Friday, May 30, 2008

Millenials

The Millenial generation is comprised of people born between 1980-1995. And like every generation from Boomers to Gen-Xers, Millenials share a somewhat unique perspective on the world. This past week 60 Minutes ran a 12:00 segment on how this generation is adapting to the work place. It's well worth watching.

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How Dads Can Create A Great Family Vacation

With summer upon us, many families will be taking vacations. Every parent begins those vacations with high hopes of getting some rest, watching their family bond together, and creating special memories. But we all know from experience (or maybe I'm just projecting myself onto others) that those high hopes can crash on the rocks of reality.

C.J. Mahaney, the author of the excellent books Humility and The Cross Centered Life, gives dads some specific ideas about how to get the most out of their family vacations. This is well worth reading.

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.

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Not Meant To Be Alone

For those of you who don't know me, I've just finished my second year at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis (Dave, Ryan, Nathan, and Kermit all preceded me). So, as is the case for most full time students, May is a bit of a stressful time. So here is the rundown of my past three weeks. Week one: study for final exams, prepare a sermon, take several quizzes/tests, and write several end-of-term papers. Week two: should be my finals week, instead, I'm in bed for five days with a 102 fever (strep throat and a virus, apparently). Week three: study all week to take my make up exams.

Now this three-week span is probably not all that different from weeks many of you experience regularly. The schedule fills up, duties must be performed, sleep must be lost, etc. And because I know my busyness and lack of free time problem wasn't unique to only me, I'm going to guess that this next phenomenon isn't unique to me either.

I decided to take three make up finals within about 28 hours, that way I wouldn't have to drive to St. Louis twice. Therefore, I planned to stay with a good friend who lives in St. Louis. On the day of my overnight stay, however, I got a phone call. My friend's wife and two year old daughter had traveled to Memphis, TN to spend time with her family. And thus, he was planning on coming to Columbia to visit another friend. He gave me the code to his house, though, so I could stay there without him. So, after taking two exams, not sleeping much, and studying for nearly three days straight, I roll in to his place at about 8 o'clock with a sandwich I picked up for dinner. I took a seat at his kitchen table with only the company of my meal and his two pets, a cat and a dog (named "Batman" and "Ron," my friend is an odd fellow). I began eating my dinner, when I realized something odd, I was literally crying. I had been rather melancholy all day long, but had attributed it to not sleeping much and not wanting to study. It was at this moment, however, that I reconsidered my initial diagnosis. I wasn't simply tired, I wasn't simply sick of studying, I was lonely. You see, for the past three weeks I had little to no social contact. I hadn't spent time with friends, I hadn't spent time with family, I had hardly spent time with my wife. Two weeks of intense studying and one week of intense illness had robbed me of the social connections and community that I desperately need.

It's easy to take a look at our lives and prioritize work, school, house-chores, yard-work, kids, etc., all above community. After all, friendships are a bonus, right? They're what you do when you've got a little extra free time. The problem with that outlook, though, is when do we have extra free time? And spending time with friends, fellowshipping as a group of believers isn't an optional activity, it isn't to be done as a "bonus" when we have extra free time. No, it's something God has designed us for and commanded us to do. It's difficult to block out a Friday night and invite friends over for dinner. It's not easy to invest your time and energy into a small group that meets twice a month. God never promised us that social relationships and living together as a church, as a body of believers, would be easy. But he did tell us to do it, and he does know we're more fulfilled, happy creatures when we do.

So don't neglect your friendships. Don't skip out on small group. Don't just come to church to be fed and to learn. Instead, invest in the community, invest in relationships. Or else you'll have to relay an embarrassing story about eating a meal by yourself with tears streaming down your face.

For more reading (and better explanation), see Nathan Tiemeyer's previous posts on community:

No Man is an Island-Part 1
No Man is an Island-Part 2

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Helping Kids Embrace the Wonders of Science and the Wonder of God

As I wrote in my last blog (by the way, I for one hate that word blog—it sounds like some unfortunate onomatopoeia for endless chatter. Anyway…back to my blaugh…), Dr. John Collins, a favorite seminary professor or mine who teaches Hebrew and Old Testament at Covenant Seminary, has written a helpful book entitled Science and Faith. Toward the end of the book (p. 345ff), Dr. Collins gives a plea to Christian parents to encourage their kids to develop a growing interest in science.

Remember from my last blog post the four reasons why the Christian faith should motivate us to love the sciences—
1. Because God created the universe as a testimony to his glory and creativity.
2. Because God has made us human beings with the need to satisfy our curiosity.
3. Because the sciences allow us to better serve humanity and creation as God’s caretakers of the earth.
4. Because the sciences allow us as Christians to better answer the claims of unbelief.

In light of these reasons, Christian parents should think seriously about how they can encourage their children to be interested in the sciences, perhaps even as their eventual vocations. And Dr. Collins provides a couple of practical ideas for parents to meet this challenge.

1. Christian parents should regularly express wonder and curiosity about the world and the universe that God made.

We can do things as simple as pointing out how birds and squirrels are finding their food and going about their lives. We can talk about the way a hawk or a turkey vulture uses the principles of airflow as they soar overhead looking for food. We can look at fossils in the rocks around our yard or parks. We can wonder aloud about our curiosity of how things work, why things happen a certain way, etc. We can explain what a “falling star” really is, and pay attention to when a meteor shower will happen, and then get up in the middle of the night as a family to watch it with blankets and pillows in the driveway or yard. We can explain the different planets visible at night and why they are in different places at different times.

Of course, you need to know these answers yourself before you can explain them. And the internet provides some fantastic ways to explore the universe of space for yourself and with your kids. One great website for this is Space.com. And you can get on NASA’s educational website and even subscribe to their email list that informs you of various space news and events at: http://science.nasa.gov/news/subscribe.asp.

But here’s something very new and exciting—Bill Bott, Deputy for Operations for the Information Technology Services Division of the Missouri State Government, and a member of The Crossing, sent me info about this brand new website and software program from Microsoft. It is specifically designed as an educational telescope experience that would be a perfect way parents can explore the wonders of the universe together with their kids. As of yet, it only works with Windows, not the Mac. But if you have one of the Intel-based Macs, you can run Windows on it via either VMware Fusion or Parallels Desktop (both for about $80). But the site looks very exciting and is a great example of ways parents can take their kids to a greater interest in and knowledge of science right in their own living room.

2. Parents can take their kids to museums, zoos, and observatories.

In Columbia, we don’t have a zoo within 140 miles, but the St. Louis Zoo can be a nice day trip. And you can include a visit to the St. Louis Science Center as part of the trip, or make it another trip. In Kansas City, there is a nice science museum at Union Station, although not as developed as the St. Louis Science Center.

But in Columbia, we are fortunate that the new YouZeum has recently opened up for exactly this kind of science experience with our kids. And the Central Missouri Astronomical Association is a local recourse for astronomy events, including use of the telescope at Law’s Observatory for free on Wednesday nights.

