Monday, August 31, 2009

Tour the temple mount

Have you always wanted to travel to Jerusalem and see where the temple once stood? Here's the next best thing (and much cheaper). A virtual tour of the temple mount.

Todd Bolen writes, "The creators did a fantastic job with this. The photography is superb, the narration is helpful, and the location is one of the most religiously (and politically) important in the world." He notes the focus of the tour is on the Islamic structures presently on the mount, though the tour does not deny the earlier existence of the Jewish temple, porticoes, etc.

When I had the privilege of studying and traveling in Israel nearly 10 years ago with the IBEX program, I journaled about my experience on the temple mount:

We then made our way to the present day Temple Mount, which is only open to the general public a couple hours a day. Due to the Arab presence, we were instructed to keep our Bibles in our backpacks. In the south of the large courtyard was the El-Aqsa Mosque, and further to the north, directly over where the Holy of Holies is believed to have once rested, we saw the famous Dome of the Rock. A few tourist groups wandered around the courtyard, but mostly, there was an aura of quietness and reverence throughout the place. For the Arabs, this is one of the most sacred sites in the world. The Jews, who despise the Arab presence, are rarely seen on the Mount. They long for a day when the temple can be restored, and dreading the thought of standing on holy ground unworthily, they are content for now to stay outside the Western Wall (or "Wailing Wall"). From the Wall, Jewish prayers to Jehovah are considered a "local call."

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The irony of the cross

He hell, in hell, laid low;

Made sin, He sin o’erthrew;

Bowed to the grave, destroyed it so,

And death, by dying, slew.

*Poem by S. W. Gandy, cited in D. A. Carson’s commentary, The Gospel According to John, p. 622.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Loving the cantankerous people

Jim Eliff shares some good thoughts on why love is the proper way to handle the “cantankerous” people in our church:

  • Love is the highest mark of maturity.
  • Love is the perfect bond of unity (Col. 3:14)
  • Love is the way of blessing because it is grounded in humility (Phil. 2:3-4)
  • Love is the reasonable return for what God has given you (Col. 3:13)

How should we love this kind of person practically? Eliff offers four ways:

  1. Invite him to your home.
  2. Try to find out what drives him.
  3. Within reason, give him some servant responsibility.
  4. Confront him if he continues to cause problems.

You can read the whole article here.

(As a side note, Eliff’s ministry, Christian Communicators Worldwide, is currently offering a free book to seminary students and first-time pastors. See below.)

We occasionally like to give away resources to seminary students and first time pastors. Students or first time pastors may currently ask for one of the following: Divorce and Remarriage: A Permanence View, OR Wasted Faith, OR Dangers of the Invitation System. We only ask that you commit to read the book. Please write Steve Burchett at for ordering details.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Obama-Antichrist video

Many of you have probably seen this video, connecting Barack Obama with the Antichrist. I’ve had two people in the last week ask me about it, so here’s my response:

  1. The biggest problem is equating Satan (Lk. 10:18) with the Antichrist. These are two different people, not the same (See Rev. 13:2) This should make us immediately question the integrity of the rest of the video.
  2. Another problem is that Jesus explicitly told us the end would come unexpectedly (Mark 13:32-33). He would not have disclosed any specific details, even encrypted, to tell us when it’s about to appear.
  3. It elevates the oral, speculative words of Christ above the inspired, written word of Christ. The NT was not written in Aramaic. (We don’t even know for sure that Jesus spoke regularly in Aramaic. He may have chosen to teach in the more cosmopolitan language of Greek.) It is highly speculative to assert what Jesus would have said in Aramaic, and then to draw conclusions from this. It opens up a Pandora’s box of hermeneutical and theological abuses. God gave us the inspired New Testament in Greek, and that is what He intends us to study.
  4. Even the linguistic and grammatical support crumbles upon closer look. It is true that one Hebrew word for “lightning” is baraq, that the Hebrew word for “heights” in Isaiah 14:14 is bamah, and that there is an Aramaic conjunction waw (pronounced “u” in u-bamah). But please note, waw means “and.” Jesus did not say “from heaven and lightning.” He said “from heaven like lightning.” Even if Jesus had spoken in Aramaic, and even if He had chosen the words baraq and bamah (which is by no means certain), He would have joined them together with the preposition min, meaning “out of, from.” Thus, He would have said, baraq mi-bamah, and not baraq u-bamah.

This kind of stuff sounds good on the surface, even raising a hint of plausibility, but really undermines the clarity of Scripture. It delves into hidden meanings and connections, rather than encouraging people to seek the plain meaning of Scripture, found through the grammatical-historical method of interpretation.

I believe Satan is even content to use a video like this to get people anxious and distracted from the Person of Christ and clearly revealed Word of God.

To read more on the biblical identity of Antichrist, I would suggest checking out some recent articles by Bret Capranica.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Book review – The Back of the Napkin

Have you ever wrestled with a subject that was hard to understand or explain? Maybe it was a concept in school, a project at work, or even a matter of theology. Visual thinking may have been just the tool you needed.

Dan Roam introduces us to visual thinking in his excellent little book The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures. Say goodbye to clumsy PowerPoint slides, complicated spreadsheets, and endless bullet point lists. It’s time to return to the good old-fashioned pencil and paper or whiteboard.

In The Back of the Napkin, Roam opens with a series of intriguing questions…

What if there was a way to more quickly look at problems, more intuitively understand them, more confidently address them, and more rapidly convey to others what we’ve discovered? What if there was a way to make business problem solving more efficient, more effective, and – as much as I hate to say it – perhaps even a bit more fun? There is. It’s called visual thinking, and it’s what this book is all about: solving problems with pictures (p. 3).

