Guess what?

Hey folks,

Yesterday Samantha and I went to the doctor's office, and got to see our little baby! It was moving around, kicking, and generally being problematic. However, it could not escape (not much room to work with) and we were able to see...

It's a boy!

We think that his body type looks a lot like me... for instance, he seems to have a thin face with a large head. It's still early, though, and of course you can't see skin or hair color.

The ultrasound is very cool. I was amazed by how clear the picture was. We could see his bones, his toes, his ears, his eyes and mouth... at one point, he opened his little mouth in what looked like a yawn (though it probably wasn't... he's under water!)

Anyways, at the moment we're planning on naming him Isaiah. We haven't decided on a middle name, though.

Thanks to everyone praying for us! We can hardly wait for our little son to arrive.

In the meantime, I need to start stocking up on trucks, sports equipment, and LEGOs!


Christ and Pop Culture

Ok, let's review the facts, strange though they may be.

I hate pop music.

I don't connect with teenagers.

I can't figure out what Mac and PC owners are always arguing about.

I purposely buy the most boring clothes I can find because I don't understand fashion.

I know more about political philosophy than I do about American Idol.

I buy the simplest, cheapest cell phones on the market.

I have never read Kurt Vonnegut or Steven King, but I have read Augustine and Oliver O'Donovan.

I do not text message. Ever.

The last music CD of secular music from after the 70's that I bought was the Garden State soundtrack.

I hate "Christmas season." Bah humbug.

I do not know what Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, or Prince William did in the past month.

My favorite pastimes are reading history, theology, and philosophy. Oh, and I really love baseball.

Of the music bands I like, exactly zero are still together.

My dream home is downtown Edinburgh, Scotland, so I can be near the castles and cathedrals. My anti-dream home is anywhere near Hollywood.

I like going to museums in Washington DC, and hate spending time in downtown Chicago.


I have no idea. But I am, and I really enjoy it. I think I'm the "old soul" in the group, but thankfully the other guys are a lot sharper and more knowledgable than me. I'm good for a different perspective on the same things.

Anyways, check us out, listen to our podcasts, and spend some time thinking about the pop culture YOU engage every day.

Christ and Pop Culture


A New Political Paradigm for Christians

Christmas is, “in the air,” for a longer period each year- this time around, I started hearing Christmas songs before Thanksgiving week! However, even Christmas cannot compare to the length of time we spend talking about politics, especially in a presidential election year.

Government’s basic job is to create a lawful and orderly society. However, laws and societal structures are imperfect, so people and their government are continually trying to figure out ways to solve the problems and imperfections. I want to describe for you the basic ways that is done, and then challenge you to think carefully about your contribution to that process.

To solve a societal problem, there are only two basic approaches. One is the top-down approach, and the other is the bottom-up approach. Each approach has strengths and weaknesses.

The bottom-up approach has to do with citizens trying to heal an area whose policies have failed, pragmatically or morally. So, an environmental group is a bottom-up approach to fixing environmental problems. Church-run addiction recovery organizations are a bottom-up approach to healing addictions in a better way than the government does.

Meanwhile, the top-down approaches to the same problems are environmental policies, addiction recovery programs, and the like.

Note here the interaction between the two groups. They need each other, but they fulfill different roles. The role of the top-down group is to set orderly policy. However, they are often somewhat deficient because they are beholden to a wider constituency. They are subject to state and federal laws, and must protect the rights of a wide array of groups with each of their policies.

Meanwhile, the bottom-up group is passionately committed to one point of view, and they are always trying to sway public policy in their direction. The top-down group needs these people, because they do research and advocacy and healing action that the government does not have the time or focus to do. Often, the best public policy comes from healthy interaction between the two groups, when each understands the other’s role and place in the process.

My soapbox is this; I think Christians have a problem with taking their passionate personal politics –things that can only be fixed in a bottom-up sort of way- and assuming that their vote can only go to a candidate who agrees with their bottom-up politics. This is a false construction, because a government official is elected to do a top-down job, not to advocate for a bottom-up group.

So, when a politician asks for votes, Christians often ask these questions. Is he a Christian? Where does he stand on abortion? Where does he stand on illegal immigration? Where does he stand on homosexual marriage? Where does he stand on the war? Where does he stand on use of the Confederate flag? Where does he stand on gun control? And so it goes.

I do not think those are the healthiest questions. I think the standards we should have for our top-down officials are these: Is this candidate likely to make societal order healthier? Do they have experience and a good track record in that area? Can my bottom-up advocacy interests interact well with this candidate? Will the candidate make good policy decisions? Do they understand good governmental policy?

Now, here is where I get controversial.

From a top-down perspective, to me, the abortion battle is over. The toothpaste is out of the tube, and no government official can push it back in. We will not end abortion without a massively scaled reformation in the moral structure of the United States.

As a result, I do not think it is wise for Christians to be single-issue voters. We should not make abortion a litmus test for our vote.

Hear me out on this. I am not suggesting that we stop supporting pro-life causes, or staffing Crisis Pregnancy Centers, or advocating required ultrasound machines in abortion clinics. Those are all valuable bottom-up approaches, and I think we should increase those things.

However, I do think we should stop saying we will not support a candidate (or an entire political party!) on the basis of their perspective on a small number (sometimes single!) of moral issues, rather than on their effectiveness as an administrator. Instead, we should use the election period to be discerning about which candidate will most effectively administer an orderly society with good policy choices.

The powerful thing about this understanding is that it gives a healthy forum for policy debate. If an administrator is committed, first and foremost, to good policy, then they will hear both sides of an issue. When he does, the two sides know that they have to focus on why their perspective is healthiest from a societal perspective, rather than arguing about whose moral worldview is better.

So on abortion, as I mentioned, I do not think that voting in dozens of yes-men who are pro-life is a good approach… because pretty soon they screw up various other policy areas, and the public gets sick of them, and they get kicked out. And the abortion problem remains.

Instead, we need officials who realize that abortion is not a legal problem you can solve through changes in the law. It is a moral problem that can only be solved by bottom-up groups proclaiming a different moral perspective.

However, if those groups can show that abortion creates serious detriments to societal health (a case that can easily be made), then a government official can create an environment for those groups to work in. He can see the importance of requiring free use of ultrasound machines in abortion clinics (which statistically does far more to reduce abortion than electing a pro-life president ever has!). He can support the legitimate mission of Crisis Pregnancy Centers. He is, in essence, working in tandem with the bottom-up groups- he works for a healthy society, and they work for their individual issues. And he can do all those things without being a committed pro-life candidate.

Christians need to stop pretending that a foolish administrator who agrees with their moral system is the best thing for society. Instead, they should use their votes to support someone who will make the legal order stronger and wiser, so that there is a safer environment in which to address societal ills.

The great Augustine of Hippo once wrote to a judge named Macedonius regarding some criminals. Augustine’s goal was to advocate against a penalty of death, even though he acknowledged that Macedonius had the right to give the death penalty. He said this:

“Your strictness is, therefore, beneficial. Its exercise assists even our peace. But our intercession is beneficial as well. Its exercise modified even your strictness. You should not object to being petitioned by the good, because the good do not object to your being feared by the bad.”

Augustine understood the separate roles of the judges (government officials) and the intercessors (interest groups). The one has a role of enabling a lawful and orderly society; the other has a role of advocating and healing. For Christians to have true value in whatever free society we inhabit (oppressive societies are another discussion), it is imperative that they seek wise administration and openness to advocacy from government officials, rather than dogmatic commitment to specific moral perspectives.


The City Around the Heart

I had lately struggled to understand why we came to Kentucky. With a baby on the way and a never-ending stream of bills, I’m going to have to take a full-time job. That’s not so bad, but it makes me question why we moved.

After all, in Lansing I had a much more lucrative job, we were surrounded by family and friends, and I was a deacon at a church that I loved. I could easily have driven down to Plymouth to attend Michigan Theological Seminary a couple times a week and followed the exact same pattern that we will have to do now here in Kentucky, except with far fewer money problems!

Of course, the whole problem with this mental construction is that were things reversed, I can almost guarantee I’d be looking at SBTS with envy and Michigan with disdain. The core problem is my own heart’s discontent. I want so badly to be doing something that feels significant that I am (a) not good at appreciating God’s acts of preparation in my life for later things and (b) not able to see the significance of what we are doing here and now.

This was brought into sharp relief for me when I read this poem by C.P. Cavafy.

The City

You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried like something dead.

How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”
You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you.
You’ll walk the same streets, grow old
in the same neighborhoods, turn gray in these same houses.
You’ll always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
There’s no ship for you, there’s no road.
Now that you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
You’ve destroyed it everywhere in the world.

In other words, as I constantly need to be reminded, contentment is something found within our own hearts, when we rightly place our faith in God to lead and guide.

