Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Blessings

This Christmas had its mixed blessings. It was great in many ways. Our nuclear family shared good times being together. God blessed us so much. We went to movies, our Christmas tree adventure went really well, and shared many other memory-making moments. This was a year that we were (read: Darla was) able to get all the shopping done early.

We also enjoyed time with other family members. My sister and her husband and kids stayed a few days at our house. Their kids and ours absolutely love being together. We hosted a big Christmas meal with them and my dad. We also went to Kingston to celebrate with my mom. My mom got Darla and I a TV to replace the one we got for a wedding gift. Huge upgrade!

Our church family was great too. There were several opportunities for gathering. The Christmas Eve services were well attended and there was a sweet spirit.

I think the gift giving part was a success. The kids all loved what they received. Drew and Duncan got new phones and TEXTING (what have we done?)! Dara got an American Girl doll with lots of clothing to go with it. Darla got money. That’s her favorite! I got a jacket and matching gloves. Love them!

I should also express my thanks to God for providing for us financially. We entered this Christmas season wondering how we were going to be able to afford it. As with many others, our cost of living has gone up and we’ve incurred some medical debts over the last two years that are making things quite tight. Suffice it to say, God provided through generous people (who had no clue things were tight). All of this was unexpected and I believe was given by God. I am so thankful and undeserving of this kind of grace.

On another note, Darla and I both got sick. Darla on Wednesday morning (Christmas Eve) at 4 a.m. began doing what the stomach virus makes people do. It was bad and lasted about a day in severe form and tapered off for the next two. I became sick with the same thing about 24 hours later. Christmas Day (Thursday) began early for me in the bathroom. I put on my game face and made it through the gift opening. I had prayed all morning that God would not let my sickness affect the day. He gave me the strength. Our tradition is to eat a big breakfast after gifts are opened. I helped Darla get things started by frying the sausage when I became overwhelmed. I hustled upstairs, shut the door, and fought the nausea. I stayed in bed the rest of the day and night. I was much better the next day and the next, resuming most activities and eating habits (still was a little shaky after meals). But then I started feeling a sore throat and my lymph nodes swelling on Saturday night. Sunday morning I awoke to the alarm after a restless night of hot-and-cold spells and a bad sore throat. I was not going to church. Thankfully, Will Cross, visiting home form Dallas Seminary was scheduled to speak. It is yet another example of God’s grace.

Every year Drew and I go on a Georgia hunting trip with a friend and his son. This year was the first year it hasn’t happened. Thank goodness! I would have been miserable. God is so good to me.

I’m planning on taking some time before the New Year to get alone with God to pray, evaluate, and plan. I desperately need some time with him.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The FIRST Commission?

Christians talk a lot about the great commandment and the great commission. But what about the FIRST commission?

Gen. 1:26-31 (ESV)
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish … birds … livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing…on the earth.” And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over…every living thing that moves on the earth." And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant …and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. …And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.

In essence, in the FIRST commission, God says:
Show sanctity for all human life, respect for all human beings, and regard for God’s creation.
Have families with children and manage the earth’s resources and creatures in a way that pleases God.

Specifically, the FIRST commission deals with the following issues (that we will be discussing on Sundays in the next few weeks):
1. Human rights (value and worth, God’s image and blessing, equality between men and women)
2. Sexuality (good sex and bad, birth control, overpopulation)
3. Environmentalism (global warming and response, recycling & pollution, political & economic implications)
4. Animals (wildlife conservation, humane treatment)
5. Work (a result of the curse or a pre-fall blessing? How do we balance work, rest, family, and play?)

No controversies associated with those issues, huh?

I think it’s perfect timing! We’re in a contentious election year and some of these issues are being debated. How are you being informed? Just going with the national media? Just going along with what your parents or friends or teachers say? What about what God says—does that matter? What about his very first words to humankind?

At Providence, we’re not concerned with supporting any political party or candidates. We think it is every citizen’s privilege and obligation to vote in elections. But our calling is much higher. We want to make, be, and unleash disciples. Part of that is helping disciples think biblically.

Christians are all over the map regarding how they respond to these issues, ranging from sticking their heads in the sand (no response at all) to coming out as anti-everything! God wants us to respond and he wants us to do so with grace, gentleness, humility, AND truth. We should seek to be like Christ in both aptitude and attitude.

This Sunday we discussed our and others’ worth in God’s eyes. We humans are the crowning achievement of God’s creation as his image-bearers. As such, every human life is valuable and holy to God. From the road-rager who flips you off after cutting you off to easily-marginalized groups of people.

Our understanding of this affects everything.

If you don’t think every human life is precious and holy, where does that take you? It means you think some people are of more intrinsic worth than others. Some races are not as preferable as others. The very old and feeble can be set aside. The unborn are not deserving of full protection under the law if they are unwanted by their mother. The handicapped are pitiful and cause undue strain on others’ lives. Those who have committed crimes—and are perhaps even unrepentant—deserve less dignity than law-abiding people. Impoverished people are probably poor because of their own decisions and are viewed as unproductive.

Ultimately, when some of these people just get in the way…they really don’t matter. When someone comes along and removes them, we think, “good riddance.” This was Hitler’s line of reasoning. Taking advantage of financial crisis and other opportunities to gain power, Hitler was ultimately successful in committing untold atrocities in much part due to a German church that remained virtually silent as he incrementally showed increasing disregard for human rights and dignity. He legalized abortion and euthanasia of handicapped and infirm. He segregated people based on race and other standards of “worth.” He made criminals of many and then treated prisoners without dignity. We know the way his story ends.