The author spends the first half of his book introducing several important principles:

  • 3 Basic Visual Thinking Tools: your eyes, your mind’s eye, and hand-eye coordination.
  • 4 Steps in the Visual Thinking Process: look, see, imagine, and show.
  • 5 Questions that help open our mind’s eye: the SQVID method.
  • 6 Ways we see and show ideas: who/what, how much, where, when, how, and why.

Then, in the second half of his book, Roam gets practical. He applies all these principles to an extended case study of a fictitious software development company called SAX Inc. The book bogs down a little at this point, but it’s important for him to carry out the whole process from beginning to end.

For me, the most helpful part of the book was the SQVID (pronounced “squid”) method. It’s an acronym Roam created to show ten different ways of thinking about a subject: Simple vs. Elaborate; Qualitative vs. Quantitative; Vision vs. Execution; Individual vs. Comparison; and Change vs. As Is (The Greek letter Delta is the symbol for Change). Amazingly, by thinking of an idea in these ten different ways, your imagination is stretched and your mind’s eye is trained to look in whole new directions. Both the left and right hemisphere of your brain are exercised.

Let me give you a practical example. As I prepared last Sunday’s sermon on John 19, I decided to use the SQVID method to think about and sketch out different ways Christ shows His care to His disciples. This is what I came up with:


It may look like a bunch of gibberish at first, but it was actually quite helpful. Just taking time to think through these ten different aspects of Christ’s care caused me to look in a number of new directions, and then gradually narrow down how I wanted to illustrate and apply the passage I was preaching.

Visual thinking is a vital principle for both learning and teaching, and I can’t think of any better place to start learning about the subject than The Back of the Napkin.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Christ’s faithful care

Last Sunday, in our study of John 19:23-27, we met nine eyewitnesses to the murder of Jesus and learned an important lesson about Christ’s care for us.

  • Four soldiers (Jn. 19:23-25). These men were carrying out orders and dividing the spoils of their victim. But in their morbid game of lots, John tells us they were fulfilling the prophetic words of David written 1,000 years earlier (Ps. 22:18). Even a detail as trivial as the casting of lots for a tunic was foretold by God. Matthew 27:54 tells us that these men later admitted truly this was the Son of God!
  • Four ladies (Jn. 19:25). Jesus mother, aunt, Mary wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene were all present on the dreadful day Christ died. Their love for Christ overshadowed any fear they may have felt by staying near Him and incriminating themselves.
  • A new son (Jn. 19:26-27). John concludes this section with a personal testimony about his own memory of that day. Jesus had looked him in the eye and entrusted Mary to him. And he was adopted as the new son of Mary. In Christ’s deepest moment of pain, He still put others above Himself and thought about the practical needs of His disciples.

Questions for further thought and discussion:

  • How would you have felt to be Mary? John?
  • When do you feel most alone and helpless? Do you think Jesus can help you during these times?
  • Do you ever wonder if perhaps Jesus is too busy for you? What does this passage teach you about His care?
  • What dangers do you face in life that Jesus protects us from?
  • Read Hebrews 4:15-16. What is one important way you can find Christ’s help in time of need? Why not spend a few minutes doing that right now?

(Sunday’s sermon has been uploaded to our podcast site and is available for free download or to listen online.)

May God help us apply His Word this week in our hearts, in our words, and in our actions.

Collision – the movie

An upcoming movie called Collision looks to be an excellent introduction to philosophy and apologetics. It traces a series of debates between Christopher Hitchens and Doug Wilson. Both men show respect for one another while defending antithetical beliefs.

But this is no ordinary documentary. It is apologetics on steroids. The smart editing and lively sound score make it a movie even many teenagers will enjoy - and need to see.
From the Collision website:

The documentary COLLISION pits leading atheist, political journalist and author Christopher Hitchens ("God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything") against fellow author and evangelical theologian Pastor Douglas Wilson on a debate tour arguing the topic “Is Religion Good For The World?”. Lives and worldviews collide as Hitchens and Wilson wittily and passionately argue the timeless question, proving to be perfectly matched intellectual, philosophical, and cinematic rivals. COLLISION is directed by prolific independent filmmaker Darren Doane (Van Morrison: To Be Born Again, The Battle For L.A., Godmoney).
You can watch a 13 minute preview or pre-order it now at Amazon.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A note to those who reject organized religion

“I believe in God, but not in organized religion.” I can't tell you how many times I've heard that statement. And in a way, I can't blame the people who say it.

If, by “religion,” you mean a cold list of duties and ceremonies, I completely agree. This kind of religion is despicable. In fact, Jesus reserved His strongest words for the outwardly “religious” people of His day: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27). These religious leaders knew how to act and talk and worship a certain way, but their hearts were proud and self-righteous. They didn't love God. And needless to say, their good works didn’t impress Him either.

However, if by “religion,” you mean a system of beliefs, then the fact is, everyone has a religion. Everyone believes something about God; why we are here; how we determine right from wrong; what happens when we die, etc. In this sense, organized religion is simply gathering together with others who hold certain beliefs in common.

Has church left a bad taste in your mouth? Perhaps you’ve seen all the conflict and scandal over the years and concluded, “organized religion is a sham.” As a pastor, I’ll be the first to admit that churches are full of sinful people (starting with me!). But the surprising thing is, God still wants us to gather and worship Him. In fact, He sent His only Son to die for our sin and to scrub us clean.

Ephesians 5:26-27 says “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.” This is still a work in progress, but Christ is slowly transforming us more and more into His perfect image (Eph. 4:12-13).

