Optional page text here. The Beast's Lair: September 2006

Thursday, September 28, 2006

That's Offensive

What was once a fear of rejection for boldly living a Christian life and mentioning the name of Christ has digressed into a fear of seeming "offensive." There seems to be a new "right" even among evangelical Christians that offers the protection from being offended. I was motivated to reflect on that fact after reading a BP (Baptist Press) article that said "those who now claim to be offended are generally speaking of an emotional state that has resulted from some real or perceived insult to their belief system or from contact with someone else's belief system." The idea here is that there is no real harm happening aside from the emotional response of being offended.

For the purposes of this article, I want to approach this issue from the back door. The next logical step for me to take would be to say that this supposed "right" is in fact not a right at all and that we as Christ following Christians should remain steadfast and bold in our witness and testimony, even in the likelihood that we will bump into other faiths and practices. After all, isn't that what part of this diverse culture that celebrates and protects free speech is all about? I am not a lawyer, and my brother and I typically get annoyed at people who try and talk cleverly about things they don't know anything about, so I am going to stay away from the implications of the 1st amendment. He promises not to publish an article on systematic theology. Nevertheless, I think I can say without violating that oath that the reason free speech needs to be protected in the first place is because it will at times offend. If it never did, why protect it?

So, the back door to my point is this: For us Christians to understand this is not only a cultural shift that we must avoid when it comes to ceasing the sharing of our faith, but it is also important that we recognize the right of other faiths to do the same thing. You see, we Christians also don't have a right to not be offended. That, my friends, is the cost of religious liberty. If we find ourselves complaining about the annoyance and offensiveness of any other faith group and seek to somehow shut them up, then we too must shut up. We can't have it both ways. Sadly, I think many Christians would opt for that route rather than accept the liberty of other faiths along side our own. However, we don't have that option, do we? The mandate from Christ Himself is clear and direct, uncompromising and without excuse. We are to speak openly and share our faith with others. Yes, we currently live in a country where we can still do that. Praise the Lord for that. The last thing we need to do is sound like stupid little brats who want to go to the party but not stay to clean up. You're gonna get offended by someone. Old news. Deal with it. And go share your faith.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Only 18 Days

Until HHN 16 baby!

The legendary Rexwilder and I will be making our annual HHN (Halloween Horror Nights for you rookies) trip to Orlando, FL in just 18 days. We are flying in on Friday the 13th, can't get any more Halloweenish than that.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Evidentiary Pursuit

"Evidentiary pursuit" is how author Sam Harris refers to the task of the conservative Evangelical as they line up the reasons why they believe what they believe. The interesting thing to note here is that Sam Harris is an atheist, and a strong voice for the argument against any kind of faith in any God, especially the God of Christianity. His latest book, "Letter to a Christian Nation" addresses those kinds of arguments.

I discovered this work through another blog and was interested not so much in the fact that he is an atheist, but rather his stance on a particular issue within the Christian world, that being religious moderation and liberalism. One would just assume, for various reasons, that an atheist would stand closer to the methodology of religious moderation than to that of a more conservative fundamental approach. However, he does just the opposite. Notice this quote from Harris:

"Another problem with religious moderation is that it is intellectually bankrupt. It really represents a fundamentally unprincipled use of reason. At least fundamentalists talk about evidence. You ask a fundamentalist, "Why do you believe that Jesus was the Son of God and the Bible is the perfect Word of God?" and you'll get reasons. They're not good reasons, but you will immediately see that these people are engaged in an evidentiary pursuit. They'll say things like, "The New Testament confirms all of Old Testament prophecy for every prophecy in the Bible has come true." You know, these are specious claims, but contrast that to what moderates say. Moderates don't talk about evidence. Moderates talk about meaning. They talk about the good effects of believing as they do."

He also says. . .

