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December 2006

December 22, 2006

Friday December 22, 2006

Books: Discerning Reader now has an RSS Feed for the most recent reviews (thanks to Travis for doing the work).

Christmas: I asked my wife to consider making this for Christmas dinner but she refused.

Religion: Here is the history of religion in 90 seconds.

Q & A Amazon has a new service called Askville. It will apparently allow people to answer any question you may have.

Bible: The ESV blog has some interesting graphis allowing you to visualize different one-year Bible reading plans.

December 21, 2006

Last night our church gathered, divided into small groups, and went door-to-door in the neighborhood surrounding the school in which we meet. We went caroling and delivering copies of a book and an invitation to our Christmas Eve service to each of the homes in the immediate area. On the whole our efforts were well-received. While only a fraction of the people were both home and willing to open their doors, those who did seemed genuinely pleased to hear a Christmas carol and to receive a small gift. As we went through the streets I was struck by two thoughts that have been rattling around in my head over the past couple of weeks.

The first of these is one that came to me as I was thinking about the people in our neighborhood and pondering just how much I desire opportunities to be able to reach out to them with the gospel. I was recently praying by name for some of these people and realized that it is entirely possible, likely even, that many of these people have never been prayed for, or not by someone who is actually a Christian (and thus someone whose prayers are heard by God). As I’ve said in the past, we live in a neighborhood (a townhouse development) with around 100 homes in it. As far as we know, and we have met at least half of the people, we are the only Christians. We have never heard anyone else speak of church and have never seen any of them go to church with the exception of a small migration of the few “Christmas and Easter” Catholics on Christmas Eve. In all the years we have lived here we have been approached countless times by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, but only once have we had Christians come to our door to invite us to their church. The fact is, Canada is largely a pagan nation. Churches where the gospel is present are few and far between. There are fewer and fewer Christians. And so I wonder who would ever have prayed for people in this neighborhood? Who will pray for them now?

It strikes me as a heartbreaking tragedy that so many people will never have been held up before the throne of grace. It is so sad that so many people have never had anyone to plead for them before the Lord. As we walked through the darkened streets last night, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people have never been brought before God, have never had anyone plead for their salvation. I wonder how many unbelievers live their whole lives without ever once having a Christian ask God to use them to bring these lost souls to Him.

As I thought about this, I was reminded of something which I will share briefly and as an aside in case it interests someone. For a short time there was a man with a gift for evangelism who attended our old church. He would head to the train station many mornings and attempt to sit and talk with people, even if only for a few moments, to share the gospel with them. He was one of these people I admire so much who can evangelize to anyone anywhere and at anytime. At one point he and another man in the church walked through a neighborhood for thirty or forty consecutive days. Every morning they would pause briefly outside each house and pray for the people in that home. At the end of this time they knocked on every door and asked the people to join them for a street party. And when that party came they had an amazing turnout. They had many opportunities to share the gospel with these people. It was brave, unashamed and effective evangelism. I have often wondered how God used their prayers and will continue to use those prayers as these men prayed for individuals who had probably never been prayed for in the past. May God grant me such faith and such courage. And may He continue to burden me to pray for individuals in the homes I can see right now from the window of my office.

There was something else that struck me last night, and this first occurred to me last Saturday when we had many of the people in our neighborhood into our home, the adults just to hang out and talk, and the children to decorate gingerbread houses. We invited people just to come, just to bring themselves, and yet everyone brought something with them, whether a plate of food or a tin of chocolate or even just a card. No one could come empty-handed. And we are the same way. When someone invites us to their home, Aileen’s first question is always “Did you ask them what we can bring?” I typically have to admit that, no, I didn’t ask. I assume that if people are inviting us into their home they are doing so from a desire to extend grace and hospitality to us and that we are not obliged to bring something. Aileen, though, considers it rude to not at least ask if we can bring a salad or dessert or something (anything!).

It seems that humans have a problem with accepting gifts. Humans have a problem with grace. We never want to accept a gift without providing something in return. Last night people would receive the book we gave them and respond by saying, “Are you collecting money? Can we donate to something? Can we at least give you a candy?” So few people were willing to simply accept the gift as a gift, even if it was a gift they did not particularly want. So few could believe that we would give them something and expect nothing in return. They wanted to repay the gift, to repay grace.

