Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

For Christmas, my favorite part of my favorite Christmas special:


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Culture War Misfires on Christmas

I have decided not to participate in the annual war on the "War on Christmas." I know as we get closer, and the decorations start going up, and the shopping gets going full swing, we'll begin to hear about it. You know what I'm talking about, those stores that refuse to acknowledge Christmas. Their web sites refer to Christmas trees as "Holiday Trees," and their greeter say "Happy Holidays," instead of "Merry Christmas." They've somehow become Public Enemy #1 over the last several years. But I'm going to completely honest with you: I really don't care.

I love the Charlie Brown Christmas special. You know the one where everyone is so caught up in the glitz and commercialism of Christmas, that they forget the real meaning, until Linus toats his blanket onto the stage and recites the story of Jesus' birth. It did a good job when I was a kid of reminding me of why we actually had Christmas, reminding me that new toys and Santa Claus and Christmas trees and jingle bells weren't the real "reason for the season."

While it stills does a good job reminding people about the birth of Jesus, it long ago lost the war to make sure people remembered that birth as the main reason for the Christmas season. Since that special first aired, Christmas has only become more commercial, and most Christians have bought into it hook, line, and sinker. Ask yourself this question: If Christians really thought Christmas was about the birth of Jesus, why would they care if the stores where they bought their presents acknowledged it or not? What does spending too much money on mainly useless gifts that usually don't last a month have to do with the birth of Jesus? Nothing, that's what.

I say that to say this: I like giving and getting gifts. I like the jingle bells and Santa Claus and all of that stuff that is associated with the holiday. I just don't think it has anything to do with Jesus, and I refuse to pretend otherwise. Don't get me wrong: I'm aware of some of the Christian origins of some of these Christmas related ideas and practices; I'm just saying they have long since lost those lost that meaning to most people.

So this is what I propose: We Christians need to understand that there are two very different holidays that take place on December 25th. One of them is remembering the birth of the God-man, Jesus, the savior of the world, who died for the sins of the world. We should spend time remembering that, and meditating on that, and thanking God for that during the Christmas season. But the other holiday that takes place December 25th is about Santa Claus and gift giving and jingle bells and mistletoe. It happens on the same day, but it has nothing to do with Jesus.

That doesn't mean there is something wrong with all of that stuff. It just means we should pretend it is related to the birth of Jesus. Celebrate them both. Have fun with it. I know I will. But don't confuse the two. When you go to the mall, or to Wal-Mart, or Target, or Home Depot, and spend hours looking for the right gift, you are not celebrating Jesus' birth, and you ought not need an acknowledgement from the people there that you are.

So I won't be boycotting any stores this year. As a matter of fact, I might, just for the heck of it, try to specifically patronize those that don't try to gain my business by selling me some false idea of Christmas. I think that might have it more right than they know when they tell me "Happy Holidays."

Friday, November 7, 2008

What does Obama's election say about Christians and race?

I'm about to dip my foot into murky waters here, and there's a good chance I'm going to get bitten for it. I guess that's okay. But as I've thought about this election for the last couple of days, my mind has gone off in a hundred different directions, and the one I'm about to talk about is one of them. Let me say first of all, I'm not promoting one candidate over the other, and though I have my political preferences, I will keep them to myself for the sake of this post. They're not really the point here.

Here's my concern. It's easy to see that the morals of our society are not the same as they were even 50 years ago. Sins like abortion and homosexuality are accepted practice, and though most Christians don't support those practices, they're pretty much losing ground in that fight. Our society has changed a lot over the last several decades, and on many things, that's not for the better. And despite everything Christians have said about those two particular issues, it's not really making a big difference. There might be a small victory or two here and there, but for the most part, our society is moving in a post-Christian direction, and many Christian values are being left behind. Frankly, Christian ideas about sin don't have much influence over much of society.

I say that to say this: there is one area where I think most can agree that our society has moved in the right direction morally, and that is on the issue of racism. The election of Barack Obama as President, whether you like him or not, says something significant about America. Fifty years ago, President-elect Obama wouldn't have been able to vote in many places in America, much less run for and win the Presidency. That is a major step forward. Though America hasn't overcome all of it's sins of racism, and though there are many who still hold strongly to the sin of racism, this week's election is a strong sign that those people are not going to win this particular moral fight. I don't want to sound as if I believe everyone who voted against Obama is a racist, far from it. I just want to make the point that his election is significant signpost in this nation's racial history.

Here is my problem: why is it, on the one moral problem that there seems to progress on in this country, Christians, especially Southern evangelical Christians, seem to be following rather than leading? As a Christian here in the South, it feels like many Christians have had to be dragged kicking and screaming into trying to bridge the racial divide. It's not that Christians I know want a return to the 50's on this issue. It's just that they don't seem to see it as that big of a deal, or a top priority. Christians, black and white, seem, for the most part, content to worship to themselves, content to trail the rest of society on this issue. That's not to say that Christians aren't making progress on racial issues, it's just to say that they seem to be behind the curve. I think that's especially true for my denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. We talk about racial equality, we talk about the sin of racism, sometimes. But our efforts are doing little more than staying about two steps behind the rest of society on this issue. If a reporter wants a comment on drinking or gambling or abortion or homosexuality, the local Southern Baptist preacher will be at the top of his list. But on racial issues, there are about a hundred other people they're going to go to first before they go to that Baptist preacher.

If society can look at this particular moral issue, one that seems so clear to most of it, and see how far behind many Christians are, then why should we expect them to listen to us on moral issues that aren't as clear to them? I think this is one of the reasons I'm so turned off by the "culture war," and why I believe Christians should try instead to be a "counter-culture" that reflects Biblical values in such a way that others are drawn to them. Maybe that's a topic for another day.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Guidelines for Thelogical Discussion in the SBC

I spent some time talking via e-mail with a friend today about theological discussions. So often, those discussions, even among friends and fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, turn ugly, and nothing is ever accomplished. I think this is, in many ways, the current state of the Southern Baptist Convention. We've forgotten how to disagree in a Christlike way. I wrote a few things down for my friend about what I think the ground rules of theological discussions with friends should be, and reproduce them, with a few alterations, below.

Let me say before I go any further, that these are guidelines only for fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and specifically fellow Southern Baptists. I think they can be used on any issue, from Calvinism, to tongues, to millennial views. I don't think all of them would apply well to discussions with people outside our own SBC circle, though some of them certainly would. And I don't think they would apply well to people outside the framework of orthodox Christianity, though again, I believe some of them would. Either way, here they are.


1 - Rally around things you can agree on. Remember, there are more things that you do agree on than that you don't. In most theological arguments, the lines between the two camps are not as great as we often imagine them. We have more in common than we have different. In most of those arguments, fellow Christians have too much in common to spend a great deal of time dwelling on what you disagree on.

2 - Leave open room for the fact that you might be wrong and they might be right. Don't get me wrong: hold on to your convictions, but do so with the kind of humility that understands the depth of your depravity. Neither you, nor I, nor Al Mohler, nor Paige Patterson, nor Johnny Hunt, nor Jerry Vines, have all the answers. We can learn a great deal from those we disagree with.

3 - Choose to rather be wronged by your friends than have your voice heard. This is a hard one, but if your friends want to give their opinions on a particular matter, but don't want to hear yours, so be it. You don't have a right to be heard. Choose to love rather than demand your rights. That's the Jesus way.

4 - Show lots of grace. Sometimes in these arguments, it easy to forget that Christianity drips with the grace of God. God takes sinful people who don't love him, don't desire to be his friend, and are openly in rebellion against them, and gives them so much grace that they come to his side. We ought to be able to do the same, forgiving wrongs against us because God did the same for us. You might also want to think about how much grace the other person is having to give you just to put up with you.

5 - Remember that God changes hearts, and you don't. We can argue with someone until they're blue in the face, but as my pastor is known to say, "Anything you can talk someone into, someone else can talk him out of it."

6 - Pray. Pray that God will open their hearts to discuss the issue with charity, and pray that He might show you where you don't quite understand things. I've found my study of theology to be a journey, and I've continued to refine my beliefs as I've studied it. There are some ways where I've probably moved back more closely to what I believed at the beginning of the journey. Just remember God might change your mind on something one day.

7 - Remember that one day we'll laugh at how wrong we all were. We see through a glass darkly now, but one day we will see face to face, and our understanding of God will dwarf anything the greatest theologians in history have ever known. When we see that, I think we'll find rather silly some of our arguments now.

If you can think of any other ground rules, please feel free to leave them below. I'm sure I'm leaving out some good ones. But maybe, just maybe, these might be a good start toward charitable discussion within our circle.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Hard Stuff #3

Drill sergeants really like to scream. A lot. No, really, I mean it. Now, that may sound like a self-evident truth to you, and it did to me before Saturday. But on Saturday I found out just how true it is. They scream really loud, and do it really often. It's their thing, I guess.

