Friday, May 29, 2009

Suffering: Is God Responsible?

THis is written by Gerald Hiestand on the subject Is God Responsible for Suffering in our lives and the world. This is a small part of part 3 of his discussion.

When faced with suffering, there is something inherent within the human psyche that causes us to look searchingly toward heaven. We know intuitively that our particular point of pain has not visited us independent of God’s divine rule. I recall watching a news clip in the aftermath of 9/11. Amidst the backdrop of the smoking buildings, a woman with tear-stained faced and choking voice asks, “Why God, why?” It’s a valid question, and one that’s not easily answered. And it illustrates well the reality that we all intuitively look to God as the ultimate source of all things—even suffering.

And it is at this particular point that I find indeterminism wanting. As a theodicy, indeterminism generally attempts to lessen the tension between God’s goodness and human suffering by appealing to moral freedom. It is through the wrong choices of free moral agents, we are told, that suffering has been introduced into the world. Well and good—even determinists would agree so far. But then indeterminists often (not always) make a logic-leap and conclude that when faced with suffering, we should look not to God, but rather man, Satan, and the random effects of a fallen world as the ultimate source. The subtle and (often not so-subtle) implication of indeterminism is that God has no causal relation to our suffering. Now I affirm human freedom. And I affirm that much of the suffering we experience is the direct result of creation’s choice to live independently of God. But one cannot simply sprinkle the pixie dust “free will” over all suffering and magically resolve the tension between God’s goodness and human suffering.

At the end of the day, there’s no way around it. God, by very nature of his being, is the ultimate “buck stops here” person in the universe. Nothing can happen apart from his divine sovereignty. He could have prevented the planes from crashing into the towers. But he chose not to. From massive natural disasters, to the death of the smallest creatures, God’s eye beholds all; his hand oversees all. And nothing happens apart from his divine counsel. Not even open theism, with it denial of God’s exhaustive foreknowledge, gets God off the hook. Even the open theist has to admit that God knew the intentions of the terrorists—if not from the dawn of time—then at least on the morning of 9/11. And still he chose not to intervene. The fact remains that creaturely freedom, however immediately the cause of suffering, does not operate outside the exhaustive scope of God’s sovereignty. The story of Job is a classic example.

As you will recall, God had placed a hedge of protection around Job. Satan asks for the hedge to be lifted and God agrees. Disaster after disaster befalls Job. Who is to blame for all of this? Well clearly the Sabean and Chaldean marauders bear their own responsibility. And clearly they were incited by Satan. But just as clearly, none of this calamity would have befallen Job apart from God’s ordained will. Certainly God wasn’t surprised at what happened to Job. He knew full well Satan’s intentions. And lying in the ashes of his estate Job correctly acknowledges that God is the ultimate source of both his blessing and his bane. “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.” In fact, all the principle characters in the story acknowledge God as the ultimate source of Job’s suffering—his wife, his friends, the narrator, and most importantly, God himself. The driving question of the book is woven throughout the entire narrative, “Why would God bring such calamity upon a righteous man?” The indeterminist answer, with its strong appeal to moral freedom, would have us believe that God really wasn’t to blame. After all, it was the free moral choices of humans and demons that brought about Job’s suffering. But this is obviously short-sighted. How easily God could have cleared up all the angst with a simple, “Whoa there, everyone. You’ve got me all wrong. I’m not really to blame for any of this. This is just what happens in a world where free moral agents make sinful choices. Don’t look at me.” That might be a great response for a deist God, but that doesn’t work for the God of the Bible. God’s response, in contrast to the basic thrust of indeterminism, is, “I’m God and I have the right to do whatever I choose. Who are you to question me?”

So the main problem I have with indeterminism is that it’s resolution to the question of suffering really only moves the problem further down the street. Both classical indeterminism and open theism fail to reckon with a God who purposefully chooses to ordain suffering. We can debate about “allow” or “cause” (God does both—I prefer “ordained”) but at the end of the day, no point of suffering visits our life apart from God’s divine will. Even classical indeterminists must acknowledge this when pressed (and not even open theists can deny it, though they try).

