Archive - December, 2007

Jonathan Edwards’ Resolutions

Worth pondering, particularly as we enter the New Year. A few of my favorites:
5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.
6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.
7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.
15. Resolved, never to suffer the least motions of anger towards irrational beings.
25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.
(HT: JT)

ReThink – An Engaging Reflection on Student Ministry

Over Christmas I was able to finish reading reThink by Steve Wright (with Chris Graves). Wright has served as a student pastor for more than twenty years. In the introduction, Wright explains:

“This book was born out of deciding to rethink student ministry. We started by asking some tough questions, searching the Bible for its framework for ministry, looking at the latest research and being honest about the problems of student ministry.”

Though the book is written primarily for other student pastors, I found the book helpful as a young father, a college professor and an involved church member. It probably helps that I’ve given some thought to the extended adolescence problem and have reflected a bit on the youth ministry issue (thanks in part to books like Family Driven Faith by Voddie Baucham).
It is beyond dispute that much of student ministry today, over the long haul, bears little fruit. Wright cites numerous sources in painting a bleak picture: 58-84% of children from evangelical families are leaving the church as they enter adulthood (in their college years). The Southern Baptist Convention has seen a 6.5% reduction in baptisms from 1976-1990 to 1991-2005. Over the same period to time, the SBC saw a 35-40% reduction in baptisms among teens aged 12-17. With regard to biblical literacy, the data are equally perplexing: In a study of teenagers of which 70% were active in church youth groups, and 82% identified themselves as Christians, Barna found that 63% believe Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Jews and all other people pray to the same god. While 87% believe Jesus was a real person who came to earth and 78% believe He was born of a virgin, 46% believe He committed sins and 51% believe He did not rise from the dead. 58% believe that all religious faiths teach equally valid truth.
Why the lack of biblical clarity? Wright notes,

“Student ministry in many cases has become the local YMCA or teen amusement park; students check in and out, but mostly out. After all, once they have experienced years of fun-and-games, all-you-can-eat, no-responsibility, free-from-parents amusement, then we have helped train their appetites for pleasure to find more alluring fulfillment in the adult world.”

Yet students hunger for strong teaching. The Barna Group found the most common reason students gave for attending church was “to better understand what I believe.”
In response to these results, Wright laments the fact that some parents see spiritual formation as the exclusive job of the youth pastor, who in turn too quickly accept the responsibility. Instead, Wright argues (from Deuteronomy 6 and elsewhere) that parents have a primary responsibility for the discipleship of their children, both prior to and during the pivotal teen years. He calls upon youth pastors to come alongside parents in this venture, equipping both the students and their parents.
Here, Steve Wright voices a respectful disagreement with those who call for teaching children through the engagement of fathers and through the preaching of the Word, without a role for age-graded ministries. Wright notes that in biblical times rabbis would teach in the synagogues in Talmud and Mishnah schooling, which was age-graded. In short, Wright’s message is:

“Both the church and its student ministries have biblically assigned purposes: namely, exaltation, edification, and evangelism. It is interesting in passages concerning the early church…we see these three purposes functioning in perfect unison. These purposes of the church are different than the purposes of the family, which is why God ordained two institutions rather than one. We cannot listen to the extremists who are attempting to push us to one or the other institution. It’s time for the two institutions to step closer together and become partners to rescue this generation.”

Wright notes that churches (and their student ministries) are needed to reach out and model Christianity to teens without Christian parents, to reinforce a biblical worldview to teens, to serve as an impartial advisor to parents and teens, to connect young people with other Christian teens for support, encouragement and accountability, and to provide opportunities for corporate service to the body of Christ.
All in all, I think Wright does a good job at valuing the roles of both nuclear families (parents being the primary disciple-makers of their children) and church-based student ministries which come alongside parents. He avoids the pitfalls of an entertainment-oriented youth ministry approach (which tends to value “fun” over biblical training and serious worldview formation) and the call for abolishing youth ministry altogether. Many churches that once approached youth ministry with the former model are coming to the realization that while God genuinely converts some teenagers in this context, many (if not the majority) are not being equipped for the challenges presented in the college and post-college years, with disastrous consequences. Yet youth ministry can (and should) be a part of a healthy local church’s equipping of both Christian parents and their teens, and for the advancement of the gospel among unbelieving teens. It really can be a both/and. I highly commend this book to youth pastors and parents alike. I believe it will help many churches establish fruitful high school ministries with a view toward multi-generational faithfulness.

