Thursday, August 31, 2017

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Hyperbole, Politics, Weigh Down Religious Liberty Debates

Written by Don Byrd

Church-state law is notoriously complex and nuanced. And thank goodness for that. After all, protecting an individual’s freedom to exercise religion while still safeguarding against the establishment of religion by the government can require some incredible balancing acts. Acknowledging one person’s right to live out their faith, while recognizing another person’s right not to be unduly impacted by that expression can

Let’s be honest – these disputes can create some truly difficult and troubling questions of law and policy questions. To make matters worse, the outcome of a specific case is not always the best place to look for a clear understanding of the underlying law in question. The details of a court opinion can be more important than the bottom line, in some cases. Better said, the details of a court opinion often *are* the bottom line. And the details can be tough. Even highly trained experts disagree on what they mean. 

All of that to say, it’s in many ways understandable why misperceptions about the law of religious liberty persist.

Still… some folks could try a little bit harder to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem when it comes to dispelling those misperceptions.

Take the issue of the Johnson Amendment, for example. Current law does prohibit houses of worship as tax-exempt organizations from engaging in electoral politics. But the law allows churches to speak out on the issues of the day, and allows clergy acting in their personal capacity to endorse candidates for public office. To hear opponents of the Johnson Amendment describe it, however, you would think the law silences ministers on any political topic, or that the IRS monitors and edits sermons.

In our public schools, it is true that school-sponsored prayer or religious indoctrination is prohibited by law, but students enjoy robust protection for their own religious expression. Students can pray on their own or in groups, can form religious clubs, display religious messages on clothing in the same manner that any message can be displayed, wear religious garb, and distribute religious literature in the same manner that any literature can be distributed. But to hear some folks describe it, all religion has been removed from our public schools, and our children are forbidden from speaking of it.

Now I read from Rob Boston of Americans United that Franklin Graham is asking for public high school football coaches to defy the law, engage in civil disobedience, and pray with their football teams after Friday’s games this week. This comes in response to a recent court ruling that found a school district was within its rights to dismiss a coach that refused to stop his practice of going out to the 50-yard-line to pray immediately after a game while still on the job. School officials invited the coach to pray privately or on the field after his duties had ended, but he declined. Graham says, however that the court ruled “coaches can’t pray, or make religious gestures on the field, after games.” That’s not quite right, or even really close, to what the court said.

Religious exercise is strongly protected in the United States. Preachers can speak to their congregations about public policy (they just can’t endorse candidates on behalf of their congregations). Students can speak to their classmates about religion (they just can’t disrupt the school day or harass their classmates). And coaches can pray – before, during, and after their games (just not in a way that could pressure their students to participate). 

Religious liberty advocates do their supporters a disservice when they use hyperbole, or let politics and fear direct their description of the state of the law. It’s tough enough to shine a light of clarity through the understandable thicket of judicial and legislative nuance that seeks to protect our religious freedom, without having to contend with oversimplified – or just plain false – characterizations. We can do better.

 



Listen & Learn: Greek Pronunciation Schemes

1. Thanks for the (Logos NOW) access to this new interactive. Looks pretty useful, with one caveat (see 2.)

2. Why in the world can't any of Logos' pronunciation schemes reflect many of the most common Greek Grammars such as...

Mounce's Basics of Biblical Greek

Black's Learn to Read New Testament Greek

Nunn's Elements of New Testament Greek

Summers/Sawyer's Essentials of New Testament Greek

Porter's Fundamentals of New Testament Greek

Harvey's Greek is Good Grief

Morris' Hellenika

Swetnam's Introduction to the Study of New Testament Greek

Long's Kairos

Parker's Learning New Testament Greek Now and Then

Dyer's Preparatory Grammar for New Testament Greek

Clayton's Primer of Biblical Greek

Vine's You Can Learn New Testament Greek!

and the list goes on...

The point is that all the above grammars state that omicron is pronounced with a short o as in not, pot, etc. I realize that there are other opposing views, though at least in my library (I have 50 Greek Grammars) the abundance of New Testament grammars all reflect this pronunciation. I just don't understand why we can't have an audio choice reflecting all these major grammars. Whether it's the alphabet tutor, the pronunciation tool, or the Listen and Learn:Greek interactive, they all have options, but none have the option which represents these grammars. Can we please have this added?



3 Challenges of Small-Town Ministry

Article by: Donnie Griggs

In early 2009, my wife and I moved from Los Angeles (population 3.8 million) to plant One Harbor Church in my hometown of Morehead City, North Carolina—a small town of around 9,000 people. Convinced that urban ministry in places like L.A. was big and important, I had low expectations for our small-town church plant.

To my surprise, our little church experienced amazing growth. On our second Sunday, a drug addict was saved on his way to kill himself, and he began bringing people to church week after week. Inundated with people, we struggled to find a facility that could hold them or leaders who could lead them. We moved into an abandoned gas station, then a restaurant, then an old theater, before finally going multisite simply to accommodate growth.

I had to beef up my leadership skills and learn how to lead something larger than 30 folks in a living room. So I started reading books for church planters, but they all seemed to be doing ministry in large, urban contexts. Before long, I learned rural ministry comes with three major challenges.

1. You’re doing ministry in a fishbowl.

In a small town you’re extremely visible, which has its ups and downs. Growing up I remember our pastor saying, “If you’re gonna do any sinning, don’t do it in this town unless you want people to find out.” When you pastor in a big city, you rarely run into people you know. But a small town can feel like a fish bowl where everyone knows everyone—and thinks they know everything about you.

This can serve as an excellent means of accountability, but it can also make ministry hard. You simply must acknowledge it and make the most of it. There are a few ways to navigate through the fish bowl.

First, know that ministry is not limited to Sunday. People will see you around town and recognize you. Almost every date night for the last seven years has included someone coming up to my wife and me, seeking counsel. I eventually learned to reply with a smile, “If I stop my date to help you, I’ll be the one who needs counseling.” You are seen as someone who can help, and people will not feel shy about approaching you.

Second, don’t do or say anything you wouldn’t want everyone to know. There’s a strong likelihood people around you at a restaurant or sporting event know who you are or have visited your church. People in your small town are probably either cynical or curious about you as a pastor, and small towns house strong rumor mills. If you lose your temper or say something inappropriate, a version of the events will spread like wildfire before dark.

Third, do things in public you want people to see. You can turn the small-town fish bowl into a positive factor. I want people to see I’m a “regular” person, since so many small-town pastors are put on pedestals. I try to go out of my way to be present in meaningful ways when the town is celebrating or mourning. I want them to know I’m not living in a church office between Sunday mornings. By God’s grace, I think word has gotten around that I’m an approachable, “real” person.  

2. You must understand what is behind the question, ‘You’re not from around here, are you?’

Most large cities are cultural melting pots. In a small town, however, it often seems everyone is local. If you’re an outsider, locals may go of their way to remind you of that. I recently heard about an older person who greeted one of our future church planters with, “You’re a dingbatter!” A dingbatter is a term for someone not from here. It can be said in jest, or it can be said with hostility, as it was by this man.

If you’re not a native, you can’t successfully reach the area without winning over the locals. But this isn’t as impossible as it may feel. Work hard to understand the context Jesus has sovereignly put you in. Spend time with people in the community who don’t attend your church. Settle in for the long journey of becoming a good missionary. Ask tons of questions. What do they love? What do they celebrate? What do they mourn? What do they worship? Look for ways to become “all things” to them so that “some might be saved” (1 Cor. 9:22).

3. You’re fishing in a smaller pond.

In a big city, you will quickly find a number of people who agree with your style of ministry. Even a poor missionary can gather a decent crowd who agrees with him and is willing to travel to be part of the church.

This is not the case for those who plant in a small town. There may not be many just waiting for you to start your dream church. The smaller the context, the smaller the margin for error. If you utterly misread the culture of a small town, you may not reach anyone. Worse, you may only attract people who’ve been kicked out of all the other churches.