I’m so thankful for the way these simple reminders, which I need so often, can be found anywhere and everywhere here at seminary, like lights on a Christmas tree. When they come, I am startled and a bit frustrated by my own repeated forgetfulness. But then I remember that life is beautiful, and that God is faithful, and turn once more to the task of honoring the Giver of gifts.


Longing for the Memories that Shaped Us.

Memory shapes us. When you ask why someone does something odd, the answer is that they picked the habit up when they were small. Perhaps they are afraid of worms, or have trouble looking into another person‘s eyes when they speak, or have a deathly fear of disapproval. I myself watch fearfully when I see someone playfully wrestle with a dog, because I was bitten by our retriever when I was young.

Bits and pieces of our past bond together to form a collective “wisdom” of sorts, and we apply that wisdom to daily circumstances. Often it is the primary or even sole thing we depend on to interpret surroundings and make predictions for the future. We learn to trust it, and when it fails we struggle with the disconnect. It is a checklist, giving us a range of possible outcomes based on the circumstances. When events or outcomes differ from what the checklist says will happen, we feel lost in uncertainty.

Our perspective on how to handle a bully, for instance, is probably shaped heavily (though perhaps unconsciously) by the unique combination of experiences we had with bullies growing up. I had the good fortune to be in a very safe environment, and that is part of the reason I view bullies as quite silly and harmless. My wife experienced bullying in a very different light, and so aggressive people make it hard for us to reconcile our two “wisdoms,” because they are so different from each other.

This personal wisdom needs to come under submission to the absolute truth of God’s wisdom in Scripture. It is the only true and unchanging standard, the only place where the vast array of personal experiences can find agreement and peace. Still, when our lives hit the “gray areas,” that Scripture does not clearly speak to, we tend to fall back to the wisdom born of experience.

This past weekend, I went home for my dad’s wedding. Everything about the wedding was excellent. His new wife is terrific, and a welcome addition to our family. The event went smoothly, and my dad was clear in expressing his love for his kids.

So why did the kids all feel an ugly and powerful sense of hurt and loss?

I’ve been struggling with this question because I don’t WANT to feel it. It seems sinful and mistrusting and unkind and petty. The worst part is that it feels like it is slamming a wedge of separation between my dad and his kids… a wedge we do not understand, cannot see, and do not know how to fight.

Strangely enough, it’s a quote from one of my “weirdo movies” (as my wife likes to call them) that has started me down what I hope will be a beneficial path. It’s from “Garden State,” and the hero is trying to come to terms with his feeling of separation from his family, especially his father.

Andrew: You know that point in your life when you realize that the house that you grew up in isn't really your home anymore? All of the sudden, even though you have some place where you can put your stuff, that idea of home is gone.

Sam: I still feel at home in my house.

Andrew: You'll see when you move out. It just sort of happens one day one and it's just gone. And you can never get it back. It's like you get homesick for a place that doesn't exist. I mean it's like this rite of passage, you know. You won't have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it's like a cycle or something. I miss the idea of it. Maybe that's all family really is. A group of people who miss the same imaginary place.

I think my dad’s remarriage has hit us at a funny time, when we are at different stages of leaving our old home and entering a new life. Actually, it’s not just his remarriage. It’s the changes. It’s cooking and dancing and organic foods and a larger house and new clothes and travel and defensiveness. The safety of stepping back into the home of our memory is gone. We can’t pull up to the old house, pop in the side door, and ask mom what she’s making (well, reheating) for dinner while dad wrestles with a sibling in the family room. We can't even tease him in the same way. Nearly every aspect of that place is gone, and my dad was the lifeline. And now he’s changing too, and we react with fear and uncertainty.

We try to put it into words, but it comes out wrong. We complain about going too fast, or being too physical, or spending too much, or seeming too yuppyish, but we don’t really mean those things. What we mean is that we miss who we were, and we don’t know how to hang on to the things we loved.

"Homesick for a place that doesn't exist," is a good way of putting it. The fact is, I just want the joy of what was, but it is gone. I wish I were better at coming to terms with that.

The Bible is not specific on this idea. I think I could combine some structured thoughts to describe how, “a man leaves his father and mother,” connects with, “blessed are those who mourn,” and, “God is disciplining you as sons,” to form a picture of God’s desires for us in this time. But I’m too tired today.

The thing is, God has given me great gifts of love and nurture and joy in my childhood. Those memories and experiences have been key to becoming who I am now, and have prepared me for God’s purposes. Still, they are gone. My goal must be to love and appreciate them for the way God used them, but they are not mine to grasp.

When my mom died, she was gone. I still cry when I see certain pictures or videos, and still miss her whenever something significant happens in my life. But letting go of her is something God has given me as part of my development, and the same is true of my childhood, the place I miss and long for that no longer exists.

It is time to create something new, armed with the character God has given through gifts of wonderful parents, a joyous childhood, and a flood of memories that contribute to my unique brand of personal wisdom. I will continue to mourn in certain ways, but I should also have joy as God completes his plans for me in my life.

Lord, I am desperately thankful for your gifts in my life. Teach me how to mourn with joy; and then move on. Teach me also to take up the responsibility of creating a new idea of home in humble submission to your plans, rather than holding on to a place that you have allowed to pass away. Teach me perseverance and joy.



Modulate, Sharpen, and Restate!

Recently, I wrote out a few thoughts to help a friend strengthen his papers. I thought I’d post them, so that anyone who wants me to edit for them will consider these things first!

My suggestions can be typified by three words: Modulate, Sharpen, and Restate.

Modulate- Imagine that you go to church, and the pastor begins his sermon. He has great points and insight, and clearly understands the passage well, but he speaks in a boring monotone voice, never changing, and the words come out at the exact same speed like one loooooong sentence.

Of course, the advice you would give him is to modulate his tone. Get excited for important parts, lower your voice for the reverent parts, and clearly state each point that you are making.

In a paper, the same effect is achieved by the way you organize. It is important that the reader naturally FEEL the organization behind your paper. To do this, keep paragraphs VERY short. When you move to a new point, clearly state that you are doing so. Use punctuation to add to the effect. Make the structure of your paper obvious to the reader.


I like horses. They are big. A big horse is a lot of fun, and horses also have nice tails. The tail of a horse can be three feet long. Do you think horses smell? I want a horse when I get older. A horse runs very fast through the fields on a beautiful day. Horses can be your best friends if you let them although I know that dogs are also nice. The problem with dogs is that you can't ride them and they are also much smaller.


I want a horse when I get older. I like horses! They are big, beautiful, and fast.

Horses are big, and I have always appreciated large animals.

They also are quite beautiful, especially their tails. Did you know a horse’s tail can be up to three feet long? For some reason their beauty captures me.

Finally, and most importantly, horses run very fast. I love to ride my horse through the fields on a beautiful day, because it seems like I am flying.

Keep your arguments clear!

Sharpen- This is one that everybody struggles with. It's a key part of how your paper comes across to a grader.

The key here is to be extremely exacting. It is important to say things simply, in as few words as possible. Ruthlessly cut away prepositions, and use the word "that" as little as possible.


The conceptual framework that Ware takes time to explain to us is supported by the Scriptural outlook.


The framework Ware teaches is supported by Scripture.


The Bible supports Ware's framework.

Remember to say everything that you can in the shortest sentences possible!
(Whoops! I mean, "Say everything as shortly as possible!")

Restate- This one is simple. If a sentence or paragraph seems uneasy or strange or just doesn't feel quite right- restate it! People have a habit of being committed to their first attempt at articulating a concept, and no matter how hard they try it just comes off wrong.


The economic ideal that capitalism is built on greed coincides with the middle age ideal that property begins with the divine right of kings because it allows risk taking and pulling up your own bootstraps.


Capitalism is built on greed. It encourages risk taking and seeking your fortune. This is opposed to the middle age ideal, in which property is divinely given to and distributed by the king.

Remember to Modulate, Sharpen, and Restate- it will give your paper a huge boost!


Harry Potter: The Boy Who Should have Died... or at least Matured!

Well, I finally sat down and read the last Harry Potter book. I am an odd mix of too-cool and too-geeky. I was too cool to buy or read the book when it came out, but I was too geeky to stop reading it when Rich let me borrow it!

In true Harry Potter fashion, it was a fun read. J.K. Rowling is enormously creative, and I enjoyed seeing the story come to its somewhat convoluted conclusion.

However, they certainly are not excellent books.

First, the number of key “coincidences” was ridiculous. The kids would be camping in some random woods for months, and then key characters would just HAPPEN to be fishing in a nearby stream, and would just HAPPEN to be having an important conversation about exactly what the kids needed to know. Rowling did not even bother to disguise the deus ex machina… she just dropped it in there multiple times.

Second, the flow of the stories (in all the books together) did not add anything to the characters. Think back to “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” What were Ron’s main issues? Well, he was jealous of Harry and wanted to be the hero. And guess what happens in this book? Or consider the description of Hermione from way back then, when she was a bit prissy at times but would break the rules when need be for the good of the group. Anybody want to guess what she’s like in the final installment?

