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July 2006

July 31, 2006

Today is Trade Deadline day in the Major Leagues. My team, the Bluejays, are expected to be “buyers” this year, indicating a desire to compete with the Red Sox and Yankees to win their division. With less than two hours to go, they have not made a move. As I hunted around, looking for clues as to their inactivity, I began to wonder what the church would look like if it ran on a market similar to major league sports. I wonder if it would go a little something like this:

Sun Valley, CA Hot off the wires, the Associated Press reports a blockbuster trade. With the annual ecclesiastical trade deadline only hours away, Bethlehem Baptist Church and Grace Community Church have agreed to a four pastor deal. While early rumors indicated this might be a three-church trade involving Capitol Hill Baptist Church, the final deal is as follows:

Grace will send Pastor-Teacher John MacArthur, Minister of Music Clayton Erb and Associate Pastor, High School Ministry Eric Bancroft to Bethlehem in return for Pastor for Preaching and Vision John Piper, Lead Pastor for Operations Jon Grano and future considerations. MacArthur, widely regarded as the nation’s leading expositor, agreed to waive his no-trade clause in return for an expanded book allowance. Piper, world-class author and highly-regarded preacher, will assume MacArthur’s pulpit and radio duties. We are unable to confirm whether Piper will be expected to transition from the ESV translation of the Bible to the NASB.

While Piper was unavailable for comment, his agent read the following prepared statement: “While he was initially disappointed to hear of this trade, Pastor Piper is looking forward to serving the men and women of Sun Valley, California.” Author of more than 20 books, Piper has been serving Bethlehem since 1980. He is expected to join the staff of Grace Community Church this week. It is believed that Piper’s new contract stipulates that he will not be allowed to raise his hands in worship and will be limited to eight hyphenated words per sermon.

This trade, which had been the subject of rumors for several weeks, addresses pressing concerns in both churches. Sources who wished to remain anonymous indicated earlier this week that, while a deal was close, Bethlehem was unwilling to complete a trade without involving Phil Johnson, Executive Director of Grace To You. It appears now that Johnson, who has edited most of MacArthur’s major books, will remain with Grace To You and will edit forthcoming books by John Piper. “I am excited about supporting the God-exulting, Christ-centered ministry of John Piper,” said Johnson. Dr. Piper’s next book is expected to hit bookstore shelves later this year.

Grace spokesman Dan Dumas said, “While we are sorry to have to say goodbye to Dr. MacArthur, we know that he will be warmly received by his new church family. We look forward to many years of fruitful ministry with John Piper.” MacArthur has authored over 70 books and has been serving at Grace Church since 1969. Grano is expected to fill a newly-created position in Grace Church.

Meanwhile, in receiving Clayton Erb, Bethlehem addresses their pressing and much-publicized need for a minister of music. “We have three Associate Pastors and a Ministry Assistant, but no Minister of Music,” said spokesman Sam Crabtree. “Clayton will solidify and organize this talented staff.” The addition of a Minster of Music prepares Bethlehem for a busy Autumn and the always difficult Christmas season.

Shortly after the deal was announced, MacArthur was seen smiling as he said farewell to his former staff. He and Erb are expected to be available for duty in Bethlehem as soon as this Sunday. Bancroft, a talented and highly-rated rookie who ranks 11th in the Rookie Report’s 2006 rankings, will be groomed as a possible long-term successor to MacArthur.

Asked what would become of Piper’s decade-long series on Romans, Dumas said, “It is over. We expect Pastor Piper to begin a three-year series on Philemon beginning later this Fall.”

While this trade puts Grace near the salary cap, Bethlehem has apparently agreed to cover a portion of Piper’s salary through the 2006 season.

July 31, 2006

The Pacific Campaign of the Second World War has always fascinated me. In many ways, it seemed like a nonsensical series of battles between the United States and Japan. As the Americans sought revenge for the devastation of Pearl Harbor, and as they sought to curtail Japanese aggression in the East, they fought their way across the Pacific Ocean, moving slowly and deliberately from island to island. Tiny, seemingly insignificant pieces of rock, jutting from the midst of a boundless ocean, hundreds of miles, thousands even, from the nearest mainland, became fierce battlegrounds. Tens of thousands of lives were lost in conquering little islands. And yet these islands were far more important than their size may have indicated, for they were able to serve as air bases from which strikes could be launched against other islands, and eventually against Japan itself. The insignificant islands were crucial stepping stones across the vast Pacific Ocean.

