Saturday, June 28, 2008

Double Kidney Exchange

A family I know has recently made the news with a medical first for our area. It's called "Paired donation."



Ryan and Elizabeth Cress are siblings. I've watched them grow up and we have been praying for a kidney for Ryan for a few years now. May God have all the glory for the medical knowledge that allowed this exchange.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, June 19, 2008

John Piper on Spiritual Depression

Psalm 42

BOOK II : Psalms 42-72
For the director of music. A maskil of the Sons of Korah.
1 As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.

2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

3 My tears have been my food
day and night,
while men say to me all day long,
"Where is your God?"

4 These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go with the multitude,
leading the procession to the house of God,
with shouts of joy and thanksgiving
among the festive throng.

5 Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and 6 my God.
My soul is downcast within me;
therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.

7 Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.

8 By day the LORD directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.

9 I say to God my Rock,
"Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?"

10 My bones suffer mortal agony
as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
"Where is your God?"

11 Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

Taken from the NIV

I need passages like this more often than I would like to admit. This is a good sermon by John Piper:



You can read the transcription of the full message here. I'm a guy, so I like to cut to the bottom line "how to's". From the sermon:

How the Psalmist Responds to Discouragement

1. He asks God Why?
2. He affirms God’s sovereign love.
3. He sings!
4. He preaches to his own soul.
5. He remembers past experiences.
6. He thirsts for God.

The thing I notice is that God understand that we will go through times of spiritual turmoil - and it's okay: not that we should dwell there, but that we should continue in truth and not be overcome by the struggle, whether the enemy is a physical one or spiritual one.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Looking for Blessings on Father's Day

Happy Father's Day to my fellow fathers. I hope you are as blessed by your families as I am with mine. I got to relax today and feed my kids tonight. That means I read the Bible to them. This is important because of what I was reminded.

Have you ever spent all day with small children and no other adults? At the end of the day you are hungry for adult interaction. The children have no clue as to what you need with other adults. For the sake of comparison lets use the simple definition of IQ as being your mental age (times 100) divided by your chronological age. That means that the average IQ for your age (and other demographic categories) is 100. For the sake of comparison If you are 20 and dealing with 5-year-olds, the difference from your age is a 75 point difference. In other words, most 5-year-olds have an IQ of about 25 from the standpoint of most 20-year-olds.

Beyond 20, the age formula doesn't work very well. How, for example, do you test an exceptionally intelligent 50-year-old? His elders are increasingly geriatric and starting to have short-term memory loss. Statistical trends are calculated for adults of varying ages and scores mapped on the good old fashioned bell curve.

So, among adults, what's the difference between an adult of average IQ and one of exceptional IQ, of perhaps 175+. (The statistics become exponentially inaccurate the farther you get from 100. 90% of all people have an IQ between 90 and 110 and only 2% of the people have an IQ above about 132) The difference in intelligence is the same 75-point spread. There's a difference of maturity, for sure. However, the average adult could not understand the need for socialization among the exceptionally intelligent any more than 5-year-olds can understand the need for an adult to interact with other adults.

God challenges His children on the level we need to be challenged. You don't give a 2-year-old a polynomial equation to salve, much less a vector field to analyze. You show him an animal and teach him what the animal sounds like. A physicist has the problem of developing formulas in an attempt to reconcile macroscopic physics and quantum mechanics, which could result in a new cosmology. God challenges His people with giving up sin. For the pre-teen, his may be an attitude of respecting his parents that may be foremost on God's agenda. For an older believer, it may be despair in seeing a certain ministry fail. For the very intelligent, it may be a conflict between having faith soteriologically, but lacking it ecclesiologically or ministerially through the juxtaposition of dubious intentions.

The lesson tonight was from Exodus. We read how God hardened Pharaoh's heart against the Israelites. Luke asked why God had to harden his heart. Why couldn't He just make Pharaoh let them go? I replied with a question: Why would they want to leave?

Well, I'm not going anywhere - except to the beach next weekend before my family leaves for Venezuela. I did consider leaving all activity in a ministry I care deeply about today. But the lesson from the passage was that trials will come. We are to look for the blessings in the trials rather than the curses. The Hebrews complained about Moses and Aaron talking to Pharaoh because things got bad for them. God had His blessing for them and they were on the verge of denying the answer to their prayers for the difficulty they had to endure in the fulfillment of those prayers. All they saw was the curse.

Trials will come. God will not test us beyond what we are able. Let us remember to look for the blessing rather than the curse.