To be honest, even Harry does not change much. He still has (we are told) powerful emotional reactions to anything regarding his friends or parents. Actually, though, it’s a good thing Rowling blatantly TELLS us this is the case… I never actually felt it through the story.

I think this gets at my third complaint… J.K. Rowling seems to have only one method of story advancement- to make the story darker. So, in the beginning everything ends happily; but eventually things get darker and more painful, and then she finally kills a key character, and then it snowballs into multiple key deaths by books 6 and 7. Or the various plots need to be more epic, so larger and larger numbers of people become involved: which, of course, means that suddenly hundreds of students and teachers and warriors and creatures are all together at one time and place to fight hundreds of bad guys and massive creatures and the like. There’s nothing wrong with that type of plot advancement per se, but there is if it’s the only way in which the story gets better.

By contrast, as I mentioned, the characters do not get deeper, few serious twists are involved, people remain idiotic (spending MONTHS camping in the woods before they come to realizations the reader figured out with the same set of clues in less time than it took to finish the chapter), situations remain implausible (like Harry and Hermione living together for weeks in a tent trying to think of new plans and NEVER accidentally saying the name Voldemort), and we remain dependent on the timing always working out because…well, because that’s just how it goes.

Finally, the writing is cheesy. Rowling insists on telling us everything (such as “Ron said this darkly” or “Hermione pleaded, with a pained look on her face” or “Harry felt exactly the way he felt five years earlier waiting to hear if he would be kicked out of Gryffindor”). As I always complain, you can read 2 out of every ten words in the entire book and still get all the important stuff. The difference between Rowling’s book and true classic literature is like the difference between watching Gone with the Wind and The Little Mermaid. Sure, The Little Mermaid is exciting, lots of fun, and enormously creative. But at the end of the day, it is just a fast-paced cartoon, and does not include a serious, insightful, and deep look at life in the way The Once and Future King or Danny the Champion of the World do.

To put it simply, Harry Potter is a large bag of cotton candy in the grocery store of literature. It looks great and tastes sweet, but people seeking to enrich their lives and to grow in wisdom while reading escapist novels should look elsewhere.

Try books like The Once and Future King, Captains Courageous, Ender’s Game, Lord of the Rings, The Boyhood of Ranald Bannerman, or The Chosen.

If you are looking for kids books (though my sense is that adults defend HP more vigorously than kids do), stick to the Chronicles of Narnia, Maniac Magee, Roald Dahl books, Robin Hood, or other Newbery Award winners.

Rowling’s creativity is fun for a time, but as far as good literature goes it falls quite short.


To Work the Works of God

Well, the computer isn't fixed yet, but thanks to my heroic friend Dave that should be corrected fairly soon.

In the meantime, here is a quick update/meditation on recent life.

I've been struggling a bit with being busy. School, teaching, and deacon responsibilities all sorta hit at once. Things are starting to settle down, but it was pretty hectic for a while there. At times, I wondered whether I was actually dis-honoring God by being so busy.

So it was interesting in my devotions to come upon this rich little precurser to Christ's healing of a blind man in John 9.

"As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' Jesus answered, 'It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.'"

Jesus went on to heal the blind man, which led to a series of significant clashes between himself and the Pharisees.

Here's the thing that struck me. Whatever situation we face in life was given to us ON PURPOSE by our creator. He sovereignly desired that we should be who we are, face what we face, and do what we do. He will be glorified through it, no matter what. So then, our job here on earth is to "Work the works of God" by displaying the light of Christ to the world in the way we live.

For me, it was a great reminder; I've been given schooling, a job, a deaconship, and other responsibilities so that I might glorify God in my life and display the light of Christ to the world. Outside of that purpose, little matters. Even my busy and sometimes tiring life can glorify God as I seek to honor him first in all things. My prayer is that you and I together would pursue this goal!


School restarts and so does blogging... I hope?

Ok, my buddy Riley called me out on not blogging in a while. There are a couple good reasons and one bad one.

The good reasons are these. FIRST, life has been extremely busy. Seminary classes are starting, I just accepted a job teaching classes for a classical education home-school program, and I've been asked to be deacon of college outreach at my church. Phew! I love all these things, I'm just needing to be good about using my time wisely to prepare well for each one. Thankfully, all of the above are fragmented enough (schedule-wise) that I'm not having any major problems yet.

SECOND, my computer died. Apparantly the power source needs to be replaced, and I don't really have the Ca$h for that new laptop I've been wishing for. So, we're internet free at the moment (I'm at the public library right now).

THIRD, well, I am lazy lots of times.

Hopefully, though, that will change once our computer is fixed. I hope to articulate the outworkings of my "Organizing principle for outreach" in a more practical way. I also hope to give more detailed updates of things I'm thinking about regarding camp, seminary, church, and books. We'll see if it happens or not! I appreciate your patience (knowing that the waiting is just killing you) while I try to find somebody who knows how to attach a power source and its millions of wires.


Reflections on camp

In case you are not one for looking over the comments in someone else’s blog, I want to share a comment made on my last post about our service at Upper Peninsula Bible Camp.

Hey, I just stumbled upon your BLOG and wanted to say thanks for wanting to be a great male role model for the young men attending UPBC. I don't know which session you will be at, but my son (he's 12) is attending boy's camp for his second year in a couple of weeks and I am excited about the opportunity for him to interact with Godly men.

I am in prayer for you as well as the other men and women who are giving their talent as leaders and speakers to the boys (and girls) at camp.

If you are a regular attendee of UPBC, you might know my pastor and friend, Bruce Black. He and his family have been a blessing to me and my family for the last several years, and I know they are very involved in UPBC as well. If you see him, tell him the Kirby's said "hi!"

God will surely bless your time at UPBC - His word never returns void. Keep plugging along, and I will definitely check your BLOG now and then to see how school's going! God bless!!

I do not know Mr. (or Mrs.?) Kirby, and I actually spoke at JV camp rather than boys camp. Even so, this person cannot know how extremely encouraging their comment was. Note their healthy expectations for the program staff; to be good role models, especially for those of their gender- to interact with kids in a way that displays godliness- and to proclaim God’s word to the campers even when it seems to have no immediate return. It is a wonderful thing to encourage these expectations in camp staff!

I think this forms a great backdrop for a quick review of my time at camp. Here are a few of the larger themes and issues that we learned from.

First, Samantha had a tough cabin. The oldest kids are always hard, and she counseled a large cabin of the oldest girls in camp. In case any campers read this I’ll try to be careful about specifics, but suffice to say that it was a stretching and draining week for her. I can’t thank God enough that she remained tough about it, and is still willing to do camp ministry in various forms in the future. She is a trooper.

Second, I think I struggled as a speaker, but I was thankful for clarity (which was my chief request of God regarding my sermons). I’m not very good at drawing kids in, and I have a bad habit of using terms they do not understand. Still, the gospel was clearly presented every day, and I think the separate paths of the world and of the true Christian were made clear. As Mr./Mrs. Kirby rightly pointed out, the key is that clear proclamation of God’s word is of higher importance than entertainment because it is GOD who works through the Word, not man.

Third, I was reminded how I love and appreciate camp and the people who keep it running. Though I had been gone two years, my friends of every age from 4 to 80 welcomed us with open arms and hearts. They helped me with the office printer and copier (I HATE technology), chatted with me, teased me about my sorry fashion skills, played Ultimate Frisbee with me, and argued with me about modernism vs. postmodernism (well, that one was primarily Grace).

Fourth, I was so impressed by my family. I spoke, and my wife (Samantha), sister (Bethany), brother-in-law (Aaron), and brother (Peter) all counseled! They were terrific. Also, my other brother (David) and sister did a mission trip to the area the week before, and Peter is staying at camp on summer staff. What a crew!

Finally, I was struck once again by the amazing things God can do in a short period of time. In two simple weeks, all kinds of spiritual progress happened in the lives of campers, in the lives of my summer staff buddies, and in the lives of the program staff. Truly camp is a special form of para-church ministry, with unique avenues to share the gospel that no single church could accomplish.

Thanks to all my UPBC friends! Samantha and I look forward to however we can stay involved in the future.

p.s. Mr./Mrs. Kirby should know that I LOVE Bruce Black. He has been a mentor and friend to me for years, and he is continuing to do terrific ministry at UPBC by speaking, acting as president of the trustees, and driving the bus. Men and women of God like Bruce and others are what make a camp like UPBC work.


The Joy of Bible Camp

I love camp.

When I was 7 years old, my mom sent me off to boys camp at UPBC (Upper Peninsula Bible Camp). I was not very good at it. I made few friends, hated the water (I sink), and even at that age was annoyed at the way the campers only liked songs where they got to yell or jump around.

