Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Should We Celebrate Halloween?

Halloween is one of the strangest holidays mankind celebrates. It is an amazing paradox, an unusual mixture of Christian terms and ancient pagan religious rites. Music by Randy Vild The Truth About Halloween:

Halloween - Trick or Retreat?

From Tim Challies @

Will you participate in Halloween this year?

Halloween is once again nearly upon us. Articles about the occasion are beginning to make their way into my RSS reader and I thought I’d keep up with one of this site’s few traditions and write an article on the subject. My thoughts on the subject continue to develop as perhaps long-time readers will notice.

Just this morning Pulpit Magazine linked to a great article courtesy of Grace to You. The article deals well with the subject, seeking to answer these questions: “How should Christians respond to Halloween? Is it irresponsible for parents to let their children trick-or-treat? What about Christians who refuse any kind of celebration during the season—are they overreacting?”

The article spells out several legitimate ways Christians will react to Halloween this year:

  • Some will adopt a “No Participation” policy. As Christian parents, they don’t want their kids participating in spiritually compromising activities—listening to ghost stories and coloring pictures of witches. They don’t want their kids to dress up in costumes for trick-or-treating or even attending Halloween alternatives.
  • Other Christians will opt for Halloween alternatives called “Harvest Festivals” or “Reformation Festivals”—the kids dress up as farmers, Bible characters, or Reformation heroes. It’s ironic when you consider Halloween’s beginning as an alternative, but it can be an effective means of reaching out to neighborhood families with the gospel. Some churches leave the church building behind and take acts of mercy into their community, “treating” needy families with food baskets, gift cards, and the gospel message.
  • There’s another option open to Christians: limited, non-compromising participation in Halloween. There’s nothing inherently evil about candy, costumes, or trick-or-treating in the neighborhood. In fact, all of that can provide a unique gospel opportunity with neighbors. Even handing out candy to neighborhood children—provided you’re not stingy—can improve your reputation among the kids. As long as the costumes are innocent and the behavior does not dishonor Christ, trick-or-treating can be used to further gospel interests.

I appreciate the sensitivity the authors display in dealing with what is a difficult topic. It is my conviction that this is, in many ways, an issue of conscience. I do not believe there is absolute right and wrong here—we can’t be too dogmatic about it. Each person (and, in particular, I believe, each father) must examine the Bible and his conscience to see where that leads him. It may lead him to any of these options, each of which can be legitimate. The Bible says nothing about Halloween, though certainly there are principles we can find that will help guide us. But ultimately I believe we have to trust our biblically-informed consciences and our sanctified reasoning to guide us. Let me share where this has led me.

My conviction has long been that it would be a poor witness to the neighbors if my family were to refuse to participate in Halloween; it would be inconsistent with the way Aileen and I feel we are to live within this neighborhood. This day provides a unique opportunity to interact with neighbors, to enjoy their children and to prove that Christians are part of the community and not merely people who want only to interact with Christian friends or to only interact in our own way and on our own terms. Aileen and I are fully part of the community around us and look forward to being part of the community events that happen here. And so we allow our children to go out trick-or-treating, provided they do not wear evil or occult costumes. It still feels like a bit of a compromise, and admittedly one with which I am not entirely comfortable. Yet I would struggle far more with turning out the lights or finding something else to do that evening.

The truth is that I have several convictions regarding Halloween. I despise the pagan aspects of it. I am convicted that my children should not dress as little devils or ghosts or monsters or otherwise glory in evil. But I am also convicted that it is a poor witness to have a darkened house, especially in a neighborhood like ours which is small and where every person and every home is highly-visible. We know that, if we choose not to participate, the neighbors will notice and assume that we feel somehow above them for not participating (and that we are judging them for their participation). We have nothing to fear from our neighbors or from their children, no matter how they choose to dress for an evening. So my children will dress up (my son as a soldier and my daughters as a ballerina and a princess) and we will visit each of our neighbors, knocking on their doors and accepting their fistfuls of candy. Either my wife or I (I think it’s my turn this year) will remain at home, greeting people at our door with a smile and a handful of something tasty. If the kids are deemed too old to trick-or-treat, they’ll be forced to sing a song to merit any handouts. Our door will be open and the light will be on. A contributor to an email list I participate in once concluded his defense of participating in Halloween with these words: “One night does not a neighbor make (and one night does not a pagan make), but Halloween is the one night of the year where the good neighborliness that flows from being in Christ is communicated and reinforced. We are citizens of another Kingdom where The Light is always on.” That analogy seems particularly appropriate.

This year we’re doing something else. We’ve invited all of the neighbors over for dinner before the festivities begin. We’ve got at least 40 or 50 people who are planning on coming by for a barbeque. We’re doing this simply because we enjoy our neighbors and love to spend time with them. Halloween evening can be hectic, with parents getting home from work and then rushing to prepare their children, so we thought we’d attempt to relieve one burden by taking care of dinner for everyone. It should be fun and we’re looking forward to it.

My encouragement to you today is to think and pray about this issue so that you can do what your conscience dictates for that day. I do not see Halloween as a great evangelistic occasion and this is where some of my thought on the issue has probably developed most. In the past I may have tried to convince myself that Halloween would offer occasions to share the gospel, but I don’t think this is usually the case. Nor does it have to be. I think Halloween is a time that you can prove to your neighbors that you care about them, that you care about their children, and that you are glad to be in this world and this culture, even if you are not of this world or this culture. Aileen and I feel that God has deliberately placed us here and among these people. We want to celebrate with them, even on an occasion of such dubious importance as Halloween.

Addendum - Let me add just one thing here. This year Halloween is on a Wednesday which means it will conflict with many mid-week church services. We did not realize that the two conflicted until after we had already made and spread our plans for the evening. I am generally convicted that we need to be at church when the doors are open. If you are of the same mind, this article may be more theory than practice, at least for this year. We unwittingly made an exception this year, but probably would not have if we had not already invited the neighborhood to our home that night. And yes, we feel a bit guilty about it. My pastor offered this advice for next time: “Get a calendar!” That’s not a bad plan…

Christianity and the Dark Side -- What About Halloween?

By Albert Mohler @

Over a hundred years ago, the great Dutch theologian Hermann Bavinck predicted that the 20th century would "witness a gigantic conflict of spirits." His prediction turned out to be an understatement, and this great conflict continues into the 21st century.

The issue of Halloween presses itself annually upon the Christian conscience. Acutely aware of dangers new and old, many Christian parents choose to withdraw their children from the holiday altogether. Others choose to follow a strategic battle plan for engagement with the holiday. Still others have gone further, seeking to convert Halloween into an evangelistic opportunity. Is Halloween really that significant?

Well, Halloween is a big deal in the marketplace. Halloween is surpassed only by Christmas in terms of economic activity. According to David J. Skal, "Precise figures are difficult to determine, but the annual economic impact of Halloween is now somewhere between 4 billion and 6 billion dollars depending on the number and kinds of industries one includes in the calculations."

Furthermore, historian Nicholas Rogers claims that "Halloween is currently the second most important party night in North America. In terms of its retail potential, it is second only to Christmas. This commercialism fortifies its significance as a time of public license, a custom-designed opportunity to have a blast. Regardless of its spiritual complications, Halloween is big business."

Rogers and Skal have each produced books dealing with the origin and significance of Halloween. Nicholas Rogers is author of Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night. Professor of History at York University in Canada, Rogers has written a celebration of Halloween as a transgressive holiday that allows the bizarre and elements from the dark side to enter the mainstream. Skal, a specialist on the culture of Hollywood, has written Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween. Skal's approach is more dispassionate and focused on entertainment, looking at the cultural impact of Halloween on the rise of horror movies and the nation's fascination with violence.

The pagan roots of Halloween are well documented. The holiday is rooted in the Celtic festival of Samhain, which came at summer's end. As Rogers explains, "Paired with the feast of Beltane, which celebrated the life-generating powers of the sun, Samhain beckoned to winter and the dark nights ahead." Scholars dispute whether Samhain was celebrated as a festival of the dead, but the pagan roots of the festival are indisputable. Questions of human and animal sacrifices and various occultic sexual practices continue as issues of debate, but the reality of the celebration as an occultic festival focused on the changing of seasons undoubtedly involved practices pointing to winter as a season of death.

As Rogers comments: "In fact, the pagan origins of Halloween generally flow not from this sacrificial evidence, but from a different set of symbolic practices. These revolve around the notion of Samhain as a festival of the dead and as a time of supernatural intensity heralding the onset of winter.

How should Christians respond to this pagan background? Harold L. Myra of Christianity Today argues that these pagan roots were well known to Christians of the past. "More than a thousand years ago Christians confronted pagan rites appeasing the lord of death and evil spirits. Halloween's unsavory beginnings preceded Christ's birth when the druids, in what is now Britain and France, observed the end of summer with sacrifices to the gods. It was the beginning of the Celtic year and they believed Samhain, the lord of death, sent evil spirits abroad to attack humans, who could escape only by assuming disguises and looking live evil spirits themselves."