Labels: , , , ,

Amazing Grace - The Movie

Amazing Grace was a good movie as movies go. It depicts an important step in western civilization: the abolition of slavery in England. Cinematographically, it was well done. I think it was particularly well-written also. However, I'm a bit of a cynic when it comes to Hollywood. I know how insidious people can be when weaving arguments for worldviews into stories and messages. I sometimes do it myself, of course (I especially leave codes and hidden allusions for those with the wits to discover them). This is an example of the things I think when I watch movies.

Historical movies are most often made to argue for political positions on current events. This is why they are sometimes revisionistic. I don't know enough of the history of William Wilburforce to comment accurately on this particular movie in that regard. But I can comment on how this bears on current events.

This movie predates the revelation of Barack Obama's association with Black Liberation Theology. The events of the movie are predicated on the correct notion that civil activism and Christian devotion are not mutually exclusive. However, not all civil activism is good. The difference is in the truth. The lack of absolute truth is an untenable consideration. If truth exists, then it is reasonable to consider that the Creator of truth wants us to know the truth. Therefore, we can surmise that truth is knowable.

We stand condemned by the truth because we have not followed the truth. Therefore, there are a considerable number of people who yet deny the truth, because they do not desire to submit to it once they admit to knowing what the truth is. Unfortunately, many of these are the political activists of today.

In the movie, political tension was drawn between abolition and economic stability. Today, the same tension is framed between proposed measures used to address global warming and economic stability. There is an implied equivocation therefore between abolition and global warming. The two are not equal. Slavery was happening. Global warming has not been demonstrated to be occurring as the political activists purport, much less that it has anything much to do with human activity. The science is misreported and sometimes contrived. There is hardly a consensus among scientists.

At the end of the movie, William Wilburforce is contrasted with Napoleon. Wilburforce is upheld as a great man of peace; Napoleon as a great man of violence. In the year prior to an election where one President is vilified for proactive protection from a serious threat by taking the fight away from American soil, it seems likely that the writers are drawing implicit parallels between President Bush and the Democrat Party, although the key differences (Napoleon was an offensive conqueror, Bush responded offensively to an attack by religious-political terrorists) are ignored.

William Wilburforce did a great thing. His actions cannot be likened to liberal political activists of today. Yet this is the sort of literature that gradually changes the overall popular thinking. Now, how many of you would have caught these things? These were only a sampling of what I saw in this one movie. There are many more movies that seek to inform and sway our presuppositions. Be aware of them.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, June 12, 2008

To Eliminate the Desires of the Flesh

I have bad news for my readers. I’m a sinner. No, it’s true. Since you know this, you probably shouldn’t be reading what I have to say. What’s that? You say “everyone is a sinner”? Aw c’mon. We know that this is only theoretical, right? I’m an actual sinner. I’ve committed actual sins in my life. I know some people out there who haven’t actually sinned – ever… Right? I mean, we’re all sinners because of original sin. Even if you don’t sin, you still need salvation. So, surely all the people I know who act like they’ve never sinned before… well… surely many of them have never sinned. Ok, maybe they told a white lie when they were 8 years old or stole a cookie out of the cookie jar when they were 5. But they’ve never done anything major like prideful boasting, slander, unwarranted anger, cursing or ignoring the needs of the “least of these”. They haven’t even taken so much as a sip of wine lest it be a sin. I haven’t even mentioned the real biggies like adultery, hard drugs, witchcraft and murder.

Well, I was not one of these mild sinners. I once sought satisfaction for the desires of my flesh from the world rather than from God. When God brought me back to Himself, He miraculously removed desires one by one. He didn’t remove all of them. It’s one thing to say, “He removed the desire to be inebriated so I wouldn’t get drunk anymore,” because we don’t need to be inebriated. It’s another to say, “He removed the desire to eat so I wouldn’t be a glutton,” because I still need to eat something and it helps to crave the foods I need. You see, there’s a fuzzy line there when you talk about the “desires of the flesh.” Let me ‘splain:

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Galatians 5:16-24 ESV

We are instructed in the Ten Commandments not to covet. But Paul’s admonition is not to refrain from desiring. In fact, nowhere is there command to stop desiring. There is a difference between covet and desire. It’s the difference between intention and inclination.

The way to handle the desires of our flesh is not to satisfy them with the world, but to find our satisfaction in God. That means we must subject our desires to His truth, His will. We need our desires to some extent, but sin has distorted the things of this world and our desires are likewise distorted by sin. The truth of God helps us recognize the need our desires are ideally intended to address and deny the sin we may be tempted to pursue as a result of their distortion.

