Sunday, October 23, 2016

Truth is Revolutionary

Interestingly, this quote actually may not have come from George Orwell (author of the famous and troubling classic 1984). Regardless, the quote rings true as our culture sprints farther and farther away from the truth every day.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Four Excellent Books on Biblical Interpretation

Some Christians struggle to interpret the bible correctly but wish they could do so. Others don't interpret it correctly and don't seem to care. Additionally, some passages are tough for just about anybody to comprehend. Because of all this, it's critical that we, Christ's church, do our best to understand what God is saying in scripture. One reason for the general impotence of the church in this country is that many Christians fail when interpreting what the bible means.

I'd like to recommend four excellent books that focus specifically on biblical interpretation. None are boring textbook types. Rather, they are enjoyable reads that you can work through without undue effort. I benefited from all four. I've previously written about them individually on this blog, but I'm grouping them together here in case you want to study a few at the same time.

In no particular order:

Exegetical Fallacies by D.A. Carson

This book is a classic. Part of that is because Carson is a both prolific and wonderful writer. In this short text (only 140 pages) he covers word-study fallacies, grammatical fallacies, logical fallacies, and presuppositional and historical fallacies. A basic knowledge of New Testament Greek helps quite a bit when reading this book; I wouldn't say it is required, but it is a large benefit. If I could recommend only one book on biblical interpretation this would be the one.

40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible by Robert Plummer

I love the layout of this book. The author asks and answers forty specific questions as the forty chapters. This is superb because it allows the reader to easily pick and choose which chapters to read. I'm also pleased that Plummer deals quite a bit with genre, which is an often ignored but critical issue.

Click here to read my full review of this book.

The Most Misused Verses in the Bible by Eric Bargerhuff

This book is a lot of fun to read. Bargerhuff's text is composed of eighteen chapters that focus on eighteen common, incorrect biblical interpretations. For example, he tackles "Do not judge," "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you," "Where two or three are gathered," "If my people who are called by my name," "Money is the root of all evil," "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," and several others. This would be a great book for any Christian to read, especially those who are first wading into the issue of biblical interpretation.

Click here to read my full review of this book.

Urban Legends of the New Testament by David Croteau

Croteau's book is similar to Bargerhuff's but a little more advanced. Urban Legends deals with forty poor interpretations specifically of New Testament passages. If you are more than a beginner in interpreting the bible, then I recommend this text over The Most Misused Verses in the Bible. Think of Bargerhuff's book as being more fun, but Croteau's as being more beneficial.

Click here to read my full review of this book.

For other reading on biblical interpretation, take a look at two blog series I've written on this subject:

Church, Bible, And Interpretation - It's Not So Simple
Old Testament Interpretive Problems Always Lead to Church Problems

Finally, enjoy:

Monday, October 17, 2016

My Wife's Thoughts on Hurricane Matthew

My wife Alice is an awesome woman. Truly she is. God has greatly blessed us with over twenty-five years of wedded bliss.

Alice is also an excellent writer. Click here to read her musings about our night with Hurricane Matthew.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Blog Series Favorites

As the years have rolled along I've written several blog series. Some are better than others. My four favorites are below. I encourage you to take a look and tell me what you think.

Church, Bible, And Interpretation - It's Not So Simple

Homosexuality - an appropriate Christian response

Twenty-Five Reasons Professional Pastors Should Resign

Unavoidable Church Principles

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Adopted, Redeemed, and Sealed!

My favorite section of Ephesians is 1:3-14. In these twelve verses, which are actually one sentence in Greek, Paul describes for us a vast array of spiritual blessings that God has bestowed upon us. It is truly amazing.

The three blessings that jump off the page at me are adoption, redemption, and sealing. Because of God's grace and that alone, we are made His children, we are bought back from our sin debt, and we are secured for eternity. This is accomplished through the perfect working together of the Trinity. God the Father adopts, God the Son redeems, and God the Holy Spirit seals.

