Wednesday, September 30, 2009
And His glory will inevitably be veiled and distorted by our best renderings. Even strength depicted fails His omnipotence. All our fallen images trivialize the majesty of His might. One fella is even having a little fun by running a caption contest for this billboard.
Here's how J.I. Packer commented in Knowing God (pp. 45-46) on the use of images:
The likeness of things in heaven (sun, moon, stars), and in earth (people, animals, birds, insects), and in the sea (fish, mammals, crustaceans), is precisely not a likeness of their Creator. "A true image of God," wrote Calvin, "is not to be found in all the world; and hence... His glory is defiled, and His truth corrupted by the lie, whenever He is set before our eyes in a visible form.... Therefore, to devise any image of God is itself impious; because by this corruption His majesty is adulterated, and He is figured to be other than He is."
The point here is not just that an image represents God as having a body and parts, whereas in reality he has neither. If this were the only ground of objection to images, representations of Christ would be blameless. But the point really goes much deeper. The heart of the objection to pictures and images is that they inevitably conceal most, if not all, of the truth about the personal nature and character of the divine Being whom they represent.
To illustrate: Aaron made a golden calf (that is, a bull-image). It was meant as a visible symbol of Jehovah, the mighty God who had brought Israel out of Egypt. No doubt the image was thought to honor him, as being a fitting symbol of his great strength. But it is not hard to see that such a symbol in fact insults him, for what idea of his moral character, his righteousness, goodness and patience could one gather from looking at a statue of him as a bull? Thus Aaron's image hid Jehovah's glory.
In a similar way, the pathos of the crucifix obscures the glory of Christ, for it hides the fact of his deity, his victory on the cross, and his present kingdom. It displays his human weakness, but it conceals his divine strength; it depicts the reality of his pain, but keeps out of our sight the reality of his joy and his power. In both these cases, the symbol is unworthy of most of all because of what it fails to display. And so are all other visible representations of deity.
Whatever we may think of religious art from a cultural standpoint, we should not look to pictures of God to show us his glory and move us to worship; for his glory is precisely what such pictures can never show us. And this is why God added to the second commandment a reference to himself as "jealous" to avenge himself on those who disobey him: for God's "jealousy" in the Bible is his zeal to maintain his own glory, which is jeopardized when images are used in worship.
In Isaiah 40:18, after vividly declaring God's immeasurable greatness, the Scripture asks us: "To whom, then, will you compare God? What image will you compare to him?" The question does not expect an answer, only a chastened silence. Its purpose is to remind us that it is as absurd as it is impious to think that an image modeled, as images must be, upon some creature could be an acceptable likeness of the Creator.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Needing workers everywhere;
’Tis the highest form of service,
’Tis the ministry of prayer.
—Annie Lind Woodworth, missionary to India
Monday, September 28, 2009
Sunday, September 27, 2009
I saw two burnt there. Their death inspired in me differing sentiments. If you had been there, you would have hoped for a less severe punishment for these poor unfortunates. ... The first was a very young man, not yet with a beard, he was the son of a cobbler. He was brought in front of the judges and condemned to have his tongue cut out and burned straight afterward. Without changing the expression of his face, the young man presented his tongue to the executioner's knife, sticking it out as far as he could. The executioner pulled it out even further with pinchers, cut it off, and hit the sufferer several times on the tongue and threw it in the young man's face. Then he was put into a tipcart, which was driven to the place of execution, but, to see him, one would think that he was going to a feast. ... When the chain had been placed around his body, I could not describe to you with what equanimity of soul and with what expression in his features he endured the cries of elation and the insults of the crowd that were directed towards him. He did not make a sound, but from time to time he spat out the blood that was filling his mouth, and he lifted his eyes to heaven, as if he was waiting for some miraculous rescue. When his head was covered in sulphur, the executioner showed him the fire with a menacing air; but the young man, without being scared, let it be known, by a movement of his body, that he was giving himself willingly to be burned.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
First, we were able to connect with some of my oldest and dearest friends. It was a real treat for me to have time together with Peter Rochelle, a brother I consider my first pastor and first example of faithful exposition, and at the same time to hang out with Mark Dever, a brother I consider my second pastor and most formative mentor when it comes to the life of the church. A real treat.
Then there was catching up with old friends and new. It was fun for me to introduce Bentley, my assistant pastor, and Stephen, new seminarian at Southeastern and former director of youth and missions, to my brother Clyde Alston, perhaps one of the most faithful servants you'll ever meet and a real Barnabas to me. The ribs at Applebee's were great, and the concrete from Goodberry's hit the spot!
Folks at FBC will be very encouraged at Stephen's start in seminary. He has established some really good routines and is thinking in all the right ways about building fellowship and relationships with others. He's found a really strong church, North Wake Baptist Church. He's enjoying his classes and has some fine teachers. And he says he's probably doing better spiritually than at any point in his life. On a personal level, it was probably most encouraging to get an update on Stephen.
