Dluxe's World

Friday, March 31

Purpose Driven Pets

This post is going to offend someone...

A while ago, I read Rick Warren's "Purpose Driven Life" with a friend. I didn't like it. I found it weak and saccharine.

I personally stop short of other Reformalvinist (my term, like it?) bloggers who would burn the book as a heretical tome... Likewise, I don't want to state that 'all' churches or studies using the PDL book are not Biblically healthy. I'll give the benefit of the doubt, ya know?

Still, we have friends who have recently started considering attending another church. I've since learned that that church seems to be progressing towards becoming "Purpose Driven". Now, I could rant on and on (repeat ad nauseum) about the various exegetical and doctrinal holes that I think the PD ideology seems to revel in. Instead, I decided to just take a quick glance at the FAQ from Warren's own Saddleback Church. I submit the following for your review:
Q: My dog died this week, will he go to heaven?
A: I am very sorry to hear that your dog died. I know how very close you can feel to a pet that has been with you, maybe all of your life in this case. The Bible does not tell us exactly where animals go when they die. It does indicate that, in heaven, there will be a new creation. It will not be just a place of clouds, that there will also be trees and animals up there in heaven. Some people have asked me if, when they get to heaven, they will be disappointed because the pet that they loved was not there. I can promise you that this will not happen. Heaven will not be a place where there is any disappointment in our lives. I often tell people, when you get to heaven, if you are longing for your dog to be there then God will obviously meet your need and your dog will be there. Heaven will be a place where there is no more longing, crying or any kind of pain.

Now... I ask you to contrast this with the following quote from John Piper, and some of the eloquent response from Tim Challies on his blog:
Piper is discussing the gospel and the full message it contains. He asks about heaven:
The critical question for our generation--and for every generation--is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever say, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?
That question led me [Tim] to put down the book and to spend a few moments in self-examination. I had to admit, to my great shame, that there are many times in my life where I feel that I could be perfectly content to consider a Christless heaven...

I wrote this article this morning after spending some quiet time with God. I can't express the longing that I felt in this time to desire Christ above all else. I can't describe just how much I wanted to long to be with Christ and to desire Him as the great and final gift of heaven and earth. How I wanted to know Him in that way here and now, and not to have to wait for heaven to delight in the Savior in such a way that He is what I want above all else.

I posed Piper's question to a couple friends and we wrestled with it via email. If we are imagining that our longing in heaven will be for Snoogums the Chihuahua, I think we have a problem. I'm not saying that to knock on people who love their pets, believe me. But, I hope we realize that when we're confronted with the perfection and beauty of Christ in heaven all other desires will melt away. And that should be our hope and joy - more than pets, family, or friends.

More fun here:
Q: Will Saddleback Church baptize a person who lives unmarried with another person?
A: The short answer is yes. However, the logic behind that decision is that at Saddleback Church baptism does not confer membership to a person. Baptism is just one of the requirements for membership. We follow the New Testament example of Acts 2:41 (among others) ... and baptize any who confess that they have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and desire to follow Him in believer's baptism.

Color me "totally wigged out". Does it strike anyone else that Saddleback seems to value membership in their church more than the institution of baptism? I know that no one is without sin when they're baptized (Justified and forgiven? Of course). Still, it seems a little odd to baptize someone who is knowingly in rebellion against God's design. If this person even expressed the intent to reform themselves, I'd feel better! But this sounds, instead, like "I'm doing this, and I'm going to keep doing it. So there. When can I be baptized?"

But it's really ok, because publicly displaying them as members of Christ's body - through baptism - is fine so long as you aren't members of the church. *ACK! NOT!* That's backwards!! Every admonition for baptism in the NT starts with REPENT first. How are you confessing Christ as LORD if you aren't at least attempting to subject yourself to His commands?

*chuckle* All this ranting and I haven't even gotten started on my personal favorite rant: So-called 'Proof texting' from the Bible. Take for example the quoting of only Acts 2:41 in the baptism question above. That carefully omits the very important text in the verses leading up to it!

I'll stop now.

Again - In case certain people are reading this: I'm not trying to make an broad attack on a particular church. Still, if my church were becoming "Purpose Driven" I think I'd purposefully attend elsewhere.


Thursday, March 23

The tangled web...

For a while, I've been meaning to update the list of links over along the sidebar of my blog. I've come across so many interesting and provacative websites in the last couple months that I'd love to share them with you.

