Archive for July, 2009

Ordering a Pizza in 2015

July 29, 2009

If we continue our full-throttle race toward total government control of our lives, this may be what ordering a pizza is like in the year 2015:

http://aclu.org/pizza/images/screen.swf

Make sure your volume is on.

Thank You, Corn Creek Baptist Church

July 20, 2009

Yesterday, standing in the pulpit at Corn Creek Baptist Church, the place where I have stood and preached hundreds of times, I gave one final sermon to the congregation that I have served since late 2003.  Taking Romans 5:6-11 as my text, I proclaimed the love of God for the ungodly revealed in the cross.  After that we shared communion together, had a traditional Baptist potluck, and then said our goodbyes.  My ministry there is now finished.

I thank God for Corn Creek Baptist Church: for its history, its heritage, and most of all, its people.  When I first came to the church as a young seminarian, I felt a bit like I was out of my element.  I’m not the kind of person you would typically associate with a tiny, rural congregation in the middle of nowhere in northern Kentucky.  But early on I convinced myself that I could love these people because God loved them.  And I convinced myself that I could love this place because God had sanctified it to his name.  And through the years, through the experiences, through the ups and downs, through the frustrations and triumphs, I have grown to love this church as I have loved no other church in my life.

Pastoral ministry has made me a better person.  It has humbled me.  It has made me more dependent on God.  It has caused me to love the gospel more.  It has forced me to see the ubiquity of grace in this world.  It has shown me the beauty of the “little places” that I previously ignored.  It has brought me face-to-face with death and with the process of dying.  It has taught me more of what it means to love others.  I will be forever grateful to God that I had the opportunity to become who I am today in large part because a small church in northern Kentucky decided to open itself up to a young seminarian. 

Yesterday after church I came home and mowed my lawn.  Ministry and mowing will always be linked together in my mind because of an illustration that Albert Mohler once gave at a preaching conference that I attended.  He said that when you mow a lawn, you can look at the finished product and enjoy your accomplishment.  But ministry is different.  When you serve a church, you never reach the point where you can sit back and say, “Now, look at that.  Everything has been accomplished.  My work is done.”

After mowing the lawn yesterday, I felt the satisfaction of an accomplished task.  And then I couldn’t help but notice the irony.  Only a few hours before concluding a finished task in my yard, I had concluded an unifinished task in Trimble County, Kentucky.  I had ended my part of the work at a church where the work will continue to go on, day-by-day, year-by-year, until Jesus comes to make his bride spotless.  I don’t have a finished product to show for the last six years.  Nor do I have, at present, a report card from Heaven telling me how I did.  I must go on now, leaving that matter to the day when the fire will test each man’s work.

So thank you, Corn Creek Baptist Church.  One day, sooner than we know, we will all be together again.  And this time it will be forever.

N.T. Wright on Homosexuality and Justice, with an Extra Thought about Economics Thrown in for Free

July 15, 2009

I once saw a video clip of N.T. Wright discussing why he has never (to this point) written a book on homosexuality.  He said, basically, that such a project would be so demanding that he has not yet had the opportunity to put the necessary time and energy into it.  I hope the Lord grants him the time, energy, and motivation to write that book.  I have little doubt that it would become the definitive work on the subject. 

Read his recent article on the Episcopal Church’s defiance of the Anglican Communion on this issue in the Times Online.  Note this particular argument:

The appeal to justice as a way of cutting the ethical knot in favour of including active homosexuals in Christian ministry simply begs the question. Nobody has a right to be ordained: it is always a gift of sheer and unmerited grace. The appeal also seriously misrepresents the notion of justice itself, not just in the Christian tradition of Augustine, Aquinas and others, but in the wider philosophical discussion from Aristotle to John Rawls. Justice never means “treating everybody the same way”, but “treating people appropriately”, which involves making distinctions between different people and situations. Justice has never meant “the right to give active expression to any and every sexual desire”.

I contend that this argument has ramifications for more than just sexual “orientation” and behavior.  Take economics, for example.  The theory of economic justice that dominates the corridors and offices of the building at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue right now is a theory that involves the redistribution of wealth for the purpose of equalizing, in some measure, economic outcomes.  I think this is the economic version of “treating everyone the same,” that is, seeking equity in the distribution of wealth.  Of course, this is really anything but treating everyone the same, because it actually involves taking money from one group and giving it to another. 

But true economic justice is not equality of outcomes for all.  It is, rather, appropriate outcomes for all.  If the equality of outcomes is assured, then our own behavior means nothing.  Achievement is ruled out from the start, as is failure.  Those who innovate, risk, and pour their energy into economic achievement are in no way distinguished from those who put forth no effort.  The redistribution of wealth is the economic equivalent of a criminal justice system that ignores behavior and claims that all people have an inalienable right to freedom.  In other words, it represents the abolishment of justice.

A Tribute to John Calvin

July 10, 2009

John Calvin was born on July 10th, 1509, exactly five-hundred years ago today.  I thought about writing a personal word of tribute expressing my deep appreciation for the influence his work has wielded over the church, over the world, and over myself, but I have found that I cannot say anything better than Kevin DeYoung has already said it.  Here’s a brief excerpt before you go to his page to read it all (I have made one slight alteration to smooth out a typo):

Strive for relevance in your day, and you may make a difference for a few years. Anchor yourself in what is eternal and you may influence the world for another five centuries.

