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Simplicity

Today I walked away from my homework early and stole away with my Moleskine journal to my quiet spot on campus where I go when I just want to get away. It’s been a couple of weeks full of drowning in the intensity of Jonathan Edwards’ philosophical inquiries into original sin and the nature of true virtue, coupled with Michael Horton’s dissection of liberal German theologians debating about the exact nature of the image of God and the hypostatic union.

All of this learning makes me prize the simplicity of the gospel all the more. You can study for an eternity and never come to the end of it, yet it can be contained in just a few short words or verses, simple enough for me to understand and believe just shy of my fourth birthday. I spent my time in the spring afternoon writing out what matters most to me, the treasures of the shallow end of the pool that I never want to lose while diving for nuances.

Things I Am Happy to Believe

  • The placement of my sin on Jesus Christ and His righteousness upon me through faith in his sufficiency to save and sanctify.
  • The infallibility and clarity and continued relevance of the Scriptures as the revealed mind of God to man with purpose.
  • The real and present guidance of the Holy Spirit away from error and towards truth through the application of the Word.
  • That all true happiness comes from a delight in His person, His gifts, and His will being done on earth and heaven.
  • The church of Jesus Christ is His bride, His beloved, cared for by Him as He prepares her for eternal glory.
  • Hope is not directed primarily at this life, but rather towards the next – the new creation in which we are co-heirs.
  • The purposefulness of all things, as God brings to pass His pre-existent plan for His own glory and our good, both of which are the same end.
  • The wrathfulness of God towards those who doubly rebel by rejecting first His rule and secondly His mercy.
  • The creation, though subjected to a curse because of human sin, is meant to be delighted in as God’s good gift to man.
  • The constant intercession by Christ for man before the throne of God the Father.

Praise God for these truths.

Caricature

Johnson tried hard to hold back the tears as he hugged his family for the last time before they began the long trip back home without him. His mother wasn’t so wrapped up in appearing tough and independent, so her tears freely carved channels down her face and onto her blouse. The younger siblings each received a rather self-conscious hug and the dad a firm handshake. Johnson turned, grabbed his last suitcase full of college necessities, and thus began his college career.

Johnson knew his Bible. And he knew the reality of what life was going to be like at a state school. Thankfully he’d been able to get himself transferred away from the original dorm he’d been placed in. The whole progressivist co-ed dorm thing declared itself to be “more exciting” than normal dorm life. Johnson would take dorm life as known to humanity since two guys named Cain and Able invented sharing the bedroom 8,000 years ago, thank you very much.

As he arranged his small collection of family pictures and mementoes of high school success, he thought about the life he was entering, and the life he was now stepping beyond. Gone were the fast friends he had made through youth group, as they were cast about by the wind to different colleges throughout the country. You go where the scholarship money leads. Gone was the church that had taught him how a felt board operated, that had heard his testimony before he was buried into the waters of baptism. Gone was the pastor’s office whose walls would speak of special times of counsel and direction, of words of prayer for protection while beginning this new life. And gone was the Christian high school that promised to prepare its students for life beyond its walls. The preparation was done. It’s show time. New church to choose, new friends to make, and new perspectives to dismantle.

Warily Johnson eyed his biology professor from the fourth row. This was the moment that he had been prepared for. As an infant he had grappled with Gerber creamed carrots in his stomach, and complex arguments for the dating of the Noahic flood in his mind. His school books had all dedicated themselves to debunking Darwinists as foolish and misled, parasites who longed to feed their parasitic egos on the souls of the young and the naive. Darwinists were fools, hardly more competent to draw rational conclusions from scientific data than the monkeys they claimed to have descended from.

And then the professor opened his mouth and addressed the class. He welcomed them, warmly, to their first day of class. Nervous laughter greeted his jokes about first-day experiences. He opened the door of his office to anyone who wanted to talk with him. And then he began to teach. And it didn’t sound as crazy as when Johnson’s pastor had described it in his Sunday morning series on Genesis.

Enter the war in Johnson’s heart. Those who love Jesus have told him that everyone who believes in Darwinism is a fool, a chest-beating buffoon who knows nothing of fairness nor decency. Those Darwinists he has encountered have proven to be none of those things. In fact, it’s the pastor who’s beginning to look like he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, for his representation of the insanity of Darwinism and the coherent thought that is marched out every Tuesday and Thursday from 12:20 to 1:50 resemble each other as much as his mother and a howler monkey.