However, I'm not one of those people* who thinks that a huge, rambling list of links down one side of a page is particularly effective. While that approach works, it just doesn't appeal to me.

So, I'm going to do something a little different. I'm going to use the previous post as an 'archive' for cool links. I'll update it regularly with sites I think kick booty along with an explanation of why they are so cool... Starting soon, you'll be able to check in there and find a list of cool sites like these (just to give you a taste):

Together for the Gospel - What happens when you mix a Southern Baptist, an Indie Baptist, a Presbyterian, and a Reformed Charismatic together? It's either the start of a bad joke or it's Together For the Gospel. Check out the ongoing conversation for humor and fun insights. Of particular interest to some might be what role the Holy Spirit should play in choosing our Final Four picks (kiddingly, of course).

The Resurgence - I like Mark Driscoll... I think he's got the right balance between missional church work and solid theology. I like his sarcastic wit, too, though YMMV. Anyway, check out his blog for some stimulating and, at times, maddening insights into life at Mars Hill Church.

... and his ministers a flame of fire - Thought provoking, Christ-centered posts combined with comic book graphics. Unique, for sure. And that's all you can say.

I'm a big fan of Steve's blog. It's one of my daily reads (and occasionally more-than-daily) and has been for months. He was destined for the 'good sites' page, but I was looking for a site with a ton of links to illustrate my point (and wasn't teeny-boppery or profanity laced). I had to link somewhere, and having him open in another tab of my browser made him an 'easy target'.

So, apologies Mr. Reformissionary... Hopefully, you won't block me from checking into your site!

Lotsa Ludicrous Links

Bookmarks!! Sites that I like.

Friends/Family Blogs
  • Eva's Blog - Not only is she the most beautiful woman in the world, she's also the smartest...
  • MLF's Blog - Will make you laugh and think (even re: the seedy underworld surrounding Ginger Ale
  • Deef's Net - Prayer letter mogul, programming wizard, and one of the most insightful people I've ever met.
  • Rambling Thoughts - LetUsRun's very well written, insightful commentary about faith in the midst of life's challenges...
  • PatL's Blog - Cooking, canine antics, probing commentaries, programming skills... PatL does it all well!
  • Blog o' Da Hearn - Sharp wit and overarching silliness... Great writing. *ADULT LANGUAGE WARNING!
  • Milo's World - Gots mad flow on the mic, in a broadcast journalism kinda way. *ADULT LANGUAGE WARNING
  • ><><><><><><><><><><><><><
    Reformed Church-y Blogs
  • Between Two Worlds - My first stop daily. Justin's site is a great starting point to get hooked into the wider world of Christian Bloggers.
  • Worship Matters - The blog of Bob Kauflin, Director of Worship Development for Sovereign Grace Ministries. Wonderful, humble insights from a blessed musician and man of God.
  • Challies.com - Genuine, stimulating thoughts from Tim Challies. Tim's book reviews and 'King of the Week' links are a great way to expand your reading list a little.
  • Together for the Gospel - What happens when you mix a Southern Baptist, an Indie Baptist, a Presbyterian, and a Reformed Charismatic together? It's either the start of a bad joke or it's Together For the Gospel. Check out the ongoing conversation for humor and fun insights.
  • Pyromaniacs - A wealth of cool articles written by Phil Johnson, the original Pyromaniac, and his merry band of bloggers.
  • Reformissionary - Steve, though I dissed him accidentally on here, has a fantistic blog. Personal insights from someone 'in the trenches' (and a Tim Keller fan. w00t!).
  • Resurgence - Mark Driscoll and the rest of the Mars Hill gang posting re everything from mullets to Particular Redemption. Solid doctrine and culturally-relevant ministry in the Gospel.
  • ... and His ministers a flame of fire - Defies description... Frank's the only person I know to combine solid, thoughtful theology with comic book characters.
  • Mark Roberts' Blog - Very readable and honest commentary from Irvine Presby's Pastor. (thanks for Alan for the link!)

