of personal satisfaction, one is left to wonder why the ruse is still maintained that romance will bring us peace and salvation. Well, the simple answer is that they have no alternatives. Just as in science, so in relationships, modern man has already written off the Divine as even a possible answer to this quandry. Sure, they have their own man-made notions of God which they use to pad over the tough spots in their thinking and in their emotions, and to answer the mysterious questions where it is convenient and unintrusive. But modern man will not and cannot accept God, on His terms, as He has revealed Himself to us in His Scriptures. So the modern is left to wallow in his own filth - or, as Lewis put it, play in his mud pies when he could be enjoying a day at the sea.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Needing Advice on Preparing for Seminary

I am in the process of thinking about my own call to Pastoral leadership in the PCA and have been prayerfully considering attending Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson beginning in the summer of 2012. In anticipation of a potential leap into an MDiv program, I have begun meeting with my pastor on a regular basis and preparing myself. Here are the tasks I have set for myself as I plunge ahead into the next year and a half:

1. Greek. It is best to prepare in light of your own weaknesses, and this is probably going to be my weakest area. In preparation for learning Greek, I am memorizing Greek vocabulary words using Basics of Biblical Greek Vocabulary Cards. There are a thousand words in the deck for me to memorize, and I'm 50 words in, now. What I really appreciate about these cards in particular is that each day as I leave the house for work, I can stash ten of them in my wallet and pull them out during lulls in my day and review them.

For the next year, I am going to keep going through the deck and getting these words down. This is because I am a doofus when it comes to learning other languages, and I know, for a fact, that I will learn these vocab words way slower than everyone else around me. The fact that I took beginning Greek in my undergraduate studies helped, but the fact that I got a D- does not. Learning Greek and Hebrew will be my Achilles heel, so I know that I need to give myself a head start.

2. Reading. I have set for myself three tasks when it comes to digesting theology, which I will need prior to entering RTS. First, I am committed to completing Calvin's Institutes. Second, I am going to finish reading Vos' Biblical Theology. Finally, I am going to work my way through Miles Van Pelt's book English Grammar to Ace Biblical Hebrew, which was recommended to me by Josh Walker. If I can have these three books completed, and a thousand Greek words memorized, my hope is that I will have a head start and be able to enjoy my time of learning instead of dreading it. I want to read Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics, and I do own the set, but it is so big, and I read so slowly that I am certain I won't be able to finish it all before 2012. I read far too slowly and methodically to get there that quickly. But that's probably what I will aim for if I finish the other three.

What I would like to know is, from others who have been there and done that, what are the things that you wish you had done before entering Seminary in order to prepare yourselves for what was ahead?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

New Testament Greek Linguistics

Durning my work towards a PhD at MacDiv, I have been doing a lot of reading in the area of the language of Greek (the language the New Testament was originally written in), specifically, Greek linguistics. One of the articles I have been working with is by a good friend of mine Andrew Pitts (and my advisor Dr. Stan Porter). I thought our readers would like a taste of what I have been working on the past few months, so I wanted to post the abstract of this article, which is titled "New Testament Greek Language and Linguistics in Recent Research" and can be found in the journal Currents in Biblical Research 2008, 6, 214.
This article examines developments in research on the linguistic and grammatical analysis of the language and literature of the New Testament since the publication of James Barr's important work in 1961. While there have been a large number of important advances since this time, the present survey restricts its analysis to research that has been significantly informed by modern linguistics. It considers four areas, in particular: verb structure, case structure, syntax and discourse analysis. Verbal aspect theory has been treated in more detail than any other aspect of the Greek verb. Most investigation of case structure has been informed by case grammar, originating in Fillmore's work. Syntactic theories that have been applied to the language of the New Testament draw mostly from the generative tradition of linguistics, but the OpenText.org project has recently implemented a functional and relational dependency model. Discourse analysis has typically been divided into four schools, but in recent research we see a fifth, eclectic approach, emerging.
(image from here)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Xenon Fellowship: The Little Church That Could

This week, I decided to try my hand at some amateur journalism and determined to share the piece with you all that I've submitted to the Journal of Pseudo-Humorous, Satirical Journalism. In spite of the fact that JP-HSJ is not a real publication in any sense of the word, I hope you still enjoy the piece which I composed.

