Friday, November 30, 2007

The Week-est Link, Nov. 30: The Greatest Band You Know Nothing About

1. As has been happening, there is only one link this week. It is to my new favorite band: Explosions in the Sky. For those who have not heard of EitS, it is a rock band with some very significant twists: 1) it does not have a singer (ever), 2) it plays a style that could best be described "cinematic rock," and 3) it makes some of the most thoughtful, beautiful music you will ever hear. I'm not a big rock guy, so that last statement represents me going toward the end of a limb.

Here are some great videos to watch (sound quality not great, but will give you a taste):

If you don't like rock, or you're not really much into contemporary music, don't write me off from the start. EitS plays long, melodic, haunting, intro-build-climax-soften-build again-peak again kind of music. The band dresses and talks like a normal hip rock group, but their music is nothing like much of the "radio rock" that you hear. It is music that asks the great questions of life, that probes the deepest, darkest areas of life. I get the impression that many people listen to this band expecting some kind of mindless punk/thrash music. What they get instead is a look into the higher things, the things most do not speak of, the things of the soul.

If I could have one group write the soundtrack music for my life (there is no danger of that happening, don't worry), this would be the group. Music is a funny thing for many people. Many of us (myself included) confine ourselves to our narrow little interest group and never discover the beauties of common grace that are all around us. Well, I encourage you to discover Explosions in the Sky--innovative, unusual, haunting, beautiful.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

To Pray Rather Than Talk

If you are like me, you too often do the reverse.

I find this true especially when I'm stressed, uncertain, unhappy or in some other emotional state that involves unrest. At the same time, though, I also find myself more in the mood to talk with friends when I'm very happy than to pray in thankfulness to God. So when I'm at either end of the emotional spectrum, I'm more likely to incline towards communication with people than communication with the divine.

There is nothing wrong with talking to friends and family about our lives. We should do so. We should do so often, I think. But we ought to check our hearts at times on this matter. Sometimes, I'll be walking home from work, and I'll think about who I could call on the phone and talk to at that moment. Well, there may well be someone who needs an encouraging word or a friendly conversation at that moment. I am disturbed, however, by my hasty inclination to talk with friends or family rather than to pray to God. I want to have a heart that instinctively prays, not one that grudgingly prays. I want to redeem the time, not spend it for the sake of spending it. When I am faced with difficulty and trial, I want to go first to God and to lay out my concerns and needs before Him. When I am happy, I want to burst out in spontaneous thanksgiving to God rather than to call my friends. In short, I want God to have the priority in my communicative life.

There are times when we will need to go to others in an intensive way, but it is best for us all, whatever our stage or situation of life, to develop an instinctive prayer life that gives God communicative priority. We should lean on one another and celebrate together and mourn together and everything else in between. But we should first and foremost be people who pray to God, who see ten or fifteen or five or two minutes as an opportunity to, wherever we are, get away to God. When our hearts are troubled, we should not call everyone in our phone book and blather away. We should lean on our families, but not so that we crush them with our burdens. It is difficult to find this balance, and easy answers will evade us, but we have all our lives to handle this tension. May we find many moments in days to come to speak with God, to lean on Him first, and to pray rather than talk.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Message of James: The Commentaries to Buy

One more day on James stuff, but this day doesn't deal with the text. At least not directly. I want to suggest a few commentaries that preachers, seminarians, or interested laypeople should take note of and, in my opinion, consider buying as an investment in their biblical study.

Here are four.
  • Moo, Douglas. The Letter of James. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.
  • Hartin, Patrick. James. Sacra Pagina. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2003.
  • Laws, Sophie. Epistle of James. Black’s New Testament commentaries. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993.
  • Davids, Peter. James. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993.
Let me attempt to shed some light on these commentaries. If you're buying only one, I recommend Doug Moo's. It is the most solidly evangelical and faithful to a conservative hermeneutic. Moo references the Greek text but in a way that non-Greek readers could follow with profit. He is a keen exegete and possesses a good idea for thematic composition. Patrick Hartin is a Catholic scholar. His inclusion on my list might surprise you, but he is a very sound interpreter of the Bible. If you can dismiss some of the liberal trappings of his work, then you will benefit from his surprisingly straightforward interpretation of the text. He interacts nicely with the Greek, so if that's your bag, you'll benefit. Sophie Laws I know very little about, but I found her commentary insightful. She was one of the few I read who picked up a theme similar to mine. Peter Davids is also basically unknown to me, though his work is critical and helpful. Together, these four commentaries would provide the preacher of James with a very solid base from which to cull insights and weigh ideas.

As I noted above, if you're buying only one, buy Moo's; if you're buying two, get Hartin's. Ralph Martin also has a solid commentary. There you go--that's a start toward figuring out this fun and potent little letter.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

The Argument of James: Uncovering and Recovering the Double-Minded Man, Pt. 2

Here's the conclusion of this series. I'm not switching to extra-long posts, though I am attempting to make the case that the letter of James is fundamentally about uncovering and recovering the double-minded man. Congrats to Al, who read the previous piece all the way through. If someone else out there did as well, feel free to leave me a comment--what do you think of this thesis? Oh, and if you read nothing else, read the conclusion.

3:14-16 The Double-Minded Man Is Externally Godly But Inwardly Corrupt

In this passage, James implicitly indicts the double-minded man by claiming that he is “false to the truth.” In order to be false to the truth, one must claim to be of the truth, and thus the double-minded man claims to be of the truth. In practice, though, his life is motivated by bitter, prideful, self-interest.[1] Though he is called to be humble and gracious to others, and to put them first, he is primarily and dominantly self-interested. The result is “disorder.”[2] Martin contends that “This characterization points to persons who are “double-minded” and double-tongued. The result is “anarchy.”[3] When members of the Christian community put themselves first while remaining in it, they will create disorder, as their motives will clash with the motives of true Christians, and cause the church to be at cross-purposes. Thus we see that James highlights the destructive nature of double-mindedness. As noted above, this way of life does not merely affect the soul of the one who adopts it. It affects the entire community and poisons true ekklesia. The true Christian is the one who operates out of care for others and creates harmony and love; the divided man operates out of care for self and creates disharmony and hurt.

4:4 The Double-Minded Man Is a Friend of the World and an Enemy of God

Previous to this verse, James has sketched out a problem in the churches to which he writes: they are quarrelsome and self-interested. In living this selfish lifestyle, James says here that they have entered into “friendship with the world.” James is not teaching that these people have entered into actual friendships with lost people—though they may have done so—but is teaching that their principles are so worldly as to bring these double-minded people into close relationship with the spiritual realm of unbelief. This makes these people “adulteresses,” which implies that they do claim allegiance with God.[4] Dibelius points out the nature of this inconsistency, writing simply that “Love for God and love for the world are mutually exclusive.”[5] Rhoads concurs: “If God’s people become stained by the world and then are boastful and arrogant about it, they are confirmed an enemy of God.”[6] These commentators capture the increasingly sharp tone of James’s rhetoric. The double-minded are not merely doubters—they are God’s very enemies. God loves the true Christian, who lives for others and brings peace, not division, to the body. But He despises the double-minded man, the one whose love for the world and love for self so overwhelms his professed faith commitment that, in the end, his faith is not merely empty but is actually love masquerading as hate.[7]

