Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Beneficial Faith and the Gospel of Christ

I've seen a lot of blogs posting links to this remarkable article written by Matthew Parris, an atheist, entitled As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God. Read the whole article. I want to cite some of what he wrote:

The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world - a directness in their dealings with others - that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.

Anxiety - fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things - strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won't take the initiative, won't take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders.

Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.

He observes that Christian faith liberates the mind. However, he is unwilling to himself have that freedom for his own mind. It's one thing to acknowledge the truth. It's another thing to think the truth applies to you. The man has a faith of sorts and acknowledges it as such:

It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I've been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I've been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

What's more astonishing is that he recognizes that the Christian faith is spiritual, real, and good:

Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

Umm. If it's spiritual, real and good then why not have it? This leads me to an observation. If knowing and believing isn't enough to have faith, then we must conclude that faith comes from some other source. Is it that he has simply choosen not to have faith? I imagine that he simply doesn't believe that God exists. At this point a toughtful atheist can't argue that faith is a product of evolution; otherwise we'd all have faith. While he accurately observes that faith in Africa is spread through the missionaries who bring the gospel of Christ, he himself doesn't have this faith. Presenting the information isn't sufficient for producing faith. It's like pointing out all the people who have died of emphysema to a smoker who already has a bad cough and watching the smoker himself become diagnosed with emphysema and continue to smoke until his lungs are too weak to take a drag. The truth is evident and the evidence abundant, even in the life of the atheist. So, why not have faith while one can?

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. Romans 12:3

Faith is a gift of God.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

House With or Without a Foundation

I like to watch House. I haven't particularly known why. He's vulgar, impetuous, misanthropic, atheistic and so intelligent he thinks he's right all the time, which he isn't, and right often enough to make him annoying.

Today, as I watch the umpteenth rerun of House, I finally realize why I like to watch him:

He's what I would be except for the grace of God. Pathetically reliant on my own conflicted reason and rationale. Yet there is a more sure way and as I am submitted to God in the intent of His perfect way, I can see clearly the futility of this conflicted sinful nature that yet calls flames of judgment to lick the bottom of my feet as I press on toward God's perfect peace in His glory.

And may it be that I never look on such characters as House and consider myself any better lest I become the Pharisee who thanks God he is not like the sinner.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Whatever Happened to Courting?

Apparently, "hooking up" is the new norm. Where once teens dated a few times and if things worked out they might have sex, now it seems that they have a sex a few times and if things work out they might go on a date.

When I was in high school, you "went with" someone until your parents let you go on a date. That was the 80's. You got to see your girlfriend or boyfriend at school, the mall or a party with a bunch of other people around. That was the 80s.

What's the purpose of "dating" or "hooking up"? At that age, kids aren't likely to marry their high school sweethearts. Hormones are in full swing, but making commitments and keeping covenants aren't taught sociologically. With a divorce rate over 50% there's little concept of purpose in relationship. Boys enjoy sex without commitment and girls hope that having sex will eventually lead to commitment, but the boundaries of respect and honor have been all but erased.

If there is no established goal of monogamous marriage, there is no purpose beyond mere narcissistic self-fulfillment. Even the desire for commitment as a reason for sexual submission is self-depreciation for the sake of self-fulfillment. That's just plain irrational.

My wife and I dated. We were adults and dating was normal. We actually started spending time as friends. We enjoyed hiking and watching movies together. Once we realized that there was something more developing, we called our getting together "dating". When I went away to school, I fought tooth and nail to see her nearly every weekend. One weekend my car broke down and she drove the two and a half hours to my school to come get me so we could be together. We were ready to commit and I did what few do anymore: I spoke to her dad.

Before the phenomenon of dating there was courting. Even as young adults the suitor would call on a woman in her home where others were present. They would sit together and develop a relationship with the intent of eventual marriage. If the two were idologically or developmentally incompatible, this would soon be discovered and marriage would be averted. If the two were in agreement, then the suitor would appeal to the woman's father or other familial advocate or defender for her hand in marriage. The point is that the relationship was predicated on mutual honor, respect, and devoted commitment without which a marital covenant will run afoul.