Six months later, Johnson’s mother is overcome with tears before her son again. Only this time there is no joy mingled in the cup of sadness. Just fear. Her son has come home from college, riddled with doubts about everything he had been raised to believe. Not just about the age of the earth, but of the reality of the cross and the existence of God. After all, how could there be a God who orders events so that little Japanese children are swept away by tsunamis and their parents are radiated by exploding nuclear power facilities, doomed to the slow surrender of their bodies to cancer.

“How did this happen?” she cries to her husband. “How does everything we taught him for 18 years get swept away by the current of everything he was taught to beware of?”

If we content ourselves with teaching caricature, we’ll accomplish nothing more than to create an army of people who desert what we’ve taught them for what we fear most they’ll believe.

Does God Exist: A Debate Between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens

Last Friday I was invited over for dinner by a family I knew from high school. After the meal we sat down and watched a DVD of the debate between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens held this year at Biola University. For those of you who aren’t familiar with these two men, let me give them a little introduction.

William Lane Craig is a noted Christian apologist and research professor at Talbot Seminary. He has written numerous books and contributed to a five views book I read last semester on apologetic method. He is an evidentalist, believing that the most effective way to argue for the truth of Christianity is from evidence outside of Scripture. Theologically, he identifies himself as not believing in Calvinism, but rather falls into the “Wesleyan camp.” When it comes to origins, Craig is an old-earth creationist, who is not uncomfortable with the idea of theistic evolution.

Christopher Hitchens is a noted “neo-atheist.” According to him, there really isn’t any difference between a “neo-atheist” and your traditional “atheist” other than neo-atheists are quite vocal about their disbelief in God. Hitchens is frequently mentioned in the same breath as Richard Dawkins (author: The God Delusions) and is the noted author of the book God is Not Good.

I, probably like most people who have seen this debate, went into it trying to be objective, analyzing the arguments based on merit not my agreement with them. I know also that I, along with everyone else who has seen this debate, am not unbiased and therefore shouldn’t pretend to be so. In my opinion, Craig won the debate hands-down. He certainly wasn’t perfect and had many arguments that fell flat. But he was able to offer a cohesive world-view that made sense, while Hitchens offered nothing but chaos.

Here’s my specific impressions about the debate:

1) Hitchens thesis mirrors the title of his book: God is not good. Foundational to his argument was evil and suffering in the world and the eventual demise of the universe. Rape, murder, genocide, a sun that will burn out, constellations that are on a collision course with Earth–these are the arguments Hitchens brings against the existence of God. He claims such chaos speaks to random chance or an absolutely incompetent designer. He prefers the first of the two options. Frankly, if the picture Hitchens paints of God is right, than atheism is the better course of belief…because such a God could never pull his act together enough to offer any kind of salvation. 

There is one glaring hole in Hitchens argument. And it’s completely understandable why he cannot see it. Sin. Hitchens has no category for the cataclysmic event which was the Fall. He cannot understand how heinous and loathsome sin against a holy God is. The creation which he sees as being violent and cruel is indeed violent and cruel. And it is so because of rebellion against God. Paul speaks of creation as groaning, waiting for release from the curse. Adam’s choice to bite the fruit and disbelieve God shattered the tranquility of God’s entire physical creation. While Hitchens sees the evil which exists, he cannot understand that he is part of the reason for the disaster of our universe.

2) I completely disagree with Craig about old-earth creationism and theistic evolution. The Bible makes no allowances for anything other than literal seven-day creationism. However, even given Craig’s unnecessary concession about evolution, he still was able to pose a question about origins that Hitchens was unable to answer: Where did it all come from? Something cannot come from nothing. Nothing literally means nothing. I found it interesting how Craig made evolution a major part of his argument and still was able to squash the traditional evolutionary stronghold.

3) Douglas Wilson became a punching bag for both sides. Presuppositional apologetics was smirked at by both Hitchens and Craig. Wilson became the embodiment of this form of apologetics in both of their minds. Craig afforded much more respect to his opponent than to his collegue and ally.

4) The patience of God is great. Hitchens spent much of the debate impugning the character of God, calling Him to task for allowing suffering. And yet Hitchens is but an insignificant grasshopper before the Lord, entirely lacking in wisdom and righteousness. It’s hard not to get angry at Hitchens for lashing out at God. At times the neo-atheist movement seems to be little more than a bunch of five year olds throwing a tantrum because they couldn’t have their candy before dinner instead of after for the sake of ruining their appetites. It really is shocking to see someone use their God-given breath to openly curse Him and challenge Him for running the universe poorly.

