22 November 2010

What I'm Reading, Want to Read, Have Read

Usually, when I read a book, I end up reading several books together. Maybe I have trouble finishing what I start when it comes to books; maybe the book starts out boring and I don't want to have to endure it if I don't have to. Somehow, though, I still read a good deal, even after graduating from seminary, when many people would like to take a few years off from reading.

One book I'm reading is The Christian Atheist by Craig Groeschel. The subtitle reveals the gist of the book: Believing in God but Living as if He Doesn't Exist. It's not deep, but it hits right where many (most?) Christians are at.

One book I've barely started but am interested in digging through is the Calvinist classic The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination by Lorraine Boettner. This work is a classic presentation of Reformed theology (5-point Calvinism). Why am I, a non-Calvinist, reading it? A quote I heard long ago comes to mind: before you can say, "I disagree," you need to say, "I understand." There are some things about Reformed theology I don't understand.

I have recently read Glenn Sunshine's Why You Think the Way You Do: the Story of Western Worldviews from Rome to Home. I reviewed this book for the Stone-Campbell Journal, which will come out in the spring. Sunshine traces major ideas from the Roman Empire through modern times and how those ideas affect our ethics, actions, priorities, etc. In short I thought it was too big of a task for a popular-level book of less than 250 pages, and I would refer the reader to the works of Rodney Stark for better stuff in this area.

Then there are many books to which I turn when preparing for lessons, sermons, and answering general inquiries. These books are read a chapter here, a chapter there. Recent shelf pulls include The Kingdom of the Cults, The Quran, The Book of Mormon, The Faith Once for All, Heaven, What the Bible Teaches About Spiritual Warfare, Pagan Christianity?, The Apostolic Fathers, BAGD, NIDNTT, TDNT, NIDOTTE, A Reader's Greek New Testament.

Oh yeah, and The Bible. :)

30 May 2010

Quote for Today

"Grace is not permission to sin without limits, but permission to pursue God without limits in spite of our sin."

This was a key statement in a sermon I preached last Sunday. The sermon was about Romans 1:16-17 and about how the good news about Jesus is the reason for, the motivation for, and the substance of our message to the world. I ended the sermon with a call for Christians to understand their identity in Christ: they are children of God, not employees of God. The difference is remarkable: people who think they have to be a perfect parent/spouse/friend/etc. in order for God to love them are thinking like employees. They think that performance earns God's love. But that thinking misunderstands grace. Grace has multiple sides to it: on the one hand, grace is God withholding from us what we deserve while giving us what we don't deserve, and on the other hand, grace is margin for error in our lives as Christians. God loves us not because we've earned it, not because we're perfect, but because we are his children.

20 May 2010

Quote for Today

"Now faith will totter if the authority of Scripture begins to shake. And then, if faith totter, love itself will grow cold. For if a man has fallen from faith, he must necessarily also fall from love; for he cannot love what he does not believe to exist."

- Augustine, On Christian Instruction, book 1, ch. 35

10 April 2010

Quote for Today

“Jesus asked us to love our enemies. Part of loving is learning to understand. Too few Christians today seek to understand why their enemies think in ways that we find abhorrent. Too many of us are too busy bashing feminists, secular humanists, gay activists, and political liberals to consider why they believe what they do. It’s difficult to sympathize with people we see as threats to our children and our neighborhoods. It’s hard to weep over those whom we have declared enemies.”

John Fischer, “Learning to Cry for the Culture,” Christianity Today, April 2007, p. 41.

02 April 2010

On Good Friday

“Henri Nouwen tells the story of an old man who used to meditate early every morning under a big tree on the bank of the Ganges river. One morning, after he had finished his meditation, the old man opened his eyes and saw a scorpion floating helplessly in the water. As the scorpion was washed closer to the tree, the old man quickly stretched himself out on one of the long roots that branched out into the river and reached out to rescue the drowning creature. As soon as he touched it, the scorpion stung him. Instinctively the man withdrew his hand. A minute later, after he had regained his balance, he stretched himself out again on the roots to save the scorpion. This time the scorpion stung him so badly with its poisonous tail that his hand became swollen and bloody and his face contorted with pain.

