Thursday, March 26, 2009

Does the Gospel Call You to Take in Convicted Murderers?

HT: Ray Ortlund, Jr. Good morning America featured a story about a pastor in New England who faces the town's disdain for living out the gospel and believing that Christ changes people. See here.

John Hope Franklin Dies at 94

One of the deans of African-American social and historical studies, John Hope Franklin died on March 25th. He was 94.

For those not aware of Franklin's work and contributions to African-American studies or to the American conversation on "race," a few brief reflections make an introduction to his life and work.

Duke University, where Franklin spent so much of his career, offers this tribute.

Associated Press

The Washington Post (w/ photo gallery)

The New York Times

Chronicle of Higher Education

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ligonier Videos Available

What a joy it was to participate in the Ligonier National Conference this past week. Sitting under such outstanding teachers and preachers enriches the soul. And I was especially encouraged to be there with ten folks from FBC Grand Cayman, with many others praying and watching. It was a sweet reminder of our partnership together in the gospel and the inseperable union between people and pastor.

For those interested, the videos of the conference talk are now available here. While I benefitted from all of the talks, my soul lept most at the reflections on the family of God and the holy nation found in Ferguson's and Carson's sermons. To think, God has made us who were no people to be His holy people. Even saying it is far less than the wonder of the reality! Enjoy being God's people today!

A Stranger in Your Homeland

At the suggestion of a friend, my wife purchased me a copy of I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years Away. I'm just getting started good, but the author, Bill Bryson, is laugh-out-loud funny! At age 18, Bryson moved to Englad where he began a career in journalism, married, and began a family. After spending twenty years in England, he returned to the United States with his family. The book is a memoir chronicling in brief chapters the various oddities and surprises of American life. If you're looking for a good read, light but insightful, engaging... might I recomment I'm A Stranger Here Myself.

From the publisher's website:

Delivering the brilliant comic musings that are a Bryson hallmark, I'm a Stranger Here Myself recounts his sometimes disconcerting reunion with the land of his birth. From motels ("one of those things--airline food is another--that I get excited about and should know better") to careless barbers ("in the mirror I am confronted with an image that brings to mind a lemon meringue pie with ears"), I'm a Stranger Here Myself chronicles the quirkiest aspects of life in America, right down to our hardware-store lingo, tax-return instructions, and vulnerability to home injury ("statistically in New Hampshire I am far more likely to be hurt by my ceiling or underpants than by a stranger").

Along the way Bill Bryson also reveals his rules for life (#1: It is not permitted to be both slow and stupid. You must choose one or the other); delivers the commencement address to a local high school ("I've learned that if you touch a surface to see if it's hot, it will be"); and manages to make friends with a skunk. The result is a book filled with hysterical scenes of one man's attempt to reacquaint himself with his own country, but it is also an extended, if at times bemused, love letter to the homeland he has returned to after twenty years away.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Build Friendships or Eat Your Own Heart

“Those who lack friends to open themselves unto are cannibals of their own hearts….This communicating of a man’s self to his friends works two contrary effects; for it redoubles joys and cuts griefs in half.” (Francis Bacon, “Of Friendship,” 1625)

Quoted by David Powlison in his interview with C.J.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Around the Blog in 80 Seconds

A good brief plea for heart and head in the Christian life.

Spurgeon: "We need pardon for doubting as much as for blasphemy." See here.

Read how Hee Haw, The Andy Griffith Show, and The Dukes of Hazzard helped one man embrace racial reconciliation. I grew up on these shows, too. And we're collecting The Andy Griffith Show on DVD along with The Jeffersons, The Cosby Show, Good Times and Stargate Atlantis.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Off to the Ligonier Conference!

Looking forward to the fellowship in word, song, and prayer. A number of folks from FBC are attending, so it'll be an extra treat to join together with them especially. If you can't make it, catch the free live stream here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Why the Time Magazine Trumpeting of New Calvinism Is a Bad Thing

Seven quick reasons:

1. I'm not so sure that the "new Calvinism" is all that "new." This post is helpful in explaining why.

2. The potential for making biblical truth a fad seems quite high. All fads die. If the resurgence of robust biblical theology rides an emotional crest until that superficial, emotional wave dies, so too will interest in robust biblical truth. We're all familiar enough with church history to have seen this several times over.

3. The media attention forces some superficial attempts at self-definition, and the inevitable result are "camps" of Reformed types. Add a little carnality, and then you'll hear folks saying they're of Paul, or Appolos, or Peter, or Dever, or C.J., or MacArthur, or Driscoll, or the really, really Reformed, etc when those men weren't even looking for groupies. We need a strong confessional center with the charity that celebrates secondary and tertiary distinctives. Which is why I am so encouraged by this group and the work of these friends and this growing fellowship.