Thus, the custom of wearing costumes, especially costumes imitating evil spirits, is rooted in the Celtic pagan culture. As Myra summarizes, "Most of our Halloween practices can be traced back to the old pagan rites and superstitions."

The complications of Halloween go far beyond its pagan roots, however. In modern culture, Halloween has become not only a commercial holiday, but a season of cultural fascination with evil and the demonic. Even as the society has pressed the limits on issues such as sexuality, the culture's confrontation with the "dark side" has also pushed far beyond boundaries honored in the past.

As David J. Skal makes clear, the modern concept of Halloween is inseparable from the portrayal of the holiday presented by Hollywood. As Skal comments, "The Halloween machine turns the world upside down. One's identity can be discarded with impunity. Men dress as women, and vise versa. Authority can be mocked and circumvented, and, most important, graves open and the departed return."

This is the kind of material that keeps Hollywood in business. "Few holidays have a cinematic potential that equals Halloween's," comments Skal. "Visually, the subject is unparalleled, if only considered in terms of costume design and art direction. Dramatically, Halloween's ancient roots evoke dark and melodramatic themes, ripe for transformation into film's language of shadow and light."

But television's "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" (which debuted in 1966) has given way to Hollywood's "Halloween" series and the rise of violent "slasher" films. Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff have been replaced by Michael Myers and Freddy Kruger.

This fascination with the occult comes as America has been sliding into post-Christian secularism. While the courts remove all theistic references from America's public square, the void is being filled with a pervasive fascination with evil, paganism, and new forms of occultism.

In addition to all this, Halloween has become downright dangerous in many neighborhoods. Scares about razor blades hidden in apples and poisoned candy have spread across the nation in recurring cycles. For most parents, the greater fear is the encounter with occultic symbols and the society's fascination with moral darkness.

For this reason, many families withdraw from the holiday completely. Their children do not go trick-or-treating, they wear no costumes, and attend no parties related to the holiday. Some churches have organized alternative festivals, capitalizing on the holiday opportunity, but turning the event away from pagan roots and the fascination with evil spirits. For others, the holiday presents no special challenges at all.

These Christians argue that the pagan roots of Halloween are no more significant than the pagan origins of Christmas and other church festivals. Without doubt, the church has progressively Christianized the calendar, seizing secular and pagan holidays as opportunities for Christian witness and celebration. Anderson M. Rearick, III argues that Christians should not surrender the holiday. As he relates, "I am reluctant to give up what was one of the highlights of my childhood calendar to the Great Imposter and Chief of Liars for no reason except that some of his servants claim it as his."

Nevertheless, the issue is a bit more complicated than that. While affirming that make-believe and imagination are part and parcel of God's gift of imagination, Christians should still be very concerned about the focus of that imagination and creativity. Arguing against Halloween is not equivalent to arguing against Christmas. The old church festival of "All Hallow's Eve" is by no means as universally understood among Christians as the celebration of the incarnation at Christmas.

Christian parents should make careful decisions based on a biblically-informed Christian conscience. Some Halloween practices are clearly out of bounds, others may be strategically transformed, but this takes hard work and may meet with mixed success.

The coming of Halloween is a good time for Christians to remember that evil spirits are real and that the Devil will seize every opportunity to trumpet his own celebrity. Perhaps the best response to the Devil at Halloween is that offered by Martin Luther, the great Reformer: "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him for he cannot bear scorn."

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther began the Reformation with a declaration that the church must be recalled to the authority of God's Word and the purity of biblical doctrine. With this in mind, the best Christian response to Halloween might be to scorn the Devil and then pray for the Reformation of Christ's church on earth. Let's put the dark side on the defensive.


Is the Reformation over? On Tuesday's edition of The Albert Mohler Program we discussed the past, present, and future of the Protestant Reformation. My guest was Professor Carl R. Trueman of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. The program may be heard here.

Seizing Opportunities for Evangelism

By Jesse Johnson @

Turn or Burn

* Jesse is serves as Associate Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Church.

On Sunday afternoons I used to pass a well-dressed man standing on a milk crate at the corner of Roscoe and Van Nuys boulevards. He wore a placard around his neck that said “Jesus is Lord,” and bellowed phrases like “Jesus loves you” and “Read the Bible” into a bullhorn. Cars at the red light would roll up their windows, while the people huddled at the bus stop looked on, visibly annoyed.

This man’s evangelism caused me cognitive conflict. On one hand, he was trying to do something to proclaim the gospel. On the other hand, he was no doubt causing people to scoff at the gospel because of the frivolous way he was presenting it.

There are many misunderstandings about the nature of true evangelism. Many people don’t evangelize because when they think of evangelism, they think of the overzealous man on the street corner with the bullhorn. They think, “I’m not called to do that.” From there it’s a short leap to, “So I’m not called to evangelize.”

But the most effective kind of evangelism is often not done from street corners. Proclaiming the gospel does not involve a sign around your neck, or a bullhorn in your hand. Effective, winsome evangelism can take place with people you already know—your neighbors, your family, and your coworkers. Think of the names of nonbelievers you cross paths with; those people are your mission field.

For Jesus, evangelism was a way of life. When He crossed paths with people, He seized the opportunities to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins. In fact, much of Jesus’ evangelism took place in conversations with individuals. Consider the woman at the well (John 4), the rich young ruler (Luke 18), and Zacchaeus (Luke 19).

Evangelism in the book of Acts follows Jesus’ example. Peter, Stephen, and Paul did not stand on street corners and shout. Instead they seized whatever opportunities God gave them, and implored people to be reconciled to God. There are at least 15 examples in the book of Acts of Christians going about their daily activity, and then getting involved in evangelistic conversations with individuals with whom they came in contact.

That is our challenge in evangelism. We want to seize the opportunities that God gives us to proclaim the gospel to those whom He puts around us. When we see evangelism as a lifestyle, rather than as an event, then our evangelism will more closely model Jesus’s.

Tomorrow we will have some ideas that pastors can use to facilitate this kind of evangelism in the life of the church.

The Ideal Christian Woman: Part 2

Her Identity and Security Are Found in Christ

In part 1 of this series, we discussed the need for women to confess their sin and be honest about their struggles. Instead, the norm in most churches is that the majority of us wear plastic smiles each Sunday, hoping that no one will notice what's really going on in our hearts. But what do we do with this sin we confess? How does repentance take place? And how can we possibly forgive those who have committed heinous acts against us? In a word, the gospel.

Many of us have looked on the gospel, understanding that Christ paid the penalty for our sin by His death on the cross so that we might be forgiven and have a right relationship with God. But a lot of us stopped looking on it, meditating on it, and valuing it after we first came to know Christ. We mistakenly think that the gospel is needed only early on in our relationship with God. The thinking goes that at some point, I understood the gospel and now I need to move on to focus on other Christian doctrine and moral commands. Once again, the Apostle Paul clears up this wrong kind of thinking with his frank words to the church at Galatia.

Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (or "human effort" in the NIV)
Galatians 3:3 (ESV)

Paul warns us from thinking that while we needed the Spirit at the day of our salvation, we can accomplish the rest of our Christian life with our own human effort. I don't want to review the whole of the gospel here. In fact, I envision a target audience reading this who well understand the gospel and their need for a Savior. Rather, I hope to emphasize that we don't ever graduate past a need to meditate on the gospel.

In my experience, Christian women tend to fall into one of two patterns of wrong thinking. The first group of women have developed their idea of the Ideal Christian Woman, using their own talents and giftedness as the model. Then they secretly admire themselves because they keep this standard and subtly pressure their Christian sisters to maintain their standard of the Ideal Christian Woman. The second group of women have developed their idea of the Ideal Christian Woman not from their own strengths but from the Christian sisters they know that seem to have it all together. This second group of women keeps trying and failing to fully live up to this standard and feel constant frustration and condemnation within themselves because of it.

Because so many of the women at Mars Hill Church are in their child-bearing years, the issues of fertility, child birth, and child rearing are the places Satan seems to attack us most concerning the gospel. We have wonderful single women who must stand by and watch their biological clock ticking. They hear the satanic lie whispered daily in their ear--"you're not anything until you have a child. Your life is meaningless until you give birth." There are infertile couples and couples who have miscarried. Satan lies to them, "You don't deserve a baby. You miscarried because you weren't disciplined enough to carry a healthy baby to full term." Women with children hear, "a really godly mom would have succeeded at breast feeding." Or "you had to have that emergency c-section because you didn't take care of yourself well during pregnancy." Christian moms (and would be moms) can be the worst at comparing themselves in an attempt to find their worth and identity in their children. As a mom who had a c-section and a less than stellar record breast-feeding, I admit to feeling threatened at times by moms who succeed at drug-free births with breasts over-flowing with milk. One friend who had her children at home shared that she no longer feels free to talk about those experiences with other moms because so many ladies seemed threatened by her story. Why can't Christian women share their stories or hear the story of others without feeling constant tension to compare themselves or find their value in how well they succeeded?