"I have written elsewhere about the problems I see with religious liberalism and religious moderation. Here, we need only observe that the issue is both simpler and more urgent than the liberals and moderates generally admit. Either the Bible is just an ordinary book, written by mortals, or it isn't. Either Christ was divine, or he was not. If the Bible is an ordinary book, and Christ was an ordinary man, the history of Christian theology is the story of bookish men parsing a collective delusion. If the basic tenets of Christianity are true, then there are some very grim surprises in store for nonbelievers like myself. You understand this. At least half of the American population understands this. So let us be honest with ourselves: in the fullness of time, one side is really going to win this argument, and the other side is really going to lose."

And finally,

"Another problem with religious moderation is that it is theologically bankrupt. It is not like if we just read the books more closely we would discover all these reasons to be moderates. I've got news for you, I've read the books: God is not a moderate."

Maybe we need more atheists involved in Bible teaching. Just kidding of course, but it is intriguing.

Friday, September 22, 2006

6 year old suspended for 10 days

A 6 yr old first grader was suspended for 10 days from school in Kansas City, MO.

"KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A Missouri mother is angry that her first-grader was suspended from school over a plastic toy water gun.

"I asked her, 'You're going to suspend my son for 10 days for this? He cannot harm a soul with this,'" said Danielle Womack, whose son, Tawann Caskey, was suspended from Milton Moore Elementary School in Kansas City.

Tawann was suspended over a 2-inch plastic squirt gun.

According to Kansas City, Mo., School District policy, the squirt gun is a simulated weapon and a class IV, which is the most serious school offense. Principals claim to have no discretion in cases like Tawaan's. It is an automatic 10-day suspension"

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

First Halloween Decorations

I have successfully put up my first Halloween decorations for the season, and I must say that I am happy with the results. This is what our Apartment windows looks like from the street. Awesome!

Monday, September 18, 2006

First day of Halloween Shopping

Above is a picture of me and Andi as we were taking off on our first day of Halloween shopping. We didn't buy anything, but saw some potentially good stuff.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Prosperity Gospel

I remember sitting under my home pastor in Kingsport, TN, Rev. Bobby Russell, and listening to him in the mid and late 80's preach with conviction on things that at the time made no sense to me. One of those things was, as he put it, the "name it and claim it" preachers. Rev. Bobby Russell was concerned at "those guys on television" who were making the argument that if we name something we want in Christ, then we are to just claim that thing in Christ and He will deliver it to us. This drove him nuts.

So, I notice on the cover of Time Magazine the cover story "Does God Want You To Be Rich?" Pastor Russell's concerns were correct, this misconstrued ideological methodology has found a home in mainstream Christianity, especially prominent in some of the larger, megachurches out there. I have personally dealt with this recently with very good meaning Christian leaders who have simply absorbed this mindset without realizing its potential damage. Not long ago I attended a function where a 16 year old was being praised for his "claiming" a Nissan 350 Z at an earlier age and then "keeping his faith up" in order to receive that car. Obviously, we were there in honor of his receiving the car when he turned 16, apparently because he had named it and claimed it. Without hurting the feelings of the very good intentioned youth worker, I subtly spent the next few weeks teaching the teenagers the reality of the Prosperity Gospel, and what it leaves out of the true Gospel.

You see, its not that everything this philosophy teaches is wrong. Some of it is, but what makes it completely off base is what it leaves out.

My wife is taking courses toward a certificate of study at Southern Seminary that stresses the family, the husband and wife relationship, and what it means to be a pastor's wife. Last week in her course material, one of the quotes she was memorizing for her class is that as a couple, we are to "remember the cross together and die daily." She was at first kind of weirded out by that, but I felt a deep connection with it. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a tough message. Prepare yourselves for suffering, ridicule, stress, anxiety, fear, confusion and days of just wanting to give up. Without a daily dying to self, a person cannot withstand those elements for very long. The prosperity gospel would never dare preach a message of dying. That is why we have more and more lifeless, selfish, pointless Christians in the pews than ever before.

Mark chapter 13 is an eye opener. The disciples, in their perpetual confusion, ask Jesus about the destruction of the temple he had just prophesied, the end of history and their own apparent forth coming ministry. Listen to the words of Christ from Mark 13: "You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit. 12"Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.

That's positive stuff don't you think? Be prepared to be flogged in the synagogues! All men will hate you, you will be arrested, etc. And, of course after reading the book of Acts and other historical works, we know that the disciples experienced exactly those things in the days ahead.