No matter how unpopular, Christians must humbly take an uncompromising stand for the sanctity and dignity of human life. When the people of a society deny the “unalienable rights” of life (as with abortion) they have scorned God’s image indwelling humankind and blasphemed God. It really is a big deal. On the other extreme, it is wrong for individuals to despise themselves. In doing so, they are despising God’s workmanship and disregarding his image in them. You know, Satan—whose primary goal is to take glory away from God—is especially active in helping fallen image-bearers disrespect God’s image. We are all sinners—this is true. By comparison to God and his glorious creation it is easy for us to become discouraged, and all the more as we get to know him as magnificent and holy. While we should practice self-denial, God does not delight in self-loathing. In fact, he is offended by it!

I was totally blown away by Bryan’s new take on an old Isaac Watts hymn (that we sang Sunday--if you weren't there you really missed out!). Read the lyrics again:

Oh Lord our heavenly King thy name is all divine
Thy glories round the earth are spread and o’er the heavens they shine
When to thy works on high, I raise my wondering eyes,
And see the moon complete in light, adorn the darksome skies

When I survey the stars in all their shining forms
Lord what is worthless man akin to dust and worms?

Lord, what is worthless man that thou should love him so?
Next to the angels he is placed as lord of all below
Thine image placed upon him fills his soul with worth
What is man? What is man?

How rich thy bounties are how wondrous are thy ways
Of dust and worms thy power can frame a monument of praise.

When I survey the stars in all their shining forms
Lord what is worthless man akin to dust and worms?

Lord, what is worthless man that thou should love him so?
Next to the angels he is placed as lord of all below
Thine image placed upon him fills his soul with worth
What is man? What is man?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Miraculous Necklace

Ok, so my attempt to demonstrate the virtual impossibility of life beginning by accident might have flopped. If you were at Providence Sunday, you know I wore an orange and white necklace that my son made for me. I told everyone that he put it together randomly and I noticed it just happened to spell out Genesis 1:1 in Morse code. Then I spent WAY too much time showing the statistical ridiculousness of such a feat! At the end I said, "If you believe this (that Drew put the necklace together by random chance), I have a piece of ocean-front property here in Tennessee I'd like to sell you!"

Just in case you're still unclear: Drew DID make the necklace, but he spelled out Gen. 1:1 in Morse code ON PURPOSE. It was JUST AN ILLUSTRATION! I hope that those of you who didn't get my poor attempt to use satire in order to "illustrate absurdity by being absurd" will forgive me. I should have been clearer. On the other hand, maybe my argumentum ad absurdum will help you remember that believing in a naturalistic explanation of the origin of life is MUCH MORE ABSURD than believing Drew accidentally made the necklace that spelled Gen. 1:1, and takes MUCH MORE FAITH than believing in a Creator God.

I’ve had a lot of good laughs with some who, for one reason or another, thought the necklace was a miracle! Thanks for putting up with me trying to be a little creative.

Here’s the stats (for those of you who have asked) on the necklace: The odds that Drew would put 102 beads in the right sequence to spell out Gen.1:1 in Morse code is one in 5x10^30

By comparison, the chances of winning the powerball jackpot is roughly 1 in 1x10^8 (about 1 chance in one-hundred million). That's roughly like filling half a basketball court 1 foot deep in pennies, marking one, and giving a blindfolded person one chance to pick the marked coin.

So I wondered, "how many pennies would it take to illustrate 5 x 10^30?" Bottom line…pennies are way too big. I went smaller. BBs were too big too. So I tried grains of sand.

There are 300,000 grains of sand per cu. in.

x 1728 cu. in. per cu. foot. (518,400,000 grains)

x 27,878,400 sq. ft. per sq. mi.

x 198,000,000 sq. mi. of surface area on entire earth including oceans.
The resulting number is not even close! So I went deeper with the sand covering the world... starting with the depth of empire state building. Still not close! Finally I got it. The sand has to be about 1,500,000 feet deep (284 miles, or that's = 1032 empire state buildings stacked on each other) to get 1 in 5x10^30 (the chance that Drew could randomly make a necklace spell Gen. 1:1)!

Here's my point: Even THAT is not as impossible as the likelihood that life appeared without God. And the comparison is NOT EVEN CLOSE!

In order for life to have appeared spontaneously, there must first have been hundreds of millions of DNA molecules. Under perfect conditions, given the size of earth, it would take 1x10^243 billions of years for only one of these molecules to occur strictly by chance.

According to textbooks written by atheist, agnostic, (as well as theist) scientists, if all the chemical bonds of earth's simplest living creature were broken, the chance of its reassembly, even under ideal environmental and chemical conditions … is less than 1 in 10^100,000,000,000 (one chance in ten to the one-hundred billionth power), a number so large, to write the zeros out in standard notation would take every page of almost 1000 sets of Encyclopedia Britannica.

Facts like these convinced Antony Flew (Oxford scholar and "most famous atheist in the academic world over the last half-century" according to the Dallas Morning News) who wrote the book, There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind said, "What I think the DNA material…has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved in getting these extraordinary diverse elements to work together."

Be sure to come This Sunday. Dr. Marc Bodenheimer (one of our elders and an eye surgeon), will be teaching as we tackle Genesis 1 and the creation of humankind. That's what all the other days have been leading up to. What does it mean to be human? Come and hear!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Thinking of Buying a New Bible?