Whatever happened to courtship? I suppose I could guess at the degradation of western culture. Aren't we supposed to all be responsible and free to do whatever we want to do as long we don't hurt someone else? Aside from the fact that this fails to presuppose the fallen nature of mankind, a failure to honor others is harmful to the defense of their boundaries. Inasmuch as others are complicit in the degradation of those boundaries, they likewise inflict harm by not holding the other accountable.

Finally, children are harmed by the lack of self-respect their parents unwittingly place on them by allowing the degradation of the culture to inform their lack of values. Why else are such as teen suicide, cutting and murder on the increase?

Wisdom has been replaced with such as street cred and ill-placed liberties. May we come to our collective senses sooner rather than later.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Prayer and Party Affiliation

An interesting set of statistics from the Atlantic:

Why do you think the hard left reports as praying as much as the hard right?

And I wonder if one side more often prays missionally as Timmy Brister discusses?

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

What Is a Godly Friend?

When the Bible uses the word "friend", generally the context indicates that the word is used in the normal sense. That is, friends are those with whom we share a congenial relationship. It's a relationship that can change: Friendships develop where there were no friendships before, friends part ways or become less than congenial, new friends are made.

But there is a sense where the Solomon draws a distinction between mere companions and true friends:

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24

This follows not long after this proverb:

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. Proverbs 17:17

To be sure, the Proverbs are not to be understood as legal commands or doctrinal absolutes. They are general observations designed to highlight underlying truths. Solomon no doubt saw his share of deadly sibling rivalry. He wasn't saying that all brothers should or do strive against each other always. In fact, to be a successful peacetime king after all the familial turmoil in his father's family, he had to distance himself from his siblings.

Parenthetically, one wonders about Solomon's friends. First, he was king. The king knows of true friends? Second, he had how many wives and concubines? I've seen monogamous wives make history of their husbands' premarital friendships. What do you do for friendship with enough wives to populate a village? He must have been wise.

But the observation has to do with the attitude of one who seeks many companions versus one who values a very close friend or few.

A righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray. Proverbs 12:26

If your goal is your own popularity, than your self-glorying will quickly lead you away from God. Only God is worthy of glory. But to have a close friend who can know you intimately enough to hold you accountable is more valuable as one who can help bring you closer to God.

Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. Proverbs 27:6

Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one's friend springs from his earnest counsel. Proverbs 27:9

Interestingly, Solomon makes another observation:

Wealth brings many friends, but a poor man's friend deserts him. Proverbs 19:4

Solomon expands on this sad state in Ecclesiastes 4:

7 Again I saw something meaningless under the sun:

8 There was a man all alone;
he had neither son nor brother.
There was no end to his toil,
yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.
"For whom am I toiling," he asked,
"and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?"
This too is meaningless—
a miserable business!

9 Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their work:

10 If one falls down,
his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls
and has no one to help him up!

11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?

12 Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

There is much value in friends. Jesus Himself indicated that our temporary wealth should be used to garner relationships:

And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. Luke 16:9 (ESV)

I don't know how I've read over that verse as often as I have. Here, it is recognized that although friends come and go, there is some eternal value in having godly friends. And this value is far greater than any worldly wealth that comes and goes.

But John's account of Christ has us being willing to invest a far greater value for our friends:

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13

In my book on boundaries, there's a sense in which sacrificial giving is unhealthy. When friends make undue demands on us, then it is healthy to enforce boundaries. Where we see a friend in dire need (as in the Ecclesiastes passage above) and we can help, we ought to. Christ did. He left his friends to fend for themselves so he could go spend time alone with the Father. But when the time came, He indeed gave His life for his friends.

To sum up, godly friends
a) stick closer than a brother,
b) give wise counsel,
c) inflict beneficial "wounds" if necessary, and
d) are willing to give sacrificially for their friends.