4. Not only are there "camps" within Reformed circles, but it also prompts some unhealthy Reformed/non-Reformed tensions. The potential for playa hatin' is great. Well-informed leaders inside the SBC have been dealing with this enough over recent years, I think. Do we want the attention of secular news outlets stirring the cauldron of Christian disunity? We ought to be wary of such a potential outcome.

5. Goal displacement. Put simply: so much of the talk about the "new Calvinism" "winning the culture" ends up taking too many eyes off the cross, off the gospel, off the local church, off the great commission, and off the great commandment. Not all such talk does this, but enough does. And that's bad.

6. False views of success. How many of us would have thought Calvinism was changing the world before this article? I suspect many of us Reformed types would feel beleagured and embattled, not victorious, etc. Now we have a news magazine ranking the work of God as #3 in the world. Is that success? Do we want to define success by media spots? I'm sure we don't. So we probably ought not put too much stock and spill too much ink over this.

7. Do most people even know what Calvinism is? Do we want a brief news blurb to be their introduction, especially given the remarkably high likelihood of misunderstanding and fear? Gotta be a better way than a #3 ranking on a list of things changing the world right now.

Is the "new Calvinism" and its spread a cause for rejoicing? I think so. But there are also some pitfalls that come with loving the applause of men.

17 Things You Might Not Learn in Seminary

And you'll need to know all of them. See here.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Something I'm Hoping to See the Ladies of FBC Use

This past Fall, the Lord granted me the privilege of speaking at the annual Peacemaker Ministries National Conference. It was a wonderful time fellowshipping with the entire Peacemaker family, who, as you would hope given the name of the ministry, exudes humility and peace and gentleness and joy. It was an instructive and encouraging time.

While at the conference, I learned about a new resource called The Peacemaking Church Women’s Study: Living the Gospel in Relationships. The Peacemaking Women's Study is a new eight-week video-based study from Tara Barthel and Peacemaker Ministries that covers relationships, biblical peacemaking, and the hope of the gospel. Peacemaker Ministries is an organization that exists to assist and equip Christians and their churches to respond to conflict biblically. In addition to writing the book Peacemaking Women, Tara Barthel has an active speaking and writing ministry—get to know her through her blog, Considerable Grace.

Over the next couple weeks, I hope to watch and comment on the video study. When I heard Tara speak about it at the conference, the strong emphasis on gospel and church community nearly pulled me out of my seat. It seems to me that nearly every church's women's ministry could benefit from a twin dose of gospel centrality and a high view of the church family. Looking forward to learning from these resources. Feel free to join in with me!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Riding with the Anyabwiles

Driving home from Bible study Wednesday night, my wife and I began discussing a pastor friend who is encountering significant resistance to his ministry of consecutive exposition. At one point things turned into a family discussion as follows:

Mom: Girls, can you believe that some people don't want to hear their pastors explain the Bible to them?

Youngest girl [incredulous]: So, what's the point of going to church?

Dad: Exactly.

Mom [graciously]: Well, some people would rather hear the pastor tell them how to do certain things and tell them entertaining stories.

Oldest girl [perplexed]: What?

Dad: Like how to parent, how to communicate with your wife, and so on.

Oldest girl: I don't understand. Isn't the Bible full of things like that if you just keep preaching through it?

Dad [triumphant]: Yep. You understand it quite well. When you grow up and move away, be sure to find a church that's dedicated to preaching the word of God like that.

If my 9 and 10 year olds get it, I wonder why it's so difficult for adult pastors to understand.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What's a Young Woman's Responsibility in the Dating or Courtship Process?

From What He Must Be: If He Wants to Marry My Daughter by Voddie Baucham, pp. 28-29.

This book is not an attempt to absolve young women of their responsibility. Ultimately they are the ones who will walk the aisle and take the vows. They are the ones who will either accept or reject the proposal. That is why this book is in large part for them. Have your daughters read this book. Doing so will be helpful in several ways.

First, this book will help young women gain a better understanding of what they should be looking for. As the old saying goes, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. Sadly, this is precisely the way many young women approach marriage. Casual dating turns into a long-term relationship. A long-term relationship turns into a foregone conclusion. And eventually that foregone conclusion turns into a marriage. This does not have to be the case. There is more! We must help our daughters turn their affections away from cultural conditioning and toward biblical truth.