God's grace is stunning. Let's never cease being awestruck by the gift of salvation.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

We Survived Hurricane Matthew

The photos I'm posting tell you all you need to know about the situation in Savannah right now. The picture above is terribly ironic; that should be dry ground under the sign. Savannah is currently littered with large, fallen trees. One of our fair city's nicknames is "The Forest City." When a hurricane strikes, some of that forest comes down. The trees are actually a much bigger problem than the flooding, which has been limited. I thank the Lord for keeping anything bad from happening to my family and my home. We are all safe, and we now have power (the electricity was out for about 65 hours). For a litte while early Saturday morning it looked like the large pond behind our house (pictured below) might flood. After much prayer and frequent forays by me into the wind and rain to check, the pond receded. Thank you so much for praying for us. I'm glad that Savannah rarely gets hit with storms like this. I'll be happy to never see another.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Back to School...Sort Of

Today I begin a voyage back to school of sorts. Specifically, I'm taking a "mini-mester" class at Armstrong Atlantic State University (ASU). Armstrong is located just five minutes from our home here in Savannah; it's also where two of my kids currently go to college. Our third child has already graduated from ASU.

I've already earned a Bachelor's degree (from here) and two Master's degrees (from here and here). So why return to school? The answer is simple. In order for me to become re-certified as a school psychologist, I have to take a couple of college classes. I'm taking one this fall, and another in the spring. My goal is to become re-certified through the state by next April and then apply for a school psychologist position in the local schools. I worked as a public school psychologist from 1996 to 2002, so the transition would not be difficult.

I'm pursuing this not because school psychology is a wonderful thing. It has plenty of pros and cons. However, it would be a life improvement over my current situation at JCB. I'd have a much nicer schedule, including a large chunk of time off during the summer. I'd also be on salary, which would allow us to set a budget. Additionally, it is an occupation that I could do until I'm 70ish (almost no physical component).

The class should not be too difficult since it is just entry level. However, it is fully online. I've never done that before. It should be interesting. My kids can help me since they are of the technology generation.

My schedule is about to go insane for the next month. Not only am I starting this class, but I'm also in training for the Savannah Rock 'n' Roll Marathon. I'm hoping to not only complete the 26.2 miles, but also to do so fast enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon. We'll see about that.

Due to all of the above, I have no idea how much blogging I'll be doing between now and Thanksgiving. It may have to take a backseat for a while. I'm certain that the world will not come to an end because of it.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Hurricane Matthew Update: So Far, So Good

Hurricane Matthew continues its slow slog up the east coast, with the eye currently south of Jacksonville. On the above map Savannah is located where the black mark is. We are getting consistent rain and some wind. There have been a couple of tornado warnings, but none have been too close to us. So far, so good.

As with most hurricanes, the primary danger is not the wind (even though that's what generally makes the headlines). The real problem is the combination of storm surge and high tide. For the Savannah area that will occur early tomorrow morning around one o'clock. It's difficult to predict how much of the area will see flooding. One nice thing is that the city was originally founded on a bluff above the Savannah River. Because of this, the entire historic district is located at one of the highest points in Chatham County. No flooding for them.

As for our family, we think our home should be O.K. All the projection maps we have seen show us staying dry. Other residents of our fair city may not be so blessed. One way or the other, it's going to be a long night ahead.

I will attempt to update in the morning if we have power.

Thanks again for your prayer.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Hurricane Matthew Approaches

Here it comes.

Hurricane Matthew is gradually creeping toward the southeastern coast of the United States. Although the slow-moving storm could still deviate from its present course, the projections have been fairly consistent over the past few days. Florida is going to take a beating. We in Savannah won't get it that bad, but it's still going to be unpleasant. The worst of it for us should occur between tomorrow morning and mid-day Saturday. We'll almost certainly have at least tropical storm force winds, multiple inches of rain, and power outages.

I'm thankful that we won't have to deal with anything like the poor residents of Haiti. While we may have a hot house for a few days due to a lack of air conditioning, many Haitians probably now have nowhere to live and nothing to eat. In light of that, I'll try not to complain too much.

On the positive side, JCB closed down for today and tomorrow which means an unexpected four day weekend! That means time to hang out with family around the house. Sweet. While some Savannah residents are evacuating, most are going to stay put like us.

Savannah is usually spared from hurricanes because we sit relatively far west. Our longitude is almost the same as that of Cleveland, Ohio. Hurricanes sweeping up the coast almost always miss us as they barrel into the Carolinas somewhere. I guess Matthew didn't get the memo.