Just a couple of ideas you can do starting this summer. Again, the goal is to build interest in the sciences and to tie the wonders of science to the wonder of God as Creator—influencing both the mind and the heart of our kids through the sciences.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

More on the Manifesto-Pt. 3

Having looked at the first two mandates of the recently released “Evangelical Manifesto” in greater detail, we can now turn our attention its third and final charge: we must rethink our place in public life. Once again, I’ll offer several excerpts, beginning with this section’s initial paragraph:
We must find a new understanding of our place in public life. We affirm that to be
Evangelical and to carry the name of Christ is to seek to be faithful to the freedom,
justice, peace, and well-being that are at the heart of the kingdom of God, to bring these gifts into public life as a service to all, and to work with all who share these ideals and care for the common good. Citizens of the City of God, we are resident aliens in the Earthly City. Called by Jesus to be “in” the world but “not of” the world, we are fully engaged in public affairs, but never completely equated with any party, partisan ideology, economic system, class, tribe, or national identity.
Working from this framework, the document proceeds to distance Evangelicalism from two common errors, an effort worthy to be quoted at length, concluding with what may be the most memorable statement of the entire enterprise. On the whole, these paragraphs represent a significant challenge to commonly held Evangelical stances regarding our relationship to the world around us.
First, we Evangelicals repudiate two equal and opposite errors into which many
Christians have fallen recently. One error has been to privatize faith, interpreting and applying it to the personal and spiritual realm only. Such dualism falsely divorces the spiritual from the secular, and causes faith to lose its integrity and become “privately engaging and publicly irrelevant,” and another form of “hot tub spirituality.”

The other error, made by both the religious left and the religious right in recent
decades, is to politicize faith, using faith to express essentially political points that have lost touch with biblical truth. That way faith loses its independence, the church becomes “the regime at prayer,” Christians become “useful idiots” for one political party or another, and the Christian faith becomes an ideology in its purest form. Christian beliefs are used as weapons for political interests.

Christians from both sides of the political spectrum, left as well as right, have
made the mistake of politicizing faith; and it would be no improvement to respond to a weakening of the religious right with a rejuvenation of the religious left. Whichever side it comes from, a politicized faith is faithless, foolish, and disastrous for the church – and disastrous first and foremost for Christian reasons rather than constitutional reasons.

Called to an allegiance higher than party, ideology, and nationality, we Evangelicals see it our duty to engage with politics, but our equal duty never to be completely equated with any party, partisan ideology, economic system, or nationality. In our scales, spiritual, moral, and social power are as important as political power, what is right outweighs what is popular, just as principle outweighs party, truth matters more than team-playing, and conscience more than power and survival.

The politicization of faith is never a sign of strength but of weakness. The saying
is wise: “The first thing to say about politics is that politics is not the first thing.”

The Evangelical soul is not for sale. It has already been bought at an infinite price.
This statements lead directly to a discussion of differing conceptions concerning life in the public square, including the repudiation of two erroneous perspectives and advocacy for a third:
We repudiate on one side the partisans of a sacred public square, those who for
religious, historical, or cultural reasons would continue to give a preferred place in public life to one religion which in almost all most current cases would be the Christian faith, but could equally be another faith. In a society as religiously diverse as America today, no one faith should be normative for the entire society, yet there should be room for the free expression of faith in the public square.

Let it be known unequivocally that we are committed to religious liberty for people of all faiths, including the right to convert to or from the Christian faith. We are firmly opposed to the imposition of theocracy on our pluralistic society. We are also
concerned about the illiberalism of politically correct attacks on evangelism. We have no desire to coerce anyone or to impose on anyone beliefs and behavior that we have not persuaded them to adopt freely, and that we do no not demonstrate in our own lives, above all by love.

We repudiate on the other side the partisans of a naked public square, those who
would make all religious expression inviolably private and keep the public square
inviolably secular. Often advocated by a loose coalition of secularists, liberals, and
supporters of the strict separation of church and state, this position is even less just and workable because it excludes the overwhelming majority of citizens who are still profoundly religious. Nothing is more illiberal than to invite people into the public square but insist that they be stripped of the faith that makes them who they are and shapes the way they see the world.

In contrast to these extremes, our commitment is to a civil public square — a vision of public life in which citizens of all faiths are free to enter and engage the public square on the basis of their faith, but within a framework of what is agreed to be just and free for other faiths too. Thus every right we assert for ourselves is at once a right we defend for others. A right for a Christian is a right for a Jew, and a right for a secularist, and a right for a Mormon, and right for a Muslim, and a right for a Scientologist, and right for all the believers in all the faiths across this wide land.
After warning against following the path of forcible coercion or relativistic complacency in relation to the global public square, this section of the Manifesto concludes with the following:
Once again, our choice is for a civil public square, and a working respect for the rights of all, even those with whom we disagree. Contrary to medieval religious leaders and certain contemporary atheists who believe that “error has no rights,” we respect the right to be wrong. But we also insist that the principle of “the right to believe anything” does not lead to the conclusion that “anything anyone believes is right.” Rather, it means that respect for differences based on conscience can also mean a necessary debate over differences conducted with respect.
I’ll close this post by briefly noting that this last point is a much needed in a culture that has largely adopted a historically novel view of tolerance (“we need to acknowledge that everyone is equally right” rather than “we need to respect those with whom we genuinely, even strongly, disagree”) that ironically often leads to striking—and self-refuting—intolerance (“how close-minded of you to adopt a view that doesn’t acknowledge that every view is equally right”).

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How Many Storage Units Can You Fill?

I've noticed that the overwhelming majority of people (and families) spend 100% their income. Very few people save. Fewer yet choose to live a lifestyle below their income level in order to be generous with their money. Many actually spend more money than they make accumulating consumer debt via credit cards. What does that say about us?

What does it say about us that when you get a raise the money is immediately spent and you want more? Imagine that 10 years ago someone promised you that you'd be making the income you are today. You might have said something like, "If I was making that much money, that'd be plenty. I wouldn't need any more." Now time has passed, you've got the income, and guess what--you want more.

I've asked myself these kinds of questions since I came across an article in the Tennessean. It seems that one of the wealthiest counties in the nation has seen a dramatic increase in the number of self-serve storage units.
"In the land of sprawling homes and multicar garages, Williamson County is also home to roughly three dozen self-storage facilities.

Paradoxical?

The people who operate the businesses and the clients who patronize them say it all makes perfect sense.

Ken Doran and his family moved five years ago to Brentwood, where he bought a 4,200-square-foot home. Since the move, Doran has rented as many as three storage units at one time. Some of the spaces have been for storing business files, while others have been stockpiled with furniture and electronics waiting for just the right place in his home.

And while Doran's home may be large enough to contain his surplus assortment, his reason for moving them offsite is simple.

"I don't want my house all junked up with stuff when I can just keep it out of sight in storage. It keeps my home a lot cleaner. I have an extra washer and dryer there, and older big-screen TV and three or four pieces of furniture I haven't worked into the house yet."

Michael Haugh, president of the Tennessee Self Storage Association, said Williamson County has seen more storage businesses open in the past six months than most comparably sized areas see in a full year. Since late last year, four new self-storage businesses have opened shop in Williamson County — two in Brentwood and two in Cool Springs.

"Williamson County has a growing population, and our industry has a tendency to do well in higher-income markets," Haugh said. "If you own a large house and make a good income like many people in Williamson County do, you can afford things like Jet Skis. Or you might have a bunch of clothes and you need a place to store them."
I think that my point is something like this: No matter what a person gets, they always want more. Will I ever learn that "stuff" never satisfies my soul?

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Survey on Biblical Literacy

Some interesting reading: New Testament professor Matt Harmon shares a few of the results from a new international survey on biblical literacy along with some observations of his own.

HT: Biblical Theology, Between Two Worlds

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

They Love Jesus But They Don't Like The Church

Michael Craven writes about this phenomena on Crosswalk.com. Here are a couple of salient paragraphs.

"This appears to be a growing sentiment among many younger Christians in America today. They love Jesus but they want little to do with His Church. It’s not that they don’t like the their local church or even other Christians—it’s that they don’t like how Christianity in America is frequently represented by many professing Evangelicals, which in their minds is often unloving, judgmental, arrogant, and hypocritical.

