It’s a thing. It’s a perennial. It’s a recurring fascination. Like Daffodils springing up along our local highways in February, some Evangelical somewhere escapes the bonds of fundamentalism, gains new insights and clarity concerning what Jesus and the New Testament actually taught about this or that long-held, cherished doctrine or confession. Then, rather than move along down the road to enlightenment and into their newfound freedom from a dark, dank doctrinal prison, these initiates feel compelled to set the rest of us straight and usher Christ’s church into the hidden knowledge that will set the captives free from dogmatism (such a shame, too, because as Dorothy Sayers once observed The dogma is the drama).… Read the rest
Category: <span>Christianity • Religion</span>
Some of the most heartbreaking episodes in my Christian experience have been the occasional encounter with someone who has become disillusioned with the Gospel or defeated in their spiritual life and concluded “Jesus is not enough.” They may say it differently, but that is the reality. Having passed through a particularly difficult event or hardship or test of obedience, these once enthusiastic followers of Jesus were left joyless, crushed, and hopeless. They “tried Jesus,” but found their Savior was unable to fix a broken relationship or absorb their grief or “help” them to “be good enough” in the Christian life.… Read the rest
Let’s face it, Jesus says some hard things. One of the most offensive statements in the Gospels is this winnowing word about families and disciples or followers of Jesus:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26 ESV)
First, what is Jesus not saying? He isn’t barring or shutting anyone out of the Kingdom. Rather, He’s speaking the language of common sense along the same lines as this statement:
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No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.
I spent a couple of hours arranging my upcoming book and, so far, it looks like I’ll have a 175-200 page general Introduction to the Baha’i Faith for Christian Readers. Actually, I’ll try to make it accessible to any reader, but it will be written from my perspective as an Evangelical Christian — I’ll be presenting the material in a semi-autobiographical fashion. There are a couple of reasons for this approach, but the most practical consideration for presenting this material to someone new to the Baha’i Faith is where we find ourselves in history — we are entering in on the “ground floor” of Baha’i history and development as a distinct religion.… Read the rest
Is there hope for a zombie church? The short answer is a resounding YES!
Look at these lavish promises Jesus holds out to churches He said were dead and/or in the process of dying — zombie churches:
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He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:7 ESV)
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.
A long time ago — it seems like a couple lifetimes — anyway, a long time ago I spent a good part of the day with Massey Shepherd in the living room of his home down near Land Park in Sacramento. He had just moved there after retiring from The Church Divinity School of the Pacific, his wife had passed away, and his daughter wanted to have him nearer to family. Denise drove me down with the kids in our 1967 Chevy Bel Air, dropped me off at the house, and was off to do some shopping. I found him sorting and shelving hundreds and hundreds of books — he was tired and told me he appreciated the opportunity to take a break.… Read the rest
It’s 2017 and President Obama is free to enjoy a well-deserved season of relaxation — being President of the United States has to be one of the most difficult jobs on earth!
I didn’t vote for President Trump in 2016 nor do I plan on casting my ballot for him in 2020, if he’s a candidate. So, I have some sympathy for those who were disappointed back in November, but little patience for much of the hysteria that has followed his inauguration.
I plan to move forward in 2017 in much the same way I planned to if Secretary Clinton had won the election and have done through past administrations.… Read the rest
Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds by Chris Brauns
Let me begin my post about this book with one of the endorsements from the back cover:
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Offenses will come. It’s a given. Unpacking Forgiveness wisely prepares us for the aftermath. Grieving the loss of our six children in a van accident and then being reminded of that loss throughout thirteen years of subsequent battles forced us to search the Scriptures concerning the issue of forgiveness. Chris not only has confirmed answers that we had found but has thoroughly sorted out what it takes to be right with God and man.