There are many lessons we can learn from the Pacific Campaign. Some apply to warfare, but others apply far beyond. One of the most important is this: little things lead to big things. This is as true in warfare as it is in the hearts of men and women.

The Spirit has been challenging me lately to deal with little sins. As with so many other believers, I often tend to feel that I’m a pretty good guy. I have never committed any of the really “bad” sins. I’ve never killed anyone, I’ve never committed adultery and I’ve never stolen anything big enough for anyone to notice that it’s missing. I pay my taxes, stick near the speed limit, and try not to hate people. But while I have not committed those big sins, I’ve come to realize just how open I have become to the little sins. To use our military metaphor, while the mainland has not yet been conquered, I can see how I’ve gleefully allowed island after island to fall to Satan. Surely concentrated attacks on the mainland cannot be far behind. Surely big sins will follow these little ones.

The Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, likens Satan’s attacks to bridging a gulf. “If it be desired to bridge a gulf, it is often the custom to shoot an arrow, and cross it with a line almost as thin as film. That line passes over and a string is drawn after it, and after that some small rope, and after that a cable, and after that the swinging suspension bridge, that makes a way for thousands.” Not too long ago, the Toronto press reported on a local man who had committed a horrifying murder. A bit of a loner, this man began to use his home computer to look at pornography. Soon light pornography was not enough to satisfy him and he began to look at things that were increasingly perverse. Before long he was seeking after child pornography. And one day, as he was looking at these horrible acts played out on his computer screen, he looked out his window and saw a young child walking by. Without planning, without having seriously considered that he might do this, he snatched her from the street. A couple of days later, the police found her body. The man turned himself in and confessed to the crime, insisting that he had not meant to do something so horrifying, so evil. It is likely true that this was not an act that had been planned for a long time. Satan had conquered island after island in this man’s heart until he finally reached the mainland. A series of small beginnings led to a horrible end. Spurgeon warns against allowing these little sins. “Oh! take heed of those small beginnings of sin. Beginnings of sin are like the letting out of water: first, there is an ooze; then a drip; then a slender stream; then a vein of water; and then, at last, a flood: and a rampart is swept before it, a continent is drowned. Take heed of small beginnings, for they lead to worse.”

Stories like that of the man who murdered the little girl terrify me. It’s not that I enjoy pornography or have ever considered seeking out child pornography. Rather, it is the lesson behind the story—the lesson that little things lead to big things. Thomas Brooks, the Puritan, wrote, “Greater sins do sooner startle the soul, and awaken and rouse up the soul to repentance, than lesser sins do. Little sins often slide into the soul, and breed, and work secretly and undiscernibly in the soul, till they come to be so strong as to trample upon the soul, and to cut the throat of the soul.” If this is true in the life of an average guy who murdered a little child, could it not be true in my life?

in God’s Way of Holiness, Horatius Bonar wrote, “The avoidance of little evils, little sins, little inconsistencies, little weaknesses, little follies, little indiscretions and imprudences, little foibles, little indulgences of self and of the flesh, little acts of indolence or indecision or slovenliness or cowardice, little equivocations or aberrations from high integrity, little touches of shabbiness and meanness, little indifferences to the feelings or wishes of others, little outbreaks of temper, or crossness, or selfishness, or vanity—the avoidance of such little things as these goes far to make up at least the negative beauty of a holy life.” Jerry Bridges is astute in pointing out that “it is in the minutiae of life where most of us live day after day.” Few of us are regularly faced with the outright decision of whether or not to commit adultery, but each of us is faced each day with the temptation of stealing a single lustful look or allowing a single lustful fantasy to play out in our minds.