Still, there were three very good things. First, we got to go on a one-night camping trip. I could hike around the edge of a lake for long periods of time by myself, or stare into the fire and think. I quickly fell in love with camping.

Second, we played a lot of capture the flag. At the time I was too short to outrun people and get the flag, but I was quick enough to be very good at defense.

Third, I had my birthday during the week, and one of the staff girls gave me a kiss on the cheek in front of the whole camp. Very cool.

So, I came back. And then came back again. And again. With only a couple of exceptions, camp became my primary place to relax and grow as a person during the summer months. At camp I did the ropes course and swung from trees, learned to kayak and canoe, camped, and built relationships. I was introduced to what would become one of my top-two favorite sports, Ultimate Frisbee. I learned how to relate to girls. I learned to work hard, serving on staff for half a summer. I learned how to be a teacher and a leader, and eventually a pastoral figure by being a counselor. I was taught manhood and godliness. I had opportunity to see solid men of God wrestle with tough discernment issues. And of course, I heard the Bible preached clearly and with great passion.

I would not be the same without camp. Life made up of struggles and frustrations, strengths and foibles. Camp brought those out and taught me to understand them in ways that were more intense and more revealing than daily life in school ever could. It was one of many powerful shapers of my thinking and personality growing up.

Today we begin our trip back to camp, to yet again experience camp in a new way. I’m nervous and excited, worried about doing well and yet certain the Holy Spirit will accomplish his purposes. Once again, I am sure God will find a new way to teach, expand, and strengthen me for his purposes. I hope that whatever you are doing this summer, you are able to find experiences that do the same for you.

UPBC, here we come!


Third Avenue Devotional

Hey Folks,

Here is my lightning-round devotional at Third Avenue. They give us fifteen, and I managed to sneak it in at ten seconds under ten minutes! Ah well. Just go to the link and scroll down until you find the May 27th sermon on Isaiah 40:6-8. Enjoy!

Third Avenue Devotionals


Fall Reading List

Wow... this is my reading list for the Fall semester. There is just one small problem; this is the list for only THREE of my FOUR classes! And I need a job, too!

Augustine, The City of God

Elshtain, Jean Bethke, Augustine and the Limits of Politics

Markus, R.A, Christianity and the Secular

O’Donovan, Oliver, The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology.

Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine

Anthony Hoekema, Created in God’s Image

John Piper and Wayne Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood

Andreas Kostenberger, “A Complex Sentence Structure in 1 Timothy 2:12,” in Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9-15

Ronald W. Pierce, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, Gordon D. Fee, Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy

Wayne Grudem, “But What Should Women Do in the Church?”

Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin

Paul Wegner, The Journey from Texts to Translations

Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan

Dan McCartney and Charles Clayton, Let the Reader Understand

Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics and Discernment

Everyone faces important decisions. Work, relationships, finances, all kinds of things. However, I want to mention just three.

First, I’m speaking at a bible camp in a few weeks. What things should I share with the kids? What will be interesting and relevant, but also (more importantly) God-honoring and true?

Second, I’m getting more involved at church. I want to be a positive addition to the larger church culture, even in the various discussions and (usually minor) disagreements that go on. How will I decide what things to fight for or ignore? How will I help set new directions or explore good ministry ideas?

Third, always looming in the mind of a seminary student is the problem of what to do after school. Though I’m a few years away, I want to prepare well to minister in whatever context God might place me. To do so, I need to ask; what things are NECESSARY and what things are not? Can I be pastor at a church that is dispensational? Charismatic? Egalitarian?

Finding answers to these questions is a matter of finding guidance from God through prayer, meditation, talking with more experienced Christians, and studying Scripture. That last is one I want to focus on here.

There are two interrelated ideas I am hoping to pursue in the coming semester. The first is Direct Hermeneutics. The second is Biblical Discernment.

Watching the complex arguments that are made in various contexts (seminary, the blogosphere, churches, etc.), I worry that we can sometimes become a bit Pharisaical, in that we easily create new, “commandments,” for the church which God did not necessarily intend. Or at least he did not intend the level of severity we sometimes give them.

So then, I want to first investigate how we do hermeneutics. I’m taking a class on the subject, and intend to learn as much as I can. My goal is to learn this; what things can we DEFINITELY say based on Scripture, and what are some things we cannot necessarily prove without a philosophical middle step? For instance, we can certainly prove salvation through faith in Christ alone. On the other hand, we cannot prove whether it is better to sing hymns or praise songs in church. The problem is that a LOT of issues fall in between these two when it comes to provability from Scripture, and we need to learn how to show very clearly what Scripture does and does not say. I call this Direct Hermeneutics because I want to learn to glean guidance directly from Scripture, and avoid governing philosophical systems as much as possible.

After that, I want to develop Biblical Discernment for the issues we face in life. We need to know how to take Scriptural guidelines and teach people how best to fulfill them in a way that is loving, wise, and above all God-honoring. To do so, it is key that we make it our practice to avoid easy answers (such as creating new rules for everything) and learn to construct solutions to confusing problems that stay withing the bounds of Scripture and make honoring God their primary goal, but also do not place unnecessary and unscriptural burdens on the people struggling with these issues.

So, that’s one of my quests for the next several months. Good luck to you, as you work to be discerning with your own life!

As a side note, here is a series of sermons that have so far been a major player in my conception of how we learn from Scripture.


Said at Southern

If you're interested, there's a new website up that has various resources from the Southern Seminary community... student, faculty, and alumni blogs, as well as some editorial articles. The link is www.saidatsouthern.com, which I've also placed on my blog links. Enjoy!


The Wod of Our God Will Stand

I had the privilege of giving the devotional at my church, Third Avenue Baptist, on Sunday night. Here's the manuscript. I'll put a link up when the audio is available!

Isaiah 40:8

Look around you. It seems that wherever you turn, people struggle with feelings of inadequacy, of insignificance, and of smallness. At different points in our lives, we are all struck by how tiny we are in comparison to things that are much bigger than us; things like time, or war; the universe, or heartbreak; death, or God.

We see it in the movies we watch and the poetry we admire. We hear it in the songs on the radio and see it in the works of the philosophers. In a seemingly infinite variety of contexts and modes, the human heart is forced to consider its own smallness and mortality.

So, as you go about your daily life, you will hear things like this:

“Good luck exploring the infinite abyss!”


“We mortals are but shadows and dust!”

Or this

“We've grown used to the idea of space, and, perhaps we forget that we've only just begun. We're still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers.”

Or this

“O God, thy sea is so great, and my boat is so small.”

Now, sometimes we might decide to shake these feelings off, or to quickly change the subject. We often put a high premium on an optimistic view of the world. Too often, perhaps.

But here in Isaiah 40, we see that this cry of insignificance is normal, even for a prophet. Isaiah, we know, has seen a glorious vision of the Most High God on his lofty throne. Themes of God’s power and of justice flow throughout his proclamations. Here, sandwiched between a passage about hope for the coming messiah and one regarding the greatness of God, Isaiah tells us of a voice that seems to cry out in despair.

6 A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
surely the people are grass.

Through this simple metaphor, we are reminded of how weak and small our lives are. And yet, Isaiah goes on to proclaim the powerful truth that is contrasted with our small lives; God’s word is eternal and unchanging. Look at verse 8;

8 The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.

Now, there are a lot of great studies you can do from this simple passage. You can study how it interacts with Isaiah’s other prophetic proclamations. You can consider the many uses of the term “the word of God” throughout the Bible. You can make some terrific parallels between this passage and the gospels, because in verses 3-5 it prophesies about John the Baptist.

However, because our time is limited, I just want to make three simple exhortations to you that this passage should inspire in us.

1. First, spend time meditating on your smallness before God.

It is good and healthy to recognize how small we are compared to God. I think Keith did a terrific job this morning of showing how John the Baptist had a clear and accurate view of his role in the kingdom of God, and how it informed the way he lived and taught. In the same way, our lives should display the fact that we understand ourselves to be quite small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

If you need some help meditating on this topic, I encourage you to simply look in Scripture. This basic meditation is used in a variety of contexts by the Biblical authors.

-For instance, Peter actually quotes this passage in 1 Peter 1. He meditates on how our thankfulness for the new birth, which comes through the word of God, should express itself in an earnest love for one another.

-In James 4, James speaks of life as a vapor. He uses it to criticize those who spend their lives pursuing money rather than serving God.

-In Matthew 6, Christ teaches that it is more important to pursue the kingdom of God than to worry about food and clothing. He reminds us that earthly treasures will rust or be stolen, but that heavenly treasures are eternal.

I could go on and on, but I would encourage you to learn how to repeat this pattern of meditation in your own life. Seek to enlarge your soul by thinking about how small and transient our lives are, and then contrast that with the wonder and beauty and power and eternity of our Great King.