Much work must be done to ensure people understand who you are and what you are doing. These lessons are important for all church planters, but they are far more evident in small towns where your presence is more obvious and the context is much more up close and personal. Don’t waste the opportunity.

Related:

Donnie Griggs is lead pastor of One Harbor Church, a multi-location congregation in the small town of Morehead City, North Carolina. One of Donnie’s passions is to see churches in small towns and rural areas equipped and empowered to radically engage culture and make disciples. Donnie is the author of Small Town Jesus, and he also serves on the leadership team of the Advance Movement of churches.



New Books You Should Know (September 2017)

Article by: Fred Zaspel

Editors’ note: On average, we publish around 150 book reviews a year at The Gospel Coalition. Ecclesiastes 12:12 rings true: “Of making many books there is no end.” It’s impossible to read, let alone review, each one. But in addition to our steady line of reviews, we want to highlight other books you should know about. This is our monthly installment of brief book notices from Fred Zaspel, TGC editor for online learning. You can check out more book notices, reviews, author interviews, and book summaries at Books At a Glance.

How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophets

Peter J. Gentry

Crossway, 2017

144 pages

Peter Gentry has been studying—and teaching—the Old Testament prophetic books for a long time, and in his new little volume he shares some of his learning in simple terms. The function of the prophets, their major themes, the leading traits of their prophecies, their points of reference, and their interpretation all are presented clearly and accessibly to the lay reader. A valuable introduction to this prominent yet often-neglected portion of Scripture. (Read TGC’s full review.)

Complete in Him: A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying the Gospel

Michael P. V. Barrett

Reformation Heritage, 2017

352 pages

In this revised edition of his earlier work (2000), Barrett lays out the basics of Christian salvation, examining the leading aspects of the gospel (reconciliation, justification, sanctification, conversion, assurance, and so on). His treatment of each aspect is both warm and in-depth, and—best of all—is careful to show how each aspect is related directly to Christ (hence the title). A helpful study of these glorious themes, easily accessible to all readers.

Cornerstones of Salvation

Lee Gatiss

Evangelical Press, 2017

234 pages

This book is a superb example of the value of historical theology. It’s also an example of how historical theology can be an enjoyable area of study. Gatiss focuses on key moments in church history when critical areas of soteriology were in dispute, presenting the debates in their historical context and zeroing in on the major issues in the disputes. The “moments” and issues are well chosen—Martin Luther on the freedom/bondage of the will, John Calvin on union with Christ, and John Wesley’s Arminian campaigns, to name a few. Not all will agree with every perspective (e.g., John Owen on infant baptism), but the chapters are consistently illuminating both historically and theologically. A welcome read.

Teaching Truth, Training Hearts: The Study of Catechisms in Baptist Life (revised edition)

Thomas J. Nettles with Steve Weaver

Founders Press, 2017

328 pages

I was so pleased to see the release of this new edition of Tom Nettles’s excellent book on catechisms in church life. His enthusiasm for the catechism is contagious (his introduction alone is worth the price of admission). The bulk of the work displays seven catechisms that have been prominent in Baptist life over the centuries, each with an excellent historical introduction. This new edition includes an initial chapter by Steve Weaver on Hercules Collins’s An Orthodox Catechism. Church leaders would do well to familiarize themselves with the proven value of this tool of instruction—and not for children only!

Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids

David Murray

Crossway, 2017

224 pages

Our generation ought to be thankful for the many Bible-related resources for children becoming available that are actually very good. I’m not sure how to rate them anymore, but this one had me excited as I read through—a guided tour of the Bible’s story and message traced out from Genesis to Revelation in daily readings of just a few verses for 52 weeks. Intended for children with their parents and laid out in easy chunks focused on “the main thing” throughout. This was a great idea and is a wonderful—simple yet valuable—resource for parents to use with their children.

Visit http://ift.tt/1o6p8QP, where you can access a plethora of quality Christian book reviews, book notices, book summaries, and author interviews.

Fred G. Zaspel (PhD, Free University of Amsterdam) serves as a pastor at Reformed Baptist Church in Franconia, Pennsylvania, an adjunct professor of systematic theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the executive editor of Books At a Glance. He is the author of The Theology of B. B. Warfield (2010) and Warfield on the Christian Life (Crossway, 2014) and has published numerous booklets, articles, and book reviews.



All Men Are Like Grass: The Life of John Calvin

Article by: Kevin DeYoung

“If you strive for relevance at all costs in your own day, you may make a difference for a few years. But if you anchor yourself in what is eternal, you may just have an impact for 500 years because the Word outlasts us all . . . as it outlasted Calvin.” — Kevin DeYoung 

Event: Plenary session, The Gospel Coalition 2017 National Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana

Date: April 3, 2017

You can listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition podcast here or watch it on video. And pick up the timely new TGC group study Echoes of the Reformation: Five Truths that Shape the Christian Life, featuring Kevin DeYoung along with Albert Mohler and Trevin Wax. For a limited time, get a free leader kit ($59.99 value) when you buy 10 Bible study books.

Find more audio and video from TGC17 on the conference media page.

Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children.



How A Man Named Lesslie Changed the Way I Think

Article by: Bruce Ashford

Editors’ note: Taking the advice of C. S. Lewis, we want to help our readers “keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds,” which, as he argued, “can be done only by reading old books.” So to that end we continue our Rediscovering the Forgotten Classics series as we survey some forgotten and lesser-known Christian classics.

As a Christian citizen of the United States, it’s clear to me that I’m living in an increasingly post-Christian society. The majority of Americans no longer consider traditional Christian doctrine (e.g., original sin) or traditional Christian ethics (e.g., sexual morality) plausible in the modern world. Christians who don’t abandon these beliefs are increasingly considered morally inferior or even hateful.

Given the fact that the United States is a democratic republic, the beliefs of citizens affect the lives of other citizens socially, culturally, and politically. This reality makes it increasingly important for Christians to figure out the best way to conduct themselves in the public square. Many theologians can aid us in this task; in this article, I focus on Lesslie Newbigin (1909–1998) and how his example is helpful for us in our 21st-century American context. 

Newbigin’s Life and Writings

Ever since I discovered Newbigin in 1997, I’ve appreciated his books (especially Truth to Tell: The Gospel as Public TruthFoolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture; and Signs amid the Rubble: The Purposes of God in Human History). Equally, I appreciate his life.

Newbigin was born in England and ordained by the Church of Scotland in 1936. He served as a missionary in India for years. In 1947, he was ordained a bishop of the Church of South India. He went on to become a widely popular missiologist and public theologian; he was elected general secretary of the International Missionary Council and associate general secretary of the World Council of Churches.

In 1974, Newbigin returned to Britain, where he took up a lecturing post at Selly Oak College. His speaking engagements and publications reveal that his interest turned more fully to public theology. In particular, he challenged Western Christians to recover the gospel as public truth and to articulate a framework for Christian mission in the increasingly pluralist late-20th-century context. Newbigin wanted Western Christians to foster a genuine missionary encounter between the Lord Christ and the secular West.

Pluralism and the Public Square

Newbigin rejected the Enlightenment’s fact/value dichotomy and its subsequent cultivation of a supposedly neutral public square. For Newbigin, there was no such thing as a neutral public square, since every human being worships. Each of us has a fundamental heart orientation with accompanying convictions, and our orientation and convictions radiate outward into all we do.

Newbigin’s public-square writings focused on situations in which Christians find themselves in the minority, and he endorsed principled pluralism. Newbigin believed Christians should take a missionary posture in the public square, focusing on the message of the gospel and demonstrating its relevance as public truth. In order to do so, we must gain a deep understanding of our cultural context so we can proclaim the gospel and work out its implications in a manner faithful to Scripture and meaningful in the cultural context.

The gospel is a public truth for people of all times and places.