Second, this book will help young women see the importance of partnering with their parents in the courtship process. I believe most young women want their parents involved in this. Of course, the culture has painted them into a corner, and they don’t quite know how to get out. Nevertheless, many young women want some degree of help when it comes to choosing a mate. After all, this is the most life-altering decision they will make apart from coming to repentance and faith in Christ.

Finally, this book will help young women realize their dependence upon God. Reading the biblical characteristics of a godly man can be a bit intimidating. Since the bar has been set so low for so long in our culture, many of the qualities and characteristics seem strange, and perhaps a bit distant. But they are supposed to be. This book is not about what every Tom, Dick, and Harry already is; this is about what a God-honoring, Christ-exalting, Bible-believing husband must be. If it were easy or normal, there would be no need for this book. Only God can bring about the kind of change necessary in a young man to prepare him to be the kind of husband the Scriptures portray. Thus, reading this book should drive young women to their knees as they plead with God to make a man like this and bring him across their path. In the meantime, we must not settle for less than what he must be.

The question: How much responsibility should a young woman have in the dating or courtship process?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Are We Preparing Boys and Young Men to Be Husbands and Fathers?

Here's one way Baucham describes the problem:

Imagine a family who did not prepare their children for college. This would be unthinkable in today’s world. Everyone prepares their child for an academic future. Day-care programs boast about the head start they will give children in their “academic careers.” We buy houses in neighborhoods with “the best schools.” Beyond that, many families place their children in expensive preparatory schools, enduring tremendous financial burdens, incurring debt, and commuting hours each day in an effort to give their children an edge in that all-important race for the apex of academia.

However, little thought is given to preparing our sons to be husbands. Thus, they meander through life without the skills or mind-set necessary to play this most important role until one day, having met “the one,” they pop the question, set a date, and—in the rarest of cases—go to the pastor to learn everything they need to know about being the priest, prophet, provider, and protector of a household in four one-hour sessions. In the words of that great theologian Dr. Phil, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”

As a result, we have families led by men who haven’t the foggiest idea what their role is or how to carry it out. We have wives who were created with a God-given need to be led by godly men, a curse from the days in the garden that puts them at odds with this arrangement, and a cultural mandate to fight against male headship. Top this off with children who long for the security that can only be found in clear roles and boundaries in the home, and the result is a frustrated family mired in dysfunction. Sound familiar?

If we have any desire to change this, we must begin to prepare young men to be husbands and fathers. We must stop preparing them for lives of selfishness, immediate gratification, and perpetual adolescence if we ever expect to turn the tide. The skills required of a husband and father take a lifetime to acquire. Our sons must begin to acquire them sooner rather than later. If we prepare our children to be husbands and wives, and God calls and equips them to be single, we have lost nothing. On the other hand, if we do not prepare our children to be husbands and wives, and they (like the overwhelming majority of people) end up married someday, we have lost a great deal. Prudence would point toward the necessity to prepare our children for marriage, and to do so with all diligence. (pp. 42-44

The question for today: What does it mean to prepare a son or a daughter for marriage? Is this really a fundamental duty of parents?

Monday, March 09, 2009

What I Pray God Makes Him... If He Is Going to Marry Someone's Daughter

I'm thrilled that Voddie Baucham's new book--What He Must Be... If He Wants to Marry My Daughter--has hit the stores and online outlets. I'm also happy to be participating in the book tour for this important work.

A while back, I had the privilege of hearing Voddie deliver a sermon by the same title (link and summery here). The sermon was vintage Voddie--powerful, hard-hitting, unavoidable, in your face, irresistible Bible and logic and passion. The book is even more so.

Baucham: “We cannot expect young men in our culture to turn up as ready-made husbands. Our culture is broken. As a result, young men are broken. They do not have the tools they need. This is not always due to a lack of spiritual commitment. It is usually a result of a lack of teaching and discipleship. They just don’t know what they don’t know. As a result, fathers have to consider the possibility that they may, in a very real way, have to build their own son-in-law.”

My wife and I have lived with that realization for a few years now. Baucham has put words to our angst. As we look at our daughters, we wonder out loud, "Who will they marry?" The question isnt rooted in a romantic idealizing about Prince Charming, it's rooted in the harrowing reality that so few young men seem really to be prepared for manhood at all. I think it was Mohler who coined a term for the problem: "adultolesence."