I am often asked my advice about what Bible translation is best or if Providence has a translation we recommend. English-speaking people are more blessed today than any other people the world has ever known regarding options for great Bible translations. There are generally three categories of Bibles: word-for-word, thought-for-thought, and paraphrases. 

In short, the goal for a word-for-word translation is to be as literal to the original Greek or Hebrew as possible. This may mean good accuracy, but it usually means less readability. As with translating anything, there are idioms and nuances that can be difficult to understand, and sentence structures and word order differ radically from one language to another. Interpretive judgments are kept to a minimum and the result can be English that is a little on the wooden side. 

On the other end of the spectrum, paraphrases are the easiest to read, but sometimes suffer from a lack of accuracy as the "translators" use much more interpretative liberty. Paraphrases are great for kids, people reading the Bible through (or perhaps devotionally), and people new to the Bible, but serious students of the Bible prefer a true translation. 

Thought-for-thought translations seek to straddle the line between paraphrases and word-for-word translations. The goal is to find the sweet spot of accuracy and readability. 

As you can imagine, there are degrees within each of these categories. 

There is no such thing as a perfect translation! Language changes. And translating is an ever-changing challenge! It is good for the serious Bible student to own more than one for the sake of comparison (I have about 20 translations that I keep handy in my study).

For your primary Bible, I can only offer you the following advice: 

If you are quite familiar with the Bible and want to do in-depth, inductive study, a word-for-word translation is probably for you.

Recommended word-for-word translations include the English Standard Version (ESV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the New King James Version (NKJV), and the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). Of these, I prefer the ESV right now, but all of these are fantastic. The ESV is pretty new and is gaining popularity among many well-known evangelical expositors. I find myself using it in my sermons more often than not.

Others may want to buy a thought-for-thought translation. Recommended translations in this category include the New International Version (NIV), the Today's New International Version (TNIV), and the New English Translation (NET). The NIV is still hard to beat--there's a reason why it is the most popular in America. The TNIV suffered some bad PR when it first came out (due to its "gender-accurate" language), but it corrects some of the NIV's peculiarities (read more about the TNIV--see my post entitled "Question of the Week" September 26, 2007). Both are concerned with accurately translating meaning and thought flow, not just the exact words and idioms that may be difficult for today's English readers to understand. The NET is one I'm using quite a bit in personal study right now. I like it. You can read more about it (or even download it for free!)HERE

We usually do not recommend some popular old translations like the KJV and ASV because the translators did not have access to some of the best manuscripts, and the language is antiquated. We also do not recommend translations that were done by translators who did not hold a presupposition of biblical inerrancy (meaning, they were theologically liberal and assumed that the Bible was not the very Word of God) like the RSV, NRSV and Phillips. We don't usually recommend paraphrases as a primary Bible. 

What About a Study Bible?

I like the NIV (or TNIV) Study Bible, the Life Application Bible, the MacArthur Study Bible (It only comes in NKJV or NASB however), and the Ryrie Study Bible. You can get most of these for around $30 (in hardback) or pay more for a leather-bound version. Coming soon is the ESV Study Bible which really sounds like it will be good. I hope to get one when they come out in October. (Update 2009: I recently got it and it is really good! I highly recommend this study Bible!)

Remember that the people who wrote the notes at the bottom of the pages in study Bibles are NOT perfect, but these Bibles do provide many helpful tools like introduction notes, explanations for difficult passages, charts and maps, etc.

If you want to read more on English Bible translations, check out A User's Guide to Bible Translations (by English Baptist pastor David Dewey). And remember, Bible Gateway is a great resource that gives you instant access to many good translations!

There are so many great options! The most important thing is that you READ one and live in God's truth. Email me if you have a specific question and I'm glad to help (

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Dispelling The Rumors…

Prov. 16:28
"A perverse man stirs up dissension,
and a gossip separates close friends."

I hate gossip.

An amazing thing for me is how people tend to believe whatever they hear. Even more, that they pass things along—sometimes hurtful untrue things—without verification or concern for those who could be hurt. Even more amazing is the fact that some people MAKE UP hurtful untrue things and pass them along.

But it happens. A lot. What's most unbelievable? People who claim to be followers of Christ do this. A lot. I've done it too. And it is wrong.

I recently spoke with a friend who is leaving full-time ministry. This is a very talented and godly person. My friend could not take the gossip and slander that is par-for-the-course for ministry leaders anymore. "I just did not know that Christians could be so vicious," my friend said. I've known of pastors who have committed suicide because they couldn't handle the slander they received from their sheep.

Believe me, I've experienced it too. All leaders do. All pastors do. Don't worry, I'm not going to commit suicide. I've got pretty tough skin (not that it doesn't hurt--it does!). And I thank God for letting me grow up in a well-known coach's home. I watched Dad handle false rumors about him, I listened as "fans" and parents screamed curses at him, I've read sports page articles that misquoted or mistreated him, and heard many people question his motives, ethics, and integrity. I even played on his team and saw players spread conspiracy theories. I know he was hurt when these things happened. But he showed humility, wisdom, and grace when it was hard. Sometimes even to those who lied. What an example to me.

I've been the brunt of rumors. Even lately. Several people in the last few weeks have asked me if I'm leaving Providence, some said they heard I was. News to me (I'm not, by the way). Someone else said they heard that the elders were divided in our church. If they are, I don't know about it. And neither do they…I asked just to make sure! I've heard conspiracy theories about staff leaving and about people leaving that you would not believe (or maybe you would—but you shouldn't)! A recent one was about a family in our church that God has led to go be a part of the Kingston plant. The rumor was that they had left our church in anger! Again, not true. Apparently that rumor came from someone who really HAD left our church unhappy—hmmm. I could keep going, but I think you get my point.

