Thursday, November 30, 2006

On Rest and Spiritual Joy

I went to bed Thursday morning at 2:30am. After a rousing round of CivIV and a couple great chapters in To The Golden Shore, I finally turned in. Not exactly a wise use of time and energy... mixed at best. But the foolishness of not resting properly came home quite suddenly when my over-nine-months-pregnant wife woke up at 7-something and announced, "I think my water broke."

We've been at the hospital all day. And among other things, the Lord has shown me how inadequate rest really does work against abundant, sustained joy. Not that it succeeded... but wrestling alternately with a bean-bag chair and a side chair covered in plastic for a few minutes of sleep while waiting for the labor to actually start... has prompted a reconsideration of my night time routine and its effect on my spiritual life. I'm reminded of reading somewhere that Lloyd-Jones would often ask people struggling with various spiritual issues/depressions if they were getting enough sleep. Not that I'm at all qualified to offer a second opinion to Lloyd-Jones, but I think the good doctor was on to a simple, elegant truth: we "do better" when we rest. Or, as Matt Schmucker would put it, "rest before you get tired." I need to remember and practice this wise counsel.

Turns out "junior" isn't quite ready to enter this world. So, my wife and the nurse sent me home for sleep. I'll be returning bright and early tomorrow morning to participate as they induce labor.

I will, by God's grace, be in a much better frame of mind as I'm now going to bed... thankful, joyful, and filled with the marvel of welcoming new life and the glorious hope of celebrating this child's second birth at some point in the future, Lord willing.

All that's left to determine is will the name be Charis Eirene or Titus Ezekiel. What do you think?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Around the Blog in 80 Seconds

Our brother Tim Challies is thinking about the regulative principle of worship. Here's an idea that needs recovery and wider use. For those interested in a longer treatment, Lig Duncan's 1st two chapters in Give Praise to God ("Does God Care How We Worship?" and "Foundations for Biblically Directed Worship") are probably the best treatments I've read on the subject. Also useful was D.G. Hart and John R. Muether's With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship.

If you haven't seen it already, the new edition of 9News is available. It's an excellent issue focuing on biblical theology.

The brothers over at Pulpit Live are offering their thoughts on the emerging/emergent church movement, most of which is taken from an upcoming book from John MacArthur.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


One of my favorite words is "solipsism." Actually, one of my favorite words is "solipsistic," something about the way it just slinks off the tongue with all those s-sounds. I learned the word a couple year ago, reading a Washington Post article. Since one day I want to grow up and be a writer, I quickly put it into my notebook of words with the definition and a sentence or two putting it to use.

But more importantly, I like the word because I think it's quite an appropriate one-word summary of our culture. We're solipsistic for the most part. Solipsism is the philosophy of life for so many.

Dave Jorge (HT), worship pastor here at FBC Grand Cayman, sent me this op ed from the Washington Post. The author is decrying solipsistic tendencies of personal websites. It's an entertaining read. And my brother and co-laborer in the gospel, Dave, asks if it won't be long before this article's lament is true of Christian blogs. A good question!

I don't know the answer, but I'm pretty convinced that solipsism and "Christian" do not belong together in the same sentence, much less the same person. If solipsism is the idea that the self is all that matters, then certainly one can't consistently maintain that he/she is a biblical Christian while at the same time being solipsistic in outlook. We're a peculiar people who claim that Jesus is all that matters. Our greatest heroes could write "I resolved to know nothing... except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). We are those who "want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead" (Phil. 3:10-11). Not much room for solipsism there!

And how is this for a statement of the Christian life: "they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death" (Rev. 12:11) and "joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions" (Heb. 10:34). Kinda cuts right through the preoccupation we have with this life and severs Christ from any philosophy that makes life all about us.

And yet, I do tend too often to view the universe from the center of the self rather than the center of the Cross and the throne of glory! I am aware that in my impatience, frustrations, anger, murmurring and complaining, and all-too-frequent tendency to think I'm right... that I am in those ways solipsistic. Perhaps not in the obvious ways that the editorial writer laments... but in the quieter, more subtle ways of a mind that speaks to itself too often and listens to the voice of God in the Scripture too little... in those slithering, slippery ways that silhouette indwelling sin.

May this blog and all Christian blogs never become electronic playhouses with funny mirrors for gazing at the odd shapes of our egos and personalities and thoughts. God forbid it. But may the Christian blogosphere be a place where all are called to "Behold our God, the Lamb that takes aways the sins of the world, the Risen and Reigning Savior who is King of kings and Lord of lords!"

Resolved, Write more about Jesus on this blog.

Thanks Dave!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Things That Bother Me As a Theological Conservative

This isn't a rant. Neither does it qualify as thought. It's really just a list of a few things that I've been thinking about off and on... things that bother me a bit as a theological conservative and that I should give attention to.

I was planning to post something I wrote some time back... a short piece firing most of the African-American Civil Rights leadership... but my wife prevailed in her wise discouragements not to post it.