So, the question that yet bothers me is what one does when one lacks a close friend. It is a bit of dissatisfying advice to be told that we are responsible for having godly friends when we cannot force anyone to be our friend. Where we cannot be responsible for someone else, but only responsible to them (think about that one for a while if you need to) we can only be responsible for being a friend, not for having one.

If we are commanded to love our enemies, how much more should we extend friendship to those who do not have a friend? That's not a stretch. That doesn't mean that we have to be intimately close to everyone, but we do need to minister friendship in the name of Christ should any have great need that goes unnoticed lest they fall.

All quotes from the Bible are NIV except where indicated.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Counsel of Godly Friends

You don't need close friends to find godly counsel. However, our best godly counsel comes from close godly friends.

David suggests that we need to have godly brothers and sisters in the faith that we can go to from whom we can seek godly counsel when we need it.

I get similar advice from other sources. The book on boundaries that I am reading says that making close friends is a responsibility we have. The problem I have with this is the reality that we cannot force anyone to be our friend. In fact, even the Bible indicates that we should not be friends with some people (Proverbs 22:24, 2 Corinthians 6:14). I've known people who are so socially backwards that there's no one who would or even could be their friend. If you are such a person, how do you make friends if you don't have a friend to teach you? That's where you need to find godly counsel who isn't necessarily your friend.

Even if you are socially acceptable, that still doesn't mean that you will be able to develop friendships. It is possible that no one will want to be your friend, close or not. In this case, it is important that you pray about it. God has a way of answering prayers. Even if He doesn't answer immediately in the affirmative, He can bring you to the point where you can function without friends according to His purpose for you. And to this end, if you are praying with a right heart, your will is bending to the will of God and He can use your loneliness to His glory.

Here's something else I notice about what David says here. It's important to understand that a close friend is someone who is willing to tell you the truth about yourself no matter how badly it hurts. If you seek godly counsel, you don't need someone who will simply agree with you. You need a someone who has the type of relationship with you where they can tell you the truth in love without doubting each other's motives.

Next: What is a Godly Friend?

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Monday, December 08, 2008

Meet My Friends

I find many people on the Internet who suffer from a deficit of friendship. To some degree, I’m one of them. I’ve been studying friendships and relationships in order to come to a Biblical understanding of what a friend ought to be. In planning a post on this, I discovered the need for personal context. So, before I post what I’ve found on friendship, I'll convey some of my personal situation out so you understand where I’m coming from. Many do this to a painful degree. Many shouldn’t. Many who do, do so because of a personal friendship deficit. I assure you that my personal walk goes much deeper than what I write here, but this gives you enough to apprehend what I plan to say in the next post(s) regarding friendship.

I have many friends. Just a few of them are on Facebook, and that’s over 200. Many of the people I see on a regular basis are at church. Others are Christians in my town and region who don't go to my church. I have friends in my family throughout the region as well. These include my wife's family. I have friends in my family in other states. I have friends around the world from High School, college and my days in the Marines that I have reconnected with through the Internet. I have other friends that I have made through contact primarily on the Internet, either through mutual interest or a mutual friend. I have friends from other countries in Canada, South America, Africa, Asia, Europe and other places that I have met through missionary endeavors. Franco is my friend. He owns the cleaning service that cleans my office. When I see him he always says, "Hello, my friend!" You could say that my wife is my best friend. She knows more intimate details about my life than anyone else, including my brother and parents - and she still loves me. I have a group of men I meet with each week. We pray for each other and lift up our churches, communities and nation in prayer. These are my friends. I meet with another fellow for discipleship. He's my friend.

I have friends that share different aspects of my life occasionally. I have friends that share my love for music. I have friends that share my desire to know God better and may challenge my thinking. I have friends that share my love for our Lord and encourage me by our mutual worship of him. I have friends that share my desire to go to the ends of the earth and make disciples of all the nations.