I'll likely be off the blogging grid for a few days. Therefore, if you leave a comment please don't expect a quick response. I may schedule some posts a few days in advance, but that doesn't mean I actually have internet access.

I appreciate your prayers to our sovereign God for me and my family. Matthew shouldn't end up being that big of a deal; however, a storm of this nature has the potential for quite a bit of damage, especially from flooding.

Thank you.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Ephesians Times Ten

Over the past month I've read through the epistle of Ephesians ten times in ten different bible translations. I did this for two reasons. First, I just love Ephesians. It is a treasure trove of glorious truths about both God and His church. Second, I wanted to see the different nuances of the various translations.

The translations I selected were (in alphabetical order) the ESV, HCSB, ISV, KJV, NASB, NET, NIV, NKJV, NLT, and YLT. I would have read the epistle in languages other than English, but sadly I am monolingual (at least I'm not monosyllabic).

I attempted to keep an open mind about all the translations. Each has its positives. That said, I do prefer some much more than others. The ESV and NKJV are my favorites. I also like the HCSB, ISV, KJV, NASB, NET, and YLT. I tolerate the NIV. The NLT is too simplistic (these, of course, are all my personal opinions; feel free to disagree).

I gained from all ten readings of the letter. Each time God showed me something different. I thank the Lord that we English speakers are blessed to have so many good translations available to us. I highly encourage you to select a book of the bible and read it through in various translations. If you are a relatively slow reader like me then I suggest a shorter book like Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, James, I Peter, or I John. After that you may decide to bite off something longer such as a Gospel account or Romans. Also, don't forget the Old Testament.


Monday, October 3, 2016

Series Summary: Ten Bad Reasons for Returning to the Church Institution

Some Christians who depart institutional Christianity struggle with the temptation to return. You may have been in that situation in the past, or perhaps you're there right now. It can be a difficult time.

Although I cannot think of any valid reasons for going back to the institution, it's not difficult to think of bad reasons for doing so. In this series I've listed ten specific reasons I've heard for followers of Jesus returning to the tradition-laced model of church they once left behind. None of these reasons are valid. They fail the validity test because none are based in scripture.

Most believers who go back to Rome choose to do so because it's easier. Don't fall for that trap. Stick to the often lonely, more difficult road that is simple church life. Follow God's plan for His body. In the end it will be far more rewarding than the alternative.

The posts:

Series Introduction
A Bad Reason for Returning to the Institution: Personal Guilt
A Bad Reason for Returning to the Institution: Family-Induced Guilt
A Bad Reason for Returning to the Institution: Failure to Find a Small Group
A Bad Reason for Returning to the Institution: Kids
A Bad Reason for Returning to the Institution: It's Easy
A Bad Reason for Returning to the Institution: You've Been Told You Are Being Disobedient
A Bad Reason for Returning to the Institution: You Like a Particular Pastor
A Bad Reason for Returning to the Institution: "Well, the New Testament is Simply Descriptive."
A Bad Reason for Returning to the Institution: It's Where Your Extended Family Attends
A Bad Reason for Returning to the Institution: the Lure of the Mega Church

Friday, September 30, 2016

A Bad Reason for Returning to the Institution: the Lure of the Mega Church

This is the final installment in my series Ten Bad Reasons for Returning to the Institution.

The mega church is a fairly modern phenomenon. Massive churches with thousands of attendees meeting in a massive building did not exist even 100 years ago. However, today (at least in the USA) every city has at least one. And that one has an inordinate impact on all the churches around it.

My home, Savannah, has one mega church. That church acts as a giant magnet, attracting believers from other local churches. All the others fear it because they don't want to lose their people. Mega churches like this one don't generally grow from conversion but rather just from believers switching churches.

But why do so many Christians these days end up at mega churches?

I can only speak from the American experience; I do not claim to be familiar with church situations in other countries. In this country, bigger and more expensive is often seen as better. Most mega churches have nice, large, comfortable buildings that cost millions (literally) of dollars. "They must be better than the other churches since so many people attend" so the thinking goes. If nothing else, mega churches make church entertaining for kids. Because of this, children pull to go there. I vividly remember one time visiting what I would call a semi-mega church soon after we moved to seminary. It had a very nice wooden Noah's ark outside that the kids could play all over. My son wanted to go back the next week to play on it some more. We didn't go.

