Mind the Gap, Mind Your Own Mess

Most incidents in my house involve music and a screaming child. Music is playing around the clock. Screaming children indicate every passing half hour. This incident was no different. I was rocking Olivia to sleep while Taylor Swift played. A scream originated from our children’s room and my wife got to the scene first. In my defense I was walking with a little baby while my wife did some speed walking. A later enunciation revealed more embarrassment than fear, “I had an accident.” Now yes, I was sad for my daughter but I was grateful that it was not something more serious. We had hoped to be past the accident stage but not worth getting upset.

Alaina moved Kenzie into the restroom, collected her spoiled clothes, and went for cleaning supplies. All the while Judah continued playing as if nothing had happened. I remained with Olive trying to settle her. I stood taking the scene in and was impressed at how the family handled it. There was a general mood of calm that helped Kenzie to settle down. Then a practical thought struck me. This was not a common occurrence in our home anymore. Yet the entire mood of the house was understanding and calm. It got me thinking about Paul’s teaching on church membership. When I teach on church discipline, one passage of Paul’s always received a double emphasis from me.

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No Rain Dance Required

“Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him” —Psalms 115:3

One of the greatest confrontations in the Old Testament—Elijah meets Ahab and the prophets of Baal on Mount Caramel. Elijah proclaims to Israel, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions?” Elijah then proposes a contest. “Let’s get two bulls. We’ll sacrifice them . . . but without fire. Let’s see which God will answer.”

The prophets of Baal go first. This section is one of my favorites. The writer of 1 King relates:

[They] called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. 27 And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 28 And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. 29 And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention. (18:26-29)

The best part of it all is Elijah mocking them. “I bet Baal is relieving himself . . . just a little louder.” Elijah is deadly serious when it comes to his loyalty to God, but he’s not so serious that he can’t poke fun at a false god.

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Deborah Harrell & Jack Klumpenhower’s What's Up: Discovering the Gospel, Jesus, and Who You Really Are

Jack Klumpenhower’s Show Them Jesus was my dark horse favorite book of 2014. I had never heard of Klumpenhower and had heard nothing about the book. But man did it blow me away—the deftness with which Klumpenhower revealed Jesus was refreshing.

I immediately jumped at the opportunity to receive this new project he partnered with Deborah Harrell to write. I received a teacher’s guide and student’s guide for What’s Up: Discovering the Gospel, Jesus, and Who You Really Are.

I trialed this with my two oldest daughters. I took bits from each lesson and used it in family worship. They loved it. It’s fresh, engaging, and aimed for the heart. Harrell & Klumpenhower tackle issues, insecurities, and sins that kids deal with daily.

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Tell All Your (YRR) Friends

I have a confession to make. My generation is the generation that made the Young, Restless, and Reformed (YRR) possible. We connected with movies like Fight Club and The Boondock Saints. We listened to "edgy" music as an act of defiance. Basically, young and restless long before reformed. Recently, a popular name said that the serious problem with the YRR was their minimization of the "Reformed" part of the slogan. He alluded to many being only 3 to 4 point Calvinists (gasp!). I'm going to respectfully disagree. The issue is not with the doctrine. I am convinced the real issue is, hopefully now was, an uncontrollable restlessness.

I won't hide behind my decisions growing up. I've been restless for a long time. That restlessness was inappropriately centered and focused on many worldly things. Bands likes Taking Back Sunday and Brand New made my restless soul happy but not in any Christian way. (I will confess I still enjoy the "real rebels" of the music world: Cash, Nelson & Dylan but I do so now from a different starting paradigm.) In the cinema world, movies like Fight Club told me there is an evil called privilege in the world. Resentment became a foundational element in restlessness. It taught me there are things worth rebelling against. It taught me this permeating evil of privilege can only be beaten by reckless abandon and backwards views of society. I loved it. In a nostalgic way I still do. 

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Review: Alistair C. Stewart’s The Original Bishops

Alistair Stewart has written a behemoth in The Original Bishops. Let me be frank up front, Stewart’s level of writing is fairly beyond me. Theology is my specialty. This is a scholarly evaluation of church history, extra-Biblical documents, and Biblical texts concerned with church authority and leadership. The end result, The Original Bishops is an overwhelming amount of condensed information to challenge long held presuppositions concerning church leadership and how this authority developed historically.