This is the first discipline I wanted to examine as part of my series in the Spiritual Disciplines: devotion to the Apostles’ teaching. In the last installment, we looked at the purpose of the disciplines and now that we’ve laid a foundation we can look at each one individually beginning with the corporate disciplines — those things Christians do together. These will be brief descriptions with links to more in-depth treatments or discussions. In choosing a place to focus on corporate disciplines, I landed on Acts 2:
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And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
In my last post, I narrowed down the Spiritual Disciplines to focus on the few that are most common across traditions and over the centuries. They are:
- Spiritual Disciplines within the Community
- Devotion to the Apostles’ Teaching
- The Breaking of Bread
- The Fellowship
- The Prayers
- Spiritual Disciplines in the Home
- Study or Bible intake
- Meditation on the Word
- Silence and Solitude
But, before we consider them individually, we should look at the purpose or objective of these disciplines. After all, if we are saved by grace through faith, how can we hope to improve upon the relationship we have with God in Christ?… Read the rest
I was walking out of a function at a local church the other day and speaking with a self-employed brother in the trades.* He was on his way to a job and somehow got on the subject of financial dealings with fellow Christians.
He related how he had responded to a plumbing emergency at the home of a church member over a weekend and the person neglected to pay him for his services after being billed more than once (straight time and materials — no premium for after hours or emergency). A few months later, that same person called and asked if he could come over and do some more work.… Read the rest
I recently introduced this series of posts on the Spiritual Disciplines and we’ll begin with a couple of definitions. I’ll follow-up with my own observations and insights — then we’ll move on to identify the disciplines themselves.
Donald S. Whitney in his modern classic, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, writes:
The Spiritual Disciplines are those personal and corporate disciplines that promote spiritual growth. They are the habits of devotion and experiential Christianity that have been practiced by the people of God since biblical times.
John Piper calls the Spiritual Disciplines “grace-empowered habits, and Spirit-empowered disciplines.” Piper’s careful wording is so helpful here if we are to avoid blurring the Biblical doctrine of justification with the ongoing process of sanctification.… Read the rest
I received an invitation to speak at a men’s retreat on the topic of the spiritual disciplines, though it has been a while since I read Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and don’t consider myself an authority on the subject by any stretch. It was also decided that I would present Richard Baxter as a case study from my book, Good Mr. Baxter. History remembers Baxter first as a devotional author on the spiritual disciplines, as well as one of the most fruitful and devoted pastors of all time.
The next few posts will feature some of my notes on the various disciplines, along with links to other helpful resources and what I hope to be some helpful insights and tips.… Read the rest
I had the opportunity to attend the Andrew Fuller Conference at Southern Seminary this past week. On my flight home, I read a book I’ve been looking forward to for years — D.A. Carson’s Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson.
I was first drawn to this book through a couple of podcasts and/or interviews of Dr. Carson when it came out. The book recounts the rather ordinary, yet significant life of his father Tom, a Baptist pastor1 in French Quebec through the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. There are a number of reviews of the book out there and I’ll link to a few at the bottom of the post.… Read the rest
Back in June of this year, Nancy Guthrie messaged to tell me that she was reading a review copy of a forthcoming book and I was quoted in it! Well, that was exciting news. I wrote Good Mr. Baxter about 25 years ago and it has remained in obscurity for the most part. I was just happy to see that someone read it and found something of value. You can find my semi-immortal words on page 49 of Dr. Michael Haykin‘s Eight Women of Faith!
This is my mini-review of his biographical sketches of eight historically significant Evangelical women, in one volume.… Read the rest
Over the past few years, I’ve learned a little bit about Section 501 (c) (3) of the IRS tax code: the tax-exempt status for religious and other charitable organizations. I began blogging about these matters in a previous post Family, Finances, and the Faith: Nepotism In The Church. By the way, I’m still learning so please point out any errors in this post in the comments below and I’ll thank you in advance.
If we survey history objectively, we have to admit that the Church in the United States enjoys a privileged relationship with the government compared to many other nations — tax exemptions on property and financial assets are not a Constitutional right (those are guaranteed to individuals) but a blessing bestowed by a government that was formed out of the nightmare of state-run, coercive churches that suppressed religious freedom.… Read the rest
Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with a friend, who lives in constant pain from a degenerative back ailment. We were discussing how often God blesses us through our fallen, broken, mortal bodies. If Jeremy Linneman is correct, 40 percent of Americans suffer from chronic pain. I’m one of them. Here’s why suffering can be a gift from The Paradox of Chronic Pain:
… Read the rest
It is a constant and demanding journey; it is supremely complex and often seemingly meaningless; and there is no cure for the hardship or hope for restoration in this world itself. Chronic pain, like every type of suffering, is a form of brokenness that drives us to Christ.