Mega churches are, above all else, comfortable. When you arrive, somebody from the "parking ministry" directs you to a spot. After you drop off your kids at the fun house, you can get your caffeine at the coffee shop (the "coffee ministry"). Then it's off to sit through a Sunday School/small group and then a worship service. After that, go home. Easy-peasy.

I guarantee you that if you give in to the pull of the institutional mega church you will gag at yourself. Stay the course in following the biblical model for church life even if you have to walk alone for a while. The worst thing you can do is follow the lure of the mega church.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Bad Reason for Returning to the Institution: It's Where Your Extended Family Attends

It's completely normal for Christians to hope to meet with extended family members for church. After all, church gatherings should be much like family gatherings. A friend recently told me that when the church comes together it should be much like Thanksgiving afternoon, but with Christ as the central focus. I concur.

But what happens if your extended family attends an institutional church or churches? That is likely the case for most of us. I'm blessed that the vast majority of my extended family follows Jesus. This gives me great joy. However, all of them go to institutional churches of one flavor or another. None of them (zero) agree with me on what the model of church should be.

Should I, therefore, return to the institution to be with extended family? Should you?

In a word: NO!

If you do so you will be miserable. Worse, you may even end up resenting your family because of it.

You will be miserable because all of the reasons you departed the institution remain valid. It is a man-made framework that has no place in the bible. It is based far more in Rome than scripture. It is humans' ideas about "what works" as opposed to God's plan for His people. How do we know what God's plan is? Simple: look in the bible, especially the New Testament.

Please make time to see your extended family. Get together here, there, and everywhere. Don't try to recruit them to simple church life, but certainly discuss it if they are interested. Above all, do not surrender your convictions just so you can see them on Sunday mornings.

It's better to be a little lonely and be following God's path than it is to be with the crowd headed in the wrong direction.

Monday, September 26, 2016

A Bad Reason for Returning to the Institution: "Well, the New Testament is Simply Descriptive."

You may have departed from the institutional church framework because the bible shows something far different. However, would it bring doubts to your mind if another Christian said to you, "Well, the New Testament is simply descriptive."?

Again and again and again I've heard, read, and been told by believers that the New Testament narrative passages are only descriptive, not prescriptive. In other words, narratives simply tell us what happened, but do not call us to behave in that same manner.

When I departed from the salaried pastorate I ran into this argument repeatedly.

But is it a valid argument?

We learn much from the entire bible. In particular, the New Testament tells us many wonderful things about who God is, about what He has done, about what He is still doing, and about what our response should be. Because it is a book, the bible is literature (true literature). It is composed of all sorts of writing, from poetry and prophecy to narrative and epistle. It is all for our instruction.

If the narrative passages are only descriptive, as the above argument goes, then we lose a great deal of important information about how we are to live. Since much of the information in scripture about church life is, in fact, in narrative form we'd have little to go on if we toss the narrative sections aside. If that was the case, then churches could basically do whatever they want when they meet (which is what is happening in most churches today).

Interestingly, I've yet to meet even one Christian who consistently treats all narrative accounts as simply descriptive. Rather, the tendency is to say that the passages they agree with are prescriptive, but those they do not really like are only descriptive. We all have a tendency to fall into this trap and ought to be wary of it.

Much of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are narrative. Do the passages that tell us about how Jesus lived not apply to us because they are narrative in form? What about the majority of the book of Acts?

I believe that one of the main reasons the church in this country is generally in disarray is that the New Testament narrative passages have been largely ignored. This has led to churches doing whatever they think is a good idea whenever they think it. This has led to abject disaster.

The entire bible is breathed out by God and useful for our instruction. Because of this, the narrative passages do in fact carry prescriptive weight. They are models that we should follow. Of course, we must let scripture interpret scripture. Also, we would never follow the narratives that show us people behaving in a sinful manner. We should, however, do all we can to learn from the narratives that show us positives.

If someone tells you that narratives are simply descriptive, ask him why he thinks that. If he actually answers you, follow up by asking how this applies to the narratives about the life of Christ. That should bring an end to his argument very quickly.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Different Color Scheme

Despite their failings, I still love my Buffalo Bills. However, I'm just not happy with the red, white, and blue theme for my blog. Every time I look at it I'm reminded of the issue of patriotism. That certainly has its place, but it's not one of the things I want my blog to reflect. Therefore, I'm changing to the current colors. I prefer the clean, simple look. Additionally, green is my favorite color. So there it is.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Bad Reason for Returning to the Institution: You Like a Particular Pastor

This is part seven of my ten-part blog series entitled Ten Bad Reasons for Returning to the Institution.