I went to Montgomery Saturday with a group of local Marine Corps recruits, many of whom will soon be going to boot camp. I'll be running a series on it later this month. The recruits were getting a little sneak peak at what boot camp will be like, by coming together with recruits from other cities in the Southeast, for a day of competition. The different cities competed to see who could run the fastest, do the most pull ups and crunches, push a Humvee the fastest, and the always exciting tug of war. But I really think the main reason they were there was to learn what it's like to get yelled at by a drill sergeant. And boy, did they get yelled at. I played high school sports and I have a mom, so I've been yelled at before. But this was yelling on steroids. I've truly never seen anything like it.

The purpose of all the yelling is to break the recruits down. They're really trying to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. They want to know, and they want the recruits to know, if they can really do boot camp or not. They yell at them while they run them, they yell at them while they make them to do push-ups and sit-ups, they yell at them while go to the bathroom (no, not really). Sometimes it doesn't make sense; the yelling just seems kind of random and without purpose and a little bit sadistic.

But the yelling does have a purpose. It's preparation for boot camp, and it's preparation for possible combat one day. The testing of their bodies and wills will come in handy one day when these recruits are actually Marines, and take their place in what's widely considered one of the greatest fighting forces in the history of the world.

The Marines have a phrase they repeat over and over while they're going through their workouts: "Through pain comes discipline." Now on the face of that, I don't particular care for it. Sometimes, I thought, "through pain comes major injury." But they repeated that phrase so many times Saturday, something finally sunk in for me. "Through pain comes discipline." That almost sounds Biblical.

"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." (James 1:2-4)

Frankly, "through pain comes discipline" almost seems like a paraphrase of James 1. There are times in our lives that are hard; I've talked about some of those times in my life lately. Sometimes, those difficulties seem random, without purpose, and frankly a little bit sadistic on God's part. But he always has a purpose. I can't say I always know what said purpose is, any more than those Marines Saturday completely understood what their drill sergeants' purposes were. But the longer I live, the more certain I am that there is a purpose in the pain, a reason for the difficulty.

I guess the proper Biblical re-phrasing of the Marine phrase would be "through pain comes God-dependence," or maybe "through pain comes stronger faith." Either way, the pain is there for a reason. If drill sergeants, who don't even know their recruits, can have a purpose in the pain, why wouldn't a God, who knows the number of hairs on our head, also have a purpose? I'm going to try to remember that.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hard Stuff (Continued)

In my last post, I discussed hard stuff, how the most rewarding things are almost always the hardest things to achieve, and how God had really taught that to me over the last several weeks. Little did I know the lesson was not over at that point.

Our church called our new pastor this Sunday, and I'm very excited, because I believe he's about to put us on the path to growth and freshness and revival. But quite frankly, the vote wasn't by nearly the margin I would have hoped. What we learned Sunday is that despite our hard work over the last several months, we and our new pastor, still have work to do. But why should we have expected any different?

We studied the 8th chapter of Romans in Sunday School this week, and I meditated on it all Sunday afternoon, as we waited on our candidate to pray about and decide whether he would accept the call. I especially meditated on verse 18, where Paul writes, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." (ESV) After that, Paul goes on to expound on how all of creation is corrupted by sin right now, but that redemption is coming one day, and it will be worth all of the trouble we had to deal with along the way. The joys of eternal life will far outweight the difficulties on the path to eternal life.

Isn't that how all of life is? The really good things are always the hardest things. The things that bring us the greatest joy are the most difficult things to achieve. Marriage brings great joy, but it also brings great difficulty. Raising children is one of the most joyful things we can do, but it's also one of the hardest. Whether it's finishing your education, or completing an important job, or making a big sale, the joy is often made better by the struggle it takes to make it happen. I know that is not the explicit point of Romans 8, but I think it's a good reminder that the best things, the most worthwhile things, are often the hardest things. If that's the case with the most joyful thing we can experience, eternal life with Jesus, why wouldn't it be the case with all of the other good things?

I'm convinced that having our new pastor is going to be one of those things that will bring us great joy. I believe that our church is going to see it's best days, and in five years, we're going to look back and say, "All that trouble is not worth comparing to the present joy we're experiencing." So I'm ready for an exciting, joyful, God-exalting, really, really, hard journey.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hard Stuff

I know it's been a while since I've posted, but I have good reasons. I'll maybe get more into those later, but tonight I'm reading C.S. Lewis, and as always, he's making me think.

Here's what he said in his book, "Reflection on the Psalms: "When we find a difficulty, we may always expect that a discovery awaits us."

I read that line tonight, in the middle of a particular reflection on the Psalm, and pretty much had to put the book down to think about that. In this passage, Lewis is talking about a difficult Psalm, a Psalm of cursing, and how we are supposed to interpret it in light of other Biblical teachings about loving our enemies. I'm not sure I completely agree with his conclusion on the matter, but that's not my point tonight. My point is, as I was reading the particular sentence above, it struck me that life is like that. All the worthwhile things are hard; all the things that present us with difficulties are generally things that, if we are patient with them and decide to work through them, will eventually turn into discoveries.

I will be completely honest here; I've been through a very difficult stretch over the last couple of months. It's been an especially challenging time in my marriage. We've had some pretty serious issues to work through over the last several weeks, and they've been really, really hard. I don't really want to get into what they were, but they have been some of the most diifcult of my life. Church has also been hard. We've been looking for a pastor, and I am on the search committee. We've had meeting after meeting, many going hours on end, searching and seeking God's will. That has been one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. Needless to say, the stress level has been great, in my home life and my church life.

I say all of that to say this: in both of those situations, the outcome has been well worth the difficulties they've posed. I can honestly say, despite everything we've dealt with over the last several weeks, that I am more in love with my wife than I've ever been, that our marriage is stronger than it's ever been, and that we've laid a foundation for going forward in our marriage that should benefit us for many years to come. I don't want to discount the difficulties, because they have been real and great and sometimes overwhelming. But learning to overcome those difficulties has been the very thing that has caused our marriage to grow into what it now is. Without the hard stuff, we wouldn't have made nearly the progress we've made.

At church, though the search for a new pastor has been difficult and time consuming and stressful, and at times just a hair thankless, it has been frutiful to say the very least. We as a search committee believe we have found God's man for our church, and we as a church will be voting on him this Sunday. (Please pray that the vote goes well.) There have been times when the process was incredibly difficult, especially after we announced our choice and the questions started flooding in. The stress level has been high, and the days have sometimes been difficult. But it's been worth all of the trouble; in fact, the difficulties make the reward of finding the right man even greater. I appreciate the difficulties, believe they were God-ordained, and am pleased that they have made me even more confident in our choice.

The difficulties have been great over the last few weeks; sometimes greater than I thought I could bear. But the discovery that have been on the other side of those difficulties have been sweet and beautiful and more than I could have imagined. So it appears Lewis was right on this point, as he has so often been before.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Where Now Shall We Live?

My wife and I live in the city. It's just your run-of-the-mill city neighborhood; not terribly affluent, but not a slum either. It's a mixture of races and ethnicities and social/economic statuses. We live a mile and a half from our church and 2 1/2 miles from our jobs, so that's pretty convenient. Obviously, the neighborhood has it's down sides too. Our home is not one that's likely to skyrocket in value over the next few years. The school district we live in is not particularly good. We're frankly probably more likely to be victims of crime where we live than if we lived in the suburbs. But I still like it.

I'd like to say we moved to the city for some benevolent, theological, missiological reasons, but frankly, we did it because we were needed a home relatively quickly, and we wanted something that we could afford without stretching ourselves financially. It pretty much fit all of those criteria. But the longer I live here, the more I think there might be something good and right about what we're doing.

It seems to me the suburbs have taken something out of our society. In our desire to flee the crime and taxes and busyness of the city, we've lost something. I can't put my finger on it precisely, but I think any time you run away from something, you also lose something. Decades ago, the "respectable" people begin running away from the city, and I think it has hurt not just the city, but the suburbs as well. The suburbs have become so safe, so protected, so sterile, that we've lost some of the vibrance and diversity and community that comes from city living.

I think this is also a problem with our churches. We've convinced ourselves that the best life route is the safest life route. We don't think Jesus would want us to take any chances. We think that the most important thing to him is keeping our kids and our wives and ourselves safe from any kind of danger, whether it be the danger that comes from living in the city, or the danger that comes from sharing our faith to a hostile world, or the danger that comes from packing our bags and giving our lives for Jesus in a foreign country. This "suburban" mentality has crept into our churches ever-so-subtly, but it is there, and it is dangerous. Frankly, it looks a lot like the luke-warmness that Jesus promised he would spit out of his mouth.