With empty fads and cultural accomodation rampant in our churches today, we could really use a message like that.

The Danger of Money

July 8, 2009

I have been thinking about money a bit lately, mainly because I don’t have much of it.  It’s funny how that works.  You tend to think that wealthy people are the ones who value money the most, but don’t underestimate the power that money holds over the middle and lower classes.  The guy who just won the lottery may dream about the possibilities that have been opened to him, but the guy who is living paycheck to paycheck may have nightmares about the possibilities that could be foreclosed on him.  And in their waking hours both men may focus on money most of the time: the one because he has so much, and the other because he has so little and wants more.

By God’s grace, we just came to the end of a home-buying process that began in March.  It ended happily for us.  We now own a home in Jackson, Tennessee (so if you’re wondering where our money went, most of it is invested in the house now).  For the first time in our lives, we own this little piece of the American dream.  And if I could go back, I would hope that I could have handled the whole process better.

Given the way the housing market has gone, credit has tightened up and lenders are becoming much more careful in the loan approval process.  The particular lender we were working with (a large company that specializes in mortgages) did not provide us with good customer service.  They were slow.  They were tedious.  They asked us for document after document and signature after signature.  They had to verify everything three or four different ways.  They forced us to push back our closing date two times, each time leaving us wondering if the seller (who had already been very patient with us) would finally decide to back out and look for another deal.  Because of our mortgage company, a process that began in March could not come to completion until June 30th.

That is a long time to live in limbo.  The house we are now renting in Louisville must be vacated by July 31st, and in any case all this time we have been planning our move for July 24th.  If the deal on this house had fallen through, we would have been left with very little time to find alternative living arrangements.  Numerous scenarios crossed my mind about what could happen to my family.  As a man, a husband, and a father, it is a hard to live in limbo.  You want to be able to point to the roof that will shelter your wife and children, the roof that you have provided for them, and when you can’t do that a sense of failure begins to well up inside you.

Living in limbo took its toll.  I allowed stress to get the better of me.  I found it hard to focus on anything else but the mortgage.  My prayer life took a hit.  My temper flared up on occasion.  I spent hours researching this mortgage company on the internet and agonizing over whether I should pull out and try my luck with another lender (but in the process risking an even lengthier process).  For a while there, I felt like I just wasn’t myself (or, perhaps I was more myself than I realize; sometimes external factors peel away layers of sin that we have never noticed before).

Toward the end, I think I reached a period of greater calm.  On the one hand, that may have been because we were getting some signals that we were near the end.  On the other hand, it may have been because I realized how much I had let earthly, temporal matters like money and the possibilities it offered to us (a new home) dominate my horizons.  I needed to be reminded of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31:

This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short.  From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as if they had no dealings with it.  For the present form of this world is passing away.

Obviously, Paul is not advocating a retreat from the world and its institutions.  He does not want us all to withdraw into convents and monasteries and other secluded, celibate communities.  He assumes that we will continue to be married.  We will continue to live in this world, do business in the world, buy, sell, apply for loans, etc.  But he calls us to do it with one thing in mind: the fact that this present world is already in process of passing away.  The resurrection of Christ marks the beginning of the end of this present age.  We cannot withdraw from a world destined to pass away, but we can relativize its importance in our own minds by a greater focus on the world to come.

When I allow things like difficult loan approval processes to get the better of me and overwhelm me with stress, I am communicating something that I don’t want to communicate.  I am saying that my hope is so bound up with the money that this lender can give me that, if I don’t get it, I will be undone.  How sad is that?  It is completely the opposite of Paul’s eschatological perspective outlined in 1 Corinthians 7.  If, on the other hand, I can take mortgage difficulties in stride and show an unshakable joy in Christ and in the inheritance I have in him, I can show the world something of how precious and wonderful he really is.  Just as faithful martyrs demonstrate that the steadfast love of the Lord is better than life, I recently had an opportunity to demonstrate that the steadfast love of the Lord is better than credit, better than houses, better than the American dream.  I don’t think I seized that opportunity.

I am so thankful that we have the house now.  God has truly blessed us.  But I am even more thankful that here, at the end of this process, my excitement about being a homeowner is a little more chastened. And that’s how it should be.

Three Cheers for a Free Press!

July 2, 2009

Bravo to the two reporters who confronted White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs over the Obama administration’s screening policy for town hall meetings, which basically amounts to an attempt to control the press (see video here).  You can see Gibbs squirming for four minutes, trying to use humor to duck out of this line of questioning, but to no avail.  He never offers a response that directly addresses the main point of the reporters’ questions: the fact that the administration decides which town hall questions are permissible and which ones are not.  Regardless of what the questions may ultimately be, the basic principle of preselected questions is, well, a bit questionable itself.   

The press has been the unofficial sponsor of the Obama campaign and presidency for a couple of years now.  But when Obama tries to control them (like he is controlling everything else in this country), it is refreshing to see at least some journalists calling him on it.  Is it possible that the press may one day revolt against the president that they virtually created?  Are journalists more committed to the ideal of a free press than they are to Obama?