So, I'm down to my list... which may get more treatment over the week. As a theological conservative committed to historic Reformed orthodoxy as the best approximation/summation of the Bible's teaching, I'm bothered by:

1. Reformed heros of the faith who held slaves, and...

2. My contemporaries who sometimes defend them;

3. Poor or altogether absent articulation of a compelling, theologically conservative, gospel-centered statement on the church qua church and engagement in social issues;

4. The equation of theological conservatism with political conservatism as if the two are synonyms or one necessarily leads to the other, especially where "political conservatism" is read Republican and Republican-platform public policy;

5. The label "evangelical," especially when it's a thin mask for an already-failed, doctrinally soft or indifferent ecumenism; and

6. My own heart's wandering. "Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; Prone to leave the God I love." Oh, "take my heart Lord and seal it for thy courts above!"

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Interesting Junk Mail

My brother, Mark, likes to pass out junk mail at staff meetings. You're liable to leave his study loaded down with some interesting bits... like the Sunday program from 1st Pres. (which generally is a treasure trove of good devotional and historical information)... or with painful mass mail junk, like the latest "Christian" exercise video. I've not inflicted such joy on the staff in Cayman. Neither am I on as many mailing lists as Mark, in part because I'm new here, in part because people probably can't spell my name, and in part because the cost of mailing junk to Grand Cayman is quite prohibitive.

But I did receive an interesting copy of The Aspen Idea from the the Aspen Institute. It is apparently their highlights from 2006 issue. Everybody and their mother was involved in their "ideas festival" (well... not me and my mama, but a whole of the who's who on the national and international scene). I was drawn to the picture of TD Jakes... large teethy smile with trademark gap, nice knit sweater, nestled between Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, Bill Clinton, Katie Couric, Sandra Day O'Connor and others. Quite an august crowd.

On one level, I'm happy for the West Virginia boy made good. I'm thankful for his emphasis on caring for the inner city and on multi-ethnic concerns. Without doubt, a whole heap of hurting people have been helped in some measure by his ministry.

Bob Schieffer interviewed Jakes in an article called "The Bridge Builder." The interview positions Jakes as an unconventional team player orbiting somewhere short of "Pentecostal evangelicals... aggressively proselytizing" and different from "white megachurch and black megachurch" pastors.

Jakes explains that not all churches, much less megachurches, are alike. They're distinctive. True. But, he was silent on the "Pentecostal evangelicals... aggressively proselytizing" comment. He went on to talk about not being on the extremes and not using methods from another era (civil rights marches and demonstrations) to get things done. We need different idioms ("mediums" perhaps?).

After reading the article, I couldn't help but think that his comments were entirely beside the point, especially his reaction to the "proselytizing" question. What an opportunity, among the intellectual, political, and economic elites of the world, to proclaim the truth about our risen Lord and Savior. Instead, the Bishop waxed poetic about "progress" and "social issues" (at least the editors of the article make it seem this way). Which is really what bothers me about Jakes (aside from denying the Trinity): I can't ever recall his ever being clear about the gospel of Jesus Christ. I've not seen it in his books, in his videos or TV programs, or in any interviews I've read. It's just not there.

The man commands a huge international following... which should mean the Lord Jesus is being heralded to countless millions. But Jesus doesn't receive much of a cameo really.

We've been studying Galatians 1 in our Wednesday night Bible study. Last night we meditated on verses 8 and 9 where the apostle Paul pronounces his twin anathemas on those who throw others into confusion by perverting the gospel. I wonder what Paul's pronouncement would be upon a man like Jakes? I wonder why our pronouncements are not the same?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

See the Pox Up Close

A couple days ago, we thought about some TV ministries as a pox on the local church. Justin Taylor and Anthony Carter have video exposes on two of the more popular blights on the church. See here and here. Enjo... uh... on second thought, weep.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

FBC's New Website

Thanks to the design skills of Tim Challies and the good folks at Websonix, and the labors of Meg Bodden, Dave Jorge, Barend Blom, Deb Ryan, Carolyn Harrison, and Duncan Nicol, First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman has a new website! Drop by and say "hello."

Thinking Christianity

A quote from Lloyd-Jones regarding the effect of Christianity on our thinking (HT: Adrian Warnock; Dave Jorge).

"So the first effect of Christianity is to make people stop and think. They are not simply overawed by some great occasion. They say, “No, I must face this. I must think.” That is the work of the Spirit. The people in Acts thought again. They repented—the Greek word is metanoia—they changed their mind completely. The Spirit always leads people to think, and, as I have been showing you, the greatest trouble is that men and women go through life without thinking. Or they think for a moment but find it painful, so they stop and turn to a bottle of whiskey or television or something else—anything to forget.

Is it not obvious that the world, speaking spiritually and intellectually, is in a doped condition? In all sorts of ways men and women evade the facts. They can do this with great energy, they can be very intellectual, but ultimately they end up with nothing.

