Monday, September 29, 2014

Bureaucracy at Its Best (Worst?)

A door was left unlocked at the White House last week, and a peaceful intruder made his way into the premises. As the intruder was peaceful, no harm was done. But there is now an agenda underway among the Secret Service to better protect the President.

So naturally, they are going through and just making sure everyone crosses their I's and dots their T's, right? (They're a bureaucracy; they'd be a bit backwards.) They could have prevented this intruder by simply keeping all the doors unlocked after all.

That would make a lot of sense as a plan of action; however, the Secret Service is a bureaucracy (I think you may be understanding that now), so they of course want to make wide sweeping changes that have absolutely nothing to do with the problem at hand.

Indeed, the Secret Service (as a bureaucracy) wants to block off more areas around the White House, essentially moving the safe zone perimeter further from the White House, and naturally check the bags of people who happen to be near that new perimeter.

Because all of that would totally be necessary just to keep an intruder from entering through an unlocked door. 

This illustrates the tendency of bureaucracy to overreact to every small event in ways that have nothing to do with the situation, and quite frankly won't even really help the problem of having crossed i's and dotted t's.

You expand the perimeter and still have irresponsible Secret Service, intruders will still be able to find the unlocked door.

As Dr. Marc Clauson writes,
"So it was probably fear of more bad publicity that drove this latest proposal.  But we have seen this mindset before , like every time the Transportation Safety Agency and Homeland Security come up with a  new scheme for supposedly protecting us from terrorists.  All too many of those schemes actually do little or nothing for better security, but they certainly manage to make flying (maybe soon taking the train) more inconvenient.  But again, this is part and parcel of the perverse incentives created within large and/or unaccountable bureaucracies."

Anyway (as I write this Thursday morning), I now need to go listen to Clauson give a lecture on church councils. Peace out!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Oh How the Mighty have Fallen!

Last week, we examined the life of Job and how he had a proper perspective on the suffering that had been placed in his life. By understanding that he is not entitled to the blessings that God has given Him, we see clearly why Job was called, "a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God and escheweth evil."

But Job's excellent perspective doesn't last forever. After his wonderful friends (read in a sarcastic tone) tell him that he is being punished for his iniquity before God, Job's response indicates a troublesome perspective on what God should be doing in his life.

It starts innocently enough. Job is going through so much struggle in his life that he begins to wish that he had never been born in the first place. Everything has been taken away from him, and his health is now deteriorating. He feels miserable, and as everyone knows, men take sickness in wimpier ways than do women, so that's probably happening here too.

It is not in vain that he states in Job 3:3-5,
"Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived. Let that day be darkness; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it. Let darkness and the shadow of death stain it; let a cloud dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it."

But of course, his suffering will soon leave him in a little bit more interesting position. Let's just stop with me boringly narrating and get to the point. In Job 7, Job replies to his friends by saying that the Lord brings suffering both to the just and the unjust (the most common theme taken from the book of Job), but then he goes on to say that if God were indeed correcting his actions, he'd rather be left in sin, than go through this discomfort.

But let's not take my word for it. Let's look to Job's exact words in Job 7:17-21,
 "What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? and that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him? And that thou shouldest visit him every morning, and try him every moment? How long wilt thou not depart from me, nor let me alone till I swallow down my spittle? I have sinned; what shall I do unto thee, O thou preserver of men? why hast thou set me as a mark against thee, so that I am a burden to myself? And why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away my iniquity? for now shall I sleep in the dust; and thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be."

Oh, Lord, you just really shouldn't care about lowly man to convict him of his sin. To convict him of his sin is to put a burden upon that man, and why should you care to make him better?

But it quickly seems to deteriorate to a much worse position. In his next reply, Job mentions how God has sovereignty over all events of man. At which point, he begins to say, it doesn't matter how he interacts with the Lord, as the Lord will do what He will regardless.

Indeed, according to Job here, even prayer is not helpful in any of these situations. Listen in on Job 9:16, 
"If I had called, and he had answered me; yet would I not believe that he had hearkened unto my voice."

Ouchey-ouch. That's really all there is to say, And Job 10:2-3 makes an even more compelling case against God,
 "I will say unto God, Do not condemn me; shew me wherefore thou contendest with me. Is it good unto thee that thou shouldest oppress, that thou shouldest despise the work of thine hands, and shine upon the counsel of the wicked?"

But my goal today was not exclusively to write a hit piece on Job, condemning him to the pits of hell. Job would later repent of much wrongdoing done in the book of Job, and I was reading through the book to see what that wrongdoing specifically looked like over these last few days. This is how far I have gotten.