  • E-zine styled
  • Reformation21 Blog - The team at Ref21's thoughts and conversations.
  • Reformation Theology - The blog from the people who bring us Monergism.com. Fantastic reading, if you're looking for something meaty to chew on!
  • ><><><><><><><><><><><><><

    Great Bible and Theology Resources...
  • ESV Bible Online - Search the readable, beautiful, and accurate ESV from the comfort of your ergonomically-correct office chair. Also check out their blog for news and announcements.
  • Monergism.com - Fantastic dumping of solid, Reformed resources. If you're doing research, this is one of the first places to hit. Searchable, but also logically organized by topic... Can't say enough good things!
  • Valley Bible Church - If you're looking for a church, we'd love to have you come see us! Excuse the 'frumpy' website, please...
  • RZIM Ministries - I adore Ravi Zacharias... Reminding us that our faith is true, defensible, and encourages us to think and contemplate the things of God (rather than the oft cited allegation that faith means 'leaving your brain at the door').
  • ><><><><><><><><><><><><><

    The Dark Side and the people who track them...
  • Slice of Laodicea - Ingrid and her team keep a sharp eye on the strange, heretical, and downright absurd in the modern 'church'.
  • EmergentNO - Chuckle at what happens when people try to have their truth without it having to be true. A great resource for tracking the strangeness in the Emergent 'conversation'
  • EmergentUS - See what's up in the world where truth is on vacation.
  • Brian McLaren - What's up with the man for whom propositional truth is outdated.
  • Friday, March 17

    Tricks of the trade

    /rant on

    Isaac Newton was a smart guy... And yet, one of his famous quotes goes like this: "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." Words to live by, for me. As I've stated before, I try to look thoughtful and quote smart people. That prevents my own ignorance from coming out too often...

    Ok, maybe it helps 1 in 5 times. My ignorance, sadly, is quite potent.

    When I am asked to teach, I'll make no bones about it... I'm standing on some serious shoulders (though I doubt I see very far). I spend a day or two reading and outlining the passage/lesson then, once I have a start, I run through the following:
    Then I spend the rest of my prep time mulling over all this input and trying to synthesize it into something that is 'mine' to one degree or another.

    So, this sharing of information is good. After all, it's all supposed to be about furthering the gospel of Christ, right? If someone's out there forging messages that are completely off the map other intelligent people used, odds are good that they've strayed into half-truths and heresy. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever... As a result, I'd be willing to wager that every good doctrine has been formed and expounded. Likewise, every false doctrine has been formed and expounded.

    It remains for us to search the scriptures, discern truth from error, and communicate it to a hungry world. And so I'm grateful to gifted teachers today who make their thought available to us. Since I exchanged emails with them today, take John Piper's Desiring God Ministries for example. The sheer amount and quality of free resources they offer is amazing. And I'm quite confident that Dr. Piper expects, would even encourage, that these materials would be launching pads for others in their ministry.

    This begs the question... Why do I have an issue with this article by Rick Warren? In it, Pastor Warren says:
    When I was planting Saddleback Church, other pastors’ sermons fed my own soul – and eased my preparation. In fact, I still use other pastors’ sermons in my preparation time. If you’ve ever heard me talk about sermon preparation at all, you know I have a “bucket file,” where I toss illustrations, articles, and books on topics I plan to preach on. Among those other items I put in this file are sermons preached by other pastors. They give me ideas. They help me see Scripture in entirely new ways sometimes. I believe these sermons are like the commentaries of the 21st century.

    Cool... I was just saying the same thing!
    I hope my sermons will do the same for you. That’s why I make them available to you on Pastors.com. Whether you use the outlines and transcripts for sermon ideas or listen to the preaching to fine-tune your delivery, I’ll be thrilled if your ministry becomes more effective because of them. And if you have a sermon idea that might be helpful to me, feel free to share it!

    Rick Warren is agreeing with me! Of course, each sermon transcript is $4. You want the companion audio file? That'll be $4. And you'll be lost without the corresponding PowerPoint slides (available for a nominal charge of $4).

    Now, every good MBA student out there is cheering! "That's right! Don't you dare give up your IP without compensation!" Well, hooray for capitalism. Funny that Warren open the article by telling us a touching story re: a African pastor who walks an hour to download Warren's sermons for use at his church:
    My heart of love went out to that guy. I will give the rest of my life for guys like that. Soldiers of the cross who are serving God with so little when God has given me so much. I will serve those people, and I will lay down my identity, my influence, and my income to help guys like that.

    For $4 per copy, of course. Strikes me as a little duplicitous...

    But that's not even the worst of it. The worst comes from this article by Steve Sjogren. He says:
    At a seminar, Dr. Cho, pastor of the world's largest church in Korea, was asked during a question and answer time, "How do you put your weekly messages together? They are so powerful!" He said, "Honestly, I have never given an original message in all my years of ministry here at Yoido Church. Each week, I preach word-for-word messages from either Billy Graham or W.A. Criswell from Dallas First Baptist Church. I can't afford to not have a home run each weekend when we gather. I don't trust my own ability to give completely original messages." Wow!