To pursue the desires of the flesh outside of the will of God is to commit acts of sin. For example, sexual desire is intended for pleasure and procreation only within a marital covenant. This is spiritually aligned with God’s desire for us and as such is a spiritual desire. Outside a marital covenant, sexual desire is distorted to be spiritually aligned with death or separation from God. This is fleshly desire. Spiritual desire is acted out in the temporal, but is rooted in the eternal. The desire of the flesh is rooted in the temporal to the exclusion of the eternal.

In this fallen world, the manifestation of desire in our bodies between the spirit and the flesh is physiologically indistinguishable. That’s why the difference is in our intention, not in whether we have a desire or not. God may graciously give us reprieve from some desires of the flesh, but allow us to struggle with others. We should rejoice over the struggle, for the Spirit of God is active within us, and recognize His purpose to strengthen us and build us up. Victory is when we are strengthened and bear the fruit of the Spirit.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, June 06, 2008

More Random Thoughts

Here are a few more random, unconnected, unfinished thoughts…

John Piper posted a list the other day on why he doesn’t take pot shots at fundamentalists. It’s a great list and worthy of consideration because it puts into practice the I Corinthians admonishments regarding unity in the Body of Christ. I spent a few years running from God. When He brought me back, I was adopted by a family of wild fundamentalists. It was the stark contrast I needed to the life of sin I had been practicing to show me what God had put to death in my life and what real life was. Here’s the list:
  1. They are humble and respectful and courteous and even funny (the ones I've met).
  2. They believe in truth.
  3. They believe that truth really matters.
  4. They believe that the Bible is true, all of it.
  5. They know that the Bible calls for some kind of separation from the world.
  6. They have backbone and are not prone to compromise principle.
  7. They put obedience to Jesus above the approval of man (even though they fall short, like others).
  8. They believe in hell and are loving enough to warn people about it.
  9. They believe in heaven and sing about how good it will be to go there.
  10. Their "social action" is helping the person next door (like Jesus), which doesn't usually get written up in the newspaper.
  11. They tend to raise law-abiding, chaste children, in spite of the fact that Barna says evangelical kids in general don't have any better track record than non-Christians.
  12. They resist trendiness.
  13. They don't think too much is gained by sounding hip.
  14. They may not be hip, but they don't go so far as to drive buggies or insist on typewriters.
  15. They still sing hymns.
  16. They are not breathless about being accepted in the scholarly guild.
  17. They give some contemporary plausibility to New Testament claim that the church is the "pillar and bulwark of the truth."
  18. They are good for the rest of evangelicals because of all this.
  19. My dad was one.
  20. Everybody to my left thinks I am one. And there are a lot of people to my left.

What I find interesting is that for theological conservatives, we recognize those who deny the veracity of key elements of Christian orthodoxy as “liberals” while calling ourselves “conservatives”. “Fundamentalists” are those who are theologically conservative who tend toward legalistic trappings or appearances.

Most liberals don’t call themselves “liberals”. They call themselves “moderates”. They call conservatives “fundamentalists” and make no distinction between adherence to Christian theological orthodoxy and overt behavioral legalism. Use of the term “moderate” implies that there is some group much farther left that they don’t agree with. The problem is that if there are, they generally don’t acknowledge them. They certainly don’t criticize them like they criticize those they consider to be “fundamentalists”. As such, their intent seems to be to reframe the argument semantically in an attempt to move mainstream thinking ever leftward.

These same “moderates” would have been happy to leave me in my former sin. Thank God for the fundies.

Another one from Desiring God references a Piper sermon on “Spiritual Depression in the Psalms”. I’ve talked about depression before, but this is something I’m still processing. The question I ask myself is why do we treat depression like it is a spiritual weakness?

“You have emotional issues? You must not be very spiritually mature.”
“I have emotional issues. I can’t let anyone know about it because then they’ll think I’m not a very mature Christian and ostracize me.”
or… “I have emotional issues. People will patronize me or not know how to interact with me.”

Actually, all of these are fairly accurate. However, none of them are indicative of attitudes that are becoming of a healthy Body of Christ. A good church recognizes the truth. Truth alone does not good ministry make. Sacrificial service in love does. There’s a lady who has been visiting our church. She’s been tangentially active, but has had some issues in her life. She’s open about the fact that she’s had a nervous breakdown, but most people are unwilling to sit and listen to her – so I do.

Spiritual depression, severe stress and emotional needs are characteristic of many of the first-person view in the Psalms. In this fallen world, this is normal. The church above all should be the first to recognize and offer comfort and direction for this. You can’t do this unless you are transparent enough to offer your own struggles. However, this is viewed as weak and not becoming of good leadership.

I don’t have any admonitions here; this is just where I am in considering these things.