Tapping into God’s Mercy

I was blessed this morning by a good word from Life as a Vapor: Thirty-One Meditations for Your Faith. The object of our faith is primary, not the size. Piper notes:

“In Luke 17:5, the apostles pleaded with the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you’ (v. 6). In other words, the issue in your Christian life and ministry is not the strength or quantity of your faith, because that is not what uproots trees. God does. Therefore, the smallest faith that truly connects you with Christ will engage enough of His power for all you need. Moving trees is a small thing for Christ. The issue is not perfection for Christ, but connection to Christ. So take heart, the smallest seed of faith connects with all of Christ’s mercy.”

I think it was in this spirit that a man once cried to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” We can do the same.

The Rising Popularity of Plastic Surgery: A Concerning Trend

In an article entitled Mommy Wants Her Body Back, Newsweek magazine recently reported that “More older women are getting breast surgery than ever before, in the hopes of reclaiming their pre-pregnancy figures.” But the phenomenon is also growing among younger women, with some parents willing to provide cosmetic surgery as a graduation or prom gift, as Dr. Albert Mohler and a Today’s Christian Woman roundtable have noted.
That reminded me of a concerning story I just heard the other day: a group of women in their 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s chose to pose immodestly for a 2008 calendar whose proceeds would be dedicated to the American Cancer Society. Initially, many of the women were understandably reticent. They had grown children, and a reputation to maintain. But upon consideration, “they ventured out of their comfort zone for a good cause.”
Seems like a twisted, utilitarian exploitation of our culture’s fascination with skin. Men are tacitly (if not overtly) encouraged to objectify women by TV, movies, and images on the Internet. One result is higher levels of image-consciousness (if not anxiety) among women. But it works the other way, too. Showing skin can be, for women, a form of power over men. And that, too, can apparently be extended through mid-life and beyond.
(HT: Collin Hansen)

Albert Mohler on “The Kite Runner” movie

Dr. Mohler pens an excellent review and synopsis of the movie The Kite Runner, based on the the best-selling novel by Khaled Hosseini. The upshot is that the movie is generally faithful to the book, and provides a context for discussing the inability of Islam to provide true redemption. Here’s an excerpt:

The background worldview of the film and the novel is, of course, Islam. Given that fact, several thoughts have been framed in my mind since reading the novel several years ago and seeing the movie just recently. The thoughts concern the contrast between Islam and Christianity brought into focus by the story. These differences are not that Christians are better people than Muslims, that brutality is limited to the Islamic world, or that the Christians and Muslims would understand the theme of betrayal in starkly different terms. Both Christians and Muslims would agree that Amir’s betrayal of Hassan is an evil and sinful act.
No, the big difference is that The Kite Runner is based on a false promise and a heart-breaking need. The false promise is that offered to the adult Amir: “There is a way to be good again.”
The whole plot suggests that Amir can redeem himself for his sordid betrayal of a young friend by his brave act of rescuing the friend’s son, Sohrab. The Christian gospel reminds us that there is no act, however brave, virtuous, or sacrificial, that can make us “good again.” Christians understand that our redemption is nothing we can accomplish at all. Instead, our redemption is accomplished by God through the atonement achieved by the obedience of the Son — obedience even unto death on the cross. Furthermore, the gospel never promises us that sinners are made “good” as we are saved by grace through faith. Instead, sinners who come to Christ by faith receive the imputed righteousness of Christ by the declaration of the Father.

Go ahead and read the whole thing. Though Mohler does reveal the story line, I doubt that would spoil any future enjoyment of reading the book or watching the movie — neither of which I have yet done. [However, be warned: the movie is rated PG-13 due to thematic material, which includes the sexual assault of a child.]