In light of my limited knowledge, I chose to focus on Stewart’s contention that most scholarly works “repeat the same ‘facts’” (23) in defense of their ecclesiology. These “facts” are the basis of most evangelical and conservative works that I have read and dealt more directly with the Biblical text. The major (and familiar) points Stewart strives to show as “baseless” include “the synonymy of episkopos and presbyteros, the emergence of a monepiskopos from a collective presbyterate, and the origin of presbyteroi in the synagogues” (23).

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Review: David Murray’s How Sermons Work

In the Protestant tradition the proclamation of God’s Word is central to the edification and equipping of the saints. As an example of the increasing importance of sermons, many great men are remembered principally for their preaching (Charles Spurgeon being the most prominent example). In this long tradition, David Murray writes How Sermons Work to “present the accumulated wisdom of many gifted men in a clear, simple and useable way” (“Acknowledgments”).

How Sermons Work is written as a quick reference resource for a diverse audience of students, elders, experienced preachers needing a refresher, and laymen (9-10). With this large audience in mind, Murray avoids unnecessarily technical language and instead writes casually, incorporating practical examples, pertinent quotes, and helpful summaries (examples on pp. 15 and 17).

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Review: Mark Branson & Nicholas Warnes’ Starting Missional Churches

“The church is a sign, foretaste, witness and instrument of the in-breaking of God” (182).

American church planting has reached its zenith. An industry in itself, church planting has become the mission statement of some denominations present in North America (e.g. the Southern Baptist Convention). In anticipation of the many methods practiced by these church planters, Starting Missional Churches: Life with God in the Neighborhood (henceforth Missional Churches) offers an important vocalization of a new missions-minded church planting movement. Instead of treating America as a field of harvesting, the authors of Missional Churches demonstrate a story of American church planting that places “missions” at the front of the church’s worldview. Based on the presupposition that America is a mission field in which God is already at work (9-10;), the “collection of stories” (11) constituting Missional Churches focuses on addressing the neighborhood as the church’s mission field.

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Winning the Culture Wars

The last two weeks I’ve been reading James D. Bratt’s Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat—which I highly recommend (review coming this weekend). One of Kuyper’s well known contributions to Reformed Theology was his exploration of common grace and culture. Bratt makes an observation that struck me for how relevant it is to what happened in American at the end of Kuyper’s life and our current cultural climate. Bratts says,

“With the wounds of the church struggle still raw, [Kuyper] admitted that it was tempting to give up on the nation, ‘our fatherland here below,’ and he indulged his audience with the myth of a seventeenth-century golden age when pure Reformed religion ‘defined the direction of [our] public life.’ Yet he reminded them that God remained the Sovereign Lord over all history, including the present place and time. If it was manifestly so thatsecularization is the stamp’ of the age, then the Lord must have also provided the means for believers to sound the claims of faith in that context” (195-96).

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Review: Bruce P. Baugus' China’s Reforming Church

Among Christians with a passion for missions, China is on center stage. We certainly recognize the strategic mission field that is this nation of approximately 1.35 billion people, and tremendous evangelistic fruit is being seen as a staggering number are daily becoming Christian. While focused evangelistic efforts must continue (especially since many of China’s minority groups are considered unreached or unengaged), the astounding growth rate of the church poses critical and urgent needs in relation to church development. Because of this, China’s Reforming Churches is a unique in that it focuses more on ecclesiology than missiology, more on building up the church than on evangelism (though of course these are connected).

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Rev. Puddleglum: The Grumpy Shepherd

An ex Pastor friend of mine wrote me wondering what to do when the grumps effect shepherding.  His self-evaluation of his previous ministry was that his effectiveness was hampered by his own mood swings.  He does not believe he should reenter the ministry until he deals with the grumps.

What is the Pastor/Elder to do when he wakes up on the wrong side of the bed?  What is the Pastor/Elder to do when he finds himself irrationally annoyed by Church members?  What is the Pastor/Elder to do when he is cynical and does not want to be around people?

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Homosexuality and the Christian Ethic

We've lost the distinction between prophetic pronouncement against sin and bullhorn pronouncement against social agendas. These words are from a faster paced discussion of the same topic and yet, they probably reach higher than anything I can say in this longer piece.

