Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Doctor's Diagnosis: Ditch the Drugs

Wired Magazine published a short article about a Yale lecturer that has made a surprising diagnosis. He suggests that most people on medication for depression and other mood affecting conditions don't really need the medication. He argues that most people need some sort of talk therapy that engages "patients in actively reprogramming their own brains." He criticizes the drug industry and other organizations for claiming that normal aspects of life are disorders. "Nonsense," Barber writes, "anger, greed, laziness, impulsivity, as well as jealousy, lust, anguish, and so on, are simply part of the human predicament. They are not medical conditions."

It is a spark of sanity. Maybe a recognition that these "disorders" aren't really medical might drive people to understand they are spiritual disorders.

And there is only one cure--Jesus Christ.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Learning to Love

"By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." -- John 13:35

This past week, several members of our church had the opportunity to bear fruit. One member of our church lost her mother to suicide, and another refused to go home after church because of an apparently abusive relationship with her spouse.

Heather and I had the opportunity to visit with the grieving family, and we took them some groceries and things. I learned that the little things that get overlooked are sometimes the most important things to have. Like coffee filters and plastic spoons. When you are grieving a lost loved one, NOBODY wants to wash dishes. NOBODY wants to go to the store to pick up a gallon of milk. Things like soft drinks and cereal and paper plates and listening and prayer are the best ways to minister to hurting believers. I'm thankful for the opportunity to love my brother and sister during this hard time, and I am thankful for the other members of our church who participated as well.

On the completely other end of the spectrum, several other members of our church were able to share the gospel and pray with a man who clearly is frustrated and angry with life. The lady who refused to go home found a safe house, and before the afternoon was over the husband had made several phone calls to different members of our church trying to locate his wife. One member graciously handled his angry and profanity-filled conversation, and then called our pastor.

Our pastor called the husband and did a very good job of handling the situation. We owed his family a box of food from Angel Food Ministries, and we made plans to bring it by their home after church. We anticipated dropping off the food and leaving, but he invited us in so he could share his side of the story. Ultimately, I'm sure the truth lies somewhere between the husband's and the wife's different sides of the story. We wanted to make clear, however, that our desire was to minister to his entire family, not separate it. I think he understood that we wanted the best for both him and his wife, and he gave us the opportunity to pray with him.

After church last night, and before we left for our visit with the husband, I asked our pastor if he thought the "ministry fatigue" we were feeling was at all like the way the disciples must have felt in Mark 6:30-44. But in the very same passage, Jesus, despite their fatigue, commanded them, "You give them something to eat." Our ministry is never over.

So, I am praying that God will bring comfort and peace to one family, and spiritual life to the other. And I pray that he continues to teach us to love.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

One of the Scariest Sentences in the Bible

"But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you." -- Exodus 7:3-4

This verse makes me shudder. Pharaoh was hardened to the message of God. Several passages tell us that Pharaoh hardened his own heart and would not allow the people of Israel to leave Egypt. But Pharaoh's thoughts and decisions were not the primary cause of his hardness of heart. Don't get me wrong; Pharaoh's contribution to his hardening was entirely his responsibility. He acted according to precisely what he wanted to do. God did not force Pharaoh, against his will, to reject Moses' request. But God did cause him to do precisely that! And Pharaoh did it willingly.

God rules the minds of men, either allowing them to think and act according to their fallen nature, or changing their hearts and minds to think and act according to a new nature.

"And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules." -- Ezekiel 36:26-27

According to the New Covenant, God causes his people to carefully obey. How? By giving them a new heart. God fixes our wants; we used to want things according to our fallen natures, but God, in a miracle of new birth, gives us new desires. God is the primary cause of my desiring God.

So why is this sentence so scary? Because God could have hardened my heart.


Friday, January 25, 2008

One Year Ago...

Photo by Kara Guffey
. . . I started playing bass for our church. I can't believe it's been a year! In some ways, it seems like I just started; I still play wrong notes far too often, and I still get lost on difficult songs that have a funky rhythm. In some ways, however, it seems like I've been doing this for years; I've started to learn to play around within the scale and improvise a little.

