Monday, June 30, 2008

One little meme

My good friend Bret Capranica is a pastor at First Baptist Church of San Jacinto. He recently "tagged" me with this meme:

In an effort to keep it simple, short, and easy to follow, I’d like to challenge you to quote one verse (not one chapter). And then say what the Lord has been teaching you in one sentence (not one paragraph). Then tag 5 peeps (you know the drill).

Thanks, Bret (I think). I really hope this won't set a precedent for lots of future memes, but just one little meme is okay, right? Anyway, here goes...

My verse: "We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ." (Col. 1:28)

My lesson: God has called me to exalt the greatest name (Jesus)
through the greatest means (preaching) to the greatest group (all people) for the greatest goal (Christlikeness) by the greatest strength (see Col. 1:29); what a privilege!

Tag, you're it:
John & Jessica Pham
Mike & Cheryl Prince
Mark Baker
Darrin & Monique Smith
Darien & Libby Bowers

Thursday, June 26, 2008


It sounds like Pixar has done it again. Their new animation WALL-E is scheduled to open in theaters tomorrow, and World Magazine writes a very favorable review. From what I understand, the story follows WALL-E, a little trash compactor robot, who discovers a wonder for creation, a love interest in a girl robot name EVE, and a disappointment in human beings. "Because they live to be cared for rather than to care, the few human beings WALL-E meets have become, to use [director Andrew] Stanton's words, giant babies—literally feeding on milk rather than solid food."

This picture of a selfish, bloated humanity is not so different from David Well's description in chapter five of The Courage to Be Protestant.
This chapter is simply entitled "Self." Wells may be a deep thinker, but he sure does seem to like short chapter titles.

First, here is a quick review of the book so far:
  • Chapter one - Over the past 75 years, evangelicalism has divided into three distinct constituencies: classical evangelicals, marketers, and emergents.
  • Chapter two - As churches continue to downplay theology and Bible knowledge, more and more members are developing a consumer-mentality.
  • Chapter three - In contrast to postmodern society which has denied any absolute standard of truth and morality, Christianity is all about truth - both understood and applied.
  • Chapter four - The triune God of the Bible has attributes which make Him both "near" and "distant" from His creation. It is only through God that the universe has meaning and that people have hope; the self cannot bear the weight of being the center of reality.
In chapter five, Wells continues to explore the idea of the "autonomous self" that has replaced God as the center of the universe. He explains that the rugged individualism that always characterized America began to turn inward in the 1960s. By that time, "The self had become the source of all values. The pursuit of the self was what life was all about...Now it is about finding the self for yourself, discovering your inner potential for your own benefit, esteeming your self, and developing new ethical rules that serve the discovery of...the self" (p. 136).

Two illustrations of our self-centeredness are that we have become a very sensitive and litigious nation. Regarding our sensitivity, Wells observes, "From all of this has arisen a busy and very profitable industry of healers, consultants, grief counselors, writers, and various other purveyors of comfort to the fragile and afflicted. In America, we have one-third of the world's psychiatrists, two psychotherapists for every dentist, and more counselors than librarians" (p. 140). In regard to our litigiousness, Wells notes, "As the sense of responsibility for personal behavior has shrunk, the need for litigation has increased. America has more lawyers than the rest of the world combined" (p. 159). Once again, these statistics confirm the "American paradox" that the author mentioned earlier in the book. "We have unparalleled abundance but, at the same time, are being hollowed out" (p. 67).

There are four areas in which Western civilization has fundamentally changed in our thinking about "self." First, we now talk about values (what is right for each person) instead of virtues (matters of moral character). Second, we now emphasize personality (appearing good) above character (being good). Third, we now focus on self (how we are each distinct, unique, and special) instead of nature (what is common to all humanity). Fourth, we now experience shame (awkwardness about being discovered) instead of guilt (culpability before God) over our sin.