The conference itself was outstanding. In a nutshell, I think the overall unofficial theme that emerged was "God does the work; trust Him." Each of the speakers addressed preaching and pastoral ministry in some way and the Lord instructed us all.
Mark Dever began with an exposition of Mark 4. He unfolded two parables that demonstrate that it's the word that does the work and that the advancement of the kingdom does not depend on us. Listen to this sermon if you're a pastor who has trouble sleeping at night because you worry about anything in your church.
Baptist21 sponsored a lunchtime panel discussion on "Great Commission Churches." Daniel Aiken, Mark Leiderbach, J.D. Greear, Mark Dever and I had a fun but informative time fielding questions on this broad theme. The first few minutes feature a spirited, friendly exchange between J.D. and Mark on multi-site churches.
Dr. Akin addressed us from Ecclesiastes 12:9-14, "The Preacher on Preaching." I found the emphasis on choosing our words carefully very helpful. What a privilege to use the gift of language to communicate about a God who speaks through His word.
My man Mike McKinley, looking very stylish in the new specs, served us from Luke 10 on the centrality of listening to Jesus. Excellent exposition that demonstrated the liberating power of making the word and listening central to our Christian lives.
C.J. Mahaney closed the night with an insightful and encouraging exposition of 2 Tim 4:1-5. If you struggle against impatience and unrealistic expectations as I do, C.J.'s meditation on pastoral discernment and skill and sanctification is pure relief and help.
I had the privilege of addressing the topic, "Will It Preach? Exposition in Non-White Contexts." We considered some objections to expositional preaching arising out of certain cultural assumptions, and then considered Neh. 8 as an example and apologetic of exposition.
There were lively panel discussions following each message. Those exchanges are often some of the most informative.
I assume some audio will be up at some point soon. In the meantime, Andrew Sherwood live-blogged the conference here.
Friday, September 25, 2009
From Ortlund: "We build great churches the same way we build great marriages -- real commitment that makes a positive difference every day."
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Bacote thinks that the "postmodern" era that concludes each chapter needed definition earlier in the book. I agree. Fair critique.
He also thought very important historical figures were so lightly treated as to appear insignificant in the story line. The omission of some figures is owing more to the book's methodology than to oversight or cherry-picking. Because I wanted to work with original sources, persons in their own words, certain historically key figures were omitted. To my knowledge, for example, almost nothing of Richard Allen's preaching ministry survives to be examined. He was committed to extemporaneous preaching, which means the founder of the first African-American denomination may be studied as a historical and sociological figure, but not very well studied as a theological figure. We await someone like Bishop D.A. Payne before we're able to look closely at an AME leader's theological positions. So, this is a weakness in the work but also a legacy of the history. A more complete tome might include more fragmentary comments from such figures.
Only two points in Bacote's critique missed the mark, in my opinion. First, I don't think it's accurate to say that I "chose to forgo any engagement with the major African American denominations. How can one assess African American theology without making much reference to the Church of God in Christ, the National Baptist Convention, the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church, and many others?" The book engages with Elias Camp Morris, the first president of the National Baptist Convention, who left a fair collection of sermons and addresses. Also, I've already mentioned the book's coverage of Bishop D.A. Payne of the A.M.E. Church. Payne is prominent in a number of chapters, and is arguably the denomination's first reformer exercising considerable theological influence on that group.
If I were to write a revision of The Decline at some point, I would like to spend more time thinking about Mason and others from the C.O.G.I.C tradition. As Bacoste points out, it would be helpful to not leave the reader thinking Pentecostal and Charismatic are one flat movement. Featuring Azusa Street and William Seymour so prominently inadvertently creates that impression, but it's not what I hold.
Secondly, Bacote finds it "dubious" that I would suggest a regulative principle for worship as part of how the decline might be reversed. Practically, every Christian body that takes the Bible seriously has at least some form of "regulative principle" in play. In some way or another, the Bible serves as rule for faith and conduct, even if there is variety in how the rule plays out or gets defined. That seems inescapable to me. Yet, I don't want folks to think that the book reduces church reform to an application of the regulative principle. Certainly much more than a regulative principle is needed, and I hope The Decline offers some suggestions to that end.
I'm thankful for Bacote's review. Read The Decline and read his review. May a thousand conversations bloom.
Why Write "The Decline of African American Theology"?
The Legacy of the African American Church: Faith
The Legacy of the African American Church: Justice
Can the Predominantly African American Church Be Reformed?
1. We'll sit under excellent preaching and preachers for a couple days. We should hear addresses from Mark Dever, C.J. Mahaney, Mike McKinley, and Danny Akin, President of Southeastern.
2. It'll be time to catch up with a number of good friends. There's Stephen, a former staff person at FBC recently enrolled at Southeastern. We'll have to find out about this watermelon milkshake thing he's hooked on! There's Bentley, a partner in ministry here at FBC and an elder as of this past Sunday. There's Pete, the man I regard as my first pastor and first model of exposition. There's Clyde, my Barnabas. There's James, fellow laborer in the gospel and new daddy. There's the crew from CHBC. And a whole ton of other people it'll be great to see and interact with.