I won't feel accomplished, though, until I can play AND sing at the same time. I'm still working on that. :-)


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Speaking for God

Moses. He wrote the first five books of the Bible. He confronted Pharaoh and led the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt. He spent forty days and nights on the mountain with God. He delivered the Ten Commandments to the people. He made great speeches to the people just before they entered into the Promised Land.

Yet he did not begin his prophetic career so highly exalted. He was a murderer living in exile and herding sheep. This man had been a son of royalty, no doubt trained in all ways like Pharaoh himself would have been trained. Extensively trained in the palace, yet walking through the wilderness with sheep.

Interestingly, Moses was trained by man in the palace to rule a kingdom, but God completed his training in the wilderness with the sheep. God was no doubt preparing him for another time of wilderness shepherding. Moses encountered God in the wilderness at the burning bush, and he received his commission reluctantly. This man who God used so mightily, both in written and spoken word, was so troubled by his speech that he nearly rejected God's call.

Many men who are called to speak the Word of the Lord can sympathize with Moses. "Who am I that I should go?" "Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, . . . but I am slow of speech and of tongue." God's reply? “Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Ex 4:11-12).

This is a lesson for all who are called to speak on behalf of God. Moses spoke what God put in his mouth--the words of God. Preachers, too, are called to speak the Word of God. It is not the preacher's job to be an eloquent speaker as much as it is that he is faithful to the message contained in Scripture. Man cannot change hearts. "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18).

So, for those of us who speak for God, let us be faithful to the message of God's Word. When we do that, God will work miracles in the hearts of those who hear.

"Thank you, Father, for your Word!"


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

New Revelation

In Exodus 3, the angel of the LORD appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and God says to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." He describes himself again as the "God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." It seems quite clear that in the Old Testament, God is "the God of your fathers."

But something changed with the dawn of the kingdom. In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus teaches his followers to address God himself as Father. This is clearly a shift from the relationship the Israelite people shared with "I AM."

"Father, thank you for adopting me to be your son, and paying for my adoption with the sacrifice of my elder brother, my LORD, my God!"


Friday, January 18, 2008

Feliz Navi-Toss


Maybe I will adopt this idea next Christmas.


ht | Dan Phillips

The Original Blank Bible

Recently, the ESV blog and ThinkChristian.net both featured my efforts to build a blank Bible, and I have gotten a lot of hits (relatively speaking). I thought it might be a good idea to explain where this idea originated.

Many of you are quite familiar with Jonathan Edwards, but some of my readers may have never heard of this figure from Church history. Jonathan Edwards was a preacher, missionary, and theologian in the early to mid-18th century, and he was directly involved in the Great Awakening that began in the 1730s.

Around 1730, Edwards apparently made a "blank Bible" by removing the binding of a Bible and adding blank pages between each page of text. He then rebound it and began writing. He wrote over five thousand notes in his Bible, and Yale University Press has recently published his notes in a $200, 1500-page volume. Of course, Amazon has it on sale for $185. The publisher has provided Edwards' notes on Galatians as a sample.

So hopefully now you understand better how and why this note-taking Bible is called a "blank Bible."

I wonder if my dad will end up with 5,000 notes in his blank Bible?


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Judah: A Foreshadow of Christ

Judah and his brothers had broken their father's heart once before. How could he bear his father's suffering at the loss of a second brother? The ruler of the land of Egypt had just accused little Benjamin of stealing his prized silver cup, and in truth, the cup was in his bag. Jacob was already grieving at the thought of losing his son, Benjamin, after Joseph had been attacked and eaten in the wilderness by some wild animal. How could he cope with the loss of the other of his most favorite sons?