Organized religion gets a lot of well-deserved criticism today, but don’t let that cause you to write the church off. The church is still the Bride of Christ (Eph. 5:25), The Family of God (Eph. 1:5), and the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16). Despite her flaws, she is precious to God. And what is precious to God should become more precious to us.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Where are all the men?

Look around you on an average Sunday morning. You'll probably notice a disproportionate number of women. Who is singing in the choir? Who is helping in the children's ministry? Who is stepping onto the mission field? More often than not, it's the women. To be sure, I praise the Lord for these women, but men, where are you?? Even as I think of counseling issues and spiritual lethargy in homes, most problems stem from a lack of male leadership.

Gender Blog reports today on the urgent need for male leadership in our homes and churches...

While the influence of evangelical feminism is harmful, John Piper helpfully points out that there is an even greater danger lurking in most evangelical churches and homes - men abdicating their responsibility to lead.

If I were to put my finger on one devastating sin today, it would not be the so-called women's movement, but the lack of spiritual leadership by men at home and in the church. Satan has achieved an amazing tactical victory by disseminating the notion that the summons for male leadership is born of pride and fallenness, when in fact pride is precisely what prevents spiritual leadership. The spiritual aimlessness and weakness and lethargy and loss of nerve among men is the major issue, not the upsurge of interest in women's ministries.

Pride and self-pity and fear and laziness and confusion are luring many men into self-protecting, self-exalting cocoons of silence. And to the degree that this makes room for women to take more leadership it is sometimes even endorsed as a virtue. But I believe that deep down the men - and the women - know better.

Where are the men with a moral vision for their families, a zeal for the house of the Lord, a magnificent commitment to the advancement of the kingdom, an articulate dream for the mission of the church and a tenderhearted tenacity to make it real?

When the Lord visits us from on high and creates a mighty army of deeply spiritual men committed to the Word of God and global mission, the vast majority of women will rejoice over the leadership of these men and enter into a joyful partnership that upholds and honors the beautiful Biblical pattern of mature manhood and mature womanhood.

[Excerpted from What's the Difference?: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible, 68-69]

Men, will you, by God's grace, step up with this kind of vision, zeal, and commitment for the kingdom of God? Will you start tonight in your own home?

Men, will you rise to the challenge? A good place to begin is to come broken before the Lord in prayer, and to lead your family to church this Sunday.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Many sides to health care debate

Here's an article by Fox News I found helpful in understanding the different sides of the national health care debate. It will be quite a challenge to find any true bipartisanship among such opposing views:

Liberals -- They insist that a government-run health insurance plan, or "public option," that will compete with private insurers is essential to health care reform.

Blue Dogs -- These fiscally conservative Democrats are concerned about the costs of overhauling the health care system and the potential harm it could have on small businesses.

Gang of Six -- This group of bipartisan lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee is trying to forge a consensus deal that will appease both political parties and pass a divided Senate.

Conservatives -- All of them are opposed to a "public option," saying it will lead to a government takeover of health care because private insurers will be unable to compete.

Health care industry leaders: They want health care reform, because if the government requires everyone to get coverage, it could provide them a jackpot. (Only on this last point do I see a serious oversight. Not all health care industry leaders support Obama's plan. In fact, some reports indicate that a majority of doctors oppose it.)

We all want to see people treated with dignity and receive good medical care, but it's difficult to know precisely what role the government should play in all of this. Personally, I lean toward a much more laissez-faire "hands off" approach. History has proven that the free market works much better than any bureaucracy trying to micro-manage the system.

I believe a key problem making medical care so expensive and now inaccessible to 50 million Americans is medical malpractice insurance. Due to our litigious, rights-demanding culture, malpractice cases have soared and are driving up the medical costs that patients face today. David Wells shares this startling statistic: "Over the last three or four decades the number of personal rights has exploded...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." The Courage to Be Protestant, p. 159). The key to true health care reform may lie more in the courthouse than in the Senate chamber.

May God give our leaders great wisdom in this health care debate, and may He give us grace to submit to whatever decision they make.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mohler on the future of the SBC

Al Mohler held a forum this morning at Southern Seminary on the "Future of the Southern Baptist Convention."

Mohler observed that the world has changed dramatically in the last 60 years, and that the SBC is at a crossroads. If we continue to embrace a corporate mentality, the SBC will quickly become extinct. But if we return to a more biblical model of doing church, our brightest days may lie ahead. The Great Commission Task Force has been given a unique opportunity to talk about denominational structure and efficiency, but this conversation must be founded upon a strong theology and unflagging commitment to the Great Commission.

Here are my full notes from his message:

The President's Forum on the Future of the SBC
Al Mohler, President of Southern Seminary
August 19, 2009

What does it mean to be a Southern Baptist in the 21st century?
First, an expression of gratitude to all those who have been faithful over the years, and to all those who have been giving, praying, going, sending
John 9:4 says "work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day" - a very urgent warning about time. Asking about the SBC is an urgent and strategic question about the gospel and the Great Commission. Yet many feel an urgency that we should be doing more. The issue is faithfulness.