While I have regular contact with many of these friends, however, there are few with whom I can share much of my life. Meet my closest friends:

My wife, Lois:

As I’ve said, she knows more intimate details about me than anyone else. We learned in pre-marital counseling that it is unreasonable to expect a spouse to fulfill all of our emotional needs. We need to maintain close friendships outside of marriage that support the marriage. Ideally, these close friendships should be with people of the same gender. In other words, I need to have close male friendship somewhere.

My Reunion Group:

Tommy P, Tommy H, John, James, Eddy, Chris and Steve are my Reunion brothers. The title “Reunion” comes from the notion that we are united in Christ even when we are apart and we come together in reunion regularly to hold each other accountable, encourage each other and pray with each other. We are to support such things as our marriages and involvement in our churches. As it is, we typically only see each other for a couple of hours each week, so we generally aren’t involved in the mundane or tangential aspects of each others lives.

My Brother, Mark:

We’ve known each other all his life. We’ve been through a lot together, having been uprooted from a small Midwestern town and transplanted in the red clay soil of the American Southeat, enduring the death of our mom and the formation of a combined family when Dad remarried. We worked at the same burger joint together in high school and hung out with the same barflies before we matured spiritually. We were each other’s best men. He lives a bit far to get together on a regular basis, but we get to see each other from time to time. I’m slowly absorbing a book on boundaries in which it investigates family dependency. It says that when emotional dependence within a childhood family results in a failure to learn to establish healthy boundaries, then proper boundaries have not been created within the family and must be established there in order for good boundaries to be learned and established elsewhere. I don't think we're at that point, but there is a sense in which a godly friendship must go beyond the familial.


An older lady, she was my neighbor and fellow church member since 1979. I watched her kids grow up being only a few years younger than I. Her daughter’s oldest is about the same age as my oldest. I was around when her husband passed away. We’ve sang in choirs on and off together since I was in high school. Now that we go to the same church again, we sing together at church as well as with a small Christian choir called Cantamos that occasionally sings in different locations in our region. So, we see each other a few times a week at church and elsewhere.


My Internet buddy, she’s a friend of another woman who goes to my church. We share the mundane things in our lives nearly every day. I don’t have contact with another person as often as I have with her. With all my friends I still spend most of my time alone. She fills some of those lonely moments with a burst of life, an assurance that someone is still alive out there who cares enough to ask how my day is, even if from hundreds of miles away.


My adopted Internet daughter, she’s had some ups and downs in her young life, but I’m excited to see how well she continues to grow and mature into what we pray is a godly woman.

That’s pretty much it. These are my closest friends.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve learned of a deficit in close male friendship. I have my reunion group, but there’s a sense in which one may need more. I’ve often overheard friends talk about getting together at each others’ houses on a regular basis for a ball game or going to see a movie or some such. These are things for which they have common interests. Any time in the past where I have enjoyed friendship with others, we typically did whatever interested them. Most friends lack interest in the things that interest me most deeply.

Primarily, none share my penchant for creative recategorization of information for the purpose of observational synthesis. To this end I have provided my own example through the juxtaposition of Bloom's Taxonomy and the scientific method. How many got the reference in the first sentence? How many even understand it given the explanation? Let me try again. I'm an accountant of information. Inasmuch as accountants recategorize monies to track cash flow, analyze trends and synthesize budgets and business strategies, I do the same with information. Is that more understandable? With whom can I share this or which of my friends can appreciate this to the extent that they can help me make such cogitations useful? This interest of mine spills over into a multitude of activities from improvising, writing and performing music, to physical analyses, to philosophical mind-benders to theological truth-seeking, to the desire for mission endeavors, to the sense of humor that very few seem to find particularly humorous. (Puns – when the pun is so intricate you have to explain it, it just loses its oomph altogether.)