5:12 The Double-Minded Man Speaks Duplicitously

In 5:12 James picks up a previous theme related to the double-minded man, namely, that this person possesses a word, meaning a way of speaking, that does not necessarily correlate with the truth. To put it simply, the divided man often says nai, “yes,” when he means ou', “no.” He is of two minds, after all, and thus his speech reflects two minds. He has some measure of devotion to things of God, and some measure of devotion to things of the world. This dichotomous mindset results in speech that is anything but clear and trustworthy. We may infer here from previous texts that the bipolar nature of the divided man’s speech is likely due to a strong impulse toward self-perpetuation. To put it plainly, the double-minded cares for himself, and thus says whatever is most helpful for him at any given moment and in any given situation. In a contemporary culture that almost prides itself on being duplicitous (see the celebration of the “little white lie,” for example), the power of this verse may initially be diminished. But this is a high-voltage passage. The one who speaks duplicitously will “fall under condemnation,” following C. Freeman Sleeper’s translation.[8] The divided person will suffer a great price—the greatest price—for his duplicity.[9] Those who say yes when they mean no, and vice versa, will be damned for all eternity because of their sin.[10] One’s speech is no small matter. Indeed, it reveals the deepest issues of the heart. The true Christian says what he means, and intends to bless those around him by clear, trustworthy communication. The divided man says whatever serves him best, and will meet a fearsome end.

4:8 and 5:19-20 The Salvation of the Double-Minded Man

In these last two passages, James offers hope for the double-minded. In 4:8 he refers explicitly to these people and calls them to salvation—“purify your hearts.” This text represents James’s direct address to the double-minded of the congregation to be saved. This is a direct appeal to the people whom James has addressed repeatedly in this book. In 5:19-20, James does not use the term dipsuchos but is, one could argue, concluding his book by calling not to the double-minded themselves but to their peers to rescue the lost in their churches. James in effect calls the Christians among his hearers to evangelize those in their community who give evidence of double-mindedness. Luke Timothy Johnson captures this reality when he writes that the Christians who encounter James’s message “are to be a community of mutual correction, turning those who err back to the right path (5:19-20), in effect doing for each other what James in his letter has tried to do for them.”[11]
It is the present author’s contention that this understanding of 5:19-20 makes much better sense of this passage than does a reading of the text that is not driven by the supposition that James’s letter is addressed to the divided person. If the letter of James is indeed driven by James’s concern for the double-minded man, then this closing passage caps off his discussion perfectly. He has excoriated the sin of the man of the two minds, he has warned him, he has told him directly that he is hell-bound, and now he calls for his congregational peers to evangelize and save them. This understanding of 5:19-20 fits perfectly with the text’s language. The divided man, we have already established, has some connection to truth. He even believes himself to be a Christian. However, he is clearly one who “wanders from the truth.” This is the very definition of the spiritual state of the double-minded man.[12] He stands near the truth, but he wanders from it.[13] As a result, he is altogether lost. The man of two minds is, in the end, a man of one mind.[14] Tragically, this mind is devoted to sin and self, and will reap the awful results of this devotion for all eternity.


The book of James is a misunderstood text. The majority of commentators miss its true focus, instead construing the thematic principle of the text in the most basic of terms. Failing to see the common threads of the argument introduced in 1:6-8, they conclude that the book is a basic call to obedience. It is the contention of this author that James is not a book without a theme, or a book merely about one of the most basic themes of the Christian faith—the need for obedience to God and love for Christians. No, the book of James puts forth a much more significant argument than this. It is a book with a powerful, textured, multi-faceted message to the double-minded person who professes faith in Christ. In his letter, James seeks to uncover the true spiritual condition of this man, and he seeks to recover him, to see him saved. This is the message of James, and this must be the message of our churches, as we call both the pagan and the nominal Christian to find salvation in the gospel of Christ, the truth the triumphs over all foes and that brings rest and unity to divided minds.

Footnotes (for the truly dedicated)

[1] Manton summarizes the passage helpfully: “James proves that such devilish wisdom as serves envy and selfish ambition cannot be good wisdom, for it brings about quite contrary effects—the one for holiness and meekness, the other for confusion and profanity.” Manton, James, 208.

[2] Timothy and Barbara Friberg offers three different types of disorder which this word can signify: political unrest, social unrest, and community disruption. Friberg, The Analytical Greek New Testament, Version Two [CD-ROM] (Cedar Rapids, IA: Parsons Technology, 1998), 862. The third seems the most appropriate definition in this context.

[3] Martin, James, 132. Also Moo, The Letter of James, 174.

[4] Barclay Newman defines the word as “unfaithful,” underscoring the relational nature of this adjective. Newman, A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament [CD-ROM] (New York: United Bible Societies, 1993), entry 4080.

[5] Dibelius, A Commentary on the Epistle of James, 220.

[6] Rhoads, “The Letter of James: Friend of God,” 483.

[7] J. W. Roberts captures this point when he opines that “A pleasure-loving, covetous, worldly Christian is a contradiction. Demas was in love with this present world and left Paul (2 Tim. 4:10).” Roberts, The Letter of James (Austin, TX: Sweet Publishing Company), 128.

[8] C. Freeman Sleeper, James, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries (Nashville: Abingdon, 1998), 139.

[9] Past commentators have focused too much in their interpretation of this passage on the meaning of the oaths that are sworn. James may well have a formal oath in mind here, but this is not the most important aspect of this passage. The most important facet is the fact that this verse speaks to the behavior of the man of two minds.

[10] Hartin, James, 262.

[11] Luke Timothy Johnson, “An Introduction to the Letter of James,” Review & Expositor 97.2 (2000): 165.

[12] Davids, James, 167.

[13] Moo thoughtfully notes that “to allow “the world” to entice us away from total, single-minded allegiance to God is to become people who are divided in loyalties, “double-minded” and spiritually unstable.” Moo, The Letter of James,194.

[14] Mayor, The Epistle of St. James, 146.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

The Argument of James: Uncovering and Recovering the Double-Minded Man, Pt. 1

Since I posted on my James paper this week, I've had so many emails come in requesting the paper that I decided to post the textual part of it on this blog so that all can read it. Note that the following texts reflect the key theme of James, being the uncovering and recovering of the double-minded man, and that this is in no way an exhaustive summary of relevant texts but is merely a quick walkthrough of several key passages that relate to the suggested theme. Part 2 will be posted on Monday.

1:6-8 Portrait of the Double-Minded Man

In this section James introduces the concept of the double-minded man. In arguing that this passage forms the thematic basis for all that follows, we note that James apparently coined the Greek term dipsuchos (“double-minded man”).[1] His original thesis thus rests on an original term.[2] The fundamental characteristic of the double-minded man is that he is has his mind focused on two completely opposite realms. On one hand, he has some measure of faith in God and thus wishes to ask Him for things. On the other, he struggles with severe doubt of God and likely trusts himself more than a god who seems not to answer him. The result of this dichotomous thinking is that the double-minded man is “unstable,” in everything that he does.[3] In the passages to come, we will see that this introductory portrait does indeed describe the person James is targeting, as he is fundamentally characterized by a lifestyle that exists in tension between God-driven obedience and self-centered disobedience.