Some Historic perspective
1845 - founders in Augusta established a mission statement for the "eliciting, combining, and directing of energies toward the propagation of the Gospel." Missions was the reason for the SBC.
Home Mission Board was originally designed to reach the frontier. America did not exist the way it does now.
Late 1800s - began to meet annually; SBC begins to broaden; seminaries established
1914-1919 - Great shift of logic in SBC; a new word entered our vocabulary: "efficiency." Efficiency experts rose in America - time, systems, organizational management. An infusion of a business culture entered into the life of our denomination. It is helpful and relevant, but has limited application in spiritual matters.
1925 - Executive Committee was established. Necessity for an ongoing, coordinating entity. Also year Cooperative Program was established.
1926-27 - Executive Committee was given enormous expansion of powers.
1950s - Formation of Committee to Study the Total Church Program, chaired by Douglas Branch. Goal: to recommend a massive restructuring. Used the Booz Allen Hamilton consulting firm. Again, "efficiency" was the main concern. Some of the recommendations: an office building in Nashville (headquarters); inter agency council; program assignments to entities. What would be our mission? "To bring men closer to God through Jesus Christ."
1995 - Program and Structure Committee - reduced entities from 19 to 12. Mission "SBC exists to facilitate, extend, and enlarge, Great Commission ministries of local churches." Sounds less bureaucratic, more richly theological, and urgently evangelistic.
2009 - A Great Commission Task Force was assigned to bring recommendations of how churches may be more effective in the Great Commission.

Consider 1945. By this time, the SBC had developed a programmatic identity. The basic ethos/energy was programmatic unity (you're SBC because you do certain things, have certain features, uses certain literature, etc.). It was assumed you hold to certian doctrines. A corporate management mentality. This came out of a social context. Post war, the SBC became something like a Catholic Church of the South. A cradle-to-grave approach to Southern Baptist identity (starting with "pre-cradle roll"). Sunday was at least a four-fold activity. Youth choirs. Missions organizations. Offering envelopes with check boxes. College and Universities had Baptist Student Union. Families had Camps, Brotherhood, WMU. Retirement Centers even established. The planning concept: "The key church (or model church)." Had all organizations. Reported in Annual Church Profile. Resulted with great solidarity, denominational identity, incredible intactness/tightness in SBC identity. Any use of resources "outside the program" (using different curriculum, attending a non-SBC conference center) were immediately suspect. There was enormous spiritual security in all this. There was a tribal, cultural identity. An enormous brand loyalty. But now the world has changed on us, and the world that produced that identity is long gone.

The SBC today - Two Analogies
  • The SBC as General Motors - William Durant developed GM as a cradle-to-grave employer. Everyone became 'inside.' You never have to leave the corporation. Small distinctions, but many similarities. Centralized headquarters with centralized "offerings." Dealders were distributed throughout the country. GM overtook Ford because of its aggressiveness, and led in auto sales for 77 years. Managerial dynamic, the envy of every other company. But now, has transformed into a new corporation owned by US taxpayers and pension stock. Lost market share and is the second largest bankruptcy in human history. It fit the 50s and 60s really well, but doesn't fit any more. Are we trapped in the same organizational logic?
  • The SBC as Shopping Mall - this was made possible by the automobile. First built in 1950. A complete reversal of downtown logic, with pedestrians walking down the street, entering storefronts. Significant advantage: enclosed space, protected from the elements. Anchor tenants attract shoppers. The logic is that you're "going to the mall." The action and identity is inside. By 2008, 1175 enclosed mall in the US. Displaced almost all other retail context, rivaled only by "big box stores." #1 item sold is women's clothing. But not one enclosed mall has opened in America since 2006. Retail logic has collapsed - lifestyle centers. Retailers now want their name out front. The identity is now primarily the "store" rather than the shopping "center." The SBC is a huge "mall." Two anchor stores: IMB and NAMB. Inside the mall are many other things going on. The loyalty is to this huge "thing" that is only explicable from the inside.
There were certain gains from these models, resulting in many people getting to the mission field, but the question we need to ask is, "What is changed, and why have we not?" and "Has the logic of this particular organizational pattern been eclipsed by something else?" Does it seem like an age gone by?

The SBC now faces several questions.
We must choose one direction or another.
  • Are we going to be missiological or bureaucratic? Only missiological fits the Lord Jesus Christ. Otherwise, we will find ourselves out of touch with churches and the world we're trying to reach. The logic of bureaucracy will never take us where we need to go.
  • Is our identity tribal or theological? We've had many shared theological convictions. SBC tribal identity is no longer the norm. A theological identity will lead to missiological.
  • Is the basis of our cooperation convictional or confused? We must "grow up" theologically. Must distinguish first order issues. A clash of worlviews now occurs very early in life.
  • Is our logic going to be more secular or more sectarian? Will we stand out from the culture around us? The SBC did not once need to be sectarian in the South, but that has changed, and we need to reach areas outside the Sun Belt. The church of the Lord Jesus is in a sense always sectarian, comprised of reside aliens never fully at home in the culture.
  • Are we going to become younger or dead? We're losing at least 2/3 of our young people between adolescence and adulthood. This is a generation that has reduced religion to "moralistic therepeutic deism." We need a level of evangelism and discipleship beyond what the SBC has traditionally seen. The SBC birth rate has shrunk.
  • Are we going to be more diverse or diminished? Becoming more diverse will require a lot of strategy and uncomfortability. This means we won't be singing out of the same hymnbook. By the year 2050, 25% of all Americans will have a Hispanic grandparent.
  • Will we become missional or missiological? We can no longer be merely methodological. The church is found faithful when found missional.
  • Will we be more strategic or anemic? Local churches must be a missiological think tank for our community. More intentioned.
  • Will we be more bold or more boring? This generation will not be satisfied with boring (same thing, same way, no surprises). The NT Gospel is bold. We're going to have to take risk, which is uncomfortable, especially for a denomination already struggling. Need bold leadership. The comfort zone will lead only to death.
  • Are we going to be happy or bitter? The SBC has a reputation for denominational crankiness, even in our annual meetings. Don't be cranky for the wrong things. We're going to have to say hard things that appear unloving, intolerant. We cannot afford to waste the opportunity to reach our neighbors by being cranky over extraneous things. There needs to be a love and commonality. There should be evident joy among God's people.
Two problems with the Cooperative Program.
The SBC has both perception problems and reality problems. Only a small portion of CP giving actually makes it to missions.
  • Our greatest goal is not merely to cooperate. Any entity can do this. The whole purpose is reaching the nations. Are we going to be relevant in the modern world.
  • We cannot simply tell churches in a new age what they must do and how they must live. We must earn their trust. We are partners of the churches. They must be liberated to give as they will, or they will not give at all.
Concluding thoughts
  • We are still too North American centric.
  • We need to return to the primacy of the early church. Where are churches urgently, passionately understanding the mission of God. Our identity is not in the "giving." The giving must be at the end, not the beginning.
  • We first need a theological rationale. Corporate logic comes at the very end. The SBC is at one of those very interesting moments - primarily made up of "PC guys." The "Apple guy". They don't use the same logic. We cannot be seen as backward and cranky, committed to the wrong cultural identity. We need to be missional. Our mission must be to gather to work with other Christians to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. We cannot gauge church health by raw numbers on a profile. The question is "does this church have what the NT church has"?
The SBC is at a great crossroads. Discussion of structure cannot come first. Our ethos/mission comes first. Structures must remain open and flexible for the rest of our lives.