At that moment, a passerby saw the old man stretched out on the roots struggling with the scorpion and shouted: ‘Hey, stupid old man, what’s wrong with you? Only a fool would risk his life for the sake of an ugly, evil creature. Don’t you know you could kill yourself trying to save that ungrateful scorpion?’

The old man turned his head. Looking into the stranger’s eyes he said calmly, ‘My friend, just because it is the scorpion’s nature to sting, that does not change my nature to save.’”

- Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus, p. 157

"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

- Romans 5:6-8

31 March 2010

Links to Hot Topic Studies for RECC

I have finally found a way to create links to the notes for the series of Hot Topics lessons I taught (and will be teaching on the first Sunday of each month in 2010). Here are the links to the lessons (so far):

Homosexuality and Gay Marriage

Missions Issues

Missions Issues Handout


Hope this works.

27 March 2010

Quote for Today

"It makes no sense to pray about God's will for our future if we are ignoring God's will for our present."
- Thomas Hale, On Being a Missionary, 21

That statement has always resonated with me, has always convicted me. Too often I worry about the future without worrying about the present.* Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, which I take to mean seek to recognize and really live like God is your king; seek the kingship of God before you even seek out clothes and food and shelter.

Paul says it this way: "offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing, and perfect will" (Rom. 12:1-2). Knowing God's will comes through us letting go of ourselves as the ones in charge, seeking to remember and live like God is our king, and getting our minds right with the help of the Holy Spirit, moving toward him and away from the way the world does things.

We Christians ought to be subverting American culture: seeking to serve instead of to have authority over; finding peace through contentment, discipline, and devotion, instead of through power, money, and looking out for Number One; loving instead of ignoring or abusing; forgiving instead of "if you get hit, hit back harder," sharing our burdens instead of unionizing our social life ("that's HIS problem; I don't have to do that"), and many other things you can find in that wonderful collection of books called the New Testament.

As for me, I know that seeking God's will for my present isn't always easy. I don't see the point in me working where I work, but I have to trust that, somehow, this will make sense when I finally am working where I want to work. This is preparing me for something later on in life. Following what you believe God wants for you (whether that's some specific, detailed plan for your life or, as I believe, a desire for you to be virtuous and wise as you choose from several good options) does not necessarily mean that you will know what is going to happen. If you did, what room is there for faith, for trust, for appreciation of God's goodness and wisdom?

Moving toward Him in our daily lives is how we learn the will of God for the future.

*"Worry" in the sense of "put emphasis on," not in the sense of "stress about."

22 March 2010

Ain't That America

So I was in Target the other day, and I decided to look at their giant holiday candy section, newly set up for Easter, the second biggest candy holiday after Halloween. I saw this, and I wasn't sure what to think:

I'm probably being too uptight about this, but when I think about Easter as the crown jewel of God's work in Christ, I just wonder why, of all things to turn into chocolate and eat, the cross would be the first choice of religious confectioners and chocolate icon eaters. Does it not just seem a strange mix of the sublime (the cross) and the ridiculous (chocolate as a way to remember the cross)? Then again, it's no surprise that America would lead the way in candy-izing just about anything, including the ultimate symbol of shame, dread, torture, and pain: Roman crucifixion. One hundred years from now, will there be chocolate electric chairs or chocolate guillotines?

The cross is God's supreme act of love and wrath, where Jesus died for our sins in our place, receiving what we deserve so that he can give us what he alone deserves: a blameless standing before God. It's a message that doesn't make sense to some, and a message that some believe evangelical Christians emphasize too much (see, for example, Brian McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy, 45-50, 64, 86). I would remind such brethren of Jesus' own words: "the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost" (Luke 19:10). Never mind the fact that the prophets of old prophesied that Jesus "had to suffer these things" before he could "enter his glory" (Luke 24:26). It is right to emphasize Jesus' death and resurrection because the rest of the New Testament does, as do many prophecies from the Old Testament.

This is what I believe about Easter: that Jesus' resurrection from the dead is the pivotal event in all of history, without which there is no hope for this life, no reason to be good, no optimism at funerals, and no chance of our own resurrection and glorification (see 1 Corinthians 15). Somehow, a chocolate cross just doesn't seem right in this context.

Now a chocolate empty tomb, now that would be sweet.