I don't want to give the impression that I think everyone living outside the city, or even in the suburbs, is living in the wrong place. I know of plenty of sold-out Christians who aren't living in the city, and they are missionaries where they are. I'm speaking in generalities here, because I think what I'm saying is generally true. We've not just made living outside the city morally acceptable, which is certainly is; we've made it morally preferable, which I do no believe it is necessarily.

I will admit that living in the city has not made me immune from this "suburban" mentality. God has a lot of work to do on me before I'll completely get over my desire to remain in my comfort zone, to follow the safe route, and to do the easy thing. I'm not even sure we'll always live in the city. I'm pretty sure we won't always live in our current neighborhood. But I desire to raise my kids in such a way that the call of safety will have no hold on them, that the call to God-centered, Jesus-exalting danger will pull at them like the proverbial siren song. If God wants Reed to go overseas to call people to Christ in some previously unreached people group, it is my prayer that nothing I have taught him will hinder that call. But to do that, I'm going to have to do some things myself that are beyond my comfort zone.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Big News!

So I can finally let the cat out of the bag! I've been holding something in for several weeks now, because I wanted to let as many people know in person as I could before I put it on the blog. But we have done that now, and I'm glad to bring my glad tidings now into the blogosphere!

Baby #2 will soon be on the way! My lovely bride is pregnant! Pretty exciting news, huh? I'm not really an exclamation point guy, but they seem pretty appropriate for this news, don't you think? Crystal's almost done with her first trimester, and I can see some signs of life after several weeks of constant sickness, so that's great news. We've still got a lot to do before the baby comes in April, but we're very excited and anxious to do it all!

Funny story about all of this. Several weeks ago in Reed's Sunday School class, they were talking about babies. Well, Reed looks at his teacher and says, "My mommy has a baby in her belly." As you can imagine, the teacher, who is a good friend of ours, gets excited, runs across the hall to where Crystal's class was, and says, "I know your little secret!" One problem: Crystal didn't have any idea what she was talking about. She said she didn't have any secrets, that she wasn't pregnant, and that she didn't know where Reed to that from. We didn't even know she was pregnant until three days later! Crazy! Our son, the three-year old prophet!

Anyway, feel free to congratulate me. I'm pretty proud and excited right now, and frankly feeling pretty potent. So, it's a good day.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Letter to the Rural Church

I grew up in a small, rural church, in tiny Sebastopol, Mississippi. Sebastopol is tiny town, and Steam Mill Cumberland Presbyterian Church was small even for Sebastopol standards. We ran 50 on a good Sunday when I was growing up. But I cut my teeth on the Word there, heard the gospel preached faithfully there, and gave my life to Christ there. My grandfather ministered there in good times and bad, persevering to the end, for almost 40 years, and I believe his will be among the largest crowns given out in Heaven. There is much to love about small rural churches like that, and I do love them.

But there is also much that needs to change. The church I grew up in does church almost exactly the same as it's done it since I was a kid. I went there one Sunday, realized they'd added a fourth song to the musical worship, and almost had a heart attack. That's how married to their traditions they are.

Nevertheless, I love the small church, even though I no longer attend one. That's why this letter I just read really jumped out at me. It's called Letter to the Rural Church, and it's patterned by Jesus' letters to the seven churches in Revelation. It's from the web site Building Church Leaders. I found the text of the letter at Les Puryear's blog, Joining God in His Work. Here it is:

TO THE RURAL CHURCH

I know where you live: in a nation ruled by the god of Business, where those who do not have the power to buy are shunted aside. The old and the very young are ignored. The few (who do not make up a critical mass, a niche market, a group worthy of attention) are dismissed.

Instead of a business, you rural churches have been a faithful family. You have refused to be professionalized; you have rejected the model of corporate effectiveness. Like me, you have chosen to be inefficient. You have lavished love and energy on the old and sick, on the isolated, on the very young. You have patiently waited decades for fruit. You ministers who spend your lives in the service of a congregation of 30, you teachers who pour out your souls for a Bible class of 5: you have understood what it means to be children of the Father and brothers and sisters of the Son.

You have also rejected those who claim to act in my name: those church-planting experts who advise that my people "target" only densely populated areas so that the largest number of people can be efficiently herded into the kingdom; the denominational leaders who have seen you as a useful training ground for inexperienced pastors who will soon move on to "better pulpits" in more worthy (and populated) places. You have endured this, and remained strong, and understood the truth: that size and efficiency are important only in the economy of hell.

Remember that 20 years spent in the service of a handful of faithful believers are as priceless to me as 20 years spent calling crowds to repentance. I will be with you in your long, quiet march toward the coming of the kingdom.

But I also have something against you. Like a family, you make judgments that stand forever. Just as the child who once stole is forever branded a thief by his family, so the poor and sick and despairing have been judged shiftless, no-account, congenitally drunk. You have been unwilling to admit that my light brings change. You give food to the food pantry, but in your hearts you believe that hunger and poverty happen only to the unworthy. In my eyes, you too were naked and hungry and filthy. But you have forgotten the grace you have received, and you have chalked up your relative comfort to hard work and sterling moral character.

And you have built again the walls that I once tore down. White and black and Native American, you have settled into your different rooms, content that you all live within my house. Rarely are the doors between those rooms opened; never have you mingled freely in my name. You white churches would not drive away a black worshiper from your doors, but you keep yourselves separate nonetheless; you make no effort to eat with and play with and babysit for and enjoy the fellowship of your black siblings. And you churches of color, who call my white children colorless, passionless, oppressive, cold: I call you also to repent, to put aside your resentments, both past and present. Remember that I also was beaten. And yet I forgave and gave life to those who did evil. I brought together the Jews and Greeks in uncomfortable union: they fought, and shed tears and blood, but when I looked at them I saw only my followers. I wish that the same were true of you.

Monday, September 1, 2008

I Am an Idiot

I'm living my Sunday School lesson this week. Sunday, our class talked about how life's difficulties are sometimes chastening from God, and how when we go through those difficulties, it's a good time to examine ourselves to see if there is something God is trying to tell us about our lives.

Well, I'm having to do that now. We've had an especially trying month or so here at the Phillips household, and it doesn't seem to be getting better. If Gustav wasn't enough to keep us stressed out, and me working nearly 24 hours a day, last night on my way back to work something happened.

I'm going through a four way stop about 9:00 last night. I'd just stopped, looked both ways and moved through the intersection when BAM!, a car slams right into me. It hit me so hard it jarred my whole body, and spun the car around about 180 degrees. She hit me hard. The crazy thing is, that when I got out, I noticed there was no damage to my car. Not a single dent! It was crazy. She only had a small ding in hers. We decided just to go our separate ways and not worry about anything. Big mistake! As I started down the road, I began to notice a squeaking sound, and I could feel the car's alignment seemed to be out a little. When I got to the station, I realized she had hit me in the back tire, and basically broken the wheel on it.

And stupid me, of course, I'd not gotten any of her information. I don't know why I didn't get it; maybe it was the shock of just having been hit, maybe my mind was cloudy because of the hurricane. Either way, it was totally the wrong thing to do. Now, I have a big problem with my car, and fixing it will have to come out of my pocket. That problem is the latest in a long line of financial issues we've had over the last few weeks, so things are very tight right now.

I say all of that not so that I can have your pity. I don't want that. I do want your prayers. And I am spending some time thinking and praying about why this happened, and if God is trying to tell me something with this round of bad fortune we've had over the last several weeks.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hurricane Gustav


As you may have noticed, I haven't posted in more than a week. Hurricane Gustav has kept me pretty preoccupied for the last several days, as we at the station prepare for what appears to be another doozy of a storm.

The good news for Meridian is that it doesn't appear it's going to be nearly as bad for us this time as it was during Hurricane Katrina. We got hurricane force winds for several hours on that day three years ago, and it turned out to be the worst natural disaster in this city's history, even though we're a solid three hours from the coast of Mississippi. Our expectation tomorrow is that we'll probably get 5-8 hours worth of potentially tropical storm force winds, lots of rain, and maybe an isolated tornado. Though that won't be any fun, it won't be Katrina either.

The bad news is that this really looks like it's going to be bad news again for New Orleans. Meridian is a prime location for evacuees from New Orleans, straight up Interstate 59. We've met people over the last day or two from the Crescent City who say they are not going back, ever. Katrina, then Gustav, are enough to convince them that it's just not the place for them, despite the fact they've lived there their entire lives. It's really sad, and I'm very concerned about how bad Gustav is going to be for them.

I've alerted my Sunday School class to be looking for ways to help people over the next several days. There will be plenty of opportunities for us to show the love of Christ to evacuees and storm victims this week, and maybe even longer than that. After Katrina, we had storm victims sheltered here for weeks; I wouldn't be surprised if that's the case this time around, too.