We may think we avoid evil by fleeing the sins we perceive to be greater. But Jesus dealt harshly with such thoughts. “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Jesus gave no quarter to sin. He knew that sin begins in the heart and it begins not with a great act of sin, but with many small acts. Surely Cain first grumbled against Abel, and then plotted against him before finally murdering him. Surely David allowed himself to think lustful thoughts and surely he went to the roof of his palace knowing what he might see. Those little sins led to breathtakingly horrifying, ungodly acts of lust and anger.

The truth is, that every sin, whether large or small, is a declaration of war against God. In the current Israeli-Lebanon crisis, we see this principle played out. The Hezbollah sent a few troops across the border into Israel. They did not send an entire army, but only a small squad of soldiers. Still, this was as much a declaration of war as if they had sent every solider under their command. Israel perceived this for the statement it was and reacted accordingly. In the same way even a small sin is a declaration of war against God. After all, Adam and Eve did not commit adultery and did not murder—they merely ate a piece of fruit that God had told them not to eat. This may seem only a small sin, but it is a sin that has made all the difference.

I have been challenged in my life to guard against the small sins—those sins that seem so small, so insignificant. I have come to see through Scripture and through human experience how those sins soon lead to others. They are but the beginnings of much greater sins. Each and every one, no matter how insignificant it may seem, is a declaration of war and an act of war against the Creator. And if I do not guard against these sins, soon island after island will be conquered and only the mainland will remain, weak and unprotected. Thanks be to God that He provides the strength and the power to reconquer and reclaim islands that have already fallen to the enemy. He has won battles, but by the grace of God he will be pushed back, further and further from the mainland, and will not win the war.

July 31, 2006

Monday July 31, 2006

Weird: At the risk of sounding like a gossip page, I’ll mention this strange story of Mel Gibson being picked up for drunk driving and then launching into an anti-semitic tirade that blamed the Jews for all the wars in the world.

End Times: Tim LaHaye, author of the “Left Behind” series, explains to “Newsweek” why he believes the conflict in the Middle East is a sign of the End Times and that Christ will return in our lifetimes.

Bible: Ingrid, over at “Slice,” has an interesting reflection on the many spiritual lessons her sister has learned from being a long distance runner.

Creed: John Samson of “Reformation Theology” discusses the importance of creeds. “In this ocean of change, there stands a bedrock that has stood the test of time. It is an ancient creed that offers a sure and safe haven, and is an anchor in a theological world adrift and deceived.”

July 30, 2006

624.jpgThere are some sins that torment only some of us, while there are others that are universal. Pride is a universal sin. So is anger. And, unfortunately, I’m good at both of these. I do love to be angry. It feels good to be angry at times, and especially when the anger is righteous, or is perceived to be righteous. But, if anger feels good during the moment, it can sure feel embarrassing and shameful when reason has been restored. Because it is so often sinful, anger needs to be overcome.

July 29, 2006

I really dislike rap music, or most rap music at any rate. For some reason, I have only rarely been able to appreciate it as a form of musical expression. I’d like to think that my powers of discernment have decided that this music is somehow inappropriate for Christians, but I think it’s more likely simply a matter of preference. And beyond simple preference, I have long been disgusted by the culture of sex, violence and exploitation that seems to surround the genre.

I believe that music, assembled notes and chords, is morally neutral. I don’t think there is music that is inherently good and music that is inherently evil. Therefore, I don’t think I can consistently believe that there is anything inherently wrong in rap music. It is, after all, words set to music, much like the hymns and worship songs we sing.

I few days ago I finally bought Progression, an album by Curtis Allen who goes by the name Voice. He is a rapper and a pastor, a pastoral intern at Covenant Life Church, to be exact. His music has proven to me that rap can be used to share the gospel and to bring glory to God. The lyrics are consistently biblical and cross-centered. They are even distinctly Reformed. Here is an excerpt from his song “Unstoppable:”

Man, with no umbrella stuck in the rain, I never knew life was so much pain. And it’s hard to maintain same story different person will falter, where more accurate is same idol different altar. A present day mocker, man, the only time it’s appropriate for me to say I am. The situation gets much darker I’m in the hood, and heard about the Lord but unsure of his plan, you can see now I’m probably in a jam, and that was good for me, cuz it left me - hand against hand. I was like “mmnn, mmnn” Lord now I’m just a man, If there’s ever anyone to help I know you can. At that time, what was certain I thought probable and had no evidence of God as unstoppable. I saw nothing but the wicked everything from murder down to drug use to scalping tickets. I didn’t know what I spose to see, what I was looking for, until the day I walked in the local church’s door. I heard the Gospels power never falls and the Savior who’s crucified covers us all becuz he’s

All powerful, unchangeable, immovable, unstoppable
The Gospels, the power of, almighty God, though His holy blood.