5) Not even a convinced atheist like Hitchens is beyond the grace of God. The Word penetrates hearts. And no heart can ever be too hard for the Lord to crack. Pray for Hitchens, that God might mercifully call him to Himself. The patience and mercy of God is amazing, and any one of us would be up on that stage name-calling our creator as well if it weren’t for the incomprehensible kindness and mercy of the Father.

The Dark Side of Don’t Waste Your Life

I had a verse from the Bible hit me right between the eyes a couple days ago. You know what it was? Psalms 46:10 – “Be still, and know that I am God.” Be still. Not read another book to know that I am God. Not go serve to show that I am God. But rather just be still and know that I am God. The sad, gripping truth is that you and I can live so radically that no man could ever accuse us of wasting our lives, and yet have it all count for nothing. We could serve in a homeless shelter every day in an attempt to not waste our lives and still miss the point. We can cram every nook and cranny of time full of Sproul and Mahaney and MacArthur; we can use vacation time to go build houses for pastors in Tijuana. We can live on half our salary and refuse to spend the money to fix the old but still perfectly functional hardware in the bathroom in order to give all we can so more missionaries can preach the gospel to those who don’t know Jesus.

The dark side of Don’t Waste Your Life is manifest in a frenzy of spiritual activity. It’s the worried activity of a heart standing mortified over the possibility that any part of the day be spent on anything other than directly advancing the kingdom of God. Gone is any unhurried enjoyment of God’s good gifts of laughter and creation and sports. The sacred/secular divide stands a dozen stories tall and a mile thick as prayer and bible study and intentional fellowship consumes the dayplanner. And that nagging hollowness of heart must be because I’m not praying enough or reading the Scriptures enough or having enough spiritual conversations. It certainly couldn’t be because of being busy…because God’s not pleased by wasted time.

If I’m honest, it’s a lot easier to try and fill a hollowness of soul with action rather than stillness. It’s easy to read another book or listen to another sermon. It’s easy to distract myself from a spiritual problem with spiritual activities. It’s hard to sacrifice my pride and say “Lord, I don’t know where I am, how I got here, or where to go. I’m lost…help! Please, help!” The dark side of Don’t Waste Your Life is the lie that we can find spiritual vitality through spiritual activity. Truth is, reading another book or listening to another sermon isn’t going to help me at all unless the Holy Spirit takes that book and opens my eyes and strengthens my resolve to apply it to my life. Same as physical food, spiritual food needs to be digested. While I can glut myself with good teaching, I still can’t digest spiritual food any more than I can command my stomach to produce the enzymes needed to break down what I eat.

What do I mean exactly by “the dark side of Don’t Waste Your Life”? John Piper’s book by that title has radically transformed my outlook on life. I first read it during my freshman year at TMC. And it rocked my world. It opened up a new world of possibilities. A world of high risk and high reward where the cross shines brightly and Jesus is a God worth pursuing with everything–even at the cost of my life. This is the message the American church needs to hear. We who have more money than the rest of the world combined. Who have the freedom to pursue deep theological study, who have good health. And who sadly most often squander it. (In general. I’m not thinking of any one person, church, organization, etc. in particular.)

But the concept of Don’t Waste Your Life has its dark side too. Radical Christian living can become an idol. Spiritual activity and risk taking becomes central to our life in Christ rather than Christ Himself. Living as practical Catholics, our good deeds become a kind of Pope that we trust in to dispense joy and blessing and fulfillment. Instead of pursuing Christ, we make the horrible mistake of trading the Creator for the creation–albeit the creation being the good works He has called us to walk in. (Eph 2:10)

At it’s heart, the dark side of Don’t Waste Your Life is the trading of being for doing. The call to follow Christ is fundamentally a transformation of nature. Paul likens it to putting off old, soiled clothes and putting on new, shining garments. This is where our position in Christ rests. This is what has secured our justification, sanctification, and glorification. God’s command to be still is a command to pause and understand that everything has been secured in His death upon the cross. Like a photographer in a moving car trying to capture the landscape, the beauty of the cross will be blurred if we never stop for a long, clear gaze upon it. “Be still,” God says. “Be still and know that I am God.”

Road Trip Thoughts

I’m currently smack in the middle of my second cross-country road trip in the last three months. The Lord has blessed me with a job as a pastoral intern at a church in California. (Hopefully I’ll be able to write more about it in the weeks to come.) The last three days have been spent driving through Nebraska, Colorado, and southern Utah. I’ve taken time to visit a couple friends along the way who have been kind enough to open their homes up to me. Three days with Blaise Selby and Andrew Meredith as hosts is about as good as it gets.