This assertion finds support in the data revealed in Barna’s most recent research. For example, “four out of five young churchgoers say that Christianity is antihomosexual; half describe it as judgmental, too involved in politics, hypocritical, and confusing; one-third believe their faith is old-fashioned and out of touch with reality; and one-quarter of young Christians believe it is boring and insensitive to others.” (Kinnamon & Lyons, unChristian, Baker Books, 2007, pp.33-34)

It's difficult to argue with these assertions. After all it's true that the church has many sins. And both statistics and personal experience confirm that many people between 18-30 are leaving her behind. While I neither want to deny the accuracy of what's being reported nor defend the church's sins, I do want to consider a few questions.

1. Isn't leaving the church because you can't tolerate the sins of other people a bit self-righteous? To paraphrase Paul in Romans 2, you who chastise others for their hypocrisy, are you ever hypocritical? You who are tired of unloving churches, are you ever unloving? How come it isn't judgmental when you point on the church's sins of judgmentalism?

2. Hasn't the church has always struggled with serious sins ranging from the grumbling of OT believers to the division and arrogance in Corinth? If you made a list of the sins of the biblical church would it be any worse than the sins of today's churches? A desire to return to the church of yesteryear is built on a naive reading of the Scripture.

3. What is the church made up of? Sinners saved by God's grace. While we should call all Christians (starting with ourselves) to greater faith and obedience, we shouldn't be surprised when believers sin. I'm pretty sure that the Bible teaches us that that's always going to be the case on this side of heaven.

4. Where do you get your view of today's church? Many get it from the media. While not wanting deny the immaturity of many churches and shift blame to the media, there are tens of thousands of individual Christians and their churches that faithfully live out the gospel in their lives, families, and communities. I'm just suggesting that perhaps your view of the church is less than complete.

5. Have you forgotten that the church is the bride of Christ for whom Christ died? Even with all her stains, blemishes, and insecurities, God loves the church, laid down his life to redeem her, and will one day reign with her. So as justly frustrated as you might be, never ever forget that the church (warts and all) is God's tool to shine the light of his love in this dark world.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Is It Fair That Jesus Is The Only Way To God?

R.C. Sproul gives a provocative answer to that question in this 7:00 minute video.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

More on the Manifesto-Pt. 2

Having already taken a closer look at the need to reaffirm out identity, the first of three mandates within the recently released “Evangelical Manifesto,” today I’d like to focus on the second: the need to reform our behavior. Once again, I’ll provide some of the relevant excerpts, along with a few comments.

This section begins with these pointed words:
Our second major concern is the reformation of our behavior. We affirm that to be
Evangelical or to carry the name Evangelicals is not only to shape our faith and our lives according to the teaching and standards of the Way of Jesus, but to need to do so again and again. But if the Evangelical impulse is a radical, reforming, and innovative force, we acknowledge with sorrow a momentous irony today. We who time and again have stood for the renewal of tired forms, for the revival of dead churches, for the warming of cold hearts, for the reformation of corrupt practices and heretical beliefs, and for the reform of gross injustices in society, are ourselves in dire need of reformation and renewal today. Reformers, we ourselves need to be reformed. Protestants, we are the ones against whom protest must be made.

We confess that we Evangelicals have betrayed our beliefs by our behavior.

All too often we have trumpeted the gospel of Jesus, but we have replaced biblical
truths with therapeutic techniques, worship with entertainment, discipleship with growth in human potential, church growth with business entrepreneurialism, concern for the church and for the local congregation with expressions of the faith that are churchless and little better than a vapid spirituality, meeting real needs with pandering to felt needs, and mission principles with marketing precepts. In the process we have become known for commercial, diluted, and feel-good gospels of health, wealth, human potential, and religious happy talk, each of which is indistinguishable from the passing fashions of the surrounding world.
In my estimation, these thoughts are worthy of serious reflection by the Evangelical community (including both myself and present company, of course). It is nothing short of tragic that many ostensibly Christian leaders and teachers offer teaching and vision that often blends effortlessly with the predominate thought of the corporate America or the self-help section of the local bookstore (among other things). I would add, however, that the huge numbers of Evangelical churchgoers that cannot detect the problem is just as tragic.

Getting back to the Manifesto, it follows this section’s opening salvo with several statements that enlarge on its basic ideas, a sample of which I’ll reproduce here:
All too often we have traced our roots to powerful movements of spiritual revival
and reformation, but we ourselves are often atheists unawares, secularists in practice who live in a world without windows to the supernatural, and often carry on our Christian lives in a manner that has little operational need for God.

……….

All too often we have concentrated on great truths of the Bible, such as the cross
of Jesus, but have failed to apply them to other biblical truths, such as creation. In the process we have impoverished ourselves, and supported a culture broadly careless about the stewardship of the earth and negligent of the arts and the creative centers of society.

……….

All too often we have disobeyed the great command to love the Lord our God
with our hearts, souls, strength, and minds, and have fallen into an unbecoming anti- intellectualism that is a dire cultural handicap as well as a sin. In particular, some among us have betrayed the strong Christian tradition of a high view of science, epitomized in the very matrix of ideas that gave birth to modern science, and made themselves vulnerable to caricatures of the false hostility between science and faith. By doing so, we have unwittingly given comfort to the unbridled scientism and naturalism that are so rampant in our culture today.
These statements are in turn followed by a series of exhortations, including:
We urge our fellow-Evangelicals to go beyond lip-service to Jesus and the Bible
and restore these authorities to their supreme place in our thought and practice.

……….

We call for an expansion of our concern beyond single-issue politics, such as
abortion and marriage, and a fuller recognition of the comprehensive causes and concerns of the Gospel, and of all the human issues that must be engaged in public life. Although we cannot back away from our biblically rooted commitment to the sanctity of every human life, including those unborn, nor can we deny the holiness of marriage as instituted by God between one man and one woman, we must follow the model of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, engaging the global giants of conflict, racism, corruption, poverty, pandemic diseases, illiteracy, ignorance, and spiritual emptiness, by promoting reconciliation, encouraging ethical servant leadership, assisting the poor, caring for the sick, and educating the next generation. We believe it is our calling to be good stewards of all God has entrusted to our care so that it may be passed on to generations yet to be born.

……….

We call for a more complete understanding of discipleship that applies faith with
integrity to every calling and sphere of life, the secular as well as the spiritual, and the physical as well as the religious; and that thinks wider than politics in contributing to the arts, the sciences, the media, and the creation of culture in all its variety.
This section then closes with a reminder “that if we would recommend the Good News of
Jesus to others, we must first be shaped by that Good News ourselves, and thus ourselves be Evangelicals and Evangelical.”

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Why Christians Should Embrace Science

A book I recently read to better prepare for our Connections Class a week and a half ago is Science and Faith, by John Collins. Dr. Collins was my Hebrew and Old Testament professor at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. He was one of my favorite professors because he had a high level of enthusiasm for Hebrew, of all things, and often taught in an engaging way (i.e., he often stated his oft-opinionated opinions in a provocative way). I enjoyed Science and Faith because it reminded me of why I enjoyed his class lectures. It’s a rather thick and intensive book and so probably not for the casually interested, but it is available at our bookstore at The Crossing.

Toward the end of the book (p. 344ff), Dr. Collins states that everyone who really embraces the Christian faith SHOULD also value the sciences. And that’s a statement with which I wholeheartedly agree. There are four reasons why the Christian faith should motivate us to love the sciences.

First, because God created the universe as a testimony to his glory and creativity. There are seemingly an infinite number of elements, compounds, plants, creatures, planets, stars, galaxies, and other unknowns as of yet—all to show forth the wonder and glory of God. To study just a fraction of this universe is to study the wonder of the God who is also intimately involved in every detail of my life—a life that I should want to live more and more for the glory of my Creator.