1:22-24 The Double-Minded Man Hears But Does Not Do

One of James’s central concerns is that his hearers would not only physically hear the word but that they would translate it into action. Not surprisingly, the double-minded man is the very antithesis of such desired behavior. The man of two interests is likened here to one who cannot focus long enough to even remember what he looks like. James’s tone here is clearly negative, and he views such mental flightiness with disdain. His focus here is on the immediacy of the double-minded man’s forgetfulness. He focuses on this immediacy by using the aorist tense first and then following it with a perfect tense, which according to Alexander Ross reveals both “the suddenness of the action and the permanence of the result.”[4] James’s frustration is built on past experience. The first and third aorists are both gnomic and thus convey not a one-time event but a timeless truth.[5] This condition of double-mindedness, characterized here by forgetfulness of the preached word, is no passing trend but has been a problem since faith was required of man.[6] The true Christian hears and does; the divided man hears and forgets.

1:26 The Double-Minded Man Is Religious But Not Godly

James returns again to the divided man in 1:26. Here he examines personal spiritual division through the standpoint of the tongue. James’s denunciations of the divided man grow increasingly specific as the letter progresses. The problem with such a person here is that he professes to be a godly person but takes no practical action toward that end. The end result is that he tricks himself. We should thus understand the divided man to be unconscious of his dangerous state. James teaches us that the man of two minds thinks that all is well and that he is religious. What he cannot see, though, is that his faith, his religion, is “worthless.”[7] Laws notes that this “adjective [was] often applied to pagan religion…which may give an extra pejorative thrust to James’s condemnation.”[8] Not only is the divided man’s “faith” nonexistent, it is inherently ungodly, and no better than pagan belief. If this is true, this is a strong condemnation indeed of the divided person, who fancies himself a Christian but is in reality a godless pagan.[9] It is as if God-glorifying religion had never entered his mind. Thus we see that the true Christian bridles his tongue and lives for God, while the double-minded man speaks freely and lives in deception.[10]

2:1-4 The Double-Minded Man Claims Impartiality But is Biased

This is a bone-chilling section, if one reads it carefully and from the standpoint that James’s burden is to expose the double-minded man in the midst of a congregation of true believers. We say this because the double-minded man does not merely affect himself for ill, but he spreads his poison among the church members. Here, James points out this dimension of double-mindedness in relation to partiality. James implicitly teaches that the true believer is impartial and peace-oriented in the congregation, while the divided man is partial and conflict-ridden. The divided man here is not explicitly spoken of, of course, but he is pictured through this disturbing scene. The facet of double-mindedness that James is pointing out is that it professes to hold faith in the barrier-shattering faith of Christ, but that it actually operates according to worldly standards of wealth and power. James says to the divided persons that they are “judging” and are controlled by “evil thoughts.” Hartin observes that diekrithete “refers to being divided within oneself and also “contains the concept of actively making distinctions among people and discriminating against others.”[11] The double-minded man, then, is one who, despite being a part of a community that exalts impartiality and embraces all, actively promotes discrimination in the church.[12] The true Christian acts in the same kind way towards all men; the divided man treats the rich with kindness and the poor with contempt.

2:14-17 The Double-Minded Man Claims Faith But Has No Works

The double-minded man is discussed in this section, though he is not named. Again, it is the present author’s contention that James has the divided man constantly in the front of his mind as he writes this letter, and thus there are numerous sections that illustrate spiritual division even if they do not make use of the term dipsuchos. Here double-mindedness shows itself in a faith that is alone and that has no works to buttress and prove it. The test is not impartiality, though it is related to it, but generosity. The double-minded man says that he loves those he claims as brothers and sisters, but when it comes time to demonstrate that generosity, his faith shows itself to be “by itself.”[13] Mayor concurs and notes that the “absence of fruit shows that it is not merely outwardly inoperative but inwardly dead.”[14] This is the correct meaning of this phrase—it is not that James is in fact suggesting that compartmentalization of faith and works is possible, but rather that faith without works is no faith at all.[15] This is the state of the divided man. The true Christian both believes and acts generously toward others based on his belief; the double-minded man produces no practical evidence for his faith, even while surrounded—and even approached—by the needy.

3:8-9 The Double-Minded Man Blesses God But Curses Man

James offers his strongest attack on the double-minded man in these two terse verses. The dipsuchos is not mentioned, but his fundamental mindset is described. Possessing a tongue that, like his heart, is not truly redeemed, he simultaneously blesses God and curses man. This is not the mild problem we might initially think it to be in a quick skim of chapter three. Unlike our irreverent society, in which even many Christians take the Lord’s name in vain, in the Christian community of James’s day, blessing God was a serious matter indeed. Hartin notes that “To bless and praise God is the most important prayer one can make in the Jewish and Christian traditions,” and it is also quite possible that James is referring to an actual liturgical blessing of God in the synagogue.[16] If so, this blessing would have been a public declaration, an act that would have made a private cursing of fellow men all the worse by its hypocritical nature. The double-minded man of James’s conception is not only forgetful, partial, and greedy, but he is deeply hypocritical. A major test as to whether one is double-minded, then, is whether one is publicly godly—all smiles and amens on Sunday morning—and privately wicked, such that one curses one’s fellow man and savages those whom he does not like. The true Christian blesses both God and man, not only in word but in motive; the double-minded man blessed God and curses man, and shows the true nature of his heart.


[1] Joseph Thayer rightly indicates that the word has a different meaning here—“wavering”—than in 4:8, where it means “of two minds.” Thayer, Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament [CD-ROM] (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1997), entry 1450.

[2] Though Marie Isaacs helpfully points out that James’s concept of double-mindedness “echoes Jewish tradition in which “doubleness” was thought to be the very essence of sin.” Isaacs, “Suffering in the Lives of Christians: James 1:2-19A,” Review & Expositor 97.2 (2000): 187. See also Peter Davids, James, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 74. Virgil Porter, Jr. points out the connection to Christ’s teaching: “This concept of double-mindedness relates directly to Jesus’ words about being divided between two masters (Matt. 6:24).” Virgil Porter, Jr., “The Sermon on the Mount in the Book of James, Part 1,” Bibliotheca Sacra 162.647 (2005): 360. Thus we see that there is a rich background to this initial concept and statement by James.

[3] Moo nicely summarizes the point being made in this section: “It is what we might call “spiritual schizophrenia” that James criticizes in these verses explicitly and implicitly throughout his letter: a basic division in the soul that leads to thinking, speaking, and acting that contradicts one’s claim to belong to God.” The Letter of James, 63.

[4] Ross, The Epistles of James and John, 40.

[5] Following Hartin, James, 99 and Dibelius, A Commentary on the Epistle of James, 115.

[6] Thomas Manton pointed out long ago that “Many go from sermon to sermon and hear much, but do not digest it in their thoughts.” Manton, James, The Crossway Classic Commentaries (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1995), 98. This is clearly true of the divided man.

[7] Or “futile.” J. P. Louw and E. A. Nida, Louw-Nida Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, (United Bible Societies [CD-ROM] 2003), entry 4124, 65.37.

[8] Laws, Epistle of James, 88.

[9] Davids gets to the heart of the matter when he notes that “Religion which does not have ethical results, particularly in this case control of the tongue, is totally useless before God: such faith is God, not salvific, as James will say later (2:20, 26).” Davids, James, 102. See also Virgil Porter, Jr., “The Sermon on the Mount in the Book of James, Part 2,” Bibliotheca Sacra 162.648 (2005): 480.

[10] Hartin, James,110.

[11] Hartin, James,118.