My dad used to say that every team had what he called a "fellowship of the miserable" (hereafter "FOTM" for short). These were the guys who became embittered because they felt they should be on the starting team. They would talk about how unfair the coach was and murmur about favoritism or secret deals due to the color of a starter's skin, or because his parents were boosters, blah, blah, blah. Members of the FOTM rarely amount to anything. And they hurt their own team.

Just as gossips hurt their own church.

God has a way with gossips. They repent or he removes them. I think God has been sifting our church. This is good. I pray he will either change or filter out those who hurt the body. We have told the staff that one of the quickest ways to lose their job at our church is to engage in divisive gossip. It's like cancer—and must be removed for the sake of the body. All members have gone through 101 and have signed the membership covenant, which says it like this:

I commit myself to God and to the other members to do the following:
1. I WILL PROTECT THE UNITY OF MY CHURCH acting in love toward other members refusing to gossip following the leaders

These words from our covenant have remained unchanged from our church's very beginning.

How to dispel rumors…
When someone tells you something negative or potentially hurtful about someone else—particularly a leader in your church—how should you respond?

1. Learn to recognize gossip for what it is. Any second-hand information about someone or the church that is potentially hurtful is gossip.

2. Stop them. Tell them what your mom told you: "if you can't say something nice, don't say it at all." Your mom DID tell you that didn't she? You can do it tactfully. Like, "Why don't we talk about something else?" Usually they get the message.

3. Encourage them to go to the source and verify or correct what they heard. In most cases, they should also get permission before passing news along even if it is accurate and first hand.

4. If a person passes gossip along anyway, the GOSSIPPER is now the problem. You should immediately and lovingly ask them to repent. That's just how Jesus said to handle it when a brother or sister sins (see Matthew 18), and gossiping IS sin (see Rom. 8:29, 2Cor. 12:20, 1Tim. 5:13, and others). If they will not repent, follow the process Jesus laid out.

5. Choose not to believe gossip. Let me tell you, most of it is wrong. If you hear a lie repeated by 10 different people, it is still a lie.

6. Can't get the rumor out of your head? Think you have reason to believe it? Verify it yourself! BUT DON'T PASS IT ALONG or you will be sinning. Any of us elders are available if you have questions or concerns regarding the church. We have always been this way. You will never be considered a troublemaker for going to the source!

The Proverb is right. A person who gossips stirs up dissension and separates close friends. It is perverse. The church is more than merely a group of friends. We are a family. God inspired those words to Solomon, the leader of Israel, who had no doubt been the victim of it. His mom was Bathsheba you know!

What if you are the victim of Gossip?

In his sermon on the mount, In Matthew 5:11, Jesus said:

"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

Did he say, "rejoice"? He did. This is hard! But those who are gossiped about should remember that anyone God uses will be criticized. What's more, we are sharing in the sufferings of Christ. In Matthew 10:24-26, Jesus said,

"A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household! So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known."

The truth will one day be known. Take joy in this! Your Father in heaven knows the truth. He will repay those who slander. He is in control. Remember this. Those who gossip only hurt themselves. They reveal their own immaturity and sinfulness, and they identify themselves as a member of the FOTM. That's not where I want to be.

Go on the offensive…LOVE!

God actually wants you to love those who don't love you with their words. Read closely this great passage:

"Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Now listen to the very next verse...

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord. On the contrary:

'If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.'

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
(Romans 12:9-21)

So don't go try to chase down every false rumor. Don't think of how to repay those who spread them. Don't consider leaving your imperfect church (psst…they all are!). Don't get depressed or angry. Just love.

I need to hear this. Do you?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A Ten-Day Whirlwind!

Eleven days ago I went on a backpacking trip with my son Drew for his 14th birthday. We hiked 8+ miles, stayed the night in a cave behind Big Laurel Falls, swung on a rope into the Caney Fork river, explored the deep (and wet and cold) Sheep-Pen cave, and climbed to the top of beautiful 110-feet-high Virgin Falls. It was fantastic. Drew is a hiking/exploring/camping/caving maniac!

But the whirlwind was just cranking up.

The next day was Sunday. After services, I prepared to leave for a mission trip to the Dominican Republic early the next morning. My mission was to help lead a pastor's conference in the border city of Jimani (pronounced, him-on-EE) where God has opened a door via One Vision International to plant a church in a place where there is no evangelical church for many miles. One Vision has been given the opportunity to manage the Jimani Project, which includes building/staffing a world-class hospital (done), building a facility for an existing orphanage (under way), and planting a church in order to share the light of Christ in a stunningly beautiful, yet otherwise forgotten area of the world that is plagued with darkness (spiritual, economic, political, and social). Needless to say, the need is great. The pastor's conference was the perfect place to begin searching for a pastor for this church plant. There were several Dominican pastors and a few Haitians. The bottom line of the conference was this:

The church is the hope of the world.
The pastor is the hope of the church.
God calls the pastor to be…
• A Disciple
• A Preacher
• A Theologian
• A Shepherd
• A Leader
• An Evangelist

I won't bore you with the details. It went great. Most of these guys seemed to be doctrinally sound and godly men. There were a few who are definitely candidates for being the pastor for this church plant. I am praying for God to raise up the right man.