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Calvin on spiritual growth

We should not insist on absolute perfection of the gospel in our fellow Christians, however much we may strive for it ourselves.

It would be unfair to demand evangelical perfection before we acknowledge anyone as a Christian. There would be no church if we set a standard of absolute perfection, for the best of us are still far from the ideal, and we would have to reject many who have made only small progress.

… No one in this earthly prison of the body has sufficient strength of his own to press forward with a sure degree of watchfulness, and the great majority [of Christians] are kept down with such great weakness that they stagger and halt, and even creep on the ground, and so make very slight advances.

But let everyone proceed according to his given ability and continue the journey he has begun. …Let us not cease to do the utmost, that we may incessantly go forward in the way of the Lord; and let us not despair because of the smallness of our accomplishment.

Blue Heaven

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

No Greater Love

This morning I came across the name Jason Dunham and spent a few minutes reading about his life and death. In 2004, Dunham was a twenty-two year-old Corporal in the United States Marine Corps, serving in Iraq. He became the first Marine since 1970 to earn the Medal of Honor—the nation’s highest award for battlefield heroism—for actions in combat.
On April 14, 2004, he was manning a checkpoint near Karabilah when an Iraqi man whose car they were searching, suddenly grabbed his throat. As Dunham wrestled the man to the ground, the Iraqi dropped a grenade with the pin removed. Aware of the imminent danger and without hesitation, Corporal Dunham covered the grenade with his helmet and body, bearing the brunt of the explosion and shielding his Marines from the blast. He saved the lives of several of his fellow soldiers. Dunham died of his wounds just a few days later without ever regaining consciousness.
The official Marine Corps citation says, “By his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty, Corporal Dunham gallantly gave his life for his country, thereby reflecting great credit upon himself and upholding the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”
Such gallantry is amazing, inspiring. It should awe us that a man would so selfishly give all he had for his friends.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Swindoll on Attitude

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.

Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home.

The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.

And so it is with you… we are in charge of our attitudes.”

-Chuck Swindoll

Sunday, May 24, 2009

He never said it!

(from Christianity today)

I've heard the quote once too often. It's time to set the record straight—about the quote, and about the gospel.
Francis of Assisi is said to have said, "Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words."
This saying is carted out whenever someone wants to suggest that Christians talk about the gospel too much, and live the gospel too little. Fair enough—that can be a problem. Much of the rhetorical power of the quotation comes from the assumption that Francis not only said it but lived it.
The problem is that he did not say it. Nor did he live it. And those two contra-facts tell us something about the spirit of our age.
* * *

Let's commit a little history (let me un-humbly draw on some chapters from my biography of St. Francis).
First, no biography written within the first 200 years of his death contains the saying. It's not likely that a pithy quote like this would have been missed by his earliest disciples.
Second, in his day, Francis was known as much for his preaching as for his lifestyle.
He began preaching early in his ministry, first in the Assisi church of Saint George, in which he had gone to school as a child, and later in the cathedral of Saint Rufinus. He usually preached on Sundays, spending Saturday evenings devoted to prayer and meditation reflecting on what he would say to the people the next day.
He soon took up itinerant ministry, sometimes preaching in up to five villages a day, often outdoors. In the country, Francis often spoke from a bale of straw or a granary doorway. In town, he would climb on a box or up steps in a public building. He preached to serfs and their families as well as to the landholders, to merchants, women, clerks, and priests—any who gathered to hear the strange but fiery little preacher from Assisi.
He apparently was a bit of a showman. He imitated the troubadours, employing poetry and word pictures to drive the message home. When he described the Nativity, listeners felt as if Mary was giving birth before their eyes; in rehearsing the crucifixion, the crowd (as did Francis) would shed tears.
Contrary to his current meek and mild image, Francis's preaching was known for both his kindness and severity. One moment, he was friendly and cheerful—prancing about as if he were playing a fiddle on a stick, or breaking out in song in praise to God and his creation. Another moment, he would turn fierce: "He denounced evil whenever he found it," wrote one early biographer, "and made no effort to palliate it; from him a life of sin met with outspoken rebuke, not support. He spoke with equal candor to great and small."
Another early biography talked about how his preaching was received: "His words were neither hollow nor ridiculous, but filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, penetrating the marrow of the heart, so that listeners were turned to great amazement."
As a result, he quickly gained followers, and it wasn't long before he told his most devoted adherents to preach as well. In the fall of 1208, he sent the brothers out two by two to distant reaches. What did he tell them to say? In an early guide written during this period, Francis instructed his brothers to tell their listeners to "do penance, performing worthy fruits of penance, because we shall soon die … . Blessed are those who die in penance for they shall be in the kingdom of heaven. Woe to those who do not die in penance, for they shall be children of the devil whose works they do and they shall go into everlasting fire."
This last quote raises questions about the content of Francis' preaching. He was clearly a product of his age and his church. It's hard to tell sometimes if "penance" for Francis meant something more akin to biblical repentance, or to the medieval version of "works righteousness" that the Reformers eventually and rightly condemned.
The point is this: Francis was a preacher. And the type of preacher who would alarm us today. "Hell, fire, brimstone" would not be an inaccurate description of his style.
* * *