Judah wasn't bitter anymore. Not only had they gotten rid of Joseph, but they had broken their father's heart. And now, Judah was much more interested in his father's well-being than he was his own. So, he decided to beg the man to let Benjamin go in exchange for himself. Would he ever see his family again? His sons and daughters, his brothers, or his wife? It didn't matter; his heart was full of love for his father, and he was willing to do whatever it took to return his favorite son to him. Judah had sworn to his father that he would bring Ben back alive!

The account of Judah and his brothers in Genesis 44 is a striking foreshadowing of Christ's willingness to take the punishment of another upon himself for the pleasure of his Father. In this picture of redemption, we see Judah's desire to please his father eclipse his desire for his own well-being. Judah is ready to sacrifice everything for Jacob.

This helps us focus our affections in the right place. Jesus did not ultimately come out of love for us, though he most certainly does (and did) love us. His primary motivation was love for God the Father. He came to earth to seek and save that which was lost because his Father desired to be reconciled to his people. And Jesus was willing to sacrifice his life to please his Father.

Now it's our turn. Are you ready to sacrifice your life to please Christ, the one who redeemed you?

I thank God for Judah, and I thank God even more for the Lion of Judah!


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Science vs. Myth

Photo by Oleg Sayakov
I have been skipping lunch. For a while. Guess what! I have lost about 20 lbs. What's the first thing that comes to your mind? Come on... I've heard it a hundred times, or less.

"That's not healthy!"

I always counter with, "Neither is being overweight!"

So I had to share this study about Medical Myths Even Doctors Believe.

I'm not saying that I shouldn't eat 5 smaller meals a day, but I am saying I question the "science" that gets tossed around all the time. How do we know the things we hear are science or myth?

Apparently, you're wasting a lot of that 64 ounces of water you drink. Literally.


ht | Tim Challies

Monday, January 14, 2008

Why a Famine?

I'm reading the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50. Joseph was not entirely undeserving of the hateful treatment he received from his brothers, but neither was he entirely deserving of it. His brothers were at fault, and so was his father, so openly playing favorites with his children.

Nevertheless, Joseph got tossed in a well, sold into slavery, bought by a big-wig, accused of rape, and "demoted" as a servant of the big-wig in his business (captain of the guard's prison). He desperately wanted out of this hole, but he spent his 30th birthday celebrating 13 years of affliction in the land of Egypt.

But something happened. God used Joseph to interpret dreams, and Joseph interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh himself. And Joseph not only interpreted the dreams, but he also made some suggestions that made Joseph's stock soar as far as Pharaoh was concerned.

A famine was coming, and Pharaoh put Joseph in charge. Joseph would store up grain during the good years for provisions during the bad. And ultimately, God would provide for his chosen people by means of Joseph the dreamer, the arrogant brat, the foolish boy, the hard worker, the faithful follower of God, the interpreter, the second in charge of all of Egypt.


Why did God do this?

God didn't need Joseph to provide for the family of Jacob. God didn't need to send a famine. God could have sent rain those seven years just like he had every other year of Jacob's long life. God could have not sent Joseph to Egypt and provided manna from heaven during the famine. Why did God send Joseph to Egypt? Why did he need a famine?

There are probably several good answers, but the one I'm mulling over seems to be best. God wanted everyone to know about God. Did Joseph know about God? Check. Did Jacob? Check. The brothers? Check. Egypt? Check. The world? Check. Everyone came to Egypt for bread, and you know they had to ask, "Why does Egypt have bread when no one else can grow a grain of wheat?"

I've heard people say that God provided salvation for his people by sending Joseph to Egypt, and that is true, but God was not required to send the famine. The reason God sent the famine, and in so doing saved his people, is for his own name's sake. God works throughout history to bring glory to his name throughout the universe.

Here's a New Testament example: the ultimate purpose of the church.

"To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him." -- Ephesians 3:8-12

God is in the business of glorifying his great name! What an idolater he would become if he did not seek the glory of that which is most glorious!

So, why a famine? For the glory of God.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Retreat and Regroup!