What does the Spirit make us think about? Well, not first and foremost about ourselves. I must emphasize that Christianity does not start with us. It does not say, “Do you want to get rid of that sin that is getting you down? Do you want happiness? Do you want peace? Do you want guidance?” That is not Christianity. That, again, is the approach of the cults. No, these people in Jerusalem were made to think about Jesus Christ! They were given the objective, historical facts about this person . . .

The next point is that the . . . Spirit now makes us go on to realize the relevance of Jesus Christ, and everything concerning Him, to ourselves personally . . .

You can sit in a chair and read a book about Jesus Christ, you can read about Him in your Bible, and you can read books of theology. Very interesting. To an intelligent person there is no study more entrancing. It has been the occupation of some of the greatest minds of the centuries. But you can do all that and still not be a Christian. It is the Holy Spirit who makes each of us see the relevance of Jesus to ourselves, so that we are no longer spectators, no longer critics, no longer people taking a wonderful, objective view. No, no, I am under criticism myself. The relevance of this has come to me. I see that I am involved in all this, and I had not realized it."

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Pox on God's People

Yesterday my mother-in-law relayed to me a comment her pastor made recently. He told his congregation, “I am amazed at how I can teach you something from the Scripture and you pay little attention to it. But if you hear the same thing said from some television preacher, you act as though it’s the first time they’ve heard it and you’ll send them all your money for it.”

This pastor is a faithful man. He has pastored this church for over 35 years. Every Sunday following the morning service, he gathers his deacons and they visit the many elderly members of the church in their homes. Hardly a person has ever been hospitalized for any length of time that he has not visited to pray and console. He is the model of the faithful country pastor.

So, it’s all the more amazing to me that his people would rather trust the words and teachings of television preachers over his teaching and lived out example. My mother-in-laws comments solidified for me something I’ve been thinking for a while: most television ministries are a pox on God’s people.

Now, that’s no new, groundbreaking comment. Many have lamented the scandals of famous televangelists and the abhorrent theology of many popular TV ministries. But, I think I’m realizing that their effect on the people of God is deeper than I once thought. Just a few things come to mind….

  • Many television ministries foster an unhealthy individualism in today’s Christian culture. The ability to sit at home and listen to the entertaining comments of some charismatic figure actually cultivates a spiritual isolation of sorts. While believing that they’re being spiritually fed, individual Christians are actually learning that their spiritual lives are a personal matter, that Christianity is a solo sport, that what matters most is what they are able to consume for themselves.

  • What follows from this individualism is a low commitment to the local church. Church becomes an optional consumer good that may or may not play any substantial role in a Christian’s life. That individualism tears away at the body of Christ, as each joint, rather than supply to the other, rests comfortably on the sofa gazing at some far off personality promising who knows what.

  • Then there are the personality and celebrity cults that grow up around high-wattage personalities. Television preachers don all the trappings of celebrity entertainers, attracting the star-gazed attention of people immersed in a hyper-entertained culture. Allegiances are made to favorite TV personalities—allegiances that eclipse loyalty to the local pastor that pours himself out caring for the congregation, living among them, consoling them in grief, counseling in difficulty. TV preachers become celebrities who are very nearly worshipped.

  • Which leads sometimes to a crisis of authority in the lives of many Christians. As is the case with some of the people at my mother-in-law’s church, many Christians come to believe that the test of orthodoxy is whether or not their favorite TV preacher teaches or believes a certain idea. If “Pastor Mega-Watts” says it, then it must be so. Never mind what the Bible actually teaches, what its inspired authors actually meant, or how the rules of sound interpretation apply. “Bishop Boob Tube” believes this and that’s all the authority I need seems to be their view of authority. Thousands and thousands watch these entertainers—with their Bibles wide open—and yet are starved of faithful biblical instruction while at the same time infecting the church with their favorite personality’s opinions. Tuning a congregation’s ears to the voice of the Lord (“My sheep hear my voice and they follow me”) can be extraordinarily difficult work when any substantial part of their spiritual diet comes from TV preaching personalities.

  • And because these personalities are seen as biblical authorities and men worthy of a followership, untold amounts of local resources vanish into the coffers of churches and ministries that will never serve the needs of a local body or community. The fundraising machinery of televangelism is quite impressive, if also deadly to the material needs of local churches. How much stronger would many of our churches be if God’s people channeled the resources dedicated to televangelists to the work of their local church? How many pastors would be better cared for? How many more missionaries would be sent to the white fields needing laborers? How many seminarians could be supported? How many benevolence needs met? Just the money spent on attending some of these conferences would be enough to fund a small church for years. But these “ministries” are draining and diverting great stores of energy and resources to events and products with a shelf-life of maybe a couple weeks.