If nothing else is gained from this article (or you’re already feeling bored), I hope that the short slogan above sticks with you (tweetable mind you). But in the meantime, I hope to step back a few steps from that attention grabber for my entry on the issue of homosexuality and Christian ethics. Confession up front. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even have all the questions. But these are the questions and answers that I’m bringing to the table that have led to my prophetic versus bullhorn dichotomy.

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Eating Stories for Life

“We are narrative creatures, and we need narrative nourishment—narrative catechisms”

—N. D. Wilson

Many of my earliest childhood memories revolve around stories. My parents read to me a good bit. Many of these books were passed down to me and I now read them to my children. Although I didn’t know it then, I was being discipled through those stories. They were providing “narrative nourishment” as N. D. Wilson calls it.

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Review: Terry L. Johnson’s Worshipping with Calvin

Worshipping with Calvin is much needed in today’s church because it asks important questions about the tacit liturgy in most evangelical and even Reformed churches. It also focuses on more than just Calvin’s worship (although that focus is present through out)—because Calvin was so strident in connecting his practices to the catholic church before him. Johnson says, “Catholicity of worship and ministry and the communion of all the saints are inseparable” (280 see also p. 58). This return looks like a simple liturgy focused on the work of the Triune God—it’s gospel-driven. In the book, Johnsons quote Ligon Duncan in making an important point: Reformed worship and ministry passes “‘the test of the catacombs’” (314). How silly would some of the pomp of the Roman Catholic Church look in the catacombs of the persecuted and even more so the performance/experience/entertainment worship so prevalent in evangelicalism.

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Should I Retweet That Compliment?

Part of my trip to Louisville for Together for the Gospel included attending a pre-conference event hosted at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and organized by Tim Brister. If you ever attend T4G, Tim’s Band of Bloggers is the best money you’ll spend. You get a free lunch and more free books than the main conference. This year’s panel discussed platform building.

That’s an important conversation--especially with the rise of celebrity pastors and the abuses that go along with it. How does one navigate these murky waters?

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A Household Gospel for Infants and Children

I’m starting a short series on how A Household Gospel might apply in areas unexplored in my book. In the first of the series, I addressed the most asked question, “What about singles?” In this second installment, I will address, “What about infants and children?” Now the book was addressed to families so in many ways I’ve applied much of the books to the parent and child relationship. Something I’ve heard a bit about the book is that many of the application are helpful, but can they really be used for infants and children (let’s say toddlers and below). I want to briefly examine this concern and also encourage parents of infants and young children.

So from the time our children arrive into the world, we are constantly rehearsing something with them. We begin with feeding, nap, and bedtime routines. As they grow, we may start reading stories with them. Simple stories with lots of colorful pictures to hold their attention. We potty train them in the same way. Rehearsing. Rehearsing. Rehearsing.

Most kids at some point starting watching tv and movies. They may start with Little Einstein’s videos. Splashes of color, language, art.  Rehearsal of the building blocks for learning. They may start watching some Disney. Once Disney has you hooked, it’s cradle to grave. They lock you in for life with their merchandize, theme parks, and by the time your kids have kids, you’ve started the cycle again. They excel at rehearsing their story.

I say all that to say: don’t over think it. We know instinctively how to rehearse things with infants and children. We do it daily. Find ways to do what you’re already doing--with the gospel. It doesn’t have to be labor intensive. It doesn’t need to be a three point sermon. Why not incorporate a wonderful Bible storybook like The Jesus Storybook Bible or The Bible’s Big Story? On top of that, why not act out stories from the Bible for your kids? Get excited. Get into it. Get lively. Kids love a hero, a damsel in distress, and a dragon. You can also find songs that are fun and that express Biblical truth. Sing them loud and often.

Most importantly find ordinary things in life to have natural conversations about the gospel. Think about when your children scuff their knee. They don’t need medical attention. They mostly want love and your presence. When they are afraid of the dark, all they want is another five minutes of mom and dad in their bedroom. Give your children equally simple doses of the gospel. When you’re children are afraid, rehearse the promises of God. When they are crying and you can’t get them to stop, tell them they are a blessing from God. Simple truths, simply said. Rehearsed over and over from when they are infants until they’re adults--until the gospel stains the very fibers of their heart.

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