Tuesday, June 28, 2011

John Piper on Interracial Marriage

I tried to embed the video of John Piper's sermon on this topic earlier today, but I could not get it to start at the beginning. So I'm linking to the video and the sermon notes. Hopefully, this will work better. The link is below:

Racial Harmony and Interracial Marriage

Friday, June 24, 2011

What is Urban Ministry Like? It Can Be Messy.

I was amused last week when I read a note from one of our church's summer interns. He is a college student spending his summer learning about urban ministry. On his first Sunday with us, he was assigned to teach the third through fifth grade boys' Sunday school class.

I'm not sure, but I suspect that he came into urban ministry with a few naive ideas. If he was like me, he probably thought that the main problem confronting the urban poor had to do with a lack of money. He probably thought that the boys would be grateful for his willingness to give up his summer in order to teach them a little about Christ.

However, it did not take him long to be relieved of some of his naivete. He took a van to pick up people in the low-income apartment complexes when he discovered that 99% of parents would send their children to church services alone. They were not really interested in Bible classes and worship assemblies themselves, but they did not mind letting their kids leave for a few hours every week.

Then, as he tried to teach the Bible class, he discovered that most of the boys were not interested in the Bible study either. They were more interested in showing the other boys how cool they were by refusing to pay attention or obey simple requests like, "Please sit down and join the group." Finally, as the class ended, four of the black boys piled on a white boy and tried to beat him up.

He discovered that while poverty was one problem faced by the urban poor, it was not the only problem (and very possibly not the worst problem). Our new intern learned that he may not be appreciated for his compassion toward the poor and that our full-time urban ministers cannot be paid enough for their often difficult work.

It reminded me of my most difficult Bible class.

A few years ago, our congregation started the morning with a worship assembly, followed by Sunday school, and a meal. One of our ministers realized that many of our smoking members were neglecting the Sunday school classes so that they could smoke a cigarette or two before the meal. He tried in vain to persuade them to go to a Bible class every week. After a few weeks, he grabbed about a dozen chairs, set them up outside the front door where everyone was smoking, and started a Bible class on the Bible's wisdom literature for them.

Although I didn't smoke, I joined the class too. As summer was nearing an end, our minister needed to be gone for a few weeks of vacation and travelling to other congregations to raise support for his work. He asked me to take over the class for those weeks.

The first few minutes were uneventful. The class members helped me to set up the circle of chairs.

However, as we sat down to start the Bible class, a young teenager rushed through the front door and ran to his mother who was sitting in our class just outside the front door. A few seconds later, our youth minister came through the door. He grabbed the young man by the shoulder and said, "I know you're new here, but we don't punch other kids in the face and run out of class." After a little more admonition, our youth minister returned to his class, but the teen boy remained with his mother.

Thinking that things were calming down, I opened my Bible to Psalm 15 and asked the class to follow along as I read it. Since my eyes were focused on the Scriptures, I did not know what was happening around me. But I saw a blur run past me to the other end of the church building.

As I finished reading the passage, I saw that the teen boy had left the group. His mother got up and went to him. A few seconds later, the woman was screaming every profanity and obscenity imaginable at her son. Naturally, we could not focus on the Bible study with this scene going on. Of course, I'm sure that the neighbors were not appreciating the profanity-screaming woman on our property.

Our recovery minister (who worked with our members who had drug and alcohol addictions) was present in the class, so I asked him to take over the teaching while I tried to talk to the upset mother. Regrettably, I was not making any progress, and our recovery minister dismissed the class early so that he could join me in the conversation.

The screaming mother was angry because during the part of the class when I was reading from the Psalms, two visiting homosexual young men were kissing each other. Her son was disgusted and ran to the other end of the building. She began yelling at our recovery minister and me, "I didn't think that this was that kind of church!!!" Our recovery minister replied, "We're not that kind of church...but we're also not the kind of church that lets parents scream obscenities at their children."

Eventually, she calmed down.

