Saturday, August 29, 2009

On Vacation

My family and I have been vacationing at my uncle's cabin on Seneca Lake (N.Y.) for the past week. Today we are departing to drive north to my in-law's home near Fort Drum, N.Y. I'm very glad we are visiting at this time of year. It is COLD here for most of November to April.

My blogging will be sparse for the next week or so. There is electricity where we are going, but the internet is slow. We'll be playing in the woods, the creek, and the garden.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Studying the Church in Acts 1-4

Over the next several weeks, I'm going to be studying through the books of Acts, I Corinthians, and Ephesians. The purpose of this is to look at what the biblical writers have to say about the church. In doing this, I'm going to attempt (as much as is possible) to set aside my own presuppositions, traditions, assumptions, etc., and really read what the text says.

I'm beginning in Acts 1-4. It would be an understatement to say that these chapters say much about the church. In fact, these chapters are foundational for our understanding of what God wants His church to look like. The reason for this is that these chapters show us the beginning of the church, the apostles' presence in the church, and the church in action. There may be more information about the church in these chapters than in any other 4-chapter segment of the scriptures.

As I've looked at these chapters, 8 characteristics of the Biblical church stand out. You may see more or less, but these are what jump off the pages at me. These act as a challenge for us today.

8 characteristics of the church in Acts 1-4:

1. Christ-centered - The church is clearly built on the person of Jesus Christ. He is the head and He is the focus. Assumed is the confession of Jesus as Lord. Peter's sermon in Acts 2 focuses on the work of Christ.

2. Holy Spirit-led - The church, after the coming of the Spirit in Acts 2, depends on the leadership of the Holy Spirit in all it does. Interestingly, although Peter speaks quite a bit, the church does not look primarily to him for direction.

3. United/Together - This passage repeatedly shows the early church as a united community of believers that enjoyed being together. Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-37 make this abundantly clear. They were often together in presence and in attitude.

4. Prayer-focused - The church looked to God for direction. Acts 1:14 describes them as praying together after the ascension of Christ but before the coming of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 4:29-31, the church prays specifically for boldness. They looked to God for direction and provision.

5. Gospel-proclaiming - The church took Christ's commission seriously. They not only prayed for boldness, but also lived this out. We see in detail Peter's proclamation of the gospel in Acts 2:14-41.

6. Scripture-tied - We learn in Acts 2:42 that the church devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching. This teaching showed how Christ fulfilled the promises of the O.T. They were Hebrews waiting for a Messiah; the apostles demonstrated that Jesus is the promised-one.

7. Generous/Giving - It is clear from both Acts 2:45 and 4:32-35 that the early church gave freely of their possessions and made certain that no one in the group had need.

8. Simple - Acts 2:42, a foundational verse for understanding the early church, describes a group of believers who lived together in a simple way. As they gathered, they discussed the scriptures, prayed, fellowshipped, and celebrated the Lord's Supper. They are not described as doing many, many different things. It is simple as opposed to complex.

This description of the early church from Acts 1-4 challenges us today. Do we as local churches look like this? Since the apostles were a part of the early church, we can rightfully assume that they gave approval to how the church functioned.

What must we do today for our churches to look like this? Will we dare change to be like the early church? Do we have the courage to do so?

Friday Photos from the Falls

Yesterday our family visited Niagara Falls. Having grown up in western New York, I've been to the falls several times before. Regardless, I was still amazed by the beauty and power of God's creation. I was also pleasantly surprised by the permanent sign that greeted us as we walked across the Rainbow Bridge to Canada (see the second photo below). God is truly great and greatly to be praised!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Reflections from the Atlanta Airport

When you live in Savannah (GA), you know that all things go through Atlanta. There is even a joke that when the rapture occurs, we will get to Christ by first going through Atlanta.

Three days ago I had to go through the Atlanta Airport to get to New York State (I'm here on vacation with my family). My itinerary had me going Savannah-Atlanta-Rochester. As usual, Atlanta was a madhouse.

As I walked around the Atlanta airport, which is now the busiest in the world, several things came to mind. The first was how outrageously expensive the coffee was; I bought some anyway.

At a more profound level, several descriptors of life in this country were very clear in Atlanta. Here are 6 that stood out to me:

1. Diversity - What an amazingly pluralistic society we live in! It was exciting for me to see all the different races of people in the airport. As I was traveling down a very long escalator, I saw what seemed to be just about every major ethnic group in the world. This reminded me of what a creative and awesome God made all these different groups of people.

2. Secularism - All through the airport, there was absolutely no sign of God. It was completely secular. I suppose the one exception was the lame collection of "Inspirational" books in one store. If an alien suddenly appeared in the Atlanta Airport, he would have to conclude that no one in our society believes in any higher power.

3. Materialism/Wealth - Everything in the airport is insanely expensive. I bought some fruit for breakfast for $5.00! It was worth about $1.50. Most of the travelers were wearing the latest fashions and carrying in-style bags or backpacks. Of course, much of this is probably purchased on credit. Regardless, the wealth was palpable.

