Negaholics & Complainiacs

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The Silent Monk

Several years ago, a man joined a monastery, where, in addition to the vows of celibacy and poverty, he was required to make a vow of silence. According to the rules of the monastery, the man was allowed to speak only two words a year, and only during his annual review in front of the evaluation board.

The new monk served his first year in absolute silence. At year’s end, when his performance was being evaluated, he finally was permitted to speak. The two words he uttered were, “Food cold.” The monk served his second year in absolute silence. At year’s end, his two words to the evaluation board were, “Bed hard.”

The man then served his third year in absolute silence. At the end of the year, when he showed up for his final review, his two words were, “I quit.” To which the monastery leader responded, “Your decision doesn’t surprise us; after all, you’ve done nothing but complain since you got here.”

If only our complaining were limited to just two words per year, how much more peaceful and quiet our lives would be. “Do all things without complaining,” said Paul in Philippians 2:14. But is that really possible? Can a believer truly live a complaint-free life? Sounds unattainable, doesn’t it? Yet God’s commands are meant to challenge the ruts and routines we sometimes carve out for ourselves in this life.  Continue reading

This Love Affair with the Feline

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“Look at the birds of the air. . . . Are you not much more valuable than they?”
Matthew 6:26

“How much more valuable is a person than a sheep!”
Luke 12:24

Western civilization is going off the rails. Not surprisingly, it’s the mainstream media helping us jump the tracks.

I totally get the public outrage over the killing of Cecil the Lion, but I sure don’t get the sound of crickets when it comes to Planned Parenthood’s harvesting of fetal body parts for sale on the black market.

Maybe the networks are trying to kill the story by ignoring it. When they do finally say something, it’s riddled with tripe from the spinmeisters at Planned Parenthood. “The videos are fake,” they say. “They’re heavily edited!” Really? Is that the best you can do?

Actually it’s this grisly organization that’s faking it. They hacked their own website to manufacture a backlash. They claim the videos are distortions and misrepresentations. All the while a deaf and devious White House parrots their talking points. That’s how the game is played. Most people know it’s rigged, but the riggers feign ignorance for the camera. It’s performance art for the addle-brained.

“Oh, but Planned Parenthood does some good things, too.” Maybe. But that’s like saying O.J. Simpson was a good running back. So what? Nicole Brown Simpson is still dead, and her family has been devastated because of his butchery. The trail of blood from Planned Parenthood’s doorstep is much longer than O.J.’s.  Continue reading

The Deepest Kind of Faith: A Brief Thought on the Church Massacre

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Only love can turn evil’s arrow into a boomerang and take out the source that threw it. That’s how it was at the cross, and that’s how it is with the people of the cross.

Could you say these things to the killer of your loved one:

“I forgive you.”

“I plead with you to repent and give your life to Jesus Christ who can change your life.”

“May God have mercy on you.”

So said family representatives of the nine victims of a fatal shooting at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina earlier this week. Their response is nothing short of miraculous.

Surely everything inside them cries out for vengeance, but the One outside them says, “Leave that to me.” And so they are. After all, he’s the risen One, and he’s making all things new.

Columnist Peggy Noonan also calls their gracious response a miracle. She describes the court hearing as “people looking into the eyes of evil, into the eyes of the sick and ignorant shooter who’d blasted a hole in their families, and explaining to him with the utmost forbearance that there is a better way.”

Exactly right. And so, along with Ms. Noonan, I, as a northerner, bow to the south.

The believers in Charleston are displaying the deepest kind of faith there is. We call it “Amish Grace” here in our neck of the woods, in honor of that community’s response to the 2006 school shooting in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.

The precious folks in South Carolina who have lost so much can say these radical things because they believe they’ve already gained everything in Christ. Their hope transcends all tragedy. That’s why they’re content to let earthly justice take its course. Something bigger and better is coming.

Until then, they will grieve deeply and fight hard to love. Let’s join them. And may evil—in all its forms—thus be made to clobber itself until it is no more.

Center Church: Doing Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City

Keller.Center.ChurchCenter Church: Doing Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City by Timothy J. Keller. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012.

Philosophies of ministry can be tedious and impractical, and “how-to” church books can be simplistic and overly prescriptive. Neither is entirely helpful. What is needed, says Tim Keller, the renowned pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, is a theological vision for ministry—something more practical than doctrinal beliefs alone, but something more theological than mere “steps” in a church development process. To that end, Center Church was written.

Part 1 presents the centrality of the gospel for all ministries of the church—a gospel that avoids both legalism (which leads to moralism) and antinomianism (which leads to relativism).

Part 2 deals with the complex issue of the church’s relationship to culture, and what it means to contextualize our ministries appropriately.

Part 3 deals with the church’s mission, and how our ministries can avoid a polarizing movement toward intractable traditions on the one hand, and anti-institutional innovation and change on the other.

The 400-page volume, which is chock full of practical wisdom, historical-theological insights, and balanced church model analyses, is formatted like a textbook with copious sidebars and tables.

Center Church at Amazon.com.

It’s Harder to Be the Straight Man

I would hate to be:

•  Harvey Korman playing opposite Tim Conway;
•  Bud Abbott playing opposite Lou Costello;
•  Dean Martin playing opposite Jerry Lewis;
•  Kelsey Grammer playing opposite David Hyde Pierce;
•  Johnny Galecki playing opposite Jim Parsons; or
•  Anybody playing opposite Bob Newhart.

Dean Martin gives it a whirl in this old skit, and he fails miserably. Bob Newhart is just too much for him. That’s part of the fun.

Unconditional? The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness

unconditional.forgivenessUnconditional? The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness by Brian Zahnd. Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2010.

“If Christianity isn’t about forgiveness,” says Brian Zahnd, “it’s about nothing at all.” True enough, but should a believer always forgive? Does forgiveness compromise justice? Does it facilitate evil? Is forgiveness even possible in every situation? Are there any limits to the practice?

Combining sharp theological insights with poignant real-life stories, Zahnd tackles these questions in a bold, straightforward way. Christians are not called to show hostility toward those with whom we differ, but a surprising and generous grace: “If we enter the Christian faith to find forgiveness, we must continue in the faith to become forgiving people, because to be an authentic follower of Christ we must embrace the centrality of forgiveness.”

Unconditional? is a provocative and prophetic treatment of a major biblical theme, albeit a difficult one. The foreword is written by Dr. Miroslav Volf, who spoke at Evangelical Seminary in the Fall of 2012.

Unconditional? at Amazon.com.

The Bible among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature?

Oswalt.MythsThe Bible among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature? by John N. Oswalt. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

Does the Israelite religion as portrayed in the Old Testament mirror the faith of its ancient Near Eastern neighbors, or is it unique and exceptional? Recent scholarship trends toward the former, but Oswalt argues for the latter. The Bible’s historical claims, he says, cannot be divorced from its theological claims. To mythologize the history is to neutralize the theology. This clash in perspectives, he claims, is rooted in a secular hostility toward revelation, which presupposes a world beyond the senses and assumes the existence of a realm that one cannot control. Yet the distinctive worldview of the Old Testament, says Oswalt, actually strengthens the claim to historicity:

“When we ask the Israelites where they came up with these fantastic concepts, they tell us they did not ‘come up’ with them. They tell us God broke in upon their lives and dragged them kicking and screaming into these understandings. They tell us that they did their best to get away from him, but that he would not let them go.”

The Bible among the Myths at Amazon.com.