Newbigin wasn’t opposed to a Christian state, but he was opposed to a theocracy. He made it clear that the church shouldn’t impose gospel convictions on those who aren’t Christians. The institutional church shouldn’t directly influence public policy. Instead, the institutional church should equip individual Christians to reflect on—and act in—public life in a theologically sound and gospel-centered manner.

Can a Modern Society Be Christian?

Although Newbigin’s most influential publications are book-length treatises, a helpful encapsulation of his thoughts on Christianity and public life can be found in a brief essay titled “Can a Modern Society Be Christian?

Late modernity can’t be reconciled with Christianity, Newbigin noted. Both Christianity and modernity are missionary faiths, and both make universal claims. For years, Christian leaders have tried to help Christianity survive in the modern world by confining it to the realm of inner experience—by domesticating it so it doesn’t make any claim on public life. But privatizing and domesticating Christianity reduces its central claims—that Christ is the cosmic King and the gospel is public truth.

Newbigin addressed this situation by reminding us of Scripture’s claim that God’s kingly rule has been manifested in Jesus. We must allow our Christian beliefs to shape our words and actions in public life, and we must allow other believers the same freedom to bring their beliefs to the public square. In other words, we must work toward building a Christian society, but not a theocratic one:

When Christians are in a position to exercise authority, they must do so on the basis of that which has been revealed in Jesus Christ as God’s purpose for human life, but in so doing they are required to give to all under their political authority the same freedom to dissent as God gives to us in the incarnation of his word in Jesus.

When Christians find themselves in positions of political power and responsibility, they are bound by the gospel to use that power in a manner consistent with the Christian understanding of God’s purposes for human flourishing.

Building a Healthy Christian Society

As Newbigin encouraged British Christians to build a healthy Christian society, he offered five directives.

First, Christians must recover the belief that the gospel is a public truth and the “norm” by which all other claims are judged. Elsewhere, he put it this way:

When the church affirms the gospel as public truth, it is challenging the whole of society to wake out of the nightmare of subjectivism and relativism, to escape from the captivity of the self turned in upon itself, and to accept the calling which is addressed to every human being to seek, acknowledge, and proclaim the truth. For we are that part of God’s creation which he has equipped with the power to know the truth and to speak the praise of the whole creation in response to the truthfulness of the Creator. (Truth to Tell)

The gospel is a public truth for people of all times and places.

Second, the church must once again become an evangelizing community. If the gospel is public truth, it should be made known to everybody. “The gospel is only known to be true,” Newbigin writes, “when it is experienced as the liberating power that it is. Evangelization is the antidote to domestication. The power of the gospel as liberating truth, as release from illusion and alienation, as light out of the darkness and confusion, is known when people are receiving it as news.”

Third, the church must “de-clericalize” theology. By this, Newbigin means the church must equip believers to bring the gospel to bear on their secular responsibilities, including their workplaces and public square interactions. He notes British believers would benefit from the teachings of the Kuyperian tradition on this matter.

Fourth, Christians must pledge allegiance to Christ but affirm the right of others to hold and express different beliefs. Newbigin was committed to public pluralism; a healthy Christian society should maximize the possibilities for face-to-face public-square conversation. Christians shouldn’t suppress or exclude those who dissent, but publicly reason with others to persuade them that the Christian vision of the good life causes all members of society to flourish.

Fifth, Christians must be prepared for debate and controversy. They must cultivate godly virtues such as courage and compassion. They must develop spiritual capacities for the invisible spiritual warfare that occurs when the gospel breaks into a godless society. They must build the intellectual and rhetorical capacities necessary to convey the Christian vision of the good life appropriately and compellingly in their society.

Newbigin knew he wasn’t a political philosopher or a political scientist. He never tried to develop a political program or agenda. Instead, he called Christians to recognize the gospel as public truth, preach it as such, and apply it to matters of public concern. Newbigin’s life and writings remind us of the value of cultivating a public theology and of raising up public theologians who can speak and act in the public square for the common good.

Previously in this series:

Editors’ note: A version of this article appeared at Canon and Culture

Bruce Ashford serves as provost and professor of theology and culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He co-authored One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics (with Chris Pappalardo) and is the author of Every Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians. You can follow him at www.BruceAshford.net and on Twitter



Psalms 73:24 - Morning Devotional for Sep. 1st

"Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory."

Psalms 73:24

Morning Thought

The Psalmist felt his need of divine guidance. He had just been discovering the foolishness of his own heart, and lest he should be constantly led astray by it, he resolved that God's counsel should henceforth guide him. A sense of our own folly is a great step towards being wise, when it leads us to rely on the wisdom of the Lord. The blind man leans on his friend's arm and reaches home in safety, and so would we give ourselves up implicitly to divine guidance, nothing doubting; assured that though we cannot see, it is always safe to trust the all-seeing God. "Thou shalt," is a blessed expression of confidence. He was sure that the Lord would not decline the condescending task. There is a word for thee, O believer; rest thou in it. Be assured that thy God will be thy counsellor and friend; he shall guide thee; he will direct all thy ways. In his written Word thou hast this assurance in part fulfilled, for holy Scripture is his counsel to thee. Happy are we to have God's Word always to guide us! What were the mariner without his compass? And what were the Christian without the Bible? This is the unerring chart, the map in which every shoal is described, and all the channels from the quicksands of destruction to the haven of salvation mapped and marked by one who knows all the way. Blessed be thou, O God, that we may trust thee to guide us now, and guide us even to the end! After this guidance through life, the Psalmist anticipates a divine reception at last-"and afterward receive me to glory." What a thought for thee, believer! God himself will receive thee to glory-thee! Wandering, erring, straying, yet he will bring thee safe at last to glory! This is thy portion; live on it this day, and if perplexities should surround thee, go in the strength of this text straight to the throne.


Ⓒ 1996-2017 Heartlight, Inc. This material may not be reproduced in part or whole for commercial use without written consent. Written by Charles H. Spurgeon.

Links I like (8/31)

Links I like

How to Pray When You Don’t Want to Pray

JD Greear:

If someone wrote a story of my prayer life, it would probably be titled, A Confused Mix of Wandering and Worrying.

Fortunately, Miller also provides several helpful ways out of our prayer haze. Here are four of the biggest takeaways from A Praying Life.

On Hard Work, Prayer, and Grace

Jim Essian:

The Christian’s labor is infused with Kingdom purpose. Whether vocational ministry or neighbor-loving “secular” work, the Christian is compelled to work harder than his unbelieving coworker, and for nothing less than the glory of God as his aim.

But should hard work for the Christian and hard work for the unbeliever be different? Should the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus inform and affect our hard work? What’s different?

God’s Subtle Work in Your Bible Reading

Erik Raymond:

Since then, I have been reading this Bible each morning and as I do I come across underlined verses and notes. As I read these verses they ring the bell in my heart. I may not remember the circumstances in my life when I underlined the verse or wrote an observation next to it, but my heart sings with a sanctified reflex. Sometimes I’ll read the verse and an observation will bubble up to the surface, and then I look and see something very similar written in the margin. It’s as if the Holy Spirit is a skilled craftsman who pushes the mortar deep into the cracks and crevices of my heart. The verses are precious to me not in a general sense but in a particular sense. In other words: my mind may not remember the details of my life at the time, but my mind and heart have retained the preciousness of the truth contained in the text.

A Necessary Change in My Preaching

Cody Deevers:

Preaching for sixteen years in established churches afforded me priceless experience. Years of grinding out three sermons per week taught me how to prepare efficiently and how to comfortably communicate. In preaching, like most other disciplines, there really is no substitute for experience. For that, I am and always will be thankful.

However, I also developed a bad habit of using insider language.