  • And motivating a lot of this is the perverse “success syndrome” that affects so many ministries and men of God. Our people listen to many of these folks because they look successful, they talk about success, and they promise success. And all this success talk and striving after success affects their view of what the church is to be, and their view of the churches they’re willing to attend. The chickens that come home to roost are speckled birds that settle for the appearance of worldly gain but are not content with godliness and faithfulness. Many of our people would rather look “successful” than be faithful and holy. And that does great damage to them personally and to the body as a whole. The mask is on and it’s difficult to get a good look at their spiritual faces… because “mature Christians are prospering.”

  • Television ministries are simply platforms—huge platforms—for false teaching without accountability. Now, of course, I don’t mean all such ministries are teaching false doctrines. But, I think it’s defensible to suggest that a good number of the biggest are and that we live in a church culture that not only disdains accountability and authority in many ways, but also has no equally-scaled apparatus for correcting these massive errors and distortions. When the TV preacher is viewed as the expert theologian, despite no training to that end, and he or she is the CEO of a wholly owned corporation independent to the local church or denomination, it’s tremendously difficult to correct, rebuke or admonish. And the longer they’re not corrected, the more confidence many people are likely to place in them.

Most television preachers and their programs are a pox on the church. The subtle effects they have in eroding biblical authority, a biblical view of the church and of the Christian life amount to untold damage to countless millions.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

How to Deal with Those Who Differ From Us

Roger Nicole wrote an article by this same title that I've found useful. I was reading it for other purposes, but the recent tipping brouhaha suggests I should put it on the blog for wider consumption if you've not read it before. You can find the full article in the Founders' library here.

Nicole's basic point is that we need to ask three major questions in precisely the correct order:
I. What do I owe the person who differs from me?
II. What can I learn from the person who differs from me?
III. How can I cope with the person who differs from me?

For each of these major questions, the article is full with sub-questions and points to ponder. A few nuggets:

I. What do I ow the person who differs from me?
We have obligations to people who differ from us. This does not involve agreeing with them. We have an obligation to the truth that has a priority over agreement with any particular person; if someone is not in the truth, we have no right to agree. We have no right even to mininmize the importance of the difference; and therefore, we do not owe consent, and we do not owe indifference. But what we owe that person who differs from us, whoever that may be, is what we owe every human being -- we owe them to love them. And we owe them to deal with them as we ourselves would like to be dealth with or treated (Matt. 7:12).

And how do we desire to be treated? Well, the first thing that we notice here is that we want people to know what we are saying or meaning.... So when we intend to take issue with somebody, we need to do the job that is necessary to know that person so that we are not voicing our criticism int he absence of knowledge but that we are proceeding from teh vantage point of real acquaintance.

II. What can I learn from the person who differs from me?
Nicole offers a few additional questions to identify opportunities for learning. (a) Could I be wrong? "The first thing I should be prepared to learn is that I am wrong and the other person is right." (b) What are the facts? "In the second place we may learn from one who differs that our presentations, while correct as far as it goes, fails to embody the truth in its entirety on the subject in view." (c) What are the dangers? "I may learn from those who differ from me that I have not sufficiently perceived certain dangers to which my view is exposed and against which I need to be especially on guard." (d) What are the ambiguities? "We may learn from those who object that we are not communicating as we should and that they have not rightly understood what we wanted to say."

III. How can I cope with the person who differs from me?
Here, Nicole gives a lot of great advice on how to respond (defensively and offensively) to both biblical and general arguments. And he gives this counsel about our goals in disagreement: "remain aware at all times of the goal to be achieved. It is the consistent perception of this goal that will give a basic orientation to the whole discussion: Are we attempting to win an argument in order to manifest our own superior knowledge and debating ability? Or are we seeking to win another person whom we perceive as enmeshed in error or inadequacy by exposing him or her to the truth and light that God has given us?"

It's an exquisite work in describing what Christian maturity and charity looks like in polemics. Well worth the read!

For another viewpoint, Jollyblogger has some good comments as well, using the Apostle Paul as a model for how to refute error. Grace and peace.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

And Another Thing...

The comments following yesterday's post on tipping must be the most spirited conversation to date on this blog! Which is really interesting... in my opinion, far more interesting than the original post!

The comments range from "you must tip every time or you're a pietistic 'Judas'" to "sign me up for the protest against tipping." Every so often, an observation about the gospel itself peeks through the chatter... but only every blue moon.

But on the whole, the comments in the blogosphere remind me of a lot of evangelical preaching I hear (and perhaps my own, I need to go back and listen to some of my sermons). The preacher starts with a text (hopefully), offers an application, then insists on the binding authority of the application rather than the text. That seems to be the pattern in some of the comments: allude to or cite a text related to giving or generosity, apply it to tipping, then insisting on obligatory tipping. And is often the case with bad applications in preaching, some of the comments suggest or state that those not adhering to the "law of the application" are misers, stingy or greedy, while those who do adhere are generous, virtuous and righteous.

However we feel about tipping, we should certainly refrain from assigning motives and judging hearts when it comes to individual behavior in this regard... especially absent anything remotely close to a command to tip or to be "generous" in that particular way. "For the judgment we judge, we shall surely be judged."

