Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Goal of Youth Ministry?

Jim Hamilton and his wife attended Clifton Baptist Church when Heather and I joined that congregation. During our time at Clifton, Hamilton completed his Ph.D at Southern and accepted a position at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has since also become the preaching pastor at Baptist Church of the Redeemer in Missouri City, TX.

I noticed on Tim Challies' blog that Hamilton had recently posted a Q&A on Family Integrated Churches, and I found this discussion helpful. Hamilton describes Family Integrated Churches as a spectrum of congregations; from some that focus on "discipling dads to disciple families" and keeping families united in Sunday School and worship, to those that are "intentional about encouraging fathers to lead their families in family worship and disciple their children" and intentionally embrace biblical gender roles. He describes this spectrum a different way in another question:
Whereas a strictly “Family Integrated Church” might be inclined to view the family as God’s program for evangelism, discipleship, and world missions, we at Redeemer believe that the church is God’s program for evangelism, discipleship, and world missions.

I think this is a particularly helpful discussion because it emphasizes the biblical responsibilities parents, and especially fathers, should have in the discipleship of children. Hamilton argues that his church views Sunday School and other educational activities for children as supplemental. Our churches should be dedicated to helping parents disciple children. Here's Hamilton's take on the goal of youth ministry:
I know that when I was in youth ministry it never occurred to me, nor did anyone from whom I was learning “youth ministry” ever suggest to me, that our job was actually to help the parents disciple their own kids. These things are often overlooked by both parents and kids, and some youth ministries get so caught up in building skate parks, having cool lighting and great music, and going on big trips to fun places that “discipleship” gets overlooked, too.

So, what do you think? How should our churches embrace an emphasis on helping parents disciple children?


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Model of Hospitality

Every day I find something remarkable about Abraham! In my quiet time today, I was startled by Abraham's hospitality. Upon further review, I may have misunderstood the Scriptures, but, then again, maybe I just had a clearer vision of the way we should treat others as we happen to cross paths.

Let me give you my first take on Genesis 18:1-8: Abraham was sitting at the door of his tent and some strangers just happened upon his dwelling. Abraham quickly ran to greet them and begged them to let him minister to their traveling bodies. He offered them water to wash their grimy feet, insisted that they sit in the shade, and instructed Sarah to get busy making some cornbread while he fired up the grill for some of the finest fillets he could offer. And this was merely "a morsel of bread." Not only did he prepare a succulent meal for his guests, he also stood close by while they ate. The only honorable reason I can imagine someone standing by watching me eat is that they want to be ready to get me another piece of that delicious cornbread. (I did grow up with two brothers, ya know.)

Ok, ok, I agree with you, I'm probably letting my mind get a little outside the boundaries of proper interpretation. As I looked again at the passage, it seems likely that Abraham believed these men were not your average, ordinary travelers. I don't know, maybe it was the whole appearing out of nowhere thing. Maybe. However, I'm not totally convinced that Abraham knew exactly who he was dealing with at first glance. Joshua didn't have a clue several hundred years later when he was visited by the Commander of the army of the Lord.

So, how should we understand Abraham's response to his guests? Is this a model for Christian hospitality?

Well, the Scriptures are not silent on the matter. There are many examples of hospitality exhibited in the Bible (Lot, Jethro, the Shunammite woman, Nehemiah, Job). As a matter of fact, not only is it expected in the Bible (Hebrews 13:2; Isaiah 58:7; Romans 12:20), it is also a qualification for eldership (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8), and commanded to all believers (Romans 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9).

So, how do you feel when you have someone come up to you on the street and ask you for money? If we were more like Abraham, maybe they would just be saving us from having to beg them to let us help them.

I am praying that God will help us understand how blessed we are already, and that we all should be seeking to minister to our neighbor.

Feeling convicted,


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Birthdays and Grief

Today is my birthday! I turned 34 years old about 7:00 am this morning (sitting in Dr. Allison's class on the Doctrine of Humanity and Sin). Not unusually, I have been thinking about birth. This morning I read about God's promise to Abram in Genesis 17, that he would have a son via Sarai, and that he would be the father of many nations. Thus, God changed his name to Abraham.