[12] Martin concludes along similar lines. “It may well be that James is tracing the sinful behavior described in vv 2-3 back to its source, namely a divided mind. The double-minded (1:8; 4:8) Christian is the one who fails to love and obey God wholeheartedly.” Martin, James, 63.

[13] Davids, 122.

[14] Mayor, James, 99, and Doerksen, who says sternly that “A compassion that consists only of words is sheer mockery.” Doerksen, James, 66.

[15] Stulac, James,109. Addison Eastman puts this problem eloquently: “in the matter of faith and works, as in the traditional marriage ceremony, we need the reminder, “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” Eastman, A Handful of Pearls: The Epistle of James (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978), 54-5.

[16] Hartin, James, 179.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Developing a Social Conscience, and How World Magazine Can Help

Do you care about the world? Honestly?

I can truthfully say that I personally do not care about people around the globe. I naturally care about my own country, about people who look and talk like me, and that I do not naturally have a great concern for others in foreign lands.

This is a problem. It is a problem, for example, that when I get a newspaper, I am far more drawn to the sports or arts section than I am the world section. This is not good. I am a quintessential American in this regard. I have a strong appetite for entertainment, for things that, in the end, really don't matter, while I have a very weak appetite for global events, for pain and suffering and genocide and famine, that in the end matter very much.

If you are like me, I would encourage you to subscribe to World magazine. World is an evangelical answer to Time or Newsweek that approaches world events from an evangelical (actually, reformed) perspective. It has a decidedly global focus, but this focus is, as I just noted, from a Christian worldview, and thus the magazine seeks not simply to report news, but to inform Christians on how to think and pray about them. In the most recent issue, for example, there is considerable coverage on the Darfur genocide. Reading this coverage helped me to know how to pray for the region. This is invaluable. It is so very easy to hear about Darfur for a flickering moment on tv or the web and then completely forget it. But thousands--millions--have been killed in this region, and we Christians need to pray and to give to reputable organizations to fight evil and advance the gospel.

If you are like me, then you struggle to care about what really matters. The first step to solving this problem is to square with it, to admit that you don't really care about world events. The second step is to repent before God, and the third step is to take action. A key part of that third step can be subscribing to an evangelical magazine that is well-written, well-researched, and gospel- and mission-oriented. World is 50 bucks for a year, which comes out to a dollar to a week, which is a very small price to pay to be informed on how to pray for the world. Subscribe to World (they're not paying me to say this--in fact, they don't even know I exist), and join me in seeking to develop a conscience for the world and for the billions of people who suffer in darkness each day.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Just How Basic Is the Textual Theme of James?

These are serious time for your friendly neighborhood seminary students. We're in "reading week," and next week is finals week. I have just written my last seminary paper, and let me tell you, it feels incredible. Fellow seminarians, if you're wondering if finishing seminary really is all cracked up to be, consider this a news flash from me to you: it is. Riotous celebrating aside, here is an excerpt from my last seminary paper, an exegetical and theological look at the theme of James. My thesis is, to my knowledge, somewhat original, and I think that the paper is an interesting read. Email me at owendstrachan [at] if you want to read the whole thing.

"The book of James has long presented a battleground on which scholars have fought to determine what exactly the book means and whether James has a coherent message. Recent interpretation by scholars proves particularly interesting. Speaking generally, one finds that it breaks down into three schools: one group says that James has no message, another group emphasizes that James has a message, but that it is very basic and obedience-oriented, and a third argues that the letter deals with the rather focused theme of double-mindedness.

Though the first two schools have spoken loudly and have been received broadly, it is the purpose of this paper to argue that the book of James is written according to a clear, textured argument. James reveals that the community to whom he writes is filled with double-minded people who profess faith but fail to practice it consistently. His purpose in writing, then, is to expose this double-mindedness through numerous examples and illustrations and then to call for the salvation of these people, whose professed faith ultimately ends up being no faith at all.

This argument is based in the idea that James’s chief protagonist in this book is the dipsuchos, “double-minded man,” as introduced in 1:6-8. Of course, James is writing to this troubled soul even as he addresses the believing church body. He directly addresses the divided person but does so in the midst of a letter that is directed to true believers. James is thus seeking the salvation of some in the church who claim to possess a living faith but who in actuality possess a dead faith. The body of James’s letter includes the majority of this content, and his calls to salvation in 4:8 and especially 5:19-20 offer a fitting conclusion to the letter. Despite the fact that the body of the letter is less structured, and thus cannot be neatly grouped by theme, common themes of identity, action, and speech will emerge, revealing the double-minded man to be one who honestly thinks he is a Christian, but who in thought, word, and deed acts for himself and lives like the world, ultimately showing his profession to be just that: a mere profession, one that carries with it a sentence of eternal death."

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Friday, November 16, 2007

The Week-est Link, Nov. 16: Remembering Summer Camp

1. There is only one link this week, and it is to Disney chief Michael Eisner's memoir Camp. Eisner has been a controversial figure in the recent past, and I have little to no knowledge about his controversies and thus can say little about his personal character. What I can say, though, is that his remembrance of his summer camp experiences at Camp Keewaydin in Vermont connected with me on a profound and moving level. If you have been to summer camp and were impacted by it, you will be stirred by Camp to remember your own experiences. The book is entirely clean, elegantly written, and in the end, quite moving. I recommend it, and you can find it on Amazon for very cheap.

Eisner's experiences at Keewaydin were shaped primarily by the camp director, a man called "Waboos" at camp, who cast a large shadow over the camp. Waboos oversaw every facet of camp life and personally invested in seemingly every child and counselor who came his way. The end result was a camp experience that markedly shaped those who had it, and that caused generations of families to go to Vermont each summer for a four-week stint. This resonates with my own experience and has prompted me to want to share my reminisces of summer camp (perhaps you'll do the same in the comments?). I went to a small Child Evangelism Fellowship camp in Maine called Camp Good News for the whole of my later childhood years. CGN was a Christian camp, and I was profoundly changed by the experience. I adored CGN and, from the time I was nine years old until the time I was twenty-one, missed only one summer, for reasons I cannot recall.

Like Keewaydin, CGN was run by a camp director, Mr. John Romano, who was the lifeblood of the camp. Mr. Romano was an Italian-American pastor from southern Maine, and he was a giant of a man. It's not that that he was tall (though he was, and is, a little thick). No, he was a moral presence, one of the old male guard who could pierce you with his eyes, make you sit up straighter just by entering the room, and cause you to lose all semblance of vocabulary if you acted stupidly. Yet he rarely showed this side, because he rarely had to. Children--and adults--revered Mr. Romano, and I was one of them. In a world of nasty peers and vivid disappointments, Mr. Romano was a man of rock, a good man, one by whom you could set your compass. He taught us kids to love God and to obey Him, he led the camp in the weekly game of Capture-the-Flag, he knew all our names, he impacted all of our lives.

Camp was a blurry rush of activity back then. It was a setting out of the 1950s, a purer era, a kinder era, one not dominated by media and bad attitudes. The ladies who worked on the camp staff always dressed nicely and always exuded dignity and composure. They were the type who would cause even worldly children to watch their language. Miss Melanie and Miss Vernell--they were the mainstays. They taught the Bible lessons and led the singing and the nightly Quiz-Down--an event invested with great solemnity at which quizzing on the daily Bible lesson took place. As I've said, they were women from a different time, and we all respected them and sought to please them, even if we feared them, just a little.