Second, because God has made humans with the need to satisfy our curiosity. Curiosity is part of what it means to be created in the image of God so that we can image God as his rulers and caretakers over his creation. The more we learn about creation, the more we can fulfill what it really means to be created in the image of God. We were created to be curious learners—to develop a life of the mind so that we can better develop life in God’s creation.

Third, the sciences allow us to better serve humanity and creation. The sciences have allowed us to harness the powers of nature (medicines, foods, transportation, etc.) for the sake of human good and the good of creation. And more and more we need Christians with minds, hearts, values, and ethics better formed by Christian teaching so we know how to apply the sciences for greater good.

And fourth, the sciences allow us to better answer the claims of unbelief. In the book, The Weight of Glory, in the chapter, “Learning in War-Time,” C.S. Lewis wrote a rather provocative call for more Christian intellectuals:

“If all the world were Christian, it might not matter if all the world were uneducated. But, as it is, a cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now—not able to meet the enemies on their own ground—would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered. The cool intellect must work not only against cool intellect on the other side, but against the muddy heathen mysticisms which deny intellect altogether…. The learned life then is, for some, a duty.”

This is certainly a call for more Christian intellectuals in the sciences. And therefore it is a serious call for Christian parents, who are raising the next generation of Christians, to endeavor to develop their children to be able to rise to what will certainly be the intellectual challenges of their own future culture. This is our call as a church as well.

In my next blog post, I will discuss some very helpful ways that John Collins provides for parents to meet this challenge.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

More on the Manifesto-Pt. 1

Because in many ways I’ve found it to be such a spiritually beneficial and positively provocative declaration, I thought I’d draw some further attention to “An Evangelical Manifesto,” a document recently endorsed by several respected Evangelical leaders (see my initial post here).

The Manifesto is largely comprised by three major mandates, including the need for Evangelicals to (1) reaffirm our identity, (2) reform our behavior, and (3) rethink our place in public life. Because the document’s discussion of each of these exhortations repays closer consideration, I thought I’d provide a partial summary and relevant excerpts for each. This post will concern itself with the first mandate.

The section opens with this introductory paragraph:
Our first task is to reaffirm who we are. Evangelicals are Christians who define
themselves, their faith, and their lives according to the Good News of Jesus of Nazareth. (Evangelical comes from the Greek word for good news, or gospel.) Believing that the Gospel of Jesus is God’s good news for the whole world, we affirm with the Apostle Paul that we are “not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation.” Contrary to widespread misunderstanding today, we Evangelicals should be defined theologically, and not politically, socially, or culturally.
This initial statement is soon followed by a salutary list of seven integral beliefs, including affirmations of centrally important doctrines like the deity and exclusivity of Christ, salvation by grace through faith, the inspiration of the Scriptures, Christ’s lordship of every sphere of life, and the call for each of his followers to worship, serve, grow, and share him with others.

Then, with refreshing (and accurate) candor, the document goes on to assert:
At the same time, we readily acknowledge that we repeatedly fail to live up to our
high calling, and all too often illustrate the truth of our own doctrine of sin. We
Evangelicals share the same “crooked timber” of our humanity, and the full catalogue of our sins, failures, and hypocrisies. This is no secret either to God or to those who know and watch us.
Finally, the section closes with a list of implications that arise from the previously stated definition of Evangelicalism. Here the discussion includes these notable paragraphs, with which I’ll conclude the post:
Evangelicalism should be distinguished from two opposite tendencies to
which Protestantism has been prone: liberal revisionism and conservative
fundamentalism. Called by Jesus to be “in the world, but not of it,” Christians, especially in modern society, have been pulled toward two extremes. Those more liberal have tended so to accommodate the world that they reflect the thinking and lifestyles of the day, to the point where they are unfaithful to Christ; whereas those more conservative have tended so to defy the world that they resist it in ways that also become unfaithful to Christ.

The liberal revisionist tendency was first seen in the eighteenth century and has
become more pronounced today, reaching a climax in versions of the Christian faith that are characterized by such weaknesses as an exaggerated estimate of human capacities, a shallow view of evil, an inadequate view of truth, and a deficient view of God. In the end, they are sometimes no longer recognizably Christian. As this sorry capitulation occurs, such “alternative gospels” represent a series of severe losses that eventually seal their demise.

……….

The fundamentalist tendency is more recent, and even closer to Evangelicalism,
so much so that in the eyes of many, the two overlap. We celebrate those in the past for their worthy desire to be true to the fundamentals of faith, but Fundamentalism has become an overlay on the Christian faith and developed into an essentially modern reaction to the modern world. As a reaction to the modern world, it tends to romanticize the past, some now-lost moment in time, and to radicalize the present, with styles of reaction that are personally and publicly militant to the point where they are sub- Christian.

……….

Far from being unquestioning conservatives and unreserved supporters of
tradition and the status quo, being Evangelical means an ongoing commitment to Jesus Christ, and this entails innovation, renewal, reformation, and entrepreneurial dynamism, for everything in every age is subject to assessment in the light of Jesus and his Word. The Evangelical principle is therefore a call to self-examination, reflection, and a willingness to be corrected and to change whenever necessary. At the same time, far from being advocates of today’s nihilistic “change for change’s sake,” to be Evangelical is to recognize the primacy of the authority of Scripture, which points us to Jesus, and so to see the need to conserve a form behind all re-form.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

4 Ways To Distort The Gospel

Reading Galatians 1 this morning I came across Paul's warning to not "distort the gospel of Christ" (1:7). This warning is particularly weighty because the apostle says in this same chapter that there is really is no other gospel. The point is that to change (or distort) the gospel is to leave God's gospel which is the only gospel that saves. Simultaneous to reading Galatians, I was reading J. C. Ryle's sermon on Evangelical Religion and Graham Cole's new book Engaging with the Holy Spirit. Both authors use different language to explore the same topic.

Somewhat based on Ryle and Cole, here are some of my thoughts on how we fall into this dangerous trap.

4 Ways We Commonly Distort The Gospel

1. Substitution happens when we put anyone or anything in the place that only Christ belongs. This usually involves religious practices such as church, baptism, communion, and confession to name only a few. These are all tempting substitutes because they are good things that God commands and therefore we should be involved in them. The problem is that they make poor Saviors because they don't deal with our greatest need--sin. When we look to religious acts to make us right with God, we ask them to do something that they were never intended to do.

2. Addition happens when we add our good works to the gospel. I recently spoke with a man who said that he thinks God will accept him if he believes in Christ AND he lives the right way. But when a person says that what they are really saying--whether they realize it or not--is something along the lines of, "Jesus, thanks for dying on the cross for my sin. I know that you did your best but you didn't quite do enough. I am going to add my good works to make up the difference."

When Jesus was on the cross, the last thing he said before he died was, "It is finished." He did all the work to reconcile sinners to God. There is nothing left for us to do. That's good news because there is really nothing sinners can add to Christ's perfect sacrifice.

3. Subtraction occurs when we deny that true belief in the gospel brings real change to our lives. When that happens, what we are subtracting is the fruit that Christ bears in every believer's life. This distortion pretends that we can separate Christ as Savior from Christ as Lord and treats the gospel as if it is nothing more than a "get out of jail free" card. But the Bible repeatedly teaches that true faith produces genuine obedience. So we distort the gospel when we talk about it in a way that minimizes how Christ transforms our lives.

4. Disproportion occurs when we give one part of the Christian life or one element of biblical teaching more weight than the Bible gives it. According to Cole, an example is when "pneumatology (Holy Spirit) becomes our primary emphasis rather than Christology." This leads some to speak more of the Spirit's leading than they do of the cross.

Another example of disproportion occurs when we give social activism--no matter how biblical --more of an emphasis than it deserves. Some Christians are seemingly more enthused about fighting abortion or what they perceive to be the "homosexual agenda" than loving God and loving their neighbor.