What's the solution to all of this? Should Christians contextualize our message into postmodern, self-help dress? No. Churches must not reduce the gospel to a therapeutic, felt-needs oriented
message that simply offers a better life and a better you. The gospel will certainly produce that, but we cannot replace the benefits of the gospel with the gospel itself. The gospel says that man has a sin nature and is not essentially innocent (p. 166). The gospel says that sin completely separates us from God and that all of us are in need of reconciliation through Christ (p. 168). The gospel says that faith is not mere intellectual assent to the facts about Jesus, but a radical change in our thinking, values, and behavior.

Wells concludes his chapter with a statement bursting with hope: "The fact that the modern self is empty and disintegrating, that our (post)modern society is fragmented and fragile, presents biblical faith with a truly golden moment. A deep longing exists in our society to see the real thing, to see lives lived out that have authenticity, that have substance. This authenticity, however, has nothing to do with following the broken promises of the self movement, which is now simply bankrupt. It has everything to do with taking our place before a holy God, through Christ, in such a way that his character, as it were, reaches into our lives with both the restraint and direction we need if we are to be restored" (pp. 173-74). May all of us be faithful in boldly speaking and authentically living out the truth of the gospel to a watching world.

For next week, we will read chapter six together on the subject of "Christ." Please take a moment to leave a comment below and share your reactions to this chapter.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Vacation bible school 2008

We had a great week of Vacation Bible School last week. There were 40 kids who attended, and a total of 93 people came to the Family Fun Night on Friday. This was the first year we tried having our BBQ and music concert on Friday night instead of Sunday morning, and it was a big success. Here's an article I submitted for publication in our local newspaper, the Hi Desert Star:
Island music and children’s voices filled the air last week at First Southern Baptist Church as they hosted their annual Vacation Bible School. “Vacation Bible School is one of our favorite weeks of the year,” said Pastor Stephen Jones. “We love to meet children from the community and provide a place for them to have fun and learn about Jesus.” This year’s theme was “Outrigger Island: Living God’s Unshakeable Truth.”

Throughout the week, children brought coins and raised over $125 for Guide Dogs of the Desert. This organization based in Palm Springs breeds and trains guide dogs and then provides them free of charge to people with blindness. On Wednesday, the children got to meet three trainers and three guide dogs.

To help with VBS, the church hosted four college-age “summer missionaries” for the week: Tim Bohrer, Akila Brummett, Jourdon Glaspar, and Casey Johnson. “When I first heard of Yucca Valley,” said Akila Brummett, “I expected just to see a barren desert, but I’ve discovered the people are very loving here.” Tim, Akila, and Jourdon are all students at Cal Baptist University. Together, the four missionaries are spending their summer getting ministry training at local churches around the Inland Empire.

Vacation Bible School concluded last Friday night with a free BBQ for all the families, a bounce house, slide show, and concert highlighting all the songs and Scripture verses the children had learned during the week.
We praise God for this year's VBS, and pray we'll continue to build relationships with many of these families to bring them to Christ.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Thoughts on dispensationalism

We're in the middle of Vacation Bible School at church this week, and there's no possible way I'm going to find time to read and write a chapter review of The Courage to Be Protestant. I do plan to get back to our book club, but it will have to wait until next week.

Meanwhile, here's a good article by Matt Weymeyer on covenant theology versus dispensationalism. Theopedia defines "dispensationalism" as "a theological system that teaches biblical history is best understood in light of a number of successive administrations of God's dealings with mankind, which it calls 'dispensations.' It maintains fundamental distinctions between God's plans for national Israel and for the New Testament Church, and emphasizes prophecy of the end-times and a pre-tribulation rapture of the church prior to Christ's Second Coming." [Note: not all dispensationalists are pre-millenial and pre-tribulational, though perhaps most are.]

While the rapture and millennium are not first-order doctrines essential to the core of the gospel, dispensationalism is an important subject to grapple with because it provides an interpretive grid for the whole Scriptures. How you understand this subject will determine not only whether you believe in a millennium, but such things as how you interpret prophecy, how you apply OT law, how you view the church, and how you understand Christ's teaching on the kingdom of God. It really has far-reaching implications for Bible interpretation and application.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Should Christians be cremated?

