My 2015 Goals: Two-Month Check-in.

One of the important elements of setting and achieving goals is to revisit them regularly. So, in the interest of personal accountability, I wanted to give you an update on the goals I set back in January.

(Here’s the short version: I have some work to do.)

  1. Read through the Bible; memorize Scripture and maintain it every week. This has been an area I’ve always struggled in. For some reason, consistent time in the Word has been a challenge to me. But I will say that my hunger for the Word is increasing, and my intake of the Word is growing a bit more regular. As for memorization… No, it really hasn’t happened. I haven’t made it a priority yet. But I know it’s something I need, so I will make it a more important part of my daily life moving forward.
  2. Lose 10 pounds a month.  Starting weight: 464. Current weight… 464. I haven’t lost a pound. It’s been up and down week to week, because I haven’t really committed to the eating plan we had established last fall. While I’m glad that I haven’t gained weight (a common thing for me after about 6 months of any eating plan), I haven’t lost. Too many little daily cheats, not enough consistent exercise. And one element of this I haven’t been paying attention to is the emotional/spiritual facet of this fight. That’s something I’m starting to focus on more now.
  3. Take 1 weekend/overnight trip with my wife every 3 months.  For Valentine’s weekend, H. and I went to a couples’ retreat put on by our church at La Toretta resort in Conroe. We had a lovely time, enjoyed some really good food (see #2 above), and just had a blast being together for a day and a half with no interruptions.
  4. Pay off $25K in debt. This has been hard. We both have been very diligent to stick to the budget and make tough choices, but we’ve also had to deal with some car repair issues and other unexpected costs. Plus, both of us are paying off student loans as well as cash-flowing school. Suffice it to say, this spring is going to be lean on the the whole paying-off-debt tip. However, our hope is that summer and fall will be better for making some headway with our debt.
  5. Have dinner with old friends. Haven’t yet, but I had a good phone call with an old acquaintance, and I’m planning on getting together with him next month. So, starting to work through this one.
  6. Read at least 2 books a month, and only books I currently own. With the one exception of Take the Stairs, I’ve taken care of this one…barely. 4 books down so far: Take the Stairs, The Art of Work, The Prodigal God, and Scripture Alone. Two of those were on my original list of 25, and the others were additions. However, as school has ramped up, I’ve gotten a bit behind in my reading. I’m still only about a third of the way through S. from  back in January, about 3 chapters into This Momentary Marriage for February, and I haven’t even touched The Storytelling God, another February selection (though I’m really looking forward to that one).
  7. Produce 2500 words a week (either blogging or offline). I want to start off by saying I’m proud of myself, because this stretch of blogging (going back into last year) has been the most consistently productive I’ve had since the days where I was posting 3 or 4 random posts per day (usually during work hours). But it hasn’t been enough to meet my goal, unfortunately. I haven’t been doing any creative offline writing, so my word-counts are all from the blog posts. (And I’m including quotations in this, so the numbers are technically a little lower.) January’s Word Count: 7880.  February’s Word Count: 11, 559. (Thank you, #SufficientFire.)  And I guess we can add another 850+ to that one with this post. A good couple months of writing, but I think I can step it up a little bit more.
  8. Get an A in my seminary class this spring. I’m taking Systematic Theology I, and we’ve only had one graded assignment so far: a quiz that I got an 88 on (missed 3 questions). So I guess right now, this one’s in flux; but I feel pretty confident I can pull through.

So what have I learned from all this?

My goals for the year were ambitious but not impossible. However, a combination of unforeseen events and a lack of good habit-building has kept me from hitting a few of these. I need to examine where the hang-ups are in my daily habits, and look for solutions at ground-level. This will require something I need to fight for: time. I have a lot going on these days, and honestly, sometimes I just don’t have the time or desire to work on my life instead of just in my life.

All that said, I’m not giving up on any of these. And I’ll keep you posted every 2 months or so with an update of where I am in the process.