When we weren't shuttling around the campus--a rustic mix of cabins, concrete buildings, forest and fields--we were resting, or cleaning. Mr. Romano ran a tight ship, and he wished to teach children not only to be godly but to be orderly and responsible. The campers--usually 40 boys and 40 girls, each grouped into six "tribes" led by college students and adults, called either "Aunt" or "Uncle" (I was "Uncle Owen," which I never really got used to)--had daily chores and daily rest times. At rest hour and at night someone from the staff crept around the boys' and girls' cabins and listened carefully to see which cabins were quiet and which were restless. All the tribes, you see, were engaged in a competition by gender--boys were trying to earn points by their decorum, cleanliness and completion of certain projects, and the girls were doing the same. I can still remember the excitement of being in a cabin that was in the race for "honor cabin." It was thrilling, and we took it seriously, with an earnestness alien to a fallen world.

I loved CGN. I always went to "Sports Week" and played basketball. So much basketball. I loved the counselors and the staff and fellow campers and Quiz-Down and the swimming pool and showing off for the girls and maybe getting an address to write to at the end of the week from some fetching young lady (sometimes I even heard back). Above it all, though, the camp taught me to love God, and I deeply enjoyed the daily devotions and the seriousness with which faith in God was taken. CGN was a refuge for me, a place of safety and love and hope, and I yearned to go each year. My counselors exerted a great impact on me, and to this day I still look up to men like Anthony Romano and Brian Brunk. They were only five to ten years older than me, but they were giants in my eyes, as I suppose I probably was to the young campers I led when I worked there all summer just five summers ago.

Now, I live in Lousville, far away from Livermore Falls, ME, where CGN still stands and where it still exists. I've spoken about it in the past tense, but it's doing well in the current day. It's just that for me, it will always exist in my mind in some idyllic past. My childhood was shaped in some part by CGN, and I want to preserve that. I can easily recall how it was awkward for me to grow up and to be on the same staff as Mr. Romano. It never quite felt right. Then as now, I saw myself as the exuberant camper and he as the benevolent patriarch. He's aging now, as I am, but in my mind, he will always be the strong man of God who pointed me to Christ and who oversaw a camp that contained a little bit of magic for a boy in Maine.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Piper on Extended Adolescence and the Gift of Vision

My lovely mother-in-law emailed me a link to a recent piece written by John Piper about the phenomenon of extended adolescence. The piece is helpful and represents a good pastor-centered perspective of this problem in American society. I am glad that Piper is not simply sidestepping this cultural event, as too many pastors do, but that he is addressing it. His thoughts got me thinking on one cause of the "adultolescence" phenomenon: a lack of vision.

What do I mean by this? Many fathers have failed to give their children a vision for their lives. This is of course only one factor among many that contribute to the aforementioned problem. Chief among other factors that one could cover (indeed, that I have and do cover on this blog) are personal laziness and immaturity on the part of young people. With that noted, though, the lack of a life "map" is an overlooked factor in this discussion, I think. I would love to know how many of you out there had a father who gave you a vision for your life--in any form. I don't mean that he prophesied over your life, or that he told you exactly what you should do with yourself. No, I'm referring to any kind of vision at all. Did he encourage you? Did he point out gifts in your life that you could channel to positive ends? Did he say, "Here's what you should be thinking about for the future"? I'm guessing that many out there had fathers who failed to provide this vision. Many others were raised in broken homes, and dad was either absent or not around to even begin to provide a vision for life.

This is one reason why so many young people today obsess over the idea of calling. This is why so many twentysomethings bounce from job to job and worry about never finding the right work. This is why many Christians struggle with fear of failure when it comes to vocation. Such people never had a father who gave them a clear picture of the future, who sat them down and talked through their predilections, abilities, interests, and goals, who attempted to provide guidance and support before launching their children into the world. I'm dealing with this problem from a masculine standpoint in this article, but this is also why so many Christian women struggle to figure out their place and role in the world. For whatever reason, dad never came alongside them and instructed them as to what is truly important in the world. This absence has left a generation of women alone in figuring out what to do in life and how to make sense of it all. With such a picture, it is unsurprising that we are in a cultural maturity crisis. As parents lost sight of their roles and responsibilities in twentieth century America, so too did their children. Now, they are drifting, and America is scratching its head, and our civilization is slowly tipping into the sea.

So here is the remedy, as I can see it: we need a generation of men to teach themselves to have vision. We need these young men to set out to do something big with their life, something challenging, something calculated to bless and help as many people as possible according to their gifting and interest. We need these young men not to drift around and fool with girls' hearts and play at life, but to assume responsibility, seek out challenges, and strategize to mature as men. Then, when these men are married, as most should be, we need these men to raise families and to avoid the last generation's mistake. These men need to look into the eyes of their children and say, "Here is a plan for life. Here is a vision. I will not leave you alone in the world. I will answer to God for your soul, and for the way you live your life." In doing so, these men will give their children a gift. They will give their children direction in life, guidance, a foundation from which to launch. They will ennoble their sons and daughters and lead them into the world with purpose and hope. Then, one day, their children will look back into those same eyes, and call these noble men, virtuous women by their side, blessed.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Power of a Good Sunday School Teacher

From Truett Cathy's book It's Better to Build Boys Than to Mend Men:

“I was thirteen years old when God worked through Theo Abby, my Sunday school teacher, to change my life. In a real sense, I had been "fatherless."

My father was alive. In fact, he was home every night, and I never knew him to gamble or drink or cheat on my mother. But he never told me, "I love you." And when I needed help, like the time when I was sick on a rainy Sunday morning and had to get my newspapers delivered, I knew not to even ask him. As I grew toward manhood, my father and I never discussed the difficult issues of life.

Then Theo Abby became my teacher and my friend. Occasionally he visited the federal housing project where I lived to see me and other boys in our class, and he invited us to go with him and his son Ted to his lakeside cabin. There he modeled with Ted a loving father-son relationship.

As an adult I remembered Mr. Abby's example and decided to teach boys in Sunday school. Like Mr.
I kept in touch with the boys through the week by in­viting the entire class to be my guests at the Dwarf House, my first restaurant, one night a week. I soon began to see how children bursting with potential can wither on the vine without adequate guidance from adults.

Eleven-year-old Harry Brown, whose quiet de­meanor reminded me of myself as a child, had a father like mine, distant and hard to please. When Mr. Brown abandoned the family altogether, Mrs. Brown was left alone to bring up five boys. She did a remarkable job, and I tried to give Harry special attention in class or during our weekly dinners. I set goals for my class in their Bible reading, and Harry met every one. His mother and I encouraged him at every step. Then my wife, Jeannette, and I moved from the neighborhood, and I didn't see Harry for more than twenty years. By the time we met again, he and his wife, Brenda, had become foster parents, providing the fatherly love and two-parent stability for oth­ers that Harry had missed as a teenager."

A couple of days ago I mentioned how I had been impacted by my Sunday School teacher, Miss Elsie Dennison. Here's more testimony of the power of a teacher.
Something to think about for those out there who invest week by week in the lives of children. Your efforts may seem small and worthless, but they can change and profoundly influence the course of young lives.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Adults, Video Games, and the Liberating Power of Limitation

I recently had the opportunity to be on a fresh new podcast, Christ and Pop Culture. This podcast is hosted by my fellow church members Rich Brooks and David Dunham. Rich (his group blog) and David (his blog) are talented, fun guys (with well-done blogs), and I would encourage you to regularly listen to their show. If you desire to know what is going on in American pop culture, and you want that knowledge filtered through a reformed lens, I can think of few better places to send you than to Christ and Pop Culture. They were very kind to have me on as we discussed my blog posts from several weeks back about youth groups using Halo 3 for evangelistic means. Download the show directly here--it's about 30 minutes long, and it's a worthwhile listen.