The leadership at State Street Baptist met at Wooded Glen Retreat and Conference Center this weekend in order to focus on strategic planning for 2008. We had a glorious time of worship, teaching, planning, and even some time for goofing off. I took a few pictures and I wanted to share them with you.

Welcome to Wooded Glen

Pastor Roger preparing for the evening...

Scott Lee led us in worship with his guitar.
Steve and Roger admiring God's creation...

Upstairs, Raccoon Run provided us with some recreation.

The food was phenomenal...

... and so was the fellowship!

I pray God will work mightily in his people this year at State Street, that we might increasingly reflect the character of God as it is revealed in his word. A special thanks goes out to Mark Dever for his book, What is a Healthy Church?

May our church honor God with every breath!


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Eating and Drinking (or not) to the Glory of God

I just listened to a sermon by John Piper on Romans 14:1-6 that is directly applicable to the alcohol debate. This passage gives us a charge to welcome the weaker brother, and it instructs us to welcome him because God has welcomed him!

Piper points out that the weaker brother is not a "carnal Christian" but one who is truly seeking to honor God in his behavior! This person is not being reprimanded by Paul like the circumcision crowd in Galatians. Piper rejects the idea that they are legalists, but points out that they regard the eating of meat and drinking of wine as "unclean" or "common," and thus dishonoring to God.

So, why does Paul call them weak?

What’s weak about this abstinence from meat and wine? Why does Paul call it weak? It’s based on faith. It’s God-exalting. It’s expressing gratitude to God, not self-sufficiency. It’s not legalistic. So how is it weak? . . . I hope you are feeling that Paul is pretty impressed with the weak. He’s thankful for them. He is practicing what he is preaching. Welcome the weak (v. 1). Don’t despise the weak (v. 3).

The weak regard meat and wine as unclean because they believe eating meat and drinking wine will not glorify God as much as abstaining will. There is something about meat and wine that makes eating it and drinking it less honoring to God than abstaining.

What’s crucial to know is that Paul surely thought they were wrong in this conviction. The conviction that there is something about meat and wine that makes abstinence more honoring to God than eating and drinking was a mistake. They lacked the knowledge that would undergird and liberate their faith.

What knowledge did they lack? Paul makes the explicit connection between lack of knowledge and weakness in 1 Corinthians 8:6-7. He’s dealing with a situation similar, though not the same, to the one in Rome. He says, “For us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.” So there is the explicit connection between lack of knowledge and weakness.

Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 10:25, “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.’” In other words, the fullness of faith to eat what you will to the glory of God is based on the fullness of knowledge that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” The weak believer lacks this knowledge—and perhaps other knowledge as well—and therefore their faith is limited in its exercise. They are weak in faith.

The strong, on the other hand, have a more full understanding of God and his relation to the world, and are freed by this truth to embrace more of God’s creation in a God-glorifying way.

Piper goes on to warn us against "freedom" that is not honoring to God, and he addresses the question, "How should we treat each other when we have these differences?"

Now, I don't want to just lump together all those who are opposed to the drinking of alcohol in the weaker group, because I know that many reject alcohol because it is a stumbling block for others. But this passage does give us the ultimate rule regarding this subject:

"Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand." -- Romans 14:3-4

If we divide over the drinking of alcohol, we are sinning! We all embrace Ephesians 5:18, " And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit," but we cannot cut off fellowship because of this issue. It is directly addressed in Scripture! How can anyone pass judgment on another if both are seeking God's face and are humbly convinced by Scripture?!?

Forgive us Father, and mend our fellowships!


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Are You an Instrument of Blessing?

"So Joseph found favor in [Potiphar's] sight and attended him, and he made [Joseph] overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had, in house and field. So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate." -- Genesis 39:4-6

Did you catch that? Do you know who Potiphar was?!? He was the captain of the guard for Pharaoh himself. Do you think this man was particularly honorable and deserving of God's blessings? Personally, I imagine that Pharaoh's captain of the guard was probably a ruthless and shrewd character; he got to be the head honcho's head of security because he could get things done efficiently and effectively.