3. It's Raleigh, where my wife and I met and where we began our family. Always good to visit the ol' stompin' grounds.
4. You can't go to Raleigh without going to Goodberry's. The best frozen custard on the planet.
5. Time probably won't permit actually eating some, but at least I'll be in sniffing distance of some fried fish! Cayman has wonderful restaurants (worth visiting the island just for the eating!), but there's nothing here like some fried fish and shrimp NC-style. (There is no decent barbecue, though. Too far east really.)
6. There's fall. I like the fall season; crisp sweater and jacket weather. It'll be awesome if the leaves are changing colors even the tiniest bit. In Cayman we have two seasons: peak and hurricane. Lots of glorious sunny days year-round, but fall is special. Fall means football, the final cook-outs of the seasons, tail-gating, and soon, Thanksgiving.
Two days of thinking about expositional preaching in one of the loveliest parts of the country with some of the best people you'll ever meet. Should be refreshing!
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Our brother Justin Taylor has moved his blog over the The Gospel Coalition site. You can read him here. Update your readers.
Also, The Gospel Coalition has started its on blog. Time worthy stuff here.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Oprah: That's too much chicken in a lifetime. So when you were 5, your family moved to the Marcy projects—and then your father left when you were 11. When you look back at that, what did your 11-year-old self feel?
Jay-Z: Anger. At the whole situation. Because when you're growing up, your dad is your superhero. Once you've let yourself fall that in love with someone, once you put him on such a high pedestal and he lets you down, you never want to experience that pain again. So I remember just being really quiet and really cold. Never wanting to let myself get close to someone like that again. I carried that feeling throughout my life, until my father and I met up before he died.
Oprah: Wow. I've never heard a man phrase it that way. You know, I've done many shows about divorce, and the real crime is when the kids aren't told. They just wake up one day and their dad is gone. Did that happen to you?
Jay-Z: We were told our parents would separate, but the reasons weren't explained. My mom prepared us more than he did. I don't think he was ready for that level of discussion and emotion. He was a guy who was pretty detached from his feelings.
Oprah: Did you wonder why he left?
Jay-Z: I summed it up that they weren't getting along. There was a lot of arguing.
Oprah: And did you know you were angry?
Jay-Z: Yeah. I also felt protective of my mom. I remember telling her, "Don't worry, when I get big, I'm going to take care of this." I felt like I had to step up. I was 11 years old, right? But I felt I had to make the situation better.
Oprah: How did that change you?
Jay-Z: It made me not express my feelings as much. I was already a shy kid, and it made me a little reclusive. But it also made me independent. And stronger. It was a weird juxtaposition.
But the interview also highlights the self-deception we all engage in when we don't have a sound view of human sin and depravity. Note the exchange Winfrey and Jay-Z have regarding how to understand and respond to Jay-Z's past life of drug dealing:
Oprah: So what's your personal creed?
Jay-Z: Be true to yourself and keep things simple. People complicate things.
Oprah: My creed is that intention creates reality.
Jay-Z: Now I'm having an a-ha moment! That's true.
Oprah: What's the basis of your spiritual belief?
Jay-Z: I believe in karma: What you do to others comes back to you.
Oprah: But don't you think we're responsible only for what we know? Otherwise, you'd be facing karma for every person you sold drugs to.
Jay-Z: As a kid, I didn't know any better. But now, if I were to act as if what I did wasn't bad, that would be irresponsible. And I'd have to bear the weight of that.
Oprah: Maya Angelou always says, "When you know better, you do better." Do you still think back on that time in your life?
Jay-Z: All the time. When you make music, you're constantly on the psychiatrist's couch, so to speak. That's an outlet for me. Because I'm not normally a talkative person. I don't have conversations like this for no reason.
Oprah's "spiritual belief" apparently amounts to a Christ-less, word-faith (intention-reality), prosperity, I'm-my-own-god system. Which might explain why certain varieties of Christians enjoy her programming. When you think about it, the only difference for some persuasions of Christians is whether or not you add Jesus.
But Jay-Z still has a sense of moral accountability. He's still on the "psychiatrist's couch," which means his conscience speaks to him about his wrongs even though he's going to the wrong place for help. In opting for "karma," he sees the moral nature of the universe and knows that somehow justice prevails. If only his aha moment was the aha that includes a genuine awareness of his sins, conviction, awareness of a holy God, and His need to escape the wrath to come through faith in God's Son.