And that’s just the way humans are. One of the greatest testaments to the truth of Christianity is in its “otherworldliness.” No human being could conceive of a religion that offered grace and demanded no repayment. No human being could create a religion that was all of grace. Without the work of the Holy Spirit no person can believe, accept and treasure this grace. And even after we have been granted it, so many of us, so often, try to repay grace. We feel that we need to be obedient to God in order to repay Him for the salvation He has given us. But we are not to live lives of obedience in order to repay God. Rather, we live in obedience out of gratitude for his amazing grace. James White writes, “Since faith comes with empty hand, it finds in the grace of God all that it could ever need or want…. Only the empty hand fits into the powerful hand of grace.” We come to God with empty hands, offering nothing, receiving everything.

From Christ’s fullness “we have all received, grace upon grace.” As those who understand grace and who have received it, Christians ought to give and receive grace in return. Grace should mark us as distinct from others just as it distinguishes Christianity from all of the world’s counterfeit paths to God.

I will close with some wise words from the pen of Charles Spurgeon. “Grace is the first and last moving cause of salvation; and faith, essential as it is, is only an important part of the machinery which grace employs. We are saved ‘through faith,’ but salvation is ‘by grace.’ Sound forth those words as with the archangel’s trumpet: ‘By grace are you saved.’ What glad tidings for the undeserving!”

December 21, 2006

Thursday December 21, 2006

Persecution: Random Responses posts a short video explaining just who it is that makes your Christmas lights. More here.

People: Carl Trueman says R.J. Rushdoony was a Holocaust denier. Ian disagrees.

Church: Jollyblogger posts a great African-Anglican zinger.

Music: Christianity Today reviews the new Switchfoot album and gives it 4.5 stars.

Humor: Andrew provides the “Top Ten Signs You May Not Be Reading Your Bible Enough.”

Money: Yahoo tells us how money makes our heads spin. “In a series of nine experiments, a team of researchers found that simply reminding people of money can turn them into a virtual Scrooge — more antisocial, less helpful, and stingier with both their cash and their time,”

December 20, 2006

Not too long ago my youngest sister began dating a guy who seems to have made her all twitterpated. Shortly after she started seeing him, she drove up to Canada to spend a few days with my family. I took the opportunity to try to impart some big-brotherly wisdom to her. I told her that I have known a great many couples who began dating as Christians and who set strict limits about how far they wanted the physical limits of their relationship to progress before marriage. These couples all wanted to remain pure until their wedding night, avoiding intimate physical contact. And yet, almost unanimously, they failed. Speak to Christian couples today and I’m sure you’ll find that the majority of them will admit regret that they went “too far.” Whatever limits they set for their relationship fell by the wayside at one time or another. This is not to suggest that all Christian couples engage in premarital sex. However, I think most Christian couples begin marriage with some regret, some guilt, that they have exceeded limits they felt would be easy to maintain.

The problem, I explained to my sister, is that, while Christian couples are generally well-intentioned and truly do desire to remain pure, they do not place the proper safeguards in their relationships. They are committed to a noble end, but do not have the same level of commitment to the means that will allow them to achieve that end. They are committed to the end, but not the means. What I told my sister was that she has little hope of avoiding sin if she and her new boyfriend do not take the proper measures now. They must ensure that they are never alone in a home; they must ensure that they do not park their car in some dark and isolated place just to sit and talk; they must have some sort of accountability to their peers and parents. And so on. Without certain safeguards the result is inevitable. They will sin and, if the relationship lasts and they decide to marry, they will enter their marriage with guilt that could so easily have been avoided. If the relationship does not last, they will eventually enter marriage with another person carrying baggage they have no right to carry. Either way, committing to the means and the end will save them from both the actual sin and from its consequences. Committing to the end by committing to the means will safeguard their relationship.

After I spoke with my sister I continued to dwell on this theme of means and ends. I have recently been struck by Proverbs 24:30-34, a passage that hints at how Solomon wrote his famous proverbs.

I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.

As Solomon looked at the sluggard’s field and received instruction, I looked at relationships I have seen, relationships that have led to sin, guilt and sin’s consequences. “Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction.” I received instruction about my own life.

What I came to see is that there are many areas of my life where I am more wholly committed to an end than to the means of achieving that end. I can think of my desire to pursue holiness. It is an end I desire with desperation, and yet one that, when I honestly assess myself, I have to admit that I pursue with only half-hearted determination. I know this because I can look at the means I have put in place to reach the end and see that, without some serious realignment, they will never lead me to the end I desire. The same is true of my desire to be a good husband and a good father. I know what the end is that I desire to achieve, and yet know that I have not dedicated the appropriate attention to the means of reaching that end. I will never be the husband, father or Christian I want to be without giving more attention to the means.