4. Technology - I'm still amazed by flight. I don't get it, but I'm glad it works. In the airport, everyone else seemed to be plugged into some sort of gadget before getting onto their plane. I may have been the only person there without either a Blackberry or i-Pod.

5. Busyness - Everyone was in a hurry regardless of whether or not their flight was leaving soon. They all seemed so serious, as if the fate of the world depended on their movements. Most of the folks almost appeared to need to be busy. I wonder if they ever relax.

6. Noise - There was sound everywhere. This went beyond basic conversations. CNN was everywhere in the background. Announcements blasted over the speakers. Various machines were buzzing/whirring here and there. There was no peace.

The Atlanta Airport served for me as a microcosm of our society in general. We live in an incredibly diverse culture that is increasingly secular and materialistic. We depend more and more on technology everyday. Everyone seems busy, and there is noise everywhere.

Many of the above factors serve as a barrier to the gospel. My hope is that we will not be discouraged by all this. People continue to have only one source of hope and good news. No matter how secular, materialistic, technologically-oriented, and busy people are, they still need one person: Jesus Christ.

Atlanta was a good reminder for me of our commission.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"Lee: The Last Years"

While in seminary, I had no time to read anything other than theology books. After seminary, due to what was ingrained in me, I just didn't bother to read anything other than theology books. Recently, I have found myself in a rut; this may sound a bit blasphemous, but I'm a bit tired of theology texts.

I realized that I need to mix up what I read a bit. My desire is to read more broadly, taking in books about history, literature, philosophy, politics, culture, etc. My desire in this is two-fold: first, I hope this broadens my ability to talk with unbelievers about more topics than I am currently able. Second, I hope this causes me to have more of a desire to jump back into theology texts.

I just completed reading my first non-theology book (it does contain discussion about Lee's Christian faith, but that is not the focus). I'm pleased to say that I thoroughly enjoyed Lee: The Last Years. This book focuses on, appropriately, the last five years of Robert E. Lee's life. While our history books tend to forget Lee after his surrender at Appomattox, the reality is that he had a profound impact on our country from his surrender until his death five years later (in 1870).

Soon after the end of the Civil War, Lee was named president of Washington College (later renamed Washington and Lee University). During his time there, he not only acted as head of the university but also was one of the greatest forces for reuniting the country after the war. Knowing that many people, especially in the South, were looking to Lee for guidance in how to react to the Northern victory, Lee consistently advised obedience and service to the existing government.

Having grown up in the North, but now living in the South, my views on the Civil War are mixed. It is interesting to read a book that focuses on not only the war, but also the aftermath. I appreciate Robert E. Lee both in his convictions and his leadership.

Our country could certainly benefit from a leader like him today.

A Nation of Hindus?

Dr. Mohler discusses our country's continued slide toward pluralism/inclusivism. In the way most people pick-and-choose what they want to believe and are accepting of everything, we are becoming a nation that is more Hindu in belief than biblically Christian.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Primary and "Secondary" Doctrines?

Over at Reformation Theology (a blog I like), there is a recent post entitled Primary and Secondary Doctrines. I encourage you to read it here.

While I agree with most of what is written in the post, I have trouble with the post title itself. The author gives no definition of what a secondary doctrine is. He clearly believes that some beliefs are more important than others and suggests that some are worth dividing over while others are not. But why doesn't he define what a secondary doctrine is?

I submit that his post title should be Primary and Tertiary Doctrines. As I have written before, the bible makes it clear that there are some doctrines (gospel-centered) that we should divide over. We divide with unbelievers. There are also doctrines that we should discuss, but should not divide over.

The bible gives no evidence for what most people refer to as secondary doctrines. This term has come to mean doctrines that Christians divide over for church but not in fellowship in general.

I think this Reformation Theology post shows us just how ingrained the idea of primary, secondary, and tertiary doctrines is. Because the author assumes that all three exist, he does not even bother to define them.

Let's do all we can to ensure that our beliefs and practices line up with scripture, not with our assumptions.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Without the Bible, It's All Relative

We live in this strange postmodern society where everything seems to be relative. Truth, if it even exists, is up for grabs. One person's beliefs and opinions, no matter how outrageous, are seen as just as valid as anyone else's. In fact, the only thing you cannot do is say that one idea is better than another.

You know all this. We are surrounded by it every day.

So what do we do in light of this? As Christians, we look for a source of absolute truth. We know the source of that truth is the bible. Without a source of absolute truth, everything becomes relative. With a source of absolute truth, relativism is destroyed. What is right and what is wrong can be known. We can know God's truth because He has stated it clearly in the bible.

We know all this.

Just as a reminder about what the bible has to say about itself, here are a few verses:

Isaiah 40:8, "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever." (ESV)

Isaiah 55:8, "
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord."

II Timothy 3:16, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness."

Hebrews 4:12, "
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart."

We Christians quickly say that the bible is true and authoritative. The interesting thing is that while we always say the bible is true, we often hesitate to say the bible is authoritative in all areas. Specifically, we certainly say the bible has authority where it commands, but we often shy away from saying the bible is authoritative in what it models for us.