We (Christians) are gifts. Ok, we have received the gift of eternal life, but we are gifts to the Son by the Father. (John 17)

The question was asked, “What kind of gift am I?” I saw a commercial the other day. I think it was for an insurance company or some such. An old car, a classic that needed a lot of restoration work, was being bought and attached to the back of a truck.

The announcer came on and said something to the effect that “There’s nothing like towing a ‘new’ car home.” I imagine that’s what kind of gifts we are.

Perhaps we can imagine the Son saying to the Father, “Couldn’t you clean them up a little bit?”

The Father replies, “I have given them to you. It’s up to you to clean them up.”

I don’t mean to mischaracterize the relationship between the Father and the Son. No analogy is perfect. But I got a kick out of thinking that God saw fit to not only give me a gift that I do not deserve, but to consider me a gift fit for the Son.

PFC Ross McGuinnis was awarded the Medal of Honor a few days ago posthumously. He gave his life for his fellow soldiers in an act that, given fuse times of grenades, took a scant second or two to perform. He didn’t have time to think about it in that moment. Rather, in order to react as he did, he would have thought about it and made that decision ahead of time.

Dealing with sin is an act of living sacrifice. We can’t wait until temptation strikes to make the decision. It’s too late by then. We make the decision what to do when tempted ahead of time. Given the insidious nature of temptation, we must realize that our lives here are to be characterized with a trust in God that desperately clings to Him moment by moment not unlike a soldier who in the heat of battle desperately clings to his weapons and armament, and looks to his fellow soldiers for support and commander for guidance.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Trusting God in Suffering

I remember a day when kids were encouraged to dream big. There was a time when one could hope to do well enough to be the President of the United States. The American Dream was that anything was possible. We had hope. In many ways, we still do. However, it's waning.

I'm sitting here glancing at the photos of past trips to Venezuela where we've played with the children. Our hope is to share the gospel with them and plant seeds of spiritual growth - the hope of the gospel. Some dare to believe and come right up to greet us. Others are tentative, only daring to hope after a while. The pictures I see are of children with varying degrees of hope in their eyes.

I ask myself, what hope do they have? Could they grow up to be the president of Venezuela? Do that have hope like that? Is their environment one that encourages people to dream big? Do they see people who work hard and create wealth for themselves and the society at large?

But there is a greater hope. President of any country is a small thing compared to being a child of the Creator.

Last night I read Exodus 1 and Psalm 79 with my kids. I don't plan our readings ahead so much as we just go through the Bible systematically. We got to the end of Genesis. Psalm 78 was a good overview of the OT history to come, so we went on to Exodus instead of bouncing up to the Gospel of Mark, which was the other simple option.

In Exodus 1, the Hebrews have a bad turn of events in Egypt. Formerly they were honored guests in Egypt. Now, they are enslaved by the Egyptians under the control of Pharaoh. Pharaoh feared the Hebrews who were growing in number. Through Joseph's leadership, he inherited ownership of the Egyptians. Perhaps he also feared the foreigners in his land who were not his to command. In any case, things got bad for the Hebrews. Pharaoh ordered newborn boys killed at birth, which the midwives disobeyed.

In Psalm 79 we read about how Israel was destroyed and Judah taken into captivity. Jerusalem was reduced to rubble in the first verse. The overall message of the psalm is that God is our deliverer and avenger.

I like to make things real for my kids. It's one thing to say that Jerusalem was destroyed, many people killed, and most of the rest enslaved. It's one thing to say that your unborn brother was to be killed when he was born. After all, it's just a piece of boring history. Things aren't like that today, we are tempted to think. It's another thing to realize that China has forced abortions. How can the Chinese government do this? Simple: They own the people.

How about entire villages that are leveled and infrastructures that are destroyed? People killed? Many taken into captivity? Where is this happening today? Sudan. So I bring it home to my kids. An enemy comes and destroys much of the United States. Our house is burned to the ground. Our church is reduced to rubble. Our town is a pile of smoldering debris. Many of the people we know are either dead or captured and taken away never to be seen again. How do you feel? Where do you turn? There is no hope. All the things we place our trust in, like the safety accorded us by the presence of the police department, fire department and ambulance service, are gone. We can't even pick up the phone to call a friend.

We must be comforted by the fact that these things are only reliable for a season. The message for the Hebrews then is the message God gives us in the Psalm. He is the only one worthy to be trusted for all things. Even if we lose our life, we gain it through the One who created it to begin with. He is never surprised by our suffering and He uses our suffering to turn our hearts to Him. May we do so.

Labels: , , , ,