But to share this particular endeavor of Job's frailties is still more than an intellectual exercise. I believe it can be instructive to us to see how this mighty man - this man who was "perfect and upright, one that feareth God and escheweth evil" - could fall to such a perspective.

No matter who we are, we must be cautious and know that we are not above being tempted and brought down. We must not give into a prideful feeling of how solid our relationship with the Lord is. As soon as we do, we might find ourselves like Job falling into sin.

But we can learn even more specific lessons from the life of Job as presented here. To begin with, one should never desire comfort over conviction of sin. Yes, the Lord's correction can be painful. The Bible does not say for naught (Twice!) that the Lord "Chastens" whom He loves.

It won't be a pleasant experience, but it will be a worthwhile experience that presents true opportunities to rest greater in a relationship with the Lord. It is as the Bible says,
"For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh in us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." 

Second, we must not ever use the sovereignty of God as an excuse for sin in our lives. We don't need to witness to those around us because God is in control and will make them come to know Him as He directs anyway. The Lord's sovereignty is not an excuse for our laziness. He still wants us to support and serve Him.

But if we get too wrapped up in us, we might find ourselves falling into a sinful. We might, like Job, fall into disarray. Let's not be mighty men (and women) of faith who fall. But let's actually be mighty men (and women) of faith. That part sounds pretty snazzy.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on the Differing Roles of the Academic and Pastor

Well-renowned scholar D.A. Carson has spent his life studying the Bible and teaching others how to navigate it in the forms of books, lectures, and conferences. Yet throughout that time, he has not completely walked away from the frontlines, as he expresses it, and continually preaches, witnesses, and invests in those around him. As such, he embodies what has been coined the Scholar-Pastor. Together with John Piper, Carson wrote the book, The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry. In his portion, Carson expresses how a scholar should engage in a similar way as a pastor does.

Before he really begins to unpack the Scholar-Pastor, he talks a little bit of how his life brought him to a focus upon scholarly work as opposed to pastoral ministry. You see, when Carson surrendered his life for vocational ministry, he intended that to be in the means of preaching, pastoring and planting churches. While he was doing just that in Vancouver, he was asked to teach a few classes here and there at a local Baptist college. It was nothing major; Carson was simply a fill-in when the regular professors were unable to teach.

When a full-time spot became available, Carson was offered the position. Although he declined, it made him consider advancing his education further. Since his church was to expand soon, he knew he either had to leave at that moment, or stay at his church for at least five years. Thus, he decided to travel to Cambridge to get his Ph.D.

While pursuing his Ph.D., Carson would preach an average of 2.6 times per week, indicating that Carson was still committed to the ministry side of Biblical studies. Eventually, Carson found himself in a teaching post at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Even now, Carson intended to leave his post and enter pastoral ministry. But two of his friends told him that he would be defying God’s plan for his life if he were to do such a thing. These two men believed that Carson’s published works were meeting some necessary needs of the church society, and entering into pastoral ministry would unnecessarily cripple these works. Thus, Carson ultimately stayed at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he still teaches today.

This decision highlights two important items about the pastor and scholar. First, the pastor is not necessarily a higher calling for every person in life. For Carson, his highest calling was that of scholar because that was where God wanted him. For people like John Piper, the opposite is true – the highest calling is that of pastor and not that of scholar. Ultimately, each individual who has been called into a disciplined study of the Bible will be further called to focus upon one of these two areas based on their gifts and ability, and neither is more important than the other.

Second, the rationale behind this decision indicates that the time of the pastor and the scholar is spent very differently. The scholar will spend most of his time writing books that reach a broad audience on a superficial level, while a pastor’s time is spent impacting a more focused group of people on a deeper level. Ultimately, both the pastor and the scholar can have an impact upon the life of the individual Christian (and the church as a whole), but the structure of the two positions means that these impacts will greatly vary in scope and magnitude.

After describing how he became focused on scholarly work, Carson explains how the focus is not exclusive in its terms. Just because Carson was focusing upon analytically dissecting the Bible while he was at Cambridge, he still preached 2.6 times per week. Carson argues that this is something that all scholars should continue to do.

The words he uses is that one should not be a “mere quartermaster.” A quartermaster supplies materials for the frontlines of defense, but a quartermaster usually does not actually fight on the frontlines. Much like quartermasters, scholars supply Christians on the frontlines with resources about what the Bible says, how to defend it, and how to reach the world through it and for it. However, Carson believes, that unlike quartermasters, scholars ought to fight on the frontlines, utilizing the mechanisms that they teach on a regular basis. In other words, they should practice what they preach.