The problem first came home as over the years we've considered the plight of African-American families, where staggering percentages of children grow up without their fathers. I know the haunting spectre of father absence in my own life. Entering manhood without the teaching, nurturing, correction, and pushing of a father tends to leave a young man bewildered, insecure, and unreliable.
Voddie's challenge: "build your own son-in-law."
That's a fitting challenge, written from the perspective of someone raising daughters, of which I have two. But it's also a fitting challenge for someone raising boys, of which I have one.
Reading this book with one eye on Titus deepens the urgency and clarity of my calling as a father: I must raise my son to be that man of God who will be part of the solution to this pandemic, who will love Christ above all, walk steadfastly in the ways of the Lord, lead his wife and family with strength and compassion and intimacy, and who will himself invest in the lives of his sons and their peers.
My guess is... you probably have a daughter, a son, a niece, a nephew, or a cousin. So, my guess is this book has some application to you. The problem of the disappearing marriageable male certainly has application to us all. Reading and applying What He Must Be is certainly a start to turning the curve on this issue.
So, over the next couple days, let's have a conversation. I'll post some selected portions from What He Must Be... with a pertinent question, and why don't you jump in with thoughts, reactions, etc?
The book is available at a number of outlets:
Christian Books:
LifeWay Stores:
Table of Contents

Introduction 9
1 Multigenerational Vision 13
2 The Ministry of Marriage 31
3 A Father’s Role 47
4 He Must Be a Follower of Christ 67
5 He Must Be Prepared to Lead 85
6 He Must Lead Like Christ (Ephesians 5) 103
7 He Must Be Committed to Children 123
8 He Must Practice the Four P’s 139
9 Don’t Send a Woman to Do a Man’s Job 159
10 Can’t Find One . . . Build One 177
Conclusion 195
Notes 207

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Thank You for Your Prayers and Partnership in the Gospel

This is an overdue 'thank you' to the many, many of you around the world who prayed for our recent ministry efforts in the Middle East. Today concludes our time here and each moment has met with the wonderful blessings and guiding providence of our loving God and Savior.

It's been a very hectic 10 days or so. We landed last Thursday at 7:30pm after a 13 hour direct flight from Atlanta. I think I'm all caught up on the movies I've missed over the last several months!

We arrived at our lodgings around 9:30pm or so, grabbed a light dinner, then off to bed. Fridays are holy days in Islam, so Friday morning found us gathered together with the saints here. It was an honor to preach during the two morning services at one international church here, and later to share my testimony at an Arabic speaking church. I can't quite describe what it's like to praise God with Arab brethren in Arabic... somewhat exotic and familiar at the same time as occassionally a known tune would be sang or a "halleluja" would go up while the rest of the service was a glimpse of that day when every tongue shall praise God. One thing about our Arabic brethren, though, they love to be together. We started service at 12:30pm and ended around 3:30pm. It was a full morning and afternoon.

That same Friday, the student leadership conference began. From Friday evening through Saturday, I delivered three talks on biblical theology, attempting to help the students see the unity of the Scriptures and the glory of the gospel throughout all of Scripture. The students interacted hungrily with the word and with each other. We hoped the conference would be useful preparation for the dialogue and the follow-up afterwards. By God's grace, I think we met with some measure of success.

Sunday included a time of prayer with the team here, some brief fellowship time with my dialogue partner, Bassam Zawadi, and discussion with the church elders. The entire day was sweet.

Monday's Muslim-Christian dialogue was the central reason for our visit. What a unique opportunity to proclaim the supremacy of our Savior in a land where He is not known. The Christian Fellowship Club, the only one in all of the Middle East as far as I know, did an outstanding job with all of the details. The event took place in the largest room available on campus. The room filled with some 275 people, overwhelmingly Muslim. Two years ago, we were able to distribute about 100 copies of the ESV outreach Bible. What a treat to see a lot of those Bibles show up again at this year's dialogue. In addition to those, we were able to distribute about 75 more Bibles this year.

An area mosque announced the event to the 600 persons on their mailing list. The wider the event, the greater the concern for a peaceful, constructive dialogue. Though a number of people, myself included, found themselves anxious about this issue, the Lord turned the room into a very hospitable and winsome atmosphere. Bassam and I were able to engage one another seriously and winsomely. The Lord enabled the gospel to go forward repeatedly throughout the event, including a concluding word of personal testimony about my conversion from Islam to faith in the Lord Jesus.

A senior advisor for Islamic Affairs attended the event. Following the dialogue, he very excitedly shared with others that such events should happen more often. Please pray for the King, the kingdom, and such officials in this region, that they would work to preserve religious liberty and the right of all people to worship according to their own conscience. Pray that this event would be precedent-setting and door-opening for the gospel in this region. Pray that the Lord would demonstrate His power through the gospel in the conversion of many.

The video of the dialogue should be up on YouTube at some point. Please check it out if it interests you. And please pray that the Lord would be pleased to extend the fruit of the dialogue across the region through this means.

