Friday, December 30, 2011

"She's going to a ballgame!"

As Mississippi State heads into its BCS bowl appearance today, I'm remembering something from a couple of days ago...

For Christmas someone gave my 3-year-old daughter a sticker book of dolls & their accessories. She asked me to play it with her. So, we sit down on the floor together & she points out the doll or accessory she wants & I peel it off the page for her so she can create the doll she wants on another sheet of paper.

{...brief aside: I completely botched the first doll I tried to peel off. It was tearing in 4 places, so I finally said, "Let's let your mom get that one for you; I'm going to get this one." And having learned how to do it, I peeled this one off perfectly. The 3-year-old: "Daddy, I think Jesus is helping you with that one!"...}

But anyway... I peel off the doll & she applies it to her sheet of paper. Then I peel off the tights that she points out. Then the dress. Then the socks. Then the shoes. Then the hair bow. This little doll is coming together very well, and all color-coordinated too - right down to the underwear she started out in.

Then, there's this other accessory in the same color. It looks like a small triangle with a stick rising up from the middle of it. It's supposed to be a profile view of a purse in the one-dimensional world of sticker dolls.

But she points to it & I dutifully peel it off & hand it to her. She puts it in the doll's hand.

I ask my daughter what that is... & she says... "She's going to a ballgame!"

Meaning... in her mind... it was a COWBELL!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Emory & Emily Ellis!

Psalm 126
Restore Our Fortunes, O LORD
A Song of Ascents.

1 When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
3 The LORD has done great things for us;
we are glad.

4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like streams in the Negeb!
5 Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
6 He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

living in relationships; working in partnerships

A friend of mine -- also a pastor -- just resigned from his position at his church. It was a rough situation with some sad moments in the tale. Pastors often resign too quickly, but sometimes a pastoral resignation is appropriate -- and this seems to be one of those times.

In announcing his resignation, my friend wrote a good, healthy letter to his church family. One paragraph in particular struck me...

"It would be easy to leave our church right now. Things are difficult and it is not easy to persevere through difficulties; it is not attractive to come to a church that is having difficulties. But churches [that] are working through difficulties... are the true churches of Christ... If we do not have problems then we are either not dealing with reality or God has been exceptionally gracious. Problems are normal."

There's a profound truth there that applies not only to churches, but to marriages... to families... to friendships... to working partnerships... to nations... basically to all communities -- no matter how large, no matter how small -- that our God has called together in this fallen, sin-sick world.

It's so easy to leave, to bolt, to run away, to ditch, to flee... it's so difficult to persevere in the midst of the long trial, or the sudden heartbreaking disappointment. Cynicism is easy. Hope is hard. Sullenness & sulkiness come quickly to the weak children of Adam. Love with backbone is sometimes a rare thing, even among the redeemed children of Christ.

Is this now why the writer to the Hebrews steeled his readers with these words in the midst of their difficulties?

"Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,

'Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.'

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls."

All relationships & all working partnerships in this world will eventually face low points. But as my friend wrote above, that's normal. And in God's mysterious providence, it's even ultimately for our good. He is committed to purifying & refining us, regardless of the cost -- to us or to him.

"Remember, you are never more like God than when you are living in relationships with God's people and working in partnerships for the re-creation and redemption of God's world." ~Ray Bakke

Monday, December 26, 2011

George Grant on Children in Worship

I love what Pastor George Grant has to say about children in worship in the paragraphs below. This is pretty much exactly my theology... & philosophy... & even methodology.

After worshipping with us at Parish the first few times, people will often comment on how delightful, among many other things, are the sights and sounds of our "lively family atmosphere" and our wiggling, squirming, and murmuring children. These are the sights and sounds of life. These are the sights and sound of the past meeting the future. And these are the sights and sounds of authentic community and covenantal worship. Indeed, these are what Charles Spurgeon once called, "the sweet sights and sounds of a holy hubbub."

At Parish we want to be very careful never to smother out that "holy hubbub." That necessarily means that we very much want our children in the midst of us during worship. We want them to learn to worship by watching their parents, siblings, friends, and covenant family members worship.

Sometimes that may mean that things will get just a little distracting. Sometimes it may mean that a mom or a dad (or perhaps a grandmom or uncle or sister or next door neighbor) will have to slip out the back and into the foyer for a little "time out". But, this is what life in the Kingdom should look and sound like.

So, we are happy to embrace our children in our services--even as we are sensitive to and considerate of all those around us. We will encourage families to worship together--whenever possible and practical. We want to graciously, invitingly, and purposefully help our covenant children to learn of the beauty, goodness, and truth of the Gospel as they approach the throne of grace with all the rest of us in the Body of Christ.

So, bring on the "wiggling, squirming, and murmuring."

