(originally delivered at the University of Georgia WDA campus ministry)

Let me first admit to all of you — this is not an easy subject for me to write on. God’s love is a many sided thing, and as of late I have been receiving His hard love — discipline, correction, and rebuke. I have built up over the years a number of bad habits, which He is busy stripping me of at the moment, and I’m finding that rather hard to deal with. So, right off the bat, I don’t want you to think that the image of God’s love that I’m painting it all rosy, pie-in-the-sky by-and-by. Yet God’s love is real.

And yet again, I feel I have bit off FAR more than I can chew. I feel like St. Augustine when, it is rumored, he encountered a young boy on the beach that compared Augustine’s attempts to write books about God to the boy’s own attempt to pour the sea, bucket by bucket, into a small hole in the sand. This has led me to acknowledge outright that if I say ANYTHING tonight that speaks to you, it is not I. This is my attempt to pale the entirety of the Pacific into a small hole in the sand.

But seriously, I approached this subject asking myself, “How do I make this material new?” knowing that many of you will have grown up in the church, and may have heard it so many times that, sadly enough, you’ve grown cold to it. But I don’t know that it’s my job to make the truth new, so much as to remind you of it, so apart from a few new angles, that is exactly what I’m going to do.

As the third part in a series on God’s love, I thought I might quickly summarize. First, we talked about how God has shown His love for us in giving the law. He illustrated God’s love using his own fatherhood as an example. We saw that like a good father sets rules in place for my child for his protection and well being, that he might enjoy life within the boundaries that it was meant to be enjoyed, God did the same in his law. Next, we were spoken to about God’s love expressed through the prophets. We saw how again and again God’s people have played the prostitute, leaving our groom to chase after our lusts, and yet we saw how God has been faithful, working continually to call us back unto Himself.

Tonight as I speak to you, I hope along with Paul in Ephesians 3:14; “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” And in light of that, let me add — if you think you’ve got a grip on this “love that surpasses knowledge”, you REALLY haven’t yet even begun to understand. Read the rest of this entry »

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(originally delivered to WDA campus ministry at the University of Georgia)

“Lucky mud?” Is that all we are? Many of you, as college student, have likely encountered the innumerable unbiblical opinions expressed concerning who we are and what we are doing here. Richard Pratt, in his book Designed for Dignity tells the true story of a young woman who had left her husband and two children for another lover. The lover had recently thrown her out of his place, so alone in a hotel room, despairing the events that had led her to where she now was, she shot herself in the head with a .38 caliber pistol. The note she left on the nightstand simply stated, “Don’t cry for me – I’m not even human anymore. Ironically, just two floors down in that very hotel was a New Age convention. The gunshot couldn’t even be heard above the din of the crowd, who were all chanting, “I am God! …I am God! …I am God!

Sometimes we hear such rhetoric from the very same individual, such as when a non-Christian professor pokes fun of traditional religion and proclaims us masters of our own fate, yet at the same time believes that we are no more than the product of chance and law, so called “lucky mud.”

Even as Christians many of us have accepted the subtle lies of the culture around us, rather than the words of the very God who created us. We believe that we are entirely sovereign over our own destiny. We believe that work is merely a chore to be put up with and is only for the sake of sustenance. We believe that sensuality is the end all of everything, and that a marriage relationship that doesn’t bring us happiness is one to be abandoned, for surely our own happiness is God’s highest priority. In some cases, Christians even believe that we can abandon the Biblical story of Adam and Eve altogether, the very story that serves as a corrective of the many things we tempted to believe concerning who we are and what we are here for, and on which Christ’s very work as our redeemer, the second Adam, stands. Read the rest of this entry »

I first preached the following sermon at a WDA Campus Ministry meeting at the University of Georgia in 2002. I have been hoping to edit it into essay form to blog for some time now. My interest was rekindled after reading Fred’s fascinating blog on Sickness yesterday, hoping to balance some of the other writing I’ve been doing on the subject in my lengthy dialogue with the text of SUFFERING & THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD over at my other blog. It is a healthy reminder to myself, and hopefully many others, that all-to-often we ask the wrong questions. I hope this blesses, challenges, and encourages you…