In the course of our conversation, we talked about adults and video games. The issue was introduced, "How much should adults play video games?" Now, while acknowledging right off the bat that video games are not necessarily sinful, and that it can be fine to play them at times, I noted that video games are fundamentally rooted in a fantasy world. They have little ties to the real world, even if they replicate real-world experiences. There is little in your average video game, furthermore, that you can transfer to the real-world in a meaningful way. Essentially, video games are pure entertainment. There is not anything wrong with pure entertainment, of course, but it is my contention that for the Christian, the person invested with the responsibility to bear the image of God, subdue the world, preach the gospel to the lost everywhere around us, and advance the kingdom of God, pure entertainment should be limited. In fact, in a society that idolizes entertainment, recreation, fun, and self-indulgence, we should provide a clearly countercultural picture of a life devoted to higher things, to important things, to causes that last for eternity.

Do not misread me. I enjoy sports and movies as much as the next guy. I am not an ascetic. However, like any man, I have alot of important things to do. I have a family to provide for, a career to build, a faith to cultivate, a church to serve. I love spending some time on TrueHooop (the best basketball blog in the world, hands down), but I get to do so very rarely, maybe once a week if I'm lucky. I love watching movies, but I watch only a few (if that many) in a given week. I love pleasure reading, but since the summer, when I read Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full, I have not even attempted to read a book for fun. Am I unique? No, there are tons of men just like me, no, doing more than me, and we realize that there is simply too much of importance to do in the real-world than to rack up high scores and defeat towering enemies in the virtual "world."

Christian men who devote large portions of time to recreation and fun would be well served by trading investment in ephemeral things, things that will not last and that are of little lasting consequence, for investment in things that truly matter. Don't waste your college years goofing off. Serve your church, work hard in your classes, provide an income for yourself. Post-college, don't follow Zach Braff and the immature men-children and waste your life away. Seek a wife, use your gifts and talents in employment for God's glory, build a church through faithful service, share the gospel with hell-bound people, and generally live for things that matter and that last. Limit your pursuit of pleasure and fun. If you're dragging your feet about children, and your wife really wants to have them, but you don't want the extra work burden and personal responsibility that comes, because you don't want to give up all those sports games and video games, it is time to limit yourself. It is time to be a man, to dig in, to work yourself hard, in order that your wife would be happy and you would become what God has in store for most of us: a father. If this sounds repressive, the Bible shows us it's not. Indeed, it is in limiting ourselves--in terms of our pleasure pursuits--that we free ourselves to do things that matter and to become the men God intends us to be. In limiting ourselves, we liberate ourselves.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

New 9Marks Piece on Congregational Ageism

The new 9Marks issue is online at the 9Marks website, and I encourage you to check it out. This issue, the November/December edition, deals with the church's role relative to culture. Various authors address this matter, men like Michael Horton, David Wells, and John Frame. There is much good material to be read and digested, and I hope to do so myself.

I have an article in this issue. It is on the problem of congregational ageism. I'll leave it to you to read it or not, but I'll attempt to entice you to read it by leaving you with the article's teaser:

"As early as I can remember, Miss Elsie Dennison was my Sunday School teacher. The years have swiftly passed, but I can see her now, clear as then. She’s 75, a little hunched over, with brown hair that I now suspect wasn’t entirely natural. She’s standing in a classroom in our small Baptist church in coastal Maine. There aren’t many of us; just three or four kids. Yet a magic is in the air. Miss Dennison loves us, and she teaches us the gospel, using the church’s flannel-graph board and her own earnest faith. There, in that little classroom, young and old joined together in the name of Jesus Christ.

This kind of gospel unity across generations is challenged today, as some Christians over-emphasize friendship with their peers and lose out on opportunities for cross-generational fellowship. This separation—called ageism—diminishes the gospel’s power."

Please don't hesitate to voice any comments or questions in the comments section. I read every comment posted on this blog and chew them over. They often influence, affect and help me, and so I thank any who do comment. With that said, enjoy the new 9Marks issue. There is probably no better collection of Christian writing and thinking on the web that is totally free. Check it out, and link to it so others can do the same.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

The Week-est Link, Nov. 9

1. A tear-your-hair-out piece from Men's Vogue by the former New York Times reporter Charlie LeDuff. Apparently LeDuff, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, decided to stay at home following his daughter's birth. His wife went to work. Writes LeDuff:

I am sad for those fathers I had the pleasure to know during the years I was a correspondent. I remember the soldier in Iraq who was not there for the birth of his child. The journalist who came back from the war zone only to be called Uncle by his son. The Mexican man in Long Island, his only presence at home back in the old capital being his photograph and a Western Union receipt.

The only thing in the article that set my teeth more on edge than the passage above was this quotation on the reaction of children to nannies at the local playground:

We go off to the park to see the Latina nannies who care for the Little Lord Fauntleroys of a neighborhood filled with two-career families. It's only a 15-minute walk from my own neighborhood, but it's another world altogether. My friend Angelica tells me, "The children love us more than they love their parents. The little one calls me Mommy."

This article reveals a society gone mad, a culture that reverts the natural order of the home and that, in increasing numbers, features a familial economy in which both dad and mom leave the home and entrust the kids to a stranger.

If this does not already sound like a bad situation, consider the progress such a movement has made in the Christian church, and then you will really be in for some righteous indignation.

2. Be careful on who you throw your personal weight behind with the GOP race for the 2008 presidential nomination. Mike Huckabee, for example, is surging, but do we know enough about him and his record to wholeheartedly support him? There doesn't seem to me to be a great candidate for evangelicals yet in this race. I lean towards Romney, but even he gives me pause. At any rate, there is much time before the big stuff happens, and so, while I'm really hoping Giuliani loses momentum (as he's pro-choice), there is alot about the various candidates that remains to be seen...

3. Good flick. I would encourage couples to give it a watch, particularly when it's the wife's turn for a chick flick. Husbands, it ain't Braveheart, but Miss Potter ain't Gone with the Wind, either.

Have a great weekend.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Preaching We Need: Scroggins on Forgiveness

This last part of the "Preaching We Need" mini-series comes from one of Southern Seminary's finest preachers, Dr. Jimmy Scroggins. The dean of Boyce College, the undergraduate school of the seminary, Scroggins is a born preacher and a personal friend. He possesses the winsomeness, the sharp mind, and the masculine force necessary to construct and deliver a powerful sermon. Without fail, he makes good on his abilities. I find that his sermons usually drive a single point, though from different angles, as if Scroggins is hammering the listener with gospel truth from all angles. He's a good one to listen to when you know you need a talking to, a wake-up call.

To listen to this preacher, go here, and click on the "Chapel Message (Romans 12:14-21)" link.