And surely it's legitimate to raise the question of faithful and effective stewardship when it comes to giving and tipping. Posing alternatives doesn't make a person a pietist or a greedy thief like Judas. Many of my die-hard tipping friends pass a dozen homeless people on the way to the restaurant, never stopping to give anything to them, and sometimes are angrily opposed to that kind of "charity." The homeless man or woman ends up homeless for any number of reasons... some good, some bad. Shouldn't we protect the most vulnerable in society? Doesn't that include folks in dire straits? Why should anyone who chooses thoughtfully to give their money to a person on the street instead of a waiter be thought poorly of? Or, at the least, shouldn't we order a meal for the homeless person down the block from our favorite restaurant if we're not going to give them cash? How many of us absolve ourselves of any responsibility for greater social problems because we do things like tip a waiter?

These, I think, are good questions... not pietistic self-righteousness or greediness.You see? There I go... feeling the pressure to defend myself because I don't feel obligated to tip. And even now choking down the urge to say, "But I do tip, I do tip!" That pressure is not righteous; it curbs our freedom in Christ and clouds the stewardship and bigger justice questions the previous post rather ineffectively tries to raise.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

At the Risk of Being Called A Scrooge

Our good brothers Phil Ryken and Justin Taylor have started a little blogosphere lament about Christians and tipping. You can read Phil's comments here and the ensuing reflections and discussion here. Apparently, a Christian brother has offered his anecdotal analysis of stinginess and rudeness among Christians in the restaurant scene. Most of the blog world seems to agree and to have experienced first hand this situation. And our brother Greg Koukl at Stand to Reason has offered some thoughts about how be a better ambassador for Christ while in restaurants.

While I respect Phil, Justin, and Greg’s analysis (now… you know that whenever a sentence is started this way there’s a colossal “but” coming), but at the risk of being the “Scrooge of Evangelicalism,” I have to take a different view of the phenomena.

I’m part of a small band of brethren (call us the “Tipperatti”) who have been laboring quietly, but steadily, for a more just society… especially when it comes to tipping. Our society—no longer secret (the dark robes and hoods don’t play well in the Caribbean sun)—is dedicated to a four-plank platform where tipping is concerned.

#1 – Employers should pay their employees a fair, livable wage. If a man doesn’t work, he doesn’t eat. But in the case of wait staff who work and work hard, they still may not eat. That’s injustice number one. Injustice number two is a system of employment that shifts the responsibility for fair pay away from the employer to the customer. I realize that’s done in pricing for almost any good. But restaurants are the only places that have avoided already-inadequate minimum wage laws in most states and passed the responsibility directly to customers in the form of “tipping.”

As a Christian, it seems to me that the biblical principle at stake is not generosity (though we should all examine our hearts on this one) but employers paying fair pay. “Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him. Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight” (Lev. 19:13). Our Lord says, “the worker deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7; see also 1 Tim. 5:18). I know that many of our friends who encourage generous tipping are worried about our witness to the wait staff. But we also have a witness to the employer, do we not? Consider James’ rebuke of employers who horde:
Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter (James 5:3-5).

Don’t we have a witness to uphold with the employer as well? And might our witness for Christ be seen more effectively and lastingly if we were working to improve wages in this case? As a Christian, I think the conversation is lopsided. We need to be talking about wages AND tipping, not just tipping as an alleviation of poor working conditions that others are more immediately responsible for.

#2 – Resist inappropriate social stigmas of every kind. The current system of tipping is built, in part, on an ethic of shame and guilt. People who do not tip “generously” are in danger of the wagging finger, disapproving look, and apparently of religious profiling and scuttle-butt in the Applebee’s kitchen. It’s interesting to me that we think the name of Christ is brought into disrepute because of tipping. Isn’t the Christian the counter-cultural agent in society? Isn’t the Christian the bearer of news even when they don’t have tip money? Perhaps this is another place where we should be questioning the association of Christ and money. We do it when it comes to the so-called “prosperity gospel;” perhaps we should question this association here as well. After all, poor Christians also should be able to eat out... without the association of Christ and money and the stigma of “poor tipper.”

If I have to counsel one more college student, in debt up to their teeth, but who feels the social stigma to eat out (with money they don’t have) and to tip generously (for fear of being thought of as “stingy”), I just may scream.

This stigma is strong. And it even feeds a certain entitlement mentality. My wife and I went to a very nice restaurant in Atlanta once. Once. The tab was about $140. We left a tip as I recall… probably in the ten percent range (this was 10-12 years ago). The waitress apparently complained to the restaurant manager, who actually left the restaurant to find us outside and ask why we didn’t leave a bigger tip! My response: “We were here an hour and left $140 for a fondue meal… between the price of the meal and the labor costs you saved by having us cook our own cheese and chicken… surely you can pay her more than minimum wage.” I wasn’t a Christian then… but I’d probably say the same thing in the face of such cheekiness. The other couple we were with returned to the restaurant and left an outrageous tip. The stigma claimed another victim.