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Let me set the stage. You’re in the backyard of a single-story brick home on a hilly eight acres of spring-green grass. One acre is a garden, freshly planted, and needing rain. Downhill, East of the house is a small creek-bed lined with maple, white oak, and buckeye trees that seem to form a wall protecting a patch of newly planted evergreens nearly hidden behind them. All around edge the yard are log fence-posts, with fields of wheat, tobacco, and corn crops on the other side. This particular day was dark, and it looked as though it may storm. In the backyard among all that beauty stood an 8 year-old boy who was lonely, angry, and alienated, and just wanted a friend. He had been teased a lot at school for being weird, and many of his “friends” only kept him around as a scapegoat. Though his parents were not believers, his mom had taken him to Vacation Bible School at a local church to help teach him “right and wrong.” There he learned enough about God to come to the conclusion that it was God who was to blame for all his pain. That day, as a storm was fast approaching, that young boy held a pocketknife to the sky and screamed, “Come down here because I’m going to kill you. He waited around for a few minutes, in tears, and when he decided God wasn’t going to show he returned inside. That day he lost what little faith he might have had and began to live his life as though God did not exist. Read the rest of this entry »

For the first 2 parts of this series, see the INTRO, and PART 1.

Due to the incredibly huge nature of this next subject, I’m merely going to touch on this briefly, but when discussing the historical reliability of the Gospels, the time-frame in which they were written is an important factor to consider. Liberal ‘scholars’ often date the Gospels’ earliest manuscripts from 70 A.D., as with the Gospel of Mark, to 95 A.D., in the case of John’s Gospel; 40 to 60 years after the events recorded. Many argue that this is a long period of time, and that many facts could be distorted between the events being written about, and the act of writing them down.  But the fact is that at that time Israel was still an “Oral Community” — people were still reciting the entire Torah from memory. Combining that with the fact that many of Jesus’ teachings were formulated to encourage oral transmission by being spoken in essentially poetic form, in spite of what seems to us moderns like anything but up-to-the-minute breaking news, we can still be confident, even apart from any divine intervention, that the main body of the Jesus story would be rightly transmitted orally, even if those dates were valid.

But accepting such dates is even problematic. Methods for dating the Gospels are often spurious a grasping at straws. What one scholar uses to claim an early date another uses to declare an older one. For example, people using Liberal dating methods often date Mark’s Gospel after 70 A.D., primarily because of Mark 13:2; ‘”Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”‘ This is often interpreted to be a veiled reference to the destruction of the Temple and the Jewish-Roman war, and is used as evidence that Mark’s Gospel had been written after that event. It is assumed that any prophecy of an event that actually took place must have been read back into the mouth of Jesus after the even had taken place. Now the assertation that no one could under any circumstances predict the future in and of itself is very problematic. If any one of you were in the same situation as a person like Jesus, living in such a volatile age you could’ve likely seen the destruction of Jerusalem on the horizon. Given the political climate nearly anyone could have “prophesied” such an event rather accurately; it was obvious that something like the Jewish-Roman war was on the horizon — it took no miracle to figure that out. However, Mark 13:2, rightly understood cannot be a reference to the Jewish-Roman war because only the Temple was destroyed, not the entire city, as is implied by the verse. And even then, if that was intended to be a reference to the Temple’s destruction, that was what many Jews desired, so they could rebuild a VALID temple, because many viewed the current temple as less than perfect because it was built by a Roman and not a Jew. So, if this verse referred to a Temple destruction, it was more a THREAT than prophecy!

Another passage that is used to place a late date on the Gospels, yet again a Temple reference, is John 2:19-21; “Jesus answered them,”Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days. Jews replied, It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are to raise it in three days? But the temple he had spoken of was his body.” Here, it seems, this reference to the Temple again had little to do with the Temple on the Mount of Olives, but rather was a reference to Christ’s own body and his future death and resurrection. Since none of these are references to the Temple destruction that occurred around A.D. 70, then using these references to date the Gospels post-70 is unjustifiable.

That is just to say this: the gospels were written in a community that was trained to pass along large bodies of tradition orally, the message of Jesus fit into the larger story of Israel in a way that made sense and would be easy to pass along, the individual sayings of Jesus were originally given in a fashion that encouraged memorization within that culture, and the dates between the events of Jesus life and their being written down were not nearly as long as many doubters would like us to believe.  That adds up to yet another very good reason to believe what was written about Jesus in the Bible.