I was personally struck by Scroggins's plain and powerful appeal to forgive. There is such a need for clear, easily applicable preaching. In fact, the more preaching I listen to, the more I am convinced that the best preachers don't attempt to make eight different applications, as many young guys like myself do. The best preachers often drive home a single point, just one, that the reader cannot help but think about and apply. That's an encouraging thought, actually, for a young preacher. Perhaps you don't need to come up with eight original, homespun application points. Perhaps you need to unearth the thrust of the passage, the passage's point, and then drive it home in the minds of your hearers. I challenge you to try just that in your next sermon. Take all your effort, all your exegesis, and shoot it like an arrow at your target--the heart. I would guess that your preaching will be better remembered than if you had done otherwise.

Very quickly, I want to go back to yesterday's links and encourage you to listen to the third sermon of the Keller links. If you do not listen to the other two, that's okay. The third is worth its weight in gold. Keller has such a keen understanding of the psychology of sin. He makes the point that all sinners, like Jacob in Genesis, are seeking to find their happiness and fulfillment in something besides God. He then ties it all back to Christ, though he does so on such a fine point, with such homiletical artistry, that you almost miss it. For those seeking to learn how to preach all of Scripture from a Christocentric viewpoint (and it is my contention that this should be all of us), you can find no finer teacher than Keller. He is a master of making the point of the text as given to its original hearers, thus discovering the truth it reveals about God and man, and then making the point as it relates to Christ. He does all this with such elegance and skill that one can almost miss his adeptness. But then, that is the mark of a master, is it not? To make the difficult look simple? Most of us, I would venture to say, excel at the converse.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Sermons We Need: Tim Keller on Gospel Transformation

One of the most insightful preachers around is Manhattan's Tim Keller. Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Keller specializes in communicating the gospel in a winsome, relevant, understandable, and perceptive way. The three sermons below will give you a good introduction to his preaching and to his understanding of the gospel. Don't fear--though a member of the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) denomination, Keller does not often preach for more than 40-45 minutes.

I found these sermons at the Monergism website and wanted to pass them along to you. One of the best points Keller makes--and one that not enough Christians recognize--is that the gospel is not about looking good and being acceptable to those around us. The gospel is about personal transformation such that we worship Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. This foundational concept is best expressed in Keller's simple gospel formulation: "I am accepted, and therefore I obey," which contradicts the formulation seemingly believed by so many professing Christians: "I obey, and therefore I am accepted." Keller's articulation of this simple but profound theological concept has changed the way I think about the gospel, and it will do the same for you if you mull it over and compare it with scriptural teaching.

We need this preaching because too many of us have grown up alternating between Christ-centered and man-centered theology. What do I mean by this? Simply this: we believe intellectually that we are saved by grace, but we live as if we were saved by works. Now, I am not an antinomian. There is a huge place in Christian doctrine for concerted effort and purposeful activity. With that said, though, too many of us deny by our lives what we know in our minds. We think that being a Christian is all about doing certain things, about avoiding the really heinous sins and doing the commonly considered righteous practices. We lose sight of the cross and the personal transformation it brings. We thus come to view our faith as an exercise in presentation. Rooted as we are in a community of Christians, we attempt to look good. Our faith has now become a matter of show, and thus our spiritual life consists of avoidance on the one hand and performance on the other.

This shift stifles true, humble, self-denying, appearance-killing Christianity. It causes parents to worry far more about how their children's lives look to other adults than they do about how God views their children's hearts. Such people are far more concerned with public relations than they are with humble orthodoxy. That is to say, where these adults might acknowledge the spiritual lostness of their children, ask others to pray for them, and work not to correct the signs of unbelief but to lovingly address the heart, they instead paste a smile on their faces, respond chirpily when asked earnestly how their family is doing, and try to pretend the problem doesn't exist. Such a lifestyle, of course, inevitably results in moments of explosive tension between parents and child, because said lost child is making the parents look bad, and this, not the child's unbelief, is somehow the worst possible scenario for these appearance-obsessed parents.

This is a very, very dangerous scenario. It is one that occurred and occurs in many Christian homes as the result of parents who are saved but who have lost sight of the true nature of sin and the power of Christ's work. For such Christians, we must offer preaching like Keller's, preaching that rightly diagnoses sin and rightly addresses it by holding out the love of Christ as contained in the cross and resurrection, a love given not to change appearances and cover flaws, but to altogether transform appearance-obsessed, sin-hungry men and women into worshipful, humble, honest followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Preaching We Need: John Piper on Aging for God's Glory

"Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life." (Proverbs 16:31)

I want to take a few days this week and highlight a few messages that contain important truths, truths that the American church very much needs to hear. The first deals with a topic I occasionally bring up on this site: aging for God's glory.

Piper's message was given at the 2007 National Pastor's Conference sponsored by the parachurch imprint of Bethlehem Baptist, Desiring God Ministries. The conference's theme was the perseverance of the saints, and Piper himself preached a powerful message about how Christians should persevere in the faith as they grow old in a world that despises old age and views it as a season of life in which to focus almost entirely on oneself. I enjoyed the message, and I encourage you to listen to it in order that your desire to persevere in the faith would grow.

I was a bit disappointed that Piper did not do more cultural exegesis. His textual appeal and his materials from church history spoke powerfully to his point, but the message would have benefited from a lengthy section outlining the contemporary secular response to aging. Young Christians are saturated with culture, and preachers who reference the culture and situate their preaching in the cultural context do much to connect with their hearers and make their preaching more applicable and beneficial. With that said, a major shift has occurred in American life such that many people, including both men and women, invest much money and time in fighting the effects of aging. For example, my wife was watching ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" for a few moments last night and observed two older women who are currently competing on the show. One of these women, Bethany noted, has had numerous plastic surgeries, such that she looks much younger than she is. In general, most everyone looked about as young as possible. Does anyone else think it absolutely absurd that most every woman on tv (at least live tv) these days looks like she's been color-blasted bronze? I picture it like a car wash. A woman of normal skin color walks into a car wash-like facility, presses a button, and thirty seconds later walks out dripping gold from her toes. The effect is not appealing--it is ridiculous.

That aside, it is important that we Christians not do what this female star did. Where we might be tempted to hide the effects of aging, we should embrace them. Where we might deplore them, we should celebrate them, even as we recognize that these effects are the result of the fall. The Bible invests the aging process with dignity and grace, and we should do the same. But it is all well and good to talk about things on a theoretical level; many of us do well at that. But we must not stop there. Theology is meant to penetrate everyday life. So, let's close with some application for men and women. Men, as Carl Trueman has recently noted in a pithy piece, go bald to the glory of God. Do not be ashamed to bear the effects of aging. Strange though it may seem, balding is a sign of dignity, a mark of a life long-lived. Don't be ashamed of a receding hairline; don't fret over a perceived loss of attractiveness. Accept the processes of aging with grace. Women, think hard about not dying your hair as you grow older. Most dyed hair is pretty clearly fake. I understand that it's not easy to lose the trappings of youth, but remember, the signs of age are the marks of dignity. God has written aging into the codes of our bodies. Why should we fight him in this? Why should you buy into the culture's view of beauty, which sees gray hair as ugly and wrinkles as unappealing? Such thinking is a lie--and a much-believed one at that.