Because if what we have done in our sin "comes back to us," we're all doomed apart from Jesus' substitutionary atonement for us on Calvary's cross.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Some things I appreciated/observed :
Parts of the Bible just exploded in my head and heart in new and fresh ways. For example, when talking about qualifications for leaders today, "the husband of one wife", sometimes thought to be easily understood and applied in the West, cut to the heart of a lot of sensitive pastoral problems in a culture where polygamy is accepted. You can see the wisdom of God in the inclusion of what seems in some cultures to be obscure passages and statements. It reminds us of how sufficient the Bible is for all of life.But the exchange raised some interesting pastoral questions. How would you counsel the man who is converted by the preaching of the gospel but prior to faith in Christ maintained four wives? Should he keep the first while divorcing the other three? Should he keep them all? Should he keep the first, and, while not divorcing the other three or engaging in conjugal union, maintain the material support of the other "wives" and any children from those unions? If he divorces them, are the wives free to remarry? What, if anything, is the church's responsibility to those wives in a culture where they are not likely to remarry at all? All of a sudden, "can this man be an elder?" became the easy question. It was good for my soul to see passages like Eccl. 9:5-6 be applied in a context where ancestor worship is normative. Passages that seem to belong to a far off time with "ancient" Israel proved their relevance in a pagan culture today.
We had lunch at a nearby mall, where I was shocked to see a great number of Muslims frequenting the stores. Currently, Muslims comprise 2% of the population but occupy about 12% of the seats of parliament. When I consider the great migration of white South Africans out of the country, the deep poverty and high HIV/AIDS rates among some black South Africans, and the immigration of Muslims to the country, it does seem that South Africa could become "the Islamic Republic of South Africa" in about thirty years.
Number 2 is made all the more possible by the weakness of the church in South Africa and the mercenary focus of Muslim communities in the country. Muslims are building schools in the townships of South Africa, indoctrinating young South Africans, while many churches struggle to cooperate, clarify the gospel, or work effectively in these communities. The consensus opinion by non-CESA folks is that CESA is the only evangelical denomination in the country and South Africa's best hope at a strong, biblical gospel witness. Many independent African churches are theologically mixed with pagan practices, most Baptist churches are theologically liberal, and many charismatic and pentecostal churches are carried away in excesses. There are, of course, shining exceptions. But this is how church leaders here describe the landscape. The country needs the Christians to forge a unified and gospel-centered strategy wherever possible.
At dinner last night, a waitress donned a silk sash and approached our table for a donation to the Society for the Care and Protection of Animals. Our gracious hosts explained that there is a wide and focused effort to raise funds for the care of animals. Many schools require their students to contribute financially. Even third graders in one school are asked to knit blankets to give to the care of animals. Meanwhile, I've not noticed any fundraiser efforts for the townships, and needed medical supplies don't make it to the sick. It's strange to see people so organized and focused for the care of animals but distant and non-responsive when it comes to the care of people. We see the same in the United States and other places. It makes me wonder about which really insignificant causes capture my attention while I move around willfully ignorant of deep suffering.
Speaking of animals and humans. The government regulates the size of animal reserves, requiring thousands of acres in order to include certain animals like elephants and lions. There appear to be no regulations for the number of people you can squeeze into a mud house or shanty in townships. Moreover, while all the animals receive adequate square footage and medical care from people working game reserves, only an estimated 25% of children with HIV receive needed treatment.
I have to say this somewhere. It's cold and rainy in Africa, at least South Africa. I loved my history and geography teacher in high school, but she never told me to pack a jacket and umbrella when travelling to Africa! Where's the scorching heat? Where's the dessert and arid climate? I'll tell you where. Texas :-)
7. Humbling Honor
To address several groups in post-Apartheid South Africa with the Bible's teaching on ethnicity and unity in the body of Christ. The talks were received well and I pray bears much fruit. It was beyond encouraging to see the eagerness with which church leaders and students at UKZN engaged the topic. It's an honor and privilege to be here.
Pastors, seminaries, internships, teachers, and church planters in South Africa. George Whitefield is doing a great job training men, so are groups like Entrust. But there is so much more that's needed if this country will be reached with the gospel of Christ.
This morning's paper features a South African taxi driver who chased down a hit-and-run drunk driver who injured a 7 year old boy. He's a hero. Just beneath that article is a story about President Jacob Zuma, who declared in court briefs that he was "above the law" and should not be prosecuted while in office. One man risks his life and taxi to uphold justice, another uses his position to thwart it. The taxi driver gives us hope.
The ladies who hosted me in their homes: Michelle, Lillibet, and Kristi.
The blokes who married these ladies--they married well above their own status: Tim, Grant, and Paul :-)
For my wife and family and church. Headed home... but treasuring South Africa.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
The Grieved – are many – I am told –
There is the various Cause –
Death – is but one – and comes but once –
And only nails the eyes –
There's Grief of Want – and grief of Cold – A sort they call "Despair" –
There's Banishment from native Eyes –In Sight of Native Air –
And though I may not guess the kind –
Correctly – yet to me
A piercing Comfort it affords
In passing Calvary – To note the fashions – of the Cross –
And how they're mostly worn – Still fascinated to presume
That Some – are like My Own –
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
This is an excellent faith-building example of God's grace at work when a congregation acts in love, and how God works in His own timing and sometimes when we can't see His hands. This post reminds us that every form of discipline--formative discipline by the teaching of the word and corrective discipline up to removal from membership--every form of discipline--is an act of faith in an all-powerful God who knows how to shape His people.