2. Second, learn to hear the world struggle with insignificance.

By this, I simply mean it is important for us to recognize that nearly every person we know struggles in some way with feeling small and insignificant. They are crying out for an answer, and we will never be able to offer it if we do not know how to listen for the tears of their hearts. Learn to see this human problem in poetry, and in music; in literature, and in art. Listen for it in your conversations with friends and co-workers. Learn to see it in the reckless way that so many people live their lives. As we become more sensitive to this problem, we will be more able to proclaim the solution.

3. Finally, use this common human problem to proclaim the gospel.

As Isaiah highlights for us, our lives are like grass, easily burned or blown away by the wind. Any way you look at it, we are alive only because it pleases God that we should be so. While we are here on this earth, then, like John the Baptist, we should fulfill our role by proclaiming the Messiah.

When your friends or co-workers cry out because of their sin and insignificance, tell them of the hope and eternal nature of the gospel. Preach God’s word to them, knowing that it is the only thing worthy of their complete trust. Live your life in such a way that it could be said of you, “this was a person who trusted the word of God more than they trusted anything about this life.”

My friend, meditate on your smallness before God. Learn to listen to the world as it recognizes its own insignificance. And then, as one who knows your role in the kingdom, proclaim to them the eternal and unchanging gospel of Christ, to the glory of our God.

The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.


A Quick Note of Appreciation

A few days ago, I was reviewing a discussion I had with a friend regarding gender roles. Now, I believe this discussion/argument is primarily a hermeneutical one- in other words, gender roles in the church should be determined by what we understand Scripture to be teaching, and a Christian cannnot change that without an alternate hermeneutical approach (way of studying and extracting the Bible’s meaning).

However, the discussion also made me realize how much I appreciate the terrific women in my life. If you go to the church where I grew up (Lake Pointe Bible Church), Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington DC, or Third Avenue Baptist Church here in Louisville, you will find dozens of smart, articulate, strong, and godly women (you can find them at University Baptist Church too, but I’m just pointing out that complementarianism does not repress women).

The thing I’m most thankful for is this; if you talk to these women, you will find that they LIKE being part of a complementarian church. They APPRECIATE men taking leadership roles in the church (interestingly, all three of these churches seem to somehow have avoided the problem of men not being interested or taking initiative in church). They do not feel restricted in the least from using their gifts.

Knowing this gives me a lot of confidence. I would have a harder time making the hermeneutical argument if I did not have the confirmation from women that I admire and trust that it is a valuable doctrine for them.

So last night I was listening to a discussion between three very respected, high profile pastor-theologians. The complementarian issue came up, and you know what? ALL THREE affirmed how much they appreciated the women in their congregations who affirmed to them the value of a complementarian leadership structure.

So ladies, thank you. Thank you for having the strength to submit, even when you could probably do it yourself. Thanks for having the patience to encourage the men, even when they are weak. Thank you for overcoming the need for praise and popularity that the “head honchos” sometimes get.

And thanks especially to my wife, Samantha, for always expanding your ability to submit and follow my leadership, weak and inconsistent though it may be.


Discharge Your Duty With Fidelity

As I mentioned in my last post, I wanted to comment on how our actions interact with God’s. As one who believes that the Bible is clear regarding the subject of God’s sovereignty, I do believe we can say with certainty that God directs our steps, changes our hearts, and produces the results for any actions we undertake.

Still, the implications for that concept are pretty tough, right? Throughout my spiritual life, I have been involved with small ministries that have a hard time putting together programs or events that most would consider “successful.” Outreach events, youth groups, advertising… godly men and women frustrated again and again by the seeming unimportance of their actions.

The usual “correct” Christian response is to say, “Well, our job is just to put in the effort, and let God handle the results.” It is the response of faith, yes- but it also gets harder and harder to swallow when the results seem so pragmatically oriented. After all, often it really IS the more exciting programs that draw in the most people!

How then should we respond? I fear that too many churches respond by knee-jerk reaction; they launch themselves to one side or the other.

I saw this clearly in college. I attended one church for a while, but became tired of the non-stop action and overly simple teaching. Their model was strongly pragmatic. It was built on exciting “worship” that was much more like a rock concert, fancy coffee, updated facilities, and the like.

The church I later attended was in a process of what I felt was healthy transition. For a long time they had looked to pragmatic concerns to help them renew what they felt was their mission to the university; large outreach events, fund drives to make the church more attractive, interest in more exciting worship. However, I had the pleasure of seeing them work to be more faithful; they taught more Bible-centered Sunday school lessons, accepted their congregational makeup, and devoted more time to spiritual growth than numerical. However, even there you could see the frustration when they were so certain God was going to do amazing (generally numerical) miracles through their humble efforts- and then it did not happen.

Friend, what I want to propose to you is this; be wise and thoughtful about your role in the kingdom. Do not be rash in counting on God to make an otherwise unlikely idea work, but also do not abandon spiritual health and meat for the sake of building a program so pragmatically exciting that it barely needs God. The fact of the matter is this: wisely and proportionally committing your work and ministry to God with faithfulness as your goal IS the true victory. Let God do what he will through it. Expect good fruit, but do not presume to always know what form that good fruit will take.

I’m reading an excellent little book called Baptists; Thorough Reformers by Rev. John Quincy Adams (no not THAT John Quincy Adams). In it, he says this about the true reformer:

“The true religious reformer must [will] ultimately triumph. However opposed, reproached, and persecuted, he triumphs. Even when he appears to be discomfited he triumphs. While he struggles on in adversity, and while sad reverses meet him in his work, still he triumphs. The power of the truth is manifest in the support it yields him amid these disheartening circumstances. The consciousness that he has discharged his duty with fidelity, fills his mind with peace… He esteems ‘the reproaches of Christ greater riches than all the treasures’ of earth.”

May we too, in our attempts to honor our King with our efforts for his kingdom, discharge our duty with fidelity, and there fill our minds with peace.


The Danger of Passivity While Seeking God's Will

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones.

Passages like Proverbs 3:1-12 (including vs. 5-8 shown above) are nice, because they are so applicable. They display Christian wisdom, and help order our lives. Many normal daily problems we face could be quickly solved by following the advice of the Proverbs and learning to trust and acknowledge God in all our ways.

But I ask; how do we determine our ways? Often I struggle with a perceived lack of long-term guidance on God’s part. He has not told me for certain that I will be a pastor, or what ministry I should do at church, or how to decide between a job that is interesting or one that has health insurance. When we face these things, we tend to go with the default. We just do… well, whatever. We study the subject that interests us, do the job that follows naturally from our studies, attend the church that seems closest to our theology, and in the meantime have a family and pursue our hobbies.

In the back of our minds, though, we are nagged by the feeling that we are coming up just a tad short. I think this is why books can make us feel so guilty; we read of Jim Elliot and feel that our passion for the lost is inadequate. We read of George Mueller and are disgusted by our weak prayer lives. We look at “read through the Bible in a year” plans and quietly shake our heads in frustration because we have tried them a thousand times and cannot prevail.

But look again. Read the stories of great heroes of the faith; even better, read stories of the faithful in the Bible. Ask yourself a different kind of question; how did they determine their course of action?

Yes, we may have a certain level of envy for Paul and the clarity of his conversion. But look again… do you see how often he just chose something? The city to go to, when to leave on a missionary journey, whom to talk to- he just picks. With some (usually supernatural) exceptions, this happens all over the place in the bible and in the lives of the saints. A man or woman greatly desires to serve God, and the just DO something.

Here I want to refer especially to Matthew 25 and Luke 19. Jesus tells the parables of the servants and their talents/minas. Without reading too much into the text, notice these things; first, the master does not inquire how the servants obtained the monies they earned. Now, I do not mean to advocate some sort of hard-core pragmatism, where ends always justify means. However, it does seem that the master did not ask for his servants to try to guess his exact preferred plan for making money; he only expected that they do their best to honor his desire for expanded funds.

Next, notice that the master does not care so much about measurable output. He certainly appreciates that one servant made more than the others, but he does not have a scale where 10=good, 5=fair, 1=not good, and 0=worst. It seems from his reaction that the master hates inactivity more than he hates failure, and loves faithfulness more than output.

Here is what I am trying to say. I fear that as Christians, passivity is one of our worst problems. We take our amazing ability for rationalization (like the servant rationalizing hiding his talent in the ground) and tell ourselves that we have done enough. God will understand! Our highest priority is to not destroy our lives through public sin or moral failure or embarrassment. Get an education, get a job, start a family, and DON’T SCREW UP!

However, I do not think that is right. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, when God calls a man, he bids him come and die. Dying to self is a concept so radical that I fear we brush it off. George Eldon Ladd expresses this powerfully in his terrific book, The Gospel of the Kingdom.