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Your Turn: How are you doing with your 2015 goals? What adjustments have you made? Share in the comments below!

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“Hey! That was MY idea!”

I’m a writer. I blog, I write poetry and fiction, and I have notebooks full of ideas for future projects of various sorts. However, it’s been years since I have attempted any larger projects.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been consuming a lot of books and podcasts about creativity, productivity, and writing lately. Guys like Mike Vardy, Erik Fisher, Merlin Mann, and Jeff Goins have created content that has challenged and inspired me to get off my seat and start creating and shipping more stuff. And after years of talking about it and brainstorming without getting anything done, I decided it was time to act, so I began outlining what would be my first book: a short e-book about the mechanics of writing, taking the classic elements-of-style approach and adding some personality and humor. Sort of a smart-alecky Strunk and White. Writing and editing is what I know, after all; like Liam Neeson, I have a particular set of skills. (Unlike Liam Neeson, they will only help any imperiled loved ones if my proofreading skills could cripple the morale of would-be assassins.)

Almost as soon as I started outlining chapter topics and doing a little bit of writing, I got bogged down my schoolwork, so I decided to back-burner this thing for a couple of months, but I’ve still be collecting ideas and working on it a bit at a time.

This morning, I listened to a recent episode of Jeff Goins’ excellent podcast, “The Portfolio Life,” in which he interviewed Ann Handley about her book, Everybody Writes. Based on her years of experience in publishing and marketing, Handley has created an easy-to-read handbook on writing technique and style that has wit and personality. Basically, the kind of book I was planning to write, but better and based on more personal experience in the marketplace.  I haven’t read her book yet, but I’m eager to pick it up because it really sounds like a great read.

So…what do i do with my ideas? I guess I could write the book anyway. There are lots of books about writing out there, right? What’s one more?

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that I was excited about writing something, but it wasn’t necessarily this book. Don’t get me wrong; I could totally have fun with a project like this, especially after reading dozens of writing handbooks over the years. But, honestly, I really only came up with the idea while trying to brainstorm side-hustles to make some extra cash. I figured that I have a good grasp of writing basics, and I’m basically the office grammarian; so why not put something short together and see who would be interested in reading it, or better yet, paying for it?

I don’t want to give up the project completely. I think working through the material will only help me sharpen my skills.

So later this spring, readers of the 4thDaveBlog can look forward to a new recurring feature: brief posts focused on the art of writing well, addressing elements like grammar, structure, and style. My hope is that these posts will help you improve your communication skills in whatever venue you need to use them. And who knows? Maybe one day I can compile them into an e-book to share with y’all.

I have to admit, hearing that interview was a bit disappointing, because I felt like I had missed the boat and lost my chance to make an impact in this way. But rather than throw up my hands and give up, I’m choosing to see this as a challenge to work harder and hustle to discover my own unique contribution to the discussion.

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Your Turn: Would a recurring feature on this topic be useful to you? Are there any particular questions about writing/grammar that you think I should address? Let me know below!

The4thDave Recommends: “Scripture Alone” by Dr. James White

For the last few weeks in Sunday School, we’ve been discussing the doctrine of Scripture—what we as Christians believe about the Bible and its place in our lives. One of the resources I’ve been able to use for this discussion is Scripture Alone by Dr. James White.

Scripture Alone is a short volume that tackles some of the key debates about the Bible head-on, including questions like:

  • Where did the Canon come from, and how was it assembled?
  • Is the Bible really inerrant?
  • What about the Apocrypha and other books like the Gospel of Thomas?
  • Doesn’t the Bible contain mistakes and contradictions?
  • What’s the relationship between the Bible and the Church?

One of the ways Dr. White answers these questions is through the use of dialogues presenting two opposing viewpoints. On the one hand, this is very helpful, because it gives potential answers to some of the “gotcha” questions that critics use to confound believers. This may take away some of the uneasiness that Christians might have about being asked these questions. On the other hand, I’m guessing that someone who is critical of these beliefs wouldn’t find these dialogues convincing, since all but one of them are written with the orthodox evangelical view sounding more compelling and the non-evangelical speaker sounding more defensive and unsure.