Do you have other examples of how the gospel can be distorted?

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Why Do We Do Kids Club?

As you may have noticed if you’ve been around our church for long (even just this past week), Kids Club is a pretty big deal. This summer will be our eighth year of this unique week long, summer camp experience for elementary and preschool kids. I admit, this event takes a lot of money, time, volunteers, staff resources and energy to pull off. So, why do we feel like it’s worth it? Why not just do a typical, low-budget, pre-boxed VBS? Here are three reasons why we think Kids Club is worth all this.

1) Reach kids hearts and minds for Christ in a unique way. Our goal from the beginning of Kids Club has been to reinvent the typical, "churchy" VBS. We want to grow kids’ hearts and minds for God by going above and beyond what we can normally do on Sunday mornings. Much like a camp experience, we want to give kids a memorable and life changing week. Our hope is that kids will leave not only having learned something and built relationships, but saying “I love my church!”

2) Build community in the church. I must admit that this wasn’t our initial goal the first few years, but it has been a wonderful by-product of Kids Club. This one week brings momentum to our church each year as it brings people of all ages together to build relationships, serve together, and have fun together. Many of the adults want to return each year just as much as the kids. We regularly hear stories of how families have gotten plugged into our church for the first time because of their experience during that week.

3) Outreach to families in the community. We strive to make Kids Club an event that is easy to invite non-believers and other friends to. That’s why we work so hard at executing every aspect of it with excellence, fun, and cultural-relevance. In addition, each year, the kids will hear Bible stories and truths that share the gospel of Christ in, what we hope will be, an attractive way.

Now, at the risk of sounding like we’re tooting our own horn, I’d love to share a few comments we received from parents and volunteers last year. The reason I share these is because I think they illustrate the ways in which God has worked and been glorified in the past at Kids Club. Our team is praying for the same thing this year.

I’ve said it many times over, but Kids Club is truly my favorite week of the year. I hope that you and/or your kids can say the same thing this summer!

Last Year’s Comments from Parents and Volunteers:

I have been involved with MANY VBS programs…but never one that combined so many incredible talents and provided such a fun atmosphere filled with growth and learning as well…truly EDUtainment for kids. I actually had our friend’s mom ask if she could come and watch tonight because the boys were so excited. So, thank you for this incredible ministry. I am honored and humbled to be a very small part of it and grateful for this opportunity for my kids. - Preschool volunteer and parent

I thank God for bringing me and my family to this church. The Crossing has such strong, talented and dedicated individuals who are led by the Lord and help to lead others in their roles in this body of believers. Kids Club is a wonderful outreach to our own kids from the Crossing and to those kids outside the church. – Bible story helper and parent

I saw the faces of the wee ones really “get” the stories and songs. It is neat to see God work in little lives….Everyday was a blast! I was so excited to come and serve and see lives being touched. - Preschool volunteer and parent

(During Kids Club week) Both of my sons have gone to preschool each day and have said to their friends, “God is so great.” - Games volunteer and parent

My boys were VERY excited about Kids Club this week. Seeing them hungry to learn more about God is priceless!...The highlight of the week for me was seeing the excitement of one little boy when he found out that he was going to get his very own Bible! He was so very excited because he said that he only had a “half of a Bible” at home! - Crafts volunteer and parent

One girl in the 3-year-olds heard that Jesus was more precious than gold, and she smiled. I saw her face start to glow. She looked up at me and said, “I love Jesus!” It made my day! - High school volunteer in the Preschool

Also, one mom told us that her husband took their kids camping on Saturday night after Kids Club, and they had some great spiritual discussions. She was so excited about how last week prompted her kids in great ways. Another mom told us that her daughter fell asleep on Thursday night during Kids Club week with her new Bible tucked in her arms. She said she wished she would have taken a picture.

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An Evangelical Manifesto

A little over a week ago, a group of Evangelical leaders—including not a few scholars, pastors, and authors held in high regard around The Crossing—issued “An Evangelical Manifesto: A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment.” According to the group’s website:
An Evangelical Manifesto is an open declaration of who Evangelicals are and what they stand for. It has been drafted and published by a representative group of Evangelical leaders who do not claim to speak for all Evangelicals, but who invite all other Evangelicals to stand with them and help clarify what Evangelical means in light of “confusions within and the consternation without” the movement. As the Manifesto states, the signers are not out to attack or exclude anyone, but to rally and to call for reform.

As an open declaration, An Evangelical Manifesto addresses not only Evangelicals and other Christians but other American citizens and people of all other faiths in America, including those who say they have no faith. It therefore stands as an example of how different faith communities may address each other in public life, without any compromise of their own faith but with a clear commitment to the common good of the societies in which we all live together.

For those who are Evangelicals, the deepest purpose of the Manifesto is a serious call to reform—an urgent challenge to reaffirm Evangelical identity, to reform Evangelical behavior, to reposition Evangelicals in public life, and so rededicate ourselves to the high calling of being Evangelical followers of Jesus Christ.
The full document runs 19 pages, though the group has also published a significantly shorter summary. You can find them both here.

From what I can judge, the release of the Manifesto succeeded in garnering some initial attention from the national press, particularly regarding its potential political implications. Perhaps more interesting, however, is the conversation/debate the document has sparked within the larger Evangelical community. My own initial evaluation is largely positive, though I admit to having a few significant concerns and questions. Perhaps I’ll elaborate in a later post.

Regardless of what you ultimately think about the Manifesto, my bet is that reading at least the summary of the full document and a few critical responses will prove a highly beneficial exercise in helping us think more about what it means to engage our world as faithful followers of and ambassadors for Christ.

Toward that end, Justin Taylor has helpfully rounded up some snippets of the more thoughtful Evangelical responses to the Manifesto here, along with links to their fuller comments--see especially Alan Jacobs, Denny Burk, and Douglas Wilson (at the bottom). Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is also worth reading. As with the document itself, I won't claim to agree with everything said by these commentators, but they provide a great deal food for thought.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Can you Trust Your Brain?

Let me introduce you to a new word: Kluge.

Kluge (rhymes with huge) is a term that describes a clumsy, inelegant solution to a problem – a solution that gets the job done, but is by no means pretty or ideal. A great example, for those that have seen Apollo 13, is the contraption the 3 astronauts construct out of duct tape, a sock, and a plastic bag to filter the CO2 in their ship after they loose power. It worked, but I don’t think NASA will be using that exact model in future ships. It was a kluge.

Gary Marcus, a professor in the Department of Psychology at New York University has a forthcoming book titled, Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind. Marcus’ thesis is that your brain is a kluge. Just like that clumsy CO2 filter, it gets the job done, but it is not an efficiently designed solution.

In a column in the L.A. Times, ‘Does your brain have a mind of its own?’ Marcus states, “In the mental machinery that governs our everyday decisions, kluges abound.”

The reason he thinks the brain is such an inefficient machine is that it is the product of evolutionary biology. Marcus’ project is to explain why our brains function the way they do by telling a purely naturalistic evolutionary story about their origin.

The only value that drives evolution is survival power. If a certain adaptation promotes survival, and thus has a greater potential to pass along genes, then it will perpetuate. Survival is king in the evolutionary story. Therefore, since our brains, like everything else about us, have been forged out of the evolutionary process, they are designed to promote our survival and are not necessarily built for the other complex processes that we now ask them to do: things like setting goals, remembering details, or even studying algebra.

In a review of the forthcoming book, writing for Newsweek, Raina Kelley explains:
[Marcus] argues our brains didn't evolve in a way that allowed us to thoroughly evaluate how well our beliefs represent reality.