15 March 2010

Quote for Today

"All glory and growth were given to you, and then that which is written was fulfilled: 'My beloved ate and drank and was enlarged and grew fat and kicked,' From this came jealousy and envy, strife and sedition, persecution and anarchy, war and captivity. So people were stirred up: those without honor against the honored, those of no repute against the highly reputed, the foolish against the wise, the young against the old. For this reason righteousness and peace stand at a distance, while each one has abandoned the fear of God and become nearly blind with respect to faith in him, neither walking according to the laws of his commandments nor living in accordance with his duty toward Christ. Instead, all follow the lusts of their evil heart, inasmuch as they have assumed that attitude of unrighteous and ungodly jealousy through which, in fact, death entered into the world."
- 1 Clement 3:1-4

What a stunning indictment against the first-century church of Corinth, to which Clement writes from the church of Rome. The letters of Clement are not in the Bible, but they are real and historical and written to address real problems in the Corinthian church. In some ways, what Clement said of the church in Corinth is true of the church in America (and not just the part about being fat). Some questions for American Christians to ponder:
  • Have we become so self-sufficient (through wealth, success, peace, etc.) that we are "nearly blind with respect to faith in [God]"?
  • Are you jealous of other Christians' (or other churches') success?
  • Do we even know these days what it means to fear God?
  • We talk at great length about how we dislike so much of the culture around us. Why is it true, then, as Philip Yancey says, that "all too often the church holds up a mirror reflecting back the society around it, rather than a window revealing a different way"?
Not every church or Christian is this way. But many of us are truly unaware of how much our culture has negatively shaped American Christianity. This is one area to which I have been giving some thought lately, partly because I am teaching a lesson on this very subject later this year, and partly because I just sense the problem through my experiences and my own life. I don't have many answers yet, but this is as good a place as any to begin thinking out loud on it.

For my Christian readers, your input is greatly appreciated. In what ways is American Christianity negatively affected by culture? Examples would be great.

For my non-Christian readers, just know that not every Christian blindly accepts what their preachers tell them; many sense that things could be better/kinder/more welcoming/less hateful for folks like you who would love to go to church if it weren't for the people inside.

13 March 2010

Who Would've Thought That In Five Years . . .

Have you ever asked yourself that question (finishing it out, of course)? For me, I would invert that question to a statement: It's hard to imagine that it was five years ago this month that we arrived home from India. At the beginning of March 2005, Heidi and I came home and settled in the Cincinnati area while I prepared to start my master's education at Cincinnati Bible Seminary. I still remember a lot of the feelings I had when we came back. Here are a couple of memories that stand out:
  • Shortly after our move to the Cincy area, some friends hosted a party: grilling out, meeting our friends' friends, and being shocked at some of the things we saw and heard. Realize, we had just spent two years (minus a couple of months' worth of trips) in extremely socially conservative India, where the most PDA you would see is a couple walking or sitting next to each other, and where drinking alcohol for Christians, at least the Christians we hung out with, was taboo (except at weddings when a traditional, homemade wine in a very small amount was allowed). We arrived early, so we saw everyone arrive, one of whom we were told was the youth minister at their church. I kid you not, the first words I ever heard out of this man of God's mouth were, "Hey guys! Where's the beer?" I knew then (as I know now) that there is nothing technically wrong with having an occasional, not-enough-to-get-drunk drink. But it shocked me. I immediately thought: what's his lesson going to be when he talks to the teens about drinking? "Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial" (1 Cor. 10:23).
  • I felt conflicting emotions when I went to church in the US for several months. Some of the thoughts that went through my head: Christians here care so little about big things and so much about little things; they do realize that there's a world outside the US, don't they?; American Christians ought to cease all short-term missions until they have learned humility and cultural sensitivity [trust me, there are stories there, too]; there is so much potential in the American church!; I'm glad to see people here who care so much about the unreached nations; I'm going to slap the next person who makes fun of Hispanics for not knowing English; and many others. I suppose you could chalk a lot of it up to re-entry culture shock, but life in India has forever changed the way I think about church.
Five years ago . . . and what am I doing now? Hmmm.

11 March 2010

Another Quote for Today

“God’s highest purpose of creation is achieved when his rational creatures are seeking above all else to please him.”