#3 – Advance true biblical witnessing. Whatever happened to "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you”? My greater concern would be for those Christians who spend hours in a restaurant, interacting repeatedly with the wait staff, and who never leave what they do have to leave – news about the Savior. Not that I think a person needs to share the gospel every time they’re out for a meal (though, why not?)… but I’m convinced the overwhelming majority of Christians probably have never shared the gospel or struck up spiritual conversations with the wait staff at a restaurant, even ones they visit regularly.

You see how the social stigma works against actually proclaiming the good news? It occupies us with percentages of the bill instead of with the plight of the souls we should be speaking with. I like Greg Koukl’s points about learning the waiter’s name and making it a point to say “thank you.” Those seem like real starters at a conversation about real issues—heaven and hell, salvation and damnation, Jesus Christ and the wait staff. If we’re going to be out among the lost, well let’s get to Jesus. Let’s have them occupied with either receiving, considering, or rejecting the Savior rather than receiving, considering or rejecting our sitting in their section because of perceived tip inadequacies. Wouldn’t it be better if the kitchen conversation was: “Oh man… here come more praying Christians. They’re kind… but I’m going to hear about Jesus and my need for the umpteenth time. I know the gospel already and I’m tired of having to face it.” If that’s the lament, then perhaps we’re being ambassadors and our being out in public has some social and spiritual value.

#4 – Priorities in Giving. I reckon most all of us would agree that a Christian’s giving should primarily focus on the expansion of the gospel and the kingdom. So, the bulk of our giving should go to our local churches in support of gospel labors the Lord gives us there and perhaps to missionaries and parachurch groups doing good work in other areas. After that, what should be our priorities? Family needs to be sure. Okay… what about after that?

Honestly, with my “spare dollar,” there may still be more worthy goals than tipping. This isn’t an argument for never tipping, or not tipping generously when you do. It’s an argument for a wider view of social giving than perhaps most people consider. When’s the last time you tipped your child’s public school teacher who makes about what the waitress makes in most places and yet has the task of intellectually and socially shaping your child for several hours a day? When was the last time you offered to purchase classroom supplies for your child’s teacher, especially considering that most teachers will pay some significant outlay in supplies that the school is too strapped to pick up? How about the garbage man or the mail man? Tipped them recently… other than at Christmas or Thanksgiving? I’m afraid that many people leave multiplied amounts of cash on restaurant tables out of social pressure and leave other worthwhile servants unthanked and unrewarded. We should correct this where we’ve erred and where we can.

So… I’m continuing my crusade… maybe in Philadelphia somewhere around Tenth Pres! Stickney, if you’re reading this, I’m still holding the fort!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Remembrance Day

This weekend, we observed Remembrance Day in the Cayman Islands. Allied countries around the globe observe Remembrance Day during a similar annual ceremony, with two minutes of silence at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – when the armistice ended World War I in 1918.

In addition to a parade and wreath laying ceremony, Caymanians commemorate the day by wearing red felt poppies--which bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders, north of Paris in World War I, their red color an appropriate symbol for the bloodshed of trench warfare.

Remembering our veterans and their sacrifice is an appropriate thing to do. Reminding ourselves of the freedoms and opportunities purchased by so high a sacrifice strengthens our connection with those who have gone before us and raises our estimation of the advantages we so often take for granted. It was a joy to see so many wearing the little poppies… a visibly bright but soft-spoken gesture of remembrance, honor and appreciation.

In times past, I’ve not been particularly observant on Veterans’ Day in the States. Even though I have a grandfather and brother-in-law who served the country in its foreign wars, the memorials have been little more than “a day off” or an inconvenient parade. That’s to my great shame. I’ve dishonored the men and women of valor who have served so sacrificially… and more tragically, I’ve dishonored the God of all creation who has acted providentially through these brave souls. I’ve neglected my own soul in failing to remember the mighty works of God in all things.

Reflecting on the day, my mind was drawn back to John Flavel’s little book The Mystery of Providence. Flavel spends a good bit of time in that book meditating on the spiritual implications of remembering. In particular, he says that meditating on or actively remembering God’s providence is a duty.

It is plain that this is our duty because the neglect of it is everywhere in Scripture condemned as a sin. To be careless and unobservant is very displeasing to God, and so much appears by that Scripture: ‘Lord, when thy hand is lifted up they will not see’ (Isa. 26:11). Nay, it is a sin which God threatens and denounces woe against in His Word (Ps. 28:4-5; Isa. 5:12-13). Yea, God not only threatens, but smites men with visible judgments for this sin (Job 34:26-27).

Flavel proposed that this was why the Holy Spirit “affixed notes of attention such as ‘behold’ to the narratives of the work of providence.” Flavel wrote that “All these invite and call men to a due and deep observation” of God’s providence in biblical history (Exod. 3:2, 9; 2 Kings 19:7; Ps. 9:16; Rev. 6:1-7).