6 Big Ways Leaders Can Build Credibility

Eric Geiger:

You cannot walk without legs, and you cannot lead without credibility. Impossible. As credibility increases, so does a leader’s ability to influence and move others in a direction. As credibility diminishes, so does the leader’s ability to accomplish work through others because the others are losing trust in the person. So how does a leader build credibility, either when credibility has been lost or when more credibility is needed for future assignments and responsibilities?

It’s OK to Be Sad

Mike Phay:

In the midst of trials, we vary between the escape mechanisms of burying our head in the sand and ignoring our trials, or focusing our energy on having them end as soon as possible. Consider, for example, the way in which you pray. When a trial comes into your life, is your first impulse to pray that it would end, or to pray that you would find it to be a source of joy? That, of course, is a rhetorical question.

Avoidance and escape. These are our defaults.

But James is inviting us to actually consider the trials of our lives as sources of joy.


Honor authorities, but fear God

A favorite from the archives:

None of us particularly like authority. That is, in large part, because we are sinners prone to wanting to be our own authorities. But some of us also have a habit of being so concerned about our human authorities that we forget that they are also under God’s authority.

Yes, respect and obey the earthly authorities—whether parents, pastors, police or presidents—but don’t forget: they’re not the primary authority. God is.

The post Links I like (8/31) appeared first on Blogging Theologically.



Becoming More Impressed with Christ

Written by: Erik Raymond
lightstock.com

lightstock.com

Luke 22:37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.”

Prior to heading up to the Mount of Olives, the Lord Jesus makes this statement to his disciples. It is in the context of Jesus telling them to get a money-bag, knapsack and a sword in preparation of the coming days.

The Scripture reference that the Savior sites are from the prophet Isaiah, specifically the twelfth verse of chapter 53. Of course, this chapter of Isaiah is one of the clearest conglomerations of Messianic prophecy contained in the Old Testament. Isaiah writes with prophetic precision as he foretells of the manner in which the Son of David would suffer and die while accomplishing redemption.

Notice though as you read this passage the articulation of resolve by Jesus, this Scripture must be fulfilled in me. Jesus interprets Isaiah as referring to him and the necessity of it being fulfilled. Jesus was intent on doing exactly what the Scripture said because Scripture says exactly what God wanted to be done. Here we see the beautiful marriage between the Word and will of God. What God has spoken shall indeed come to pass.

In addition, we see the reality of Christ being numbered with the transgressors. Exhale. This is still hard to fathom, particularly in light of the perfect life that we see modeled in the Gospel narratives. Jesus Christ, the incarnation of beauty, perfection, holiness, and purity is going to be brushing up and punished with the ungodly, unrighteous, evil, rebellious and sinful people. This is what Jesus said he must do.

I love reading this passage and hearing Jesus grab that pronoun he and velcro it to his chest, he is the suffering servant, he is the son of David, he is the one who would justify the many as he is pierced for our transgressions.

I read this passage and I find myself more impressed with my Savior who loves the Word of God, the will of God, the elect of God all and the glory of God.

Jesus Christ has it all together as he goes to die for people who can’t ever seem to get it right.

I love him because he is so different from me, so perfect and so full of a holy zeal for the glory of God. I love him because he is different from me and is everything that I want to be. Simply, I love him because he is Jesus, the one and only.

Becoming More Impressed with Christ is a post from: Erik Raymond



Selected News Stories from Around the World* — Friday, Sept. 1

West Bank: Persecuted Christian Says Most Muslims Come to Faith Through Visions and Dreams
(The Christian Post)

Transgender Education in Kindergarten Stirs Calif. Debate (Baptist Press)

America’s Epidemic: How Opioid Addicts Find Help in the Church (The Gospel Coalition)

I Met the Man Who Killed My Entire Family: How Rwandan Genocide Survivor Found Forgiveness (Christianity Today)

Why Are Businesses Planting Microchips in Their Employees? (The Telegraph)

Texas Governor Calls for Day of Prayer (World)



Kuala Lumpur: Southeast Asia’s Melting Pot and Missions Opportunity [Photo Gallery]

Kuala Lumpur may not boast of the booming population of other global cities, but the two million people who live here in the capital of Malaysia make this metropolis a vibrant, multicultural melting pot.

Three major ethnic groups compose Kuala Lumpur’s population: Malay, Chinese, and Indians. The customs, religions, and even unique culinary delicacies of these peoples fuse into the fabric of the megacity, making it a beautiful blend of cultures. Modernism meets historicism in Kuala Lumpur, with progress pulling the city forward and history grounding the city in tradition. Vestiges of the British colonial era claim their time-worn places in the skyline and the roadways and, in certain places, contrast with the modern skyline.

During the day, incense wafts in the muggy air of Malaysian Chinese temples. At night, red lanterns electrify the night sky. The majority of Malaysian Chinese are Buddhists, who hold tightly to beliefs and traditions their ancestors brought southward during their immigration from China generations ago.

Tourism in Kuala Lumpur is a booming enterprise, with visitors coming from neighboring Indonesia or nations with historical colonial ties like the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. English is widely spoken, adding to the city’s value as an attractive vacation destination. For many, a country with three diverse ethnic groups living peaceably together is an exciting draw as well.

On a regular basis, and especially during Chinese holidays like the Lunar New Year, Chinese dragon and lion dancers make their rhythmic journey throughout the streets of Kuala Lumpur. Advocates of the tradition are calling for it to become a national sport.

Kuala Lumpur comes alive at night, and not just in front of the fountains of the Petronas Towers. The megacity is well known for its night markets, which offer a dizzying array of cuisines enjoyed on-the-go or on street-side tables.

Street vendors in Kuala Lumpur diligently prepare steaming dim sum, a Chinese dumpling originally concocted in Hong Kong and Guangdong province in China, and other exotic culinary delights. Chinese Malaysians likely brought this particular cuisine with them when they immigrated to the country in the nineteenth century.

Many millennials, often influenced by media and Western ideologies, are stepping away from the conservatism of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. The dichotomy between traditional and expanding worldviews is currently unfolding.

As is common in global megacities, street performers and musicians rely on the good graces of tourists and locals to make their living. Street performers can often be found along Bukit Bintang, a major thoroughfare of markets, malls, and entertainment venues.

Kuala Lumpur is rising on the global scene for its modernism, wealth, and development, yet poverty remains visible alongside the abundance and opulence. The poor often feel marginalized and left behind in the wake of their city’s booming economy.

Followers of Falun Gong are highly persecuted in China and find a somewhat peaceful respite to practice their beliefs in Kuala Lumpur. Along city thoroughfares, adherents of the religion practice meditation in the midst of the cacophony of car horns, bicycle bells, and motorcycles revving their engines.

Hindu temples welcome worshipers seeking to offer puja, or worship. In the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, musicians play Hindu mantras on instruments such as a shehnai, an instrument similar to an oboe.

Islam is the official religion of Malaysia and is practiced by 61 percent of the population. The call to prayer rings out from mosques in Kuala Lumpur, drawing attention away from current pop songs broadcasting from shops and public transportation.

Religion isn’t relegated to the interiors of temples and mosques. Faith can be a very public display in this megacity. One example is the Hindu festival of Thaipusam, which involves a processional and pilgrimage from Sri Mahamariamman Temple inside the city, to the outlying Batu Caves.

Dawn is coming for the gospel in Kuala Lumpur. Just as the sun rises over the mosques and Hindu and Buddhist temples, it also shines light on yet another chance for Christians to make the gospel known in the sprawling metropolis. Opportunities to engage the city have never been greater.

Kuala Lumpur’s magnetism as a hub and gateway to Asia draws expatriates of all nations who come to work, teach, and serve. Students, business professionals, and teachers are sharing their faith in the city, and you can too. Start exploring ways you may be able to work and serve, and learn more about Kuala Lumpur. Maybe the Lord is leading you to bring the gospel to this city.


All photos were taken by Luke In, a media specialist serving in Asia with the IMB.