We found out later that night, after having enjoyed so much of the Lord's favor, that two people dear to the saints here had been detained by the secret police in a nearby country. They've been caught up in an anti-Christian sweep being conducted by that government. Our joy melted into prayer for these brethren. This country is currently considering an anti-conversion law that would enforce a death penalty for Muslims who convert. In addition, some Christians suspected of affiliating with Westerners are in danger of being charged with treason and spying, also carrying the death penalty. Please pray for the nearly 100 Christian leaders who have been rounded up over recent months, and for these two brethren currently detained. The good news is we've heard from them since their arrest. But they still need the Lord's favor. Pray for their joy and strength in the Lord, and that the Lord would shake the jail causing the jailers to repent and believe.

Tuesday-Thursday included follow-up meetings with student leaders and some of the attendees at the dialogue. Again, the Lord showed great favor and blessing in these times. Stephen visited and shared at the host campus for the dialogue while I visited another university in a nearby city. I also had the wonderful privilege of catching up with dear friends during these days, friends first made while we were back in Washington, D.C. I felt like the Lord indulged me in these times.

Thursday night included a talk at the church's youth group. And Friday morning I spoke again at the church's two services. I was thankful for the Lord's sustaining grace on Friday, since I came down with some flu-like thing on Wednesday. We attended the evening service, where the church prayed for the saints and ministries back at FBC and celebrated the 19-year ministry of one of its elders now moving to Australia. A sweet time gathered with the Lord's people.

Saturday was spent with student leaders talking about spiritual leadership, its joys and challenges. The team went out to the dessert for a time of prayer and hymn singing. Finally starting to feel better, I stayed behind for a bit more rest.

It's been a tremendous week with much, much more to give God praise for. To see His sovereign hand at work here leaves one in awe! May He continue to make himself known and receive the praise of the elect among the people of this region!

Thank you for your prayers and encouragements. I trust the Lord will grant you an unfading crown for your love and kindness!

Friday, March 06, 2009

Below the Radar...

One of the unique opportunities created by being a crossroads city is the opportunity to host leaders and scholars passing through town. The good folks at CHBC do that pretty well, and part of the enduring fruit are the Carl F.H. Henry Forums. If you haven't checked those out before, you'll find a lot of soul-edifying stuff there. Some 34 forum lectures are available here.

A couple of interesting recent lectures include:

Monday, March 02, 2009

This Guy Understands Me...

Or at least why I've had an undying love for Kung Fu movies since I was about 5. HT: His dad.

Worth pondering (HT: Of First Importance):
“You’ve got to think of His grace until you can’t help be like Him.”
- Tim Keller

I'm afraid I have this compulsion, too.

Prayer Requests from Joni Eareckson Tada

Justin Taylor posted a great video on a theology of suffering and these requests from Joni Eareckson Tada at his blog:

Friends who have seen Joni recently have said that she has been really struggling lately with her health and that she is in need of much prayer.

As I thought about linking to this video, I thought it might be a good opportunity for us not only to benefit from her teaching but also to lift her up in prayer.

I asked her how readers of this blog could pray for her. She wrote:
I've been doing better and feeling much stronger since that presentation at the Dallas Theological Seminary chapel. If I were to ask for anything, I would say...

Pray that my fragile bones become stronger.
Ask God to infuse courage into my heart daily!
Over all, my pain levels are getting much better but still, please pray away any anxiety.
Help me not to become me-centered when I'm in pain!
Pain medication is never fun to take. Pray that soon and very soon I won’t have to lean as heavily on it.
Plead to God that I might know Jesus better through all of this and not "waste" my sufferings!!

So would you consider taking these requests before the throne of grace? I know that she is deeply thankful.

Muslim-Christian Dialogue

Just a quick update for those who are interested and who would have a moment to pray. Monday (today) at 10am-1pm EST, I'll have the privilege of participating in a third Muslim-Christian dialogue in Southeast Asia. The topic for the dialogue, chosen by my Muslim dialogue partner, is "Who Is God and How Are We Saved?" It's an historical opportunity to advance Christian-Muslim understanding in this part of the world, to model significant exhange between committed believers in these respective faiths, and, most importantly, to consider this truly important question with eternal consequence.

My partner is a young man I had the privilege of meeting during an earlier visit to the region. His name is Bassam Zawadi, an intelligent and spirited Muslim apologist. He recently debated David Wood, Teaching Fellow at Fordham University, on the question of whether Christianity or Islam is true. Scroll down here.

Pray for Bassam and me as we engage each other in this discussion. Please pray for the audience, for the region, for those who will watch later by video and YouTube, and most of all for the Truth to be clearly seen, and seen, believed.