So the conclusion Marcus reaches is that “kluges abound” in our brains because they were forged by chance to promote survival but we now ask them to do all kinds of other things than simply alert us to run away from predators. Just like the sock in the CO2 filter, our brain may be able to get the job done (when it comes to forming thoughts that correspond to the world, that is, when it comes to producing true knowledge), but it is inefficient and inelegant since it developed with a different goal in mind: survival.

While I agree with Marcus’ analysis that if our brains are a result of a purely naturalistic evolutionary process then they are inefficient and “kluges abound,” I actually think his premises force him to go even further than he does. If his project is to explain the functioning of the brain from a purely naturalistic evolutionary process, he must admit that the brain is actually not “getting the job done” – that is, the brain is not a reliable producer of true beliefs. Let me explain.

Naturalistic evolutionists assume that the thoughts and ideas the brain produces have actual correspondence to reality, that is, the brain is trustworthy in producing true beliefs. But what is the basis for this assumption on the evolutionary view? The evolutionary view is committed, by definition, to survival being the engine of progress. True beliefs may aid survival, or they may not. And that is exactly the point. True beliefs and survival beliefs are not necessarily the same thing.

We can surely imagine a situation in which believing something false actually helps us survive longer to pass along our genes to the next generation. For example, say one day long ago a caveman’s brain produced the idea that every time he hears thunder it is the voice of god speaking god language telling him to run to the lowest point he could find. This is not a true belief. This does not correspond to reality. Yet we can see how this belief would have survival power because the caveman who believed this would have a smaller statistical probability of being struck by the lighting that always accompanies the thunder because he is at a lower elevation. The brain that produced such a belief, on the naturalistic evolutionary view, would aid in survival and thus be the kind of brain that is passed along to future generations.

Survival beliefs do not necessarily correspond to true beliefs.

Naturalistic evolution acts as a defeater belief for itself. There is no explanation for why the brain is designed to produce true beliefs, only an explanation for why the brain may produce beliefs with survival power. The two are not always the same thing. With no guaranteed connection between our ideas and reality, we have no guarantee the theory of naturalistic evolution (itself an idea produced in the brain) corresponds with reality at all.

Tim Keller, in The Reason for God, asks, “If our cognitive faculties only tell us what we need to survive, not what is true, why trust them about anything at all?”

If we are to have any reasonable confidence that our thoughts actually correspond to reality (which everyone assumes from the start) we must look beyond the naturalistic evolutionary story. We must look to a brain designer, himself rational, who is able to impart truth-correspondence, not merely survival power, to our intellectual faculties.

Many great minds have already made this exact argument, which has come to be known as “the evolutionary argument against naturalism.” My only goal here is to pirate their ideas and present them, again, to you. CS Lewis, for example, uses this line of reasoning in chapter 3 of his book Miracles, ‘The Cardinal Difficulty with Naturalism,’ which I would highly encourage you to read.

But I will leave you with a quote from Alvin Plantinga, the famous Christian philosopher from Notre Dame:

The naturalist can be reasonably sure that the neurophysiology underlying belief formation is adaptive, but nothing follows about the truth of the beliefs depending on that neurophysiology. In fact he'd have to hold that it is unlikely, given unguided evolution, that our cognitive faculties are reliable. It's as likely, given unguided evolution, that we live in a sort of dream world as that we actually know something about ourselves and our world.

However,
From a theistic point of view, we'd expect that our cognitive faculties would be… reliable. God has created us in his image, and an important part of our image bearing is our resembling him in being able to form true beliefs and achieve knowledge.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Lord is Near

Rejoice in the Lord always.

Let your gentleness be known to all.

Have no anxiety about anything.

These are all exhortations the apostle Paul gives in the short span of Phillipians 4:4-6. And if we pause just a moment to consider the scope of these commands, we’re forced to acknowledge they constitute an enormous challenge. How can we reasonably rejoice at all times, particularly in the face of hardship and suffering? How can we demonstrate “gentleness”—a word in this context that represents a willingness to yield one’s personal rights—to everyone, even difficult and unloving people? And finally, Paul instructs us to not be anxious…about anything!

Is he serious? How could we even begin to do these things?

The key, I suspect, is wrapped up in four words tucked in the middle of the passage: “The Lord is near.” Though brief enough to escape our notice when reading these verses, this phrase constitutes a promise of powerful implications. Let me show you what I mean.

How can we rejoice even in the face of difficult circumstances? The Lord, with his deep compassion for your struggle and unmatched power for your aid, is near. His presence with his people includes a love that is never thwarted by circumstance (Rom. 8:35-39), but remains full and satisfying in the face of every trial.

How can we be gentle in the face of those who mistreat us? The Lord is present. He sees your situation. And he promises ultimately to bring about justice (Col. 3:25). There is therefore no need to “take matters into our own hands,” to respond to ill-treatment with the same.

How can we lay down the burden of our worries? By understanding that the Sovereign Lord of the universe is present to insure that our lives unfold according to his purposes and for our good (Rom. 8:28). By realizing that we already have the one against whom everything else, no matter how valuable, pales in comparison (Phil. 3:7-10)—the one who will never leave or forsake his people (Heb. 13:5).

Surely much more could be said, but hopefully we can begin to get the idea: the Lord is near to his people…and that is incredibly good news.

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The Quotable Spurgeon

Charles Spurgeon has been dead for over 100 years and yet his influence has not died. Through his sermons and books, he continues to touch people's lives and shape their faith. I make it a habit to periodically read books about him or by him. Lately, I've been reading a collection of sermons by him on the cross of Christ. Here is a convicting paragraph that I recently came across in a message entitled "The Crown of Thorns" based on Matthew 27:29: And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head (KJV).

"Who seeks for ease when he has seen the Lord Christ? If Christ wears a crown of thorns, shall we covet a crown of laurel? Even the fierce Crusader when he entered into Jerusalem, and was elected king, had sense enough to say, "I will not wear a crown of gold in the same city where my Savior wore a crown of thorns." Why should we desire, like feather-bed soldiers, to have everything arranged for our ease and pleasure? Why this reclining when Jesus hangs on a cross? Why this soft raiment (clothes) when He is naked? Why these luxuries when He is barbarously entreated? Thus the thorn crown cures us at once of the vainglory of the world, and of our own selfish love of ease....For us neither delights of the flesh nor the pride of life can have charms while the Man of Sorrows is in view. For us it remains to suffer, and to labor, till the King shall bid us share His rest."

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

You Say You Want To Start A Rebelution

As silly as it may sound to you, one of the most formative experiences in my life was playing football at Jefferson City High School with legendary coaches Pete Adkins (see Melissa Etheridge's tribute video) and Ron Cole. Those two men taught me and many of my friends life lessons that went way beyond the playing field and still affect me today. One of their secrets was to set high expectations and then challenge a bunch of teenagers to meet those expectations. It worked. Boys became men as they learned to work hard, take responsibility, and function as a team. In the process each person achieved more than they thought they could. There is something deep in the heart of men (and women) that wants to rise to the occasion and pursue excellence instead of settling for mediocrity.

That instinct was also revealed in two classes I had at the University of Missouri. Community Development had the reputation of being a very easy class--so easy that you didn't really even have to show up in order to get an A. On the opposite end of the spectrum was Economics 241. It was what was known as a "weed out" class (it weeded out the students who weren't going to make it through the program). I got an A in the difficult class and if memory serves me right a B in the easy class. How did that happen? The challenging class inspired my best effort because it expected more from me.

I share all of this as way of introduction to a book I read recently entitled Do Hard Things. The authors, Alex and Brett Harris, are 19 year old twins living near Portland, OR. The Harris brothers have a simple message for their fellow teens: Rise above the mediocre standards and expectations that the culture sets for teens and instead Do Hard Things.