Shook off my doubts and I came from the streets poutin back to them same streets like how bout them. Reformed essentially, informed more than mentally, I’m living my life’s oddities through God’s sovereignty now. I’m takin all questions when and now, In the hood they like cuz how you change your style, In the church it’s more grace is so amazing wow and to the enemy it’s more how you like me now, I been exposed to bright lights the doctrines of grace, I’m elected, imputed perfected. Becuz of the power of God resurrected and his gift of faith, that when we see his face we’re not rejected. Cuz nothing can stop his plan, and as far as the east is from the west more than time zones man He removes our sins from us even though it’s hard to believe, I plead from Psalm 103 No harm will ever come on we, no harm and that’s from me to you via him to me. We the choice of eternity past, present and next, cuz we the church the unstoppable context and we here as

A couple of weeks ago, Justin Taylor interviewed Voice and just last Friday, Bob Kauflin mentioned him in an article dealing with rap music.

I have to admit that I’ve enjoyed listening to Voice’s CD. While rap is still not my favored genre of music, I do believe that Voice is bringing glory to God through his rapping.

So let me ask you: do you think rap music is inherently evil, or do you feel that even this genre can be used to bring glory to God? Is music morally neutral, or are there some forms that simply cannot be God-honoring?

July 28, 2006

Last weekend the house next to us was given an extreme makeover. Our neighbor, who has three sons with varying disabilities, ranging from autism to dietary problems, was sent away for the weekend and returned to find her house completely renovated. The volunteers who gave of their time for this program did an incredible job. They replanted and resodded the gardens, laid new floors, repainted the entire house, themed the bedrooms and added some beautiful new furniture. We enjoyed watching them do their work and we were there when Barb and the family arrived home. It was a great deal of fun to see their faces, to see their joy, as they saw their new home (If you are interested in seeing some photos from last weekend, you can do so here.).

Because the house was a construction zone for three days, it was not a great weekend for those of us who live beside or around the place. We live in townhouses and my house shares a wall with Barb’s home. Sound travels readily through these walls and of all the neighbors, we had the worst of it. For much of the weekend there was sawing, banging, hammering and talking. Groups of people moved in and out from dawn until long after dusk. Television crews milled about to capture video of the work for the evening news. It was difficult, but the crew seemed to do the best they could to be as sensitive as possible to the neighbors. The only one time I felt compelled to go next door was when hammering at 11 PM kept Michaela from sleeping. I went next door and asked nicely if they would stop the hammering. They apologized and stopped immediately.

We had a great weekend despite the constant noise and commotion. We were thrilled for Barb that she would have the privilege of having her home renovated and were willing to put up with almost any amount of annoyance for her sake. Unfortunately, most of our neighbors were not. On Friday evening, one neighbor called the police to lodge a complaint about the noise, even though it was only 8 PM. The police arrived and, recognizing the work from an article in the local newspaper, said they were unwilling to do anything. They promptly left and, I trust, found more pressing concerns. On Saturday I saw some other neighbors yelling at one of the crew members who had parked in the wrong spot. On Sunday, our neighbors were gathered in small groups, gossiping and muttering to themselves, making “choking” gestures towards the workers. On the way to church we were apprehended by a particularly grumpy neighbor who told us we should lodge a complaint because Barb’s lawn had been laid with new grass and our adjoining lawn had not. Sunday afternoon a neighbor tried to draw Aileen into complaining about the house but Aileen would only say how great she thought the place looked. The neighbor scolded, “I just hope they now take good care of it both inside and out.” We learned from the crew that a rumor was going around the neighborhood that Barb intended to sell the house as soon as the work was done.