After the Saturday morning session of the Resolved conference, several of us went out for lunch and got into a conversation about cremation. I guess it's kind of a morbid dinner table topic, but it was interesting nonetheless.

Up until recently, I had pretty much decided cremation was fine for the believer. After all, cremation simply hastens the natural process of decompotion and returning to dust (Gen. 3:19). But a recent article by Russell Moore has me rethinking the issue a bit further. Here's an excerpt:

Of course God can resurrect a cremated Christian. He can also resurrect a Christian burned at the stake, or a Christian torn to pieces by lions in a Roman coliseum, or a Christian digested by a great white shark off the coast of Florida.

But are funerals simply the way in which we dispose of remains? If so, graveyards are unnecessary, too. Why not simply toss the corpses of our loved ones into the local waste landfill?

For Christians, burial is not the disposal of a thing. It is caring for a person. In burial, we’re reminded that the body is not a shell, a husk tossed aside by the “real” person, the soul within. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6–8; Phil. 1:23), but the body that remains still belongs to someone, someone we love, someone who will reclaim it one day.

His conclusion:
[Recognizing that cremation is sub-Christian] simply means beginning a conversation about what it means to grieve as Christians and what it means to hope as Christians. It means reminding Christians that the dead in the graveyards behind our churches are “us” too. It means hoping that our Christian burial plots preach the same gospel that our Christian pulpits do.
At this point, I would say cremation is not inherently sinful, but neither is it preferable. I would recommend a traditional Christian burial if it does not put an undue financial strain on the family.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Heaven and hell

I'm attending the Resolved Conference this weekend in Palms Springs, California. You can view some great photos here by Lukas VanDyke. It's nice for once to attend a conference in our neighborhood rather than having to travel across the country to go to it.

The theme of this year's conference is "Heaven & Hell."
So far, we've heard from Rick Holland, Randy Alcorn, and John MacArthur. All have done a great job. As Rick said last night, if death is an unpopular topic today, hell is even more unpopular. Both in our culture and in our churches, we've concealed the reality of death and hell in a dark closet. Even heaven rarely gets the attention it deserves. I find myself knowing very little about heaven and rarely thinking or preparing myself for it.

I've already been admonished that I need to conduct my life and ministry with a greater view of heaven and hell. It's a dishonor to God and the gospel to avoid these weighty doctrines.

May all of us resolve as Jonathan Edwards did at 19 years old to "to endeavor to my utmost to act as I can think I should do, if, I had already seen the happiness of heaven, and hell torments" (Jonathan Edwards, Resolution #55).

Thursday, June 12, 2008

SBC resolution on same-sex marriage

This week at the annual convention in Indianapolis, Southern Baptists passed a resolution in response to last month's Supreme Court decision in Sacramento. I think it is a well-crafted document. It's an urgent call to action for all Christians to stand up for the biblical definition of marriage. Here's the resolution:
WHEREAS, On May 15, 2008, the California Supreme Court struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage thus frustrating the will of the people who, on March 7, 2000, voted in favor (61.4%) of Proposition 22 which affirmed, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California”; and

WHEREAS, This decision has dire national implications because California law will allow same-sex couples from any state to marry in California, return to their home state, and challenge that state’s traditional marriage laws based on the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution of the United States; and

WHEREAS, The United States Congress has repeatedly refused to pass a constitutional amendment defining marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman, thus providing no federal protection from attacks against traditional marriage; and

WHEREAS, Marriage is ordained by God as a permanent union of one man and one woman (Genesis 1:27-28; 2:24); and

WHEREAS, Jesus reaffirmed marriage as a sacred, monogamous, and life-long institution joining one man and one woman (Matthew 19:4-6); and

WHEREAS, Any action giving homosexual unions the legal status of marriage denies the fundamental immorality of homosexual behavior (Leviticus 18:22; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11); and