They cast a vision of a better way of doing the teen years in which so many teens have been “conditioned to believe what is false, to stop when things feel hard, and to miss out on God’s incredible purpose for [the] teen years.” Over the course of the book the authors look at five different kinds of hard things that can challenge the expectations of those around them: things that are outside of your comfort zone, things that are beyond what is expected or required, things that are too big to accomplish alone, things that don’t earn an immediate pay off and things that challenge the cultural norm.

In the chapter 3: The Myth of Adolescence, the Harris' show that historically speaking adolescence and the idea of a teenager is very new. The first recorded use of the word "teenager" is in 1941. The book attributes it to Reader's Digest although Thomas Hine writes in The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager that the word was first published in Popular Science. Regardless of where the first usage occurred, it's obvious that the concept of an extended period of "growing up" is rather new. The authors state that their problem with the modern notion of adolescence is that it "allows, encourages, and even trains young people to remain childish for much longer than necessary. It holds us back from what we could do, from what God made us to do, and even from what we would want to do if we got out from under society's low expectations."

But don't misunderstand. This isn't a book written for pastors or parents but for teens. It's full of stories about teenagers who rebelled against low expectations and did things that no one thought they could. I'm passing it on to my kids to read but I have to admit that I found it inspiring myself. It reminded me of why I'm not inspired by small ambitions and why I want to live for something greater than achieving the American Dream. As a parent of a 13 and 12 year old, this book reminded me that my kids won't be motivated by being babied but by being challenged.

A few years ago Alex and Brett started a ministry called The Rebelution designed to encourage a counter culture movement made up of Christian teens that "rebel against the low expectations of an ungodly culture." Read more about their ministry. Visit their blog. Find out more about their one day conferences.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Feel Good Story Of The Week

The City Cafe Bakery in Kitchener, Ontario does things surprisingly different. Here is the story from a trade magazine called Baker's Journal:


"City Cafe doesn’t have Interac or accept credit cards. Neither will you see a cash register in the bakery. Instead, customers add up how much they owe themselves and drop their money into a fare box from an old bus.

'I liked the idea of simplifying things and...the honour system made a whole lot of sense,' Bergen says. 'What irritated me about going into Tim Hortons, for example, was waiting in line for something as simple as getting a donut and a coffee. So the thought was, someone can pour his own coffee, grab his own bagel, cut it himself, throw the money in, and walk out. We don’t touch 60 per cent of the transaction.'

Because it is up to the customers to total their purchases, Bergen has simplified the cost structure. 'Everything is rounded off to the nearest quarter with taxes included where applicable,' he says. 'So every desert is $1.50 (tarts, brownies, and date squares), every pizza lunch is $5, every beverage is $1.25, every loaf of bread is $2.75 (Italian sourdough, multi-grain, and raisin bread on weekends), croissants are $1 each, and bagels are three for $2 (plain, sesame, and multi-grain).'

The bakery conducts audits every six months and Bergen says only once did things come up short.

'Our theory is that two per cent of our sales are being ripped off. ‘Ripped off’ in the sense that there are people who forget to pay or they make a mistake in paying, and then there are people who deliberately don’t pay. And every so often we have to kick somebody out that we know hasn’t been paying,' he says. 'But at the same time we figure we’re being overpaid by three per cent. Some people come in and want a $2.75 loaf of bread, but they see we’re busy so they throw $3 in and walk out. Or, although we discourage tips, some people still give them to us. But because the staff is paid well (the average wage is $15.50 an hour), the tips go into the general pot.'

The staff will make change if a customer needs it, but Bergen says they will ask the customer how much they want back because they don’t want to have to do the math."


How does something like this work in a world as screwed up as ours? I think that the theological explanation is common grace, which Nathan discussed here and here.

Because human beings are created in the image of God, they have the capacity to function in a civilized society. Whenever we see examples of people respecting each other and working well together, it gives us the opportunity to praise God for his goodness toward undeserving sinners. And it also gives us as Christians an opportunity to applaud the "good" in the world instead of always pointing out the bad.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Myanmar Needs Your Help

By now the news concerning Myanmar is probably familiar to most of us. As a result of Cyclone Nargis, over 65,000 people are dead or missing, according to state media. Other groups estimate that the death toll could eventually exceed an astounding 100,000.

To put that in perspective, even the current dead/missing toll in Myanmar is over seven times the number of deaths reported in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and the current conflict in Iraq combined. If the final figure indeed tops 100,000, it will easily exceed the total number of casualties the U.S. suffered in Vietnam and Korea.

But beyond the staggering tragedy involved with the lives that have already been lost, other serious—some even ridiculous—problems remain. According to a recent MSNBC story, Myanmar’s military government has said it will accept aid from all countries, but has thus far been prohibiting foreign workers from entering the country to help manage the crisis. (Some Western aid experts in Thailand will reportedly have to wait four more days before entering the country simply because the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok is taking a local holiday.) This with nearly 1 million people waiting for food, clean water, shelter, and medicine, thousands of children being orphaned, and the stench from floating bodies described as “beyond words.”

What can we do? First, pray. Pray that God would bring Myanmar’s military leaders to their senses and allow aid workers to enter the country. Pray also that he would provide the necessary resources to manage the situation and bring relief to the people affected by the tragedy. Finally, pray that he would cause many hearts to look to Christ for their ultimate rest and joy.

Second, consider contributing financially. While I admit it’s very easy to see the news reports and simply go on about our day, we might remember an important truth: Christians worship a God who has graciously poured out compassion on us in our desperate need—indeed he continues to do so. That truth should encourage compassion of our own.

You can find contact information for several relief agencies here.

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Friday, May 9, 2008

"Other Things"

Last week’s issue of U.S. News & World Report, to which I am a subscriber, quoted Barack Obama on why he believes religious beliefs to be important in a person’s life. According to U.S. News, at a mid-April forum at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., Obama said:

Religion is a bulwark, a foundation when other things aren’t going well. That’s true in my own life, through trials and tribulations(4/28/08, p. 14).

What’s your reaction to that statement? Does that assertion reflect your view of your faith as well? If it does, you’re in big trouble.

Now I don’t want to pick on Barack Obama personally or as a political candidate. I certainly do not believe any of the other presidential candidates are any more or less on target than Obama when it comes to the Christian faith. So that’s not my point of interest here at all.

My interest here is in the eventual life crash that will certainly come your way if you in any way share his view. Because if you see your faith as “a foundation when other things aren’t going well,” then in truth your faith is no foundation at all. At best, it is a second best—the undesired thing you turn to only in unfortunate times—“when things aren’t going well”—“through trials and tribulations.” But to you, fortunate times—times when things ARE “going well” in your life—are those times when you don’t really have to turn to religion.

In other words, if your faith is what you turn to primarily “when other things aren’t going well,” then God is not your first choice—he’s no greater than your second. Your greater desires are for other things. And you regard your life as “going well” when you don’t really need to turn to God.

But life will eventually crash ashore on the sharp rocks of reality for us whenever God is not our greatest desire. Our lives are, in reality, NOT “going well” if our greater desires are for other things than God. And we can tell what our greatest desires really are when we consider what it is we would describe as when our lives ARE “going well,” and what it really is when we think “things aren’t going well.”

And we don’t get the Bible’s message at all if we think of God primarily as the One we turn to “when other things aren’t going well.” If that’s our perspective of what it means to have faith in Christ, then we’re trapped in an illusion where our view of reality is the exact opposite of reality. We think “other things” are better for our lives than God.

In his excellent book entitled Lost in the Middle, on p. 52, Paul Tripp offers some penetrating questions that expose where our greatest desires in life are really focused—how we personally define when our lives are “going well” or not. Here are just a few to consider:

What is it that keeps you going?
What makes your life worthwhile?
What are you convinced you cannot live without?
Why do you call one day good and another bad?