Let's not be caught in the dark, realizing we missed a great opportunity while it was still day.

Update: here is the audio from the forum:

Related posts:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Free copy of Finally Alive

Logos is giving away John Piper's book Finally Alive in Libronix format for FREE.

As we were thinking of ways to promote the John Piper issue, we discussed giving away a free download of Finally Alive for Logos Bible Software to everyone who subscribed this month. The more we thought about the book and John Piper’s commitment to make as many of his resources available for free as possible, we decided to give it away to everyone, not just to those who subscribe. This book is a brand new addition to the Logos format, and you get to be one of the first to receive it! Be sure to download it now, because this offer will expire September 14, 2009.

While we hope that you enjoy this free book and the above copy of John Piper’s cover story, we also hope that you will subscribe to Bible Study Magazine and receive an entire year’s worth of great Bible study articles and resources.

Click here to download the book in Libronix format.

In case you're not aware, all of Piper's books can be downloaded in .pdf format for free from Desiring God.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Harvey Milk day

Baptist Press recently reported the following:
California lawmakers are discussing the possibility of setting aside May 22 each year as a "day of special significance" honoring Harvey Milk, an openly homosexual San Francisco alderman whose murder in 1978 made him an icon of the "gay rights" movement.

While the observance would not be an official holiday, the bill encourages schools to teach about Milk's legacy -- a fact that hasn't escaped California citizens concerned about the agenda homosexual activists have for California public schools. The proposal would not require parental consent for mandatory student participation.

The text of SB 572 states: "On Harvey Milk Day, exercises remembering the life of Harvey Milk and recognizing his accomplishments as well as the contributions he made to this state" should be conducted; specifically, "all public schools and educational institutions are encouraged to observe ... and ... conduct suitable commemorative exercises."

A Southern Baptist pastor in San Diego told Baptist Press he believes the vague wording of the bill opens the door to almost any kind of "gay pride" observance in which even kindergartners could be required to participate...

"The bill is going to amend the education code to include Harvey Milk Day on May 22. It says, 'It is the intent of the legislature that the exercises encouraged in this section be integrated into the regular school program and be conducted by the school or institution within the amount otherwise budgeted for educational programs,'" said Chris Clark, pastor of East Clairemont Southern Baptist Church. "What that means is that if there's money to do it, the school can do whatever they would like to commemorate Harvey Milk Day. The imagination can kind of run wild with that. There's really nothing that would restrict or narrowly define what they could or could not do."
SB 572 is currently in the State Assembly and is expected to pass and appear on Governor Schwarzenegger's desk for a second time (he vetoed it last year already, but is under a lot of pressure to pass it this year).

If you would like to share your concern about this bill with the governor, simply click here. I don't like the "angry, offended and motivated" opening line of the form letter, but this can be easily edited into something more respectful of our state leaders. We're blessed to live in a country that still permits freedom of speech and conscience, and should exercise this liberty on issues that concern us.

Friday, August 14, 2009

An urgent plea to protect life

Here's a short film that links the reasoning behind abortion with both slavery and antiSemitism. All three of these tragic movements have exalted the "choice" and "convenience" of a superior race against those who were considered sub-human. But something within us says this is terribly wrong.

The film is not graphic, but the mature theme makes it inappropriate for young children. I was moved to tears as I watched and realized afresh how urgent the pro-life movement is.

Every boy and girl, man and woman, born or unborn, is created in God’s image and should be vigorously protected (Gen. 1:26-27; 9:6; Ex. 20:13). Yet just yesterday, I read an article that reported Obama wants to redirect 100 million dollars away from abstinence programs to fund erotic sex education for young teens. This will surely lead to only more abortions. God have mercy.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Never too early to teach gender roles

Courtney Reissig has a good article over at the CBMW blog today. Even Sunday School teachers need to begin instilling within boys and girls an appreciation for their distinct identity and roles as male and female.

When we walk down the halls of our church we need to know that the authority of the Bible is at stake in our Sunday school classrooms. What we teach the next generation about God should include what he says about who he made them to be. When you are teaching the creation story to children, I encourage you not to gloss over the fact that there is a man and a woman being created by God with different roles to play. When you are closing your time with your class, you can teach the little ones to thank God that he made them as little boys and little girls—and that these genders are not interchangeable. If you are a parent, you can be working even now to train your little boys to protect little girls, not react against them. And you can teach your little girls that it is good that they want to play with dolls and help in the house—and someday they will help in their own house and take care of real babies, even if they are single.