Scripture Alone benefits from Dr. White’s painstaking research and academic rigor, so each chapter is heavily footnoted to provide the reader with further resources for study.  However, rather than being a dry academic tome, the book is extremely readable and easy to digest.

Another great aspect of this book is that Dr. White is always eager to point the reader back to worship. These issues aren’t mere intellectual exercises, but are inherently tied to how we as people worship the God that the Bible reveals.

I was assigned this book as part of the Systematic Theology class I’m taking this spring, and I am deeply thankful that I was exposed to it. Scripture Alone has become and will remain a go-to resource in my teaching, writing, and counseling in ministry. It has already paid great dividends for my personal study.

If you need a resource that will give you a basic understanding of conservative evangelical views on Scripture, I can’t think of a better resource than Scripture Alone by Dr. James White.

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Your Turn: What books have given you a better understanding of Scripture? Recommend them below!

What You Deserve.

The next time you sit down to watch television or listen to the radio, pay attention to the commercials, and listen for key words. It’s a safe bet that one of the words you’ll hear repeated is deserve.  You deserve a new car. You deserve a better career. You deserve a fast-food break today.

Last week, I got 2 different emails from retailers who tried appealing to me in this way. In fact, Korean Air made the bold move of being upfront about it in their marketing last year. (Truth be told, it was so on-the-nose that it didn’t make me want to buy a plane ticket; it just made me laugh.)

If you pay attention to the cultural messages around you, you hear this refrain: Go on, you deserve it. You have a right to whatever you want. It’s all about you.

Of course, the refrain within the evangelical megachurch movement is starting to carry the same tune. This shouldn’t surprise us. The Apostle Paul warned as much, saying that people inside the church would be “lovers of self, lovers of money…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…” (II Tim 3:1-5). We see this played out on the stages of the biggest “churches” in the United States. It’s all about YOU. God’s all about YOU.

It’s a risky question to ask, I know, but: what does the Bible say? What is God’s highest priority?

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (Isaiah 43:25 ESV)

For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another. (Isaiah 48:9-11 ESV)

But [the children of Israel] rebelled against me and were not willing to listen to me. None of them cast away the detestable things their eyes feasted on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt. Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt. But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made myself known to them in bringing them out of the land of Egypt. So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. (Ezekiel 20:8-10 ESV)

Seems like God is all about…God. In fact, throughout Scripture, it seems that God’s greatest concern is not our pleasure but His glory.

Truth be told, the more you read of Scripture, the more you see that what we deserve is judgment. Punishment. Wrath. We have broken God’s laws, we have denied Him the worship He is due, and we set our affections on pitiful little non-gods.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things… (Romans 1:18-23 ESV)

…Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. (Romans 2:1-5 ESV)

But rather than giving us what we deserve, we get something else: grace.

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:8-14 ESV)

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:1-9 ESV)

We don’t deserve His mercy or His love, but He chooses to give us both–not because we’re so lovable, but because He’s so loving. Because of God’s great love on undeserving sinners like you and me, Jesus Christ came into the world, lived the perfect life we couldn’t, and then died in our place to pay the penalty for sins, and then offer eternal life to all who repent of their rebellion against God, believe in Jesus as their Savior, and submit to Jesus as their Lord.

Here’s the point: even as a Christian, it’s easy to absorb and believe the cultural message that we deserve the best and should do whatever we can to get the best. The truth is something else entirely.

So when you find yourself becoming frustrated because you are not being treated the way you think you should***, or you don’t have all the physical blessings you believe you ought to, go back to the Bible and get some perspective on what you really deserve.

Because if we are receiving anything better than the wrath of God poured out on us because of sin, we’re already getting much, much better than we deserve.