One more thing I want to address, because I heard it after Katrina, and I'm pretty sure I'll hear it after Gustav: this idea that New Orleans deserves what it gets, that it's been some kind of center for sin and debauchery for years, and that these storms are God's punishment. First of all, if God was into giving people what they deserved, a hurricane would have wiped us all off of the map a long time ago. We all deserve nothing less than death, and I don't think New Orleans is any more or any less deserving of that than I am.

Second of all, such conjecture seems to go against what Jesus had to say in Luke 13, when he was asked what sin a group of Galileans had committed that caused them to be murdered by Pilate and have their blood mixed with the blood of sacrifices. A pretty gruesome way to go, no doubt. The people were tempted to think this was a judgment for specific sin. But listen to Jesus' answer to them:

And Jesus said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:2,3, NASV)

Jesus told them, you all deserve to die. Just because these died in a gruesome way doesn't mean their sin was worse than yours. All this ought to do is remind you of how grave your sin is, and how desperate your need to repent is, and how if you haven't done that, you're headed the same way they are: to certain death.

So as this hurricane bears down, if God forbid, people die in New Orleans, or the Mississippi Coast, or anywhere, we should look at it only as opportunity to confess and repent of our sins and thank God for the forgiveness that comes through Jesus.

Okay, I'm going to try to get some sleep now. I've been at work since 3:00 this afternoon, have to go back at about 1:00 this morning, and won't get off until at least 6:00 tomorrow night. If you have the opportunity, please pray that I will have strength and wisdom as I anchor our coverage of this storm tomorrow.

By the way, here's a shameless plug. We'll be live streaming our coverage tommorrow at www.wtok.com. We'll have updates on the storm throughout the day.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Please no, I'm begging you

I have a confession to make. I don't want your e-mail forwards. I know, they're probably cute, or inspiring, or information that the mainstream media is hiding, or a threat to our way of life and civilization, but I'll be honest with you: I really don't want your e-mail forwards.

I'm not against all e-mail forwards, don't get me wrong. Occasionally, in the pool of cess that is my inbox, I'll get a forward that I find laugh out loud funny, or tear jerkingly inspirational, but it is not that often. More often than not I find myself annoyed, or frustrated by the lack of fact checking before forwarding, or confused that you would think this is something I'm interested in.

Here's my main problem with them: most of them are not true. No matter how many exclamation points come after the title, no matter how much urgency the writer of the letter insists is needed, no matter how sick the little girl is, they generally don't hold water. I get so frustrated when other Christians send me e-mails that are either patently false on their face, or at least easy enough to check out for their accuracy. Here's my warning: if you are a Christian, and you send an e-mail that is untrue, you're either lying or gossiping. In this day and age, almost every fact is checkable. Google is a wonderful resource. If an e-mail is important enough for you to clog up the inboxes of dozens of your friends with, it's important enough to check out first.

Maybe this is just the journalist in me, but I hope it's also the Christian in me. We ought to always be purveyors of truth. Lies are from Satan, because he "the father of lies," (John 8:44). And whether or not a lie is intentional or not is just not a good enough excuse. If you don't know whether or not something is true, don't send it.

Here are my top five "Christian" e-mail forwards that I never want to see again:

5. George Bush did not take a half hour during a campaign fundraiser to share the plan of salvation with a teenage boy.

4. Airlines have never considered not pairing a Christian and non-Christian pilot together, just in case the Rapture takes the Christian one in the middle of a flight.

3. Psalm 118 is not the center of the Bible.

2. Jesus is not going to be portrayed as a homosexual in an upcoming movie.

1. And finally, please, please, never tell me again that Madelyn Murray O'Hair is trying to get all Christian programming taken off the air, and that I need to sign your petition immediately to make sure it doesn't happen.

Let's just not be so gullible, okay? It won't take you more than 5 minutes to go to snopes.com and check out whether or not something is true. I think it will be well worth your time.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Olympic Madness

In honor of the Olympics, I thought I would post my all time favorite Saturday Night Live sketch. This one comes all the way back from 1988, when SNL was still funny.



Thursday, August 14, 2008

This Week's Lesson

I have really enjoyed the last couple of week's lessons, as we've studied the book of Hebrews. This book is just full of meat; the discussions we've had the last couple of weeks have been some of our best in quite some time. And that's saying something for our class! Anyway, I've enjoyed them thoroughly.

Get ready for another good one this coming Sunday, as we look into the 5th and 6th chapters of Hebrews. We've talked the last couple of weeks about endurance, perseverance, remaining faithful, whatever you want to call it. Two weeks ago, we talked about how that was a requirement, that if you if you are a true child of God, you will persevere until the end. If you don't persevere, it means that the faith you confessed never was real in the first place. Then last week, we talked about the means in which God uses to persevere his people; namely, by putting them among people who exhort and encourage them to keep the faith (i.e. church). We talked about how a small group in a church like ours is the perfect way to do this, if we do it right.

But the question that still remains about remaining faithful is this; what does it look like? How do we know we are persevering? How can we be sure that we are keeping the faith? That will be, at least part of our study this week as we look at those two chapters in Hebrews. It is my prayer that it will be as productive as our last two weeks have been. I look forward to seeing you Sunday!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Getting Serious About Getting People to Jesus

I've had several different things come together over the last several days that have opened my heart up in a new way to those who are outside the faith. In evangelical Christian circles, we call that having a "heart for the lost." I've always desired to be a better evangelist, but I've never been nearly as serious about it as I should. But a few simple things that have happened over the last several days have given me a desire to reach out more to those who don't know Christ. Here's what's happened.

1) I'm reading Chuck Colson's "Born Again." It's the story of how the former Nixon henchman who spent time in the federal pen for his Watergate-related crimes came to Christ. Many people who know who Colson is now, may not know about his past. Though I knew about it, I didn't know the details. Reading the specifics of his conversion, and how it changed him from a power-hungry, pride-filled White House bulldog into a champion for those the hurting and poor and imprisoned was inspiring to me. I want to see people's lives changed like that! I want to be a part of that! I've been in tears on more than one occasion reading his story.

2) A simple associational Sunday School training event last night gave me just the kind of reminder I needed about the lost people in our community, desperately in need of God's forgiving, healing hand. It also gave me some ideas as to how to reach them.

3) The fellowship and discussion we've had in our Sunday school class the last couple of weeks has been fabulous. It's reminded me that Christian community is unique, and that everyone needs it.

None of these things are big things, but they've all kind of coalesced over the last few days to remind me of what I have in Christ, and what I have not been sharing with others. With God's help though, I'm going to do better. I know I must be a better witness, in my actions, and in my words. I know I must give off the "aroma of Christ." I'm ready to get started!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Blessed Assurance

I don't think there is a Christian who at some point, for at least a little while, hasn't doubted whether or not he or she was actually saved. Some will tell you this is a bad thing, that Christians ought to never doubt, that they ought always be confident in their salvation. I'm not so sure I agree with that. I think sometimes a little bit of doubt about their eternal destination can cause Christians to reexamine themselves, to make sure that they are what the profess to be. I'd rather have a true Christian who isn't sure about his salvation than a fake Christian who has false assurance that he is saved. I'm afraid that on many of our church of rolls we have a lot of second category.

The Bible lays out a bit of a dichotomy on this issue. In 1st John 5:13, the apostle says, "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life." This gives us the impression that salvation is something we should have some assurance about, that we should know and feel confident about. But 1st Corinthians 13:5a says, "Examine yourselves, to see whether or not you are in the faith. Test yourselves." That seems to give a totally different impression, that we must constantly be looking at ourselves to make sure that which we first confessed is indeed true.

Now, I don't think these two verses are in conflict at all. I think they compliment, rather than contradict one another. When John writes that he wants those who believe in Jesus to know they have eternal life, he does so at the end of a long letter that spells out what real Christians look like. Those include things like loving one another, not loving the world, and believing in Jesus, among other things. So when he says, "I write these things . . . so that you may know you have eternal life," he's saying that you can know you have eternal life by whether or not you are doing the things that I've just written about. That perfectly dovetails with the command in 1 Corinthians to "Examine yourselves." The way we can be assured of our eternal life is by examining ourselves to see if we are living in a way that is in line with the way the Scriptures define Christianity.

Now, no one does this perfectly. None of us will be able to look at the commands of the Bible and say, "Yeah, that's me." Any of us who are honest will compare ourselves to that standard and find that we come up woefully short. That doesn't mean all hope is lost though. In his excellent book, "Systematic Theology," Wayne Grudem has three questions we can ask ourselves that will go a long way in giving us assurance of our salvation. Here are those questions, with my comments.