What is it about the gospel that protects us from the shame and condemnation of such comparisons? Like Paul, we acknowledge honestly the extent of our sin. As Paul says, "I am the chief of sinners." Then we look at the cross and realize, "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1) Anyone who thinks they can earn God's favor by breast feeding well (or whatever issue) or that they lose God's favor if they don't, needs to review the gospel. They need to drink deeply of God's grace to us and must constantly interpret the rest of life in light of that grace. In light of the cross, we find our identity not in our talents or giftedness and not in how we compare to Jane Doe Christian. Instead, we find our identity in Jesus--after all, before the creation of the world, God determined that you and I would reflect God's image in Christ (Romans 8:29). But note Christ's warning in John 15:5:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (emphasis mine)

What is our identity in Jesus? Well, He is the Head and we are His Body. He is the Vine and we are His branches. We are supernaturally connected to Him and desperately dependent on Him for any hope of fruitful ministry at church, home, or the workplace. The Ideal Christian Woman realizes that having begun her walk of faith through the Spirit, she is still utterly dependent upon God for any hope of future obedience. She gets her nourishment for daily living from the Vine in light of the gospel and not from any false sense of personal ability--for apart from Him, she can do nothing.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

New Movie: Bella

From Josh Harris @

I saw a few snippets of the trailer for the movie Bella this summer at a musical festival and thought it looked good, but didn't hear anything about it until recently.

Two days ago a lady in my church named Gretchen emailed me after hearing the young man who stars in the movie, Eduardo Verastegui, interviewed on Family Life Today. Evidently, he's a Christian with a real commitment to honor Jesus as an actor.

Then I read a post by my brother Alex over at The Rebelution:

Brett and I had the honor of hosting a pre-release screening of Bella at an event in Salt Lake City last month. The small-budget film shocked the film world by taking the People's Choice Award at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival last year. It is a powerful film on the true meaning of love, life, redemption, and family.

Written, produced, directed, and starring some of the most talented and Christ-focused young men we have met, Bella is a film that will reach the heart of any person, regardless of their political or religious views. What makes us so excited about this film is its potential to change hearts and save lives.

Today, I watched the full trailer. It looks like a well-produced movie and I'm excited to see it. For those of you who live in Gaithersburg, it's playing at the Rio. Maybe I'll see you there. (You can find a theatre featuring the film, here.)

If you've seen the movie, please post a comment with your thoughts. Here's an article that gives more background about the filmmaker and the story behind the picture.

How can you watch sports to the glory of God?


By Erik Raymond @

As Christians we understand that everything we do is to be an act of worship (1 Cor. 10.31) and if we do anything that does not glorify God then we ought to repent and get busy doing what is honorable to our Lord. So what about watching sports? How can you watch sports to the glory of God?

[I will use the NFL as an example, this is mainly because I live in Nebraska and I think the case could be argued that, in light of the product on the field, watching a Cornhusker game is sin (I am joking here)]

So I will speak from the perspective of the superior sports product in the world, the NFL. I enjoy the NFL; I have the Sunday Ticket and enjoy watching the Patriots (as I did even when they stunk back in the days of Tony Eason).

Let me first say that as an unbeliever I was sports guy. I watched ESPN all the time, and any game that was on had my attention. I seamlessly transitioned between seasons worshipping….errr….watching my favorite teams. So I have a frame of reference for what being a sports fan is not supposed to be like.

So then I become a Christian and have to continually examine my life for idols, those vicious parasites that I affix to my soul that siphon off the worship of God. This is a good and healthy practice for all of us. So does the fact that I used to pervert sports mean that I should not enjoy them? I do not think so. I believe that sports, along with everything else that is not sinful, should be sanctified and enjoyed to the glory of God. So what follows is my own frame of reference as I watch sports.

/1/ See the players as image bearers. I watch guys like Randy Moss with his freakish physical ability and I marvel at the God who made someone who can jump, run, and catch like this guy. I watch Tom Brady dissect a defense in a matter of seconds and throw a pass between two defenders and hit his receiver in stride on his outside shoulder and think of his creator. I look at the size of a guy like Adalius Thomas whose arms are bigger than my thighs (seriously) and watch how quick he is and just think about how amazing the human body is, the way God made it so that we can, by hard work, strengthen, condition, and improve it. I watch a coach like Bill Belichick who has opposing coaches staying up all night trying to be creative because they know the guy is a football genius; I watch him and worship the God who gave him such a great mind.


/2/ Take opportunities to talk to your kids. Football is a great game to point out things like hard work, discipline, training, strategy, and passion. However it is also a great place to expose the unrestrained and shameless self-promotion of fallen hearts. Guys like Terrell Owens in Dallas or Chad Johnson in Cincinnati are helpful pictures of guys who enjoy exalting themselves. It is a great discipleship tool to show the kids the heart as we watch guys like that.


The Patriots are a great tool for kids. They epitomize the picture of team and unity, which is refreshing in our age of individualism in sports (you may remember that they would not allow individual introductions in the Super Bowl but insisted that they come out as a team). But even with these favorable things there are negative. Randy Moss is not a moral role model, nor is Tom Brady. On the football field they provide opportunities to promote physical discipline and off the field they provide good fodder for promoting spiritual discipline through their blunders and pointing to the ultimate hero, Jesus. (this is kind of like the picture of the OT Kings, ok, maybe it is a reach).

/3/ Think about Providence. For me growing up in Massachusetts I have never rooted against the Red Sox, Celtics, or Pats, it is just where I grew up. I think about how God has seen fit to put me in various circumstances growing up and then save me from my sin. In many ways I have broken from the old Erik, however, the sports teams and the logos are the same. I find myself thinking a lot about providence in the way God has worked in my life.

/4/ Watch games with your wife. Men this is a hidden blessing, you have to work but the joy is in the work…trust me. Some of you may have the benefit of a wife who has been discipled by a sports dad so they get it. However, other guys, like me, get to try to teach sports to our wife. I really enjoy this. Christie asks so many good questions and gets pretty excited (she gets excited about a lot of things, but it is a different excitement when Manny Ramirez hits a double off the Green Monster then other things). I love watching games with Christie it is a great time to work on clear explanations and it is a fun thing to do together.


/5/ Watch games with friends. Sports are a great time to hang out with friends. We can get together with other believers, watch a game, interact with life, share families and enjoy a game. It is fun and refreshing.

While we are on the subject, here are some dangers to watch out for in case you are unbalanced…

  • if you are having your day ruined because your team lost you may have inverted your team for God and probably need to repent.
  • if you have replaced your wife with your team then you are a sports adulterer and also need to repent. If you would rather watch dudes beat the heck out of each other than spend time with your wife, you have issues that need to be looked at. She is your bride not your favorite quarterback, so act like it.
  • if your enjoyment of sports crowds out your discipleship of your family or your service in the church you need to repent and make some changes. I can’t imagine standing before the Lord and reciting Tom Brady’s quarterback rating instead of hearing my Master’s approval for laboring for the souls of my wife and kids and those in my church.
  • ask yourself if you are more excited about the game than reading the word, praying, hearing preaching, or serving in the church. Be honest.

Hopefully this is helpful. We are always trying to inspect our lives for balance. So don’t falsely divide your life into unbiblical categories like “sacred and secular” for this is skimping God of what is due him. Instead, worship God in everything, including the enjoyment of sports to his glory.

The Lord Alone is Holy

The newscast I was watching last evening referred to the Dalai Lama, a 72 year old Buddhist monk who is visiting Canada, as "his holiness." While I realize that this is probably some kind of honorary religious title given as a form of respectful address, by Christian standards it is completely over-the-top and represents a profound debasing of the word "holy." With all due respect to the humanity of the Dalai Lama he is not "his holiness." That title is reserved for the triune God who made the world and everything in it, who is the sovereign ruler of all, including Tibet, and who calls on all human beings, including the Dalai Lama, to repent and surrender himself to the gracious rule of his Son whom he raised from the dead and has exalted on high.

It is sad to see the adoration on the faces of 5000 people who crowded into the sold-out Ottawa Civic Centre yesterday to see and hear a man whose answers to the problems of life are a mixture of truth and error at best. Humankind's problem is deeper and more extensive than anything that man-made religion can even begin to fix. We are scarred and stained by sin, we are guilty and helpless before its power unless we know and experience the liberation of the cross of Jesus Christ. All other solutions are superficial at best and at worst they keep people from seeing their lost and hopeless condition apart from God's grace. The polytheism of Buddhism is an empty cistern that cannot quench the thirst of those who are made in the image of God. Only Jesus can repair the damage we have done to ourselves and inflict on others. Let us pray for the day when his name alone is regarded as holy and he is worshiped as Lord.