Carson provides a couple of strong reasons why a scholar ought not to have a monkish separation from the outside world. First, one will never lose admiration and respect for the word of God if he consistently sees it in action. To illustrate this, Carson recounted a time while studying at Cambridge when he was going through a detailed study of John 3 with his mentor. Through the rigorous prospect, Carson just could not help but smile because the previous Tuesday, he watched as the Lord used his preaching on that passage to bring a man to repentance. Carson was unable to think about the verses without an appreciation for what the Lord had done through them.

Second, Carson’s experience indicates that by communicating with different people who may not agree with all of what you say, or especially those who agree with none of what you say, can help you refine your beliefs, find new ways to explain things, or grant a fresh perspective on a common topic. Essentially, your scholarship will be as relevant to the frontlines as you yourself are.

This particular aspect of the scholarly life indicates that one should be wary about drawing too strong a line between the scholar and pastor. While we just indicated above that the pastor tends to be more in contact with people than the scholar, this part of Carson's work argues that the scholar should still be connected with people as a whole.

In essence, the scholar is primarily concerned with mass exposure of problems within Christian society, but he is not exclusively concerned with such mass exposure; he must also be concerned with being and engaging on the frontlines. Similarly, the pastor is primarily concerned with the spiritual lives of his congregation, but he is not exclusively concerned with the spiritual lives of his congregation.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Naked Came I out of the Womb

In the first chapter of the book of Job, much happens that pretty much every Christian is at least partially familiar.

The Devil comes among the "sons of God" to report on what he has been doing with his time. After giving God a vague answer (as if he could hide anything from the all-knowing God), the Lord asks him,
"Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?"

We all know how Magneto would respond to this question. But Satan has an agenda to support. He wants to make Job turn his back on God. Satan is convinced that if Job didn't have so many blessings in his life, he would not be as grateful to the God who provided them.

After all, it is easier to be grateful to the Lord when one is enrolled in an excellent institution, surrounded by tons of loyal family and friends, and generally, everything is going well. But is it as easy to thank the Lord when your friends hurt you, when your circumstances just keep seeming to not go your way?

So Satan is granted permission to be able to go back to Earth, and takes the lives of his sons, servants, and livestock. Ultimately, when that doesn't cause Job to turn his back on God, Satan petitions the Lord for permission to touch Job's health. After the Lord grants His permission, Job is now so overwhelmed by how God turned His back on Job that he cannot help but to curse God and die.

Except that's not what happens at all. Job is asked by his not-so-Proverbs 31 wife to curse God and die, and his response is recorded for us in Job 1:21,
"Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."

You see, Job understood a simple concept that I tend to struggle with. The Lord was under no obligation to give us any blessing in this world. He was under no obligation to even give us life to begin with. Thus, He is under no obligation to maintain and continue to provide those blessings that He has provided. (Caveat: because the Lord promised in the Bible that once saved is always saved, that blessing He is obligated to continue to provide.)

Job illustrates that we can't take for granted what the Lord has given us, and ultimately our thankfulness to Him needs to be less based on the material things He has provided, and more based off of who He is, and what eternal blessings He has promised to those who call upon His name.

Monday, September 15, 2014

No Mr. Nice Guy in Politics

Politics is not a very nice game. It never really has been, and probably never will be. Politicians will continue to lambast their opponents with hyperbole and accusations.

Even during the days of a more intellectual politics at America's founding, one can find some pretty biting rebukes. In the debates between the proponents of our new constitution (Federalists) and its opponents (Anti-federalists), there seems to be much shaming on both sides. 

One of the most prevalent examples of this is Anti-Federalist Paper No. 9. Written as a satire from the perspective of a proponent to the constitution, this paper details that the "author" desires the people to have a limited voice in the government, so the better suited elite can have complete control of the government. 

This agenda is allegedly evidenced throughout the entirety of the Constitution, where the republic vests power as far away from the people as possible. 

It is an argument that one would expect from an Anti-Federalist that ultimately, the Constitution would provide power less for the people, but it is totally uncalled for to accuse the Federalists of intentionally trying to essentially leave the entire population out of the process because they think they are more qualified than the public at large. 

Yet that is what Anti-Federalist Paper No. 9 directly does. It's not a very nice argument to say the least. 

My simple point is today, don't anticipate or expect that the world of politics is going to change. There will not be a sudden revival or change that produces a completely different atmosphere in this nation. Since its very beginning, our nation has been dealing with this problem, and I honestly don't think it is the Lord's will to stop the problem before He comes. Level your expectations accordingly then, as we head into midterms this November. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Why only the Parade?

A man by the name of Mordecai once saved the king's life. Naturally, such a consequential event is recorded in the chronicles of the land. However, the king's right hand man, Haman, doesn't care about this good work, when he demands that all of Mordecai's people, the Jews, be destroyed.