1- Do I have a present trust in Christ for salvation? It is important that we don't look to some decision we made however many years ago as proof of our salvation. We must look at our present lives to see if they're living like the decision we made. But the question is not, "Am I without sin," or even, "Do I feel like I'm saved," it's "Do I trust at this moment that Christ is my only hope of salvation, and am I currently in repentance over my failure to live up to that?"

2 - Is there evidence of a regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in my heart? In other words, can I see signs that tell me grace is at work inside me? Again, not "Am I perfect?" but "Are there signs of the Spirit in me?" This is a question that it might also be helpful is we ask other people. Sometimes, others can see evidences of grace in ourselves that we can never see.

3 - Do I see a long-term pattern of growth in my life? Look back at what you were like before you were a Christian. Are you that person now? Have things changed for the better since then? Have you found victory over some of the sins that beset you earlier in your life? That ought to give you a good feel for what you eternal state is.

Now, the question is: What if I do all of these things and still don't have assurance? I think it depends. Sometimes, assurance doesn't come for a long time, even for those who've really been saved. But I think the solution is the same whether you are saved or not: repent and count on Jesus to be your rock and your salvation. Treasure him as the most valuable thing in your life. Ask him to forgive you again and again and again. And pray for assurance that he is truly yours.

Here's a final point. No one can give you real assurance about your salvation except God himself. The same Holy Spirit that convicts and draws you to Christ can give you confidence that you have an ongoing relationship with him.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Back in Town and This Week's Lesson

To quote George Constanza, "I'm back, baby!" After eight, I mean nine, days of vacation with some of WTOK's most loyal viewers in Western Canada, we are finally back home. We rolled in yesterday morning, about twelve hours later than we expected to. Nevertheless, we are glad to be back home. Today, we held Reed's 3rd birthday party. He turned 3 Monday, but he doesn't know that, so keep it quiet okay?


The trip was great, with a few minor bumps in the proverbial road. Crystal and I flew into Seattle on Thursday afternoon, only to find that the rest of tour group was stuck in Houston because of bad weather. So instead of meeting up with them that night, we had to wait a day, and meet them in Vancouver. In the meantime, we got to take a quick tour of Seattle, courtesy our trusty bus driver, Mark. He took us all around the city in a big charter bus that was meant for the entire group. Here's a pic of my lovely bride and me atop the Space Needle.





Following a short time in Seattle, we met our tour group Friday night in Vancouver, BC. The next day, we traveled by ferry to the city of Victoria. It's a beautiful, historic, tourist attraction. Here is a picture of the Parliament Building there.



While in Victoria, we watched a street show. The guy in the following video is a juggler. The video is of his final act, where he juggled two flaming sticks and a machete while straddling a pair of chairs. As he did that, a guy with a flaming helmet rode a tricycle between his legs. Pretty funny!


video

Okay, I'm going to pick up the rest of the trip later, with more pictures, including our two days of railroading in the Canadian Rockies. By the way, the 20 or so other people who went on the trip plan to post photos of their own on our web site. Just go to www.wtok.com/community, and click on the photo album. I've already posted a couple of pictures there.

But I do want to let any who might check before tomorrow morning know that we'll be beginning a study of the book of Hebrews in Sunday school this week. We'll look at some of the highlights over the next four weeks. That's frankly not nearly long enough, but we'll do our very best to look at the major themes. Tomorrow, we'll look at chapter 1 and the first part of chapter 2. It will be a look at the preeminence of Jesus above every thing on Heaven and on earth, and the consequences of neglecting to remember that. I'll have to say, my study time was especially sweet and rewarding, because I had so much free time.

Finally, please pray for our Pastor Search Committee. We'll be meeting at 5:00 Sunday, and would appreciate your prayers for wisdom at that particular time, if you can. Have a great day!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Marriage #4

Okay, so I'll admit to being a pretty bad blogger lately. I haven't posted in more than a week, and I didn't even get a preview up of last week's lesson. I've been especially tardy in posting my final thoughts on the theological underpinnings and spiritual meaning of marriage. I think I promised the final part of that series like three weeks ago. See the other three parts here, here and here. Things have been pretty busy lately, with work, with church, and with my newly appointed Pastor Search Committee duties. Nevertheless, I'm without excuse for not keeping my promises. So I hope to make up for that now.

The idea of male headship and female submission in marriage doesn't make much sense, on the surface at least. To my mind, it seems that the person in the marriage who has the best leadership skills should be the leader, whether they're a man or a woman. And the idea of submission, for a female, or a male for that matter, seems kind of backward and wrong-headed. If I were making the rules on my own, it's likely I would say that neither husband or wife should submit; that each would do what seems best to them. If they agree that's great. If not, they both will have to deal with it. But despite my thoughts, this idea of male headship and female submission is permeated throughout the Bible. It's not a couple of verses here or there. It's at the very heart of the Biblical narrative as it relates to male and female.

But why? It frankly seems rather arbitrary to say one gender is the leader and the other is the follower. And I think it would be, if not for the fact that God was trying to explain something very profound to us with the way he set things up. He makes it very clear though, in Ephesians 5:22-33:

"Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband."


Without explicitly referencing this scripture, I've covered most of this scripture in my other two posts. In this post, I want to look specifically at verse 32, the part I've highlighted in the scripture. It has two parts, and each is important:

1) The profound mystery of marriage - The first thing to understand is that when Paul speaks of the mystery of marriage, he's not talking about the kind of mystery that hasn't been solved. Though there is much that is very mysterious about marriage, that I haven't figure out yet (just ask Crystal), I don't think that's specifically what he's referencing. Here Paul speaks of the mysterious purpose of marriage, that wasn't perfectly revealed through the first however-many thousands of years of creation. It is a profound mystery, one that is not to be trifled with. Marriage is important and serious and reflective of a far greater truth.

2) It refers to Christ and the Church - This mystery that was only recently revealed, is that marriage, at it's best, when it's done the way God intends, is a direct reference to, a reflection of, Christ and the church. That mystery, not completely revealed until after Jesus' death on the cross, is now understood more perfectly. A good Christian marriage reflects the relationship between Christ and the church. The bible often speaks of the church as Christ's bride. A great marriage supper scene is recorded in the 19th chapter of Revelation, between the bridegroom Jesus and his ransomed bride, the church.

The point is this: God has appointed marriage as a way of pointing people to Him. Marriage was made not primarily for the pleasure of people, though it can bring great pleasure. It wasn't made primarily for the procreation of children, though this also is an important aspect. It wasn't created primarily as a way to build a society, though there is no doubt that a society won't survive without it. Marriage, from the very beginning, was created as a way to bring God glory by reflecting the love Jesus has for the church, and the respect and submission the church has to Christ.

I think this may be where much marriage counseling and many marriage seminars fall short. We've been very good and telling people why marriage is important to the participants and the children, and society in general. We've not been very good in explaining why it's important to God. That's the primary reason divorce is the tragedy it is, not because of the people involved, but because of the glory that is stolen from God.

I think this post has been a bit rambling, but it will have to do. I won't be doing much blogging over the next couple of weeks, because Crystal and I will leave soon for our vacation to the Rockies. But I'll bring back pictures! For those of you in my class, Brian will be teaching Sunday about the new Heaven and the new Earth. Don't miss it!

Friday, July 11, 2008

This Week's Lesson

I'm frankly a little bit nervous about this week's lesson; let's just say it's not really in my area of theological expertise. I told you all last week how Revelation is not my favorite part of the Bible. Nevertheless, I've enjoyed studying it over the last several weeks. That having been said, this week is particularly difficult for me, because it's a subject that has been a particular thorn in the church's side for many years - the anti-Christ.

Everyone from the Pope to Bill Clinton has been called the anti-Christ. It's been a source of endless speculation for about 2000 years, and so far at least, I don't think we've really nailed down anyone as the guy yet. I don't plan to spend a minute of time speculating on who he'll be Sunday. We'll have more important taks, like getting an idea of what kind of person he will be, and what he will do. We'll also look at who's "pulling his strings" so to speak, and what the call is to Christians in the face of the anti-Christ.

It should be interesting! I'll look forward to seeing you all Sunday!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Homecoming


This is Heidi. No I don't remember why she's sitting in a kitchen (or bathroom) cabinet. I also don't particularly care for that scarf (or any clothing for pets). But this is the best picture I could find of her. So get past those two things for just a moment so I can tell you this story.

Heidi has been Crystal's dog longer than I have been Crystal's husband. She got her 8 years ago, before we were even dating. Heidi is shitzu (be careful how you say that). Crystal is very attached to her little Heidi, but not in a weird kind of way. Just in a "this is my pet, and I love her because she has always and continues to provide wonderful companionship to me" kind of way. I have often joked that if Heidi and I were both drowning in a pond, I'm not sure who Crystal would throw the rope to first. She loves her dog, okay. And over the years, I've grown to love Heidi to, even though she sleeps on the bed and sheds on the couch and stares at me when I eat. Reed especially loves her, and refers to her as not just Heidi, but as "my friend Heidi."