 

 

***I want to be clear here: I’m not talking about issues of abuse or situations where you are being cruelly mistreated by another person. If you are in a dangerous or abusive situation, please use whatever resources you can to get out. The issue of what we deserve is a different conversation than abuse, because abuse is never, ever justifiable. Please hear me clearly on that front.

Giving up Lent.

Today is Ash Wednesday, so the big talk this week around the office involves fasting. It’s always a curious thing to hear avowedly secular people discuss Lenten fasting. It’s become a kind of cultural artifact—it’s something you do because everyone else does, or because your family always did–like secular Jews celebrating the “high holy days.” People I know who deny the God of Scripture or the deity of Jesus are still fasting (though they are very particular about the exact rules—I won’t do this at these certain times in these certain circumstances).  It’s interesting to see that, in doing this, they’re creating another man-made law to follow, and willingly taking on the yokes they shape themselves. It’s like, deep down, there’s still a desire to fashion our own righteousness…

Anyway, I want to talk to Christians for a second here. Specifically, Protestants.

If you are a Protestant Christian and you’re planning to celebrate Lent this year, I have to ask you: Why?

In brief, Lent is the observance of the 40 days leading up to Easter, in which practitioners fast from something (either something positive [a blessing] or something negative [a vice]) in order to share in the…

Okay, here’s where I start to get confused. Why ARE you doing it?

Is it to share in the suffering of Christ? We do that through our daily battle against sin, our Christian witness, the opposition we face from a world system that is set against our message.

Is it to show repentance for sin? If that’s the case, isn’t the sacrifice of Christ enough to pay for your sin? Do you need to demonstrate some outward sign of sorrow to prove to God that you are appreciative enough, or you have changed enough?

Is it to teach yourself discipline or self-control? It seems like that’s something the Holy Spirit does, primarily. Beyond that, why limit yourself to these 40 days? Why not fast during Christmas? Fourth of July? What is it about this season that requires your outward acts of penitence and self-denial more than any other season? (I guess we do it on January 1st as well, but that’s penitence of a different kind.) And then there’s the whole thorny issue of talking about fasting, which really defeats the whole purpose…

Those of us who may be tempted to take part  in Lenten observance need to really step back and ask why. This practice isn’t mandated in Scripture; it wasn’t observed by the New Testament church. As a matter of fact, it seemed like Paul had some harsh words for those who would apply extra rules to control behavior for the sake of spiritual asceticism.

While the practice of Lent became part of church tradition during the first millennium of the Church (some point to Nicea as the earliest discussion), it wasn’t seen in a positive light by several of the key figures in Protestant faith. (Here I must tip my cap to Keith Miller for culling these great examples.)

  • While Martin Luther did preach a Lenten sermon in his church, he also said that “Lent has become mere mockery, because our fasting is a perversion and an institution of man.” He continues by saying that the kind of traditional fasting required by Lenten observance is a perversion of the intent of fasting, and the story of Christ’s fasting, in Scripture.
  • In his Institutes, John Calvin called the Lenten fast a “superstitious observance” and a “gross delusion” that misapplies Scriptural texts and makes men think they are doing a service to God.
  • John Owen decried the practice of Lent in his Mortification of Sin, especially when practitioners give up “sin” temporarily in an attempt to honor God.
  • Johnathan Edwards called the dietary rules of Lent an “anti-Christian superstition” and part of “popish religion.”
  • Finally, Charles Spurgeon calls his listeners/readers to consider that the season of mourning has indeed ended:

Come, then, and for your own good hang up the sackbut and take down the psaltery—put away the ashes! What if men call this season, “Lent”? We will keep no Lent, tonight—this is our Eastertide! Our Lord has risen from the dead and He is among us, and we will rejoice in Him! Come, Beloved, surely it is time that we did, for a while, at least, forget our pain, griefs and all the worries of this weary world and, for one, I must, I will, be glad and rejoice in my Lord—and I hope many of you will join with me in the happy occupation which will be helpful to yourselves.