Part Three (includes a list of helpful resources on biblical church correction)
What do you say when you visit an area where 85% of people there--men, women, and children--are HIV positive and dying of AIDS? 85 PERCENT! Imagine: a situation where 8 out of every ten people you see have a deadly virus coursing through their bodies, slowly killing them, and then moving on like a microscopic invading army to kill anyone who has the most intimate contact with them (sex). It's... (there are no words).
Meanwhile, only 25 percent of those infected receive treatment (ARV). Only a quarter may slow death and live "normal" lives for a season. The number of orphans from this pandemic is.... Well, there is no word for it. Apocalyptic maybe?
Oh, and by the way, unemployment is (unofficially) 80 percent.
And what you're imagining probably isn't the correct picture. This isn't even the poorest part of the country I've seen.
When I posted Grant Retief's comment that the gospel was the first tier solution for mercy ministry for the AIDS pandemic in Africa, I hadn't quite realized that it's the only solution for mercy ministry.
You can not recover from an 85% HIV/AIDS infection rate and 80% unemployment. There's no humanistic, social service, entrepreneurial philosophy or effort that can repair that. It's not a thing broken like a bike needing an inner-tube, or a car needing new fuel injectors. The thing simply isn't there to be fixed! An entire generation is dying quietly--nearly gone! Children are the knee-high reminders that there were once fertile, replicating men and women walking around. They're miniature recollections of once full-grown life that's evaporating. And they, too, the children, are HIV positive and dying of AIDS. This is starting over... almost completely.
Today, we visited a ministry called Lily of the Valley. It's a very comprehensive effort to try and address this pandemic: gospel preaching and Bible teaching, housing for AIDS orphans, medical clinic, cottage industry/business. They're doing a valiant work. Please pray for them.
As we toured the place and heard more about the ministry, I was left with a couple thoughts:
1. These people are trying to re-engineer an entire society. The problem and the work are massive. For example, just how do you re-introduce fatherhood to a culture when virtually none are known or exist?
2. The implications of the gospel are enormous for this re-engineering effort. Not only must these dear people in God's image come to believe in Christ and be saved, the outworkings of gospel life must be freshly imaged and lived as the only reconstructive force powerful enough to address this plague. If the succeeding generation isn't swept up in a revival, a supernatural enlargement of God's converting and sanctifying work through His Spirit, then the catastrophic effects of sin will destroy them. And this sin attacks at the very point where promiscuity meets reproductive hope.
3. This makes squabbles about the social gospel almost irrelevant. I say "almost" because anything that obscures or supplants the gospel that saves cannot be completely irrelevant and must be avoided. The social gospel dooms people to hell. But in the final analysis, so too does a so-called "biblical" gospel that gets penal substitution, justification, repentance and faith correct but never moves us to preach it, teach it, spread it, apply it, and risk it and ourselves in caring for the needs of people perishing in sin and disease and hunger and war and poverty and illiteracy.
My dearest friends and mentors are among the most cautious about evangelical social ministry degenerating into the social gospel. Michael Lawrence and I had good discussion about this following our visit. These friends see historical precedent for evangelical churches confusing mercy ministry with either the gospel itself or the church's reason for existing. They're concerned about the gospel and the church remaining focused on its primary mission--preaching the gospel. No other institution outside the church is given the mission to preach the gospel. If the church won't, no one else will. Pastors shouldn't abandon this charge. I share every one of those concerns. I learned these concerns and priorities from these brothers, to whom I owe more than can be calculated. This is not a critique of them. I mention them only because I know some of you will be familiar with their positions and you might think there is some disunity between us. There isn't; only the very deepest affection and unity in Christ.
But after I've said I have these same concerns, then what?
I can't be so concerned about what might be lost that I'm too paralyzed to venture anything on it. I'm looking at this scene in Africa--and it could be in most any place in the world--and I just can't justify the idea that my only task as a Christian and a preacher is to preach the gospel. I can't justify the idea that if I only preach the gospel--which I must preach and treasure and guard--then I've been faithful even if I've not served the needs around me. When you're standing this close to the naked, brazen effects of sin and depravity, you realize that Christ's work of redemption is our only hope and that we need to act in that same hope.
Today's visit to one town reveals to me the betrayal it is to claim to be gospel people and not be merciful people.