Romney Attacks Huckabee with False, Misleading Claims

I’m trying not to blog too much on Romney vs. Huckabee. This is the Christmas season, and there are plenty of other things going on besides Republican primary politics. But I find the recent Newsweek article on Romney’s false and misleading attack ads compelling. Let me explain.
For better or for worse, negative attacks are effective in political battles, particularly when used in the latter stages of a tight race. The key, it seems, is to identify your opponent with weakness on a certain issue: Willy Horton effectively eliminated Michael Dukakis in 1988, who was thereby branded as being soft on crime. The problem with negative attacks is that even if they are accurate, they allow a candidate to rise in the polls not on their own merits, but on the demerits of the other candidate. And it is even worse if the attacks are false and/or misleading.
In Iowa, Huckabee was ahead of Romney by as many as 22 points according to a Newsweek poll as recently as two weeks ago. Now, Rasmussen has them in a statistical deadheat. Likewise, Huckabee had been seven points ahead in South Carolina, but now he is tied for the lead with Romney in that early voting state. Why? Rasmussen notes:

Over the past week, Iowa voters have learned a lot about Mike Huckabee and not all of it has been flattering. Favorable opinions of Huckabee have dropped from 81% to 67% over the past week and the Huckabee tide has receded a bit.

Romney has been running two negative ads on TV, one labeling Huckabee as soft on illegal immigration, and the latest labeling him as soft on crime. Both contain false and misleading claims. On illegal immigration, it was said that Huckabee supported benefits for illegals immigrants. In fact, Governor Huckabee never supported benefits for illegal immigrants. In Arkansas, illegal immigrants do not receive welfare benefits or food stamps. On the issue of crime, Romney suggests that Huckabee is too lenient on distributors and manufacturers of the illegal drug methamphetamine (a.k.a. “meth”). That prompted Newsweek to republish a study.

Here are the details of the state laws: In Arkansas, offenders found guilty of intent to distribute or manufacture while in possession of less than an ounce of meth face a minimum sentence of “not less than ten (10) years nor more than forty (40) years, or life” and a fine “not exceeding twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000).” In Massachusetts, the penalty for a person convicted of manufacturing, distributing or possessing with intent to manufacture or distribute a substance that contains any quantity of methamphetamine is “a term of imprisonment in the state prison for not less than two and one-half nor more than ten years.” A fine of no more than $10,000 may be imposed as well. The legislation Romney backed [but did not pass] would not have increased the mandatory minimum, even if it had passed.

Read the whole thing, which contains numerous links to original source documents.

Vladamir Putin – TIME Magazine Person of the Year

Putin - man of the year.jpgTime Magazine has named Vladamir Putin, Russia’s President for almost eight years, Person of the Year for 2007:

“No one is born with a stare like Vladimir Putin’s. The Russian President’s pale blue eyes are so cool, so devoid of emotion that the stare must have begun as an affect, the gesture of someone who understood that power might be achieved by the suppression of ordinary needs, like blinking. The affect is now seamless, which makes talking to the Russian President not just exhausting but often chilling. It’s a gaze that says, I’m in charge.”

I won’t be able to read the whole thing until later this week.

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Amazing Grace – The Musical

The classic story of John Newton, marvelously converted from African slave-trader to slave of Christ, has been published in various formats, short and long, and even made into a major motion picture (not to mention a forthcoming documentary). Now Chris Smith has written a musical which is slated for a world premiere early in 2009 (a soundtrack CD with all the songs sung by Broadway stars with a major symphony orchestra is set to release this spring). Chris Smith’s goal for this musical production is “a Broadway show that will reach people who, like John Newton for a time, are removed from biblical understanding.” Smith notes that his production “is rare because it’s a non-Bible-based story designed to give Broadway-style entertainment while still presenting the gospel clearly and plainly.”
Read more from Marvin Olasky.

ESV Bibles at 45% Off

Westminster Bookstore announces that all ESV Bibles are now available at 45% off the list price. This includes the new ESV One Year Bible which breaks up the entire Bible into 15-minute daily readings, each with a portion from the OT, the NT, Psalms & Proverbs.

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