While in the DR, we got to go across the border to Haiti. I've been to poor areas of Africa, Brazil, Europe and other impoverished places around the world, but I have never seen squalor and oppression like this. People there sometimes boil the mud and drink the water to get nutrients. Naked kids walk among the animal and human waste. Shacks are made of sticks and mud. Voodoo is a dominant influence. Ignorance, abuse, corruption, disease, and instability are the norm. It is profoundly pitiful.

If the church is indeed the hope of the world, WE MUST BEGIN HERE WHERE HOPE IS VIRTUALLY NONEXISTENT. I am convinced that this is both an opportunity and a calling for us. Some might say this is impossible, and that the task is too great. Perhaps so. But I choose to be obedient to Christ who is Lord over all. I've heard it…I've PREACHED it: "Christ in you, the hope of Glory." "Greater is he who is in you than he that is in the world." "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." "Ask anything in his name and it will be done for you." Question is, DO I BELIEVE IT?

God has opened wide the door. I believe we should walk through it and watch him do great things.

So I got back from the Dominican Republic late Friday night and woke up at 5:30 am Saturday to go whitewater rafting on the Nantahala and to spend a couple of days with my family in North Carolina. Whew! I'm ready to hide the suitcase. I've missed my bed. I've got 600+ emails to work through. I've got to prepare to teach a class on Eschatology and have much more to do.

But I will not forget the great need and opportunity God has revealed in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

God let me see with your eyes.
Let me see the great darkness in this world.
Let me see the blessings I've been given as a responsibility.
And that I have limited time on this earth.

God, let me see with your eyes.
Let me see how you care for hurting people.
Let me see them with the same love you have for them.
And that their only hope is to know you.

God let me see with your eyes.
Let me see opportunities not obstacles.
Let me see you as the Sovereign, Eternal, Omnipotent, Loving Father you are.
And that nothing is impossible for those who respond to you.

God let me see with your eyes.
Let me see you work in us.
Let me see your people unite in faith and deed.
And a world changed by you.

Job 38:1 says "Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind." He speaks like that.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Godly Sorrow

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. (2Cor. 7:8-11)

I mowed the yard today. It's been wet for the last week so the grass had grown high. We have a big lawn and I cut it slowly with my "Forrest Gump"-style, vintage Snapper mower. This means I had lots of time to think. I have been considering the message by Melvin today about "godly sorrow." It was a subject difficult to comprehend (and, I'm sure, to communicate) in all its many nuances.

One thought in particular has been troubling me all day: Realistically, it is extremely difficult for people to lovingly confront fellow believers over their sin (as God commands and as Paul demonstrated with the Corinthian Christians) in order that God might bring them to repentance and blessing through godly sorrow. This is especially true in our culture. The truth is we simply don't confront sin in our brothers' and sisters' lives. Why is this? What must be done to change this weakness we have? What key element must be in place for God to use us so that godly sorrow can do its work to restore God's child who is in error? Being used by God in this way has become difficult for me too, and more so as I've grown older. Confrontation has not been as hard for me as I suppose it is for some, since I was raised in a family that valued calm, honest, loving confrontation. But since I've been in ministry, I've drawn back a nub so many times after offering loving reproof to a believer under my care (even when solicited by them!) that I have become a bit gun-shy. People leave the church and bad-talk you on the way out! This kind of thing happens often. It hurts. God convicted me today. I realized today that I am wrong for allowing emotional scars to form that prevent me from being God's instrument of restoration.

Just as frequently I have had people ask my advice regarding how to help a friend, family member, or fellow believer who is making poor choices. On most occasions when I encouraged them to lovingly confront the person in question as Jesus and Paul taught (Matthew 18:15-17 and Galatians 6:1-2, respectively), I either get the deer-in-the-headlights look or they will openly say that there's no way they could even consider confronting someone like that. It's simply counter-intuitive for people in our culture. How could we judge? How could we be so unkind? It's much easier to just let people live in their sin unabated.

Is it so unkind--so unloving--to confront?

I remember reading Augustine who discussed love as the key element regarding all things, but particularly with regard to chastening someone. A well-known Augustine quote is:

"Love, and do what you like."

I first heard this quoted by a liberal who was attempting to downplay the importance of obeying moral commands given in Scripture. As long as we love, the person was saying, we can do whatever we want—whether that means engaging in illicit sex, using bad language—you get the point. I privately wondered if Augustine had really said such a thing, and if so, what he really meant. Indeed I found he did say it. But the context, as is often the case, had been conveniently omitted.

Augustine's seventh homily on 1 John is where his quote is found. He is preaching on the following passage:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:7-12 NIV)

Concerning this passage Augustine wrote (in part):

A father [spanks] a boy, and a boy-stealer caresses. If you name the two things, blows and caresses, who would not choose the caresses, and decline the blows? If you mark the persons, it is love that beats, evil that caresses. See what we are insisting upon; that the deeds of men are only discerned by the root of love. For many things may be done that have a good appearance, and yet proceed not from the root of love. For thorns also have flowers: some actions truly seem rough…savage…are done for discipline at the bidding of love. Once for all, then, a short precept is given you: Love, and do what you will: if you hold your peace, through love hold your peace; if you cry out, through love cry out; if you correct, through love correct; if you spare, through love…spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.