The end of such meditations, remembrances, of God’s providential works is praise. “Without due observation of the works of Providence no praise can be rendered to God for any of them.” And “without this we lose the usefulness and benefit of all the works of God for us or others.” Flavel illustrates:

From providences past saints argue to fresh and new ones to come. So David: ‘The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand this Philistine’ (1 Sam. 17:37). So Paul: ‘Who hath delivered, and in whom also we trust that he will yet deliver’ (2 Cor. 1:10). If these are forgotten or not considered, the hands of faith hang down. ‘How is it that ye do not remember, neither considereth?’ (Matt. 16:9). This is a topic from which the saints have often drawn their arguments in prayer for new mercies. As when Moses prays for continued or new pardons for the people, he argues from what was past: 'As thou hast forgiven them from Egypt until now' (Num. 14:19); so the Church argues for new providences upon the same ground Moses pleaded for new pardons (Isa. 51:9-10).

Given all of this, Flavel rebukes us for failing to remember the mercies of God in His hard and kind providences.
It is a vile slighting of God not to observe what He manifests of Himself in His providences. For in all providences, especially in some, He comes near to us. He does so in His judgments… (Mal. 3:5). He comes near in mercies also… (Ps. 145:18). Yea, He is said to visit us by His providence when He corrects (Hos. 9:7), and when He saves and delivers (Ps. 106:4). These visitations of God preserve our spirits (Job. 10:12), and it is a wonderful condescension in the great God to visit us so often, ‘every morning and… every moment’ (Job 7:18). But not to take notice of it is a vile and brutish contempt of God (Is. 1:3; Zeph. 3:2). You would not do so to a man for whom you have any respect. It is the character of the wicked not to regard God’s favours (Is. 26:10) or frowns (Jer. 5:3).

Thinking through this great chapter in The Mystery of Providence reminds me that I should not be slothful in remembering. In the celebrations of Armistice, the tragedy of war and the glories of sacrifice, lies pictures of God who is a Deliverer of His people, mighty in battle, condescending to defend and provide for them. Remember how He has done that with Israel and how He does this with the “Israel of God,” the church, and how He has done, is doing, and will do in our individual lives.

Friday, November 10, 2006

An Unbelievable Omission

I can't believe I neglected to mention this in last night's post recapping the first day at the Miami Pastors' Conference. But easily the post conference high point for me was cruising to Dairy Queen in a red Mustang convertible--top down!--with Mark Dever, Anthony Carter and Sinclair Ferguson! Can you picture that?! The only question left for you all to guess at is, "who do you think rented the Mustang?"

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Sweet Foretastes of Glory

I love the Miami Pastors' Conference. That's where I am now. I first attended last year... and the fresh winds of like-minded fellowship had me determined to come again this year. I'm glad I did.

The time in Miami started with a longer than usual wait at the baggage carousel in the Miami airport. I don't know what happened; just noticed about 3 or 4 flights that arrived after we did but left well ahead of us through customs. No big. Thinks picked up quickly.

I shared the van ride to Glendale Baptist Church with two brothers who attend Glendale and a new brother, a new friend, Kent from Treasuring Christ in Raleigh, N.C. We had a sweet van ride reflecting on pastoral ministry, especially plural leadership, and mostly on the implications of the gospel for unity across ethnic lines. It was great discussion. Ken and other members of the team that planted Treasuring Christ are committed to laboring in the city among diverse peoples and reflecting the beauty of God's wisdom in the church, the one new man, new nation in Christ. To see the radical zeal (though, as humble as he was, he wouldn't call it this) this brother and the team have displayed in picking up their lives from comfortable surroundings and moving to the heart of the predominantly African-American city-center section of Raleigh is commendable, humbling, and faith-building. This is really how the conference began for me... a new friend, a deeper impression made by the gospel.

We arrived at the church after a quick stop at the hotel so I could change into a suit. I still can't preach without one. And trying to do that in a predominantly African-American church--southern African-American church--feels downright irreligious. Shirt and tie on... we made it to the church where I spotted Kenny. Kenny is a good brother that labors as an elder with Ken Jones at Greater Union Baptist Church in Compton, CA. A good soldier in a real battle field. Also saw Derrick and his wife, Heather. They're new laborers at Glendale. Derrick attended the conference last year as a student from Southern working a booth promoting the seminary. He got an associate pastor position out of his troubles! I think two more Southern students were there this year working the table :-). Keep 'em coming Dr. Mohler!

And what a blessing... there was Tom Ascol of Founders' Ministries and this blog. Good to see him again. And by the way, Founders has released an excellent edition of James P. Boyce's Abstract of Systematic Theology. If you don't have this, you should pick up a copy.