I've met many very nice pastors in my lifetime. My guess is that you have, too. A particular pastor's niceness or likeability, however, ought not be a reason to return to the institution.

When I worked as an institutional church pastor lots of folks made it clear that they liked me. I liked them as well. This was not fake; rather, it was real affection. I believe the majority of pastors have this type of relationship with the people in their churches. Pastors have a tendency to love the Lord; this results in a love for the people in the pews. Of course I'm generalizing here; we could find negative examples that show pastors with ill intent. That's the vast minority.

Once you have departed from the institution you may struggle to find fellowship (at least right away). This can be discouraging. You may be tempted to go back to Rome to a church where you like the pastor. When this feeling arises please recall why you left institutional Christianity in the first place. You left because the Bible shows us a vibrant body of Christ that looks vastly different from what we generally see today. The modern church structure is foreign to scripture, full of man-made ideas rather than God's plan.

A pastor may be an extremely likeable guy. He may be kind, loving, and a great preacher. He may be all the things he is supposed to be (according to the pastoral search committee profile). He may even be this man, this man, or this man. In the end none of this matters. A pastor cannot alter the fact that the institutional church structure is blatantly unbiblical.

Don't return because you like a particular pastor. Eventually you will begin to resent both yourself and him for your decision.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Too Good to Not Share

The Christian satire site The Babylon Bee has posted numerous funny articles over the past several months. One reason many of the pieces are excellent is that they come so close to reality. One of the best I've seen so far appeared a couple of days ago. It's entitled Local Progressive Church Hosts Informative Q and Q Session. Enjoy!

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Bad Reason for Returning to the Institution: You've Been Told You Are Being Disobedient

How many times have you had Hebrews 10:24-25 used against you?

For review, these two verses say, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."

When you leave institutional Christianity behind for greener pastures it can at times be very difficult to find like-minded others. Frankly, sometimes it takes a lonnnnnnnnnng time to meet up with believers who have the same convictions you do. Because of this, many of us have faced extended periods of wandering in the church wilderness. You may be there right now.

If you are there, please know that you are not being disobedient. Simply because you are not part of a local church or not going to weekly "worship services," this does not mean that you are somehow sinning. Please rid that thought from your mind.

The author of Hebrews (whoever he was) wrote his letter to a largely Jewish, Christian audience. His purpose was to encourage them in the midst of persecution. In particular, he warned them repeatedly about turning away from the faith back to Judaism. It is within that context that Hebrews 10:24-25 comes along. Some had fallen into the bad habit of not meeting with other believers at all; they had the opportunity, but they simply weren't doing it. This passage has absolutely nothing to do with Christians who want to gather simply with others but cannot locate them.

The last thing you want to do is return to institutional trappings because you've been told you are being disobedient. First, you would be miserable. And second, you are in no manner disobeying our Lord. In fact, I would argue that you are being extremely obedient by venturing away from the comfy, easy institution into the unknown. If you are pursuing the church as modeled for us in the New Testament, then God will be pleased. If you are done with going through the motions and are seeking to live out a vibrant, active church life, then I commend you. Keep it up.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Bad Reason for Returning to the Institution: It's Easy

This is part five of the blog series entitled Ten Bad Reasons for Returning to the Institution.

This particular post is short and simple. Quite frankly, it's easy to go back to an institutional church. It is especially easy if it is a place you feel comfortable and have friends. The easiness comes from being able to arrive at the building, sit in a Sunday School seat, sit in a pew, and then go home for lunch. Since the pastors do almost everything, you can just sit and relax. After a long week of work and (some) play, you simply want to sit still. The institution happily lets you.

Simple church life, while more rewarding, is also more difficult. It requires activity. It requires investment. It requires action.

Please, I exhort you not to allow the lure of easiness draw you back to institutional Christianity. I guarantee that you will despise it after a few weeks. Put forth the effort to be the church we read about in the New Testament (well, the good aspects). An active body is a vibrant one.

It's worth the hard work.