To me that nails it. Far from the poor use of the quote as I first heard it years ago, Augustine is referring to the fact that love confronts. James Dobson said it like this: "Love must be tough." The one who truly loves never shies away from helping one's beloved be better or keeping one's beloved from harm. As a parent, I totally understand this. I don't mind being the "bad guy" when it comes to my kids regarding things like bed time, eating right, having manners, working hard, and getting along with others. I love them too much to let them develop foolish habits that could hurt them in life. It matters not whether they are hurt or not by my correction—I'm still going to discharge my duties as a parent. Sure I don't like when they are hurt or mad at me. Sometimes they don't understand. I have their best interests at heart. I love them. My love is the context and the motivation for discipline and confrontation. Augustine. No wonder Luther and Calvin loved him so. He gets it. Read the rest:

If any of you perchance wish to keep love, brethren, above all things do not imagine it to be an abject and sluggish thing; nor that love is to be preserved by a sort of gentleness, nay not gentleness, but tameness and listlessness. Not so is it preserved. Do not imagine that you…love your son when you give him not discipline, or that you then love your neighbor when you dost not rebuke him: this is not love, but mere feebleness. Let love be fervent to correct, to amend: but if there be good manners, let them delight you; if bad, let them be amended, let them be corrected. Love not in the man his error, but the man: for the man God made, the error the man himself made. Love that which God made, love not that which the man himself made. When you love that, you take away this: when you esteem that, you amend this. But even if you be severe at any time, let it be because of love, for correction.

Augustine ends the homily (sermon) with a last illustration. A dove (of which form, he reminds the readers, God sent his Holy Spirit after Jesus' baptism).

The dove has no gall: yet with beak and wings she fights for her young; hers is a fierceness without bitterness. And so does also a father; when he chastises his son, for discipline he chastises him. As I said, the kidnapper, in order that he may sell, inveigles the child with bitter endearments; a father, that he may correct, does without gall chastise. Such be ye to all men. …What father does not correct his son? What son does not his father discipline? And yet he seems to be fierce with him. It is the fierceness of love, the fierceness of charity: a sort of fierceness without gall after the manner of the dove, not of the raven. Whence it came into my mind, my brethren, to tell you, that those violaters of love are they that have made the schism: as they hate charity itself, so they hate also the dove. But the dove convicts them: it comes forth from heaven, the heavens open, and it abides on the head of the Lord.

We've got to love each other. It's the key. As a pastor, I (along with the other elders) must find more ways to promote and model loving community in our church. This is a top priority. When we truly love each other, both correcting and taking correction is much easier. We know it is for our good and the glory of God.

I feel better. And the yard is mowed.

Monday, March 31, 2008

I Needed That

Starting about 3 weeks ago when we had a pre-spring warm spell, I started looking longingly at my fishing stuff hanging in the garage. Regrettably, I have not done a lot of hunting or fishing in the last year (back surgery and busy schedule hindered these activities). So today…today I changed my schedule and determined to spend THE ENTIRE DAY TROUT FISHING. Oh, let me tell you, it was to be a wonderful day.

I woke up this morning and it was RAINING! Arrrgh! "I’m doing it anyway," I decided. I got all my rain gear and extra clothing together, packed it along with my fly fishing gear and headed down the road toward the Hiwassee river (one of my favorite places in this world). I decided to go all out, so I stopped by Bojangles for one of my favorite indulgences—a country-ham-and-egg biscuit, and discovered that I had left my wallet at home! Arrgh! I emptied out my ashtray (where I keep my loose change), paid for the food, and back-tracked home. 40 minutes after I left home the first time I’m on the rainy road again (after grabbing my spinning rod—just in case) and I realize I don’t have a current hunting/fishing license (it expired March 1)! Arrrgh! So I go to Wally World and pick one up.

"Now," I say to myself, "I’m going fishing." The rain was coming down pretty hard by then but there was no wind. "Nothing’s going to stop me." I was convincing myself that I could fly fish in the cold rain as I pulled up to the little fly-fishing store just a mile from my favorite spot where I could buy some tippet and bead-heads (fly fishing stuff). It was CLOSED! Arrrgh! I knew that the nearest place to buy tippet (which I had to have) was 45 minutes away! "Ok Lord, what’s going on?" I protested out loud. I was feeling sorry for myself. "This is crazy!" I said and got back in my truck. At this point, I decided to go back 5 miles and buy some worms and just fish with my spinning rod. It was still raining. I was not happy. I bought the worms and headed toward my spot again. About 500 yards past the fly-fishing store I was aghast to find that THE ROAD WAS CLOSED!! ARRRGH! "You’ve got to be kidding me!" I just sat there in my truck staring at the "Road Closed" sign and caution tape blocking the road. I was numb. I started to turn around and I saw a dump truck coming down the closed road.

"What’s going on?" I yelled to the driver.

"Cleaning up a little landslide," was the reply.

"When will it open back up?" I asked. I thought to myself, "I don’t even know why I asked. It’s obvious that God doesn’t want me to fish today. I’m just going to go home."

"We’re pretty much done. I guess you can come on through if you want since you’ve got a 4wd. Just be careful."

The rain stopped (literally and figuratively)! I drove the mile-or-so and saw the blessed river. There were NO other cars. "I’m the only one fishing today," I thought. I pulled up to a beautiful spot, put on my waders, vest, and gear, and got in the water. The sun came out. I put on a worm and cast it into the water. Bite. The first of MANY trout, and it was a big beautiful rainbow. The wind picked up. "It’s a good thing I brought this spinning…" I stopped in mid-thought. If I wouldn’t have left my wallet at home, I wouldn’t have picked up my spinning rod. If I wouldn’t have had all the delays, I would have fished in the rain and would’ve been soaked. I thought about all the other set-backs I had experienced. Each one had a purpose. Each one. Whoa.