Many blessings, and stay tuned for part 3!

What makes you feel valued – of worth? Gifts? A phone call? Has anyone ever sung a song for you (Happy Birthday, per chance)? Better yet, has anyone ever WRITTEN a song for you? Music is powerful – SINGING IS POWERFUL. I’m serious: guys, if you know you are ugly, and you want to get married one day, buy an instrument NOW! But, music – and singing – is not enough. What if someone wrote you a song, but then hit on your best friend? Wouldn’t be quite as cool, would it? In fact, you’d probably despise that song, and turn the radio station any time it came on. There is more to feeling loved – to being praised- than simply being sung about, or to. This is an important point: WORSHIP IS NOT – at least not in any ‘ultimate’ sense – ABOUT SINGING, and, in the most important sense of the term, I am not your “worship leader”.

Sure, I may lead people in song, and on my best days (or, hopefully, MOST days) I encourage then to sing to God, but that’s not necessarily ‘worship’, and at best that makes me a ‘lead worshiper’ or a ‘song-leader’, not a worship leader. My ‘official title’ here at the church, at least the one on my job description, says “Associate Music Director”, which is very appropriate, I think, and Biblical.

I know what some people THINK we worship leaders are trying to do. I’ve heard it. Haven’t you ever heard someone who was really into a corporate worship service say of the so-called ‘worship leader’; “he really led me into the presence of God”? Or were you the one who said it? Now, I think I understand their heart, and what they’re TRYING to convey, but they were absolutely wrong because NO worship leader today can do that! I can’t do that – I was never MEANT to do that! But, someone else was, and DID! Read the rest of this entry »

Having been raised an Atheist, I understand the power of unbelief – it can act as a religion unto itself, and can be as much a world-view shaping belief system as the most controlling cult. Now, as a Christian, and a worship leader, I have recently recognized one of the hindrances to passionate, full-personed (heart, mind, soul, & strength) worship: unbelief. All too often our personal faith is based merely on experience, and though our personal experiences can supplement a deep, intellectual wrestling with facts to find the truth, even the Bible is FULL of individuals who had radical experiences of God, who later – sometimes quickly – turned from that very God whom they experienced. To truly worship God, we must KNOW HIM (experience) with our Heart, KNOW ABOUT HIM (apologetics/theology/doctrine) with our Minds, HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM ON A SPIRITUAL LEVEL (it is not enough just to have a spiritual experience once, and to like the IDEA of God – we must have a soul-level on-going spiritual relationship with Him), and actively WALK WITH HIM (walking out what we know is true). We must love the One we know about in an on-going relationship that results in living differently – that is loving God with your heart, mind, soul, and strength. And we can only do this if our mind is on board, which is why there are such a thing as ‘apologetics’.

I once told a former house-mate of mine that I was speaking at an apologetics conference – he said that he was very sorry. Maybe that’s you – but seriously, since I’m going to start this on-going series on apologetics I feel it only right that I should AT LEAST touch upon what apologetics are and why we should even bother, before attempting to DO apologetics. William Lane Craig, author of Reasonable Faith, defines apologetics as “that branch of Christian theology which seeks to provide a rational justification of the truth claims of the Christian faith.” So, for the uninitiated among us, “apologetics” is basically a “Case for Christ” – giving a “Reason for God”. Apologetics makes us ask the question, “How can I rationally defend my faith?” Though there are many passages we could look at concerning this, I’d like to glance quickly at just a few verses that I believe should encourage every one of us to recognize the importance of a having a good, personal apologetic, not primarily for the sake of sharing your faith, but MAINLY in order to make you a better worshiper.

2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Notice that at first this verse seems to encourage argument, which seems to be in conflict with much of the wisdom of the Old Testament Proverbs – after a closer look I believe the second half of this verse clarifies it’s intended meaning – the arguments and pretensions that we are to demolish are ‘thoughts’ – ideas that take root in our minds, planted there by life in this fallen world. This verse encourages us to develop our critical thinking skills, so we can grapple with the ideas we encounter, and sift them like wheat – literally demolishing anything that acts to hinder our faith. This is truly what it means to “love the Lord with all of your mind” – giving all your thoughts to Him, and seeing which stand true — studying that we might know the truth, and seeking to think more “Christian-ly” about the world in which we live.