    There's an element of this that makes me very sad. I don't know Dr. Cho, so I apologize if I'm off-base here. Why is a home run is so critically important? Is it because people might not come back? If that's the case, the problem is not with the sermon - it's in the heart of the congregants. They're there for the show and pagentry... They're there to watch Barry Bonds hit home runs on the juice. I would even go so far as to say they've been trained to have that kind of attitude, which is a terrible thing to say. All this is to say nothing of the prideful motives of 'numbers' that would appear to be driving the leadership.

    Another side of the issue is that I wonder how many pastors follow this advice but can't back it up... How many people pound the pulpit on Sunday, delivering firey messages straight from the mouth of someone else, and yet can't feed their flock through the week because they themselves aren't spending time in the Word? Since regurgitating someone else's thoughts is the road to success, why spend time letting the Word of God penetrate my mind and start changing me from the inside out? It's kinda like having a nutrition expert with an eating disorder...

    /rant off
    //and no, I found these articles on another blog. Standing short on the shoulders of giants, again.


    Tuesday, March 14

    Faith and a $0 balance...

    You know, life likes to keep you on your toes... Just when you think that you're getting a leg up, you discover the following:

    1. The furnace that you knew you were going to need to replace anyway has decided to sting you for an additional $300+ in repairs... At the end of the season. Just for kicks.
    2. The car you beat up is likely to bite you for at least $300 more than you anticipated was needed to get it fixed. And that's still not 'like new' repairs here - we're talking baseline, 'pass inspection and no longer considered a death-trap'.
    3. As a result, the $500 you had been desperately hoping would put you on the road up and out of the mire has evaporated... Moreover, you still have remaining repairs and a $5000 furnace payment to look forward to.

    I'm thankful that Top Ramen is still available... Only:

    1. I recognize that Top Ramen, even though it is the flagship Nissin Food product, does not meet most dietary requirements that a pediatrician would recommend for my children.
    2. For that matter, any doctor who was told you're eating that stuff as an adult would go ahead and pencil in 'massive coronary' into the cause of death space on your file.
    3. It'd be cheaper, only slightly less tasty, and perhaps 1.5x as healthy to fast or enjoy a nice, warm bowl of salt water.

    Anyone have some salt and water they're willing to loan?

    And the funniest thing is that in your mind and heart, you know that it's all not that important and bound to work out... "For the Bible tells me so!"

    Monday, March 13

    The sound system as grace...

    Ingrid @ Slice of Laodicea is nothing if not opinionated. If you've never checked out their blog, I would urge you to read it occasionally (it's one of my daily pitstops).

    In Ingrid's post this morning, she points out the continuing boom in the 'worship arts' business and it's effect on our churches. She makes the following comment:
    I, for one, refuse out of hand to tithe to a church for television equipment, special effects lighting for the "stage", million dollar sound systems, etc. etc. etc. ... What is not being funded while churches are being built and equipped to resemble Radio City Music Hall? Why do we need technology to worship the Lord Jesus Christ? What does it say about the size and purpose of our churches that this kind of technology is being purchased? ... Church has to be an exciting sensual experience that has to match up with whatever the media is offering. Broadway style shows? Yes. Rockette style dancers? Yes. Box offices? Yes. House bands? Yes. The Holy Spirit? No.

    I've generally agreed with Ingrid's posts... And I don't really disagree with the spirit behind this one. I think the church-at-large has gotten bitten by consumerism and slick marketing. We've become more concerned with filling the pews that with worshipping (and preaching) Christ to the communities in which we live. As our pastor pointed out in a sermon yesterday, worship has become a noun - something that we observe and take in - versus a verb that we must do and participate in.

    So, I completely agree that media, music, and pizazz are all things that can become idols in and of themselves. Still... Is the problem really with those tools themselves? Ok, I'll grant you that 'pizazz' is a problem (not that it's really a tool anyway). We shouldn't be about a show just for a show's sake.

    Our church is blessed to be fairly large for our area. Because of our size, some technological intervention is needed. There are very nice people with hair far grey-er than mine who sit near the back. If they're going to hear the pastor preach in our (acoustically horrendous) sanctuary, they're going to need help. There are people who are serving the church - mainly in our nursery - who miss a service here and there. Isn't it a nice thing to be able to offer them a recording of the sermon?