So Saturday when Heidi disappeared, it was devastating for the entire family. Sometime Saturday evening she sneaked out the front door. We didn't notice until later that night that she was gone, because frankly, with a three year old, you don' t notice a lot of things. But when we did, the search began. I searched the roads around our home for almost two hours Saturday night into Sunday morning, to no avail. Crystal went back out and searched Sunday afternoon, again to no avail. We'd placed an ad in the paper, but were not very hopeful.

And this morning, she showed back up. We still don't know what happened. Reed and I went to turn on the pool filter before we left the house, and we heard her barking in our storage shed. Someone, probably our neighbor, had put her in there while we were getting ready. Our only assumption is that either she came back on her own, or someone brought her back, our neighbor recognized her, and put her in a safe place for us. Needless to say, Crystal and Reed, were beside themselves with excitement, and okay, I was pretty excited too.

So what to learn from all of this? I don't know. People lose their dogs all the time, and sometimes, they come back. I know God has some way of using this to his glory, I just don't know what it is yet. I do know this; He's getting much thanks right now from a very happy family, and a glad-to-be-home dog.

Friday, July 4, 2008

This Week's Lesson

This week, we're going to begin a brand new series of lessons on the book of Revelation. For the next four weeks, we're going to look at this often-confusing, often misunderstood, book of the Bible. It should be interesting.

Let me begin though, by admitting my biases. This is not my favorite book of the Bible. I think I've been tainted on this book by all of the ways it has been mutilated and used over the years. It's been used to claim everyone from Bill Clinton to the Pope was the anti-christ. It's been used to claim that every year since 1898 would be the year of the rapture. No other book of the Bible has been used to manipulate and confuse people more than has Revelation.

But it is a beautiful book, full of sometimes confusing, but amazing imagery. As I've studied it over the last several days, I've come away with a sense of awe at the beauty and majesty and power of Jesus.

There are a lot of different ways of looking at Revelation. I would probably describe myself as a leaky dispensationalist, and an apathetic pre-millinealist. I say that because I've not studied the issue closely enough to decide with certainty exactly where I come down on those things, but people I've respected over the years have generally fallen into those categories. But I can also see some of the points of the amillinealists and the postmillinealists, in addition the covenant theologians.
For the Wikipedia definitions of what those different terms mean, you can click on the individual words.

The good news is, you don't have to have come down on any side of this discussion to enjoy and appreciate and learn from the next four weeks' lessons. They'll pretty much cover the four major points of Revelation, points that most people agree on. They are:

1. God is in control of the future.
2. Satan will be out to stop God's plan.
3. God will defeat Satan.
4. God will create a new Heaven and a new Earth.

We'll be looking at the first part Sunday, specifically looking at the 5th chapter of Revelation. That chapter holds beautiful imagery of heaven and Jesus. Take a look at it before Sunday. See you then!

And Happy Fourth of July!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Marriage: Female Submission

I'm afraid I'm daring to venture where angels fear to tread in this next post, because it is so controversial, and so easily open to misinterpretation, both by myself, and by someone who might be reading this. But, because I believe there is a Biblical basis for the wife to submit to her husband, I'm going to go here, and just let the chips fall where they may.

Submission is difficult for everyone, but everyone is expected to do it in some way. As Christians, we're told to submit to our church leaders, to submit to our country's leaders, to submit to our bosses at work, and most importantly to submit to God himself. It's hard enough for men. I know at times I have struggled to submit to all of the above in the way that I'm supposed to. But it's even harder for women. They have one more directive: submit to your husband.

That's especially hard when you think about what many men are like. I fight the urge to be a slug about 80% of the time. There is nothing in me that makes me worthy of Crystal's submission. Even when I'm trying and doing my best, with God's strenghth, I'm prone to mess up. I have a hard enough time keeping my shoes tied, much less properly leading a family. So frankly, at least from a worldly perspective, Crystal should be well within her rights not to submit to me.

But we can't get away from that command. It's right there in black and white: "Wives, submit to your husbands as unto the Lord." (Ephesians 5:22 ESV) In other words, submit to your husband in the same kind of way that you do to God. That's just plain hard. I talked about the husbandly resonsiblity last post; how after thoughtful consideration and consultation from the wife, and after consensus has still not been reached, it's up to him to make a decision or take action. But once a decision is made or an action is taken, the wife's command is to support the husband and follow him, even if she's not sure it was the right decision or action, as long as it is not immoral. This involves a great deal of trust and a great deal of putting away pride. In that sense, the woman is taking her cues from the description God gives of the church, submitting to Jesus, taking up her cross and following Him, whatever the cost, and trusting that He wants what is best and will work to do what is best.

The female tendency would be to rebel against the very thing she is asked to do - submit to her husband. That could come in many different ways, and it's frankly quite natural. I think women can go either way with this rebellion: it can come in the form of aggressive attempts to usurp authority; it might also come in passive attempts to undermine him. Either way, just as man's attempts to rebel against headship are a sin against God, so are women's attempts to rebel against submission.

In an ideal mariage, the woman submits to her husband out of joy; because she knows he wants the best and plans the best for her, and will always put her thoughts and feelings and desires ahead of his own. Of course, I know that there are no ideal marriages, and every woman at one time or another will have to submit to her husband despite his own shortcoming, and maybe even despite the fact that he doesn't know what he's doing. Just as men are called to lead women who don't want to be led, women are called to submit to men who don't want to be the head of the family.

Just as male headship is a learned and ongoing thing for men, submission is a learned and ongoing thing for women. Neither of will ever get it perfectly right. But both of us must work toward that ideal at all times.

In my next post, and I don't know when that will be, I hope to lay out the reason that husbands should lead and wives should follow. Hint: It's probably not what you think.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Marriage: Male Headship

Okay, I'm going to dive headlong into this marriage thing, and take a look at the Biblical model we're given as husbands and wives. Before I go any further, I have to admit that I am a great sinner as a husband; I fall far short of Jesus' model here, and I'm not claiming myself as an authority with any real personal expertise on this subject. Don't get me wrong, I love my wife desperately, and we have a great marriage, but far too often, I fall terribly short as a leader. Nevertheless, God has created marriage a certain way for a certain reason, so I want to look at that over the next several posts.

First of all, as Christians, we believe God created man and woman in his image. We believe that he created them both equally but differently. As such, in the setting of a marriage, they have different roles. The man's role is one of leadership; the woman's, one of submission to that leadership. I want to look specifically today at male headship; what it means, and what it does not mean.

When two people are married, they form an equal partnership, with both sides put everything they have into the marriage in different ways. The Bible says the two become one flesh - in a sense, each partner completes the other.

That partnership entails much of what you would expect from a marriage: give and take, discussions about issues from how to spend money, to sex, to where to live, to whether or not to have kids, to how many kids to have, to how to raise the kids. Male headship and leadership does not assume that it has all of the answers; as a matter of fact, it looks very often and listens very closely to what the woman has to say, and what she wants to do. The man takes his directions from Jesus himself, looking to display the kind of sacrificial love and servant leadership toward his wife that Jesus did, and continues to do, toward his people.

Now, eventually, though, someone is going to have to make a decision about things. As much as it is possible, leadership looks for consensus. Mutual decisions are wonderful things. But there are times, because no agreement can be reached, or because there is some general uncertainty about what to do, that someone has to step up and do something. The Biblical model, given by Jesus himself, is that the man makes that decision. With that authority comes great responsibility, and much care must be taken to do it in a loving way, just the way Jesus would do it. That is an incredibly difficult task for a man to undertake, and one that shouldn't be taken lightly.

I think that's where husbands usually fail; taking their responsibility as leaders too lightly. Men will be tempted in their headship to fall between two extremes: authoritarian and passivity. Passivity is not a pretty trait. Frankly, no one really has much admiration for a passive man who lets others make his decisions for him, who sits on the couch and eats potato chips while his wife and family live their lives, who allows his wife to do all of the work while he just kind of stands by.

While passivity is bad, it's not nearly as bad as authoritarianism. Authoritarianism, at it's best, comes off as angry and bossy and demeaning. At its worst, it comes in the form of verbal or physical abuse. Whatever form it takes, it goes against God's design. And all too often, those who believe in male headship will tend toward this extreme. That's why male headship has gotten a bad name, and in those cases, rightly so. But I think headship that looks like Jesus would be something that most wives would be happy to submit to.