I’ve passed the time with audio books of Crazy Love by Francis Chan, The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, and Rick Holland’s 13-part sermon series titled A Roadmap for Righteous Relationships. The trip has yielded good time for thinking and some personal firsts. In no particular order:

1. Andrew’s dad, Steve, woke me up yesterday morning to show me a brown bear rummaging through garbage about 30 feet from the Meredith’s house. The only bears I’ve ever seen have been behind bars in the zoo. For a city boy from California, wildlife other than rabbits and bubonic plague carrying squirrels is a foreign concept.

2. Bear-proof trash containers are practically human-proof as well. It’s harder to throw away a plastic water bottle in Lake City, CO than it is to swipe the President from Fort Knox after a terrorist strike.

3. I set a new personal record for highest elevation:12,805 feet. (Engineer Summit, CO) Incidentally, I also set a new personal record for highest elevation while eating a can of tuna: 12,805 feet at Engineer Summit, CO.

4. My car got an astounding 49.5 miles to the gallon from Colorado Springs to Gunnison. 173 miles, 3.5 gallons of gas. And that’s with everything I own except my office chair and cap and gown in the back seat and trunk. I’d be disinclined to believe that gas mileage, but I filled up my tank before leaving Colorado Springs. Not believing that I only used 3.5 gallons, I tried to continue pumping gas after the automatic shut off kicked in, but it shut off two more times before I gave up.

5. The most moral (Utah) and the most amoral (Nevada) states sit right next to each other on the map. One state touts its emphasis on family and conservative values, the other its reputation as the home of “Sin City.” Like the men of Sodom and the self-righteous Pharisees, both will be found equally lacking before the judgment seat of God.

6. Good Christian biography focuses on who the man or woman is rather than on what they did. Spiritually edifying biographies essentially have God as the main character, not the missionary or pastor.

7.The earth just looks like it had a monster flood at some point.

Originality, Lonliness, Authenticity, and Beauty

This semester has been very busy. Consequently, I’m not able to post as often as I would like. I want what I write to be profitable both for me to write and for you to read. It takes a good deal of time to write a good post, and so instead of compromising quality, I’ve chosen to post less often. Hopefully I’ll return to posting three times a week again in the future.

These thoughts aren’t in any particular order. All of them deserve a much longer treatment, but I want to share them now. Hopefully they will be profitable to read.

1) Nothing I think or write about is original. Unlike copying literature, spiritual plagarism is pleasing to God, for lives lived for Christ are meantto be copied. Twice Paul tells the Corinthians to plagiarize his life. “Follow my example, as I follow Christ.” The phrase “actions speak louder than words” is a cliche, but it has been repeated so often because it is true. Being in leadership does not raise the standards, as all Christians are called to be as holy as God is holy. Rather, the stakes are raised, as responsibility in a public setting multiplies the effect of godliness and failure.

2) Walking closely with the Savior means being lonely in the world. Few people in this world seek to please Jesus Christ with every fiber of their body and every moment of their waking consciousness. I’m not speaking of perfection, but rather of a drive and passion which can only be explained by a radical gift of grace given by the Holy Spirit. The world does not understand grace in its entirety, and many Christians do not understand the transforming nature of grace. In Pastoral Ministries class, Rick Holland asked us a question: Are you the holy man in your relationships? Are you the restraining order on what movies people watch? Do people think of you when they contemplate their actions? Being in this place is a lonely place to be, but it is to be close to the Savior (Assuming this to be godly holiness and not Pharisaical legalism.)

3) God makes His will clear. Though He does not speak audibly to His people as He did to Moses, clarity still marks the counsel of God. It is easy to forget about the Holy Spirit! The Spirit constantly moves and shapes the desires of our hearts, illuminating the paths we ought to take. I never cease to be amazed how time clarifies the will of God. Patience is a virtue which is all but lost within Western Culture, but it is the medium by which God makes His counsel known.

4) We are to be known as people who love God in His entirety, not just one facet of doctrine. I’m reading a book by Derek Prime and Alistair Begg entitled On Being a Pastor. If anyone is interested in pursuing the pastorate, you should read this book. In it, they warn against being known as “axe-grinders.” Identifying yourself solely with a specific doctrine is damaging, as much of God’s fullness and radiance is glossed over. There is more to the Christian life than baptism, sovereignty, eschatology, etc. We need to study deeply each of these topics, but none of us should ever be known as “The Baptism Man” or “Mr. Divine Sovereignty” because we neglect the rest of God’s glorious revelation!