-------------------------------------------------

Xenon Fellowship: The Little Church That Could
by Adam Parker

Each Sunday at Xenon Fellowship, the church gathers to do their thing. They have done so for only four weeks, but they are a church with huge aspirations. Regarding the circumstances surrounding the establishment of the church, Senior Pastor Steve Bryn says, "When we first started we were like, 'Church doesn't have to be cliched or stereotypical.' And so right off the bat we knew we had to look different from the other churches in town."

Founded in a moderately sized midwestern community, Xenon immediately established its presence with bombastic three-piece worship. Assistant Pastor Mike Knolls, who also plays bass guitar for the worship team, says that music is a really important part of what Xenon is trying to accomplish. "If you look at the really interesting churches, it's the ones with three piece bands that really hit the right stride. Bands like Hillsong United and the Polyphonic Spree just have way too much stuff happening on stage. When it comes right down to it, the less people on stage the better. People just want to be focused on three guys really getting down. And of course, worshipping God. I mean, sometimes when Steve and Dan and I are really shredding deep into the love of God, you can just feel the music overtake you, and you know that worship is happening."

When asked about the name of the church, Youth Pastor Dan Seville explains, "You see, Xenon is a pretty futuristic sounding chemical. And a lot of times it gets used in lights. So it's light to the world, AND it's futuristic. So... that's pretty much how awesome a concept Xenon Fellowship is."

The leaders of Xenon are aware, however, that they have some challenges ahead. Mike acknowledges that financial strain is one pressure: "Last Sunday's offering was pathetic. It's like, how can we get a sweet sound system and cool lighting if we can't even bring enough in through offering to pay for them?"

"I can't believe he said that. I put five dollars in the plate, I'll admit it," says pastor Steve. "But when the plate went around to Mike and Dan, they just both sort of looked around like they were surprised by the plate when it was going by."

Another problem which has plagued Xenon since its inception is its attendance. So far, there are only three members in the church: Senior Pastor Steve Bryn, Assistant Pastor Mike Knolls, and Youth Pastor Dan Seville. "We've tried all sorts of things: I've got kind of spiky hair, and I preached this week in a 'Nightmare Before Christmas' T-Shirt." Frustrated, he sighs, "What more can you do?"

The church also chose as its slogan a definitely un-prophetic phrase: "Xenon Fellowship: Where you can just blend in as part of the crowd." "Yeah, I know the slogan doesn't make sense yet," says Steve. "But a year from now, that's going to be fifty percent of our draw." According to the leaders of Xenon, nobody wants to be spotted in church, and the idea that you're coming as part of a crowd makes it easier to bring that dream to reality. "Who wants to be greeted?" asks Dan sarcastically. "Exactly," says Mike, "Why would you want to have conversations and stuff when you're just coming for music, snacks, and a good time?"

"One guy did come last week," says Dan. "But he was confused by the name and thought that we were a Lucy Lawless fan club. It was kind of cool though, because I guess he didn't even realize he was in a church service until Steve prayed at the end. So I guess we're doing some things right."

Mike has some ideas to improve the church but is reticent to share them with Steve. "For one thing," says Mike, "spiky hair isn't enough. It has to be a faux-hawk. For another thing, 'Nightmare Before Christmas' isn't cool anymore. What young person is going to want to come in here to join our hip young church if the Pastor is living in 1995? What's he going to wear next sunday, a 'Spin Doctors' T-Shirt with a pair of cowboy boots?"

Dan, who has yet to exercise his prowess as Youth Pastor, offers some perspective. "I see the seeds of a church split, as I see these two working through their differences. Last week, they both showed up wearing matching Star Wars T-Shirts. It was so awkward that Mike actually went to the bathroom and turned his inside out. Then he told the congregation it was because God wants to turn us inside out... whatever that's supposed to mean."

When asked by Bring the Books about preaching the Gospel, Steve doesn't miss a beat. "In this town, everybody already knows the Gospel. The thing that we need around here is a cool church. None of our churches around here are cool. Think about it. The Baptist church? Not cool. The Presbyterian church? Definitely not cool. A bunch of egghead know-it-alls. The Methodist Church? Maybe cool if you're three hundred years old and like walking at half a mile an hour."

But Xenon Fellowship, despite its challenges, continues to press on. They will not be deterred. "We're not about to let our size or our income bracket, or our lack of real talent, or our inactive youth program, or our non-existent sound system, or our high school educated pastor, or our incredible hair, or our awesome taste in T-Shirts stop us from doing what we know we need to do," says Mike. "I know that Xenon is going to shine more brightly than all the rest."