Monday, September 14, 2009
The real reason for the persistent adherence to infant baptism is quite simply the fact that without it the church would suddenly be in a remarkably embarrassing position. Every individual would then have to decide whether he wanted to be a Christian. But how many Christians would there be in that case? The whole concept of a national church (or national religion) would be shaken. That must not happen; and so one proposes argument upon argument for infant baptism and yet cannot speak convincingly because fundamentally he has a bad conscience. The introduction of adult baptism in itself would of course not reform the church which needs reforming. The adherence to infant baptism is only one — a very important one — of many symptoms that the church is not alive and bold, that it is afraid to walk on the water like Peter to meet the Lord, that it therefore does not seek a sure foundation but only deceptive props.
“Die christliche Lehre nach dem Heidelberger Katechismus,” Lectures given at the University of Bonn, Summer Semester, 1947.
HT: Inhabitatio Dei
Sunday, September 13, 2009
This isn't to say South Africa is anywhere near the harmoniously diverse society that people here want it to be. But it strikes you that the country is farther along in post-Apartheid community than the unintelligent visitor like myself would have thought.
To appreciate how far along the country is, you'd have to compare the state of things to the United States--not the present U.S.--but the U.S. 15 years after Emancipation from slavery. South Africa has had the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, there have been denomination-level and church level discussions about "race" and reconciliation, and there is the sea change in governance.
The U.S. is just now getting to the point where meaningful discussions about "race" can be had. Rather than repent after slavery, there was the rise of the Klan, the repeal of Reconstruction gains, and the establishment of Jim Crow. The U.S. effectively introduced its own apartheid after slavery. Apologies for slavery have come 100 years after the fact and sometimes quite grudgingly. And in quite a number of places, Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in America.
What strikes you is the forthright and bold way in which South Africans have taken up its discussion of "race" and reconciliation. To be sure, a lot of that forthrightness stems from the fact that black South Africans are the majority in the country, whereas African Americans were a minority in the U.S. following Emancipation. Majority/minority status matters when it comes to determining whether your history of oppression will be addressed with any haste. For example, it's unthinkable that the "with all deliberate speed" verdict of the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Education could have been passed in a black majority South Africa. Or, it's unimaginable that a majority black South African president would only be elected 140 years or so after Apartheid's end. Things happen faster here because black Africans are the majority. But that notwithstanding, they are happening and it's striking.
And I'm praying that more and more the peace of Christ which reconciles sinners to God and ethnic groups to each other would be present in this place. Ephesians 2:11-22.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Gospel preaching is the first tier of AIDS ministry in South Africa--not orphan care or hospice. And that's because AIDS is the only epidemic known to man that can be controlled by behavior. If people have their sexual behavior brought under the Lordship of Christ, it could change the impact of AIDS radically.
South Africa has the highest AIDS rate in the world. In one area, the average age has been lowered due to AIDS-related deaths from 67 to 37 in just about 20 years! Nothing I can think of has been more devastating to a society. An entire generation of adults is vanishing from existence. And one presumes a great many of them are going to hell.
Friday, September 11, 2009
As we left the sun began to rise on the African continent. At takeoff, the pilot followed the Senegalese coastline, giving us a clear view of the ocean and the beach. The mighty gray waves appeared to leap out of the sea before crashing in white foam on the coast.
As we rose, the sun rose. The black of night gave way to gleaming yellow sun. And a rainbow appeared, through which we seemed to fly.
It was beautiful. And that's an understatement.
I wish I could have shared it with my wife.
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Monday, September 07, 2009
While I've never thought about writing a post on book covers, this guy has. Before you click over, please know there is one objectionable title and book cover listed. If you decide to click over (even if you don't), let Him know (and me) what you think about book covers.
Damning people to hell with what they love as fallen people.
That's a pretty good summary of the 'prosperity gospel,' which is not the gospel at all. The appeal to the carnal desires of men (wealth, ownership, influence, etc.) as the basis, evidence, and goal of worship of God is, to put it mildly, soul destroying.
Now, a caveat. This is not to say there are not Christians involved in churches and sitting under preachers committed to the 'prosperity gospel.' There are. They trust Christ alone for their salvation. They love Him and they seek to serve Him.
Yet, they may not see how egregious an error the 'prosperity gospel' is. There is so much in the Scripture about blessings and about God's good gifts to His people. There is so much in the Bible about what is good and beautiful in life.
But the 'prosperity gospel' makes at least three critical mistakes that may not be easily discerned by a person regularly sitting under this teaching looking into a Bible that contains so much about God's blessings.
1. The 'prosperity gospel' makes wealth and possessions a part of the gospel. In other words, it teaches that Christ's work includes and purchases prosperity for His people, and defines that prosperity chiefly in terms of things in this life. That's a different 'gospel' (Gal. 1:1-9). It can not save. It says, "Come to Jesus to get your life in order" (the moralist prosperity gospel in so many 'evangelical' churches), or "Come to Jesus and you will have houses and lands and money in this life, now" (the materialist prosperity gospel variety taught by so many word-of-faith televangelists and their wanna-be followers). But the biblical gospel is "Turn to Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, to be reconciled to the True God, to escape the wrath to come, and live eternally in His love." That's good news and precious treasure whether or not we ever find wealth, comfort, ease, or get our lives in some moralistic order. The 'prosperity gospel' displaces this good news with a lesser news, "free stuff."