It seems to me that the primary means of achieving all three of these goals - being a better husband, father and Christian (to name just three emphases) - is to begin with a great emphasis on reading the Bible, meditating upon the Scriptures, and spending time with God in prayer. Only by committing myself to pursuing a relationship with God can I be who I want to be and who God created me to be. There are changes I’ve made to my life after talking to my sister and learning something about myself. There are changes that remain. I trust that God will continue to guide me and to challenge me.

It just so happens that a new year is approaching. The start of a new year is a perfect time to examine my efforts in living this life a day at a time, emphasizing the means even more than the end. Perhaps you feel like I do, that you need to focus on the means of attaining godliness. Here are a few resources that may help us as we pursue the end we know God desires of us.

Crossway recently released two great devotional books from D.A. Carson entitled For the Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word. Here are links to Volume 1 and Volume 2. A new devotional by John Stott called Through the Bible, Through the Year also looks well worth reading, though I have not yet had time to read through it.

If you’d prefer to simply study the Bible without another person’s comments, perhaps an ESV journaling Bible would come in handy. They are available in leather and hardcover. The ESV offers several daily read plans which can be read on the site. Each also has a link to the audio if you prefer to listen to the Bible. They also offers RSS feeds of each of the plans and even offer a daily podcast that for only $19.95 will provide three one year Bible plans over the course of three years. Each day the daily reading will be delivered to your iPod or computer.

And, of course, there are nearly unlimited numbers of resources from days past. Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening devotions are never disappointing. J.C. Ryle’s daily devotions are exceptional. And on and on. As Christians are certainly not lacking in resources to promote godliness.

As 2007 approaches why not spend some time examining whether you have committed not just to ends, but also to the means that will help carry you to those ends. You may just find, as I have, that you are looking too far towards the horizon while ignoring the day-to-day graces that will carry you to the future you desire.

December 20, 2006

Wednesday December 20, 2006

Du Jour: Al Mohler has an excellent article on “KGOY” — or Kids Growing Older Younger.

Bible: A British stewardess who is described as a committed Christian, has been forbidden from carrying her Bible on flights to Saudi Arabia. The Telegraph reports.

Film: “Amazing Grace,” the forthcoming film dealing with the life of William Wilberforce, now has a trailer available for your viewing pleasure.

Quote: Roger Nicole on perfectionism: “It is one thing for a man to say he is perfect; it is another thing for his wife to say he is perfect.”

Emergent: David Wayne asks if the Reformers waged war on the illiterate…or if that was actually the Catholic Church.

Humor: This is just a great idea.

December 19, 2006

“An Indian runner who won a silver medal in the women’s 800-meter run at the Asian Games earlier this month has failed a gender test and is likely to be stripped of her medal, news reports said Monday.” According to many news reports, Santhi Soudarajan, a 25 year-old runner, was made to take a gender test after completing her event and placing second. A panel typically composed of a gynecologist, endocrinologist, psychologist, and an internal medicine specialist discovered that she “does not possess the sexual characteristics of a woman.” You can read a report at FoxNews or most other media outlets.

A couple of years ago I wrote about how this strange society we live in no longer regards gender as something that is absolute, assigned by Creator or nature, but something that depends on the individual. A person with what has traditionally been considered male anatomy may still consider himself [herself?] female and, according to the politically correct rules of our society, we have no right to question this. When I wrote on this topic in the past I did so after reading a tragic article of a young man who hated who he was. At some point in his early teenage years he became convinced that he was actually a girl trapped in a boy’s body. He began to live like a girl; dressing in girl’s clothing and taking estrogen to try to combat his male hormones. As he grew older he began to become promiscuous, engaging in sexual behavior with boys, yet never revealing that he was actually male. Eventually some of the men with whom he had engaged in sexual acts became suspicious and began to think they had figured out his secret. They resolved to find out once and for all, so in a fit of rage tore off his clothes and learned that their behavior had been not only promiscuous, but homosexual. Enraged, they beat him to death and buried him in a shallow grave. One of them later confessed to the crime and they are now (justly) awaiting trial on charges of murder.

I said at the time that this is a perfect but shocking example of evidence that our society no longer believes in absolutes, for now even gender has become relative. The story I read in the newspaper was about a person who was born male - he had male anatomy, male chromosomes and grew up as a little boy - but at some point he allowed his mind to convince himself that he was female. Now common sense tells us that a human being who has male anatomy and male chromosomes in every cell of his body is male! But our confused, politically correct society seems to disagree. Just because every cell in his body cries out that he is male, we should not assume that he is, for his mind may tell him otherwise. And if a boy decides he is actually a girl, we certainly are not to judge her for that decision. We should assume that she is correct and give her full support.”