Self-Examination Questions

From Wayne @

David Powlison shares a list of 35 X-ray Questions (pdf). These questions draw out "the whys and wherefores of human behavior." They help in discerning the patterns of a person’s motivation, and help to "identify and unveil the ungodly masters that occupy positions of authority in their hearts." We can use these as self-examination questions or in counseling others.
1. What do you love? Hate?
2. What do you want, desire, crave, lust, and wish for? What desires do you serve and obey?
3. What do you seek, aim for, pursue? What are your goals and expectations?
4. Where do you bank your hopes?
5. What do you fear? What do you not want? What do you tend to worry about?
6. What do you feel like doing?
7. What do you think you need? What are your “felt needs”?
8. What are your plans, agendas, strategies, and intentions designed to accomplish?
9. What makes you tick? What sun does your planet revolve around? Where do you find your garden of delight? What lights up your world? What fountain of life, hope, and delight do you drink from? What food sustains your life? What really matters to you? What fairy castle do you construct in the clouds? What pipe dreams tantalize or terrify you? Around what do you organize your life? What magnetic north orients your world?
10. Where do you find refuge, safety, comfort, escape, pleasure, security?
11. What or who do you trust?
12. Whose performance matters? On whose shoulders does the well-being of your world rest? Who can make it better, make it work, make it safe, make it successful?
13. Who must you please? Whose opinion of you counts? From whom do you desire approval and fear rejection? Whose value system do you measure yourself against? In whose eyes are you living? Whose love and approval do you need?
14. Who are your role models? What kind of person do you think you ought to be or want to be?
15. On your deathbed, what would sum up your life as worthwhile? What gives your life meaning?
16. How do you define and weigh success or failure, right or wrong, desirable or undesirable, in any particular situation?
17. What would make you feel rich, secure, prosperous? What must you get to make life sing?
18. What would bring you the greatest pleasure, happiness and delight? The greatest pain and misery?
19. Whose coming into political power would make everything better?
20. Whose victory or success would make your life happy? How do you define victory and success?
21. What do you see as your rights? What do you feel entitled to?
22. In what situations do you feel pressured or tense? Confident and relaxed? When you are pressured, where do you turn? What do you think about? What are your escapes? What do you escape from?
23. What do you want to get out of life? What payoff do you seek out of the things you do? “What do you get out of doing that?”
24. What do you pray for?
25. What do you think about most often? What preoccupies or obsesses you? In the morning, to what does your mind drift instinctively? What is your “mindset”?
26. What do you talk about? What is important to you? What attitudes do you communicate?
27. How do you spend your time? What are your priorities?
28. What are your characteristic fantasies, either pleasurable or fearful? Daydreams? What do your night dreams revolve around?
29. What are the functional beliefs that control how you interpret your life and determine how you act?
30. What are your idols or false gods? In what do you place your trust, or set your hopes? What do you turn to or seek? Where do you take refuge? Who is the savior, judge, controller, provider, protector in your world? Who do you serve? What “voice” controls you?
31. How do you live for yourself?
32. How do you live as a slave of the devil?
33. How do you implicitly say, “If only.…” (to get what you want, avoid what you don’t want, keep what you have)?
34. What instinctively seems and feels right to you? What are your opinions, things you feel are true?
35. Where do you find your identity? How do you define who you are?

Missions Agencies and Local Churches

In The Nick of Time

by Kevin T. Bauder @

The pastor who wants to lead his church wisely in the area of missions will find that he is confronted with a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, the work of missions grows out of the local church, and each missionary is ultimately accountable to his sending church. On the other hand, few local churches are in the position to closely supervise the work of any particular missionary on any particular field.

The New Testament resolves this conundrum by showing that church-planting missionaries organized to work together, even when they were sent out by different churches. While their ultimate accountability was to their sending churches, their pressing, operational decisions were made together. They had little or no direct supervision from their churches. Their immediate accountability was to their field organization and its leadership.

The New Testament pattern anticipates the missionary agency and particularly the field council. The question is not whether such organizations are biblically authorized, for they clearly are. The question is how to balance the authority and function of the agency with the authority and function of the church. How should the agency and the church support one another in the work of missions?

Five "Quick Hits" on Public Speaking


The first century Roman historian Dionysius said this, "Let thy speech be better than silence, or be silent." How are you improving your ability to communication publicly? Here are five quick hits to help you take a close look at your communication effectiveness.

1. How to Get a Standing Ovation - Guy Kawasak

2. 6 Do's to Open Your Presentation - Bert Decker

3. Better Beginnings: How to Start a Presentation, Book or Article - Kathy Sierra

4. How to Give a Great Presentation - Keith Robinson

5. 10 Lessons from My Speaking Coach - Lee LeFever

Review of ‘Heaven on Earth’

Review by Nathan Williams @

Heaven on Earth by Stephen J. Nichols

Heaven on EarthAs Christians we must try to balance seemingly contradictory views in many areas of our lives. We often tend to lose our balance and fall into an extreme on one side of an issue or the other. For example; it is difficult for us to comprehend the sovereignty of God in salvation and yet understand that we must invite and even plead with sinners to repent of their sins and come to Christ. Also, we strive with all our might to become more like Jesus Christ in daily life and yet realize that God is ultimately working in us “both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

One of the main areas in which Christians struggle to maintain the proper balance is the tension between living as citizens of heaven and citizens of earth. Stephen Nichols wrote Heaven on Earth to deal with this tension. However, he does not go it alone. The entire book is based on the sermons of Jonathan Edwards. Through the explanation of several of Edwards’ sermons, Nichols expounds the vision Edwards had of living on earth as a citizen of heaven.

Heaven on Earth is a short book, but is filled with helpful explanations of Edwards’ thoughts on heaven. Nichols begins the book with the problem being discussed, namely that we live as dual citizens, and we must learn how to properly balance our time and efforts to reflect our commitment to heaven but our desire to impact this earth with the gospel. He explains the two extremes that Christians often fall into. First, there are those Christians that Nichols calls “monastery Christians.” They live a life fearful of the world around them and with no desire to interact with it at all. “They refuse to live in this world and instead construct an entirely Christian one, from which they rarely break out.” (p. 19) In contrast to these people are those Christians who live for this world so much that it appears they aren’t even aware of the one to come. “They are consumed by this world’s agenda and are driven by its passions.” (p. 19)

After explaining the two extremes, Nichols spends the remaining six chapters teaching the proper balance of living on earth while bound for heaven. Each of these chapters is based on a sermon of Edwards. Nichols doesn’t reproduce the entire sermon, but walks the reader through the major concepts presented in each one. For example, chapter two is based on the Edwards’s sermon, “Heaven Is a World of Love.” Many people perceive Edwards as the preacher who preached the sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” This is only half the picture.

In chapter two of this book we come to understand that Edwards was a man who thought often about heaven and longed to be there. Nichols walks the reader through the beautiful explanation Edwards gave of our future home. His vision of heaven is a vision of a world consumed by love. The helpful part of Edwards is that he does not stop by explaining what heaven will be like. He wants his listeners to understand how the proper vision of heaven will transform their lives on earth. “He points them to heaven with one hand, while with the other he directs their attention back to earth” (p. 32).

This is where we come to understand the vision that Edwards had of living heaven on earth. “Living in between means we take both worlds into account. We are on the way to heaven, but we are not there yet. We applaud its breakthroughs in this world, but we know there are far better things to come” (p. 37). In other words, it is our duty as Christians to bring heaven to earth as much as possible.

The remaining chapters continue to investigate the tension of living in between. These chapters deal with such topics as “On the Way to Heaven”, “Being Good Citizens”, “But to Act Justly”, “It’s Only the Beginning”, and “Meeting There at Last.” Nichols closes the book with an abridged version of Edwards’s sermon “Heaven Is a World of Love.”

I believe this book will be helpful for a number of reasons. First, most of us tend to drift to one extreme or the other when it comes to living in between heaven and earth. For those who tend to live as “monastery Christians”, this book will help to propel you out into the world to make an impact with the gospel. Nichols makes the point in the book that even though the Titanic is going down it is still our responsibility to polish the brass because it’s God’s ship. In other words, the earth will one day be burned up by fire, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be investing ourselves in others while we are on the earth. For those who tend to attach themselves to this earth, this book provides an appealing look at heaven. Living on earth is important, but we must remember it is not ultimately our home.