Why is this? It must be because we do some things that are not modeled for us in the bible, but we want to keep doing them. This is the case in day-to-day living and in the gathering of the church.

The problem with this is that we, when we reject the biblical model, are creeping toward relativism in certain areas. How do we know if what we are doing as individuals or as a church is the right thing to do? What do we look to? If we have rejected the biblical model, then we have nowhere else to go. All ideas are up for grabs. There are no absolutes because we have rejected the absolute that was modeled for us in the bible.

The interesting thing in all this is that the bible says that we have been given all we need to live as God wants us to. In II Peter 1:3, Peter writes, "
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence" (emphasis mine). We have been given all things we need to know to please God.

What Peter is saying is that the bible is sufficient. We do not need anything else. We do not need to look anywhere else. We do not need to come up with ideas on our own.

When it comes to decision-making in life, we have two options: the bible or relativism. Which will we select?

With the absolute truth of scripture (commanded or modeled), we know exactly what to do. Without the bible, it's all relative.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Studying the Church in Acts, I Corinthians, and Ephesians

I've decided to do something that can be frightening and exhilarating at the same time: study the early church. While I do this, I'm going to do my best to let scripture speak for itself without me bringing my biases into what I read.

My purpose is to study what the scriptures have to say about the church in the books of Acts, I Corinthians, and Ephesians. I've selected these books because all three have much to say about the church.

I realize that what I currently believe about the church is a mix of biblical teachings and man-made traditions. I was reminded of this again today as I toured an extremely ornate Roman Catholic Church in Savannah, GA. The church building was absolutely filled with traditions that cannot be found anywhere in scripture. I think my beliefs are the same way.

So, I'll be studying through these three books for the next month or so. I plan to blog about some of what I find. I know I will be challenged.

Scripture, if correctly interpreted, is usually frightening and exhilarating. It confronts us where we are wrong and forces us to decide whether or not we will change to come in line with the bible.

I'm looking forward to this and am also a bit nervous about what I'll find.

The Battle for Christ Church Savannah

One of the reasons I love living in Savannah, GA is the history of the city. In particular, I enjoy walking the historic district (which we can be happy General Sherman did not burn when he captured the city for the Northern Aggressors during the U.S. Civil War).

The historic district is dotted with many beautiful buildings from the 1800's. There seem to be countless church buildings of various ages and architectural styles. Sadly, most of those churches are more building than real church now; most have given up on the gospel and have transformed into little more than social clubs.

One exception to this is Christ Church Savannah (pictured above). Christ Church is the "mother-church" of Georgia, having been founded in 1733. Both John Wesley and George Whitefield served at Christ Church. To read more on its history, click here.

Christ Church is in the middle of a battle. To put it simply, because they will not sacrifice the gospel message, they are in a battle for their building. Christ Church was formerly affiliated with the Episcopal Church USA. However, since the Episcopal Church has completely rejected the biblical gospel, Christ Church made the decision to leave the Episcopal Church and join with the Anglican Church in North America.

To read an interesting summary of the differences in beliefs between Orthodox Anglicans and the Episcopal Church, click here. One key difference is that Orthodox Anglicans believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father, while the Episcopal Church does not.

Now both Christ Church and the Episcopal Church want the historic building in Savannah. The situation is in court and, unfortunately, will be decided by a secular judge.

I must admit that I have mixed emotions about this whole thing. Part of me says that it is just a building so it is no big deal. They would probably be better off meeting in homes anyway. That would certainly be more biblical.

Another part of me really appreciates the stand that Christ Church has taken for the gospel and against creeping theological liberalism. Because of that, I would like for the church to be able to remain located in Savannah's historic district. Despite all its church buildings, the historic district in Savannah is actually very un-churched. Christ Church is one of the few voices for the good news of Christ in historic Savannah.

Please pray that God will intervene in this situation on behalf of Christ Church. God will do what He deems is right; He always does.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Excellent (and Free!) Resources

This is not a joke. I've been thrilled by the excellent and free (yes, free) resources I have received from Mount Zion Bible Church/Chapel Library. This is a ministry based out of Pensacola, FL.

The website says this of their ministry, "Sending Christ-centered messages from prior centuries worldwide to humble the pride of man, to exalt the grace of God in salvation, and to promote real holiness in heart and life."

They offer tracts and pamphlets written by many of the great theologians from previous years. These include Bonar, Bunyan, Calvin, Edwards, Flavel, Hodge, Lloyd-Jones, Luther, McCheyne, Newton, Owen, Pink, Ryle, Spurgeon, Whitefield, and others.

To learn more about this free literature, click here.

To learn about how to receive (for free) the quarterly digest entitled Free Grace Broadcaster, click here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Followers Envy

Proverbs 14:30, "A sound heart is life to the body, but envy is rottenness to the bones."

James 3:16, "For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there."

I have been blogging for a while now and have 9 followers. My parents have been blogging for less than a month and, at last count, have 36 followers. If I add in my running blog followers, I have a total of 11 (and some of these are repeats so my total is actually less than 11).