“Denial of self does not mean that I am to deny myself things. It means to deny myself, not to deny things to myself… Self-denial is self-centered; denial of self is Christ-centered. Denial of self means death, nothing less… This is what cross-bearing means: a readiness to die with and for Christ. It means complete dedication to Christ, even though this dedication costs one his life. It means an act of self-surrender which holds nothing back, not even life itself. It means my life, my will, my ambitions, my hopes- all are given to Christ. It means that I count myself as dead that Christ may live and reign in me.”

As Christians, we are called to ACTION. We are called to die to self, to commit ourselves wholly to serving God. We must pursue the advancement of the gospel and the expansion of his kingdom in the world.

Yes, these things should always be tempered by prayer, and wisdom, and advice from elders, and Scripture above all else. And yes, God is ultimately the one who “does the work.” In my next post I’ll discuss the interaction between our action and God’s.

However, there is a fundamental danger we must avoid. It is very easy to live in a Christian way and yet, protected by rationalization and pious words, not be wholly committed to the kingdom of God.

God has given us freedom to choose how best to serve him with the blessings he has given. If it is his desire to change our path, he will (think of Paul being denied access to some places and given unexpected access to others). But that is his responsibility, not ours. Our job is to continually build, to expand, to work for the kingdom. Christian, BE IN MOTION for the glory of God. His imperative on our lives is not to merely avoid sin, but to DO something for the advancement of the kingdom.

So then, choose. Choose a ministry, share the gospel, teach, serve your family. But whatever the case, however you decide to use the talents the master has given, be certain that you can look back and see a life that denied self, took up its cross, and followed Christ.


Off for a few days

Hey folks,

I'm off for a few days, I'll be attending the Basics for Pastors Conference in Cleveland with my brother. I'm excited, it'll be my first chance to hear Alistair Begg and Voddie Bauchaum in person!

I may have e-mail, but then again I may not. So feel free to call me if you need anything!



Identifying With a Luge Prodigy

When I was in college, I was part of a small group called a, “freshman family.” The “father” of this group was a senior named Thor. Thor is a fun, kind, and godly man. His leadership meant the world to our group. He was different from me in just about every way imaginable, which is probably why we got along so well.

Thor once told us that growing up, he wanted to be in luge. The sport is so obscure that my spell-checker does not even think it is a word! For whatever reason, Thor loved the dangerous, high-speed nature of the sport.

When Thor was in late high-school or early college (can’t remember which), he happened to find a luge track, and watched people practicing. An instructor asked him if he wanted to try, and did not have to ask twice!

Thor whipped down the track, and found himself to be a natural. The instructor set up hay bales along the track, and Thor maneuvered between them, time and time again applying just the right amount of pressure to dodge the obstacles.

After several runs, the instructor told Thor he was a natural. He offered a scholarship to the United States school for luge! Thor could not have been more thankful or gratified.

But by this time, Thor knew what God would have him do. He was a brilliant linguist, and had a heart for the lost overseas. He turned down the scholarship, and went on to be a teacher and missionary.

I identify with Thor. Thanks to all those luge instructors out there.

Soli Deo Gloria.


They Said It Better Than I Ever Could

Do you ever find yourself reading a speech, or an article, or a book, and just shake your head in amazement at how much you agree with the author? It's as though he or she has given voice to thoughts and passions you knew you had, but could not articulate (and they often have a lot more research to back it up, too!). One obvious value of articles like this is that they are good to hand out to people when you are trying to convince them of your point of view. However, they can also be an important insight into a person's thinking.

So, here's the request/challenge/idea. What is a speech, article, or book chapter that you find yourself in complete agreement with? Something that expresses some of your deepest interests and conclusions? I would love to read stuff that provides such a valuable window into other people's hearts and minds.

Just so you don't think I'm talking without doing, here are some of my favorites.

First, on politics, my favorite is a speech given in 1978 by Alexander Solzhenitsyn at Harvard. The speech was entitled, "A World Split Apart", and it has molded my thinking on politics for years.

Second, on people and relationships, G.K. Chesterton wrote a wonderful article/book chapter called, "On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family," that has been a guide for many of my relationship choices over the last several years, including my marriage.

Finally, one of my three favorite theologians is A.W. Tozer. In his classic book The Pursuit of God, he wrote a chapter which reminds me time and time again to practice complete faith and trust if I ever would seek to gain anything. I would not be here at seminary if it weren't for principles I learned in this chapter, entitled "The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing."

Please take up this challenge! It will, I hope, provide some thought-provoking material for everyone to work through. And no, Rich, the video of Soul Force doesn't count.


Keeping our eyes open to The Way Things Are

I have always had an interest in The Way Things Are... in other words, I want to know what the actual truth is, regardless of who agrees with what. This caused me to be terrible for party politics, because I would argue with the higher-ups whenever I felt they were wrong. This is not conducive to moving up the food chain in those circles (though you do get great job recommendations, because they tend to respect you and want to see you do well... somewhere else!)

So, today I just wanted to recommend some good resources for seeing The Way Things Are.

First, here is an interesting article that wrestles with how schools and universities can prevent school shootings. They do in-depth research and observation to try to answer some questions about the way these things happen. It's pretty short, so take a minute to read it! Before the Rampage: What can be done?

Second, for all you aspiring pastors, youth leaders, and educators out there, I highly recommend this book. I used many of the things I learned in some sermons I gave at a youth retreat last year. The authors do exhaustive research on high-school kids in the U.S., and paint a bleak (yet, importantly, truthful) picture of the passionless nature of today's kids. Very quickly, the term moralistic therapeutic deism will come to have great meaning to you. The book is called Soul Searching.

Finally, as I've mentioned before, I have great interest in urban missions. It is important that urban missionaries and church planters have an acute sense of The Way Things Are if they are to be successful in speaking the gospel clearly to the huge varieties of people and backgrounds found in an urban setting. Harvie Conn and Manuel Ortiz do, I think, an excellent job of assessing many of these difficulties without compromising the gospel or the hand of God in outreach. Their book, Urban Ministry, is terrific.

Let me just encourage you to seek out articles and resources of this kind, ESPECIALLY in your area of ministry. If you are a teacher, look for articles and books that are observational, and not just theoretical. If you are in politics, look for case studies that examine actual cases of an issue you are researching, and don't just toe the party line. If you are a pastor or youth leader, UNDERSTAND your people. Don't just assume they will respond to the same things that drove you to Christ. Learn how to make the gospel speak clearly to their situation.

Of course, much has been written about not compromising the gospel, and I strongly agree with that. I am no fan of the Schullers and Hybels of the world. However, that doesn't mean we have license not to know anything about the people in our care.

Have a great day!


I Went For A Walk, That's All

I went for a walk, that’s all.
Feet bouncing with strength of youth,
Clothes neat and fresh on my back.
Scenery aging slowly
With years and fast with seasons.
Into the hills of heather,
Where trees are old and paths new.
Leaves crackle under my feet,
As I walk a path I know
Or at least I think I’ve seen.

Down a dusty dirt pathway,
A fond memory from youth.
Down the hillside of pebbles;
Slightly dangerous, but fun.
Down the scratchy forest trail
Through bushes best avoided.
Down the laughing ice-edged stream;
Getting wet, but what a tale!
Down to the valley in mud
Slickened by leaves and old rain.

Here I pause, just to take stock,
But going back is too much.
A walk must be a circle
Guided by vision and goals.
I won’t fail! And so proceed
With thoughts of stories well-told,
Faces lighting with wonder,
Hearts putting trust in my strength.
On for a new direction!
A pathway between the seas.

Tramping along valley floor,
No scenery, just boredom.
Tramping along valley floor,
Further and further from home.
Tramping along valley floor,
Aching joints and wet clothing.
Tramping along valley floor,
Wishing home were soon ahead.
Tramping along valley floor,
Maybe I’ll just live alone.

Then a cloud covers the sun.

And ankle twists on a rock.

And I just don’t like pancakes.

I plop into muck and sob.

Strange how hard it is to turn,
To leave wrong pathways behind.
We’d not believe it a strain,
Did not our lives display it.
I tightened wet shoes and belt,
Ignored the scrapes and blisters.
Allowed shame to take its course,
Till blood drained from reddened cheeks.
Wiping mud from seat of pants,
I turned.

The cloud still covered the sun.

My gait sported a slight limp.

My tears froze upon my face.

Tramping along valley floor,
Resolved not to live alone.
Tramping along valley floor,
Home still lying far away.
Tramping along valley floor,
Aching joints and wet clothing.
Tramping along valley floor,
Nearer and nearer to home.
Tramping along valley floor,
Still monotonous and cold.

Here I pause, just to prepare.
But staying is wholesale loss.
I recall each bush and tree,
Testament to backtracking.
Afraid I’ll break, I proceed,
With thoughts of bed and pillow,
Of hot meat and creamy milk,
Arms hugging around my waist,
Just happy we are both there,
A couple on an island.