2. The 'prosperity gospel' mistakenly assumes that because something is mentioned a lot in the Bible it must be the main point of the Bible. That's a serious mistake. My wife and I talk a lot about bills that need to be paid. We have our entire marriage, from the time were were broke college students each working two jobs to just last week when thinking about vacation and the kids' back-to-school needs. We communicate about money. But is our relationship about money? No, praise God! Our relationship is about a lot of other far more glorious things than money and decisions about money. So it is with the Scriptures. The frequent references about money or possessions or blessings are not the main point: God is the main point. The Bible is about God and His redemptive work. All of life is about God and worship of Him. It's not about us and our stuff. Prosperity preachers baptize their concern with worldly things with a lot of God-talk. But God becomes the Bible's backup singer to man's solo quest for stuff. It's a theological folly in missing the point.
3. The 'prosperity gospel' overlooks suffering. That's to be expected. Anywhere prosperity gets defined as material wealth, etc., emphasis on comfort goes up and attention to suffering goes out. And yet, the Lord and the apostles call us repeatedly to endure suffering for the glory of His name. In fact, the Christian life, in one sense, is synonymous with the sufferings of Christ. "For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows" (2 Cor. 1:5). Because we're united to Christ, we suffer. And we are blessed when we suffer for Him (Matt. 5:10-12; 1 Peter). One can't help but think that much of our weakness as Christians is owing to our un-Christian aversion to suffering, avoiding it at all cost and christening cowardice as wisdom. The 'prosperity gospel' lays a pretty deep foundation for that mistake.
Anyway... I didn't intend to say much at all about this, just to show the video. But I pray that the Lord's people, redeemed by His blood, would leave these churches and ministries in a mass exodus.
John Calvin on the 'Prosperity Gospel'
Mohler on the Prosperity Gospel
Sunday, September 06, 2009
But almost immediately after being told I couldn't board my flight yesterday, the Lord gave me a sense that something precious would be the reward of this providence. I hadn't realized it at the time, but I needed refreshing.
The Lord has used His people to abundantly answer this need. Today I read a couple of tributes given at the funeral of a dear saint back at FBC. the remembrances of this man's life continue to stir in me a desire to live a deeper life of joy in Christ. Five minutes of reading opened my heart.
This morning I sat in on a systematic theology Sunday school class, and as I listened to Paul Miller meditate on the character of God, my God appeared so large and great.
Then, Greg Gilbert preached what must be the most beautiful sermon in the Psalms I've ever heard. My Jesus rose so magnificently from the lines of Psalm 20! How wonderful to see our Lord with the eyes of faith and be left in awe of His love and life! Listen to this sermon attentively, without distraction, Bible open, heart praying and hoping.
Came back for the evening sermon and Chris Erwin preached 1 John 5:14 with such clarity, power, and encouraging care... I was left really desiring to pray and pray long.
I'm missing the saints back at FBC, but I'm rejoicing in how wide and lovely is the body of Christ. I think I needed this spiritual shot in the arm before boarding a flight to South Africa. I praise the Lord His comforts overflow in our lives (2 Cor. 1:5). Romans 1:12 has been so abundantly true in my brief, unexpected time with Christ's people in this small part of the vineyard.
Saturday, September 05, 2009
Then with an Indian-African accent, she says, "Sir, do you have another passport?"
"Hmmm... no," I replied.
"To enter S. Africa, you need a passport with at least two blank pages back to back. We can't allow you onto the plane. If you were to reach South Africa, they would immediately deport you."
Michael and I look at each other in mild disbelief. I think I said something very intelligent and winsome like, "Huh?" She kindly repeated herself and pointed to a little sign on the desk explaining it all in black and white. I'm not sure why the South African Airlines website or the ticketing agent who sold us the tickets didn't make this clear, but it's apparently the law in S. Africa.
And guess what? It's Saturday afternoon--no chance of zipping in and out of your local Washington, D.C. passport office (never a chance of that anyway; just thought it sounded good). And oh, by the way, since today is Saturday, tomorrow is Sunday. No office opened then either. What about Monday? Labor Day--a holiday in the States--all government offices closed. Earliest appointment will be 8am on Tuesday morning. Earliest flight out, 5:40pm Tuesday afternoon, the same day I'm to have addressed the national conference of CESA on the gospel and 'race.'
Now at this point, I'm thinking, Looks like I'm headed back to Cayman. We call our good folks in S. Africa, seven hours ahead in deep sleep near midnight, to break the news. A productive conservation, some quick schedule changes so that Michael speaks on Tuesday and I on Wednesday, and maybe I'm still in business.