Caroline Anderson is a writer with the IMB. She currently lives in Southeast Asia. Her childhood in Asia consisted of two important ingredients: braving hot chili peppers and telling people about Jesus.

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$5 Friday: Grace, Suffering, & Perseverance

It's time for our weekly $5 Friday sale. This week's resources include such topics as grace, Scripture, prayer, perseverance, abortion, ethics, worldview, suffering, and more.

Sale runs through 12:01 a.m. — 11:59 p.m. Friday ET.

View today's $5 Friday sale items.



Is There a God?

This God must be the biblical God, for two reasons. The first is that only such a God adequately grounds the physical coherence of the cosmos as we know it. Second, His existence is the only coherent basis, whether acknowledged or otherwise, for rational thought and communication. Consequently, the nonbeliever of necessity must draw on, borrow from, indeed intellectually steal from a biblical foundation in order to think coherently and to live sanely. 

 

Answer the question “Is there a God?” in around 775 words? Is this perhaps the easiest assignment Tabletalk has ever commissioned, since the answer is so clear? There are no consistent atheists, only people hiding from God. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). God is the inescapable given who undergirds all things.

Or, is this the hardest assignment Tabletalk has ever commissioned? A comprehensive answer might fill an entire library. What follows, then, is only a stray fragment from one chapter in a book in that library.

➝ 1 God the Creator is the only solution to Gottfried Leibniz’s and Martin Heidegger’s ultimate riddle: “Why is there something there, and not nothing?”

Ex nihilo nihil fit—“Nothing comes from nothing.” Let us note that nothing is not a “pre-something”; it is not “something reduced to a minimum.” Nothing is NO thing, no THINGNothing—a concept impossible for the mind to comprehend precisely because nothing lacks “reality” in the first place. To transform Rene Descartes’; famous dictum Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) we can say, Quod cogito, non cogito de nihilo (Because I am, I cannot conceive of nothing). That leads to another Descartes-esque thought: Quod cogito, ergo non possibile Deus non est (Because I think, therefore it is impossible that God does not exist). The cosmos, my existence, and my ability to reason all depend on the fact that life did not and could not come from nothing, but requires a reasonable and reasoning origin. The contrary (time + chance = reality) is impossible. Neither time nor chance is a pre-cosmic phenomenon.

➝ 2 This God must be the biblical God, for two reasons. The first is that only such a God adequately grounds the physical coherence of the cosmos as we know it. Second, His existence is the only coherent basis, whether acknowledged or otherwise, for rational thought and communication. Consequently, the nonbeliever of necessity must draw on, borrow from, indeed intellectually steal from a biblical foundation in order to think coherently and to live sanely. Thus, the secular humanist who argues that there are no ultimates must borrow from biblical premises in order to assess anything as in itself right or wrong.

I have recently tried a simple but unnerving experiment, directing my mind to think its way into the assumption that there is no God, and then to explore the implications. I strongly discourage performing this mind experiment. It leads inexorably to a dark place, a mental abyss where nothing in life makes sense, indeed, where there is no possibility of ultimate “sense.” Here, all that we think of as good, true, rational, intelligible, and beautiful has no substructure to give these concepts coherence. Thus, the nature of everything I am and experience becomes radically deconstructed and disconnected from my consciousness of them. That “consciousness” that seems intelligible is then an unjustifiable fabrication of my own imagination. And then that imagination ceases to have coherence in itself. In essence, then, my highly complex consciousness becomes merely an inexplicable series of intricate chemical reactions grounded in no rationality and having no inherent meaning. “Meaning” itself in any genuinely transcendent sense is itself a meaningless concept.

As experimenters in the pilgrimage of consistent atheism, we will then conclude that it is the “atheists” who are driven to despair, as they yield to the unbearable conclusions of their premises, who are the only consistent atheistic thinkers with the courage of their convictions. Those who calmly claim to be atheists are unmasked as in fact refusing the conclusion of their professed convictions, repressing what they know deep down to be true (that God is)—the very point Paul makes in Romans 1:18–25.

The novelist Martin Amis recounted a question that the Russian writer Yevgeni Yevtushenko asked Sir Kingsley Amis: “Is it true that you are an atheist?” Amis replied, “Yes. But it’s more than that. You see, I hate Him.” Far from being able to deny the existence of God, he confessed both God’s existence and his own antagonism toward Him.

Amis was not alone. Neither a knight of the Realm, nor any of us, can escape being the imago Dei(however mutilated). We can therefore never deny the Deus of whom we are the imago. For God has placed a burden on us: “He has put eternity into a man’s heart” (Eccl. 3:11). As Augustine said, our hearts are restless until we find our rest in Him.

Why then does the Bible not ask the question, “Is there a God?” Because its first sentence answers it: “In the beginning, God… .”

© 2017 Ligonier Ministries

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Critical Theory and the Unity of the Church

More broadly, we contend that reducing the complexity of social relationships to issues of power, and imposing a binary logic that divides human society into oppressors and oppressed is unhelpful in a number of ways.  When the rich complexity of human society and motivation is viewed largely through the lens of power analysis much is missed.  Such reductionistic thinking also provides a ready rationale for unfairly marginalizing people deemed to be “politically incorrect.” 

 

The undersigned concerned individuals are constrained, indeed compelled, to speak to ideological dangers that threaten and subvert the unity of the Body of Christ.

Some in the conservative Reformed community evince a laudable desire to overcome racial injustice, but they often seek to understand racial divisions by relying on categories drawn from the “critical theory” of secular academia (e.g., notions of “white privilege,” “white guilt,” “intersectionality,” and more broadly the power-analysis tradition that stems from Marx, Foucault, and others) rather than from Scripture and the Christian tradition.  As a result of this uncritical borrowing, some in the church are falling headlong into the divisive identity politics that now plague the broader culture and particularly higher education.

These secular categories are often unhelpful.  For example, what are often taken to be examples of “white privilege” are simply the rights and opportunities that should be enjoyed by all, and the appropriate response is not to engender subjective feelings of “white guilt” but to work to extend these rights and opportunities to all.  Furthermore, the notion of “white privilege” is artificial in that many non-Caucasians are similarly “advantaged,” while poor whites often experience problems and disadvantages similar to those experienced by impoverished people of color. While such thinking provides incentives for political activism and a “stick to beat people with,” it does little to further careful analysis, productive theological reflection, and mutual understanding.

More broadly, we contend that reducing the complexity of social relationships to issues of power, and imposing a binary logic that divides human society into oppressors and oppressed is unhelpful in a number of ways.  When the rich complexity of human society and motivation is viewed largely through the lens of power analysis much is missed.  Such reductionistic thinking also provides a ready rationale for unfairly marginalizing people deemed to be “politically incorrect.”  Perhaps most importantly, the identity politics that flow from this fixation on race, gender, sexuality, etc. are powerful centrifugal forces that have the potential to tear not only society but also the church apart.  Such a focus on identity almost inevitably gives rise to a psychology of ressentiment, with its anger and desire for revenge.

In short, the grand inclusive vision—one rooted not in identitarian difference but in what people share in common—of racial reconciliation evident, for example, in the work of African-American Presbyterian pastor Francis J. Grimké is being tragically subverted.  Grimké drew deeply and decisively on the Christian tradition for his views of justice and social change, and he knew well that secular solutions would not suffice.  He wrote: “I am hopeful, because I have faith in the power of the religion of the Lord Jesus Christ to conquer all prejudices, to break down all walls of separation, and to weld together men of all races in one great brotherhood.” (The Works of Francis J. Grimké [1942], I:267).

We believe, not only that such secular categories are inherently divisive, but that there is a better way.  Drawing on the Christian doctrine of Creation, we affirm that all people are created in the image of God, that all possess a dignity and value that flow from their relationship to their Creator rather than from the contingencies of race, gender, and ethnicity.