It was pathetic. We were shocked. We just couldn’t believe that our neighbors were unable to be happy on Barb’s behalf. Not a single one of them waited outside when Barb returned home. Not a single one offered her any congratulations.

But then I thought back to a sermon I had heard only a week before. My pastor had preached a sermon on Romans 12, on the marks of a true Christian. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep,” the Apostle writes. The pastor provided an analogy that went something like this: Imagine that you are at a ballgame with a friend. The Bluejays are winning, putting up run after run against the Yankees. With every home run, you and your friend jump up and rejoice together, high-fiving and cheering for the home team. You rejoice with those who rejoice. But then, between innings, a voice comes over the P.A. and announces that someone in the stadium is going to win a new house, a new car, a dream vacation. He announces the level, the section, the row. It is someone in your row! But when he reads the seat number you see that your friend is sitting in that seat. He has won. You have not. Now how easy is it to rejoice with those who rejoice? Suddenly you are overwhelmed with feelings of anger, jealously, discontentment. You pretend to be happy, but inside you mutter and complain. You hate your friend and want what he has been given.

Until that sermon I had never seriously considered just how difficult it is to rejoice with others. But last weekend I saw first-hand why Paul considers this one of the marks of a true Christian. I saw how those who are unsaved simply cannot rejoice with those who rejoice. Instead they react with jealousy and anger, seeking to tear down what has been built up. It was a shocking display of the depravity of human nature.

The neighbors have learned at least one lesson from this weekend. While each house has two parking spots, most of us have only one car. If you look outside today, you’ll see that several of the neighbors now park at a 45-degree angle so their single car spans two spots. That way they can be sure that no one parks in their coveted spaces. I guess this somehow makes them feel better. It just makes me laugh. There but for the grace of God…

July 28, 2006

Friday July 28, 2006

Blog: Desiring God has begun a blog promoting the upcoming 2006 National Conference. You can visit it at natcon2006.wordpress.com/. The twofold purpose of the blog is: “To inform readers of news and information related to the conference and to introduce the speakers and subject matter of the conference prior to the event so that attendees can prepare their hearts and minds in anticipation of the event itself.”

Blogspotting: Hillbilly Calvinist began his new blog yesterday after reading my rational for blogging. “I will be surprised if I make it past two weeks. Since I only intend to post weekly, this kind of shows you my expectations.” At one post per week, he’ll break 1000 about twenty years from now…

Music: In his most recent Q&A Fridays column, Bob Kauflin addressed rap music, answering the concerns of a parent who says, “My hesitation is that the broader hip-hop culture is so foul and perverse that I am not sure I want to encourage my kids towards it.”

July 27, 2006

This is my 1000th consecutive day of blogging. This occasion has given me the opportunity to reflect on what blogging has meant to me over the past years and what I expect to see and do in the future. I hate writing about myself. It seems so prideful. So arrogant. So empty. I’ve long been inspired by the words of the great British preacher and philanthropist Andrew Reed who, when asked by his sons to help them prepare a memoir of his life replied, “I was born yesterday, I shall die tomorrow. I must not spend today in telling what I have done, but in doing what I can for Him who has done all for me.” But let me reflect briefly on what God has done for me in the past 1000 days.

On October 31, 2003 this site was languishing for lack of attention. I had begun the site almost a year before but had been sporadic at best in adding content. I often went weeks or even a month at a time without posting. In fact, the site resembled most other hobbies I had attempted to that point in my life—what I had begun with enthusiasm was soon mere annoyance. I was a pretty sorry excuse for a blogger and decided that I would either need to shape up and dedicate myself to blogging or give up and find something else to do with my time. And so, I decided that I would attempt to commit to blogging every day for an entire year. While I am an undisciplined person, I am also stubborn and, to my great surprise, I managed to make it through the year without missing a day. I recommitted and worked my way through a second year. And now the end of the third year is drawing near and I’m still at it. In the meantime, I’ve reached this silly little milestone.