WHEREAS, The people of California have collected over 1.1 million signatures on a petition requiring the state to place a referendum on the ballot in November defining marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, June 10-11, 2008, wholeheartedly support the people in California who have worked tirelessly to place this referendum on the ballot; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we strongly urge all Southern Baptists in the state of California to be informed about this issue and to exercise their civic and moral duty by working diligently to support and voting to pass this referendum; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage all Christian pastors in California and in every other state to speak strongly, prophetically, and redemptively concerning the sinful nature of homosexuality and the urgent need to protect biblical marriage in accordance with God’s Word; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we call on all Southern Baptists and believers from all denominations everywhere to pray for the people of California as they seek to right this terrible wrong that has been forced upon them by the California Supreme Court’s overturning of the vote of the people and to pray for the people of every state where biblical marriage is under attack; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we reaffirm our historic and consistent support of the biblical definition of marriage as an exclusive union between a man and a woman; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we once again call on the United States Congress to pass, the President to sign, and the states to ratify a constitutional amendment defining marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.
Any suggestions on how we should live this out practically? I plan to share this in our business meeting on Sunday night and begin a dialogue. Certainly, pastors should be willing to preach on the issue, while not growing preoccupied with politics in our sermons. Christians across the land are also encouraged to join the coalition to receive their email updates or donate by clicking here. I have added my name today as an endorser.

Let's remember that while we should be passionate about the truth, we must also conduct ourselves in a spirit of love and compassion. Homosexuals are watching us now more than ever. Will they perceive Christians as angry gay-bashers, or as people who cherish God's law and are concerned about those souls who have been drawn into the homosexual lifestyle?
We must love the sinner, but hate the sin. Homosexuality is no worse than any other sin. All sin is a breach of God's law and equally heinous in His eyes (James 2:10), needing freedom and forgiveness through Christ (Romans 6:23; Acts 13:38-39). What sets this sin apart is the devastating consequences it will have upon every man, woman, boy, and girl in our society if it is normalized and legalized.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Donate to China or Burma

Some of you may be wondering how you can help the millions of victims from the recent earthquake in China and cyclone in Burma (Myanmar). Baptist Global Response is a global Southern Baptist relief and development organization started for these very kinds of situations. Through Baptist Global Response, Southern Baptists have already released more than $600,000 to help disaster victims in these two regions. This money will go toward food, water filters and purification systems, building materials, and healthcare needs.

You can make a donation by clicking here.

Friday, June 6, 2008


The movie Apollo 13 tells the inspiring story of a lunar landing mission that turns into a dangerous survival mission. Toward the end of the movie, as the three astronauts head back to earth, they find themselves straying off course. They have to perform a tricky burn to realign their trajectory. With their navigation system already destroyed, they must rely entirely on their quick reflexes and the naked eye. Their only reference is a portion of the surface of the earth. If the astronauts lose sight of that reference point, they will shoot off into space and face certain death. In a similar way, David Wells says in the fourth chapter of The Courage to Be Protestant that most Americans have lost their point of reference and are suffering the tragic results.

To many people today, life is nothing more than a series of random, chaotic, and often cruel events. Why? Because we have lost sight of our center. Wells explains that rather than acknowledging God and ordering our lives around Him, "we start our life's journey on the alternative premise that he is not there, or that he has not spoken, or that he does not care. We do not reckon on his providential and moral presence. We begin as if life were empty and without a center and as if we were empowered by our choices to make of life what we will. And so we create our own center, we create our own rules, and we make our own meaning. All of this springs from an alternative center in the universe. It is ourselves" (pp. 99-100).

This means that the language of "evil" has largely vanished, and that "sin" and "guilt" have been eliminated altogether (pp. 100-101). Meaning and morality are no longer fixed and universal, but have now become private and subjective, based almost entirely upon "feelings" (p. 107). And people are now crumbling under a pressure they were never intended to bear. "The self that has been made to bear the weight of being the center of all reality, the source of all meaning, mystery, and morality, finds that it has become empty and fragile. When God dies to us, we die in ourselves" (p. 112).