"Thank you, Lord," I said out loud.

Today I caught a boat-load of fish (I’m exaggerating, but not much). I really lost count. I caught them on worms, corn, fake salmon eggs, rooster-tails, and virtually everything else I threw in the water. I fished all day and left the river when it was dark. It was a beautiful day. A little windy, but beautiful. I don’t think I’ve ever had more pure, relaxing, refreshing, contemplative, fun. Nothing was on my mind but beauty, fish, and the Creator who made it all. It was worship.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Concerning Calvin...

Ok, guess it’s time for another email and answer. Pretty regularly I get a question about how Calvinistic I am (or our church is). At risk of making everyone mad (the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debates tend to polarize Christians), below is a recent question and my answer (in part). As usual, I used a faux name for the inquirer.

-----Original Message-----
From: email address withheld
Sent: Thursday, March 20, 2008 4:31 PM
To: Ellen Bright
Subject: RE: Doctrinal statement

Ellen, thank you very much! Would you mind forwarding a question to Chad regarding 3. About Jesus Christ?

My 2 questions are these: The (Providence Church) doctrinal statement under 3, sentence 2, reads that Jesus "offered Himself as the penal substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of all people by dying on a cross"...

1. Are you saying that Jesus died for "all" elect sinners that God had predestined before the foundation of the world...or...all sinners (every single person on earth ever born, every single person who goes to heaven or to hell).

2. Do you teach that regeneration (being born again/born from above) precedes faith...or that faith precedes regeneration? Another way of saying it you teach that we are born again to be able to believe in Christ or do you teach that we believe in Christ to be able to be born again?

Thank you very much!

Very respectfully in Christ,


Hey Tom,

Ahh the ole’ debate. Fun isn’t it? Wish I had more time to engage you more completely—hope my short answer will suffice.

Solid, Bible-believing Christians can disagree about the L, and I (and perhaps even the U—as there are different definitions floating about of "Unconditional Election") of TULIP. As you saw in our doctrinal statement that Ellen sent you, we frequently quote Augustine who said that there are some matters on which we must have unity and some on which we can have liberty. We see that the finer points of Calvinism are some of those "liberty" matters. Everyone who joins our church must agree that all are born sinners and that all who receive Christ will persevere (T and P)—on these we clearly state our Calvinistic stance. On the others we allow room for different opinions.

Personally I believe (in short) that Christ’s saving work on the cross is general in potential and limited in application (applying only to those who believe—who were, of course, predestined by God—the elect, if you will.) But I believe that the intent of Christ’s death is not the main issue, but rather, what his death actually accomplished. To me the main issue of "Limited Atonement" is that Christ’s death means something different to the elect than it does to the non-elect. As John Piper wrote, "We do not deny that all men are the intended beneficiaries of the cross in some sense. 1 Timothy 4:10 says that Christ is ’the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.’ What we deny is that all men are intended as the beneficiaries of the death of Christ in the same way. All of God’s mercy toward unbelievers—from the rising sun (Matthew 5:45) to the worldwide preaching of the gospel (John 3:16)—is made possible because of the cross." Or you could say it like this: Jesus’ death accomplished much more for the elect than it did for the non-elect. Unlike some, I believe and proclaim that God loves all humanity and gave his life for the whole world, making his grace available to anyone who would believe—because that’s what the Bible teaches. Our doctrinal statement is not meant to be either a general OR limited atonement statement. And please remember: no human statement of beliefs is inerrant. This is why we say our true creed is the Bible (which is inerrant).

As to the-chicken-or-the-egg questions of which came first, faith or regeneration...if FORCED I will err on the side of God’s sovereignty. I am a Calvinist. However, I am quite comfortable with holding these "which came first" questions in tension. I am comfortable with a "neither came first" kind of answer when I consider the fact that God is unaffected by time nor is he bound by a time-line. He, while in eternal existence before the creation of time itself, both predestined and chose those who would be saved AND foreknew those who would by their own free will choose him. I see no contradiction when I consider his perfect providence and infinite wisdom. I know, I know...philosophical purists really don’t like that kind of answer. But I believe that God is far greater than what we pitiful humans can possibly comprehend intellectually. He is extra-dimensional in every way. How dare I try to make him fit in a box constructed of a man-made philosophical system? I choose (sorry) not to do that.

We have decided not to make these Calvinism/Arminianism philosophical banterings litmus tests for our church membership or Christian fellowship. 2-pointers are welcome (they must acknowledge God’s sovereignty) and 5-pointers are welcome (it mustn’t affect their commitment to evangelism). Again as Augustine said, "In some things...liberty. In all things...Charity." In my opinion it does not bring glory to God to be divisive about these non-essentials. There are hyper-Calvinists who can come off as condescending to those with whom they disagree. It’s fun stuff to talk about, it causes me to seek God’s heart in the pages of the Scriptures, but its not worth dividing over! We’ve lost people who thought I was too Arminian and some who thought I was too Calvinistic! Oh well. Spurgeon had the same problem (not that I am in any way worthy to be compared with Spurgeon!).



Sunday, February 24, 2008

How to Pray for Revival

One of the members of our prayer team emailed me renewing her commitment to pray and asking if there was anything to share with the team - thoughts about our prayer focus for spiritual awakening/revival in our area. Here was my reply (in part), in case any of you are interested

Thanks for your persistence regarding prayer for spiritual transformation (revival) in our area. I thought I might give you an update so you can pray more specifically. From my limited perspective, there are some potentially good things happening, and perhaps some not-so-good.