Up the valley slick with mud,
Slipping on leaves and old rain.
Up the ice-edged stream, still wet,
The tale washed away by shame.
Up the thistled forest trail,
Warning before, scratching now.
Up the hillside of pebbles,
Knees bloodied and nothing fun.
Up the dusty dirt pathway,
New memories of wisdom.

Too dark to watch scenery
Along a path known too well.
Even so it is aging
Slow with years, fast with seasons.
Out of the hills of heather,
Where trees are old and paths new.
Home to my wife and children,
Relief flooding my tear ducts,
The pain of growth and wisdom.
I went for a walk, that’s all.


Outreach ideas at Third?

1. Always stay within Scriptural boundaries.
2. Continually pray for God’s guidance and blessing, for his will to be done and his glory to be shown.
3. Carefully assess what ministries the church is best prepared and equipped to do.
4. Strive for specific short-term goals and work to build toward certain long-term goals as well.
5. Be open to God’s guidance, whether it be through circumstances, clear calling, unexpected changes in people or resources, or new avenues to ministry.

These are the five tenets of the, “organizing principle for church outreach,” that I suggested in my last post. As promised, here are my thoughts on what this might look like in our church.

1. Always stay within Scriptural boundaries.
Our church is committed to this idea. Even when we debate each other, both sides have fidelity to God’s will as revealed in Scripture as their highest goal. Any discussions we have regarding outreach, then, will be continually checked for their faithfulness to the Bible.

2. Continually pray for God’s guidance and blessing, for his will to be done and his glory to be shown.
One struggle in any church is that a particular idea can take hold in people’s minds, and they assign it greater value than it necessarily deserves. For instance, a social worker might become very frustrated with a church for not having a developed domestic abuse response program. On the one hand, the social worker has a good point: domestic abuse is a serious and widespread problem and deserves attention and preparation. On the other hand, though, responding to domestic abuse is not necessarily the primary goal or role of the church. It is important that a church respond to various outreach ideas by prayerfully and biblically listening for God’s guidance, praying for wisdom, and praying for a clear direction. We are God’s sons: if we ask for bread, will he give us stones?

At our church, I think it would be good (and this may already be done, so I’m naming this as my thought, not a criticism) to be specific in praying for ways that we can do systematic corporate outreach. Sometimes it is a little too easy to lean on the idea of, “every member ministry,” and allow it to become, “every member a lone minister/ministry.” If we are in prayerful agreement about the primary outreach ministries of the church, we may be better able to organize ourselves in carrying out those ministries corporately.

3. Carefully assess what ministries the church is best prepared and equipped to do.
Assessment is hard, because there is a constant tension between what you WANT to do, and what you are best BUILT to do. To state it with a bit of absurdity, it does not really matter if the construction team wants to perform Swan Lake and the ballet team wants to build an office building. Organisms, be they individual or corporate, are best able to carry out the role they are best designed for.

At our church, sometimes I question how well positioned we are to do much neighborhood ministry in the short term. Most of our members are only here for a few years because they are in school, and then they leave. I think that if we are honest, we are not built to do much neighborhood ministry right now.

However, we ARE uniquely positioned to have a ministry of discipleship for future church leaders, and of outreach and discipleship for college students. We have a large seminarian population, and this population desperately needs the wisdom and criticism and correction of more experienced church leaders. Our church has several good things in place to work in this area, including sharing the evening pulpit, giving good feedback, and building mentoring relationships. We could probably make this even stronger, though.

We also have a growing number of college students. This population is extremely smart, and they are going through that exciting time of life when you ask all kinds of questions about who you were (your family, childhood, etc), who you are (your likes and dislikes and personality and character), and who you will be (what kind of man or woman, etc.). Our church is uniquely able to speak to them, because we have so many younger men and women who are strong and knowledgeable in their faith.

When we assess ourselves in this way, we start to get a picture of what we are best able to do. It is much like looking at my individual life and realizing that one piece of the way God expresses his purpose for me is through my gifts and talents. This is not to say that God cannot overcome weakness for his glory (for instance, did you know John Piper used to have serious stage fright problems?). However, those are special acts of God that are hard to prepare for. Responsibility demands that we do the best we can with what we have, like the servants given varying numbers of talents by their master.

4. Strive for specific short-term goals and work to build toward certain long-term goals as well.
If my assessment were correct (certainly open to debate), our short-term goals should reflect it. We might set a goal of getting a certain number of people involved in college outreach, or of starting a consistent and systematic program that will speak especially to college students. We might also look for further ways that we can be continually teaching and discipling each other in what it means to be a pastor. Our goal would be to develop wisdom and discernment for future church leaders to carry with them when they leave our church.

At the same time, we might have somewhat different long-term goals. We may not currently be well positioned to reach out the community, but that might change in the next 10 years. If several college students or young families form a core of local people living in the area and attending the church, they might eventually be well positioned to develop better outreach ministries to the local community. If our church sets this as a goal, we could support it by being intentional about helping people who intend to stay for the long haul in getting housing or jobs. We might also continue to encourage connections between those living near the church, to develop the sense of community there.

5. Be open to God’s guidance, whether it be through circumstances, clear calling, unexpected changes in people or resources, or new avenues to ministry.
Who knows what God can do! Even as we attempt to be wise in structuring strong outreach programs that express our church’s unique gifts and strengths, we should be open to new possibilities. Whether this includes new connections with overseas missionaries, or new uses of our space, or new members with strong gifting in an area not previously considered, we should always be flexible as we seek to spread the gospel as best we can using what we have.

Hopefully, organizing principles of this kind will help us be wise and discerning as we glorify God and seek faithfulness in our local church body.


Organizing Principle for Outreach

Learning about word definitions can be fun, but I especially like learning the definitions of phrases. Often you can communicate a more complex idea by combining words. Lately I have been thinking quite a bit about the concept of the, “organizing principle.”

An organizing principle is any concept or idea that helps guide decisions that you make. We all have lots of organizing principles, and they guide how we choose our favorite things, how we pick a job or career, or how we make friends. Even having an alphabetical filing system is making use of an organizing principle. Here are some other examples:

Every March, to the frustration of red-blooded males everywhere, the same thing happens. Millions of longtime sports fans, basketball lovers, and rabid favorite-team followers fill out their brackets based on careful observation, weighing the various factors of individual match-ups, and deep understanding of all the forces involved in college basketball. It is March Madness, baby!

Meanwhile, also every March, millions of mild-mannered, sweet-as-pie, reasonable and practical women who never watch sports on TV (why would you, when there are more productive things to be doing?) fill out their brackets. And of course, they almost ALWAYS beat the guys.

This drives men insane… but why? Is it because they dislike women, or are incapable of losing, or think that the college games were rigged by some nefarious female?

Of course not. It’s because men feel that they lost DESPITE having a superior organizing principle. Men make decisions about who will win games based on knowledge of the teams and knowledge of the game. Women make those same decisions based on whether they have good memories of being in that area (hm… I enjoyed Washington DC more than North Carolina, so I think Georgetown will win!), or which team has cooler uniforms, or which mascot is more imposing. Not sure you believe me? Here is the beginning and conclusion of this very thing straight from the heights of Christendom.

Here is another example. When you were a kid, this is how you decided what to wear: What do I want to wear today?

When you were in early high school, this is how you decided what to wear: What outfit will annoy my mom the most today?

When you were in late high school, this is how you decided what to wear: What will my friends think is cool, especially the cute girl who sits next to me in Western Civ?

When you were in college, this is how you decided what to wear: What takes the fewest seconds to put on? I’m late for class!

In all these cases, you were exercising different organizing principles to make your decisions. If you look a few posts ago, you can see how I am trying to do this same thing regarding which church to attend at different phases in my life. My organizing principle was this: What do I believe is God’s purpose for my church involvement at this time in my life? How can I best glorify him with this decision?

You might say that an organizing principle is a rule that helps you make a decisions.

Alright, that’s all well and good, but how do you make those same kinds of decisions corporately? In other words, how can this concept be applied in the local church?

A few friends have rightly called me out of late, because I have been lax in fulfilling my promise to share my thoughts regarding church outreach. So, here it is; my thoughts on creating an organizing principle for local church outreach.

1) Church outreach must submit to all Scriptural commands. Now, note that this does not mean that the principle must DO all things. Like individuals, individual churches cannot simultaneously conduct ministries in every possible realm of ministry. So, like individuals, they must make decisions about what they WILL do. However, they must fulfill Scriptural commands by not sinning, not compromising the gospel, and not creating unnecessary discord and disunity in the church. They must seek to proclaim the good news, and they should implement godly qualities and desires such as love for the brethren, compassion for the lost and for the poor, and productive use of the blessings God has given (people, money, time, talents, strengths, etc.)