Finally, my last example is Mark 10, the story of the rich young ruler. What makes this account of Jesus so remarkable is not that Jesus asked him to sell all his possessions, but the stark contrast between this particular teaching of Christ and the OT. An OT understanding of being rich was that of being deeply blessed by God. Being rich was seen as God's favor on you. Christ brings the counter to that message of prosperity. It's not the wealth of the man that finds favor with God, but instead it is that very wealth that is preventing him from even having a relationship with God. Obviously Christ didn't expect everyone to sell everything they had in order to follow Him, or He would have said that to every person He came in contact with. Trust me, I do not take a vow of poverty and live as a monk. I enjoy being able to experience things that require money. But here He finds a man who the Bible says Christ loved (which is interesting) but Christ knew that the money was just getting in the way.

So why go through all the dying, suffering and heartache that the Gospel requires? Because the story doesn't end there. The same God has promised joy, contentment, blessing and eternal life. This same God has promised not to forsake us or leave us, He will not forget. And this same God has promised us sustaining and sufficiency.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Beast Humbly Accepts the "AARDVARK" Award.

Orycteropus Afer is kind enough to read my blog and he has granted me the honor of receiving his coveted Aardvark Award. Check out his site!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Mission: IOA

Here it is. The 12 minute "film noir" of mine and Rex's vacation in Orlando, FL earlier this year. I should probably preface this viewing by saying things like we had no script, no camera operators, and little time, but I will resist that temptation and let you just enjoy the film.

This was filmed at Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure in Orlando, FL on July 30th and 31st, 2006. To watch the film, just click below. (You can also "right click" and then "save as" to save the file to your desktop, it will usually play smoother that way.)


Monday, September 11, 2006

Emotion, Fear and the Gospel.

We are several days into September and the crisp air combined with falling leaves reminds me that fall, and my favorite month October, are just around the corner. With October comes my favorite holiday, except for Christmas, and the opportunity to double my intake of horror movies, critique the local haunted houses, hold my own Halloween party and get to USF, Florida for HHN. October has also developed another tradition that has been building in popularity each year among churches and youth groups called "Judgment House."

Judgment House is a "haunted house" of sorts hosted by a local church where typically, youth groups walk through several different vignettes watching a story unfold before them. The story always leads to a climax of a decision, and the reality of hell is shown with "Satan" pointing his finger at the teenagers in the youth group and warning them that this is their future resting place if they don't do something. Cue the strobe lights, loud music and the walking dead to add to the effect. I have been to three different Judgment Houses at three different churches, and all of them were very high quality, well organized and well acted. And they scared me to death.

Unfortunately, not in the way I liked to be scared during October. A plague that has been a driving force in student ministries for some time now is the use of well-placed emotional tactics to elicit spiritual responses from teenagers, especially in the 13-15 range. Back to the Judgment House experience. Immediately after walking through "hell" and having Satan yell at the teenagers, they are taken in a room and given a 30 second rundown of the Gospel, with the phrase, "this is how you stay out of hell," being thrown in there every now and then for good measure. The response rate is phenomenal. Teenagers will hit the floor on their knees faster than in any other youth rally, conference or camp. So why am I scared of this? Why am I not celebrating that so many decisions are being made for Christ? Because a decision made for Christ that is made from a well crafted, emotional string pulling machine are decisions that are destined to lead to nothing. No change of life. No production of fruit. And a person who will go right on living how they always have, but at least they have "escaped the wrath of hell."

My first year going to M-Fuge, the best mission emphasis camp out there, was a tremendous success, except for the last night of preaching. Right before the invitation, they showed a clip from "Pearl Harbor" of all these people dyeing and everyone running around crying and so on. They tried their best to parallel that to the confusion of a life without Christ, and then immediately gave the invitation. Guess what? It was the largest response of the night. Because the Holy Spirit was really moving that night? Nope. Because Hollywood knows what they are doing.

