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

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas and the Manger

Today I had the privilege to speak at Fosterville Baptist Church, my first church where I served as pastor. I brought a message concerning the difference between the nature and function of God the Father and God the Son specifically as it relates to the birth of Jesus.

To put it very briefly, as it is 1:26 am on Christmas morning, before our attention focuses on the shepherds, the wise men, the star, the humble setting or even the future cross of Jesus, what Christmas morning should first bring to mind is the willing submission of God the Son to God the Father that eventually brought about the cross. God was not looking for volunteers when he turned to Jesus. God, through His divine purposes and plan, sent God the Son to the earth in the form of flesh, a rather unique method to bring about salvation for a needy people. But the "God in flesh" could never have happened if not first for the submissive nature of Christ to God the Father.

In John 8, Christ is clearly explaining how he does nothing on his own authority, rather, he only does the will of the Father who sent him. He then in the very next breath explains that if we will follow this example, we will be set free by the truth. How odd that Christ would link freedom with only doing what the Father wills. By our standards, only acting and shaping our lives in ways that someone else lays out for us is far from freedom. We would call that slavery. However, Scripture teaches that Christ has been the only fully free person to ever live. How is that possible? Because he is only person to ever, without sin, fully and completely submit to the will of the Father in all circumstances, including the coming to earth in a manger.

So, what is the first thing to notice in the nativity setting? We should first notice that God the Son was willing and joyfully submitted to the will of the Father and through his continued growth and submission to the Father, true freedom was experienced. The same is true for us. This day, Christmas day, should be a day of submission to God, a truth that will begin to make us more free than we have ever been. To God be the Glory!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

What in the World is Bible Doctrine?

For one thing, it is a word not very popular with the church growth movement. For many, it is a word that might have once had purpose, but is no longer useful in today's church environment. For others, it is a completely foreign word.

The word doctrine, which literally means "teaching", when combined with the revealed truth of God's Word, means "God's teachings." In other words, these are the things God wants to teach His children, these are things that are important to God and by default should be important to Christians. It simply does not get more important than Bible doctrine. Yet, in some mysterious and perhaps subconscious manner, we have "moved past" these things in the church. To focus primarily on doctrine is to be wasting time, it is to be wading through the waters of "been there, done that" and "I learned this when I was 5." Why waste time on the obvious issues of The Trinity, The Incarnation and The Cross? Why bother with those little things like God's Sovereignty and the problem of sin? The church has made an error somehow in allowing our members to fall into the trap of thinking that doctrine no longer has any use or purpose. It appears that the focal point of a successful church vision involves community outreach projects, sermons on living a productive life and a foundational desire behind it all to make sure everyone goes home happy. I think offering community service opportunities is important. I think living a productive life is important. And I think it is all worthless if the church who is providing these things does not first meet its primary obligation to uphold and teach the doctrines of God.

I recently read this comment concerning the church growth mindset from an online secular encyclopedia called Wikipedia: "several large churches are resorting to using more secularized and occasionally-frowned upon methods in order to draw a larger crowd of youth and/or adolescents. These methods, while on the surface show promise, may or may not provide the framework for maturation of key spiritual foundations." That "framework" that the article refers to can only be provided through the regular teaching and adherence to sound Biblical doctrine. All other methods, no matter how helpful or well-intended, will eventually fall short and produce a flock of Christians who don't know the Bible from the Koran. We are well on our way already.

I am happy to receive weekly emails of sermons preached by a former pastor and co-employee of mine. I was able to sit under him on staff at a church and listen to his messages every week. He is not flashy. He does not provide antics and cool imagery effects from the pulpit. (he might be reading this and thinking I am not doing a very good job of painting a nice picture) But what he does offer is the correct combination of how to live a productive life laid upon the foundation of solid Bible teaching. He doesn't preach to get "amens" from the congregation and he certainly doesn't preach to make a name for himself. Although he and I do not always agree on issues, I respect the way he respects the pulpit and preaches with intelligence the doctrines of God.

So, there are some good role models out there. We must not think we are beyond the teachings of God. We must not become so concerned with divisive issues of doctrine that we completely ignore them. We must keep at heart the truth that the only positive church growth is the kind that produces biblically sound, maturing Christians. May God help us on our way.