How should I deal with this? Do I have "followers envy"? Maybe the picture below sums up my struggles.

Persecution Continues in India

The persecution of Christians in India is nothing new. However, in the Indian state of Orissa the persecution has been particularly intense for the past year. This continues as we near the one year anniversary of the spark (the death of a Hindu leader that was falsely blamed on Christians) of these troubles.

Let us remember our Christian brothers and sisters overseas who are suffering for the cause of Christ. Hebrews 13:3, "Remember the prisoners as if chained with them -- those who are mistreated -- since you yourselves are in the body also."

To read more about the persecution sin Orissa, click here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Self-Focused Verse Searches

As I was perusing, I came across a link entitled The 100
most-read Bible verses at
. I was curious, so I took a look.

What I found disturbed me. The reason: the top four verses are all self-focused. What I mean is that these four verses (which are great in context) are often pulled out of context to show what God can do for us. This implies to me that Christians are spending too much time thinking about God's gifts, and not enough time thinking about the glory of God Himself.

The top four verses are John 3:16, Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28, and Philippians 4:13.


God certainly does much good for us as His children. It seems that we would want to spend more time thinking about His greatness, splendor, and majesty than we would the things He can do for us.

This is just a symptom of the man-centered, self-focused society in which we live. It even affects Christians as they search for bible verses.

First Impressions of Kenya

A few weeks ago I mentioned that my parents are not wasting their lives - or retirements. Instead they are teaching at Rift Valley Academy in Kenya for the next year (the photo to the left is of my parents, but it was taken in Alaska).

My parents have a blog where they will be updating their situation and discussing what it is like to live and serve in a place that is so different from the USA. My mother recently blogged about their first impressions of living overseas. The poverty in Kenya stands out. My mother wrote,"Kenya is nearing the end of the rainy season but there has been practically none! Along the drive from Nairobi to Kijabe we could see where people had attempted to plant gardens wherever possible (even in what we would call ditches along the road). But to no avail. It was too dry for most crops (mainly corn and potatoes) to grow at all."

If you are interested in reading more about their adventures overseas, click here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Nice Embed Function

The more time I spend at, the more I like it.

One recent addition to this site has made it even more useful. The new Embed Passage function allows for easy posting of the biblical text straight into blogs, etc. The best part for me is that I can now embed the original languages into this blog (before I go any farther I feel I must admit that my knowledge of N.T. Greek is adequate, but my knowledge of the original Hebrew is, well, not good/poor/terrible).

The only down side to this is that only some English translations can be embedded. I assume this is for copyright reasons.

Nevertheless - first I'll embed Genesis 1:1 in Hebrew and then several English translations. Then I'll embed John 1:1 in Greek followed by several English translations.

1 בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ׃ (בראשית 1:1, The Westminster Leningrad Codex)

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1, New King James Version)

1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. (Genesis 1:1, King James Version)

1In the beginning of God's preparing the heavens and the earth -- (Genesis 1:1, Young's Literal Translation)

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1, American Standard Version)

1εν αρχη ην ο λογος και ο λογος ην προς τον θεον και θεος ην ο λογος

(ΚΑΤΑ ΙΩΑΝΝΗΝ 1:1, 1550 Stephanus New Testament)

1εν αρχη ην ο λογος και ο λογος ην προς τον θεον και θεος ην ο λογος

(ΚΑΤΑ ΙΩΑΝΝΗΝ 1:1, 1881 Westcott-Hort New Testament)

1εν αρχη ην ο λογος και ο λογος ην προς τον θεον και θεος ην ο λογος

(ΚΑΤΑ ΙΩΑΝΝΗΝ 1:1, 1894 Scrivener New Testament)

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1, New King James Version)

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1, King James Version)

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; (John 1:1, Young's Literal Translation)

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1, American Standard Version)

Monday, August 17, 2009

My Church

The first place the church is mentioned in the bible is Matthew 16:18. In this familiar exchange between Jesus and Peter, Jesus says the following (in Greek and then English translations):

"καγω δε σοι λεγω οτι συ ει πετρος και επι ταυτη τη πετρα οικοδομησω μου την εκκλησιαν και πυλαι αδου ου κατισχυσουσιν αυτης."

"And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (ESV)

"I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it." (NASB)

"And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." (NKJV)

I find it interesting and informative that in this first place in scripture where we hear of the church, Jesus refers to it as, "My church." In the original Greek, the word for "my" is emphasized.

It is clear that Jesus is making a point. He does not say, "the church." He explicitly tells Peter that He will build His own church. The wording of Christ indicates ownership, rulership, and sovereignty. To put it bluntly, it tells us that Jesus gets to say what His church should believe and what His church should do.

Far too often I catch myself saying, "the church." In fact, I should be saying, "Christ's church," or "Jesus' church." That would be much more biblical. When I say, "the church," it is as if I am implying that the one in charge does not matter. Too often we in the evangelical church act as if the church is run by the people. I sometimes hear folks say that the church is a democracy.

The church is not a democracy. The church is Christ's church and is therefore ruled by King Jesus. The church is rightfully a theocracy, with Jesus as the head. He is the ultimate benevolent dictator.