Drawing on the Christian doctrine of sin and the fall, we affirm that all people are sinners and that sin affects every aspect of our existence.  All stand in need of God’s grace and mercy.  While sinfulness can express itself in different ways depending upon social location, and God does have a special concern for the poor and marginalized, there is no “superior virtue of the oppressed.”  The fashionable notion today that only white people can be racists stands in stark tension with this Christian doctrine of sin.

Drawing on the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation, we affirm that the Second Person of the Trinity has united himself with humanity and become a member of the human community forever, and that this has powerful implication for our understanding human dignity and community.  As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “All the great writers of antiquity were a part of the aristocracy of masters . . . and it was necessary that Jesus Christ come to earth to make it understood that all members of the human species are naturally alike and equal” (Democracy in America [2000], 413).

Finally, drawing on the Christian doctrines of Reconciliation and the Church, we affirm with the Apostle Paul that in Christ “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”  We insist that this union of the Church with Christ in his obedient death, mighty resurrection, and glorious ascension—intended in the eternal purposes of God and accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit—is more concrete and vital than the contingent social distinctions of race, gender, and ethnicity, and that this unity of the Church must not be subverted by dubious and irremediably divisive secular theories.

***************

Signatories*:

The Rev. William B. Evans, Ph.D.
Younts Prof. of Bible and Religion
Erskine College
Due West, SC

The Rev. Mark Robinson
PCA Teaching Elder
Pittsburgh, PA

Darrell B. Harrison
Fellow, Princeton Theological Seminary Black Theology and Leadership Institute (BTLI)
Atlanta, Georgia

The Rev. Leslie Holmes, Ph.D.
Provost, Erskine Theological Seminary
Due West, SC  29639

The Rev. Andy Webb
Senior Pastor, Providence PCA Church
Fayetteville, NC

The Rev. Todd Pruitt
Pastor, Covenant Presbyterian Church
Harrisonburg, VA

The Rev. Robert Briggs
Sacramento, CA

The Rev. Lane Keister
Pastor, Momence Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Momence, IL

The Rev. Dr. Dennis E. Bills
Trinity Presbyterian Church
New Martinsville, WV

*Institutional connections listed for identification purposes only.

This article is used with permission.

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I Get to Tell You About the Trinity

I spoke to them about how the Trinity has existed forever and ever. Our God was eternally happy–even before he created people! Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Father all loved, glorified, and enjoyed one another even before time. Unapologetically overwhelming them, I explained that this is more than I can understand, but where my brain fails my heart makes up the difference. I got to share with them about the Trinity.

 

I don’t know whose eyes were bigger, theirs or mine. As I knelt next to them, I leaned forward, and their eyes of intrigue locked with my eyes of excitement. “I get to tell you about the Trinity,” I told them. Having been in church since they were born, they have heard the word countless times, so the term was vaguely familiar. However, the teaching that accompanied remained foreign to them.

Over the last several months I’ve returned to that brief encounter like you might go back to a favorite restaurant. I come expecting. And, I am not disappointed. This is largely because of that phrase that’s etched in my memory. And every time I think about it I smile. I looked at my kids and said, “I get to tell you about the Trinity.”

Here’s why I feast upon this memory.

I get to

When I think about who I was before Christ, I want to look away. Like a scene from a horror movie, I shudder to open both eyes in my mind to consider myself. There was a disregard for God’s glory punctuated by a cocky rebellion. Even now as a Christian, I feel more acutely aware of my sin. Before Christ, I was like a bat, blinded from the light and loving darkness. But now, as a Christian, I see light and darkness. I see the ugliness of my sin as a follower of Christ. But God the Father elected me, God the Son he bled for me, and God the Spirit he arrested me. The words I get to are dripping with grace. I get to because the triune God saved me from my ruthless rebellion and even now is molding me to be more like the last Adam and less like the first.

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10 Common but Illegitimate Reasons to Divorce

Marriage can be hard. Your spouse may grieve or disappoint you greatly. However, this is not a legitimate excuse to bolt, but an opportunity outdo him or her in love (Romans 12:10), to grow in trust in the God who ordained your marriage (Proverbs 3:5-6), and to reflect the faithfulness of God until the very end (Matthew 25:23).

 

It is clear in the Bible that God’s intention for marriage is that it remain in effect until the death of one spouse. I believe it is also quite clear that God has provided a limited set of circumstances in which a marriage can legitimately be severed. However, many people—even Christians—offer reasons to divorce that are not sanctioned by God. Jim Newheiser helpfully outlines a number of these in his book Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage: Critical Questions and Answers. Here are 10 common but illegitimate reasons to divorce.

  1. “My spouse isn’t a Christian,” or “I wasn’t a Christian when I married my spouse.”Nowhere in the Bible is this seen as grounds for divorce. In 1 Corinthians 7:12-13 Paul very clearly urges men and women in such situations not to divorce their unbelieving spouse. In 1 Peter 3:1-2 women married to unbelievers are called to “be subject to their own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives.” Rather than seeking for an opportunity to get out of the relationship, Christians are told to seek for opportunities to share their faith with their unbelieving spouse.
  2. “We weren’t married in a church.” Matthew 19:6 renders this an illegitimate excuse when it says, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Marriage is sanctioned by God and is not dependent on the context in which those vows were made. Regardless of where you were married or who married you, if you have made a covenant of marriage, the Lord expects you to keep it.
  3. “I need to get out of this marriage for the sake of my kids.” This is, of course, a justifiable concern, but one that Paul does not neglect to address. In 1 Corinthians 7:14 he says, “For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” According to Paul, here is another opportunity to endure for the sake of the gospel, so that your children, too, may see your godly example of faith. However, in the case that your spouse poses a threat of danger, be it emotional or physical abuse, your children’s safety is a priority.

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Confessional Millennials?

If our churches are going to reach Millennials, we must “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering,” (Hebrews 10:23). Only those churches founded upon God’s Word will promote spiritual maturity and strengthening. Churches built on the solid rock of biblical truth – confessional churches – will weather social and cultural changes in such a way so as to glorify God and to remain relevant.

 

Confessionalists value unity; Millennials celebrate individualism. Confessionalists cherish tradition; Millennials love innovation. Confessionalists are guardians; Millennials are liberators. The combination of these words seems like an oxymoron. But does it make sense to completely separate the categories “Confessional” and “Millennial?” To answer that question, we need to reach down through the porous layer of cultural stereotypes, and hit theological bedrock worth building upon.

A Confessional Millennial is no oxymoron. I believe that we will see more men and women, over the years ahead, who fit this description in our churches as my peers continue to come under the formative influence of biblical teaching. Subsequently, they will express themselves in confessional language. At least three issues – identity, community, and aspiration – are at play, and worth exploring.

Identity

Analysts typically identify as millennial anyone born between 1980 and 1997. Consider the stereotypical “millennial identity.” If one word comes to mind to describe the millennials that you know, it is probably “individualistic.”

Millennials generally start families later, go to college in greater numbers, and enter the workforce with a more earnest “change the world” attitude than prior generations. These shifts provide more time to consider identity, aspiration, and vocation. Higher education marketers have figured this out. University marketing campaigns almost always contain words like “self,” “mission,” “find,” “transform,” “change,” “champion,” and “called.”

If this individualism persists past the twenty-something years, we might expect resistance to comprehensive theological systems like what we find in our confessions. But the thoroughgoing individualist runs into a problem. “Whatever exists has already been named” (Ecclesiastes 6:10). The desire for the absolutely unique will be left unsatisfied. “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). In my own experience, the desire at the heart of the pursuit of the Unique or Authentic is actually a desire for the True.

Sin has corrupted this desire, but Millennials – like all human beings – were made in the image of the God of Truth. One nineteenth-century Presbyterian pastor wrote, “Stamped with the divine image as being made ‘a living soul,’ man’s high prerogative is to catch upon the mirror of his own nature the glory of the Creator, and to reflect it back upon him in intelligent and holy worship.” God is true, and we were made to reflect His truth.