Also, Heaven on Earth will prove helpful because it will alter your perspective. Sometimes books are helpful because they provide specific instructions to deal with specific issues. Other books are helpful because they can spark a paradigm shift in the way you think. This book falls into the second category. Heaven on Earth will challenge your most basic thoughts about heaven, earth, and the possibility of living in between in a way that honors God. It takes purposeful effort to live out the vision Edwards sets. This book is a useful tool in catching that vision.

Gutsy Guilt: Don't let shame over sexual sin destroy you.

The closest I have ever come in 26 years to being fired from my position as a pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church was in the mid-1980s, when I wrote an article for our church newsletter titled "Missions and Masturbation." I wrote the article after returning from a missions conference in Washington, D.C., with George Verwer, the head of Operation Mobilization.

Verwer's burden at that conference was the tragic number of young people who at one point in their lives dreamed of radical obedience to Jesus, but then faded away into useless American prosperity. A gnawing sense of guilt and unworthiness over sexual failure gradually gave way to spiritual powerlessness and the dead-end dream of middle-class security and comfort.

In other words, what seemed so tragic to George Verwer—as it does to me—is that so many young people are being lost to the cause of Christ's mission because they are not taught how to deal with the guilt of sexual failure. The problem is not just how not to fail. The problem is how to deal with failure so that it doesn't sweep away your whole life into wasted mediocrity with no impact for Christ.

The great tragedy is not masturbation or fornication or pornography. The tragedy is that Satan uses guilt from these failures to strip you of every radical dream you ever had or might have. In their place, he gives you a happy, safe, secure, American life of superficial pleasures, until you die in your lakeside rocking chair.

I have a passion that you do not waste your life. My aim is not mainly to cure you of sexual misconduct. I would like that to happen. But mostly I want to take out of the Devil's hand the weapon that exploits your sin and makes your life a wasted, worldly success. Satan wants that for you. But you don't!

What broke George Verwer's heart back in the 1980s, and breaks mine today, is not that you have sinned sexually. It's that this morning Satan took your 2 A.M. encounter—whether on TV or in bed—and told you: "See, you're a loser. You may as well not even worship. No way are you going to make any serious commitment of your life to Jesus Christ! You may as well get a good job so you can buy yourself a big widescreen and watch sex till you drop."

I want to take that weapon out of his hand. Yes, I want you to have the joyful courage not to do the channel surfing. But sooner or later, whether it's that sin or another, you are going to fall. I want to help you deal with the guilt of failure so that Satan does not use it to produce another wasted life.

God Makes a Way

The backdrop of Colossians 1-3 is Colossians 3:6: "On account of these the wrath of God is coming." Hanging over the whole world is the holy, just, unimpeachable anger of God at sin and rebellion. His wrath is coming, and the salvation spoken of in Colossians 1-3 is the only rescue from it. No one wants to meet the wrath of "the Lamb" when it comes (Rev. 6:16). So God in his mercy provides a way out.

Christ did something in history before we existed that obtained and guaranteed our rescue and the transformation of all who would come to trust in him. The distinctive and crucial thing about Christian salvation is that Christ accomplished it decisively, outside of us and without our help. When we put our faith in him, we do not add to the sufficiency of what he accomplished in covering our sins and achieving the righteousness that counts as ours.

The clearest verses on this point are Colossians 2:13-14: "And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the Cross."

Those last words are the most crucial. God set aside this record of debt that stood against us, nailing it to the Cross. Make sure you understand this most glorious of all truths: God took the record of all your sins—all your sexual failures—that made you a debtor to wrath. Instead of holding them up in front of your face and using them as the warrant to send you to hell, he put them in the palm of his Son's hand and nailed them to the Cross.

Beautiful Substitution

Whose sins were punished on the Cross? The sins of all who despair of saving themselves and trust in Christ alone. Who was punished on the Cross? Jesus. That is the beautiful thing we call substitution.

Paul wrote in Romans 8:3, "By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh." Whose sin? Ours. Jesus had none (only the likeness of sinful flesh, not sinful flesh). Whose flesh? Jesus'.

Have you ever wondered what the next verse, Colossians 2:15, means? Right after saying that God nailed the record of our debt to the Cross, Paul says, "[God] disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him." This is a reference to the Devil and all his demonic hosts. How are they disarmed? How are they defeated?

They have many weapons. But they are disarmed of the one weapon that can damn us—the weapon of unforgiven sin. Be sure you see the connection between Colossians 2:14 and 15. In 2:14, it says God nailed the record of our debt to the Cross. It's punished. It's finished. And in the next breath, it says that God disarmed the rulers and authorities. He triumphed over them. Sure, they can beat us up, tempt us, scare us, and accuse us, but they cannot damn us. That weapon is out of their hands. Only unforgiven sin damns. And that was nailed to the Cross.

Many see so little of the beauty of Christ in this salvation that the gospel simply sounds to them like a license to go on sinning. If all my sins are nailed to the Cross, then let's all sin that grace may abound (Rom. 6:1). Paul confronted that blindness in his own day and said, "Their condemnation is just" (Rom. 3:8). The reason they will be condemned is that we are saved by grace through faith. This faith connects you with Jesus so that his death counts for your death and his righteousness counts for your righteousness (compare Rom. 5:1, "by faith," and Rom. 8:1, "in Christ"). This faith receives Christ. It's not an adding to what Christ has done. It is a receiving. Saving faith receives Jesus as Savior and Lord and the Treasure of your life.

This faith will fight anything that gets between it and Christ. The distinguishing mark of saving faith is not perfection. It is not that I never sin sexually. The mark of faith is that I fight. I fight not with fists or knives or guns or bombs, but with the truth of Christ. I fight anything that diminishes the fullness of the lordship of Jesus in my life. I fight anything that threatens to replace Jesus as the supreme treasure of my life.

So if all you can see in the Cross of Jesus is a license to go on sinning, then you don't have saving faith. You need to fall on your face and plead that God would open your eyes to see the compelling glory of Jesus Christ.

I haven't mentioned justification, but it is very closely related to the work of God in nailing our sins to the Cross. Justification is the act by which God declares us not only forgiven because of the work of Christ, but also righteous because of the work of Christ. God requires two things for our right standing before him: (1) Our sins must be punished, and (2) our lives must be righteous. But we cannot bear our own punishment, and we cannot provide our own righteousness (Rom. 3:10).

Therefore, God, out of his immeasurable love for us, provided his own Son to do both. Christ bears our punishment and performs our righteousness. When we receive Christ as the Savior and Lord and Treasure of our lives, all of his punishment and righteousness is counted as ours (Rom. 4:4-6; 5:1; 5:19; 8:1; 10:4; Phil. 3:8-9; 2 Cor. 5:21). Justification conquers fornication.

False Hopelessness

Being armed with biblical knowledge of God, Christ, the Cross, and salvation can give such ballast to the boat of your life that the wind of temptation will not be able to tip it over easily. The reason this is not a popular remedy for temptation today is because it is not a quick fix. It's the work of a lifetime.

You have a tremendous weapon against the Devil when you know your punishment for sin has already been paid in Christ and your righteousness before God has already been achieved in Christ, and you hold fast to these truths with heartfelt passion.

With this passionately embraced theology—the magnificent doctrines of substitutionary atonement and justification by faith (even if you don't remember the names)—you can conquer the Devil tomorrow morning when he lies to you about your hopelessness.

I WIll Rise

What will you say to him? Micah 7:8-9 is a picture of what you say to your enemy when he scoffs at your defeat. I call this practice "gutsy guilt." The believer admits that he has done wrong and that God is dealing roughly with him. But even in a condition of darkness and discipline, he will not surrender his hold on the truth that God is on his side. Pay close attention to these amazing words. Use them whenever Satan tempts you to throw away your life on trifles because that's all you're good for.

Micah 7:8-9 is what victory looks like the morning after failure. Learn to take your theology and speak like this to the Devil or anyone else who tells you that Christ is not capable of using you mightily for his global cause. Here is what you say.

"Rejoice not over me, O my enemy." You make merry over my failure? You think you will draw me into your deception? Think again.

When I fall, I shall rise. Yes, I have fallen. I hate what I have done. I grieve at the dishonor I have brought on my King. But hear this, O my enemy, I will rise. I will rise.

When I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. Yes, I am sitting in darkness. I feel miserable. I feel guilty. I am guilty. But that is not all that is true about me and my God. The same God who makes my darkness is a sustaining light to me in this very darkness. He will not forsake me.

I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. Oh yes, my enemy, this much truth you say: I have sinned. I am bearing the indignation of the Lord. But that is where your truth stops and my theology begins. He—the very one who is indignant with me—will plead my cause. You say he is against me and that I have no future with him because of my failure. That's what Job's friends said. That is a lie. And you are a liar. My God, whose Son's life is my righteousness and whose Son's death is my punishment, will execute judgment for me. For me! And not against me.