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Brief Explanation of Translations

I am asked almost every Sunday which translation of the Bible I read from the pulpit. With the holidays here, I have been getting quite a few questions about what kind of bible to purchase. I thought it might be helpful to describe in very brief detail the basic translation philosophies that go behind the current popular versions available today. Keep in mind this only scratches the surface. The translation process is extremely complicated.

Traduttore, traditore – Italian proverb, “translators, traitors”

The very first thing to mention when discussing the translation process is that it is impossible to translate without losing something, without betraying the original. Translating from one language into another is not as easy as simply plugging the words into a magic translation machine and out pops the equivalent. So, in some way or another, every English translation we have is a commentary of sorts. There is no such thing as a “pure” translation. But don’t lose heart! We can still confidently say that we read the inspired, inerrant Word of God. But, that is a post for a different time.

Essentially Literal – sometimes called “word-for-word” or “formal equivalence”. The philosophy behind this translation model is to as accurately as possible translate into English word for word what was written in the original manuscripts. This method seeks to represent each word of the translated text with an exact equivalent word in English so that the reader can see exactly what the original author had written. The benefits of such a translation is that it is consistent with the idea that the Holy Spirit inspired every word in the original manuscripts. Also, this method keeps some the form and structure of the language. Downsides to this method are that it can become “choppy” and not easy to read. Plus, at times ancient idioms are all but impossible to understand with a direct English equivalent. The New American Standard Bible and the English Standard Version are good examples of essentially literal.

Dynamic Equivalence – sometimes called “thought-fort-thought”. This philosophy sets out to determine the meaning of the original texts from their form and then translate in such a way that the same impact is made on the contemporary reader that was made on the ancient reader. The emphasis here is not on word for word translation as it is getting the meaning across. Strength of this method include an easier, smoother reading bible and idioms that are placed into our 21st century mindset. Some even boast of having a “5th grade reading level.” Weaknesses include the possibility of the translators including too much commentary, that is, too much of their own theology into the translation. The New Living Translation and New Century Version are examples of Dynamic Equivalence.

Optimal Equivalence. This model has really developed with the Holman Christian Standard Bible. I have not seen this used with any other version. Basically, the Southern Baptist Convention got ticked off at the NIV, a dynamic equivalent translation, and decided to issue their own translation that Lifeway would sponsor. The translating team came up with “optimal equivalence” as a way to blend the best parts of both essentially literal and dynamic equivalence. I do not really recommend this translation and have not found it to “catch on” in SBC churches as of yet. Time will tell.

So what is best for you? If you are interested in word studies or are a student of the Bible, then an essentially literal translation is best. If you are looking for a readable translation that “makes sense”, then a dynamic equivalence version is best. Stay away from paraphrases as your “go to” bible. They are fine for follow up and reference, but should not be your normal read. The Message is the most popular paraphrase.

So, I hope that helps a little. Blessings in your search!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Is America a Christian Nation?

This is the current question asked by the "On Faith" conversation sposored by the Washington Post. Panelists from varied religious perspectives and faiths have been responding to questions over the last several weeks.

Dr. Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, responds in what I believe is a clear explanation of the difference between a "Christian Nation" and a "nation of Christians." It may shock you that Mohler writes that America should NOT be a Christian nation. This is worth reading. . .

Click Here To Read Mohler's On Faith Article

The Beast Honors: Peter Boyle

Peter Boyle was a big part why Young Frankenstein is one of, if not the funniest movie ever made. He portrayed the "monster" in YF with beauty and ease, and his scene with Gene Wilder doing the dance number "puttin on the ritz" is one of the all time classic comedy bits.

He also played an interesting role in the comedy Dream Team where he was a mentally challenged patient who believed he was Jesus Christ. A very talented and funny man. The Beast says, 'Bravo!'

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Magnificat

The discourses that ensued after the arrival of Mary to the home of Elizabeth and Zacharias are some of the most beautiful in all of Scripture. These are all captured in the first chapter of Luke. Elizabeth, after being filled with the Holy Spirit and startled by the leaping of John inside her womb, cries out the beautiful words to the mother of Jesus that rightfully places her at a level beyond that of just another mother. "Blessed are you among women!"