Okay, so I said it: submit. I'm going to try to, as tenderly as possible, tackle that issue in my next post.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Marriage

Today has been a difficult day for me. I found out that two men that I've known for more than a decade, and assumed had good marriages, had either divorced, or were getting a divorce. Neither of these two were people I'd kept up with much over the last few years, but I knew both of them to be good Christian men, so the news came as a surprise.

I don't know about you, but no matter who it is, and no matter how many times it happens, I always mourn a divorce. That's especially true when I know the people involved, but even when I just hear about someone I don't know divorcing, I feel a real amount of sadness. That is especially true since I've been married myself. When I see people that have professed to be Christians, and that I have known to be Christians, divorcing, it is especially difficult. It makes me re-examine my marriage, and whether or not I've been taking my duties as a husband seriously enough.

I'm going to try over the next few days to blog about what the Christian marriage should look like. I will not be doing this from experience. Mine is by no means perfect. But I will be trying to look at what the ideal Christian marriage looks like in the eyes of God. I hope it will help me personally to sort out what I can do better to reflect God's glory in my relationship with Crystal. Maybe it will be beneficial to you, too.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Home Alone

I am alone this weekend. Crystal and Reed have travelled up to Alabama to see her family and left me here to fend for myself. I would have gone, but she wanted to stay through Sunday, and I have class to teach. Of course, I'd be lying if I said there were no advantages to having some time to myself. But I will certainly miss those two while they're gone.

But I think while they're gone, I ought to at the very least make good use of my time. So far, results are mixed. I did spend some good solid lesson studying time, listened to a John Piper sermon on my MP3, and read a little bit of John MacArthur's "Twelve Ordinary Men." But I also sat on the bedroom floor and ate while I watched a Netflix episode of "24" and several of those caged mixed martial arts fights. Oh yeah, and there was an incident with some brownies. Obviously, the testesterone levels in this house right now are too high to safely allow women or children.

All in all, having those two out of town reminds me of how fortunate I am to have them when they're in town. If I haven't mentioned this, my red hot wife is about the coolest chick in the world, and my son is just this amazing sponge whom I've come to believe has a bit of his dad's flair for the dramatic. So it's a good life I have here. Too good frankly, better than I deserve. It's a good reminder of God's grace that a slug like me can have a family like I do.

So I'll enjoy this time I have alone over the next couple of days, in hopes that I can use it wisely to re-charge the batteries and spend some quiet time with God. But when they get back, the party starts again!


Thursday, June 26, 2008

This Week's Lesson

Hey everybody. This week we finish up our short look at the Book of Proverbs. We'll be looking at the Christian perspective on money and power. Everybody is chasing those two things it seems; is it okay for Christians to? Is there someone way that Christians can go after money and power and still somehow bring glory to God?

It's easy to find people that tell you God wants you to be rich and prosperous in all ways. Are they right? We'll be looking at four specific verses in Proverbs that talk about these very issues.

So take a look at Proverbs 23:1-4. I think they'll give us some keen insight on what our perspective ought to be on this very important subject.

Those of you who've been in our class for more than a few months probably already know what I think about this; we hammered it pretty hard for the first year or so of our class. But we haven't talked as much about it lately, and we have quite a few new class members, so I think this discussion will be very profitable. See you Sunday!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Thoughts on Mentoring

I've been thinking a lot over the last few weeks about mentoring; you know, older Christians taking an interest in younger Christians, and helping them understand better both the theology and practice of the faith. I don't think this is something we've done a very good job of this lately in the Evangelical church. Frankly, we're all so busy, that finding time for our own families is sometimes a challenge, much less for someone else's.

Not that that is an excuse though. I wonder how much easier the first few years of mine and Crystal's marriage might have been if we'd actually had someone take an interest in us, be there to answer questions frankly, and be there to encourage us to grow closer and do better by one another. I'm not blaming anyone in particular for us not having that; we never reached out to anyone either. But I do wonder if it means we ought to be doing that now, helping younger couples, now that we have a little experience under our proverbial marriage belt.

But how do you approach it? It goes back to my post a couple of weeks ago about fearing rejection. It's very hard to ask someone to help you along; I think it might be equally hard to ask someone if they'd like some help. I guess the real way to do this is just to make a point to make friends with people younger than you, and let the relationships naturally happen. Crystal and I have talked about this a little, but I'm not sure we've reached any conclusions yet.

I know this: too many young couples are drifting away from the faith, falling out of church, falling apart at the seams, and using the same bad techniques the world uses to try to save their marriage. That's one of the reasons the divorce rate is like it is.

For those reading this - Are you investing yourself in anyone's life outside of your own family? Are you looking to take anyone under your wing? I'm afraid I'm ashamed to tell you what the answer to that question is for me. But I've got to do better.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

This Week's Lesson




I'm making up for my late posting of last week's lesson with an early posting of this week's. So there. We're going to be talking this week about Biblical reasons to keep our mouths shut. If I was going to title the lesson, I don't know if I'd call it "Shutting Up for the Kingdom," or "How God Gets Glory from Our Closed Mouths." Both seem appropriate for the subject matter.

We're going to be looking at a number of verses of scripture, but our main text will be Proverbs 17:27,28:

"Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is full of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent." (ESV)

Ecclesiastes says there is a time for everything under the sun, "a time to keep silence, and a time to speak." Good, Godly wisdom knows when the right time for both of those is. I hope you'll meditate and study these verses in Proverbs this week.

Oh, and I'm not trying to tell anyone anything with that picture. I just thought it might get your attention.

Edit to add - I just thought of another possible title. "Shut Up, Shut Up For Jesus."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tommorrow's Lesson

I know I'm doing this late, so most of you probably won't even get a chance to read this before class starts tomorrow. Sorry about that. We've had a busy day here at the Phillips household. Who am I kidding? We spent the whole day in the pool! Well, except for that two hour nap. Oh well, no excuse for not posting.

Anyway, we'll be continuing our look at the book of Proverbs tomorrow. We'll specifically be looking at the 24th chapter. I think it will be a good study into how we properly go about fighting evil around us, how we rescue those closest to death, so to speak. If you get a chance before you leave tomorrow, look ahead to the first part of Chapter 24, first 13 verses or so.

I look forward to seeing you all!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Frog Update!

So I have good news! It appears that the frogs around our pool are gone. As you might recall from an earlier post, we were having major problems with those frogs croaking around bed time. It was driving us crazy since the pool is right outside our bedroom window.

Well, they're gone, and I think I've figure out why. Our main problem earlier was that our pool's chemical levels weren't right; as a matter of fact, at the time, the pool still had a green tint from winter and there was a bit of algae still in it. Frankly, it looked a lot like a pond; in retrospect, I'm not surprised the frogs were at home there. So if there is any advice I can offer to people who are having this problem, it's this: just get your pool chemical levels right, and it's likely not to be a problem anymore. A chlorinated pool is not a very happy home for mating frogs.

Speaking of advice to others, it's been interesting. I've gotten at least 10 or 12 hits on my blog from people who googled "how to get rid of frogs," or some variety thereof. I'm afraid they didn't get any help, because at the time, I was as at a loss as they probably are now. I tried googling the same thing and came up pretty much empty. So I hope that my earlier advice helps.

If Google has brought you here because of frogs, let me also tell you that this is not usually a site about the great outdoors or home improvement. My main reason for blogging is this guy named Jesus. I know what you might be thinking: we Christians are a strange lot. I admit, that is often the case. I wonder if you might think about Jesus though. Find someone who is a Christian, who maybe you have some respect for, and ask them about him. Better yet, find a Bible, and read the book of Matthew. You'll see he's probably not what you think he is.

Also, if you have a couple of minutes, check out this video. It's a guy named John Piper explaining what the gospel, or good news of Jesus is, in six minutes. That's long enough not to be canned or trite, but short enough that it won't take up your entire evening. And yeah, that's a funny look he has on his face in the freeze frame.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership Passes!

I must tell you that I am very excited about something that Southern Baptists did at the annual convention today. As I told you about a couple of weeks ago, Dr. Tom Ascol, the Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida, has been trying for three years now to get a resolution passed urging Southern Baptists to get their rolls straight, and repent of what is essentially lying about membership numbers. Southern Baptists claim a membership of 16 million people, but less than 7 million show up to church on any given week. That's atrocious. You can read some of my previous thoughts on the issue here.

Today, after not more than a little bit of discussion, the convention passed a hybrid resolution of four different proposals, that I think pretty well reflects what Dr. Ascol has been trying to do for these three years. Here is the text of that resolution.