He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication. This misery that I now feel because of my failure, I will bear as long as my dear God ordains. And this I know for sure—as sure as Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is my punishment and my righteousness—God will bring me out to the light, and I will look upon his righteousness, my Lord and my God.

Falling Less Often

When you learn to deal with the guilt of sexual failure by this kind brokenhearted boldness, this kind of theology, this kind of justification by faith, this kind of substitutionary atonement, this kind of gutsy guilt, you will fall less often. Why is this so? Because Christ will become increasingly precious to you.

Best of all, Satan will not be able to destroy your dream of a life of radical obedience to Christ. By this Christ-exalting gutsy guilt, thousands of you will give your lives to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.

John Piper is the pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. This article is adapted from a message delivered at Passion '07.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Do you have anything to say?

Bad Ministry Idea: Church organizes support for Britney Spears

Britney Spears performs at the MTV Video Music Awards at the Palms Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. (AP / Mark J. Terrill)The Associated Press @

LEXINGTON, Kentucky -- The congregation of Southland Christian Church is being asked to send letters of love and support to troubled pop star Britney Spears, described by the pastor as having made "devastating life choices."

"Take a few minutes and write a note to Britney Spears," pastor John Weece said in a sermon and in a blog on the church Web site. "No preaching. No criticizing. Just love. As a church, let's love Britney the way Jesus loves her."

Weece said the idea came as he watched repeated reports of Spears' reported problems with drugs and alcohol and the loss of custody of her children.

"If she were your next-door neighbor in the same situation without the money and success, wouldn't you care about her problems? Wouldn't you pray for her and offer her support and encouragement?" he asked members of the church.

Cindy Willison, the church's director of communications, was still collecting the letters on Friday and looking for the best way to get them directly to Spears.

"This is an opportunity for us to reach out to someone who probably doesn't have a lot of people in her life that care for her as a person," Willison said.

Being Christian in Iraq


From the Washington Post :

BAGHDAD—Nabil Comanny and his family endured the dead bodies left to decompose along the road in their southern Dora neighborhood.

They accepted the criminal gangs that roamed the area, searching for targets to kidnap.

And neither the utility failures nor the mountains of trash in the street could drive them away.

As Christians, the Comannys had learned to keep a low profile. They even stayed in their house after many Muslim neighbors fled the daily chaos when sectarian bloodshed between Shiite and Sunni militants broke out in 2006, making this one of Baghdad's most embattled districts.

But the hand-scrawled note at their door was the final straw. The message commanded the family to select one of these options:

- Convert to Islam.

- Pay a fee of nearly $300 monthly for "protection."

- Leave the area.

Failure to comply would result in death.

"We don't have weapons, and the government doesn't protect us. What else can we do?" said Comanny, a 37-year-old journalist whose family abandoned its modest home of 11 years.

Extreme Islamic militants increasingly are targeting Christians in Iraq, especially in the capital. As a result, Iraq's Christian community—long the minority in a largely Muslim country—continues to dwindle.

(Here's the whole article.)

Let's pray for the Christians there.

Witnessing as a Spiritual Discipline

A Review of the Nature of Spiritual Disciplines

In previous articles here on the Scriptorium I have clarified the nature of a spiritual discipline and explained how spiritual disciplines, construed as training exercises analogous to those employed in getting good at golf, help to facilitate growth in the good life. I defined a Christian spiritual discipline in this way: A Christian spiritual discipline is a repeated bodily practice, done over and over again, in dependence on the Holy Spirit and under the direction of Jesus and other wise teachers in His Way, to enable one to get good at certain things in life that one cannot learn to do by direct effort.

The sad thing is that we know what to do to learn golf or some other specific activity, but we don’t know the relevance of repeated bodily practice and discipline for learning to be good at life taken as a whole. Long ago, Plato (428-348 BC) wisely noted: “There is no question which a man of any sense could take more seriously than…what kind of life one should live.” (Gorgias 500 c) Elsewhere Plato observed that it would be a tragedy if a person could be content with life by having good health, wealth, great looks, and a lot of ease and pleasure while, at the same time, not giving a moment’s thought to the cultivation of skill at living life as a whole with virtue and character. Along similar lines and with characteristic insight, Jesus of Nazareth asked “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world [including getting good at golf, accounting, or anything else] and forfeits his soul (fails to become the flourishing person he was made to be both now and forever] (Matthew 16:26).

A Menu of Spiritual Disciplines

But the renewed interest in spiritual disciplines are changing all this. People are coming to see that repeated bodily practice in the form of spiritual exercises/disciplines is at the heart of spiritual transformation. Just as “golf flesh” resides in specific body parts, for example, the wrists, so sinful habits often reside in specific body parts, for example, anger in the stomach area, anxiety in the chest or shoulders, gossip in the tongue and mouth region, and lust in the eyes and other areas. A spiritual discipline is a repetitive practice that targets one of these areas in order to replace bad habits with good ones in dependence on the Spirit of the living God.

Some spiritual disciplines, for example, the practice of journaling (the habit of writing down one’s prayers to God, one’s daily experiences of answered prayer, good and bad events, and so forth), are mere means to an end (learning to remember answers to prayer, learning to concentrate on incidental daily events as occasions that have spiritual significance, learning to talk deliberately and with emotion to God). Other disciplines are both a means to an end when done as a discipline and intrinsically valuable in their own right when done during the actual “game” of life. The habit of expressing kindness is an example. By practicing the expression of kindness to others, one can learn to be less self-centered. In this way, repeated expressions of kindness are a means to the end of spiritual growth. But, of course, expressing kindness to others is not just a form of practice to get good at life. It is part of living life itself and it has intrinsic, not just instrumental value.

Dallas Willard points out that there are two categories of spiritual disciplines: those of abstinence/detachment and those of engagement. This list is not exhaustive, but it does contain most of the classical disciplines:
Disciplines of Abstinence: solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity secrecy, sacrifice
Disciplines of Engagement: study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, submission

In disciplines of abstinence, we unhook, detach, abstain for a period of time and to varying degrees from the satisfaction of normal, appropriate desires—food, sleep, companionship, sex, music, comfort, financial security, recognition, and so forth. These disciplines help us address sins of commission. In general, it is not a good idea to detach from something without filling the resulting void with attachment to something positive. Thus, disciplines of engagement go hand in hand with those of detachment, and the former help us address sins of omission.

It is crucial to understand that on the biblical and, more generally, the classical understanding of becoming a virtuous person , the formation of a good character essentially requires repeated employment of bodily practices relevant to the development of character.

The Practice of Witnessing

In addition to classic examples of disciplines such as those listed above, any repeated practice that is fruitful for growth in Christlikeness is legitimately called a spiritual discipline and, thus, the list of such disciplines is endless. The repeated practice of evangelistic witnessing is a good example of a “non-classic” discipline.

I have trained thousands of people to share their faith. Several years ago I debated one of the world’s leading intellectual atheists in front of a packed auditorium at a university campus. The courage to do this came not only from depending on Christ in that moment, but also from the spiritual discipline of witnessing. Years earlier I was scared to death to share my faith with anyone. What was I to do to become a calm, courageous witness for Christ? Of course, I read books on evangelism and tried to stay motivated through good music, worship and fellowship with other nurturing Christians. But if the thesis of this chapter is correct, then that would never have been enough. Transformation as a confident, skillful evangelist could come only if I practiced the discipline of witnessing over and over again.

I began with learning the contents of an evangelistic booklet. I also memorized a brief personal testimony, as well as a way to introduce myself to others and a way to excuse myself from conversation if so needed. I practiced using the booklet and giving my testimony in front of the mirror repeatedly. Then I practiced my delivery over and over again with a Christian friend. Subsequently, I went witnessing about fifty times with someone more experienced and, gradually, I did more of the talking, until I was the one taking the experienced brother with me. Finally, I started taking novices myself and, eventually, repeated a similar process for giving an evangelistic talk to crowds. By the time I debated the atheist in that auditorium, I had shared my faith hundreds of times. In all, I have done around twenty debates on different subjects, and while my ministry is now taking a different direction, I learned to evangelize by the spiritual discipline of repeated witnessing and testifying to my experience with Christ.

If you want to make it your aim to grow in the courage to stand up for your faith in threatening situations, including sharing the gospel with unbelievers, you need to learn why you believe what you believe (see I Peter 3:15). That’s why most of my previous articles have focused on apologetical topics. But this is not enough. You need to practice taking a stand and sharing your faith in increasingly more threatening situations. Just as one who is learning to play golf starts with simple swings and as he/she gets better, moves on to more difficult strokes (for example, getting out of a sand trap), so one should approach the development of the virtue of courage. Start with situations that are just a little threatening, for example, by identifying yourself as a Christian with someone who is not. And once you learn to be comfortable with that, move on to practicing slightly more difficult behaviors. Be kind to yourself—don’t force yourself to do something that is so far outside your safetly zone that you will get discouraged and stop making progress. On the other hand, continue to stretch yourself. As you do, remember that you are approaching this area of life as a spiritual discipline. Practice over and over again the level of courageousness you are at until it becomes a habit. Then move on to the next level and repeat. And remember, Jesus is our coach and he said that he would never leave us or forsake us (Matthew 28: 18-20).