Why is it, then, that we "remember" Francis as a wimp of a man who petted bunnies and never said a cross word, let alone much about the Cross?
I suspect we sentimentalize Francis—like we do many saints of ages past—because we live in a sentimental age. We want it to be true that we can be nice and sweet and all will be well. We hope against hope that we won't have take the trouble to figure out how exactly to talk about the gospel—our unbelieving friends will "catch" the gospel once our lifestyle is infected with it.
"Preach the gospel; use words if necessary" goes hand in hand with a postmodern assumption that words are finally empty of meaning. It subtly denigrates the high value that the prophets and Jesus and Paul put on preaching. Of course we want our actions to match our words as much as possible. But the gospel is a message, news about an event and a person upon which the history of the planet turns. As blogger Justin Taylor recently put it, the Good News can no more be communicated by deeds than can the nightly news.
Many have noted how Francis modeled his life on Jesus. But it wasn't just about the life of poverty, but also the life of preaching. We have no instance of Jesus performing a miracle and not speaking a word of comfort or challenge afterwards.
Paul articulated succinctly what Francis and Jesus felt in their souls: "How are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?" (Rom. 10:14).
To be sure, words used cheaply, thoughtlessly are worse than no words at all. As Westmont College professor Marilyn McEntyre says in an essay in the upcoming August issue of Christianity Today, "In an environment permeated with large-scale, well-funded deceptions, the business of telling the truth, and caring for the words we need for that purpose, is more challenging than ever before."
That being said, a better saying (which you can attribute to anyone you like) is this: Preach the gospel—use actions when necessary; use words always.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Does God Exist?

What Hinders Community?

(from:John Piper blog)

Here is the final question from our interview with Paul Tripp.

What is the greatest hindrance to cultivating community in the American church?

The first thing that comes to mind is frenetic western-culture busyness.

I read a book on stress a few years back, and the author made a side comment that I thought was so insightful. He said that the highest value of materialistic western culture is not possessing. It's actually acquiring.

If you're a go-getter you never stop. And so the guy who is lavishly successful doesn't quit, because there are greater levels of success. "My house could be bigger, I could drive better cars, I could have more power, I could have more money."

And so we've bought an unbiblical definition of the good life of success. Our kids have to be skilled at three sports and play four musical instruments, and our house has to be lavish by whatever standard. And all of that stuff is eating time, eating energy, eating money. And it doesn't promote community.

I think often that even the programs of a local church are too sectored and too busy. As if we're trying to program godliness. And so the family is actually never together because they're all in demographic groupings. Where do we have time where we are pursuing relationships with one another, living with one another, praying with one another, talking with one another?