The regenerate man cannot ultimately turn away from the truth. Insofar as our Reformed and Presbyterian confessional documents distill the truth of God’s Word, they will attract regenerate people from every generation. We discover truth in God’s Word, which was “given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life” (WCF 1.2). The quest for authenticity, expressed in individualism, is fulfilled only in the discovery of the truth.

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Christians Should Be Motivated to Minister to Homeless People

No matter where you live, there are men and women longing to set their head on a bed they can call their own. We often think of homelessness as an inner-city problem. We see panhandlers on the street corner or pass a young lady and her dog sitting on a blanket. That’s the image of homelessness fixed in our minds. But in most towns, homelessness looks very different.

 

This past January, with the temperature so cold my van’s windows could barely defrost, I dropped off six men at McDonald’s so they could spend the day there, protected from the frigid cold.

No matter where you live, there are men and women longing to set their head on a bed they can call their own. We often think of homelessness as an inner-city problem. We see panhandlers on the street corner or pass a young lady and her dog sitting on a blanket. That’s the image of homelessness fixed in our minds.

But in most towns, homelessness looks very different. It’s the single mom who’s unable to put a deposit down on an apartment because of bad credit. It’s the young man who has been released from jail but can’t get a job. It’s the addict or the person with mental health issues who’s been asked to leave their family home again and again. Many sleep in their cars, some will couch-surf for as long as they can, and still others will find a piece of land where they can pitch a tent or roll out a sleeping bag.

Homelessness is always a crisis. But merciful, compassionate, and loving Christians can’t only and always walk the other way. We have a compelling motivation to respond.

Four Principles in Caring for the Homeless

But it’s not always obvious what the best response is. Our church began to discuss this in recent years. In fact, one of our elders serves as Executive Director of a local transitional home for at-risk women. He is all too aware of the needs in our region, and he led our church to respond.

We did so, with these four considerations in mind.

1. Every homeless person is in crisis.

We were determined not to see homelessness as a problem to be fixed but rather to see the individual as a person in crisis. We must ensure that our efforts to respond do not exacerbate the crisis. It’s true that helping can hurt.

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“And So He Left”: One Family’s Struggle With Gender Dysphoria

I believe the Bible when it says that God created us male and female (Genesis 1 v 27), and that that is expressed in the marriage union of one man to one woman. I thought my husband did too. But the agony of knowing the consequences of holding to these convictions for me and for us as a family was immense. Ultimately, it was me who said I couldn’t live with my husband if he insisted on identifying as a woman. 

 

My husband and I had been married for 15 years and had three children, and were actively involved in the ministry of our local church. We were just another one of those “keen Christian couples” that are the heart of church life.

You can imagine my shock when my husband told me that he felt he needed to cross dress. It was a bolt out of the blue. We talked about it over a period of a few weeks and then the discussion was left.

But a year later, having not discussed anything in any more detail, my husband announced that he was seeking counselling for his cross-dressing desires. It soon became evident that the counselling was not about helping him leave his desires behind, but about exploring his gender identity.

I see the command to be “true to” God our creator, and that is to take up our cross each day (Luke 9 v 23).

Unknown to me he had already talked to colleagues at work and had received significant support. We spent the next year talking through the issues, trying to find some common ground and having some relationship counselling together. But as we progressed through that year it became more and more clear that there was no common ground. As a Christian, I couldn’t endorse his choices. I believe the Bible when it says that God created us male and female (Genesis 1 v 27), and that that is expressed in the marriage union of one man to one woman. I thought my husband did too. But the agony of knowing the consequences of holding to these convictions for me and for us as a family was immense. Ultimately, it was me who said I couldn’t live with my husband if he insisted on identifying as a woman. And so he left.

Hard Choices

The impact on our children has been greater than I could ever have imagined. I have questioned myself so often as to whether I made the correct choice—perhaps I will always wonder. It is very easy to find yourself contorting your mind to try and make sense of the situation.

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Why I Love the Rural Church

I learned about Jesus in that church. I learned to fear and adore God, follow Jesus as Lord, repent of my sin, and have assurance in the perseverance of my faith. I learned that my salvation wasn’t based on my ability to woo God or the modification of my behavior. Rather, it rested in the relentless love of God for my soul.

 

Growing up in the mountains of northeast Alabama, I was never really aware that I was from a small town. Sure, I knew Birmingham and Huntsville had more people than my hometown of Boaz, but I never thought I was any different because I was from a rural community. I also wasn’t aware that I attended a small church.

Oak Hill Baptist Church was a little country church outside the metropolis of Horton, AL – insert sarcastic laughs here. The population in Horton is less than the average number of shoppers in a Walmart Supercenter at midnight. The auditorium sat maybe seventy-five with every inch of every pew taken. There was no sound system or lighting, no overheads or projectors for song lyrics. We had three different hymnals. Our song leader had to make sure to announce the hymn number and what color hymnal! There were no youth or children’s programs. Crying babies and disruptive kids were the norm. I didn’t even realize noisy babies were an issue until we moved to Missouri and all the children in our new church were sent to their designated areas so the adults could sit in uninterrupted silence to listen to the message. Our rural church had a piano, a song leader, and an old-school pastor. Again, it never occurred to me that my church was small, outdated, or in a cultural class perceived as lower than any other church.

I learned about Jesus in that church. I learned to fear and adore God, follow Jesus as Lord, repent of my sin, and have assurance in the perseverance of my faith. I learned that my salvation wasn’t based on my ability to woo God or the modification of my behavior. Rather, it rested in the relentless love of God for my soul. Mrs. Gardner, my Sunday School teacher, would talk about Jesus with tears welling in her eyes. This was a woman who had been rescued by the Lord and was obviously thankful for it. She gave her life to teaching young people about, in her words, “her Jesus.” Her Jesus became my Jesus. God saved my sister there, too. God used this country church in the hills of Sand Mountain and its untrained, KJV-only pastor who, as the pinnacle of his messages, would herald the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Brother James will forever be a spiritual hero of mine.

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Christ and His Brethren

From John Owen’s Commentary on Hebrews 3:15-19

This is a ground of unspeakable consolation unto believers, with supportment in every condition. No unworthiness in them, no misery upon them, shall ever hinder the Lord Christ from owning them, and openly avowing them to be His brethren. He is a brother born for the day of trouble, a Redeemer for the friendless and fatherless. Let their miseries be what they will, He will be ashamed of none but of them who are ashamed of Him and His ways, when persecuted and reproached. A little while will clear up great mistakes. All the world shall see at the last day whom Christ will own; and it will be a great surprisal when men shall hear Him call them brethren whom they hated, and esteemed as the offscouring of all things. He doth it, indeed, already by His word; but they will not attend thereunto. But at the last day, they shall both see and hear whether they will or no. And herein, I say, lies the great consolation of believers. The world rejects them, it may be their own relations despise them—they are persecuted, hated, reproached; but the Lord Christ is not ashamed of them. He will not pass by them because they are poor and in rags—it may be reckoned (as He himself was for them) among malefactors. They may see also the wisdom, grace, and love of God in this matter. His great design in the incarnation of His Son was to bring Him into that condition wherein He might naturally care for them as their brother; that He might not be ashamed of them, but be sensible of their wants, their state and condition in all things, and so be always ready and meet to relieve them. Let the world now take its course, and the men thereof do their worst; let Satan rage, and the powers of hell be stirred up against them; let them load them with reproach and scorn, and cover them all over with the filth and dirt of their false imputations; let them bring them into rags, into dungeons, unto death—Christ comes in the midst of all this confusion and says, “Surely these are my brethren, the children of my Father,” and He becomes their Saviour. And this is a stable foundation of comfort and supportment in every condition. And are we not taught our duty also herein, namely, not to be ashamed of Him or of His gospel, or of any one that bears His image? The Lord Christ is now himself in that condition that even the worst of men esteem it an honour to own Him; but, indeed, they are no less ashamed of Him than they would have been when He was carrying His cross upon His shoulders, or hanging upon the tree; for of everything that He hath in this world they are ashamed—His gospel, His ways, His worship, His Spirit, His saints, they are all of them the objects of their scorn; and in these things it is the Lord Christ may be truly honoured or be despised.