The little ones in our classrooms, while precious and fun, are all in their hearts opposed to God's design for them. Therefore, manhood and womanhood is not simply a topic to be discussed at the seminary level, or even the adult Sunday school class level. It must start earlier. We have the great privilege of teaching the next generation the truths of God. And it starts in your nursery.

The world certainly wastes no time in pushing their own humanistic, egalitarian agenda. Will the church faithfully rise up for the truth and celebrate God's glorious call for our future men and women?

Norman Geisler library at a ridiculous price

Now through August 19, you can buy the entire Norman Geisler Library on Libronix for only $22.95 (90% off the list price, $7 off the normal Rejoice Software price).

This set includes the following volumes:
  • Answering Islam
  • Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics
  • Christian Apologetics
  • Come, Let Us Reason: An Introduction to Logical Thinking
  • Introduction to Philosophy: A Christian Perspective
  • Miracles and the Modern Mind: A Defense of Biblical Miracles
  • Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences
  • When Critics Ask: A Handbook of Bible Difficulties
  • When Cultists Ask: A Handbook on Cultic Misinterpretations
  • When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook of Christian Evidences
  • Why I Am a Christian: Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe
  • Worlds Apart: A Handbook on World Views
Just the Encyclopedia of Apologetics alone sells for $34 at Amazon.

Click here if you would like to add to your cart with the discount.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I hope this new "fad" catches on!

David Platt is the 30 year old pastor of the Church at Brook Hills, a growing congregation in Birmingham, Alabama. He was recently interviewed by Collin Hansen in Christianity Today, and his remarks are very encouraging. It's obvious from his sermons and from this interview that Platt loves the Word of God, and that many young people are hungry for it.

Hansen: All good evangelicals affirm the centrality of the Word. Still, we have a severe problem of biblical illiteracy. How do we go from knowing the Word is important to knowing what the Word actually says?

Platt: [Churches] have severely dumbed down the Word, and shown a lack of trust in the sufficiency of the Word in the way we preach. We find it necessary to supplement it with entertaining stories and quips or good practical advice for living the Christian life that are not based in the Word. This deficiency transfers into people content with a little "Word for the Day," in a devotional book at best, as opposed to deep knowledge of Scripture.

We're trying to hit at the problem from a variety of angles at Brook Hills. First of all, in worship we're quoting the Word, singing the Word, and engaging in intensive study. We'll study 55 minutes to an hour. We try to really saturate the community of faith with the Word when we gather together.

I go to other places, such as house churches in Asia, and they study for 11 or 12 hours, knowing they risk their lives. They'll dive in deep. We came back and tried to do something similar here. We call it secret church and do it a couple times a year. We gather together for intensive study with no frills, nothing flashy, no entertainment value. The first time, about 1,000 showed up. We studied Old Testament overview from 6 p.m. to midnight, but usually it goes longer, supplemented by times in prayer for the persecuted church. It's all ages, but the predominant demographic is college students and young singles. It's grown to the point where we need to offer tickets at $5 for reservations and the cost of a study guide. We'll do it again in October with 2,500 folks. It's theological in nature. We've done a night on the Atonement, another on the doctrine of God. This time we're doing spiritual warfare. It's one of my favorite sights as a pastor to look out at 12:30 a.m. and see a room full of 2,500 people, their Bibles open, soaking it in.

Could this return to Scripture and doctrine, accompanied by prayer, be the beginning of a new revival in our day? How encouraging to see this young pastor of a growing church emphasize deep Bible study and exposition. As far as mega-church fads go, I hope this one catches on in more American churches!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Faithfulness and the Kingdom

On Sunday, we concluded a four-week study on the Kingdom of God. Having already seen that Christ postponed His earthly reign and will be coming again soon, we asked three very important questions:
  1. What will you do in the Kingdom? Not only will believers be citizens of Christ's kingdom (John 3:3), but you will actually reign together with Christ! (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 20:6; Dan. 7:27) The Bible indicates you will rule over people, over towns, over nations. There will be learning and building and law-making and innovation. As Randy Alcorn says, "All of us will have some responsibility in which we serve God...We think that faithful work should be rewarded by a vacation for the rest of our lives. But God offers something very different: more work, more responsibilities, increased opportunities, along with greater abilities, resources, wisdom, and empowerment. We will have sharp minds, strong bodies, clear purpose, and unabated joy." (see Alcorn, Heaven, chs. 20-22)
  2. How should you prepare for the Kingdom? In the Parable of Talents (Matt. 25:14-30), Jesus says your faithfulness in this life will directly affect your role in Christ's Kingdom. To go one step further, your faithfulness in the church will directly affect your role in Christ's Kingdom. Yes, the church is that important. The church is the beautiful Bride of Christ, the Body of Christ, the temple of God, the protector of the Gospel, the steward of the Great Commission, and the only institution Christ said He would build. To neglect Christ's church is to fall short of His wonderful plan for your life. It is to abandon your post and go AWOL. In short, it is burying your talent. Perhaps you were involved at one time, but have slowly drifted away from the people of God. Please realize you can never outgrow your need for and stewardship in the church.
  3. What has Christ entrusted to you now? First, His Gospel. You must turn from sin and trust in Christ. Once you have done that, then your whole life has been bought and is owned by Him. There are now three areas in the church where He is specifically testing and developing your faithfulness: time, talent, and treasure.
This week, ask the Lord how you are doing in these three areas. Take an honest assessment. Where are you living up to God's standard? Where do you need to improve? Where do you need to humbly repent, find forgiveness at the cross, and begin to live for Christ's kingdom instead of your own pleasures?
  • Time (Eph. 5:16; 2 Tim. 2:4). Worship is not a spectator sport. Everyone must be an active player. You are called by God to attend and be engaged in worship on the Lord's Day. Pursue membership if you are not already a member, so that you can achieve God's fullest for your life. Attend our Sunday School and evening Bible Study. Be on guard against excuses that Satan will use to draw you away from God's house and His people, and cut off your circulation from the Body of Christ. We all have weeks when we don't feel like getting up and going to church, when time with friends or projects around the house compete for our attention. But once you arrived at church and enjoyed the rich study, worship, and fellowship, have you ever regretted it?
  • Talent (Eph. 4:7; 1 Pet. 4:10). Every single person in the Body of Christ has a spiritual gift, and God calls you to be a good steward for the benefit of others. No one can afford to be idle. Your gift is needed, whether it be serving, mercy, faith, teaching, administration, etc. Only when everyone is actively using their gifts can the Body reach optimum health and maturity. There are many opportunities right now where more members are desperately needed: children's teachers, nursery helper, choir member, missions, audio/visual team, etc. Are you using your gifts to their fullest?
  • Treasure (Phil. 4:18-19; 2 Cor. 9:7). God has blessed you and calls you to give cheerfully and sacrificially to His work. Such an offering is a well-pleasing and acceptable sacrifice to Him. As Donald Whitney says, "The use of your money and how you give it is one of the best ways of evaluating your relationship with Christ and your spiritual trustworthiness. If you love Christ with all your heart, your giving will reflect that" (Spiritual Disciplines, p. 140).
Faithfulness in these three areas will require sacrifice, but they will directly affect your role in Christ's future Kingdom. Will He be able to entrust you with much in His kingdom?