As one of our ministers says, "Urban ministry is messy."

Does this mean that urban ministry makes no difference? Does it mean that everything is hopeless? No. It just means that the problems involved in urban ministry run far deeper than the lack of money or employment. It means that urban ministry requires patience, perseverance, and love for people who struggle. Within a year, the obscenity-screaming mother turned to Christ in faith and repentance, seeking God's forgiveness, and submitting to baptism. While the two homosexual young men have not become Christians yet, they have continued to study privately and in public with our Bible teachers and ministers. They have also stopped kissing each other in church services. Progress comes slowly and with difficulty at times, but it's worth it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Purposes of Predestination

The doctrine of predestination is a difficult topic. I would be the first to admit that I have not mastered it.

While I may never fully understand every aspect of the doctrine, I have found two purposes (or goals) for predestination.

1. God has predestined Christians to be conformed to the image of his Son. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those he justified he also glorified" (Romans 8:28-30). The Lord is at work in the life of a believer, shaping circumstances and providing guidance through the Holy Spirit, so that the disciple of Christ can think, feel, and act more like Jesus Christ every day. This is a life-long process of progress and occasional setbacks, but God is determined to see every one of his children develop into the image of Christ.

2. In conforming followers of Christ to the image of his Son, God has predestined us to bring him glory through our continually transformed lives. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved" (Ephesians 1:3-6). As we grow in holiness, humility, grace, mercy, justice, kindness, and every other attribute of Jesus, we lead lives that reflect well on our Savior and bring him the glory he deserves.

Our destiny as Christians is conformity to the image of God's Son so that he may be praised for his grace toward us. It's why we were predestined for adoption into his family.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How to Have a Good Life

"Whoever desires to love life
and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit;
let him turn away from evil and do
let him seek peace and pursue it.

"For the eyes of the Lord are on the
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those
who do evil" (1 Peter 3:10-12).

Friday, June 17, 2011

Everyone Needs Jesus

"Jesus came and told His disciples, 'I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age'" (Matthew 28:18-20, NLT).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Achieving Low Self-Esteem

This is a story from The Reason for God by Tim Keller (pages 167-168):

"Andrew Delbanco is a humanities professor at Columbia University. Some years ago he was doing research on Alcoholics Anonymous and was attending AA meetings around the country. One Saturday morning in a New York City church basement he was listening to a 'crisply dressed young man' who was talking about his problems. In his narrative he was absolutely faultless. All his mistakes were due to the injustice and betrayals of others. He spoke of how he was going to avenge himself on all who had wronged him. 'His every gesture gave the impression of grievously wounded pride,' Delbanco wrote. It was clear that the young man was trapped in his need to justify himself, and that things could only get worse and worse in his life until he recognized this. While he was speaking, a black man in his forties, in dreadlocks and dark shades, leaned over to Delbanco and said, 'I used to feel that way too, before I achieved low self-esteem.'

"...By 'low self-esteem' the man in the dreadlocks did not mean the young man should come to hate himself. He meant that the well-dressed young man was 'lost in himself' until he could admit he was a very flawed human being, a sinner. He would never be liberated to see his own flaws in their true light, or forgive those who had wronged him, or to humbly seek and receive forgiveness from others."

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Something Special in Memphis

I witnessed something special while on vacation in Memphis, Tennessee, this week.

The National Civil Rights Museum had nothing to do with it. The musicians of Beale Street were not involved. Neither the panda bears nor the Komodo dragons at the Memphis Zoo had anything to do with it.

Instead, it involved a small family eating lunch together at the Incredible Pizza Company.

When I first caught a glimpse of the husband, he didn't appear to be anything special. He looked a little overweight and unkempt as he picked up a tray and a couple of plates to fill with pizza. Nobody special, I assumed.

However, he began to seem quite a bit more special as he approached the table where his wife and young son were sitting. They were waiting patiently as the husband and father brought their meals to them.

