I Was Blind, But Now I See

A few weeks ago my church did something it hasn’t done in many years. We sang the hymn Amazing Grace. Most Americans know the first verse by heart: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” When you sing those words, can they bring tears to your eyes? Does Amazing Grace stir up precious memories of a time or two when God touched you with his amazing grace in a personal way—that was just what you needed to make you whole? Now I’m going to scratch your record. Have you ever shared a story of Jesus’ amazing grace in your life to a person who responded with more skepticism than joy? Ouch! Many of us have learned to share our amazing grace stories in friendly circles, but otherwise keep them to ourselves. Why?

If a miserable person experiences a radical change of life and it’s attributed to an encounter with Jesus, then asking questions will cause trouble. What is it about Jesus and his ways that bring out the best or worst in people? How should you investigate such testimonials so you won’t blindly believe every story you hear, but you also won’t blindly prejudge and miss the work of God? In the Gospel of John, chapter 9, there is a story of Jesus healing a man born blind.  It’s a wonderful and familiar story that happens to answer such questions. When Jesus, the light of the world, shines the works of God into the darkness of our broken lives, some people will try honestly to make sense of what really happened, but others who are self-assured, prejudiced, and hostile will become blind to God’s revealing works done by Jesus. Which one are you? Continue reading

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Gender (Book Review)

For many years now I’ve been paying close attention to the onward push of gay rights in American culture.  It was sometime in the late 1990s or early 2000s when something clicked for me.  Maybe it was something I heard from Christian apologist James White—who I was listening to and reading a lot back then.  Anyway, the light bulb went on in my head that the sexual revolution that developed into a visible counter-culture in the 1960s is going to have a tipping point and a terminus.  Put another way: traditional, Judeo-Christian sexual morality is aggressively challenged by the modern and post-modern views of family, sex, and gender.  These new views are not really historically novel.  Rather Western culture is reverting to the pagan norm that ruled Gentile nations and cultures prior to the ascendancy of the gospel.  Think of the bacchanalia of hedonistic, pagan Rome.

American has been a very Christianized nation up until the recent past.  One benefit of this is, from the vantage point of the USA, if you’re paying attention to cultural shifts in the global West, you can ascertain what changes, controversies, and battles will soon arrive on our shores.  Countries further along the post-Christian path, such as Great Britain, Canada, western Europe, and perhaps Australia serve as harbingers to coming cultural shifts.  They are bellwethers because of the effects globalized media have on the masses and elites.

Apart from widespread, God-sent repentance, the coming neo-pagan sexual moral majority will inevitably reach a tipping point and finally a terminus.  The tipping point is the point in which the revolutionaries realize they have enough sway in the culture to “go for the goal” and run roughshod over their traditional religious opponents.  The terminus is the point when the revolutionaries declare victory, when all there is left to accomplish is mopping up the defeated dissidents.

Listen up, my friends.  We have reached the tipping point.  How do I know for certain?  Here’s my evidence.  When Christian parents feel the need to prepare their children for the onslaught of revisionist theories of sex and gender, then we have ceased trying to win the battle and are now playing defense.  Exhibit A: Christian apologists Brian Seagraves and Hunter Leavine have written a timely little book to equip beleaguered parents and pastors for the radical gender ideologues coming for our kids.  Gender: A Conversation Guide for Parents and Pastors (GCGPP), is a cradle-to-launch (zero-to-teen) resource to educate families and churches in what used to be taken for granted until, like 2014!  Try this thought experiment: who of you would have imagined just 5 years ago that conversations about transgenderism, pan sexuality, androgyny, and other disorders would be necessary subjects in the discipling of our children?  Who would imagine it’s unnecessary or optional now?  We’ve come a long way, baby. Continue reading

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The Preacher’s Catechism (Book Review)

Years ago, when I was preparing for pastoral ordination exams, the Westminster Shorter Catechism held my attention.  Over the course of about a year, if I recall correctly, reviewing those well-worn flash cards was my walking routine almost every day.  That was a memorization exercise for which I am very thankful having done it.  It prepared me well (in addition to all the other stuff I had to learn in books, lectures, and life) for pastoral ministry.

And yet it would have been nice if someone had put a resource in my hands explicitly written for aspiring preachers.  Something like Charles Spurgeon‘s Lectures to My Students, but more up-to-date, concise, and usable.  You see, pastoring and preaching are related disciplines.  But they are not the same thing.  Pastoring is the art of shepherding one-on-one, or in small groups of people, such as families and friends.  Preaching is the art of shepherding through speech to the whole congregation by explaining, illustrating, and applying God’s Word to the watching and listening flock.  At least that is what lies on the surface.  It’s what most people think preaching is all about.  But there is so much more going on below the surface—at the private and heart level of the preacher that almost no one else is aware of.