A close friend is someone who knows where you hide the key to your back door and knows they are welcome to use it. Close friends have boundaries that are much closer than for the majority of our friends. My deficit of such a friend continues, although I am resigned to the fact that it simply won’t happen outside of God’s providence and that such may not be His plan for me. Once, I sought godly counsel where my counselor expressed confidence that it would happen and encouraged me to be more gregarious. I’ve found, however, that gregariousness increases the quality and opportunity for friendly contact in social situations, but doesn’t necessarily generate close friendships.

Next: David Moss encourages us to seek friends who can give us godly counsel.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

God Centeredness

John Piper was recently challenged to speak to a group of people who don't necessarily agree with him theologically. He presented seven theses on why he is on this planet. I particularly like his third:

I press on this because I believe that if we are God-centered simply because we consciously or unconsciously believe God is man-centered, then our God-centeredness is in reality man-centeredness. Teaching God’s God-centeredness forces this issue of whether we treasure God because of his excellence or mainly because he endorses ours.

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Do You Want God to Make You Understand His Precepts?

From Psalm 119:


25 My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!
26 When I told of my ways, you answered me; teach me your statutes!
27 Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
28 My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!
29 Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law!
30 I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your rules before me.
31 I cling to your testimonies, O LORD; let me not be put to shame!
32 I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart!

This message from David Moss:

Do you want God to make you do anything? This presupposes that He will. This presupposes that He can.

I find few people who
a) believe they can understand more about God than they do;
b) want to understand more about God than they do; and
c) want to even talk about understanding God.

This is because
a) they realize that truly understanding will result in radical change in their thinking and behavior; and
b) will result in potential conflict with others who do not want to understand.

Should we not desire the deeper things of God? Why then does David desire that God make him understand? If we don’t understand we should ask. If we lack wisdom, we should ask it of God who gives to all generously. (James 1:5) The attitudes demonstrated in the Psalms are there to inform our personal attitudes. When we have enemies, we should entreat God to intervene. When we have difficulties, we should turn to God to provide for our needs. When life is going well, we should praise Him with everything we have. When we lack understanding, we should ask Him to make us understand.

And what should we beg God to make us understand? In this passage, David wants God to make him understand His precepts: his rules. If we truly understood God’s rules, we would be compelled to obey. We don’t understand because we are afraid we will have to obey and we don’t want to obey. Another way of saying this is “Make me obey.”

You see, we have a way of making the human will seem rather monolithic. We think that we want either one thing or some opposing thing. The fact is that for most opposing choices, we actually choose both and follow our greatest inclination. I’ve posted on this before a year or two ago. So, we choose both not to obey and to obey. The part of us that wants to obey God must cry out to God to make us understand and obey so that disobedience is overcome.

So, what makes us want to obey in the first place? If there is no God, no Holy Spirit to enliven us, then there is no power to obey. We will always fulfill that which we most desire and have no choice but to obey our lusts. However, we cry out because we have been made alive by the Holy Spirit: “God! Make me understand and obey you!”

And He does, to His glory.

Do you want this?

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Christmas Elfs Are Here!!!

We do disco!

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

We do the Charleston!

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

We do country!

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

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Hitler Gets Burned Investing in Real Estate

I just thought this was hilarious. I know the economy is in bad shape because of the corruption surrounding the Fannie MAE / Freddy MAC, but there's a point at which you can't take this world too seriously. There is a world to come where there will be no corruption.


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Monday, December 01, 2008

Is It Really About Choice?

I thought abortion was supposed to be okay because women had the inalienable right to do with their bodies whatever they wanted and a fetus was just a part of her body. So why are some of the same people who argue like this talking about limiting the number of fetuses a woman can have implanted through In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)? I certainly don't agree with abortion and I'm not a fan of IVF. But I would expect the pro-choicers to be consistent. If a fetus isn't really a living human being of its own, then why not let a woman do with her body as she pleases? Or is her choice only limited to the decision to kill her baby in utero while she has no choice whether to pursue the extreme opposite and have as many implanted as possible?

I suspect for the pro-abortion types that it's not really about choice, is it?

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