Yet, God blessed him! Why? Because of Joseph. The blessing of the LORD was on all that Potiphar had because of Joseph. I think there are a couple of lessons to learn from this:

First, God had a plan for Joseph to be second in command, and he ordained the means by which
he arrived at that post. God prospered Potiphar in order that Joseph would be favored by him. Even when Potiphar's wife attempted to seduce Joseph, where did Joseph land? Don't you think he would have been executed by the Pharaoh's head of security if Potiphar thought Joseph had really tried anything with his wife? Potiphar was angry, all right. He was so angry that he put Joseph in the prison where he kept the Pharaoh's prisoners--the ones that might or might not be guilty. If he had been really angry with Joseph, he would have executed him immediately. He was really angry with his wife for accusing his trusted servant!

Second, God prospered Joseph because Joseph was faithful to God. And because Joseph was faithful to God, Potiphar benefited. We need to be seeking God's favor in our workplaces in order to prosper our employers. We are commanded, "Whether you drink or eat, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). Do you consider you actions at your workplace as an effort to benefit your employer? Are you considering for whom you ultimately work?

May we be an honor to God and an instrument of blessing for our employers!


P. S. -- Arturo Azurdia pointed out some of these details in a sermon on Genesis 39.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Building A Blank Bible for My Dad

Before Christmas this year, I was talking to my dad about a Bible he was looking for: a wide-margin Authorized Version Scofield Reference Bible with updated wording. I searched for hours, scouring eBay and Amazon and hundreds of websites in between. I found some used copies, and I found some really expensive new ones, but nothing I could settle on. So I decided to make him a Blank Bible like Tony Reinke and Stephen Newell have both documented.

I started this adventure at the SBTS campus LifeWay book store where I picked up an ESV large-print pew Bible. I found it during the ETS sale, so the price was excellent!

Next, time to remove the binding. I feel like a heretic!

Brandon can't believe I cut up God's Word!

After I removed the binding, I set out for the nearest Staples. They used a laser to cut the paper! The cuts were nice and crisp, but the way they clamped down the block of paper caused the pages to be cut unevenly. Some of the pages were cut a bit too close to the words, but thankfully the holes didn't encroach so much on the text that it was unreadable.

Brandon was happy to come to Staples with Daddy and help (i.e., play on his Leapster).

Here's my stack of pages on the right, blank pages above, working stack in the middle, and finished stack on the left:

Whew! I finally finished stuffing the blank pages after a few hours...

Now it's time to decide where to separate the volumes. Since Staples only had 1" spiral binders, I ended up with eight volumes.

After several hours of work, I was very pleased to present this blank Bible to my father for Christmas. Now it's his turn to work on it! I expect it to be full when I get it back in twenty or thirty years! :-)

Thursday, January 03, 2008

What is a Healthy Church?

Mark Dever (and Jonathan Leeman) recently produced a new book introducing the essential and important distinctives of his Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. This book is comparable in size and audience to C. J. Mahaney's The Cross Centered Life and John Piper's The Dangerous Duty of Delight, and I am finding the content to be concise yet significant. I appreciate Dever's efforts to base every argument in Scripture. I hope to write a short review soon.

Pray for my church (and yours) to be a model of a healthy church!


Gearing Up for the New Year

It is amazing how traveling affects my posting! Heather and I visited her family this weekend, and between being lazy and getting sick, I just didn't feel like posting anything. We're back, though, and here is a short post to kick off the new year!

I expect 2008 to be an exciting year! Here's why: 1.) Hopefully I will complete all my language requirements! I only have Greek Syntax and Exegesis remaining, and I'm already starting to work on my vocabulary. 2.) Our church will adopt a revised constitution recognizing elders, Lord willing. 3.) My family will spend more time on a regular basis doing family devotions. 4.) I will continue to work out, lose weight, and become a more responsible steward of my body. 5.) I will finish the M'Cheyne Bible reading plan.

Pray for the Youngs as we seek to honor God in 2008!