This makes me think of someone else named Abraham, the subject of birth, and, tragically, the subject of death. Abraham is the name of John Piper's son, and this post on the Desiring God blog tells the heartbreaking news that Felicity Margaret Piper, Abraham's unborn daughter, has died. Apparently the umbilical cord around her neck was the cause. Her death was discovered one day before her delivery date.

We know that God sustains us during times like these, but grieving must take place. These are the times when we are thankful that we can face life standing on the solid rock of our faith, instead of succumbing to doubt and fear and worry. My heart aches for their family.

Heather and I lost two children due to miscarriage. We did not have to endure the tormenting experience of giving birth to a still-born, but we grieved. Our hearts were torn to pieces knowing that we would never be a part of the lives of these children. Even years later, I am occasionally moved to tears when I think about them.

Yet we trust God. And I know that the Pipers will too. Our father Abraham was famous for his faith, and I pray God will extend a similar faith to Abraham Piper.

Grieving together with the body of Christ,


Friday, September 21, 2007

The Righteousness of Abram

Genesis 15 describes God's covenant with Abram, and as I read this passage this morning, I was struck (again) by this verse:
"Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness" (15:6, HCSB).

Abram didn't understand how God could make a great nation out of a childless family, yet God promised that Abram would have a son, and Abram trusted God.

Do you trust God? Do you choose to believe that what he has spoken is true? Do you live your life in such a way that you affirm the truth of the Bible?

Trust God; believe in his Word; place your faith and trust in the gospel of Jesus Christ and you, to0, will be counted righteous!


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Jim Hamilton's Challenge for Seminary Grads

Jim Hamilton writes, "This is a list of books that I think a person who is theologically educated should have read or be planning to read."

Then he drops the bomb: the Bible, of course, from front to back, including the entire New Testament in Greek and a substantial cross-section of the Old Testament in Hebrew. But wait, there's more! Let's throw in some, no, ALL of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 1 Enoch, and the Apocrypha. Act now and we'll throw in the Apostolic Fathers, Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, and many, many more!

All joking aside, this is a significant and challenging list! Furthermore, Hamilton qualifies this list by saying that he did not succeed in meeting this challenge before he graduated with his Ph.D. He further clarifies his reasons for this difficult reading list in a comment later:
"I think it is healthy and wise to read primary sources. . . . I think that if more evangelical pastors and ministers read more primary sources, we would be less captive to the spirit of the age."

Well, I hope one day that I can claim for myself that I have accomplished this task, but with my Hebrew feeling as rusty as the hinge on my barn door, I'm not holding my breath.



Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I was studying Genesis 14 today in my daily devotion, and I was interested to see all the cities and towns on a map, even if they were rough estimates. I was particularly interested to understand what length Abram traveled to rescue Lot from the Elamites. So, I fired up my browser and typed in "bible maps" in the search bar. Abracadabra, hocus-pocus =>

This is a very cool site that uses Google Maps to plot the locations of biblical points of interest in a passage of Scripture. You select your chapter from the window on the left, and the map lists the locations on the map below. The site is only in beta testing, but it looks really good and I'm looking forward to employing it regularly!

Back to my studies,


Monday, September 17, 2007

Challies' Tips on Reading

Tim Challies gives us 10 Tips to Read More and Read Better. As a seminary student, I particularly appreciate the advice to Read Light Books, since it seems I spend all my time reading "heavy books" that drain me. It is quite refreshing to read a novel that doesn't require the regular mental discipline other books demand.

Looking forward to reading a novel during Christmas break,


Saturday, September 15, 2007

"Humble Orthodoxy" at Pyromaniacs

While reading a discussion over at Pyromaniacs on "Humble Orthodoxy," I happened upon this graphic:

I think this graphic is meant to be ironic, considering the reference on the left (1 Peter 3:15 - "always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect").

I'm not exactly sure how I feel about Frank Turk's post, but I know that I laughed out loud at the picture!