    Now, I'm sure that Ingrid wouldn't dispute these costs. But it points out that the issue is the purpose and not the technology. Is the band playing to rightly glorify God and help us enter into worship, or are we playing to be rock stars and fill the seats? Is the gospel being clearly taught and proclaimed, or are we watering down truth to tickle ears and fill seats? Are we putting lights and screens and speakers to help people engage in the corporate worship of our Lord or are we 'just showing off'?

    While our church is not without issues (no church is), I'm consistently thankful that our growth and mission has been solidly grounded in the truth of the Cross. In Sunday School yesterday (ABF, for your VBCers here) I made the point that there is truth that cannot be compromised. If the church had to close its doors because no one would listen, we'd better close the doors rather than compromise. Thankfully, I believe we would go down swinging for the right things.

    Let's just make sure that we're putting the first things first. If God is blessing a doctrinally-solid, Bible-believing, Cross-centered church with growth, shouldn't we rejoice rather than grumble? At last check, the church that John Piper pastors has (spread among three 'campuses') around 1700 members and rising... Who knows how many people attend above that number. Are we really saying that a church that's shining as a beacon in a dark place needs to stop doing reasonable things to confront more people with the gospel?

    I'm not a megachurch person... As our church grows into a new facility, I hope the next step in our growth is to start planting churches rather than continuing to grow and grow and grow... That said, so long as Christ is lifted up first and foremost I don't think we need to run away from success. It's grace! It's wonderful stuff which we've been entrusted to steward well until Christ returns. We do need to be careful that the trappings of success don't try to climb up on the altar.

    Ingrid mentions that this post dovetails with another discussing a blog on the rise in home churches (from ChristianityToday). It's an interesting read as well, and will probably draw some comments from me soon!

    Friday, March 10

    Did you hear? Purple monkey dishwasher?

    What is the difference between expressing concern, asking for clarification, or seeking counsel/support re: a problem and engaging in gossip?

    I pose the question for three reasons, two of which came up yesterday. To go into one here really would be gossip, so I'll refrain. The other case: Eva mentioned that the women's current study includes the admonition that discussing 'problems at home' shouldn't be used as a chance to gossip re: their husband's faults.

    We were chatting about where that dividing line falls... This has occupied all my back-brain cycles since then.

    If we are to bear one another's burdens (Galatians 6), then there is some degree of disclosure that needs to happen. You need to know about my struggle to be able to provide counsel and prayer.

    In 1 Timothy, Paul links gossiping with being "busybodies, saying what [we] should not." James writes, particularly in chapter 3, about the evils that our tongue can spread... We must watch what we say carefully and guard our hearts. The dividing line is as much about the heart behind (or the tone of) the things we say as it is about the 'facts'. And it's so easy to move from edifying speech to speech that destroys!

    For example, some time ago I spent time talking with a man re: troubles in a relationship. As he started to talk things out, it was obvious that he was pouring his heart out and detailing a painful struggle. The longer he talked, however, the tenor of his comments shifted... This was no longer needed information, but instead a series of subtle, hurtful comments aimed at the absent party.

    He wasn't talking about the problem or a right/wrong response anymore... We were throwing darts at someone's picture, burning them in effigy.

    It strikes me that is the difference: If we're speaking, are we seeking help or are we simply grumbling? If we're the listener, are we learning facts that help us pray and support our friends through crisis or are we being driven/titillated by the thought of knowing something compromising? If we speak of things we've been told, why are we doing that and what is the listener getting out of this?

    It's amazing how easily we make the shift from one camp to the other. We should consider carefully the words of James and also Paul's admonishment to the church at Colosse:
    Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator...

    Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:5-17, ESV)


    Wednesday, March 8

    The resultant condition from the removal of intergalactic dictatorships...

    According to the third story on this link:
    Landocalrissan Butler, 25, of Winnikee Avenue, entered a guilty plea Tuesday in Dutchess County Court to attempted criminal possession of a controlled substance, a felony. Butler told Judge Thomas J. Dolan he had five small bags of crack in his pocket Dec. 22 when police arrested him on Morgan Avenue. He said he intended to sell the drugs.

    I guess destroying the Empire was not that good for galactic economics.

    There's nothing else to say, is there? Go back to your day.