Secondly, let’s look at a handful of passages from Luke’s sequel; the book of Acts 17:2, 17, 18:4, 19 say as follows; “Paul…reasoned with them from the Scriptures”, “…he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day…”, “Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks”, and lastly, “He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.” In every one of these verses, Paul is recorded as not giving just a simplistic Gospel message followed by an alter-call. Instead Paul put great time and effort into REASONING with non-believers. In Athens, in fact, he even uses a local “alter to an unknown god” to make a case for the truth of the Christian God. Another significant thing to note, however, is the centrality of the Bible to good apologetics; Paul didn’t just use fancy philosophy to convince people of the truth of Christ, but “he reasoned from the Scriptures.” It is important to remember that, even in apologetics, the Scriptures are central to what we do – if it is indeed true that “the word does not return void”, then we’d be foolish to begin elsewhere. Often, one of the things that leads us to doubt is that we are not in the Scriptures regularly, and when we are there, we do it merely as a chore – not expecting to meet God within its pages.

If God requires of us as believers to love Him with all of our “heart, mind, soul, and strength”, we should recognize the true Gospel appeals to the whole person AS A PERSON – not as merely a ‘sales pitch’, which is what has too often occurred. Though the Scriptures require of us to “always be prepared to give an answer” (1 Peter 3:15)our intent is not to merely win arguments – even with our own doubts – it is to lead ourselves and others to further see the greatness (and TRUTH) of God, so we can better worship Him, and be better ‘worship leaders’ (in the broadest sense of the word) to a world that grows continually more skeptical by the minute.

Thinking back to not only my own walk, but looking around at the spiritual walks of so many others, I think of the fire that so many of us had when we first met Jesus, which grows dim as personal tragedy and heartbreak hit, and we let ourselves grow skeptical. How can I expect to be used of God to set a room of worshipers aflame with passion for Him, if I, myself, am not on fire for Him? For that reason – both for my own soul, for other worship leaders with whom I have contact, and for the sake of those I am blessed to lead, I am going to begin a weekly blog entitled “Unbelief: roadblock to true worship”, which I hope to publish every Tuesday. I hope that in the process of your mind growing more convinced, that our hearts with grow more passionate, our spiritual lives will flourish, and that the reality of Christ will be undeniable in our lives – which IS worship lived out.

I hope you will go on this journey with me.

So be it.

Wow.

March 3, 2008

Wow.

Read the rest of this entry »

Friday Blog Love

February 22, 2008

Happy Friday! Just thought I’d spread some blog-love around before the weekend.

My friend (and one of my ‘bosses’, though that sounds so harsh & authoritarian), Fred McKinnon, has posted a pic of our new auditorium. It doesn’t represent the full room, but you can get a feel for it. I’m EXCITED!

I just discovered a very cool older post over at Fundamentally Reformed called THE RISE OF THE MODERN HYMN MOVEMENT, as well as a newer follow up post; MODERN HYMN WRITERS. Mandy, you should enjoy this. Being in a songwriting kick, myself, I found it fascinating.

One of my few living heroes, Tim Keller, has finished his new book THE REASON FOR GOD. Along with N.T. Wright‘s SIMPLY CHRISTIAN, this may be one of the best apologetics for the Biblical faith for post-moderns written to date. Good stuff.

Rich Kirkpatrick recently posted a very though provoking blog in his ‘Worship Mythbusters’ series entitled WORSHIP IS NOT ENTERTAINMENT.

I’ll be taking a much-needed blogging break until March 3rd.  Until we meet again!

Amen…and OUT.

Confession: this will be no surprise to most of you, but I – though a card-holding Bible-believing Evangelical Christian – have a few contentions with the American church at large, at least as the Christian faith is often imagined/understood/expressed here (I can’t speak as clearly to European Christianity as I not only don’t find myself in that scene, but haven’t even yet visited – it is possible that my contention may be even more universal in nature, I suppose). That’s not to say that I necessarily believe that Christians who disagree with me are ‘lost’ – only that, at this point, I think they’re mistaken. Read the rest of this entry »