Jack Cottrell, God the Creator, 128

Quote for Today

"Millions all around us are living the tragedy of meaningless life, the 'life' of spiritual death. That is what makes our society most radically different from every society in history: not that it can fly to the moon, enfranchise more voters, have the grossest national product, conquer disease, or even blow up the entire planet, but that it does not know why it exists."

Peter Kreeft,
Heaven: The Heart's Deepest Longing, p. 12

09 March 2010

Christian Songs that Inspire Me: In Christ Alone by Stuart Townsend and Keith Getty

I love this song. It's not perfect, but I love it anyway because it is simple melody, easy to learn, and, most important to me, it has lyrics that are carefully written and full of meaning. Here are the words, and I'll save my comments for the end.

In Christ alone my hope is found;
he is my light, my strength, my song.
This cornerstone, this solid ground
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.

What heights of love, what depths of peace
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease.
My comforter, my all in all,
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone, who took on flesh,
fullness of God in helpless babe.
This gift of love and righteousness
scorned by the ones he came to save

'Til on that cross as Jesus died
the wrath of God was satisfied,
for every sin on him was laid -
here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground his body lay:
Light of the world by darkness slain.
then bursting forth in glorious day,
up from the grave he rose again!

And as he stands in victory,
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me
for I am his and he is mine,
bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death -
this is the power of Christ in me.
From life's first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.

No power of Hell, no scheme of man
can ever pluck me from his hand.
Til he returns or calls me home,
here in the power of Christ I'll stand.

I'm thankful to the Gettys, who wrote this modern hymn (their description of it). From the first time I heard it, it became one of my all-time favorite songs. I would, however, like to clarify a few things about the lyrics, perhaps fine-tune them a bit:
  • "'Til on the cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied." Yes, this is true, but it was not God's wrath alone that put Jesus on the cross. It was his great love for us that put him there. I agree with Jack Cottrell: it should say ". . . God's wrath and love were satisfied."
  • Darkness did not slay Jesus, the Light of the world. It is poetic and it balances out the reference to light. Certainly the devil thought he had won a great victory, but even he knew that it was not his doing. God is the one who "made him who had no sin to be sin for us." Basically, God the Father slayed Jesus, pouring out his wrath on him and pouring out his love on us.
  • I'm not sure that "from life's first cry to final breath Jesus commands my destiny," unless this is a reference to eternal life and Heaven being our destiny (and even then there are some problems with the phrase). This sounds Calvinistic, as if there were no free will. Perhaps we Arminians and our Calvinist friends could agree on this: God foreknew that we would be saved by grace through faith, and therefore it can be said that from birth to death, our "destiny" is settled by God's foreknowledge.
In spite of a few tweaks, I still think this is one of the greatest songs of the last 25 years. I'll post a video of it above this post.

03 March 2010

Michael Graunke chatting and being naughty

From the other day. Michael's definitely starting to push some boundaries, but he's still super cute, and he's getting better at mimicking real words. He understands a lot more than he speaks, and it's great to see him do something by simply telling him to. Look for our other videos on YouTube; search for the user adamheidi.

22 February 2010

And the Yo-Yo Goes Down

Well, I haven't run since the last week of October. I held off at first because of my new job, which was quite physical and had long hours on my feet. I've probably regained most of the weight I've ever lost (haven't weighed myself for about a month, but last time it was 245). That job was a seasonal job, and I was laid off a week and a half ago. I start my new, permanent job tomorrow, which has better hours and is five days a week (the seasonal job was four days a week).

What I need is motivation and a reason to get back on the horse, or the Pig, or whatever. We'll see.

30 January 2010

16 January 2010

A Few Theological Thoughts on Natural Disasters

Any time a natural disaster strikes in the world (especially in the poorer parts of the world like Haiti), someone, somewhere will ask why God allowed it to happen, or why God caused it to happen. Why doesn't God stop the earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, tornadoes, hurricanes, fires, and any other disaster?

Theologians differ on how to answer this question. It depends on a more foundational question: did God know it would happen? (This also give rise to the related question: could God have stopped it?) Orthodox Christianity says yes. Some Christians believe that God knew it would happen because he decreed for it to happen. That is, God predestined it to happen exactly as it did, and that's why he knew about it. Some Christians believe that God knew it would happen because he simply foreknew or foresaw it happening. That is, God sees the future without causing the future. He permitted it. A few Christians believe that God did not know it would happen (at least not until he could calculate future plate tectonics based on his perfect knowledge of the physical world and his infinite ability to figure things like that out). Once he knew it would happen, he could stop it but permitted it anyway.