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Getting Logos to work offline

I'm not always connected to the Internet, so when I open Logos it used to ask if I wanted to work offline or connect to the Internet.  When I selected work "offline", Logos would open to the layout I closed. 

However, recently, if I'm offline, when Logos opens up it tries to sync and I have a continual red exclamation point in the upper right of my screen.  If I press the CTRL button when I open Logos it gives me the option to work offline, but then it opens to a blank layout.  Is there a way for Logos to work offline?



Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia: A Book Review

Crossway was gracious enough to send Josh a review copy of ‘Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia’. We appreciate their willingness to send us quality content for review. 

I was about 10 years old when my grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer. He and my grandmother lived on a hill that overlooked a lake about two hours away from my hometown. They were relatively far from family, my great uncle and aunt being the only near relatives. My grandparents needed one another in such an isolated situation, but my grandpa didn’t have my grandma through his lung cancer. It was as if he lived alone at times, or perhaps even with a stranger.

My grandma was diagnosed with alzheimer’s disease years before my grandfather discovered his cancer. She would often wander, string together incomplete sentences, and stare into the distance as if all life had gone out of her. Alzheimer’s, being a form of dementia, is a devastating disease and makes victims out of not only the patient, but of the patient’s family members as well. Everything changes when the symptoms of dementia become apparent. Those with advanced dementia require frequent, if not constant, supervision. My grandma once casually walked away from family, acquired the keys to my aunt’s car, and went on a cruise! By the grace of God she was found unharmed, and brought back home.

A Practical Necessity

The people of the church, our brothers and sisters in Christ, suffer from dementia often, whether they be family members dealing with a loved one or they themselves. Diseases like dementia affect everyone involved. Dr. John Dunlop, a medical doctor, has gifted God’s people with a volume specifically aimed at applying a Christian worldview to the unfortunate situation of dementia. Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia is a book authored by a Christian who is a medical expert. This volume is pastoral, sensitive to the subject, and factually relevant.

The church has produced innumerable devotional resources, rightly so. The church’s library of pastoral helps alone could fill Oxford’s library. However, not many resources targeting one specific situation, such as dementia, have been authored. I, for one, would love to see more members of Christ’s church write resources like this, according to their own lines of work and professional expertise. Dr. Dunlop is a physician who specifically work in geriatrics and is thus equipped to write about a common disease among the senior demographic.

Dunlop’s professional experience makes his input on the subject valuable, especially for those in the church. But he has also experienced dementia first hand, in his mother. Not only is this a disease Dunlop deals with professionally, it’s a disease which, to him, is close to home. His mother suffered from dementia. Like myself, this disease has affected him.

Dementia in the Context of Creation

Dunlop does a great job of starting with a biblical worldview. He puts into perspective creation, and how creation was supposed to look. He writes:

Seven times in Genesis 1 we are told that the world God made was good, meaning it conformed perfectly to God’s character. It was filled with love, beauty, joy, righteousness, and satisfying work for our first parents. There was no human death, no disease, no pain or suffering. Most important, for our present purposes, there was no dementia (p. 23).

Dunlop is exactly right. As Christians dealing with trials such as dementia, we need to remember that creation in its present state is not how it’s supposed to be. The original state, when Adam and Eve lived in perfect fellowship with God in the temple garden has since been lost upon the entry of sin into the world. We should not, however, despair at the fact that the world has been plunged into sin. Scriptures says:

“You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone (Heb. 2:7-9).

God, since the Fall, has set in motion a plan of redemption such that, while we see the world in total turmoil––sin and suffering abound––God the Father, through His Son, is redeeming creation along with a people for Himself. Thus, as Christians, we ought to recognize the fact that the world is not in its good state that it was originally intended to be in, but we should also observe that God has put all things in subjection to Christ. Though it does not appear that this is the case, it will become apparent in the fullness of time.

Dunlop puts into perspective the tragic event of dementia in relation to the broader context of God’s redemptive plan. The world is not how it ought to be, and this debauched state of creation accounts for disease and other side effects of sin. However, though this is the case, God is making all things new in Christ and when this is complete, disease will be destroyed forever and the effects of sin will disappear forever.

The Medical Aspects of Dementia

With a pastoral heart, Dunlop goes beyond the ultimate reasons dementia exists (i.e. the Fall). He includes an entire chapter answering the question, What should we know? This is important since not understanding something like dementia often results in not responding to it properly. Dunlop acknowledges this and begins this chapter by writing:

Have you ever thought about how awesome your mind is? The very fact that we can think a thought is amazing. Our brains are packed with countless nerve cells, and the chemicals that go between those cells allow one nerve cell to affect another (p. 30).

God created all things good and the residue of that goodness remains in the complexity of God’s creation as seen in the construction of the human brain, for example. In this chapter, Dunlop explains some of the medical and practical truths concerning dementia so as to equip family members of loved ones who suffer from this terrible disease. I found this book to be especially helpful precisely because it included a sensitive explanation of the disease from a medical-professional point of view. I could have written about how dementia is a result of the Fall of man, and how God is bringing suffering and sin to a close in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ. However, if someone were to ask me for practical advice in dealing with a dementia patient, I would be at a loss for words.

Having a printed resource written by a medical doctor on this subject is a gift to the church. Not only does he address dementia from a doctrinal standpoint, but he equips people to understand their loved ones better as they struggle with dementia, enabling Christians to love dementia patience the way they need to be loved. Not only does he talk about the scientific medical aspects of dementia, but he also discusses the experience of the caregiver, and what they may go through.

Experiencing Dementia Through a Caregiver’s Eyes

It’s easy to see that dementia patients have a struggle on their hands, but it’s not always easy to see the struggles of the caregivers. Many times, it is the family member who is forced to watch their loved ones forget all the memories they made together. Alzheimer’s patients often forget the identity of even their closest family members. Sons and daughters become strangers who seem to want to visit a lot. Dunlop writes:

The patient is not the only victim of this dreadful disease; caregivers are just as much, if not more, affected by it. As we must understand what it is like to be the victim, so we must understand what it is like to care for someone with dementia (p. 71).

Here is an element of Dunlop’s book that speaks volumes to readers. Not only must we be sensitive to the dementia patient, understanding their troubles, but we also must not forget the family members and friends who struggle through the caregiving process. Pastors and those preparing for ministry would benefit richly from reading Dunlop’s words here. Family members and friends caring for dementia patients are victims just as much as, if not more than, the dementia patients themselves.

The pastor, and congregation for that matter, ought to try as hard as possible to place themselves in the shoes of caregivers. It is extremely hard to do this if they themselves have never experienced dementia in any sense. Nevertheless, pastoral ministry demands a desire to relate to those in need around us, notwithstanding our past life experiences. Dunlop’s book helps any Christian, leader or layperson, to understand dementia and those who deal with it in the capacity of caregiving.

Conclusion

Resulting from a desire to be balanced, I try to find flaws in the books I review whether those flaws be theological or editorial. I think this helps readers make an informed decision when it comes to purchasing any given volume. In Dunlop’s book, however, it was difficult for me to find anything worth noting. In fact, I really see no reason a Christian should not read this book. It may be addressing a narrow topic, but more than likely, most Christians probably know someone who has dealt with dementia as a caregiver, or has directly known someone who suffered with through the disease. This book helps expand the vistas of pastoral care when it comes to the very specific, yet prolific, disease called dementia. Pastors, deacons, professors, and laypeople can all benefit from this volume.

Recommended Resources

Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia by Dr. John Dunlop

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