This below-the-surface dynamic that is ever-present for the preacher is the topic of a new book and catechism.  Lewis Allen, pastor of Hope Church Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, England, has penned a modern-day catechism specifically designed to feed the preacher’s soul.  His book, The Preacher’s Catechism (TPC), includes the entire text of the catechism (a question/answer format for teaching truths in memorizable form) with an accompanying devotional for each Q&A.  If I were to summarize what this resource could be for preachers—whether weary, fresh, or somewhere in between on the spectrum of energy—I would have to call it “soul food.” Continue reading

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Where is Jesus?

Where's the Incarnate Christ Child

Incarnation? Click to enlarge photo.

File this one under Pet Peeves, exhibit #495.  In the Presbyterian tradition, there is a historical doctrine that says “images of Christ” (whether pictorial or mental) are forbidden because they always transgress the second commandment.  Read how the Westminster Larger Catechism explains.

WLC 109 What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?

The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counselling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; tolerating a false religion; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever;(*) all worshipping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretence whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.

(*) The Scriptural references used to support this position are:

Deuteronomy 4:15-19  Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, 16 beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, 17 the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, 18 the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. 19 And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.

Acts 17:29  Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.

Romans 1:21-25  For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

Here’s my problem.  It all sounds perfectly reasonable until you try to put it into practice. Continue reading

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God and the Transgender Debate (Book Review)

This one matters.  A lot.

When it comes to discussing explosively controversial topics, people with settled convictions sometimes have a hard time separating the issue from the person.  It is vitally important to make this distinction.  Because it’s one thing to get in a friendly argument with an activist.  But it’s an entirely different thing when you have to deal with an issue when the face of it is a person you really care about.

I tend to be a person with strong opinions, but I work hard to not base my positions on mere feelings.  So reading, studying, and dialoguing with others of various persuasions is my modus operandi.  As a Christian, I am committed to all this thinking with my knee bowed at the throne of Jesus—the cross.  For some, allegiance to Christ and the Bible doom me hopelessly to an outdated worldview.  At least that’s what many believe.  But for the believer who has seen how God’s Spirit and his Word, time and again, prove timeless in their presentation, illustration, and application of truth with a capital “T”, approaching every question as a servant of Christ is the way of faith, hope, love, and freedom.

Just in the last few years the LGBT movement has been pushing the T into the forefront of our culture.  The Transgender Debate is no longer theoretical or on the backburner.  It has arrived, arrested our attention, and in some cases, taken quite a few people captive to its attractive ideology and lifestyle.  I say “captive” because transgenderism is a deeply problematic, contradictory, and religious movement.  The “T” in LGBT is turning out to be the battering ram to the fortress of traditional natural sexuality.  If LGB laid siege around the city, T is doing its very best to break the doors down to overthrow those who respectfully refuse to join their ranks as participants or allies.

That’s why this one matters. Continue reading

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Rosaria Champagne Butterfield: Testimony of Faith

For those of you who wonder if people, even entrenched leaders, come out of the LGBT community and identity, there is a person I’d like you to meet.  Her name is Rosaria Champagne Butterfield.  Before becoming the author, speaker, and Christian apologist as many know her today, she was a professor in the English Department and Women’s Studies program at Syracuse University.  Butterfield was happy in her lesbian identity and relationship, was loved and revered in her community of friends, and was on the upswing in her career as an intelligent and able scholar.  But all that changed when a kind local pastor wrote her a letter that she couldn’t label as either affirming or hate-filled.  Pastor Ken Smith intrigued her, so she decided to meet him as a research source for her new writing project on exposing the religious right.  Never did she imagine meeting Jesus.  What followed was, by her apt description, a “train wreck” of a conversion.  Hers is a riveting death-to-life journey of redemption.  A dramatic account of what God does when he causes a sinner to be “born again.” Continue reading

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Theistic Evolution (Book Review)

Big fat books used to scare me.  You know the kind.  Over a thousand pages.  Builds your biceps just lifting it.  Serves as a decent doorstop.  Looks good on the shelf, and makes you look good until an admirer asks, “Ooo, I loved that book.  Have you read it too?”

Big far books don’t scare me anymore.  They just elicit a sigh when I decide to read the whole thing.  Must be the feeling an athlete gets when starting a marathon.  A little adrenaline, a few stomach butterflies, and the knowledge there’s a looog way to go.

One of the reasons big fat books don’t scare me is they tend to be just a tad more difficult to comprehend than their briefer cousins.  Most big fat books prove themselves to be one the same difficulty level, just longer.  A marathon would be a totally different race than a typical 10k in the city if it were also up a mountainside.  In other words, most big fat books are just longer races on the level.

But not this one.  Weighing in at 1,007 pages, Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique (TE) is more than a longer flat run.  Although not quite a climb straight up the cliff, it definitely feels like jogging in the foothills.  Some chapters allow the reader to catch his breath, but others ratchet up the workout to a 20% uphill grade.  At least that’s how it felt to me!

Despite the marathon reading commitment, TE is absolutely worth it.  Written for an informed amateur (whether self-taught or formally educated) with interest in three academic disciplines: Continue reading

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