Yes, we're going to that book in the Bible, where the name of God is not actually mentioned once. In relationship to it though, I have decided to challenge myself with not saying the name of the book once. This could be fun.

Mordecai is now in fear of his life. He sees a providential hand in allowing his cousin to become queen, so maybe she could act to save the Jews.

During the tale, Haman starts to hate Mordecai so much that waiting for Mordecai to die along with the other Jews is not going to work with Haman. He decides to ask the king in the middle of the night to kill Mordecai now.

Unfortunately for Haman (and fortunately for Mordecai), the king could not sleep that night. He is read from the book of the chronicles specifically where Mordecai pointed out a conspiracy to take the king's life.

And just like that, God has used a case of insomnia to save Mordecai's life. Instead of Haman's visit to the king's court solidifying the hanging of Mordecai, Haman (quite ironically) becomes the reason Mordecai is given the highest honor in the kingdom.

Paraded through the city in royal garments with Haman proclaiming, "Thus shall it be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour," Mordecai was experiencing a rather pleasant time.

But one has to wonder why did Mordecai accept only this temporal parade as reward. Why did not he specifically ask for the salvation of his entire people? Why did he decide to leave it up to the nerve of his cousin?

Instead, in Davidic fashion, he went right back to where he came from, figuratively and literally. Back in the king's gate, Mordecai was still a man with a death sentence carried over him. Why did he leave that death sentence in place?

I know it might be a bit disappointing to hear, but I actually don't have an answer for you. It is a peculiar question that I want to meditate on further, and I thought that you might enjoy such meditation as well, or might have some information that makes it seem absolutely clear in my mind. Thus I have shared it with you today. Feel free to comment, or ignore at your own leisure.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Why the Bible should not be used to Support your Viewpoints

James 4:4 proclaims,
"Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God."

This clearly indicates that we need to completely isolate ourselves from the world, and have nothing to do with that which it includes. We can't be trying to get enjoyment out of that which the world produces. Hollywood is evil, Doctor Who is evil, and generally speaking, the Lord hates television!

This is further corroborated by I John 2:15 when it says,
"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him."

So yes, all those people who would have the audacity to quote Doctor Who in their blog posts about God are great heathens and heretics, and you shouldn't listen to them at all.

Obviously, I'm using satire. As a guy who spent too much of his weekend catching up on Doctor Who, as opposed to planning his campaign for Freshman chaplain, I clearly do not believe that all television is evil and shouldn't be watched.

But how do I keep that opinion in light of these verses, which many have used to make similar arguments to the ones that start this post? The answer can be summed up in one word - context. This prior Friday, we examined the context of James 4:4, so you know that by world, it means our sinful nature. The same poetic language is indeed at work in I John 2:15, as evidence by examining its context in I John 2:15-17,
"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever."

So how is it that educated individuals tend to use these verses in ways that disagree with their context? It is quite obviously incorrect to say that James and John were stating that the culture of the world is entirely inappropriate, so how is that mistake made?

In my opinion, it is because of a phenomena called "proof-texting." Now proof-texting does not just imply the use of a single verse out of its context for communication purposes. If the verse has the same meaning without its context as it does with it, then it is legitimate for you to save time in your communication by quoting only one of those verses (I certainly do from time to time). However, if you go out trying to prove an agenda, and you take a verse from a Google search that seems to prove your point without actually paying attention to the context, that's proof-texting.

That is what I am calling out today because it actually highlights a deeper problem. No one should be going to the Bible to support HIS ideas about life. The Bible is not a stockpile of evidence to be used to build our cases. The Bible should not be conformed to our mold of the world; our mold of the world should be conformed to the Bible.

Yet proof-texting doesn't seek to find what the Bible says about certain issues. It just seeks to find any Biblical evidence in which the argument the user has is supported. That's how we can get arguments such as the ones above.

It's also how we can get an even more heinous argument often used by pro-abortion Atheists.

Christians get so wrapped up about abortion and how we MUST protect life, but I wonder whether they even read the Bible they support so often! It says clearly in Psalm 137:9,
"Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones."

Well, yes, that would seem a bit problematic if this verse actually meant that people should be happy about themselves when dashing little ones against stones. Rather, we see simply a statement of fact that just punishment is being placed upon Babylon. Indeed, the evil of Babylon is being returned upon its own head, evidenced in the way that some other evil people will rejoice when they dash the little ones of Babylon against the stone. So you see, quite to the contrary of condoning this atrocity, the Bible is using this as an obvious example of a damnable act.