When we correctly view the church as belonging to Jesus, then we will look to Jesus for direction is all we believe and do. I wonder what the church would look like if we looked to Christ for direction in all things.

What do you think?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

"The Ultimate Proof of Creation"

I am a young-earth creationist because I believe this is what the bible teaches. Because of this, I am a big supporter of Answers in Genesis.

Dr. Jason Lisle, of AiG, has written a book that I enjoyed very much and found very helpful. The text, entitled The Ultimate Proof of Creation, is an apologetic work that focuses on why a young-earth creation position is the only reasonable and logical position to hold. Lisle debunks both atheistic/materialistic/evolutionary positions and various Christian positions that do not believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-2, such as theistic evolution.

Three aspects of this book stood out to me as memorable:

First, Lisle proposes that "the ultimate proof of creation is that if biblical creation were not true, we could not know anything." I found his thesis to be convincing. I'll let you read the book to find out more about it.

Second, Lisle suggests a two-fold strategy, based on Proverbs 26:4-5, for answering people who hold to unbiblical presuppositions. As creationists, we are not to agree with the faulty assumptions of those who are unscriptural, but are to show the illogical endpoints that their assumptions would lead to.

Third, Lisle states that when giving a reason for the faith, there are basically two positions: the "evidence first" approach and the "bible first" approach. The author indicates that we must take a "bible first" approach. If we set the bible to the side, we give up our primary evidence for a young earth.

It is this last point that has had the most impact on me. In the past, I have had a tendency to argue for God's existence and God's creation from the scientific evidence. Quite simply, I left out the bible. From now on, I'm going to speak from the bible first when discussing the existence of God and a literal young earth creation. Of course, I'll mention scientific evidence, but the bible will come first.

The reason for this, as Lisle states, is that the bible is the only objective source of information we have. All scientific evidence can be interpreted in multiple ways. While the bible is absolute, scientific evidence is relative.

Even if you don't plan to buy this book, it is fun to read a few of the reviews on Not surprisingly, the book was either reviewed very favorably or very negatively. It all depends on the worldview the person has.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Excellent Reformed Books Website is an excellent site if you are looking for, well, Reformed books. Check it out and enjoy.

This site is a ministry of

Friday, August 14, 2009

Where Do Infants Go When They Die?

This is a question that I haven't given much thought, at least for the last few years. Then, less than two weeks ago, a three-month-old boy died suddenly. Because his mother has attended our church recently and because they live in the community, I was asked to speak at the funeral. It was my privilege. It was also difficult.

This got me thinking about where infants go when they die. Many people quickly (almost automatically) answer this question by saying that all babies who die go to heaven. Keep in mind that many people who say this have no biblical basis for saying it. They give this answer because it makes them feel better about the situation.

But what does the bible tell us?

Based on what I have studied, I do not think the bible addresses this issue directly. In other words, there is no direct statement about the issue.

Despite this, we can come to conclusions based on broad teachings of scripture.

First, we know that only the elect go to heaven. There are arguments over how a person comes to be part of the elect, but I think all Christians agree that only the elect are saved.

Second, we know that sin (rebellion against the revealed will of God) separates us from God. It is our sin that causes us to deserve hell. Although we are corrupt at the point of conception, it is this corruption acted out as sin that actually merits us hell. Romans 6:23 is clear on this.

Keeping the above two concepts in mind, what conclusion can we come to? We know that infants do not sin (toddlers, on the other hand, are good at rebelling by saying, "No!") Infants, therefore, do nothing to deserve separation from God.

If the above is true - and it seems to be - then it must be true that all infants who die are of the elect. If they are all elect, then they must go to heaven when they die.

This is one of those difficult issues where we must show restraint and humility when giving answers. Compounding the difficulty of this question is the fact that it is obviously very emotionally-charged.

In the end, I believe that all infants who die go to heaven. I think I'm correct, but I humbly submit that I'm also not certain.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ"

The bible has much to say about suffering. I must admit that I struggle with much of what the bible says about suffering. I believe it; I just don't like to suffer.

For example, the bible tells us:

"More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." Romans 5:3-5 (ESV)

"Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus." II Timothy 2:3

"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness." James 1:2-3

John Piper has written a new book that focuses on suffering. In particular, Piper's thesis focuses on the relationship between suffering and missions. Piper says that missions work will not only bring suffering upon those sharing Christ, but that the suffering of the missionaries is the means by which the gospel spreads. The reason for this? Those who suffer for the sake of the gospel show unbelievers in a tangible way something about the reality of the sufferings of Jesus Christ in His life and (especially) His death.

The book's title comes directly from Colossians 1:24, which says, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church."

In Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ, Piper focuses on the lives of William Tyndale, John Paton, and Adoniram Judson. He shows that God used the great sufferings of these men to propagate the gospel (albeit in different ways) to those who had never heard it.

If you have never read about these three men, then I encourage you to purchase this book (click here). If you have read about these men, then I would encourage you to check this book out of the library and give it a quick read (it is short - only about 120 pages).