Wells sets this modern, self-centered perspective in sharp contrast with a biblical, God-centered perspective. "Biblical writers, by contrast, declare that the only reason there is life and hope is that there is a center. It is in the triune God, the maker and sustainer of all things and the one in whom we find reconciliation through the Son. When we know him, life fits back into a meaningful pattern and we are filled with hope about its end" (p. 98).

Our world only makes sense if we have a right understanding of both the "Inside God" and the "Outside God." The "Inside God" refers to His nearness, His daily involvement in creation, or what theologians call His "immanence." This God is not found inside ourselves, but rather is a Person we can know deeply through His Word. The "Outside God" refers to
His loftiness, His otherness, or what theologians call His "transcendence." These attributes of God are also essential to His nature and cannot be removed without creating a different god altogether.

Wells concludes by showing why it is so important to center our worldview around God: First, it is only through God's moral purity that we have any standard of moral law (p. 127). Second, is it only through God's holiness that "sin" has any meaning or culpability, and that we can properly diagnose our problem. Third, the cross only has meaning in light of God's holiness. Fourth and finally, it is only because of God's holiness that He is able to deal with evil in the world.

I finished this chapter having a greater appreciation for the holiness and justice of God. These doctrines are largely ignored in the church, but Wells has shown how our understanding of sin, salvation, eternity, and the universe itself hinge upon our understanding of a just and holy God. May more churches be faithful in preaching and living out these fundamental doctrines.

This review has gone long already, but I can't resist sharing one more quote which I found so good:
We have enough Bibles for every household in America a couple of times over. We have churches galore; religious organizations; educational institutions; religious presses that never stop pouring forth books, Sunday school materials, and religious curricula; and unparalleled financial resources. What don't we have? All too often we don't have what the Old Testament people didn't have. A due and weighty sense of the greatness and holiness of God, a sense that will reach into our lives, wrench them around, lift our vision, fill our hearts, make us courageous for what is right, and over time leave behind its beautiful residue of Christlike character" (pp. 132-33).
Amen! That's what we need in the modern evangelical church.
For those of you reading along, please take a moment to click on the "Comments" link below and share a favorite quote or insight from chapter four. For next week, we will be reading chapter five on "Self."

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Are sermons irrelevant?

There's a lot of debate nowadays about whether preaching has become passe in our high-tech, low-attention span culture. Are expository sermons irrelevant? The Pulpit Magazine blog answers this question with some thoughts by John MacArthur on "Preaching and Postmodernism." You can check out part one here. MacArthur's conclusion:
The bottom line is that expository preaching confronts the amorality of postmodernism with an authoritative message of absolute truth. It’s not a question of debating. It’s not a question of trying to find some way to sneak that in. It’s an issue of confronting this kind of thinking with the absolute authority of Scripture and then letting the Spirit of God make the application to the heart.
I'm looking forward to part two tomorrow. I also hope to post on Wells' chapter four on Thursday or Friday.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Marriage amendment heads to the ballot

From the coalition:

Secretary of State Debra Bowen yesterday certified the eighth initiative for the November 4, 2008, General Election ballot. The measure would amend California’s Constitution to define marriage as a union “between a man and a woman.”

The response from the people of this state has been unprecedented in support of marriage’s legacy, by responding with an all-out volunteer signature campaign,” said Ron Prentice, CEO of the California Family Council and Chairman of the coalition sponsoring the amendment. “We’re so grateful to the over 1.1 million voters who signed the marriage petition in time for the November election. Passing this amendment is the only way for the people to override the four supreme court judges who want to re-define marriage for our entire society.”

Please continue to give your prayer and financial support to this effort. For more information, please visit

Monday, June 2, 2008

May pictures

Picnics, kites, and sawhorses are some of our highlights from the month of may...

New Blog

Today I'm closing up shop and launching a new blog called Pinch of Clay. You can visit it by clicking here . Please stop by and...