I embrace the second option listed above, that God knew it would happen, but allowed it without causing it. Fortunately (but sometimes frustratingly), it's not our job to explain why God permits or prevents anything. He is totally sovereign over all of creation. A few thoughts in that direction, however, can't hurt:
  • Whether you think the movement of the tectonic plates is a result of the fall and cursing of the ground or not, the fact remains that it is a natural, normal event on Earth. It happens all the time. It is the location and timing that make it tragic, not the fact of the occurrence.
  • As long as people continue to choose to live and build cities along known fault lines, it's only a matter of time for things like this to happen. We can't really be surprised when the next San Francisco or Mexico City earthquake happens, and we shouldn't ask, "how can God let this happen?" We should ask, "how can man let this happen?" "They knew there's a fault line there!"
  • I can't say for sure, but perhaps one reason God allows natural disasters to happen (and this probably goes for other kinds of suffering and evil) is because for God to prevent every disaster or suffering caused by nature would basically involve God constantly interrupting or overriding things like gravity, trajectory, momentum, and a hundred other factors which are usually predictable. The world would be entirely unpredictable. If I try to light a match, will it work? What if hitting my brakes would have caused suffering; will God cause my brakes not to work? How could I ever confidently do anything? The scientific method, which depends so much on the principle of uniformity (e.g., gravity works the same everywhere in the universe, photons behave the same etc.), would be rendered useless and scientific progress/knowledge would cease.
  • A certain amount of pain in life is actually very good, and healthy. The fact that your hand hurts when you put it near fire is a good thing; physical pain is a warning that something is going wrong with the body. The lack of sensation of pain (e.g., Hansen's disease/leprosy) shows us this truth.
  • Without some pain and tragedy in life, such virtues as bravery, self-sacrifice, and forebearance wouldn't mean much.
  • Just because God is allowing evil and suffering to exist now doesn't mean that evil people are "getting away with it." Don't criticize God when history is not over; he has promised that when Jesus returns, every person will be judged on the basis of what they've done, and if they do not belong to Christ, there is no forgiveness of sins and eternal punishment awaits them.
There are probably a dozen other thoughts that could be added, but the reality for the people of Haiti, and for anyone else suffering, is this: all the reasons in the world can't undo the suffering, can't bring anyone back, can't heal the pains and can't reduce the severity of the experience. Arguments like those listed above may have some value, but to those who are actually suffering, it is cold comfort at best.

Theology must always lead to ministry. Ministry, the living out of one's theology and the application of that life onto the lives of others, is the most profound answer to the question of where God is when it hurts. As Philip Yancey concludes, the answer to the question "Where is God when it hurts?" is another question: where is the church when it hurts?

The answer? The church is in Haiti, has been for a long time. You won't read about it much in the papers or on the major news media, but dozens of ministries like International Disaster Emergency Services are making a difference in the name of Jesus.

As it turns out, the question of why God allows things is important, but perhaps not as important as the question of what the Church of Jesus Christ does in response to all the evil and suffering.

06 January 2010

Benny Hinn: Let the Bodies Hit the Floor

Not my cup of tea musically, but this makes me laugh every time. I can't stand Benny Hinn for a variety of reasons, and this video shows the seriousness with which his claims ought to be taken.

Comet Encounters the Sun

The sun eats a comet - cool. Thanks, Jared Altic for the link on your blog.

02 January 2010

The Prayer Cross: What Would Jesus Think?

I love how the prayer "almost miraculously" becomes visible. Really?!

The real irony is in how the symbol for the horrific, humiliation-filled execution of Christ is now, in stunning crystal and sterling silver, a "one-of-a-kind spiritual accessory."

It's also "the perfect way to keep the Lord's Prayer close to your heart." Literally, perhaps, but not in the way the Lord's Prayer ought to be close to your heart: by memorizing it (or as Ps. 119:11 says, "I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.").

As my nephew Eric would say, "Ay-ay-AY!"