Shine on, Xenon Fellowship. Shine on.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

a'Brakel Is Helping Me Learn to Pray

One of the deepest struggles in my own spiritual life has related to prayer. It seems like everyone around me knows how to pray. Everyone talks about doing it, and in public they offer up the most impressive prayers. And yet in my own prayer life, I have been constantly trapped in a routine of familiar phrases and repetitions bound by duty.

a'Brakel's chapter on prayer in his book A Christian's Reasonable Service has really thrown back the shutters for me, as it were. Specifically, the thing which has helped me so tremendously is his discussion of the true 'essence' of prayer. I'll share what he says, and then tell you why it has been so helpful.
Prayer is the expression of holy desires to God in the name of Christ, which, by the operation of the Holy Spirit, proceed from a regenerated heart, along with the request for the fulfillment of these desires... (his italics)
The next thing which a'Brakel says about prayer is that it focuses itself on three things: (1) himself and his own deficiencies, (2) upon God, who is holy and majestic, and (3) he focuses upon the matters at hand - the desires which he is bringing before the Lord.
In one motion he focuses upon himself, God, and the matter at hand. Being in that disposition, he not only presents himself before God as such, but also gives expression to his desires before the Lord.
In the next section, we find a'Brakel's statements which have so helped me in my prayerlessness.
I therefore refer to prayer as an expression of desires, and not of matters. Man is but an empty vessel who must obtain his fulfillment from elsewhere—from a source external to himself. To that end the Lord has given man the ability to desire and to give expression to his desires. The strength of his desires is proportionate to the measure in which he is sensitive of his deficiency, the magnitude and desirability of the matters which in his judgment could satisfy him, and the probability that they are to be obtained. He endeavors to express these desires accordingly.
If my prayer life is a vehicle, then allow me to say that I have been trying to run my vehicle on completely the wrong fuel. Prayer was never meant to run on duty, but on 'holy desire towards God.' It is simply not possible, according to a'Brakel for us to pray to God in a way which honors God and our holy desires unless those prayers are compelled by holy desire and find their termination in God.
The purpose for which one presents his holy desires is the fulfillment of those desires, beseeching that they be granted.
We pray so that our joy in God may be complete.

Speaking for myself, now, I have not, to the best of my knowledge, been lacking in zeal or love or desire for God. But those desires have not had a true outlet because I have never truly prayed aright until now. The purpose of my prayers is not the fulfillment of a duty. It is, rather, that prayer itself is the means to as well as the end of our desires. Our desire for God was meant to terminate in God Himself, and that termination of our desires is to culminate in the moment of prayer when all of our holy desires and restlessness finds its end and rest in God Himself.

Thanks to God, working through a'Brakel, I finally feel that I can run this engine on what it was meant to be run on this entire time. It's like a mechanic just put his hand on my back and lovingly said, "Son, this is a Prius. Stop putting Diesel in it." Except in this case it was a'Brakel putting his loving and fatherly arm around my shoulders, squeezing me tight, and saying, "Adam, prayer is an expression of holy desires towards God. Stop praying out of duty."

Friday, November 5, 2010

Buzz and Woody Saved by an 'Alien Righteousness'

Spoiler Alert! Watching Toy Story 3 for the second time now with my son has given me some pause. In particular, I've been thinking of the sequence where all of the toys are in the incinerator and they're drifting downward in the garbage towards the burning furnace. Realizing their impending doom, the toys stop fighting, because they know that the flow of garbage is too fast and too difficult to escape from. They are trapped, and they are doomed.

Let me just pause to say that watching that scene puts a lump in my throat because I cannot watch this scene and not think of the condition of a lost person - myself included - apart from God's grace. Are not all human beings in this helpless position, ultimately unable to do anything to save themselves from the coming wrath?

So the toys are drifting towards the furnace, about to be burned to smithereens, and Woody bows his head in prayerful repose. Only moments later, after Woody has accepted the reality of his position, does a light shine down upon them from above, and their rescue arrives. The scoop - operated by none other than the Pizza Planet aliens - comes to their rescue, scooping all of them up and delivering them to safety.

I just love the picture because the rescue comes ultimately when the toys are completely helpless. The rescue is not synergistic. There is no 'cooperation' on the part of the rescued. Instead, the scoop drops and rescues the toys, garbage and all, to the glory of the aliens who save them. The toys were rescued by an 'alien righteousness,' if we might call it that.