From Thom Rainer’s book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, the author lists some tell-tale signs to alert us that our church is in trouble. Here are the most telling, in my opinion:
- “The church refused to look like the community. The community began a transition toward a lower socioeconomic class thirty years ago, but the church members had no desire to reach the new residents. The congregation thus became an island of middle-class members in a sea of lower-class residents.”
- “There was no attempt to reach the community.”
- “More and more emphasis was placed on the past.”
- “The percentage of the budget for members’ needs kept increasing.
I suppose it’s fitting I write a review of Matt Perman’s book What’s Best Next (WBN) toward the end of a day that I’ve spent piddling, getting very little done, on the way to working myself up to settle down to watch a movie.
My cousin Nancy pointed me to What’s Best Next, while discussing our recent retirements. For Type A personalities or those of us who obsess over how much time we’re wasting, our first impulse is to prioritize and jump right into finding more time. That’s universal and, if you don’t believe me, just scroll through the thousands of productivity products and strategies on the web.… Read the rest
I’ve been struggling over the past year and a half, trying to get a routine down — to optimize my time and get some real work done. I am essentially self-employed now, even if I’m not earning a living by my efforts. Nearly forty years with the US Postal Service and twenty-four years as a bi-vocational pastor kept me working and focused, so there was an imposed structure to my day with objectives and goals to meet, as well as work to be done. Now, I have to plan my own workday, thankful that years of working for the USPS, Denise’s years of contracting and employment, the generosity of others, and personal planning have provided the financial foundation for labors of love that don’t necessarily pay.… Read the rest
Well, it’s been over a month since my last post. A few things have conspired to keep me away from writing.
First, a friend of the family was hit by necrotizing fasciitis, the flesh-eating bacteria. It’s so rare, I never thought I would know someone, personally, who would be stalked by this deadly foe. He is a young man, received a timely bit of advice from his pharmacist and a quick diagnosis by his first surgeon and, then, he was off to an excellent hospital. He’s come through with flying colors. Today, he just learned that his grafts had taken very well and he’ll be going home Friday, after a month in the hospital.… Read the rest
Yesterday, I began in earnest to bring my latest writing and publishing project to life. I created an outline and plan for a book titled The Baha’i Faith: An Introduction for Christian Readers. Why an introduction to the Baha’i faith, you ask? Because there still aren’t nearly enough resources out there for popular consumption on the subject, since I first encountered the Baha’i faith back in the 80s. Sources tend to be partisan and there is very little dialogue between opposing groups, who share an interest in the Baha’i faith and its roots in Babism, Sufism, Twelver Shi’ism, and Islam. Of course, Baha’is will accuse me of being so biased, that I can’t possibly add anything helpful to the discussion.… Read the rest
As I sat down to make resolutions for 2016, I remembered this sobering quote by John Goldingay from the book, I (Still) Believe: Leading Bible Scholars Share Their Stories of Faith and Scholarship. He reminds me that I’m seeking a “better country,” beyond 2016 and this life.
Here it is and it’s not for the squeamish:
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Americans like to believe in legacies; I expect to be forgotten, in fulfillment of Ecclesiastes’ warning. I know that individual students gain from classes I teach and from books that I write… but in general my work makes no significant contribution to the life of the church or to the purposes of God in the world.
Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with a friend, who lives in constant pain from a degenerative back ailment. We were discussing how often God blesses us through the curse: our fallen, broken, mortal bodies. If Jeremy Linneman is correct, 40 percent of Americans suffer from chronic pain. I’m one of them. Here’s why chronic pain and the suffering that goes along with it can be a gift from The Paradox of Chronic Pain:
… Read the rest
In this, chronic pain is a perfect illustration of the Christian life. It is a constant and demanding journey; it is supremely complex and often seemingly meaningless; and there is no cure for the hardship or hope for restoration in this world itself.
Denise has always wanted to visit the garden island of Kauai, in the Hawaiian Islands. So, we flew over earlier this month. I thought I would try paddle-board surfing while we were there and Hanalei Bay is ideally suited for a first timer. However, a day or so before we went north, I put on my fins to swim around Salt Pond Beach Park near Port Allen. When I left the water and pulled off my bootie, I found that the scarring over the tendon at my ankle had torn and I was trailing a lot of blood. This had never happened before while swimming, body-surfing or sponge-riding. … Read the rest