Zacharias, after the overwhelming emotional incident of losing his speech only to have it returned with the birth of his son, prophecies with boldness and a grateful heart to the God who provides all that we ever receive.

But it is the speech, the song if you will, that is nestled in between these previous two that has come to be known as The Magnificat. Here we find Mary, who is so overwhelmed by her surroundings and seemingly unfathomable situation, that she cries out to God in a remarkable and unforgettable way. You can read the entire Scripture in Luke 1:46-55.

The content of Mary's outcry is striking. Listen to some of the things she says about God: "He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their hearts, He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble." Luke 1:51-52 NASB

But had He? At the time Mary spoke these words, Israel was under the occupation of the Roman Empire. Herod the Great was their "king" and history shows him to be one of the most ruthless dictators in all of history. This is the same man who ordered the killing of the sons in Bethlehem. Herod was notoriously worried about his own name, his own power, his own wealth. Where is the scattering of the proud? Where is the taking down of rulers?

Mary goes on to say "He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent away the rich empty-handed." Luke 1:53

But had He? Eating the next meal was not necessarily a sure thing for the common folk and the tax collectors were enjoying the fruitfulness of their jobs. Going away "empty handed" was never a concern for their cheating hearts.

The Magnificat, according to some, is a simply a rewording of the famous "Hannah's Song" from 1 Samuel after the miraculous birth of Samuel. In both instances we find these women possessing a single characteristic that I am convinced makes their words ring true, even if the current world situation at the time of their uttering does not coincide with the message of their words. That characteristic is the ability to see beyond themselves. Mary understands with all clarity as she speaks these words that the God who has chosen her to be the mother of Jesus is the same God who provided a mighty work in the past, is the same God who was working out His purposes during her life and is the same God who would fulfill His purposes after she was no longer living. The issue was no longer about her. It was all about God.

Why are we not able to cry out our own Magnificats to God? In part, it is because we fail to see God but through the lens of our own current situation. Have you ever heard an evangelist say to take out the word "world" in John 3:16 and insert your name instead? So, instead of reading "so God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son", it reads, "for God so loved Philip that He gave His one and only son." I appreciate the reason why this tactic is used for salvation message purposes, and I completely affirm that Christ died for me. But, the notion that replacing "the world" with "Philip" is simply not the Gospel and it is not the heart of God.

Mary understands all to well as she speaks these prophetic words that even though she is remarkably blessed by God to be a part of the birth of Jesus, this whole thing is bigger than just her. It is bigger than me. It is bigger than you. We can in all confidence say that God, even today, has and will continue to scatter the proud and bring down the rulers. He has and will continue to feed the hungry while the rich go away empty handed. I am thankful this Christmas season to be a small part of what He is ultimately doing. Glory to God in the highest! And on earth peace, goodwill toward all people!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Anti-Climatic Santa Claus Experience

I have spent the last two days both in a hospital and in my bed with a severe stomach flu. Not fun at all. But, I am on the road to recovery.

Today, I felt like getting out for a few minutes, so Andi and I went to Kroger, I wanted to pick up some V-8 Fusion I saw advertised. Apparently, this stuff gives you a full serving of vegetables and fruit in one 8 ounce glass. My partner in crime James Aaron has recently gone on a super health kick, so I figure I better step my game up as well.

Anyway, as we enter in Kroger through the automatic doors, we walk first into the fruits and veggies area. I think this is typical of most Krogers now days, the first thing you enter is the fruit section. We didn't need fruit, so we made an abrupt right turn to walk toward the juice isle, and much to my shock we found ourselves face to face with Santa Claus! He was jolly enough, gave a quick wave and even yelled something to us as we passed by. There were no children in line to see him, and there was no grandeur whatsoever about his presence. He was just a typical costumed Santa Claus who somehow got stuck in a normal chair next to the fruits and veggies at the entrance of Kroger.

I mean, come on. This is Santa Claus we are talking about here. The rest of my shopping experience was tarnished by the complete lack of proper care for the presentation of the one and only Santa Claus. It seems that we need some kind of federal law that limits the number of cheesy, poorly done Santa Claus meet and greet stations. I was embarrassed.