On a personal level, I liked this book because Adoniram Judson is one of my heroes. His suffering and endurance are beyond what I can comprehend. If you want to learn much more about Judson than Piper discusses, then I highly encourage you to read a great biography about Judson entitled To the Golden Shore. It is long (530 pages), but worth it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Sacraments - What Should Bring Unity So Often Divides

If we are going to get nit-picky, I suppose we could even argue over the above picture. After all, it implies that believer's baptism is correct and that infant baptism is not.

This is just another example of how we often view something that is meant to unite the church as something that, instead, should divide it.

As Christians, we disagree over who should be baptized, where they should be baptized, by whom they should be baptized, how they should be baptized, at what age they should be baptized, and why they should be baptized.

As for the Lord's Supper, we disagree over what the supper means, what the elements mean, who should partake, where we should partake, how we should partake, when we should partake, what the elements should be (wine or juice), and why we should partake. We can't even agree whether to call it the Lord's Supper, Communion, or the Eucharist.

We can't even agree whether to call these things sacraments or ordinances.


I'm not suggesting that we should avoid discussing these issues. Clearly, it is important to be as biblical as possible in all things. Truth matters.

What is frustrating is that these two symbols given by Christ should give us a visual representation of the gospel. The gospel is something all Christians should be able to unite around. Therefore, it seems to me that Jesus intended for the sacraments/ordinances to be practiced by the church to glorify Him and edify the body. This should bring unity.

Instead, sadly, baptism and the Lord's Supper are great causes of division within the body of Christ.

We are dividing over something that should be practiced for worship, edification, and unity.

Sometimes I think we evangelicals are like little kids playing in a sandbox. We play in our corner, but will only let others play with us if they play exactly the way we want. If they want to do something else, then we send them away, banished to another corner of the box. That may sound a bit silly, but I think the analogy holds.

Why do we so easily ignore what Jesus so blatantly prayed for (unity of the body) in John 17? That passage is as clear as they come. It is much clearer than passages that deal with the meaning of baptism and the Lord's Supper.

Let's discuss the meaning of the sacraments/ordinances. Let's search the scriptures. But let us also determine to be united around these beautiful acts instead of separating again and again.

What Should We Make of This?

A Fox News headline today reads, "Muslim Teen Who Converted to Christianity Says Family Threatened to Kill Her." To read the article, click here.

What should our response be to an article like this? We can do the easy thing and condemn Islam, further alienate ourselves from our Muslim neighbors, and pat ourselves on the back for not being like "them."

Or, we can say, "But for the grace of God, I too." We should humbly thank the Lord for saving us, and pray that He will do the same for all lost people (including Muslims) in our midst.

If we ever earn our salvation (which we can't), only then will we have something to be proud of.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Power of the Word

Something interesting happened this past Sunday at our weekly church gathering. It was unintentional on my part, but I'm glad it worked out the way it did.

As part of our worship service, I recited from memory II Corinthians chapter 5. I love this passage for several reasons, but in particular because of Paul's emphasis on reconciliation with God. This is a chapter that I have been memorizing for the last month or so. I have to admit that I was nervous as I began reciting the passage, but the Lord in His grace carried me through it.

Later in the service, I preached on another wonderful Pauline passage - Colossians 1:15-20. This is the scripture where Paul focuses in on the absolute preeminence of Jesus Christ in both creation and redemption.

Here is the interesting (and unintentional) part to all this. Because I both recited scripture from memory and preached a sermon in the same service, I could see the effect that both had on the church body. Prior to the service, the comparison between the two never crossed my mind.

What I found was that the memorized scripture passage appeared to have a much deeper impact on our church family than did the sermon. I realize that one reason for this could be that it was novel to them. However, I think more was going on that just that. I believe our folks were struck by the power of the word of God as it was spoken. As I recited the passage, they realized that they were not hearing the words of a man, but rather the words of God. While I was doing it, our people were very quiet and attentive.

By comparison, during the sermon the congregation did not appear to be as interested in or affected by what I was saying - even though the scripture passage was wonderful. I'm not suggesting that they were falling asleep (at least not most), but they also did not seem to be as deeply affected by my words as I preached.

What is the conclusion? The words of God are much more powerful than the words of man. We all know this, of course. It was just interesting to see it in action.

I think I'll soon be working on memorizing another passage - and encouraging other members of our church family to do the same.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Interesting Info on Faith and Size of Church

The Barna Group has posted some interesting information on the relationship between people's faith and the size of church they are a part of. Below are the three statements that I found most intriguing (especially the final one):

"On all 9 of the belief statements tested, attenders of large churches were more likely than those engaged in a small or mid-sized congregation to give an orthodox biblical response – e.g., the Bible is totally accurate in all the principles it teaches, Satan is not merely symbolic but exists, Jesus led a sinless life, God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe, etc."

"The point at which congregational belief profiles were mostly likely to diverge was when churches reached the 200-adult range. Those who attend churches of 1000 or more adults are significantly different from the congregations of those attending churches of as many as 200 adults in relation to six out of the 10 belief statements explored."