Why yes, I do think that's funny.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Glossalalia: My Cautionary Tale of Tongues Faking

When I was around 13 years old, I went to church camp. This particular church camp was run by what I can only assume was a very charismatic or pentecostal-leaning group of camp counselors. Night after night, we would meet for revival-style meetings, each night being invited to become Christians. Many of my friends went forward, and on the third night, I began to feel very nervous about my own eternal destination. On this particular night, the preacher was saying, "Maybe you've given your heart to Jesus, but you don't have the power of the Holy Spirit in your life. Maybe you've been defeated by sin and seem to be losing the battle against the Devil. If so, come forward, and we will pray with you for God to grant you His Holy Spirit."

I though, "This is for me!" I definitely need the Holy Spirit, and it was my sincere hope that this man would have the magic hands through which the Holy Spirit could finally get into my life. So I went forward, and was immediately surrounded, with hands laid upon my back, head, and shoulders. This crowd of believers surrounded me, and moments later, I knew that I had made a huge mistake.

Not only had I not felt anything happen within me upon having hands laid on me, but they immediately began praying that I would receive the gift of tongues. I was terrified. I just wanted the Holy Spirit! I didn't want to start wiggling and giggling, babbling and shaking. I wanted victory over sin in my life; not a bunch of nonsense to come pouring out of my mouth. But it was too late. I was in their grip. For several minutes the crowd around me was mumbling garbled words, earnestly praying for me to receive the Gift.

Now, five minutes is a long time to be kneeling, sweating, surrounded by tongues on every side. I was beginning to feel the pressure. The guy was praying, "God, I pray you give him the gift now." He was growing impatient.

Eventually, I leaned towards him and softly said, "I can't do it."

He didn't miss a beat. "God, he thinks he can't do this; well it's not him that's supposed to do this, it's You! I pray that you would do this thing!"

Somebody beside me said quietly, "You just start doing it, and it comes flowing out."

I leaned back to them and whispered, "No way!"

He said, "This is the way God works."

So I stayed kneeling thinking they'd give up. But they didn't. And so, to my eternal shame, I lied. I lied a lie that I feel ashamed of even to this day. I did it. I faked tongues.

I mumbled out something that sounded like, "Humena humena slobedflageda."

The crowd immediately responded, "AMEN! Thank you, Lord! More Lord, more!"

So I did it again, with some slight variations. I think at this point I could have sung the theme to Happy Days and they would have been satisfied.

It turns out, a lot of Pentecostals apparently think that this thing which I have just confessed to is the unpardonable blasphemy of the Holy Ghost. I can, however, guarantee that the only person I was blaspheming was the group of people who were trying to get me to play this game with them. I believe this was a sin because it was a lie, but there is no way that there was anything unpardonable in my behavior.

As a consequence of this willful deception on my own heart, I was very hardened towards God throughout my youth. I was very condescending to people in my church and lived in secret, atheistic, unbelief all through my youth until the age of 17, when God truly and finally changed my heart in a saving way.

I share this tale, not necessarily for the purposes of debunking tongues (that should be done through scriptural argument, not anecdotes), but for your entertainment. I would also say that there is an element of caution in what I'm sharing here as well. Irresponsibly practiced religion can have a very damaging and lasting effect on a child who is already prone to unbelief in the first place.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Feed My Sheep Free for the Kindle Today

Another week, another gift for Kindle users, this time from Ligonier. The book is Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching. This book is a collaboration between 13 much beloved authors, pastors, and preachers from the Reformed world.
The apostle Paul declared that "what we preach" was "folly" in the eyes of many in his time (1 Cor. 1:21). Such is always the world's response to the gospel. But in our day, it seems that the method behind Paul's message - preaching - is itself an object of ridicule, even within the evangelical church. In an age of short attention spans and entertainment "consumers," many churches are yielding to pressure to set aside preaching in their worship services in favor of more "relevant" methodologies.

In Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching, an outstanding team of pastors and scholars says to the modern church: "Turn back!" Preaching is not just one of many acceptable methodologies that the church may employ as the cultural landscape changes. Rather, the preaching of God's Word is the biblically mandated method by which unbelievers are to be converted and churches built up in the faith.

This book reveals the biblical basis for preaching, sketches the way it ought to be practiced, and shows the many practical benefits that flow from strong pulpits. Here is encouragement for preachers and wise counsel for those who desire to sit under the ministry of the Word of God preached.
For the traditional reader, WTS is carrying the book for 1/3 off the regular price.