Following seeing some of these guys, we moved to the main meeting area. I am greatly encouraged at what the Lord is doing here. Glimpses of heaven. The room is significantly more diverse this year than it was last year. Maybe ten percent of the room is comprised of Hispanic brothers. Another ten percent white brothers. The large majority were African Americans. But these are encouraging signs of the trans-ethnic unity like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ share. I'm so thankful for those Hispanic and White brothers who have come to labor with us, to encourage us, and to be edified by us. I'm excited about what this can mean, about the foretastes of glory that can be continually stirred in our joint labors and our churches as we live out this aspect of reconciliation provided for and effected in the Gospel of our Dear Savior. Foretastes.... I can't wait for the full course!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Adjustments to Life in Cayman

If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, upon hearing that I'm a pastor in the Cayman Islands, "Ahh... suffering for Jesus, huh?" I wouldn't quite be wealthy but I'd be on my way to a nice collection of Washingtons... er, make that Queen Elizabeth II (who appears on the Caymanian currency).

But, to put all the naysayers to rest. I've decided to provide a snapshot of pastoral life in Cayman... literally a few pictures that are worth thousands of words.

Here's what the visiting pastors, like Eric Bancroft of Grace Community Church, do when they come to the island:

And here's what I do all the time (C.J. and Carolyn, thanks again for the beautiful flowers!):

And as you can see, I'm happy about where I spend my day! The way I see it... I'm more spiritual than all those folks who have to go under ocean water to physically see the beauty that's there in order to be stirred to "worship." All I need are these pictures from the survivors of such trips and I'm able to praise the Lord for His wonderful acts of creation right from my desk, dry on the land! ;-)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Around the Blog in 80 Seconds

It's Monday morning... one of those Monday mornings where you're behind as soon as you wake up. But rather than be overwhelmed with the list of things to do, I've "snuck a peek" at a few blogs... and in God's kindness found some gems for my weary soul this morning.

The first was Carolyn McCulley's post Faith That Is Rewarded. It's always good to begin the day with Spurgeon!

New Attitude posted a great interview called Humble Orthodoxy and Church Trends: 11 Questions with Justin Taylor. Excellent read.

While in a Sovereign Grace kinda mood, missing being near all those guys, I also had a good laugh with the Friday Funnies over at GirlTalk.

You've probably seen much about the Ted Haggard situation. Justin Taylor has posted his and his wife's letters to the church. They're touching. And I found Dan Edelen's post concerning the need for congregations to protect their pastors by allowing them to know the grace of being a part of the body a really insightful and helpful commentary. It prompted a good conversation between me and my wife.

Friday, November 03, 2006


There's some good preaching and teaching coming up in the next couple of weeks.

This Sunday, Nov. 5th, our brother Anthony Carter will be at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Temple Hills, MD preaching at the 5th anniversary of our fellow-laborer in the gospel, Eric Redmond. That should be a great time. If you're in the metro DC area, you should consider dropping by to encourage Eric and hear Anthony.

Next week, Nov. 9-11, is the Miami Pastors' Conference hosted at Glendale Baptist Church. This is the second annual conference. Keynoting the conference is Dr. Sinclair Ferguson. Also speaking are Rev. Ken Jones (Greater Union Baptist Church in Compton and White Horse Inn ), the aforementioned Anthony Carter, Sherrard Burns, Elliot Greene (Ref21 and Tyrannus Hall), Rickey Armstrong (host pastor who is also celebrating an anniversary in the ministry), Michael Leach and a host of others. I'm looking forward to learning a lot and the rich fellowship this event offers. Last year was a blast, and this year we're focused on "The Christ-Centered Aim of Preaching."

Make it a point to join these gatherings if you can.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Sweet Sunday

This past Sunday was a sweet Sunday at FBC. It was one of those Sundays where the Lord seems to make everything center on one idea. We began the Lord's day with an all-adult Sunday school class focusing on our statement of faith and the unity it provides. We had the privilege of hearing the Lord speak to us from Eph. 4:1-16 where unity and maturity are so wonderfully emphasized. We concluded the morning service with baptism... talk about "one body, one Spirit, one faith, one Lord, one baptism, and one God and Father of all"!

Then we spent Sunday evening with Robert and Winnie Benson--a sweet couple! Robert is pastor at Southwest Christian Fellowship in Atlanta, GA. He and winnie were in town celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary! It was a joy gleaning lessons from life and ministry from such a godly couple. Tony, thanks for giving us the heads up that they were coming--it was a tremendous blessing to Kristie and me.

A few pics from the day.
Our baptismal: Smith Cove. A number of churches on the island conduct their baptismal services here in the wide open waters of the Caribbean Sea.

As we conducted the baptisms, I couldn't help but think of the old song they sing at my mama's church... Pastor Benson even broke in with it a little bit... "Take me to the water... Take me to the water... Take me to the water... to be baptized. None but the righteous... none but the righteous... none but the righteous... shall see God."

Even the iguanas come out for the baptisms. Notice the green lizard in the little fella's hands. Now that doesn't happen at your average First Baptist baptism, does it?

It's a wonderful place to be... from the people to the scenery... and a wonderful opportunity for the gospel.

Sundays are sweet here.