I've talked to a lot of families who literally think it's a victory to have 3 or 4 meals all together with one another in a week, because they're so busy. Well, if in that family unit they're not experiencing community, there's no hope of them experiencing it outside of that family unit.

We have families that will show up at our church on Sunday morning with the boys dressed in their little league outfits, and I know what's going to happen. They're going to leave the service early. Now what a value message to that little boy! Do I think little league is bad? I don't think it's bad at all. I think it's great. But they're telling him what's important as they do that.

You can't fit God's dream (if I can use that language) for his church inside of the American dream and have it work. It's a radically different lifestyle. It just won't squeeze into the available spaces of the time and energy that's left over.

And I'm as much seduced by that as anybody. We have sold our four-bedroom house because our kids are gone, and we've bought a loft in Chinatown, Philadelphia. And we're amazed at how simple our life has become. We're grieving over how we let our life get so complicated.

Last year, for example, I put almost $2,500 worth of gas in my car. This year, I've put $159 in the first quarter. It's because we're walking places, and that slows our life down, and we're near the people in our church because we're within walking distance of the church. And we've had so many natural encounters with people because of that.

We're living in a much smaller place. We got rid of most of our stuff. As we went through it, we laughed about how we just collected stuff. All that stuff has to be maintained. It grabs your heart, it grabs your schedule, it grabs your time. It becomes a source of worry and concern and need to pay.

So we've just been confronted with how all of those things that aren't evil in themselves become the complications of life that keep us away from the kind of community that we need in order to hold on to our identity.

Evangelize Muslims and Have Babies!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

G.S. Bishop on grace

"Grace is a provision for men who are so fallen that they cannot lift the ax of justice; so corrupt that they cannot change their own natures; so adverse to God that they cannot turn to Him; so blind that they cannot see Him; so deaf that they cannot hear Him; and so dead that He Himself must open their graves."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Vote for Kris Allen

I don't vote. If I did I would vote for Kris Allen. Allen is a devout Christian. He is a worship leader at New Life Church in Maumelle, Arkansas. He has done missionary work around the world, including Burma, Morocco, Mozambique, South Africa, Spain, and Thailand.

Below is his rendition of O Holy Night at his church and his rendition of Heartless on American Idol last night.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Carl Trueman on Worship

Carl Trueman gives his thoughts on serious worship in the church. What do you think?

“A church service involving clowns or fancy dress or skits or stand-up comedy does not reflect the seriousness of the gospel; and those who take the gospel seriously should know better. Frankly, it is more appropriate to liberal theology which does not take the gospel, or the God of the gospel, seriously. Serious things demand serious idioms. I heard recently of a church service involving dressing up in costume and music taken from a Tom Cruise movie. Now, if I go for my annual prostate examination, and the doctor comes into the consulting room dressed as Coco the Clown, with `Take my breath away’ from Top Gun playing in the background, guess what? I’m going to take the doctor out with a left hook, flee the surgery, and probably file a complaint with the appropriate professional body. This is serious business; and if he looks like a twit and acts like a twit, then I can only conclude that he is a twit.”

Heels Visit White House

Some of President Obama's remarks:"Welcome to the White House everybody. And congratulations on bringing Carolina its fifth national championship. More importantly, thanks for salvaging my bracket ... and vindicating me before the entire nation.
"I want to thank Coach Roy Williams, and his wife Wanda, who was extraordinarily gracious and I had a wonderful time visiting with them. What makes Coach Williams one of the great coaches isn't just his extraordinary record, but his dedication to his players. He's just as serious about making these guys men and leaders as he is into making them champions.

"Now, I did have a chance to play ball with this crew just over a year ago when I visited Chapel Hill. I don't know who rubbed off on who - there was just a good vibe going on there - because they are now national champions and I'm president. I remember congratulating Tyler on forgoing the NBA Draft to come back after winning the 2008 National Player of the Year - I think it worked out pretty well for him. So congratulations to you, again, Tyler.