May each of us hear those words, "Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master" (Matt. 25:21).

(Sunday’s sermon has been uploaded to our podcast site and is available for free download or to listen online.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Failure to count the cost

Why are there 16 million registered members in the SBC, yet only 6 million can found in our churches on Sunday? I believe many of these members responded to an "easy believism" gospel invitation, but sadly, they never truly counted the cost of becoming a disciple of Christ.

Jesus warns, "Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?" (Lk. 14:27-28).

Over 100 years ago, J. C. Ryle described this tragic phenomenon:
For want of counting the cost, the hearers of powerful evangelical preachers often come to miserable ends. They are stirred and excited into professing what they have not really experienced. They receive the Word with a “joy” so extravagant that it almost startles old Christians. They run for a time with such zeal and fervor that they seem likely to outstrip all others. They talk and work for spiritual objects with such enthusiasm that they make older believers feel ashamed. But when the novelty and freshness of their feelings is gone, a change comes over them. They prove to have been nothing more than stony–ground hearers. The description the great Master gives in the parable of the sower is exactly exemplified: “Temptation or persecution arises because of the Word, and they are offended” (Matt. 13:21). Little by little their zeal melts away and their love becomes cold. By and by their seats are empty in the assembly of God’s people, and they are heard of no more among Christians. And why? They had never counted the cost.

For want of counting the cost, hundreds of professed converts, under religious revivals, go back to the world after a time and bring disgrace on religion. They begin with a sadly mistaken notion of what is true Christianity. They fancy it consists in nothing more than a so–called “coming to Christ” and having strong inward feelings of joy and peace. And so when they find, after a time, that there is a cross to be carried, that our hearts are deceitful, and that there is a busy devil always near us, they cool down in disgust and return to their old sins. And why? Because they had really never known what Bible Christianity is. They had never learned that we must count the cost. (Ryle, Holiness, chapter 5).
It was for this very reason the SBC passed a resolution on Regenerate Church Membership last year at the 2008 convention. O that God would awaken hearts before it is too late.

Scenes from Afghanistan

I found this photo journal of the war in Afghanistan very interesting. Our troops and allies are facing some unique challenges there. Michael Yon seems to be doing a good job of reporting on a war the mainstream media has largely ignored.

Here's an excerpt:
RPGs are small, cheap and can defeat most vehicles other than our most heavily armored. In the race between armor and bomb, the bomb eventually always wins. This has been true for centuries and shows no signs of changing. In the Sangin area, we are better on foot wearing only body armor. British citizens today are concerned about the same things that Americans were concerned about during the early phases of the Iraq war: armor. Fact is, we can drive down these roads in the best tanks in the world, and be blown upside-down on and set ablaze. The enemy is increasingly good at blowing vehicles into ditches or rivers to drown the occupants. They did this to the Soviets, too. In many places, such as Sangin, the roads can be a death sentence no matter what you drive, and the enemy can seed IEDs far faster than we can clear the routes.
Dear Lord, let justice prevail and may our soldiers come home safely.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Adoption resources

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. James 1:27

In this culture of death, I see a growing effort by Christians to celebrate life and care for the worthy poor. Here are some great resources on adoption:

You can read more on adoption by Justin Kovacs here.

HT: Jeff Mooney

Thursday, August 6, 2009

New GCR website has launched

The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force recently launched a new website, I encourage you to pray regularly for this team and for the Holy Spirit's awakening in each of our churches. No amount of meetings can bring success if we do not humbly seek the Lord's face and find His blessing.