I encourage you, women, as I encourage the men (myself among them) to present the lost among us with a powerful countercultural witness. The way one deals with hair or wrinkles may seem inconsequential, but I assure you it is not, especially in a society like ours, frenzied as it is to appear as young as possible. In an age when Mom shops in the same stores as her daughters, and boasts a hair color just like her daughter's, and has a face as wrinkle-free as her daughter's, and pays a ton of money to achieve all this, go the easy (and cheaper) and graceful route. In a time when Dad dresses in the same jeans-and-t-shirt outfit that his son does, and sweats every time he passes a billboard boasting Rogaine treatment, it is right to show the world that true physical beauty does not buck against the aging process. Instead, it embraces it, and in so doing, embraces the God who is behind it.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Introducing the 2008 Band of Bloggers Event

I have a special opportunity to let you know about a special event coming up this April in Louisville. The editors of Said at Southern, led by Timmy Brister, are hosting a lunch and panel discussion on Christian blogging called the "Band of Bloggers". Here's the blurb straight from Brister's website:

"With less than a month before the first Together for the Gospel Conference, I kicked around the idea of having a gathering of bloggers to fellowship together and talk about the gospel of Jesus Christ. The idea was well-received with 70+ bloggers in attendance which, according to some estimations, was the largest evangelical blogging meet-up to date.

Many of you know that the 2008 Together for the Gospel Conference is fast approaching, and many have been asking whether there will be another Band of Bloggers fellowship to coincide with the conference. I am happy to announce that indeed, plans have been made for the 2008 Band of Bloggers fellowship, which will take place during lunch (11:30-1:30) on Tuesday, April 14, 2008 at the Galt House in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. Guest speakers and panelists for next year’s event include Tim Challies, Justin Taylor, Thabiti Anyabwile, and Mark Lauterbach–all men who I admire not just for their blogging but more so their passion for the gospel. The theme for next year’s conference, “The Gospel Trust,” will focus on what it means to be servants of God and stewards entrusted with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We have created a new website specifically geared for the Band of Bloggers where you can find more information including bio sketches of the panel, articles, interviews, podcasts, and for those interested, registration for the event next year. The best way to stay informed on all the future developments regarding BoB is to subscribe to its feed."

My take on this event: I want to encourage you both to come to this event and to publicize it. It will be both helpful and encouraging to hear men like Taylor and Challies speak about God-glorifying blogging. Also, those who come will have a great chance to connect with fellow Christian bloggers. There is no other event at which you can learn from and meet so many bloggers driven to glorify God through their writing. And remember--BoB takes place just before the T4G conference, and does not conflict with the conference schedule. Pass the word on!

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Friday, November 02, 2007

The Week-est Link, Nov. 2

1. A fascinating and helpful interview with Dr. Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and SBC patriarch. A hat-tip to Dr. Jim Hamilton for the link. Hamilton posed a number of excellent questions to his boss, Dr. Patterson, and Patterson answered them with clarity and insight. The debate on contextualization waxes hot in the current day, and the SWBTS president weighs in helpfully, directing us to focus not so much on outward things but on the inward condition of the heart.

2. Go to Andrew Peterson's website, listen to his music, and then, if you are as impressed by it as I am, buy it. Andrew is a folk-country-alternative kind of artist who writes beautiful poetry for lyrics and then sings it with earnest feeling. Like some in the folk camp, his voice can take a little getting used to. But it is worth it to try, because he has great theology and he expresses it in eloquent songs and memorable melodies. I highly encourage you to buy his stuff--you'll be encouraged and challenged in your faith if you do. He is particularly good at putting biblical stories to song.

3. In a completely different musical realm, here's a link to an incredible song by the group One Republic. Click on "Apologize." I know very little about this band, but Tyler W., who sometimes comments on this blog, tells me that they're from Colorado, they're pretty good, and they have a new cd coming out. I can't vouch for the band's overall message and the cleanness of their lyrics, but I can say that this song, with a beat by the producer Timbaland, is sonically powerful. This is one of those songs I can listen to eight times in a row. It seems to capture the emotion of angry heartbreak very well. Not that I've been feeling that, but when the music is powerful, I can't resist...

Neither can I resist a good weekend--hope you have just that.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Incredible Gift of Adoption: A Personal Reflection

I recently thought about the great power of adoption when reading a World magazine article (Bethany and I subscribe to World) from the most recent issue on the topic of huge, 14-child families. In reflecting on this piece, I am not attempting to tug your heartstrings, but to honestly share my personal thoughts on it.

Adoption is an incredible gift to parents who cannot have children. It is such a difficult thing when couples cannot conceive. It is heart-wrenching to watch couples go through years of trying, years of hoping, only to see their efforts produce a few miscarriages and a couple of broken hearts. When we observe this happening, we grieve with these people, and mourn with them in their mourning. But in God's kind grace, the story does not need to be closed for such people. God has made it possible that childless couples can indeed be parents. Though you and I take this for granted, stop and think about it for a moment. It hasn't always been this way. There hasn't always been an adoption agency in every state just waiting for couples to knock on their door. For many centuries of human history, couples who could not conceive could not have children, period. This was a source of great shame and heartbreak, both for men and for women. Men in these situations felt unmanly and unworthy and women felt ashamed and useless. These feelings were not deserved, but the reality is that they were felt for hundreds of years and thousands of couples. In our modern day, we live in a very different world, and parents who cannot conceive can nonetheless enjoy the blessings of children--and in some cases, can raise more children--and thereby bless more children--than can couples who can conceive. This is incredible, in a historical and theological sense.

Adoption also blesses children. Oh, how it blesses children. I speak as an adopted child, and I can tell you, if you are wrestling with whether or not to adopt, you should just know how much goodness adoption pours into a needy child's life. Think about it. Many children waiting to be adopted are in bad and often desperate situations. They face a long, difficult, and even tragic life. Many will bounce from home to home in foster situations and many will simply stay in the care of the government. My sister-in-law, Rachel, a girl with a wonderful heart and a vibrant faith, once told her family of her heartbreaking short-term missions work in Guatemala, where she worked with orphans. Even at an extremely young age, Rachel noted, the babies in the orphanage did not respond to touch or interest. Before they had learned to speak, they had learned to become numb to a cold and cruel world that did not want them. Though not all children waiting to be adopted are in quite such bad conditions, many are. Indeed, every unadopted child is a potential tragedy in the making. Think of your own life--what would it be like to have noone want you? What would it be like to meet with families and grow incredibly excited at the thought of being adopted, only to be told later that they had not chosen you? What kind of life is that? I do not believe that hell is on earth--no, not by a long shot. But the life of the unwanted, unadopted child comes very close to experiencing the deepest possible misery and sorrow of all the people who live on this earth.

I personally hope to become a father of children, children who are born naturally to my family. I thus can keenly understand what a childless couple who cannot conceive would be experiencing in seeing their efforts to conceive be frustrated time and again. As I said before, that would be heartbreaking, and a great test of faith, and a time for much comfort and encouragement from the body of Christ. At the same time, I want to strongly encourage couples who are in this position to consider adoption when the season of grieving has passed. In God's great grace, you can be parents! You can know the joys of parenting, and raise many children to know the Lord. Don't limit yourself. Adopt a small army of unwanted children. Trust in God's grace to help you through, remembering that families in the past raised far more children with far less than most of us have. Lift children--as many as possible--out of a desperate existence. If you doubt the power of such activity, the worthiness of it, the difficulty of such an investment, look into the eyes of an adopted child. You will see there the most profound reflection of thanksgiving and happiness that any earthly action can produce. This is true for me. To know the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior is my greatest joy in life, one that far outweighs any other. But the second is this--that though I was destined by birth to live a hard and even desperate life, the Lord moved my parents to adopt me, and give me an earthly gift that no other can approach.