God Gives the Increase

by Beth Murschell @

My mental images of mankind’s original garden, alas, have been shaped by Sunday school curricula—coloring pages, flannel graphs, and children’s books. Still, I can’t help thinking the garden was more similar to the tropics of today than to the formal English gardens, all stiff upper-lip ornamentation and sundials. Adam and Eve may have left the garden, but the lovemurschell_plant.jpg of growing things remains strong in our collective consciousness.

As optimistic but unskilled gardeners, my husband and I have seen quite a few plants come and go over the years here in South Florida. During the worst drought, we lost a rather nice vegetable plot and haven’t had the heart to try one again, except for the tomatoes we grew in an EarthBox. (It was a bumper crop, which was enjoyed by insects who had weapon, motive, and opportunity.)

No, our greatest success has been with epiphytes. These can grow on trees (Spanish moss, orchids, or staghorn ferns) or in the air like orchids or staghorn ferns or on the ground like pineapples. These kinds of plants require little from us—“they toil not, neither do they spin” (Matt. 6:28, KJV). The rose bush, however, rebounded only after a near-death pruning.

We’ve attended our current church long enough to see a number of people come and go, too. Some don’t require much care, obtaining their spiritual sustenance without apparent effort, like airplants. Others, who are needier, smother their caregivers in a way reminiscent of kudzu (an invasive alien plant that kills trees upon which it grows). Then there are those who thrive under heavy pruning (“every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it”—John 15:2), constant watering (“the washing of water by the word”—Eph. 5:26), staking, or propping up (“support the weak”—1 Thess. 5:14).

What about those times when growth is imperceptible, whether in ourselves or in others? Could it be that the dry times are forcing roots deep and that the eventual fruition will be all the richer? Or are we letting the “cares of this world,” weedlike, choke us?

One can force a bulb to flower before spring arrives. The process involves darkness and refrigeration and takes the strength from a bulb while allowing it to bloom early just the one time. When I force issues with someone who is not ready, is it possible that I can discourage that person and run ahead of the Holy Spirit’s quiet working? Only God knows exactly how much light, water, and pruning are required in order to produce fruit.

C.S. Lewis’ newly created Narnia, as depicted in The Magician’s Nephew, had soil so rich that anything planted grew to fruition in a matter of hours. Perhaps the Garden of Eden was similar. But here on earth “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Rom. 8:22). I’ve read my growing instructions, and they are simple: “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Someday, we will see a new heaven and a new earth, perfection only hinted at in our cursed cosmos. And “when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

beth.jpgBeth Murschell is married to Mick, a computer programmer, and they live in Bradenton, Florida. Her master’s degree is in music education, but her past work experience includes industrial cleaning, childcare, bumper factory, fast food, camp work (three different camps), music team, telemarketer, media center, music educator, sixth-grade teacher, maid, retail, writer, and now mother of four. She has lived in

The Spirit in Counseling

psychologyBy John MacArthur @

It has been sad to see so many Christians seek counsel from Christian psychotherapists who fumble around with theories developed by Sigmund Freud, Carl Rogers and B. F. Skinner. Psychology and talk therapy are so bankrupt that many are abandoning them to embrace biological psychiatry. Psychotropic medicine is the new savior. Problems that were once blamed on dysfunctional families and Id/Superego conflict are now charged to chemical imbalances and disorders.

Yesterday’s psychology and today’s psychiatry share the same fatal errors — they reject the total depravity of man due to sin; they treat the symptoms instead of the heart; and they aim for change that is not true sanctification.

In spite of obvious failure, the notion prevails within the church that psychotherapy and psychiatry are more effective agents of change — particularly in dealing with the most difficult cases — than the Holy Spirit who sanctifies. But can psychotherapy or psychiatry possibly accomplish something the Holy Spirit cannot? Can an earthly therapist achieve more than a heavenly Comforter? Is behavior modification more helpful than sanctification? Of course not.

Let’s take a few moments to get reacquainted with the Holy Spirit — a Person who is a stranger to psychotherapy. To do so, we need to go back to the time our Lord first introduced Him; it was on the night He was betrayed.

Jesus’ crucifixion was drawing near, and His disciples were fearful and confused. When He spoke to them about going away, their hearts were troubled (John 14:1-2) and they feared being left alone. But Jesus assured them that He would not leave them to fend for themselves. He comforted them with the promise of the coming Holy Spirit.

The Divine Helper: I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper – John 14:16

“Helper” is the Greek word parakletos that we transliterate as a word you may be familiar with — paraclete. It describes a spiritual attendant whose role is to offer assistance, support, relief, advocacy, and guidance. Isn’t it interesting that the divine Counselor’s ministry to believers is to provide the very things so many people vainly seek in therapy?

Jesus called Him “another Helper.” There are two Greek words that can be translated “another.” One is heteros, which means “a different one, a different kind” as in, “If that style is not what you want, try another.” The other word is allos. It is translated “another” in English, but it means “another of the same kind,” as in, “That cookie was delicious; may I have another?”

Jesus used allos to describe the Holy Spirit — He is “another [allos] Helper [of the same kind].” The same kind as what? Jesus was promising to send His disciples a Helper exactly like Himself — a compassionate, loving, and totally sufficient Paraclete, just like Himself. In fact, Jesus is called our Paraclete in 1 John 2:1: “If anyone sins, we have an Advocate [Paraclete] with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

You wouldn’t question Jesus’ capabilities in the counseling office, would you? His ability to get to the heart of counseling issues is unparalleled — as God, He knows all men (John 2:25). And look at the fruit of His counsel — it radically transformed the apostles to the point that they turned the world upside down. The Father has sent another Helper, co-equal with Jesus Christ, to be your Counselor. Don’t doubt His ability.

The Permanent Dweller: That He may be with you forever… He dwells with you and will be in you – John 14:16,17

The Lord also promised that the Helper from the Father would take up permanent, uninterrupted residence within His disciples. That was a New Covenant promise foretold in Ezekiel 37:14: “And I will put My Spirit within you, and you will come to life.” The Holy Spirit wouldn’t merely be present with them; the greater truth was that He would be resident within them permanently.

According to Romans 8:9, the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the mark of all who are truly born again: “You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” Thus as a believer you enjoy the permanent, continuing presence of the Holy Spirit living within. His help — all the resources of God Himself — is always available.

The Truth Teacher: The Spirit of truth –John 14:17

It is noteworthy that Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of truth.” As God, He is the essence of truth; as a Paraclete, He is the One who guides us into truth. That’s why apart from Him, it is impossible for sinful human beings to know or understand any spiritual truth. Paul wrote,

To us God revealed [His wisdom] through the Spirit… that we might know the things freely given to us by God… [things which] a natural man does not accept… for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. (1 Cor. 2:10, 12, 14)

The unregenerate have no facility for spiritual perception. They cannot comprehend spiritual truth because they are spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1), unable to respond to anything except their own sinful passions. Believers, on the other hand, are actually taught spiritual truth by God Himself (John 6:45). In fact, much of the Holy Spirit’s ministry to you as a believer involves teaching you (John 14:26; 1 Cor. 2:13; 1 John 2:20, 27); guiding you into the truth of Christ (John 16:13-14); and illuminating the truth for you (1 Cor. 2:12).

Let me add a footnote here. This promise of a supernatural Teacher had special application for the eleven disciples that it doesn’t have to you. The Holy Spirit not only helped them understand many things that perplexed them before the resurrection (cf. John 2:22; 12:16), but He also gave them perfect recall of every word Jesus had spoken. His ministry to the apostles assured the infallibility of the New Testament record and guaranteed the purity of the apostolic testimony (cf. John 14:25-26).

If you are a believer, you also benefit from the Holy Spirit’s ministry. He guides you to the truth of Scripture, teaches you, affirms the truth in your heart, and convicts you of sin. He even enables you to walk in obedience to the revealed Word of God (cf. Rom. 8:11; Phil. 2:12-13).

As a divinely indwelling Helper, the Spirit of Truth performs a function no human counselor can ever approach. He is constantly there, pointing the way to the truth, applying the truth directly to your heart, prompting you to conform to the truth — in short, He sanctifies you in the truth (John 17:17). Don’t sin against the Holy Spirit by looking to sinful humans to accomplish spiritual transformation. Instead, “if we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25).