Douglas Wilson on Christopher Hitchens' death

Pastor Douglas Wilson had some interesting reflections on the life & death of Christopher Hitchens, his erstwhile debating partner.

Click here to read them.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!

If you're in Decatur on Christmas Eve at 6:30 pm, I hope you'll join us for DPC's Candlelight Christmas Eve service. After six Christmas readings (read by various members of the church family) & six Christmas songs, I'll briefly tell one of the greatest stories in all of world history illustrating how God's drawing near to us in Jesus brings peace out of conflict.

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased," as the angels heralded to the shepherds. Peace, indeed.

The service will climax in the lighting of the candles & the singing of Silent Night, Holy Night. But we'll sing the first stanza in the original German. Why? Well... come hear the story.

This isn't the story I'm going to tell, but it's pretty amazing too. Enjoy this brief summary of how Silent Night came to be written:

The Christmas Eve of 1818 was at hand. Pastor Joseph Mohr of St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, Austria decided that he needed a carol for the Christmas Eve service. He surmised the little poem he had written two years earlier while serving another church might work. Perhaps this poem could be set to music?

Pastor Mohr hurried off to see his friend, Franz Xaver Gruber, who was a schoolteacher and also served as the church's organist and choir master. In a few short hours Franz came up with the hauntingly beautiful melody that is so loved and revered to this day. At the request of Joseph, who had a special love for guitar, Franz composed the music for guitar accompaniment. Just a few short hours later, Franz stood with his friend the pastor, Joseph, in front of the altar in St. Nicholas church and introduced "Stille Nacht" to the congregation!

Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
round yon virgin mother and child.
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
sleep in heavenly peace,
sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night! Holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight!
Glories stream from heaven afar,
heavenly hosts sing alleluia;
Christ, the Savior, is born!
Christ, the Savior, is born!

Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God, love's pure light
radiant beams from the holy face
with the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

Silent night! Holy night!
Wondrous star, lend thy light;
with the angels let us sing
alleluia to our King;
Christ, the Savior, is born!
Christ, the Savior, is born!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Chuck Colson on N.T. Wright on the "Echoes of a Voice" that are all around us...

Signposts to God

Socrates in the City

by Chuck Colson

In the quest for divine truth, how do we know when we've found it? Are there markers along the way to guide us — a kind of spiritual GPS?

British bishop N. T. Wright says there are such markers; he calls them “Echoes of a Voice.” He says, “I'm talking about voices that I believe virtually all human beings, in virtually all cultures, listen for and know, but are puzzled by.”

Wright shared his views at a New York City gathering called Socrates in the City — arranged by my friend and colleague Eric Metaxas, author of the amazing biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Metaxas put the Socrates in the City meetings together to help sophisticated New Yorkers think about the bigger questions of life. I’ve spoken there twice, and they’re great.

Referring to C. S. Lewis, Bishop Wright says the first “echo of a voice” has to do with an understanding of justice. Even the youngest child is aware of this — which is why, if you spend any time on a playground, you'll hear cries of “That's not fair!”

Adults have this same awareness; we make endless efforts to create justice around the world, but tragically, in a fallen world, we so often fail.

The second “echo” has to do with spirituality. Go into a bookstore, Wright says, and you'll find a “spirituality” section that covers everything from New Age teachings to Buddhism.

These books represent the haunting “sense that there are more dimensions to life that what you can put in a test tube or a bank balance ... So this, too,” he notes, “is like an echo of a voice, a voice that is calling us to a different dimension of human life. We all know — unless we shut our ears to this voice — that we were made for multidimensional human living.”

The third echo has to do with relationships. We sense that we are made for one another, and yet, we constantly mess up these relationships, both on a personal and international level. We all sense that living in chaos, relationally speaking, is not the way things are supposed to be.

The fourth echo is beauty. But Wright says there is “a haunting quality to [beauty], as though it's not just complete in itself.” This phenomenon is, he says, “a signpost to a larger truth that is just around the corner, just out of sight. We can't grip it, can't get our hands on it. It's as though we're hearing the echo of a voice, and we'd love to hear whose that voice is and what story it's telling.”

It's impossible to run an experiment and “prove” the existence of God. But when we are discussing with unbelievers the question of whether God exists, what we can do is bring up those “echoes of a voice,” or signposts. After all, these are universal human experiences, Wright says, “which at least raise a puzzle, ask a question, and force us to confront issues” — issues that point to the existence of a holy God. I’ve devoted several chapters to these human yearnings in my book The Good Life.

In order to reach a larger audience with messages like this, Eric Metaxas has put together some of the best of the Socrates in the City talks in a book titled, appropriately enough, Socrates in the City. It features talks by Peter Kreeft, Sir John Polkinghorne, Alister McGrath, Os Guiness, and others, including mine.