It is not overly spiritual to say that, if any of our answers to these questions omit God, then we’re trying to build our lives on an ever-crumbling foundation of “other things.”

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Why Buy Locally?

(First a side note: sorry for the blog hiatus. I’ve been down and out with morning sickness for quite some time. Yes, we're expecting our second child in October. I’m beginning to bounce back now and am excited to get back to blogging.)

One of my favorite things about this time of year is going to the farmer’s market on Saturday mornings. I love watching the variety of people, meeting the hard-working farmers and vendors from our area, and especially experiencing all the different kinds of produce, hand-made products, and plants for sale. I can't help feeling like I’m experiencing a bit of God’s glory whenever I go.

I ran across this article from the April issue of Inside Columbia Magazine recently that discusses why it matters to buy locally, explaining some great reasons for and resources for buying food from our community. Now, I certainly wouldn’t classify myself as a hardcore activist in this area, but I’m growing in my conviction that there are certainly many benefits. As a Christian, buying locally might be just one way to consider helping the environment, making an impact in the community by supporting our farmers and vendors, and providing healthy, safe food for your family.

Your thoughts?

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Yale Student's Senior Project: Abortion Art

If you’ve had your eye on the news the past couple of weeks, you might be aware of the recent controversy (to put it mildly) surrounding Aliza Shvarts, an art student at Yale. Shvarts intended to submit a senior art project that she asserts centered upon a nine-month long process of repeated artificial insemination attempts and possible self-induced miscarriages using abortifacient drugs.

I use the word “attempts,” and “possible” because Shvarts never actually knew whether she was pregnant during the process. I say “she asserts” because it still remains unclear whether the project was a “creative fiction” or Shvarts actually did what she claims. (Read an overview here.)

This story points to an entire host of important issues, only a couple of which I’ll touch upon here:

1. The Yale Daily News reported that “students on both ends of the abortion debate have expressed shock—saying the project does everything from violate moral code to trivialize abortion.” As someone with a biblical conviction that abortion is wrong, I would sadly but clearly label Shvarts’ project, if real, as both shockingly tragic and profoundly immoral. In fact, even as a “creative fiction,” I’d be obligated to state the project remains seriously reprehensible. Conversely, it seems much less clear how anyone from a pro-abortion position can decry Shvarts’ actions as anything more than a public relations liability. In other words, from such a perspective, she might needlessly be offending the sensibilities of those on the other side of the issue, but she’s done nothing intrinsically wrong: such actions don’t constitute the taking of a life and individuals, after all, have a right to do with their bodies as they please. As for trivializing the act of abortion, my sincere question is this: isn’t that, in essence, the very thing abortion rights supporters are consistently seeking to do in some measure?

2. The same article quoted Shvarts as saying, “I believe strongly that art should be a medium for politics and ideologies, not just a commodity. I think that I’m creating a project that lives up to the standard of what art is supposed to be.” I agree that art is often an effective and powerful means to communicate ideas in both overt and subtle ways. But to consider it solely as a “medium for politics and ideologies”—a perspective that many Christians often share, differing only in the content of the ideology—leaves art indistinguishable from bare propaganda. This perspective forgets that art has worth simply in demonstrating creativity and beauty. These are qualities valued by God himself and, consequently, appreciated instinctively by those he has made in his image. (For similar thoughts, see Lucas Kwong's "Art, Politics, and Sex Week at Yale.")

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Prince Caspian

Twelve spiritual lessons from Prince Caspian that might launch a good conversation with a family member or a friend.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

What Will Heaven Be Like?

On this blog we are always making the point that your theology makes a significant difference in how you live your life. It's always encouraging to get help getting that point across especially when that help comes from unexpected sources. Recently, the ABC program Nightline ran an interview with N.T. Wright, the Bishop of Durham, England (Anglican), in which he discussed his newest book Surprised By Hope. In the interview Wright lays out the often neglected biblical view of heaven and distinguishes it from the inaccurate version portrayed in the Left Behind series. He also discusses the implications for our daily life and ministry. It's well worth the 5 minutes it takes to watch.

(HT: Evangelical Outpost)

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Monday, May 5, 2008

Christian Pop Culture

Have you ever had the experience of being so embarrassed with your fellow Christians that their behavior makes you wonder if you're really a Christian? In a new book entitled Rapture Ready!: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture, Daniel Radosh catalouges the underbelly of the Christian subculture ranging from Bibleman and Ultimate Christian Wrestling to Christian theme parks and "witness wear." I'm not sure if what I've read thus far makes me want to laugh or cry.

Slate's review by Hannah Rosin
Discerning Reader's review by Tim Challies

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Saturday, May 3, 2008

How to Judge Art-Pt. 4

Having mentioned technical excellence, validity, and content, we can now turn our attention to Francis Schaeffer’s fourth and final general criteria for judging art: the integration of content and vehicle.

The last criterion judges how well an artist has matched her medium to the ideas that she wishes to express. Schaeffer offers T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Wasteland” as a noteworthy example of this standard:
When Eliot published this in 1922, he became a hero to the modern poets, because for the first time he dared to make the form of his poetry fit the nature of the world as he saw it, namely, broken, unrelated, ruptured. What was that form? A collection of shattered fragments of language and images and allusions drawn seemingly haphazardly from all manner of literature, philosophy, and religious writings from the ancients to the present (Art and the Bible, 47).
Likewise, a work like the animated blockbuster The Incredibles (2004) is also noteworthy in this regard. One of the film’s central themes is that exceptional talents are not to be hidden or neglected, but rather used and enjoyed. It would be difficult to find a better medium for a message of that nature than a story about a family with super powers, particularly when cast in computer animation. Such a combination allows for visually stunning portrayal of this unusual family’s exceptional gifts, as well as situations in which they are compelled to use them. In this case, content and vehicle fit like a hand and glove.

In the final installment of this series, we’ll look at an example of applying all four criteria to a particular work of art.

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

How to Judge Art-Pt. 3

Having looked at the first two of Francis Schaeffer’s criteria for judging art (technical excellence and validity), we now move to the third: content. This criterion deals with the worldview or ideological perspective expressed within the art. Though some express it more fully or explicitly than others, every work of art—whether painting, sculpture, film, music, theater, literature, etc.—expresses a worldview, a framework of understanding and living in the world. The Christian’s task is to evaluate these ideas in light of biblical truth. Says Schaeffer, “If we stand as Christians before a man’s canvas and recognize that he is a great artist in technical excellence and validity—if in fact he is—if we have been fair with him as a man and as an artist, then we can say that his world view is wrong” (Art and the Bible, 43-44). Alternatively, we may applaud an artist’s convictions and be forced to admit that the execution of the art involved is decidedly sub-par.

It’s worth noting that a work of art will rarely, if ever, be completely consistent or completely contrary to the Christian worldview—a fact that only underscores the need for careful discernment. Such discernment, in turn, depends on a solid knowledge of the Scriptures, a quality in which Christians should be constantly growing.

Schaeffer also adds two additional comments when discussing this criterion. First, “if something untrue or immoral is stated in great art it can be far more destructive and devastating that if it is expressed in poor art or prosaic statement. …Ordinarily, many seem to feel that the greater the art, the less we ought to be critical of its worldview. This we must reverse.” The second is this: “It is possible for a non-Chrisitan writer or painter to write and paint according to a Christian worldview even though he himself is not a Christian" (44-45). The opposite, of course, is also true. This leads to four different possibilities: (1) the Christian who creates art consistent with a Christian worldview: (2) the non-Christian who creates art inconsistent with Christianity; (3) the non-Christian who, for whatever reason, creates art consistent with the Christian worldview; and (4) the Christian who creates art inconsistent with his faith (46).

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