    Tuesday, March 7

    The pounding continues...

    The resounding theme of 'Calling' continues to resound around me. Yesterday morning I completed my typical, Monday iPod synch. Mondays are special because it includes the usual, daily broadcasts that I listen to as well as weekly programs and sermons from a couple churches I monitor (adding up to a total of 7 new messages).

    The internet is so cool.

    Anyway, the clear theme in 4 of them was obedience to God's call. The other three were focused on getting grounded in scripture to prepare ourselves for ministry. Listen to the opening of yesterday's "Just Thinking" from Ravi Zacharias:
    What was it that framed my own call and my thinking? I looked back over the years and looked at some of the messages I have studied ... to understand better, even at this stage, what it is that the calling of Christ really means. How he shapes and molds and prepares every individual.

    And as I look at this notion of 'the call', and how God shapes and forms and prepares your life and mine, I think we may get a glimpse of what it is God really does when He wants to rescue a people. How he chips away at the coarse edges and creates a magnificent instrument through whom He can bring deliverance.

    You see, I feel very troubled that so little an understanding is prevalent today of what it really means to be in ministry.

    Mark Driscoll's sermon at Mars Hill Church this past weekend had a similar bent. He was asking believers to carefully consider their motives for seeking leadership in the church (Mars Hill is growing and also supports a vibrant church planting mission). While he made many points, he expanded on the idea of seeking to minister with an underlying motive for 'profit' in a very humorous way. With the birth of the mega-churches, I can certainly see more and more people seeing ministry as a capitalistic career path... Driscoll said:
    First of all, do not get into the ministry because you think it going to pay good. Because it's not! Early on in the church I didn't get paid for three years. Beautiful wife. People come up, "She's beautiful, she's so skinny!" SHE'S HUNGRY! You don't pay us! You do not pay us, she is HUNGRY! That's why she's so skinny...

    In a church like this, thousands of people serve, dozens get paid, and only a handful get paid enough to actually raise a family, live in the city, and own a house.

    If you're looking for a job, you might wanna look elsewhere and tithe because then we can get enough money pay the next guy...

    You've gotta hear that coming through in Driscoll's quick, west-coast voice to get all the humor. Even though he says it in a way that gets a laugh, the point is well taken.

    So, I'm looking forward to hearing more in the coming week (and probably into the future until I get it through my head). If you're following this and praying, just continue to ask that whatever God's will is - be it preparing me for something, convicting me of something, or sending me to something - that I'd hear it clearly when it's spoken and respond humbly.

    Just to end on an up note, Ravi relates the following little joke talking about the varied 'messages' we get from contemporary Christian culture... Made me chuckle:
    A little boy [wanted] a bicycle and he did not know best how to pray for one. So he was watching a [church] television program, a very traditional service, and saw how the minister prayed. And so, at the end of the day the lad got on his knees and said: "Lord, if it is in Your Sovereign will and in Your Eternal plan that I can get myself a bicycle - in Your time and according to Your will - would you please get me a bicycle I pray. Amen."

    Two days later, he was not sure that was a very confident prayer. So, he turned on the television on again to watch another type of ministry in operation. And at the end of the day, he got on his knees and said: "Lord, I declare my need for a bicycle! And I ask that it be a nice blue-colored bicycle and delivered to my home within 24 hours. I lay claim to it, Amen!"

    He was still not sure at the end of a day if he'd done rightly by this thing so he kept pondering this one evening. He looked on the other side of his room, and he saw a statue of Jesus there on one of his tables. [The boy's] mother was watching him do this. He took the statue out of the room and disappeared somewhere. She didn't know what he was up to. So at night when he was sound asleep, she went back into his room to look for the statue and couldn't find it. Then, she saw this note on the desk: "Dear Jesus, if you want to see your mother again..."
    If you and I formed out theologies of prayer on what we observe or hear, or if we formed our concept of ministry in some of the aberrations that we see of what it means to be called, I often wonder whether it might bear any resemblance to what is that God really had in mind.

    Sunday, March 5

    Urbanization and me...

    Our church's bi-annual Missions Conference concluded today. This year, the focus was on urban missions and we welcomed speakers from Campus Crusade's operations in New York - Larry and Deb Christensen.

    It's amazing to think of the scale of ministry that is possible only in an urban context. As was noted several times today, the combination of diversity of backgrounds and concentrated numbers makes the cities of the world a unique and 'strategic' mission field. It's always interesting to take a step outside of your own little paradigm and consider a lifestyle that is different.