WHEREAS, The ideal of a regenerate church membership has long been and remains a cherished Baptist principle, with Article VI of the Baptist Faith and Message describing the church as a “local congregation of baptized believers”; and

WHEREAS, A New Testament church is composed only of those who have been born again by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Word, becoming disciples of Jesus Christ, the local church’s only Lord, by grace through faith (John 3:5; Ephesians 2:8-9), which church practices believers’ only baptism by immersion (Matthew 28:16-20), and the Lord’s supper (Matthew 26:26-30); and

WHEREAS, Local associations, state conventions, and the Southern Baptist Convention compile statistics reported by the churches to make decisions for the future; and

WHEREAS, the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention annual Church Profiles indicate that there are 16,266,920 members in Southern Baptist churches; and

WHEREAS, Those same profiles indicate that only 6,148,868 of those members attend a primary worship service of their church in a typical week; and

WHEREAS, The Scriptures admonish us to exercise church discipline as we seek to restore any professed brother or sister in Christ who has strayed from the truth and is in sin (Matthew 18:15-35; Galatians 6:1); and now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, June 10-11, 2008, urge churches to maintain a regenerate membership by acknowledging the necessity of spiritual regeneration and Christ’s lordship for all members; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we humbly urge our churches to maintain accurate membership rolls for the purpose of fostering ministry and accountability among all members of the congregation; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention to repent of the failure among us to live up to our professed commitment to regenerate church membership and any failure to obey Jesus Christ in the practice of lovingly correcting wayward church members (Matthew 18:15-18); and be it further

RESOLVED, That we humbly encourage denominational servants to support and encourage churches that seek to recover and implement our Savior’s teachings on church discipline, even if such efforts result in the reduction in the number of members that are reported in those churches, and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we humbly urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention and their pastors to implement a plan to minister to, counsel, and restore wayward church members based upon the commands and principles given in Scripture (Matthew 18:15-35; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15; Galatians 6:1; James 5:19-20).

The things I like about this resolution are 1) The admission that our numbers are not right, that we are basically lying to the world about how many of us there are, 2) that it recognizes that many of our churches have not been doing a very good job of keeping up with their people, or exercising biblical, restorative discipline, and 3) that it calls for corporate repentance over our reluctance to do what we ought to have been doing all along.

I'm under no illusion that this resolution is going to start a convention wide roll cleaning up. It was one of several resolutions passed by SBC'ers today, and one of thousands that have passed over the years. Most of them have come to very little. But I think this has the opportunity to be a start of something. The momentum for re-starting the process of church discipline that I think has been slowly gathering steam over the last couple of years could really gain more now. If even a quarter of our churches got serious about this, I think it would be a major step forward.

As I mentioned in the past, my church has already begun this process. I hope and pray that others will feel led to do the same. This might cost us our title of "Largest Protestant Denomination" title. We might lose some press coverage or some political clout if our numbers decline too much. But will be a much better, more biblical, more healthy, convention because of it.

For more on what happened today, you can go to the link below:

Founders Ministries Blog: SBC-Indianapolis #3 - The Resolution passes

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Fighting Fear

I don't really like rejection. I guess that's probably a universal feeling; no one really likes being told no, and it's even worse when it's personal. When I ask people for an interview and they say no, it doesn't really bother me all that much. I know most of the time it's because either they don't have time or they don't want to be on television or, sometimes, they're just trying to hide something. But more often than not, it has nothing to do with me. I'm not exactly Mike Wallace. People aren't running in fear from me as interviewer.

But when it's personal, it's really hard. When I was single, it took a lot for me to work up the courage to ask a girl out. I had to be pretty darn sure they'd say yes before I'd actually ask them. I rarely got a no, because I rarely went out on a limb. My wife is one of the few people who actually turned me down when I asked her out; I was so intimidated from then on out, it took her kissing me a year later to make me willing to ask her again.

But I digress. I think a lot of people don't like being rejected, and I think that's the main reason a lot of us are not the kind of evangelists we ought to be. I believe the Gospel message as much as anyone. I understand it's ability to change hearts and minds and make people lovers of God rather than lovers of everything else. But working up the courage to share what I believe is hard. I know that many of the people around me don't really want to hear it, and chances are, a good number of them are going to reject it, no matter how many times I share it. And those rejections don't feel like a rejection of Christ as much as they feel like a rejection of me. Mind you, I'm not saying this is a good or healthy attitude. I realize it's sinful pride that cares more about what people think about me than what God wants me to do. I'm just saying it's how I feel.

So how do we overcome these fears? I think the only thing is to fall so in love with Jesus, to become so enamoured with the work he did on the Cross, to be so full of the Spirit, that we can't help but share it. The Spirit can overcome all of those mental and emotional barriers that we put in the way of evangelism.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

SBC Primer #5 - The Blogs

I still remember my initiation into the world of Southern Baptist blogs very well. I can't remember the exact date, but I do remember, I was sitting at my desk when I worked in Augusta. During some down time, I was reading an article on ChristianityToday.com about whatever the latest controversy in SBC life was. It was specifically speaking of two people, bloggers, who'd become popular in Southern Baptist circles. They were the godfathers of SBC blogging, Wade Burelson, of Grace and Truth to You, and Marty Duren, of SBC Outpost, now of ie:Missional. I don't remember what the subject even was, but I was immediately drawn in, and have been reading those blogs ever since.

Since that first day, I've been introduced through their blogging to men like Tom Ascol and the Founders Blog, Timmy Brister at Provocations and Pantings, Ben Cole, Paul Littleton and the gang at the new SBC Outpost, Nathan Finn at The Fullness of Time, Micah Fries at Husband Daddy Pastor Learner, and Robin Foster, Tim Rogers and the rest of the crew at SBC Today. I've never met any of these men, and have only spoken briefly by e-mail to a couple of them, but I can tell you what most of them think about most of the issues facing both the SBC and Christianity in general. I can also tell you that they all seem to be men who love God and truly care about the future of the SBC in particular and Christendom in general. Trust me, they don't all agree on everything, and those disagreements can sometimes be quite sharp, but they really do a pretty good job of covering all that is good and not so good about SBC life. If you explore the SBC blogosphere right now, you'll discover arguments, ahem, discussions, on everything from Calvinism to tongue speaking to alcohol to proper baptism. All of the bloggers will have firmly held convictions, and will usually state those convictions pretty well.

While thought in Southern Baptist Life was once passed along at the speed of the Postal Service via monthly Baptist State newspapers and the Baptist Press, it now moves at the speed of the Internet (connections may vary depending on location). Southern Baptist blogging has become such a phenomenon that there's a web site devoted just to tracking the SBC blogs. I'm pleased to be one of the newest additions to that site, SBC Voices, which tracks more than 350 blogs daily.

Those blogs have had a pretty significant impact on SBC politics over the last several years. The bloggers have been given at least partial credit for the presidency of Frank Page. They talked up his candidacy quite a bit in the days leading up the convention two years ago. If that Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership that I've talked about passes at this year's convention, it will be thanks in large part, I believe, to a concerted effort through the blogs over the last few years to bring attention to the problem of the SBC's bloated rolls. I would also venture to say that more average lay people know and understand what goes on in SBC life a lot better because of the blogs.

This series has been mostly to help members of my Sunday School class learn a little bit more about how the SBC works as it is presently constituted, but I know over the last week or so, I've also picked up quite a few SBC bloggers, so let me end this post with a story and a word to them and for them.

I do an interview segment in my newscast every day. I usually don't know who it's going to be until right before I walk on the set. One day earlier this year, I picked up the sheet with my interviewees information on it, and the name immediately rang a bell. Just before the interview started, I looked at him and said, "Do you have a blog?" He was pretty surprised that I asked the question, but affirmed that he did indeed. He was one of the SBC bloggers that I'd read over the years, Matt Snowden, now Associate Pastor at First Baptist in Meridian. He blogs at Broken Steeple. We've gotten to know each other a little since then, so I think I can share what he told me with you. He said, "I thought those blogs were just for us insiders. I didn't think anyone else actually read them." He was really surprised that an SBC laymen, or for that matter, some non-Christian out there, might actually stumble upon something he wrote. I can honestly say I've never read anything Matt has written that he should be ashamed of; in fact, much he's written would be profitable to the world at large. But I can't say that for all of the SBC bloggers out there.

Here's the warning: whatever you say, whatever you write, can be seen by the entire world. I've been told anytime I have a microphone on, I should pretend that it's hot, and everything I say will be broadcast to the world. You should think the same thing with your blogs. They are not ways of doing personal correspondence between a small circle of friends. People are watching you, sometimes like me, very quietly, for a really long time, without saying a word. So be careful. My hope for this blog is that all I say will be Christ-honoring. I have a feeling that if I haven't already, I will eventually fall short of that. But the day I feel like I've gone too far, that what I'm writing will hinder the cause of Christ more than it helps it, will be the day I hang this blog thing up. I hope that's a promise that we can all make to ourselves.