As the man left the table in order to get his own pizza, I noticed his wife for the first time. She looked like a normal young woman in her twenties, but something about the manner in which her head jerked and her hands trembled indicated a problem with her motor skills. Upon a closer look, I realized that she was sitting in a wheelchair.

Had the young woman experienced a stroke or suffered a severe brain injury during an accident in the couple of years since her son's birth? I didn't know. But I knew that I had just witnessed something special: a man who was serious about loving his wife and providing his son with a good example.

This man had not merely remained with his wife following her debilitating injury. He had not merely met her basic physical needs. This man went out of his way to serve his wife.

He made sure that his wife would be present for both the meal and the games that their son would play afterwards in the restaurant's arcade. She would not be able to fully participate, but her husband made certain that she would at least be there.

It was simple, but thoughtful. It was something special in Memphis.

"Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman..." (1 Peter 3:7).

Friday, June 03, 2011

Favorite Posts

I've added a new feature to my blog: Favorite Posts. You may find it on the right side of this blog. It's a short collection of some of my favorite (but not necessarily most popular) posts. You will find a variety of topics from my personal experiences to issues with which I have wrestled over the years.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Denominational Loyalty

I've been thinking about denominational loyalty lately.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to one of my customers on my mail route. She was excited about her daughter's upcoming wedding. As my customer discussed her daughter's plans, she mentioned one regret. The daughter was marrying a young man from a different denomination, and the daughter had followed her future husband in joining his denomination. My customer sighed, "I don't know what is with kids these days. I would have never left the church of my parents. It would have broken their hearts. I wish they would stay with my church, but at least they are a great Christian couple."

This conversation prompted me to think about my son and his future choices. Would he someday leave the network of churches in which he has been raised?

As I thought more about it, I wondered about myself. Would I someday leave the churches (the Churches of Christ) with which I have been affiliated for decades?

I had to admit to myself that it was a legitimate possibility. I have seen trends among some of the leading preachers which concern me. Some of the most popular speakers among us have been teaching that the Bible cannot be fully trusted because of errors within it. Some have been teaching that a sinner does not necessarily need to place his faith in Jesus Christ in order to be saved. Some have been teaching that God is not truly all-knowing since he cannot know the future.

In contrast, I believe in the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, the necessity of faith in Christ, and the omniscience of God. We are on different trajectories. Eventually, if the popular trends in teaching become the normative doctrine among my fellowship, I may not be able to stay. It would not be because I would want to go, but it would be because denominational loyalty (for lack of a better term) would be of lesser value to me than the desire to cooperate with other believers who hold to the central truths of the Scriptures and to the Savior revealed within those Scriptures.

I hope it never comes to that scenario, but I need to admit to myself that the possibility certainly exists. If it becomes necessary to choose, I hope that my family and I would make a conscientious choice to remain loyal to Christ despite the pain involved in the decision.

"But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine" (Titus 2:1).

Over-Interpreting the Bible

Justin Taylor has posted a good parody of over-interpreting the Bible at the link below.

A Parody of Over-Interpreting the Bible

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Conservative, Liberal or Christian?

Evangelical Christian author Randy Alcorn says,

"I get tired of being told I have to choose between conservatism’s emphasis on truth and liberalism’s emphasis on compassion. Why can’t we oppose injustice to minorities and to the unborn? Why can’t we embrace biblical stewardship of creation and the primacy of human beings over the rest of creation? Why can’t we oppose the greedy destruction of the environment by some businesses and the anti-industry excesses of New Age environmentalism?

"Why can’t we affirm the biblical right to the ownership of property (along with the command “thou shalt not steal”) and emphasize God’s call to his people to voluntarily and sacrificially share their wealth with the truly needy?

"Why can’t we uphold the truth of God’s condemnation of sexual immorality—including homosexual practices—and reach out in love and compassion to those imprisoned in this degrading lifestyle, as well as those dying from AIDS?"

Please read his thoughtful article on this topic at the link below:

Conservative, Liberal or Christian? - Resources - Eternal Perspective Ministries