"The religious beliefs and behaviors of people who attend house churches, which average about 20 adults in attendance, are more similar to the results for large conventional churches (i.e., more than 500 adults) than they are to the outcomes among those who attend small conventional churches (i.e., less than 50 adults)."

To read the entire Barna article, click here.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Some of the Biblical Evidence for Age Integration

Deuteronomy 31:9-13, "Then Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel. 10 And Moses commanded them, 'At the end of every seven years, at the set time in the year of release, at the Feast of Booths, 11 when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. 12 Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, 13 and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.'"

Psalm 148:12-13, "Young men and maidens together, old men and children! 13 Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven."

Acts 2:42-47, "And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved."

Acts 4:32, "Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common."

Acts 21:4-5, "And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. 5 When our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey, and they all, with wives and children, accompanied us until we were outside the city. And kneeling down on the beach, we prayed."

Ephesians 6:1-2, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 'Honor your father and mother' (this is the first commandment with a promise)."

Hebrews 10:24-25, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 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."

Friday, August 7, 2009

Unity and Baptism: A Possible Solution

What I am proposing may seem simplistic to some readers. However, I think this may be a way for the church to be united through baptism.

I'm beginning with five assumptions/beliefs:

First, Christ's church should be united around the gospel. This is commanded and easy to understand in the bible. Therefore, we should only separate from those who reject first order (gospel-centered) doctrines.

Second, second order doctrines are not biblical. All doctrines fall into either the first order or third order categories.

Third, baptism is not an issue to divide over. It should be treated as a third order doctrine. We ought to recognize that many Christians differ in opinion over the meaning of this sacrament; this should cause humility in how we interpret the meaning of baptism.

Fourth, all Christians should engage in "theological triage." We must recognize which doctrines fall into the first and third orders.

Fifth, unity does not require uniformity of belief and practice.

Based on these assumptions, how does this actually play out in the life of the local church?

Here is an idea:

We must understand that those who hold to infant baptism believe differently about the meaning of baptism than those who hold to believer's baptism. To be very simplistic, those who practice infant baptism believe that it is a sign of God's faithfulness to His covenant (and corresponds to OT circumcision). Those who practice believer's baptism believe that it is an act that shows the believer's identification with Jesus Christ in salvation.

These are clearly different meanings for the sacrament/ordinance.

While treating baptism as a third order doctrine, those in a local body will accept that both infant baptism and believer's baptism will occur within the church body. This does not mean that everyone has to agree on the meaning, but that they will accept the fact that it will occur. As for infants, parents could baptize them as the church gathers. Those who disagree with this practice could be there, but this does not mean they agree with or support the act. They key is that unity remains.

On the flip side of the coin, some parents in the body will not baptize their infants. Instead, they will wait until their child is saved, and then discuss with them when it is appropriate for them to be baptized as a believer. Those in the body who support infant baptism, while not agreeing with the waiting to baptize infants, will nonetheless remain united.

This same thing happens in other doctrines. Eschatology is a great example. I've heard many sermons where the pastor preaches something I disagree with. I don't dis-fellowship with the church family because of this. Just because I am present does not mean that I agree with all he has said.

I've been in situations where most of the people in a church hold to an Arminian position regarding salvation. While I disagree, I don't immediately break fellowship because of this difference.

I could go on and on. The point is that we don't stop fellowshiping over third order doctrinal differences. If we treat baptism in this way, we will remain united while at the same time holding some differences in interpretation over the meaning of baptism.

I realize that this will require much discussion, much listening, and much humility. Let's do it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Sad But Not Surprising Commentary on Marriage and Divorce

You may have recently seen the crazy/silly/bizarre wedding processional that has taken by storm. Well, the inevitable has happened. Below is a spoof of the corresponding divorce court proceedings. It is the sad truth behind this video that makes it both funny and sad at the same time.

Monday, August 3, 2009

More Persecution of Christians Overseas

According to a story in, "Paramilitary troops patrolled the streets of a town in eastern Pakistan yesterday after Muslim radicals burned to death eight members of a Christian family, raising fears of violence spreading to other areas."

Let's pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ in very difficult places.

To read the entire news story, click here.

The Problem of "Second-Order" Doctrines

We probably all have our modern-day heroes. One of mine is Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I find myself agreeing with almost all Mohler says.

However, I disagree with him on the issue of what many refer to as "second-order" doctrines. Simply put, President Mohler believes they exist, while I do not (to be specific, I no longer believe they exist).

Mohler wrote about this in a blog post entitled A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity. In this post, Mohler writes, "First-level theological issues would include those doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith. Included among these most crucial doctrines would be doctrines such as the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of Scripture."