Now, here is the problem. Where do we draw the line? In a rather deep theological masterpiece (and I'm serious about that), the 1984 hit film "Footloose" starring Kevin Bacon had some interesting things to say about religion and church. Of course, everyone just wanted to watch the dancing, but the interaction between the Rev. Shaw Moore (Brilliantly portrayed by John Lithow) and the church is fascinating. At one point in the film, his daughter, Ariel, "figures it out." She approaches her dad about the Sunday morning sermon "just being a show." He admits to the use of antics and voice inflections and says that it is the only way he really knows to reach people.

We all love moving Sunday morning services, where the music is perfect and the sermon is interesting. How much of what we do on Sunday morning is just for show? How much of what we do is to try and pull the emotional strings of those who in attendance?

I think the answer lies in the fact that there is, in fact, emotion in the Gospel. I am not suggesting that we cut out anything that touches peoples hearts. To preach the Gospel message alone is to preach a powerhouse of emotions. Love, sin, betrayal, commitment, wrongly accused, wrongly sentenced, wrongly killed, resurrection. Pretty emotional stuff to be sure. And that is the whole point. There doesn't need to be anything added artificially to produce emotion when preaching the Gospel. There is plenty already there.

This is just one of many reasons that the church and it's leaders should prayerfully review and examine their worship services of their content. We want to have integrity. We want to properly represent Christ and His message. Should we do that with energy and character? Yes. Should we do the best we can to present a professional worship service? Yes. But we should not add to the power of the Gospel and it's purpose with trite, tear drawing mechanisms that will quickly produce the desired effect, only to set up a terrible fall.

I believe Christ was touching on this idea when he delivered the parable of the sower. In Mark 4:5, He is discussing what happens with the "seed" fell on rocky places. Christ said that the fruit sprang up quickly, but in no time they withered away because there was no root. That is not the kind of decisions we are wanting for God's Kingdom. How much better to have 10 decisions that are well rooted in the Word than 100 decisions that wither away quickly in emotion.

Allow me to conclude by saying that I am sure there have been some legitimate decisions for Christ at Judgment House or any other event of that nature. I do not question the intent of the churches hosting those kinds of events, I know they are wanting teenagers to turn to Christ. But we should take a second look. The Gospel speaks for itself. Let's just present that.

Friday, September 08, 2006

How Do We Handle Differences?

The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) has recently been in the news for media attention concerning the chapel message of one of their board of trustee members Dwight McKissic. In the sermon, McKissic makes reference to a "private prayer language" which is of course another way of saying speaking in tongues.

Typically, Baptists would fall in the category of being a progressive or "weak" cessationalists (of which I am one), that is to say that the miraculous gifts of prophecy, tongues and healing ceased being practiced early in the history of the church but that God still certainly performs signs and wonders. I don't particularly want to chase that rabbit, but the SWBTS was plunged into the question of, how do we respect differences in interpretation of particular issues while maintaining a public, and even private stance on who we are and what we believe as Baptists. The IMB (International Mission Board) adopted a policy last year that would prevent the appointment of missionaries who had a "private prayer language." The fact that the IMB took it upon themselves to make that policy was debated among Baptists, nevertheless, the policy remains. Now we have a trustee member at a Southern Baptist Seminary preaching in favor of a private prayer language. You get the idea.

Dr. Frank Page, president of the SBC, issued a letter concerning the situation, which I thought was well written and addressed the issues fairly. He did not simply rebuke the trustee member and say he was wrong. He outlined some points that clearly came from the heart, but his first point was of particular interest to me.

"We must affirm the principal of theological discussion, even debate, within our seminaries. While there are certain bedrock doctrines that must be affirmed without debate within the Baptist family, there are many issues which are open to interpretation. I am very thankful for Southwestern’s stance that they do not 'instruct its chapel speakers about what they can or cannot say."

That is good to hear. The affirmation that debate and difference is not only acceptable, but healthy within our seminaries is a good word. I am already getting hammered with Calvinism at Southern in Louisville. I am not a 5 point Calvinist, but I am enjoying getting hammered with it, because it is making me think. And then it is causing me to discuss. That is the whole point of seminary. Now, even within our seminaries, that issue is different. Paige Patterson, president of SWBTS, is not reformed at all. He is a big time free will guy. But Dr. Mohler, a strict 5 point Calvinist, and Dr. Patterson are best of friends, share the pulpit together and are not divided in spirit on that theological difference.