    What was really interesting (if that's the right word) to me was how neatly this Missions Conference wrapped up a fascinating week for me. For some reason, this entire week has echoed a singular theme...

    For some time now, I've been wrestling with this whole idea of my 'calling'. For some reason, it seemed that every conversation with people who really know me centered on this idea of breaking out and doing something for Christ. Friends asking, unsolicited, how I was doing discovering God's plan for me relative to ministry. Every sermon I heard (live and via ye olde iPod) seemed to be pounding on the idea of waking up to and embracing God's call. At one point, I almost thought Alistair Begg was going to jump into my headphones and yell something like, "Brian Dellinger would ya please wake up!".

    Though that would sound wicked cool in his Scottish brogue...

    Telling me "Wake up, you're missing something" is not really much of a revelation. I've felt that way for a while. What would've been helpful would be if someone could actually tell me what to do once I wake up. At least give me some clear advice on what cereal to have for breakfast.

    I don't know that this has much of a point as a blog entry. Then again, I'm pretty certain no other post has had one... Why start now? If pressed, I guess the point would be to ask for prayers. Pray that somehow I'd get a clearer picture of who/what God is trying to tell me to be.

    As I mentioned to one of the NYC team's young ladies this morning, I'm actually very easy to please. If I felt clearly called to the mission field in Tuva, I'd pack up tomorrow. If I felt led to another church or role, I'd go gladly. If God's purpose was simply that we stay put, I certainly wouldn't argue. Instead, I just have this vague sense of being 'out of step' somehow.

    So, if you're out there: Pray for some clarity in my mind... Pray that when that comes, Eva and I would be on the same page with each other. Though a Damascus Road experience would fit the bill nicely, I'm happy with something sure yet less flashy.

    Then again, I guess you should be careful what you ask for, eh?

    Friday, March 3

    The Soul Winners

    I've been blessed, I think, with a couple friends who really like to think through their faith. This is a ton of fun, of course, until we run up on those ancient debates in the church and find ourselves stuck between viewpoints. It's still fun, but the risk of heresy is greatly increased. And we know there are people with stones ready to swoop in!

    Kidding about the stones part, actually.

    Anyway, over lunch the other day we backed into the topic of evangelism. If we are good Calvini... *cough* I mean, Reformed theologians, how do we personally resolve the long-standing tension between election/irresitible grace and getting people to 'choose Christ'.

    I pondered over this last night. Again, there is that refers to me as 'Pastor' - nor should there be - so please don't go stretching this into dogma. Just some thoughts (now slightly edited) to spur some discussion.

    Note that I'm using 'evangelism' here to mean an active presentation of the Gospel to a listener...

    First, evangelism in any context should be firmly grounded in the Scripture. The Bible also calls us to evangelize. I could cite verses for that hand-over-fist, but I don't think these are points of much contention for most of us.

    We don't know the mind of God... We don't know who He has or hasn't chosen. As a result, we should spread the message of the gospel to 'all nations' having confidence that the Holy Spirit will move in those people God is drawing. Some staunch Reform people say this is the great freedom of Reformed Evangelism - "It's not about you [your skills, your words, your testimony, your presentation]!" While I think that's true, I don't think that's in any way exclusive to Calvinism. Most biblical Christians, I think, would acknowledge that God uses whatever we bring, even empowering us with more when it's needed.

    So, what do we say when we witness? I think that the difference between an Ariminian/semi-Pelegian presentation of the Good News and a Calvinistic one would not really differ all that much. Since people are familiar with the Romans Road, we'll use that as a framework.

    Starting with Romans 1:18-21 ... This would seem to be a Calvinistic slant. It establishes first the moral inability of man to approach God and our open rebellion against him. God makes the first move towards people who are saved because we/they are naturally running away from God. I don't know that you hammer this, at all, but rather use it to simply state that we are infinitely distant from God's standard.

    Romans 3:23 (the normal starting verse) serves as a good summary statement, in that context. Then onto Romans 6:23. We're on the 'standard flight plan', here.

    I'd probably expand the traditional Romans 5:8 to include vv6-8, and perhaps v10. By doing so, we highlight the idea that we are 'weak', rebellious and emphasize that God took the initiative to reconcile us to Himself through the Cross.