When you truly see how proof-texting can be used to support such unbiblical agendas, it should make you think twice about utilizing it as evidence for what you think are Biblical agendas. No matter how great your intentions, it is wrong to use the Bible for the purpose of just looking for support for your pre-established viewpoints.

When reading or hearing others opinions as well, you should be careful to know that the context actually supports what the scholar says it does, and that he is not guilty of proof-texting. Because sometimes, arguments can sound Biblical, and while not being denied by the Bible, not actually be supported by it either.

Friday, September 5, 2014


I have committed the cardinal sin of blog writing by titling my post for today as a shout of accusation to my readers. That's not how to win friends and influence people, apparently, but hey, it grabbed your attention to read what I said so you could like, scoff at me or something.

Our text for today is James 4. My message is simple. We must be of one mind and one focus upon God and not look outside of God for our satisfaction. Let's look at James 4:1-8,
"From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded."

According to what we see in these particular verses, any division or argument within the church come from us seeking our own lusts and seeking satisfaction from places absent from God. Instead of that response, we need to show our humility by submitting fully to God and allowing Him to bring us closer to Himself.

(Now of course we hear a lot of these verses taken out of context to prove various parts of agendas that people are trying to scripturalize, but I am not going to be discussing that until this Monday.)

That summary is great, but it seems a bit pie in the sky. Perhaps, we should bring this down to more practical understanding. As such, I reserve the right to (without divorcing any of the verses from their context) focus in on a portion of them for communication purposes.

You are not feeling content with yourself and the way you live your life. You read your Bible and you serve in your church from time to time, yet you don't feel as if the Lord is satisfied with the way you are living your life. Your prayers aren't being answered if you are even praying at all.

Feeling as if your best efforts mean absolutely nothing, you lose all hope and think that maybe you should just give up on God, and just live the typical apathetic Christian life. If what you're doing isn't pleasing to God, you mise well stop wasting your time on it and find happiness somewhere else.

Naturally, you're not going to find anything to make you happy. Whether you remain in your casual service to the Lord, or you become apathetic, you will find the same thing - your life doesn't seem to have much value.

Now the all important question - why? Because your friendship with the world, your friendship with that which the Lord has saved you from, namely your own natural sin nature, is causing you enmity with God. That explains then the root of all your problems.

The Bible in this passage would use the term adulterers to describe this particular allegation. The concept of adultery is a simple one. Without being crass, adultery is when a marriage is tainted by divided loyalty manifested in a physical form.

When we became in Christ, we became the Bride of Christ. We had a loyalty to Him for what He had done for us, what He is doing for us, and what He will do for us in the future. Yet when we hold onto our own will and volitions, when we hold onto our own fleshly sin nature, when we hold onto to our friendship with the world, we are dividing our loyalty away from God, and our actions in the physical world begin to taint the marriage of the church and Christ. (Just for the record, it would be impossible for the marriage to be cancelled, so don't worry there.)

The obvious solution then is to become completely loyal to God, which is incredibly easy to put into practice, right?

Yeah, not really, which is why James 4 explains to us this following step-by-step process in verses 6-8,
"But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded."

The solution that I want to tell to you today is simply this - exercise true humility. By seeking God's will and God's strength in our lives, rather than trying to do OUR best to serve the Lord, we'll be able to come to truly have the proper loyalty to God.

We must get to the point where my shout of accusation in the title does not describe our attitude toward the Lord. We can do this by resting within His strength, by submitting to Him alone, and by seeking Him completely.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Let's Celebrate the Workmen!

It's Labor Day! You know what Labor Day is all about! Let's celebrate the work that others have done to make the products that we use on a normal basis, by you know, not working! Because that's not ironic at all.

Yet that is what we have here today. When I walk the streets of Cedarville later today (in a crowd, Mom, don't worry), I will be bombarded with claims that Labor Day was invented right here in Cedarville. I doubt we'll ever be able to actually verify those claims, but I probably shouldn't say that to a local.

But on a serious note, why do we celebrate labor day? I don't get the purpose. Sure, I understand a little of the history regarding the workmen going underappreciated in the past, but I still don't see how Labor Day actually solves that problem. Does Labor Day serve to incite gratefulness in our hearts to these workmen, better than Thanksgiving serves its purpose to incite thankfulness for everything?

I'd have to say that no, it does not. I don't think many of us care much more about Labor Day than just to joke at the irony in like manner as I did at the start of this post. But should we care?

Honestly, I haven't the foggiest idea, and I think in the spirit of the holiday, I'm going to leave it like that for now, and go celebrate without a teensy bit of labor. (Ok fine, I'll likely be studying because I can...)