"I know Coach Williams instills the importance of academics into all of these guys, which is why they didn't just plow through the Tournament, they also had the highest graduation rate. What they understood is that being a champion doesn't stop when you step off the court. In fact, they spend a remarkable amount of their time off the court in the service to others. They hold a Special Olympics clinic every year, in which they scrimmage with Special Olympians and teach them basketball skills. Coach Williams has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for North Carolina charities. Every Christmas these guys compete with one another to see how can get the most creative Christmas gifts for underprivileged children who need a little bit of hope. All of this makes the Chapel Hill community stronger, it makes the state of North Carolina stronger, it makes our country stronger and I know this team gets a lot out of it as well.

On this same day, the Dook basketball team met with the mayor of Durham and gave him a signed basketball, which he quickly put on ebay and sold for $5.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Renee, You are the best thing ever happened to me

It’s been a long day, baby.
Things ain’t going my way
you know I need you here
here by my side
all of the time

And Baby, the way you move me its crazy.
it’s like, you see right through me, you make it easier,
You please me and you don’t even have to try.

oh because,
you are the best thing
you are the best thing
you are the best thing
ever happened to me

We’ve come a long way, baby.
you know, I hope and I pray that you believe me
When I say this love will never fade away

oh because
you are the best thing
you are the best thing
you are the best thing
ever happened to me

Now both of us have known love before,
To come on up promising, like the spring, just walk on out the door.
Our hearts are kind and are hearts are strong.
well, let me tell you what exactly is on my mind.

you are the best thing
you are the best thing
you are the best thing
ever happened to me

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Mother's Influence: Famous People

"It seems to me that my mother was the most splendid woman I ever knew... I have met a lot of people knocking around the world since, but I have never met a more thoroughly refined woman than my mother. If I have amounted to anything, it will be due to her."- Charles Chaplin

"My mother never gave up on me. I messed up in school so much they were sending me home, but my mother sent me right back."- Denzel Washington

"My mother said to me, "If you become a soldier you'll be a general; if you become a monk you'll end up as the pope." Instead, I became a painter and wound up as Picasso."- Pablo Picasso

"The future destiny of a child is always the work of the mother."- Napoleon Bonaparte

"The mother, more than any other, affects the moral and spiritual part of the children's character. She is their constant companion and teacher in formative years. The child is ever imitating and assimilating the mother's nature. It is only in after life that men gaze backward and behold how a mother's hand and heart of love molded their young lives and shaped their destiny."- E.W. Caswell

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Mother's Influence: Former Presidents

"All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel Mother." - Abraham Lincoln

"I remember my mother's prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life."- Abraham Lincoln

"My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her."- George Washington

"There never was a woman like her. She was gentle as a dove and brave as a lioness... The memory of my mother and her teachings were, after all, the only capital I had to start life with, and on that capital I have made my way."- Andrew Jackson

“From my mother I learned the value of prayer, how to have dreams and believe I could make them come true.”—Ronald Reagan

In 1914, when Lyndon Johnson was in the first grade in the Hill Country of Texas, he was asked to read a poem to his classmates and their parents. The poem he chose was "I'd Rather Be Mama's Boy."

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Renee, How Sweet It is to be Loved By You!

Renee if I could sing I would sing this to you. I can't so I will let Marvin Gaye.

Guys do you feel the same about your wife. Sing it with me!

How sweet it is to be loved by you
How sweet it is to be loved by you

I needed the shelter of someone's arms and there you were
I needed someone to understand my ups and downs
and there you were
With sweet love and devotion
deeply touching my emotion
I want to stop and thank you baby
I just want to stop and thank you baby

How sweet it is to be loved by you
How sweet it is to be loved by you

I close my eyes at night,
wondering where would I be without you in my life
Everything I did was just a bore,
everywhere I went it seems I'd been there before
But you brightened up for me all of my days
With a love so sweet in so many ways
I want to stop and thank you baby
I want to stop and thank you baby

How sweet it is to be loved by you
How sweet it is to be loved by you

You were better to me than I've been to myself
For me, there's you and there ain't nobody else
I want to stop and thank you baby
I just want to stop and thank you baby