Mohler continues (and this is key to this blog post), "The set of second-order doctrines is distinguished from the first-order set by the fact that believing Christians may disagree on the second-order issues, though this disagreement will create significant boundaries between believers. When Christians organize themselves into congregations and denominational forms, these boundaries become evident." (emphasis mine)

Mohler further says, "Second-order issues would include the meaning and mode of baptism. Baptists and Presbyterians, for example, fervently disagree over the most basic understanding of Christian baptism. The practice of infant baptism is inconceivable to the Baptist mind, while Presbyterians trace infant baptism to their most basic understanding of the covenant. Standing together on the first-order doctrines, Baptists and Presbyterians eagerly recognize each other as believing Christians, but recognize that disagreement on issues of this importance will prevent fellowship within the same congregation or denomination." (emphasis mine)

Finally, he writes, "Third-order issues are doctrines over which Christians may disagree and remain in close fellowship, even within local congregations. I would put most of the debates over eschatology, for example, in this category. Christians who affirm the bodily, historical, and victorious return of the Lord Jesus Christ may differ over timetable and sequence without rupturing the fellowship of the church. Christians may find themselves in disagreement over any number of issues related to the interpretation of difficult texts or the understanding of matters of common disagreement. Nevertheless, standing together on issues of more urgent importance, believers are able to accept one another without compromise when third-order issues are in question."

I fully agree with Dr. Mohler that there are certain doctrines that a person must adhere to in order to be considered a biblical Christian. These issues are worth separating over; they are gospel-centered. Paul says as much in Galatians 1:6-9.

I also agree with Dr. Mohler that there are doctrines (third-order) where Christians may disagree but not separate. The numerous admonitions for the church to be united apply directly to third-order doctrines.

Now to the issue of second-order doctrines. What I would ask Dr. Mohler (if I had the chance) is this, "What biblical evidence is there for the existence of second-order doctrines?" In other words, where in the bible are Christians ever told to separate from each other over issues that are not first-order doctrines?

Mohler clearly advocates separation among believers (see the above sections of his quotes that I placed in bold type). Where in the scriptures does he find anything that suggests this?

I argue that the existence of second-order doctrines is completely a man-made concept to justify separating over issues in which we disagree. Instead of sitting down together and figuring out how we are going to live together as Christians, we separate into all of our little denominations where we can feel comfortable and good about our perfect doctrine.

Did anyone ever bother to ask Christ if He wanted His church to be this splintered? He clearly told us to be united. He told us to separate over core gospel issues, but nothing more.

Therefore, I outright reject the idea of second-order doctrines. When we look in the bible, we see first-order doctrines and third-order doctrines.

We are to be united as followers of Jesus.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

My Parents Are Not Wasting Their Lives

I'm both excited by and saddened by my chance to write this post.

My parents are not wasting their lives. I'm thrilled to be able to say that.

Backing up a bit, a few years ago I read John Piper's Don't Waste Your Life. It had a profound effect on me. Piper challenged some of my assumptions about life in general and retirement in particular. He spends much time in this book challenging retirees about why they waste many years toward the ends of their lives by just playing around.

Fast forward to today. Later this month, my parents (who will both be 70 soon) will travel to Kenya for a year. They will be teaching at Rift Valley Academy, which is a private, Christian boarding school primarily for missionary kids. My father will be teaching French and Spanish, while my mother will be teaching some science and p.e.

My parents could have done the easy thing and remained here in Savannah, GA. Quite frankly, this is a great place to live (and retire). I'm happy to say that they are not doing that. They will have an opportunity to be positive influences in the lives of many children for the next year.

I would appreciate your prayer for my parents. Their names are Victor and Charlotte Carpenter. To see their blog about their time in Kenya, click here.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Struggling with Unity and Baptism

I appreciate all of the comments on the previous post concerning unity and baptism. It is obvious that this is an area of concern and struggle for many of us.

In thinking about this issue, and in listening to your comments, I have come to a couple of conclusions:

1. Christ's church is to be united. I know that sounds very basic, but it needs to be said because we are so ultra-splintered into various denominations. As I search the scriptures, the only issue that I see the church told to divide over is the gospel itself. For example, in Galatians 1:6-9, "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed." (ESV)

Nowhere in the bible do we see it commanded or suggested that churches divide over issues that are not core to the gospel message. Therefore, we ought to think about why most of our denominations are divided over issues that are not core issues.

Paul said it this way to the church in Corinth (and they has a lot of problems!), "I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment." (I Corinthians 1:10)

2. Baptism is not an issue to divide over. Baptism is an important act that is full of deep meaning. I think we we would all agree on this. However, I would argue that it is not a core gospel issue. In the bible, we never hear anyone say, "Repent, believe, and hold to the correct view of baptism and you will be saved!"

Because it is not core to the gospel, I would argue that we should not divide over it. It is interesting that almost all Christians understand that the bible tells us to be united. However, there is much disagreement over baptism. Because we have clear understanding of the importance of unity (and can be more sure that our understanding of unity is correct than our understanding of baptism is correct), we should fault on the side of unity.

I'm not saying that other issues aren't important. If we are to be united, we will have to deal with the issues that divide us, such as the meaning of baptism, the structure of church leadership, God's role vs. man's role in salvation, whether or not women should be pastors, etc. These are not easy issues.

Despite this, we should emphasize unity and not be so fast to divide where we disagree.

Paul said in Ephesians 4:1-6, "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."(emphasis mine)