2) Church outreach must be supported by continual prayer for guidance. It is far too easy to mobilize people through persuasive words and ideas that SEEM to line up with godly principles, but will be useless without God’s blessing. Like individual evangelism, it is not the program (or the individual) that brings about change in men’s hearts, but God. Prayer is needed to discern his will, to be affirmed of the rightness of his calling, and to be open to new concepts that he may bring forward.

3) Church outreach should begin with careful and thoughtful assessment. Mark Driscoll has said that it is useless to train someone to be a church planter if God has not given them the right talents and commitment and qualities, so his church-planting organization puts heavy emphasis on assessment. Our approach to outreach programs should do the same. We should carefully assess our churches resources (financial, talents, makeup, time constraints, location, strengths and weaknesses, etc.) BEFORE we lay out a plan for outreach.

Really, this is more intuitive than it sounds. Would you enter a NASCAR race driving a VW Bug? Would you try to enter the NBA draft if you were 5-5 and weighed 100 pounds?

However, sometimes churches have a habit of thinking that they have one particular mission when in fact it does not match an honest assessment of their situation at all. At my last church, we sometimes held on to the tired notion that we were going to reach the MSU campus for Christ, when in fact we did not have the right time, talent, money, or people to make that happen. However, we DID have an excellent ministry to many university employees and their families, as well as a few college students who appreciated family atmosphere more than big exciting programs. When we recognized that fact, we were better able to serve the ministry God had given us, rather than talk about a ministry that we just could not do. Instead of trying to put on big dinners for college students, we started focusing on small groups in family homes. We soon saw the benefit of this more realistic approach.

4) Church outreach should have a specific plan for short-term success and a constructive plan to achieve long-term goals. Once assessment has been done, a church should try to build a plan that is honest about what it can do in the short term. A 30 member family church in Ann Arbor, Michigan probably will not be able to baptize 1000 inner city kids in the next 4 months.

However, they may be able to set up a solid mentoring program for a few international students attending the University of Michigan. At the same time, they can be taking steps toward a larger goal- for instance, they could seek to have 70 members within 5 years, or something like that.

Whatever the individual case, a church should be realistic about using the resources it has for its short-term goals, and also thoughtful about what it can accomplish with long-term goals.

Sometimes churches feel bad about this, as though they are failing their responsibility by not doing EVERY kind of ministry. One member might call a mentoring program into question because, “we should be out saving souls,” or another might be angered by the lack of a ministry to the poor even though the church does not have the financial resources to do such a venture.

However, it is important to recognize, that we are all individual parts of the Body. This is not just individual, as if EVERY church should have EVERY part of the body. It is also corporate; each church has a limited individual role within the larger kingdom of God.

5) Finally, a church outreach program should be open and flexible regarding new possibilities and the providence of God. Realistically, a small church may not feel prepared to take on a major outreach ministry to the local university. However, what if God providentially brought in 10 new members to the church, all of whom were especially well suited to college outreach? A church needs to be open to the new things that God may do in the hearts and minds and lives of its individual members. This does not necessarily mean creating a new ministry every time someone has an idea, but it does mean being prepared to make midstream changes should God so lead.

These five things may seem intuitive, or even obvious! They may well be, but it still helps me to write it out. That way, I can take a proposed idea (like a new ministry) and line it up against these rules to see whether it fits.

So then, though there may be some considerations that I’m missing, I would at least suggest that a church outreach program should do these things.

1. Always stay within Scriptural boundaries.
2. Continually pray for God’s guidance and blessing, for his will to be done and his glory to be shown.
3. Carefully assess what ministries the church is best prepared and equipped to do.
4. Strive for specific short-term goals and work to build toward certain long-term goals as well.
5. Be open to God’s guidance, whether it be through circumstances, clear calling, unexpected changes in people or resources, or new avenues to ministry.

In my next post –which should come much more quickly than this one did!- I’ll try to apply this formula to my local church in a rough way. By that, I mean that I do not know the situation intimately enough to say anything with certainty (I trust the elders and deacons to do that), but it will at least give an example of how this sort of organizing principle could be carried out.


A Prayer in Times of Frustration

You may have noticed in my last post that Riley asked how we (meaning our church, Third Avenue) can be doing outreach in our local community. Well, Riley is my deacon, and therefore in authority over me! I would not want to face his wrath, so my next post will seek to answer his question. I have already been meditating on the topic and outlining my thoughts, but they are not quite complete.

However, before that is finished, I wanted to share something else I wrote. This was written for a good friend in the midst of a time of significant frustration, and it caused me to reflect on my own tendencies when everything seems to go badly. Maybe it will speak to you, maybe it will not. It was valuable for me, though. Till next time!

A Prayer in Times of Frustration

I’ve had a lot of opportunity to think about times of frustration and struggle; they happen to me all the time. I suspect it has a lot to do with getting into tight spots because of my own weaknesses. Still, I know how hard they can be. Do you ever get that feeling like your stomach is being sucked out and you’re afraid that the world will see how weak you are? Yeah, me too.

Problems seem to come from everywhere. Not only is that homework assignment late, but that friend is hurting and in need of counsel. Not only is the bank account low, but I overslept and missed an important class this morning. Not only am I having a fight with my wife, but I hurt my shoulder and it is slowing my ability to work. It seems like the scales are about to tip and I am about to be humiliated by the mess I have made of a perfectly decent life. I wish I were dead, or that I were living in a simpler world, or that something would happen to free me.

I wish there were quick solutions, but there really are not. So when you face those times, these are my prayers for you.

I pray for you situationally: Each stage of life has its own frustrations. God will bring you through the problems of this context and life situation. I pray that you will learn how to deal with its unique challenges and issues in a way that honors him in thought and deed.

I pray for you practically: Each of us has weaknesses that cause practical problems. I often become overwhelmed by workload, and need to prioritize my work and finish it in bits and pieces. Whatever your weaknesses, I pray that God will help you recognize them and come up with solutions to help you overcome them efficiently.

I pray for you physically: Health often has a lot to do with our approach to life. Not enough sleep, sickness, injuries, and other physical issues can frustrate us and make everything seem a little bit worse. For me, headaches and lack of sleep are common problems. My prayer is that God will give you comfort, allow you to learn to work through those things, and bring healing.

I pray for you mentally: Deadlines and frustrations cause all kinds of mental struggle. We are filled with anxiety as we survey seemingly insurmountable problems. We grow tired as we try to process too much information in too short a time, and often we simply check out and let things slide. I have had many times when there was so much on my mind that the only thing I could think to do was take a nap and take the hit to my grades or relationships, because I did not want to spend the time and focus needed to work through them. My prayer is that you will be able to pray and have patience in those situations, fulfilling your duties and trusting God for the strength to get through. Also, I pray that you will have a godly perspective, knowing what things matter and what things do not.

I pray for you emotionally: When lots of bad things are happening, emotions run wild. We feel like failures, we even hate ourselves. We compare ourselves to others and find ourselves wanting. We can go from extreme anger to extreme lethargy in a matter of moments, neither of which is healthy. We are afraid or embarrassed to talk to God. My prayer for you is that you would learn to see yourself as God sees you. With a godly perspective comes calm, for He is in control. As Christians we should be filled with joy and gratefulness for Christ’s work on the cross, and love and wonder for the God who saves. By focusing on these things, I pray that you will be able to work through and overcome times of emotional hurt and frustration.

Finally, I pray for you spiritually: Many times the root of our hurt and frustration and anger and worry is that we are either missing God or running from God. By this I mean that in my life, my problems begin when I am struggling with a particular sin. It eats away at me, hurting my view of myself and making me too embarrassed to talk to God. It cultivates a sense of inadequacy, and affects other areas of my life.

Even if I am not in sin, many times I am not nourishing myself spiritually. When I fail to pray, or read and meditate on God’s word, or worship, or spend time with God’s people, I quickly tire out. I lose motivation to live faithfully with the life God gave me, and I stop fulfilling my responsibilities. The problem here is not just a failure of my usually-iron will, and the solution is not to just, “gut it out.” Instead, I need to see my problem as spiritual, and use repentance and prayer and listening to the Word to return to a place of being nourished by God. My prayer for you is that you will see this need in yourself when it arises, and that you will have the wisdom to defeat it by leaning on God through repentance, change, and recommitment to obedience.

I pray these things for you because they are problems for me; I pray them because hard times are common to us all. May we together encourage and pray for each other, learning to love and honor God more and more as we seek to speak his gospel, advance his kingdom, and glorify him by living faithfully in this world.


Thoughts on today's church

One of the disciplines I give a lot of time and thought to is asking how we can push our thoughts about the church to the very limit. In other words, how can we challenge ourselves in ways that bring more honor to God in the way that we do ministry.

Mark Driscoll is one of the masters in this category, so I'm posting a couple of short interview sections he did that have stretched my mind. Enjoy!

Driscoll on young leaders.

Driscoll on relating to sinners.

He has several more of these on YouTube, but these were the ones that challenged me the most.

How do you challenge your own mind and preconceptions?