There are several different "cells" of pastors that are meeting around Knoxville (I am a part of one). This is an interesting thing. The pastors are from many different denominations etc. There is a history of trying to get pastors together, most efforts have had little results overall (sometimes the results have been more negative than positive) as the movements tend to lose their original purpose and can become commandeered by those with suspect agendas/beliefs. This latest effort has been initiated by some pastors who are solid and are determined to keep things focused. I like these guys, and I hope God will use these groups to break down the walls of mistrust, competitiveness, and territorialism that Knoxville pastors/churches are famous for, without degrading into a more liberal ecumenism or "feel-good" symbolism. Many of the Evangelicals in town (including me!) have been asked to be a part of efforts that left us feeling a little burned in the past. I keep hoping!

There is a Franklin Graham crusade coming to Knoxville the last week of April. It's a long story but the Day of Prayer folks in Knoxville had no choice but to move their date from the date the rest of the nation observes (May 1) to keep the events from conflicting. It will now be a week earlier (April 24) and they are trying to put a good face on things by saying that the Day of Prayer is "kicking off" the Graham Festival (even though the Graham folks aren't officially helping the Day of Prayer effort). I think both events could be hurt. It's got some leaders around town a little miffed. I hope both events go well. Stats show that large-event evangelism is no longer as effective, and can even have long-term detrimental effects with unchurched people in general. There is also a terrible rate of spiritual recidivism (people who evidently make insincere commitments to follow Christ and show little life-change later). Don't get me wrong. I love Billy, Franklin, and all the Grahams! I'm praying for many thousands to be saved! And we will announce the Graham Festival and encourage people in our church to go. Just trying to sense God's leading about what to do beyond this. They really ask for a lot of investment (time, volunteers, training, resources) that I'm not totally convinced is worth the probable results. I hope that does not sound pessimistic, we're seeking God's desire for our church's level of involvement. Pray for us in this, and pray that God will bring things together for his glory.

I've told you about our group of cooperating churches called the Link (we have a website now: This fellowship of churches are mostly church plants and are committed to working together for area transformation. The marriage conference is our first cooperative event ( We are making plans to cooperate to begin a stand-alone counseling ministry. This group of Churches is growing both in number and focus. We are currently defining our group and what it means to be a part. We have begun the process of planting churches together! It will take more than one church to see revival in our area—and church planting is a critical part. Pray that this group will continue to grow closer and will be used by God to bring a new spirit of cooperation to our area, and that Bible-believing, culture-engaging churches will take the initiative and lead Christians and churches in our area toward spiritual transformation. I am optimistic! Please pray.

I'm still working with several pastors to bring a seminary to Knoxville to train future pastors, planters, and other leaders. This, I believe, is a big part of sustained spiritual transformation taking place. Getting all these guys together for one meeting is proving difficult, but we will are scheduled to meet on March 18. Pray that the meeting will go well, and that God will bring a seminary to Knoxville.

As things are developing, I think sweeping, sustained, spiritual transformation requires 5 key essentials:
1. An awakening of prayer from God's people
2. A concerted cooperation of many Bible-believing, culture-engaging churches and pastors.
3. Opening an accredited seminary in our city that can serve as a pastor/planter/leader training factory, keeping the best and brightest ministers-to-be here (instead of them having to move far away to go to seminary), and serving as a "resource center" for churches and Christians in our area.
4. Aggressive planting of many new Bible-believing, evangelistic churches.
5. God must supernaturally move in the hearts of people, drawing them to himself. This is, of course, the most important essential (which underscores the importance of 1).

As one who has been praying for and working toward an unusual movement of God in East Tennessee, these are at the top of my list. Thanks for praying with me. Feel free to pass this along. I'm so thankful that God has stirred your heart to pray.

One more thing to pray about. Because she was entering an extremely busy season in her life, our prayer team coordinator has stepped away. Our church desperately needs someone who senses God leading them to head-up this critical ministry. We do not pray as we should. Satan loves this fact. Without constant acknowledgement of God's sovereign control, and persistent petition for his protection, guidance, wisdom, power and supply, we are foolishly attempting to operate on our own power. Please pray that someone will feel led to lead our prayer ministry. We desperately need to move forward in this regard. I am praying for someone (or more than one) who will boldly work to keep prayer on the front burner for our church—motivating, organizing, communicating, and creatively engaging people for prayer. Is there anything more important?

I was really blessed to get to know Lewis Drummond, the president of Southeastern Seminary who was a vocal proponent for spiritual awakening. He was writing a book about Charles Spurgeon while I was in seminary (a great book, by the way). He told a story about how Spurgeon liked to give occasional tours to people who would visit the beautiful new Metropolitan Tabernacle where he served as pastor. He would tell the visitors that they must see the power room of the great church, and lead them down to the basement to a room where there were people on their knees in prayer. "Here is the power room of our church," he would say to the guests.

We've should pray if we want to see God work among us and in our city. We must dedicate ourselves to this purpose. That's why I'm praying for someone who will consider it their mission to pray and encourage others in our church to do the same.
Sounds kind of ironic doesn't it?—praying for God to raise up someone to remind his people to pray so that we can plead with him to do great things—but I'm doing just that! It is that important!

I heard Tom Nelson say, "Prayer doesn't just bring revival, prayer IS revival!" But God's people seldom pray. Why is it so hard? I am guilty in this regard.

O God,
Send sweeping, sustained, spiritual transformation.
And let it begin with me.