Making Room for Atheism

By John Piper @

Our church exists "to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ." That is our mission. "All things" means business, industry, education, media, sports, arts, leisure, government, and all the details of our lives. Ideally this means God should be recognized and trusted as supreme by every person he has made. But the Bible teaches plainly that there will never be a time before Jesus comes back when all people will honor him as supreme (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).

So how do we express a passion for God's supremacy in a pluralistic world where most people do not recognize God as an important part of their lives, let alone an important part of government or education or business or industry or art or recreation or entertainment?

Answer: We express a passion for the supremacy of God...

1) by maintaining a conviction at all times that God is ever-present and gives all things their most important meaning. He is the Creator, Sustainer, and Governor of all things. We must keep in our minds the truth that all things exist to reveal something of God's infinite perfections. The full meaning of everything, from shoestrings to space shuttles, is the way they relate to God.

2) by trusting God in every circumstance to use his creative, sustaining, governing wisdom and power to work all things together for the good of all who love him. This is faith in the future grace of all that God promises to be for us in Jesus.

3) by making life choices that reveal the supreme worth of God above what the world values supremely. "The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life" (Psalm 63:3). So we will choose to die rather than lose sweet fellowship with God. This will show his supremacy over all that life offers.

4) by speaking to people of God's supreme worth in creative and persuasive ways, and by telling people how they can be reconciled to God through Christ, so that they can enjoy God's supremacy as protection and help, rather than fear it as judgment.

5) by making clear that God himself is the foundation for our commitment to a pluralistic democratic order-not because pluralism is his ultimate ideal, but because in a fallen world, legal coercion will not produce the kingdom of God. Christians agree to make room for non-Christian faiths (including naturalistic, materialistic faiths), not because commitment to God's supremacy is unimportant, but because it must be voluntary, or it is worthless. We have a God-centered ground for making room for atheism. "If my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight" (John 18:36). The fact that God establishes his kingdom through the supernatural miracle of faith, not firearms, means that Christians in this age will not endorse coercive governments-Christian or secular.

This is why we resist the coercive secularization implied in some laws that repress Christian activity in public places. It is not that we want to establish Christianity as the law of the land. That is intrinsically impossible, because of the spiritual nature of the kingdom. It is rather because repression of free exercise of religion and persuasion is as wrong against Christians as it is against secularists. We believe this tolerance is rooted in the very nature of the gospel of Christ. In one sense, tolerance is pragmatic: freedom and democracy seem to be the best political order humans have conceived. But for Christians it is not purely pragmatic: the spiritual, relational nature of God's kingdom is the ground of our endorsement of pluralism, until Christ comes with rights and authority that we do not have.

Crisis Pregnancy Centers

Betty J. Kvale offers some thoughts on Ministering to Women in Times of Personal Crisis: Christian Crisis Pregnancy Centers (pdf).
How can you or your church get involved? Psalm 116:12-13 asks, “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me?” and answers, “I will take up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.” Prayer is the foundation for any service to our Lord. Also:

• Ask Him how He would have you serve.
• Pray for the centers already established that they will see fruit in souls and babies saved.
• Take the required training course and become a volunteer. There are varied opportunities from sorting donated items, office work, or serving on the Hotline in your own home.
• Donate used items, perhaps holding a church-wide baby shower. Anything for a baby or pregnant mom is accepted.

Friday, October 26, 2007

What Does God Have To Do With Disaster?

By Chad V @

So, what do you think of when a major natural disaster strikes, when thousands are killed, homes destroyed, and crime and looting run rampant. What about when epidemics of deadly disease strike? What do you say to people who ask you, "What kind of a god would do such a thing?". What do you say to people who ask such things of you? Do you believe that God is behind such things or do you believe that these things are somehow happening outside the will of God? Do you believe that God simply allows these things to happen or do you believe there's more to it than that? If you were to ask a Christian from centuries ago these questions, you'd probably get a different answer than you would from today's Christians. So who is right?

Scripture reveals God as being intimately involved in the direction of the happenings of the world, both in matters of prosperity and calamity (Isaiah 45:7). The Bible tells us that God causes disaster in the city (Amos 3:6). In Isaiah 10 we learn the Assyrians were the rod of God's anger against the Israelites for their wickedness and arrogance. In 1 Samuel 15 God commanded the utter destruction of the Amalekites. How do these things differ from the tragedies of 9/11, hurricane Katrina or the tsunami in Southeast Asia which killed hundreds of thousands, sweeping them into eternal judgment? How are these things different than the equally tragic Virginia Tech shootings, or when someone is killed by a drunk driver, or when a coal mine collapses trapping the miners in a dark tomb? Is God behind these things, or does he simply allow them to happen? Are these things God's judgment of the wicked and the calling home of his elect? Does not God have the right to judge sinful people as he sees fit? People are often quick to give credit to God when circumstances are favorable, but when events are contrary suddenly God is forgotten. Is not the giving of prosperity just as much the prerogative of God as the giving of catastrophe? The testimony of scripture is clear, God is intimately involved with his creation and directs even the minutest happenings. Every good thing and every tragedy is from the hand of the Lord.

Psalm 14 speaks of the state of those who would deny the providence of God. In his masterful work on the doctrine of God, "The Existence and Attributes of God", the 17th century Puritan pastor Steven Charnock begins with an exposition of the first verse of the 14th psalm. Charnock shows us that the testimony of scripture is such that those who deny the providence of God in all things deny God's nature and his rights, and that they deny God himself and substitute an idol in place of the one true God as revealed in scripture. Furthermore, the result of such a denial is an abominable conversation. Here's a brief excerpt from the first chapter.

Puritan Steven Charnock on Psalm 14

Psalm 14:1 - The fool hath said in his heart,
"There is no God." They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.

There is no God. It is not Jehovah, which name signifies the essence of God, as the prime supreme being; but Elohahia, which name signifies the providence of God, God as a rector and judge. Not that he denies the existence of a Supreme Being, that created the world, but his regarding the creatures, his government of the world, and consequently his reward of the righteous or punishments of the wicked.

There is a threefold denial of God,
1. Quoad existentiam; This is absolute atheism.
2. Quoad Provedentium; or his inspection into or care of the
. . .things of the world, bounding him in the heavens.
3. Quad naturam; in regard of one or other of the perfections
. . . due to his nature.

Of the denial of the providence of God most understand this, not excluding the absolute atheist, as Diagoras is reported to be, nor the skeptical atheist, as Protagoras, who doubted whether there were a God. Those that deny the providence of God, do in effect deny the being of God; for they strip him of that wisdom, goodness, tenderness, mercy, justice, righteousness, which are the glory of the Deity. And the principle of a greedy desire to be uncontrolled in their lusts, which induceth men to a denial of providence, that thereby they might stifle those seeds of fear which infect and embitter their sinful pleasures, may as well lead them to deny that there is any such being as God. That at one blow, their fears may be dashed all in pieces, and dissolved by the removal of the foundation: as men who desire liberty to commit works of darkness, would not have the lights dimmed, but extinguished. What men say against providence, because they would no check in their lusts, they may say in their hearts against the existence of God upon the same account; little difference between dissenting from the one and disowning the other.

They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. He speaks of the atheist in the singular, "the fool;" of the corruption issuing in the life in the plural; intimating that though some few may choke in their hearts the sentiments of God and his providence, and positively deny them, yet there is something of a secret atheism in all, which is the fountain of the evil practices in their lives, not an utter disowning of the being of the being of a God, but a denial of or doubting of some of the rights of his nature. When men deny the God of purity, they must needs be polluted in soul and body, and grow brutish in their actions. When the sense of religion is shaken off, all kinds of wickedness is eagerly rushed into, whereby they become loathsome to God as putrefied carcasses are to men. Not one or two evil actions is the product of such a principle, but the whole scene of a man's life is corrupted and becomes execrable.

So we see in Charnock's exposition the folly of denying Divine providence in all that comes to pass. We must understand that God is intimately involved with the governing of the creation. There is no event which transpires that is outside of his will. Even the wickedness of men is so governed and ordained by God that though men may intend evil the Lord intends it for good (Gen 50:20). Often the acts of the wicked, or great natural disaster are the rod of God's anger towards those who have rebelled or despised him (Isaiah 10, 1 Kings 17:1, Hag. 1:11). Those who would deny such a doctrine are called fools in the scripture, a forgetfulness of this causes us to be carried away by our lusts. Though a man may be moral in a civil sense, if he denies the hand of the Lord in all things his works are regarded as abominable. Such a person is unable to reflect Christ in all his fullness.

Great disaster is a visible sign of God's wrath against sin and should afford us an opportunity to warn people to flee to Christ for salvation. If we say, "God would not cause harm to us", or "not everything that happens in the world is God's will" then we rob God of his glory. What shall we answer to those who ask a reason of the hope that is within us if we do not understand such a doctrine? How shall we answer the question;