I say "maybe" because James tells us to make sure we say, "if the Lord wills." And that seems an appropriate lesson because if the Lord had willed, I'd be flying over the Atlantic right about now watching a movie and eating bad airline food for 50 bucks. If the Lord willed, there would not be some unpublished passport regulation for entering South Africa. But the Lord willed that I be here in D.C. for Labor Day weekend, celebrating the Lord's Day at CHBC, and enjoying a little more sleep in this time zone. The Lord's will is always good.
I'm praying everything goes without a hitch on Tuesday. I just feel like the enemy would conspire to hinder this important conversation in South Africa. I'm so thrilled he can't overthrow or even challenge the Lord's will and providential ruling in all things. God's best will be done. Please pray that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
So, this is a public service announcement: If you're going to South Africa any time soon, check your passport for a couple blank pages. Okay... whether or not you're going to South Africa, it might be good to check your passport. Don't wait until you're at the ticket counter and you're reduced to eloquent statements like, "Huh?"
Friday, September 04, 2009
While there, we've been asked to address the Church of England South Africa's National Conference. Michael will deliver two addresses on penal substitution; I'll have the privilege of delivering two addresses on "the gospel and 'race'" and one address on the sufficiency of Scripture. The "Gospel and race" addresses will essentially be the T4G talk broken into parts and expanded a little. Later in the visit I'll have opportunity to do this talk with students at University of KwaZulu-Natal. Please pray for these talks if the Lord gives you liberty. I can't think of a context with more opportunity and more challenges for a discussion on the gospel and 'race.' And I can't think of a more necessary discussion among the people of post-Apartheid South Africa. I praise God for moving CESA and others to search His word for divine wisdom and help from His Spirit.
I'll also have opportunity to join with Tim Cantrell and the saints at Antioch Bible Church (north of Jo'burg) for their worldviews conference. Looks like it'll be an excellent conference addressing a range of issues demonstrating the supremacy of Christ over all things. I'll have the honor of addressing "The Supremacy of Christ Over Islam" and "The Supremacy of Christ Over Ethnicity." Michael will address their men's discipleship group.
From Jo'Burg, Michael heads to Pietermarietzberg to preach at the Lord's Day service of Church on the Ridge. Meanwhile, I'll head to Durban to enjoy the company of Grant Retief and preach at Christ Church Umhlanga.
We'll also conduct a 9Marks conference with pastors and church leaders. I'm looking forward to the interaction with African church leaders from both independent and Church of England South Africa groups.
We'll have tons of lunches and meetings with pastors and ministry leaders throughout the stay. And we'll sneak some sightseeing things in here and there. It should prove to be a faith and heart-expanding time in the Lord.
Thursday, September 03, 2009
The race is about the baton, not the runners.
The relay brings out the best in every runner.
Practice until the handover becomes instinctual.
The baton exchange should occur at very close to maximum speed.
Hear his sermon from Worship God '09 here.
--Ajith Fernando, The Call to Joy and Pain: Embracing Suffering in Your Ministry (Crossway, 2007), 1994
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
I can assure that depression in the ministry is not a problem of temperament. Men of every conceivable temperament get this trouble--the feeling that everything is on top of us. The one possible exception is the phlegmatic type who is not concerned about anything. He is so bucolic, ox-like, that he is not likely to feel a call to the ministry! Men in the ministry are sensitive men. I have met few others. The way to approach this problem is not along lines of temperament--that is incidental.
The big thing is not to start with the problem. Start with the question, what is your calling? Why are you in the ministry? What is the object of the ministry? Is the church mine? Why am I troubled? Am I concerned about my reputation? Why am I hurt? ... Our reactions are too often due to a wrong view of our calling. Remember Paul: "With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self" (1 Cor. 4:3). I have found this to be the answer so many times. Paul had to go through it all. In Corinth men were praised more than Paul who were not worthy to shine his boots. Paul's concept of the ministry lay in his calling to be faithful. We should not make it a personal issue.
Isolate, then, your calling. Get that right. The antagonism we encounter is generally against the calling and most of our problems arise because we get immersed in day-to-day problems and forget what we are. "Should such a man as I flee?" (Neh. 6:11). Nehemiah was talking about his calling. That is the way to look at it. Certain things then become unthinkable and you will not hand in your resignation.
Let us remember who we are. We haven't entered a profession. We are servants of the living God!
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
In the end, the update of the NIV to be released in 2011 will have to stand on its own. Those of us who have had significant concerns with the TNIV should communicate these concerns respectfully, candidly, and directly to the Committee on Bible Translation, to Zondervan, and to Biblica. When released, the updated NIV will deserve and require the attentive study and review of all committed evangelicals. We must hope and pray that this updated NIV will be found both faithful and useful. For now, the decisions that will determine the faithfulness and usefulness of this updated edition are in the hands of the Committee on Bible Translation. We must all pray that their work will produce an updated translation we can greet with appreciation and trust. We must take the members of the Committee on Bible Translation at their word that they will consider these concerns. To fail to pray and to act in this way will be to fail at a basic Christian commitment. The issue is not only the integrity of a Bible translation, but our integrity as Christians.