Through the years I’ve often had to ask myself if blogging is a servant or a master. Am I so committed to blogging because it has a hold over me? Or does blogging serve a better, more noble end? There have been a few times that concerned believers have asked these questions of me, wondering if my commitment to blogging owes more to stubbornness or arrogance than true desire or spiritual benefit. My reply has always been, and as I foresee it, will continue to be, that blogging is so entwined with my spiritual disciplines that to cease would be a great loss to me. There are some who suggest that I should at least stop writing while I am on vacation. To these people I reply that, just as it would not be noble to cease times of private worship when on vacation, in the same way it would not be virtuous for me to cease writing, even while on holiday. Of course it was not always this way. When I began my one-year commitment, writing was often drudgery and I stuck with it more out of stubbornness than desire. But as time went on God, through His grace, allowed blogging to become a joy and a privilege. Just a few days ago, reflecting on Jerry Bridges’ book The Discipline of Grace I summarized one of his points in this way: “Discipline, commitment, conviction and Godly habits are closely related. It is important that we are disciplined, but only after we have been convicted and have set a direction towards godliness.” I have seen this proven true in my life, for God has been so gracious in granting me a measure of His grace so that my commitment and discipline, which followed conviction, have led me closer to Him.

The truth is that I am an undisciplined person and blogging provides the structure and accountability I need to continue to grow in godly habits. Lying behind the decision to keep blogging is the conviction that I need to grow in grace and that I need assistance in maintaining the commitment to do so. Blogging provides this accountability, for when I stop following hard after God, I soon have nothing to say; nothing to write. It is during the times of greatest spiritual growth that I find myself expressing my newfound joy and faith through my writing. In moments of great honesty I may even be willing to admit that I am almost scared to stop blogging, for I do not know how I would react to having this discipline disappear.

A couple of days ago Francisco, a reader of this site, posted a quote by Keith Green in the comments section of an article I wrote dealing with influence. The words, which I have often read before, hit me hard. “I repent of ever having recorded one single song, and ever having performed one concert, if my music, and more importantly, my life has not provoked you into godly jealousy or to sell out more completely to Jesus!” I hope I can say that I repent of ever having written a single word, of having posted an article, if my writing, and more importantly, my life has not provoked you into godly jealousy or to trust more completely in Jesus (I de-hippied the language a little bit). While it somehow strikes me as nearly impossible to do and almost breathtakingly arrogant to say, this is the kind of person I wish to be. I’m sure this is the kind of man God wants me to be. I believe it is His expectation for all of us.

When I look back at what I have written over the past couple of years, I am often ashamed by my lack of grace or my lack of godliness. There are many times where I know that what I have written could not possibly lead to godliness or to any type of godly jealousy. I hope and trust that I see less of this now than in the earlier days of this site. I believe that God has been teaching me grace and teaching me about the wideness of His love and mercy. I trust that He has been leading me to imitate Him in this area. And so I take this opportunity to repent of the times that I have written words which destroyed rather than edified, or which discouraged instead of encouraged. I repent of the times that I have allowed my sinful hates and fears to make their way onto this site and onto your computer screen. I ask your forgiveness.

At the same time I beg your continued patience and forgiveness, for I know that God still has much to teach me. And yet, I am excited to see what happens in the coming weeks, months or years. I have no idea how long this site will continue. I kind of hope it continues for many more thousands of days. But perhaps God has other plans. He has been good to me to this point and I’m sure He will continue to bless me in the future. I am but His servant.

Blogging has been an inestimable privilege. I have had the privilege of receiving, reading and reviewing so many books. I have been blessed by being invited to attend and liveblog several wonderful conferences and look forward to serving at many more. But perhaps the greatest benefit has been in the way God has used the site to allow me to meet so many godly men and women, followers of Christ whose words, lives and examples have provoked me to godly jealousy and have encouraged me to trust more completely in the Savior. I have been blessed by meeting you, perhaps face-to-face or perhaps only online, and receiving just a foretaste of the love and joy we will share together before the King.

Truly God has been good to me.

Incidentally, I noticed this today at the ESV Blog. Several months ago I sent through a button and suggested they provide it to bloggers who would like to maintain the ESV as their “default” translation, much as Christian books usually announce the default translation in the opening pages. I guess the ESV folks decided to use today as the occasion to make the button public.