So, I want Baptists to continue to take stands on issues and doctrine. But I also am encouraged to hear the affirming of healthy debate and difference. Denominations are good things, not evil. But we are all one in Christ, serving and worshipping the same God.

*note - I should point out that the SWBTS did prevent the sermon from being put on their website for distribution. McKissic was disappointed in that action from the seminary, but demonstrated remarkable class and was correct in announcing that he understood why they did it and was willing to submit to their authority and discernment concerning that aspect of the debate.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Life Lists

Andi was telling me today that a conversation ensued among co-workers about a program they had recently seen which dealt with the topic of life lists, that is, the things on your "list" that you would want to accomplish before you die.

As we were discussing it, I realized that maybe I am a loser. I was trying my hardest to come up with that one thing that I was just dead set on getting accomplished sometime in my life. I really couldn't come up with anything. Oh sure, there are some things I would like to do, but something that I feel would keep me from fully experiencing life if I were unable to do it? Nope, can't think of a one.

It made me think of Apollo 13. At one point before the launch, the media ask Tom Hanks why he is retiring. He replies by saying he is traveling to the moon in the best shuttle with the best crew. He couldn't imagine ever topping that.

Perhaps I am simple in this particular area in my life, but being cuddled on the couch with my wife watching season 2 of "House" on DVD is really as good as it gets for me. I have a relationship with God who has blessed me and my family beyond degree. I have a wife who I can't stand to be away from. What else is there that matters?

So, with that in mind, below are a few things that I guess would go on my "life list." These are some things I would like to experience some day. But the truth of the matter is, if I never get to these things, that really won't bother me at all. These are far from what I would consider "completing me."

1. Visiting the Great Pyramid in Egypt.
2. Walking down "Baker Street" in London.
3. Go fishing with Roland Martin.
4. Play "Deuce" on stage with Paul Stanley.
5. Preach in Joel Osteen's church and use the words hell and sin.
6. Be a Disney employee at The Haunted Mansion.
7. Own my own Haunted House.
8. Talk about Wrestlemania 18 with Hulk Hogan for 2 hours.
9. Preach a week of revival with Alistair Begg.
10. Go on a national "dark ride" tour to visit all the dark rides in the US.

Below are some things that would bring much more joy and blessings than the silly things mentioned above. These are not so much grandiose dreams so much as they are things I fully intend to experience by God's grace.

1. Baptize, or watch the baptism, of my niece, Bella.
2. Drive my son to Gilmore Dock.
3. Grow old with my wife.
4. Teach Greek to anyone who will listen.
5. Cuddle on the couch and watch "House" Season 3 on DVD.

Monday, September 04, 2006

A New Place of Service

As I have made my transition back into "student mode", I have found it to be a smoother ride than was anticipated. I am enjoying my classes, my professors, my reading and the atmosphere of being back in the world of academia.

Along with the transition has come the need and desire to place myself back into service at a local church. I am reluctant to call it a "new ministry" because surely I am still serving the same God who has called me into His service. But, with a new church and new faces comes a sense of apprehension about what will be expected. How will this new environment compare to the one I have recently left? How long will it take to earn the trust and respect of those to whom I will be ministering? I suppose those are questions that I really shouldn't be thinking about, but one does not leave one beloved place of service to minister at another without having the inevitable questions of comparison arise. I know I serve a God who has a providential appointed church waiting for me and my wife, and those questions will fade as the days in my church keep moving forward. The key here is to make sure I am grounded in the direction of that God of providence.

Within the week I will have more information about my new church and my position. Please pray for me and Andi for continued discernment and direction.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

President Mohler on Video

This is incredibly funny. Dr. Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is on video here. This was shown in last week's chapel for some reason none of us every figured out, but nevertheless, it shows a little different side of the Doc.

Click Here To Watch.

Friday, September 01, 2006

It's September. . .

Only one more month to October. You know what that means.