On the site, the task force explains why a "Great Commission Resurgence" is needed for such a time as this:
  • The churches of the Southern Baptist Convention are yearning for a new day of Great Commission awakening and commitment. They sense both a need and a rare opportunity to come together to reclaim the missional vision that brought us together from the first.
  • A new generation of Southern Baptists is ready for deployment in the service of the Great Commission – and waiting to see if Southern Baptists are ready to send, support, and propel this generation out to the nations. Will we do what it takes to send those God is calling?
  • Many of our churches –- perhaps 70% — are plateaued or declining. They need a Great Commission Resurgence starting right where they are. A Great Commission Resurgence has to start right at home.
  • Southern Baptists have much work to do reaching America in a multicultural, multiethnic, multilingual era. We need a Great Commission Resurgence that will make us do whatever it takes to reach America with the Gospel.
  • Southern Baptists need a Great Commission Resurgence that will reorder our priorities, refocus our vision, reclaim our mission, and set our hearts on seeing the nations exult in the name of Jesus.
This movement is bigger than any one denomination. The GCR may be a Southern Baptist initiative, but it's something many other churches and denominations are watching expectantly to see what the Lord will do.

Will you commit to pray today?

Related posts:

A frightening thought

"It's frightening to think about how many people have not tasted the goodness of God and his salvation, not because Christians have not had opportunity to share, but because we have been so shallow in what we did share."

- Thabiti Anyabwile, What Is a Healthy Church Member?, chapter 5.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Kingdom of God in the New Testament

Two weeks ago, I preached a survey of the entire Old Testament and showed that its unifying theme is the Mediatorial Kingdom of God. But does this theme also appear in the New Testament? Indeed it does, as we saw together on Sunday.

I believe the New Testament reveals three stages to the kingdom:
  1. The Kingdom is Presented (Matt. 3:2; 4:23-24; 10:5-8). With the arrival of the promised Messiah, the establishment of His Kingdom was immanent. John, the disciples, and Jesus Himself all announced that the King had come, and called the people to repent and embrace their Messiah. Throughout His teaching and miracles, Jesus affirmed the exact same aspects of the Kingdom foretold in the Old Testament: spiritual, moral, social, religious, political, and physical. In sections like the Sermon on the Mount, He certainly emphasized the spiritual realities of His kingdom, but He never redefined the kingdom as something exclusively spiritual. He was building on all the Old Testament had already revealed about it.
  2. The Kingdom is Rejected (Matt. 12:22-32; 13:10-13). From the very outset of His public ministry, Jesus aroused the suspicion and hatred of Jewish leaders. They challenged His authority, denied His claims, grew jealous of His following, resented His association with sinners, and rejected His call to humility and repentance. Tragically, God's people rejected His appointed Mediator, even going so far as to call Him a collaborator with Satan! Hence, Christ declared judgment on Israel, and the fulfillment of the Kingdom was postponed. At this point, Jesus began using parables to teach previously unrevealed mysteries of the Kingdom.
  3. The Kingdom is Postponed (Matt. 24:15-16, 21-23, 29-30; 25:31-34). As he approached His death, Christ laid out a clear timeline of future events. He said His second coming will be preceded by a time of unprecedented tribulation. Then, Christ will return in glory, judge the nations, and reign as the final fulfillment of the Mediatorial Kingdom. We still await this glorious promise! Only the timing of these events remains a mystery (Ac. 1:3, 6-8).
What does this mean for us today? How do we, the Church, fit into God's glorious Mediatorial Kingdom if it has been postponed? I will teach next Sunday on some very specific applications to this doctrine, but for now, here are some general truths for meditation and discussion...
  • We must study the Gospels, because the conditions to enter His Church and His future Kingdom are the same: faith, repentance, rebirth, poverty of spirit, meekness, etc.
  • We must live with urgency in holiness and evangelism because of the immanence of Christ's return, judgment, and reign.
  • We can celebrate our new birth into the royal family of God. We are children of the King and heirs to all His glorious promises!
  • We should realize that Christ is preparing us to rule together with Him. This should drive us to great stewardship and faithfulness. We will look at this more in depth next Sunday.
  • We can thank God that we are already recipients of some of the blessings of the coming Kingdom. We already have forgiveness, eternal life, peace with God, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and God's law in our hearts. These are the firstfruits of much more blessing to come.
(Sunday’s sermon has been uploaded to our podcast site and is available for free download or to listen online.)

May God help us apply His Word this week in our hearts, in our words, and in our actions.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Jews begin work on bronze altar

You may not have heard about this, but a group of Jews called the Temple Institute have been diligently working for the last three decades to reconstruct all the furniture for the Temple. (I actually got to see the menorah when I visited Israel ten years ago.) Their hope is to one day rebuild the temple and reestablish sacrifices. Hmmm. Sounds like something I read in Revelation.

The Temple Institute will begin building the sacrificial altar on Thursday, Tisha B’av, a fast day when Jews mourn the destruction of the Temple some 2,000 years ago.

The sacrificial altar was located in the center of the Temple, and upon it the Kohanim (priests) offered the numerous voluntary and obligatory sacrifices commanded in the Bible.

The Temple Institute, which has already built many of the vessels for the Holy Temple, such as the ark and the menorah, has now embarked on a project to build the altar. Construction begins Thursday in Mitzpe Yericho (east of Jerusalem) at 5:30 p.m.

“Unfortunately, we cannot currently build the altar in its proper place, on the Temple Mount,” Temple Institute director Yehudah Glick said. “We are building an altar of the minimum possible size so that we will be able to transport it to the Temple when it is rebuilt."

Even a minimum size altar will work out to be approximately 2 meters tall, 3 meters long, and 3 meters wide. Workers have collected around 10 cubic meters of rocks weighing several tons already.

The rocks were gathered from the Dead Sea area and wrapped individually to assure they remain whole and are not touched by metal, as the Bible requires.

“The Torah says that no iron tools should be used on the altar’s stones,” Glick explained. “The altar represents a connection to life and to the creation of the world. Iron is the opposite – it is used to build tools of war, death, and destruction.”

HT: Todd Bolen

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...