Just wanted to share,


Friday, September 14, 2007

The Election of Paul

In Acts chapter 9 we find this man Saul terrorizing the church; he sought and received authority from the high priest to arrest men and women who were following Christ. Luke is such a good story teller! Saul is on his way to Damascus to apprehend more believers, when he is himself arrested by God Almighty! Jesus appears to Saul in his glory, convicts him of his sin, blinds him, and commands him to go on to Damascus and wait.

Why do you think Jesus confronted Saul? Because Saul was persecuting the Church? Was Jesus simply protecting the saints from this zealous Pharisee?

Actually, we find in verses 15-16 the answer to this question. The Lord explained to Ananias exactly why Saul of Tarsus was arrested (or elected):
"For he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name."

Saul did not pray a prayer to be saved. Saul was saved whether he liked it or not; and we know from his writings that he liked it very much (Philippians 1:23). Ananias laid his hands on Saul, prayed that he might be filled with the Holy Spirit, and he baptized Saul without so much as a profession of faith recorded in Scripture! To quote the great theologian, Nebuchadnezzar:
"I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounting as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, 'What have you done?'" (Daniel 4:34-35)

I find great comfort, and I stand in awe, that God saves or arrests or elects sinners like me despite our best efforts not to be saved. It is true that we must put our faith in God, but we must also realize that God first loved us (1 John 4:19).

I pray that you will be comforted by God's electing purposes!


Monday, September 10, 2007

Ezra on Repentance

After returning to the Promised Land from captivity in Babylon, Ezra lead the people in the restoration of the sacrificial system. Shortly after this, however, Ezra heard some disappointing news; some of the people, including priests and Levites, had taken wives from the pagan cultures that were living in the land. Even worse, many of the men responsible for governing the people were the ones falling to this temptation.

Here is Ezra's response to this disappointment:

"O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. 7 From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt. And for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as it is today. 8 But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery. 9 For we are slaves. Yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to grant us some reviving to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us protection in Judea and Jerusalem.

10 "And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken your commandments, 11which you commanded by your servants the prophets, saying, 'The land that you are entering, to take possession of it, is a land impure with the impurity of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations that have filled it from end to end with their uncleanness. 12 Therefore do not give your daughters to their sons, neither take their daughters for your sons, and never seek their peace or prosperity, that you may be strong and eat the good of the land and leave it for an inheritance to your children forever.' 13 And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, seeing that you, our God, have punished us less than our iniquities deserved and have given us such a remnant as this, 14 shall we break your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations? Would you not be angry with us until you consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape? 15 O LORD, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this."

Not only did Ezra humble himself before the Lord, but he called his people to act upon this repentance! In Ezra 10, the people (except for a select few) all committed to divorce their pagan wives (and even sons) in order that they might be right with God.

Wow... so... in application... what are we ready to divorce ourselves from in order to obey God? What "pagan" influences are standing between us and the Lord? What difficulties are we experiencing in our lives that are a direct result of unresolved sin?

Forgive us, heavenly Father! "We are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you..."

We all thank God for Jesus Christ because he has obeyed perfectly! He has paid for our sins, and now we CAN stand before God, because we no longer have guilt if we trust in Christ!

This is the gospel! This is the good news!


Sunday, September 09, 2007

Ezra on Providence

Ezra, in chapter 8, confesses that he was ashamed to ask Artaxerxes for an escort because he had told the king,

The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him. (Ezra 8:22)

Sound familiar? Romans 8:28 says,
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

So, Ezra fasted and prayed for God to provide them safety on their journey, and God answered their prayers.

May God give us faith to trust him!


Saturday, September 08, 2007

Ezra on Success

Ezra was the Hebrew scribe and priest whom Artaxerxes, king of Persia, sent back to Jerusalem to restore the sacrificial system and teaching of the Law of God. Interestingly, Ezra 7:6 states, "the king granted him [Ezra] all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him." Further, in verses 9-10, we see why Ezra had success in Persia:
For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.

This applies so easily to the seminary students among us; we study--it is required of us to earn our degree. But do we set our hearts to study and do the Law of the Lord? Do we study and do it for a purpose? Do we study and do it so that we may teach faithfully?

Challenged to study and obey,