I mentioned the story of the Indian athlete to my wife today and said that this is undoubtedly only the first of many similar stories we will hear in the coming years. As it becomes increasingly incorrect for us to judge another person’s gender based solely or even primarily on anatomy, there will be increasing confusion about all kinds of issues. For example, should a person with male anatomy who has decided to adopt the identity of a woman use the men’s or women’s bathrooms at a restaurant or the men’s or women’s change room at a swimming pool? Should a male athlete who believes he is female compete against men or women? And really, as time progresses, how are events like the Olympics to differentiate between men and women any longer?

It occurred to me that one organization has already attempted to deal with some of these questions. The Gay Games are the rough equivalent of the Olympics but geared entirely towards people who are gay, transgendered, and so on. Admittedly they are not quite as serious as the Olympics for they are based on the values of “Participation, Inclusion, and Personal Best, and promote a supportive environment, free from bigotry, where participants achieve success by their own measure.” The fact is, though, that they have events where participants compete against people of their own gender. And so the Gay Games have adopted a Gender Policy. This policy states that participants will generally be required to compete in the grouping assigned on their birth certificate or passport. However, if this is not the group in which they can compete in the other group providing that they meet two conditions: “1. A letter from a medical practitioner is provided stating that the participant has been actively involved in hormone treatment for a minimum of two full years. 2. Proof of the participant living as the self-identified gender for a minimum of two years.” Persons who satisfy these criteria will be accredited by the Gay Games host organization in accordance with their chosen or self-identified gender in their chosen events.

This sounds ridiculous, does it not? Of course when the standard of success is personal best and success by one’s own measure, the importance of winning and losing is somewhat diminished. But when it comes to the Olympics we are dealing with athletes who have spent their whole lives training and preparing for one thing: to win. These people are driven to do their absolute best, but even better, to beat others.

A few years ago the International Olympic Committee enacted a policy similar to that of the Gay Games allowing transgender athletes to compete in the Olympics provided they met certain criteria such as completing genital reconstructive surgery and at least two years of hormonal therapy. They believe this will remove any advantage a formerly male athlete may have over his female competitors. Others are not so convinced and regard this decision as a complete travesty.

As far as I know, this issue has yet to rear its ugly head in actual Olympic events, even though the policy was in place during the 2004 Olympics. I am not aware of a case of a formerly male athlete (which is to say, of course, an athlete who is still male but is trying to remove all evidence thereof) competing against females in an Olympic event. But it will come. And our society, politically correct as it is, will have no easy answer to a male athlete who uses his superior strength to beat the competition even though he claims to be a woman. And in the same way our society has no answer to a man who wants to change with women at the pool or who wants to exercise in a women’s health club simply because he has decided to be a woman.

As Christians we must not minimize the differences between the genders, but learn to love and celebrate them. God made us in His image, both male and female. This is not a difference we should apologize for or choose to overlook. As Ligon Duncan taught at least year’s Shepherd’s Conference, it is glorious to celebrate the differences between men and women. When we say that the roles of men and women are interchangeable, (or when we say that the identify of men and women are interchangeable) we suppress a truth that God has built into this world. The differences between men and women are a critical aspect of what makes us image bearers of God. We bring Him honor and glory when we imitate Him, and when we seek to honor the image of God as it exists in us, and even when it exists in us differently as men and women.

December 19, 2006

Tuesday December 19, 2006

Theology: Steve Weaver begins a series on how he prepares an expository sermon. You don’t need to be a pastor to benefit from this knowledge!

Christmas: Jim Elliff asks if this ‘tis the season to be jolly. “Can tinsel and presents, carols and candy really bring happiness? Not often, and not much. And if our happiness is based on circumstance, is it a true happiness?”

Church: A Toledo paper discusses and rates the cities’ churches “in an attempt to gauge the entertainment value of these salvation supernovas.”

More Church: The Fide-O boys mention a church that is offering a tithing money back guarantee. “We commit to you that if you tithe for three months and God doesn’t prove Himself faithful, we will refund 100% of your tithe. No questions asked.”

Blogspotting: Andrew Lindsey says I gave “2 Lousy Reasons Not to Homeschool” in my post last week.

December 18, 2006

Biography: An account of a person’s life written, composed, or produced by another. Hagiography: A worshipful or idealizing biography. I suppose it is not always easy to determine where biography ends and hagiography begins. But in the case of The Rise of Lakewood Church and Joel Osteen, I am quite certain Richard Young has crossed the line.