But then again, I have always had a tendency for the dramatic. I have always thought the buildup of a program, event or whatever spectacle might be taking place is equally important to the actually event. This is one reason why Universal Studios and Disneyworld get such high praise in my book. The waiting in line for the rides is sometimes even more fun than the ride itself! And at a minimum, makes the ride much better than it actually is. It's all about detail.

So, here are a few quick Santa Claus presentation rules that I have prepared. If I were going to have a Santa Claus meet and greet, I would make sure these things happen.

1. The Santa Claus MUST NOT be visible from outside the "inner chamber." You can see the entrance to the meet and greet, you can see the beautiful decorations, but you cannot see the real deal until you are inside and making the journey to meet the legend. This just simply increases the excitement to know you are walking closer and are about to meet Santa Claus.

2. There has to be some excitement at the entrance. This includes music, a few elves and maybe a couple of reindeer who are all prancing around with joy that Santa Claus has actually taken the time to travel from the North Pole to visit this little hole in the wall in west KY.

3. Allow the "elves" to play simple games that attract children. Whatever it takes to form a line. A Santa Claus meet and greet without a line of children waiting to get in is ridiculous. In this rare exception, it really is all about the hype.

4. Whatever you do, DO NOT place the legend in open sight view next the fruits and veggies. Good grief.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Cultural Contextualization & Christmas

How well do we know our Bible? Contextualization vs Normativity is a battle that wages on not only in societal and ecclesiological venues, but in the hearts of every believer. Normative truth is the pure truth. The constancy of truth. Regardless of how we misinterpret or simply don't know, the normative truth does not change. I was amazed as I watched a re-run of "House" tonight on Fox. The doctor was leading a classroom discussion with a group of students and was supplying them with three different scenarios for the same symptoms. One of the patients in this imaginary lesson dies, much to the outrage of the students who defend themselves by saying, "we didn't know that was true." House refutes by reminding the young med students that whether they know it or not, the truth always exists. There is not the possibility of "your way is as good as mine." But, contextualization is a horse of a different color. This is where we get to strain to discover the line where what we have grown accustomed to has become normative in our hearts and minds for no other reason than we are accustomed to it. We have a serious responsibility as Christians to know the difference between what is truth and what is culture. The two might not be at odds with each other, but often times they are and we can't afford the luxury of laziness. This is why the pulpit is such a horrific place to find yourself. Are you claiming with authority the Word of God or the word of culture?

Let me illustrate with a couple of simple Christmas fallacies:

1. How may wise men visited Jesus? Three, of course! Actually, we don't know. Read Matthew Chapter 2 again and be amazed.
2. Why did the Shepherds go to Bethlehem to see Jesus? Because the angel of the Lord appeared and told them to go, of course! Actually, the angel never told the shepherds to go to Bethlehem. The angel only announced the birth of Jesus and told the shepherds what they would find in Bethlehem.
3. Where did the wise men find Jesus? In a manger, of course! Actually, the wise men found Jesus in a house. Matthew 2:11 (Jesus is also not referred to as a baby by the time the wise men approach him, but as a "child." Contrast that with the shepherds).

Are these little mistakes major problems for the Christian faith? Probably not. But for a postmodern culture that celebrates ambiguity and demonizes specifics, the last thing Christians need to embrace is an attitude of "close enough."

So how do we avoid the pitfalls of cultural contextualization? Read the Bible. Pray for clarity of mind and understanding. Stand firm on biblical truth and do not waiver, but keep an open mind to what the Bible is teaching, even if it rubs against your life long held beliefs. Do not settle for trite answers, but dig for deeper truth.

On December 24th, I will have the honor of preaching at the first church I ever served, Fosterville Baptist Church (Picture below). I am going to bring a message on the Trinitarian Truth of Christmas Submission on that Christmas Eve. Together, the dear folk at Fosterville Baptist Church and myself are going to think about what the next day, Christmas day, really means. We won't settle for "God became man and came to earth." That is a fine place to start. But the story is deeper than that my friends. Much deeper.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Humbled by response of Judah First fans

There is perhaps nothing more humbling than for someone to tell you that your music has helped them get through some difficult times and draw closer to God. Since JF announced we would be returning to the stage in 2007, the response has been unreal.

Please take a moment to read the heartfelt blog of one our the band's fans.

Click Hear To Read Testimony of JF Fan