I highly recommend it as a Christmas gift, especially for unsaved friends. You can order it at our bookstore at, and you can also order my book, The Good Life.

It will help you identify the mysterious daily markers of life for what they are: cosmic signposts to the living God.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Greatest Thing You'll Ever Do

After an opening illustration about a confusing jumble of a jigsaw puzzle -- in which you have no edge pieces to provide borders & boundaries... oh, and someone's thrown in similar-looking pieces from a different puzzle that just won't fit this puzzle no matter how hard you try to force them... and by the way you have no picture on the box cover to go by, etc. -- this is what Tim Kimmell says about parenting in the first few pages of his book Grace Based Parenting:

"I have just described the job of raising children. You labor for many years to put the right pieces all together, but when your children grow up, they often don't resemble what you thought you were creating. Even with the disappointments, however, raising children is still the greatest thing you'll ever do. It's greater than any milestone you can hit in your career. It dwarfs any fame you may receive for your ideas or your inventions. You've been handed a piece of history in advance -- a gracious gift you send to a time you will not see -- and you play the biggest role in how that history will ultimately be recorded. That's why, in spite of the challenges, you need to have a plan for parenting that works."

I love this puzzle. May all who attempt this puzzle pray daily for the grace and wisdom, courage and honesty, mercy and truth, humor and hope, freedom and godliness, compassion and conviction, tenderness and strength, repentance and faith, humility and sacrifice to embrace the confusing jumble with sheer joy!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Glory of the Gospel, Part VIII: Implications

This is the last in a series of posts in which we examined what "salvation" looks like in the various religions and/or thought systems of the world.

Click HERE for Part VII, which will give you a quick summary of what we learned from Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam & atheism... & how the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ differs from them all.

There are some massive implications of this kind of study...

  • Only Jesus comes into this world to save us. He enters into this world as both God and man, living the life we should have lived (perfect obedience to the Father) and dying the death we should have died (under God's curse for sin). Thus he alone gets us out of the pit.

  • All the other systems have this in common: YOU are the person responsible for getting yourself out of the pit... YOU are the person responsible for salvation. Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam, atheism -- they are all forms of self-help, self-salvation, self-rescue. With Christianity, the person who does the work of salvation is Not You. It is Jesus. Not you. That's a huge and evident contrast. Who rescues you?

  • In all the other religions, the pressure for "right practice" is upon your shoulders. If you get it all right all the time, you might get out of the pit. If not, you won't. Everything is staked on your thoughts, your beliefs, your actions, your obedience, your record. The pressure on you is enormous. In the gospel, the pressure is all on Jesus, completely on Jesus. You are rescued by his thoughts, his beliefs, his actions, his obedience, and his record.

  • Here's a huge difference... In all there other religions, this is the order of events: You perform (obey, think, do, etc.) and THEN you might get out of the pit. It's always your obedience that is leveraging your acceptance, your salvation. In the gospel it's just the opposite: Jesus performs. He delivers. He gets you out of the pit. THEN you obey. You don't obey in order to be rescued; you obey out of love, because he has rescued you. Your obedience doesn't leverage a thing. It's merely a response of genuine gratitude, because of what Jesus has done.

  • That last point makes a universe of difference in how you live. IF you are thinking right & doing right & obeying right & doing all things right IN ORDER TO HELP YOURSELF... then, for whom are you doing what you're doing? You're doing it for you. To help and to love and to serve you.

  • But with Christianity, you're already rescued. You're already delivered. You've already been brought out of the pit. And now when you "do right" -- give to the poor, sacrificially love someone else, welcome the marginalized, fix the injustice -- you're not doing it for you. You're doing it for God. And for other people. In the gospel you've already been saved. So now you're not giving to you. You're giving to others.

  • Therefore... Christianity is the only religion that can set us free from bondage to self. Only the gospel can break us out of being self-centered and make us God-centered and others-centered. Yes, it's just that radically different.

Remember what that former cynic of Christianity once wrote. This man was once dead-set on destroying the Christian faith. He was even guilty of executing Christians!

But one day he met the Lord Christ. He became a follower of Jesus. And later, in a letter to some friends, he wrote this:

"For while we were still weak (that is -- in the pit with the snake -- according to the terms of our illustration), at the right time Christ died for the ungodly (that is, the snake was not just outside of us, but also INSIDE of us). For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5.6-8)

Let that sink in.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

"Penn Gillette gets a gift of a Bible"

Fascinating comments by the celebrity magician Penn Gillette (who's also an atheist) from a few years ago.

Click here.

Summary: "I’ve always said, you know, that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell, or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that, well it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially akward…How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? If I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there’s a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that."