5) Nothing is harder or more paradoxical than authentic Christianity. There are so many tightropes to walk in Christianity. I am called to be hungry, yet satisfied; thirsty, yet filled; filled with joy, yet grieved over our sin; radical, yet balanced; wise in finances, yet willing and eager to give all away; innocent as doves, yet crafty as serpents; all things to all men, yet not forgetting to be the unique person God made me; dissatisfied with my lack of holiness, yet content with the Spirit’s work in me. 

6) Our cursed world still radiates beauty.Go watch a sunset and remember that it is a tainted, imperfect sunset. The sum glories of heaven are beyond my comprehension or imagination. God’s beauty shines so clearly through the veil of our sin, think of what glory we will see once our imperfect body is done away with and the veil is lifted.

Utah: Home of the Latter Day Saints (5)

We went to an elementary school to lead chapel today. It was refreshing to be able to clown around and have nobody care. Doing it today makes me so thankful for my job teaching elementary football. I always learn from little kids. They perhaps are the clearest representation of the human heart. Little kids talk and laugh and run around, and they really don’t know how to cover up their faults. It seems that 50 percent of their sentences revolve around ‘I…’ But then again, isn’t that how I think? I just don’t show it off as much. “We” is a much nobler pronoun. 

We acted out the Fiery Furnace story, and I played the pre-incarnate Christ. Blond hair, blue eyes. Yep, the similarities are striking. Cameron absolutely brought the house down as narrator. We wrote the skit out the night before, and I don’t think we’ll be nominated for any Academy Awards. But, the kids didn’t care. Rod and Brian spoke on trusting God through all kinds of circumstances. They both did a great job. I get to preach tomorrow in a high school chapel. I should probably stop writing this and start working on my sermon. I have no idea what to preach about.

After chapel I was sent off to the sixth grade to tutor math. Four girls were struggling with Least Common Multiple and Greatest Common Factor. I haven’t thought about these things in almost ten years! Calculus seems like nothing after LCM and GCF. I messed up royally and taught it to them backwards at first. Oh well, they seemed to recover nicely. At the end of the lesson, they really understood the concepts. But they did a lot of practice problems to get there. All they needed was for someone to sit down and make them do problem after problem–even when they wanted to quit. Learning comes by adversity. It was fun to be able to help out.

After consuming some really good Mexican food, Keenan, Heather, and Jennifer and I went on up to the snow. Everybody else elected to take nap. We passed the right exit twice, and then found out the place we were supposed to go wasn’t open. The guy at the ticket window’s first words to us were “Your dressed wrong! You should all be out enjoying the snow.” He shattered what little hope we had in not looking like a bunch of tourists. But Southern California students don’t give up on snow that easily. The podunk town of Huntsville saw our determination, and we supported their economy by purchasing 4 hard plastic sleds.

We pulled off the road and found a little hill to cruise down. We met 4 Hispanic guys who really didn’t speak much English. After a few trial runs, we all formed a train of 7 people and rode down the ¼ mile hill and off a jump before screeching to a halt in front of a large metal beam. (Which supported a NO TUBING sign. We weren’t tubing. We were sledding.)

We wrecked, we laughed, and we tried really hard not to need an ambulance. Jennifer tried her best to betray that dream. She got turned around on the hill, hit the jump and slid backwards. She didn’t bail out, and hit the beam with her back doing about 20 mph. Thankfully, nothing more than a pretty good bruise resulted. God protects us even in our complete stupidity.

The Subway restaurant in Huntsville was calling our names after over two hours of sledding and a long snowball fight. I lost my keys during that fight, but we thankfully found them buried after a brief search. Over dinner, we listened to Keenan tell us about his good old days at Pensacola Christian College. TMC’s page-long rulebook doesn’t seem so bad… What a day. I’ll be up late tonight writing a sermon, but it is so worth it. I really miss the snow found in Washington State. Mom, Dad, wherever home base winds up being–I want snow.

It is tempting to think of working with Christian Schools here as a waste of time when there are LDS who need the gospel everywhere. But it is what we have been called and asked to do. And so we will encourage those who we can and strengthen them so they who have long-standing relationships with LDS may better witness to them.

Here’s a bunch of photos from our snow trip. I know its quite a few, but I couldn’t bring myself to cut any of them out.

There’s nothing like a big tall mountain to make you feel insignificant.

We were crushed by the harsh words concerning our lack of snow clothes

I’m sure we provided the Huntsville Chevron clerk with a story to tell over dinner…

We didn’t start out that way!

Our Mexican friends made up the first half of the train.

Heather’s hair is absolutely amazing.

Keenan barely avoided catastrophe.

Jennifer didn’t. We held a funeral on the spot.

We were excited just to see SNOW!

Meeker knows where it’s at.

Quite chivalrous, if I do say so myself.