    Here comes one of the main differences, IMNSHO. First, try to think of "non-Reformed" sinner's prayer. Something like: "Lord Jesus, I ask you to come into my life. I choose you as Lord of my life today and ask that...etc. Amen".

    Now read Romans 10:9-10. Reading those verses now where I am in my faith, I would emphasize a different point than the norm. Namely that Jesus is Lord of our lives, like it or not. The question is whether we will acknowledge His rightful place and choose to follow and obey.

    God has revealed his love for us through Christ's death. He could've left us condemned for missing the wonders of Romans 1, but he didn't! What grace!

    Then here would be another Calvin-esque thrust: Romans 12:1-2. It's worth emphasizing that truly embracing the Gospel (and a sign that your salvation is 'real') is the change that our life manifests. So, an unbeliever should understand that by acknowledging Christ as Lord you are stating that you are willing/prepared to leave behind your previous, sinful life. That isn't to say that we don't still sin! But if we simply go on living the same life we've always led then we're not really living under Christ's lordship!

    I'm sure there'd be questions. Obviously, you should be seeking to present an honest picture of the gospel of grace for the person. I can't help but acknowledge that, while not needing to be 'intellectual', it must be conceded that a Reformed gospel depends on thoughts/convictions (as well as the emotional responses).

    So, in contrast to the prayer above, a prayer like this might be better: "Lord, I acknowledge that I am sinner. I believe that Jesus was your Son, God in flesh, and that He came to earth to die for my sins. I acknowledge Him as Lord of my life and ask that you'd help me to live for you through Christ. Thank you for revealing yourself to me and for your grace... Amen"

    The difference an emphasis on embracing/acknowledging Christ rather than 'making a decision for Him'. The more I think about it, the more subtle that difference really is... But I think it is important.

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    Wednesday, March 1

    Ruff Ruff It!!!

    A week or so ago, my wife expressed an interest in learning to play chess. This would've been music to my ears when we were first married. When we first moved to PA to enjoy our new, wedded bliss, I discovered that a bookstore in the mall where Eva worked had tons of chess books. And, not surprisingly, they were always on clearance.

    So, I bought several books and a little mini board. Those were decadent days for us, looking back. I'd go to wait on Eva to get done with work, sit near the food court, and study chess games (while raiding the free samples of Chinese food).

    Shortly, I started becoming very 'annoyed' with chess. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I was good or anything - but the game seemed so dull in certain ways. Wired Magazine put it this way:
    The opening phase of a chess game as currently played has been subject to a hundred years of scholarship and play, and today players are hard pressed to find so much as a viable pawn push within the first 20 moves that hasn't been thoroughly analyzed.

    As a result, serious players spend considerable time memorizing published openings as played by masters and grandmasters, so they know the correct, time-tested response to every move an opponent makes. One standard text on the subject, Modern Chess Openings, is 750 pages long, and will tell you, for example, that the proper answer to white's pawn advance on the 12th move of the Soltis Variation of the Yugoslav Attack, a variant of the Sicilian Defense, is to move your king's rook pawn.

    That's what bugged me... The game is so highly scripted that it has become as much about memorization as anything. That's bunk. The other side is that, if you're playing online, cheating is a real problem in the amateur ranks. I remember downloading Chessbase to archive/analyze games I played online (important to do, since I was always losing and losing sucks). Chessbase had the formidable Fritz chess engine built-in to help you evaluate your play. What I discovered was that some guy claiming to be 20 years old and 'just learning like [me]', managed to mimic Fritz's suggested moves for each of the four 'fun' games we played.

    Surprising rise to Grandmaster... Well, not really.

    The Wired article cited above, interestingly, is highlighting Fischer Random Chess... FRC is a chess variant from the twisted mind of the reclusive, crazy-genius Bobby Fischer that attempts to remove the formulaic elements from the game through 'randomizing' the opening position.

    Since Fischer is not really a nice person, most folks are now rebranding his invention as Chess960. Remember kids, branding counts.

    Having determined in my head that I'm not cut out for chess, I decided to wish really hard (again) that I'd find someone intensely interested in either spades or (preferably) bridge. And everything I've written thus far is really only a setup for this punchline:

    While wishfully looking at the ACBL website and dreaming of cold 7NT slams, I noticed this site seeking to popularize bridge with teh under twenty crowd.

    Here's the real riot... Check out the 'hella tight' promo video they've come out with. Nothing sells like hip-hop and vaguely sexual card terminology... Where's my deck of cards? I needs to ruff it up a little.