I have to say, friends, I stand with these faithful brothers on this issue.  The vital spiritual practices of daily repentance and even occasional fasting as a physical act of devotion aren’t bad themselves, certainly not. But the practice of formal fasting as part of an artificial church calendar rings false with Scripture. If you are in Christ, you are not bound to a ritualistic practice tied to the days of the calendar.

So this is my challenge to all my Protestant brothers and sisters: this year, let’s give up Lent for Lent. Rather than putting on the robes of mourning, let’s celebrate that our King has already risen and is alive evermore–every day is Easter Sunday! Our sins have been cleansed by His blood, so our acts of pious penitence are no longer needed. Through His suffering, He has won our joy.

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Your Turn: Okay, Lenten observers, here’s your chance to convince me–from Scripture–that I’ve missed the boat on this. I mean it: Biblical arguments for the practice of Lent are most welcome. I want to be Biblical above all things.

The4thDaveReviews: “Old Fashioned”

This weekend, I went to the movies with my wife and some friends, and we spent about 2 hours watching “Old Fashioned,” an indie romantic comedy that can only be described as a culturally-aberrant love story—a love story in which no sexual behavior was employed and no physical boundaries were crossed. It was an old-fashioned kind of love story, but one that acknowledges and addresses the difficulties of being old-fashioned in the 21st century.

The Story

Amber rolls into a small town, with all her worldly possessions packed in the back of her car. She finds a job at a florist’s shop and a room to rent above an antiques store. The store and apartment are owned by Clay, a friendly but somewhat unusual man who lives by his own moral code—a code that prevents him from even walking into the apartment with Amber when she comes to check it out. Of course, the meet-cute sets up the rest of the film, which explores their relationship’s ups and downs, addresses the effect of their past experiences on their current worldview, and hits home on the idea that a life of virtue must be a life of grace and mercy.

That’s all I’m going to give you of the plot. Here’s the trailer, if you want to get a little more of the flavor of the film.

What Worked

I really enjoyed the relationship between the two leads, played by Rick Swartzwelder and Elizabeth Roberts. Their interactions and “outings” were fun to watch, and it really felt like they had a connection. Their scenes together were by far my favorite moments of the film.

Second to those were the scenes that one or both of the leads shared with Dorothy Silver (“Aunt Zella”). Aunt Zella worked in this film as both sage counselor and occasional comic relief.

I also appreciated how this film didn’t shy away from the idea of dealing with past sins. Both of the main characters, as well as several of the supporting characters, had past sins and foolish choices with lingering consequences, and it’s nice to see a “family-friendly” (I’m not going to call this Christian) film that addresses those realities.

Ultimately, the film just charmed me. I was invested enough in the happiness of the two leads that I wanted them to make it work. While some of the scenes and characters were kind of clunky, overall the story kept me engaged.

What Didn’t Work

From a technical perspective, this was very clearly an independent film, and as such it suffered some of the technical issues that indie films do. For example, the pacing was a bit uneven, and the film itself felt overly long. The official run-time is 1 hour, 55 minutes, and it felt about twenty-five minutes longer.  Furthermore, the editing was distracting at points, when attempts at style or mood-setting felt a little too forced, as if the editor was using them to say “Look at me, I’m artistic!” instead of serving the story.

Another minor criticism was that some of the performances were a bit uneven, including Clay, the lead male character. Swartzwelder was wearing four hats in this production, as the writer, director, producer, and star, and it might have served the film better to have let someone else direct or star. That being said, I did enjoy his character. There were just some moments when it was unclear what he was going for, or his particular reading of a line or conversation didn’t hit the right notes.
What Was Missing

Minor technical issues are expected in an independent film; you could even say they’re part of the charm. What bothered me more after watching this movie were the spiritual missteps. This movie was marketed as a Christian film, the anti-“Fifty Shades” alternative. And while it is certainly heartwarming and moral and “old-fashioned,” there weren’t any marks of this being a particularly Christian story. While Clay has conversations with other characters about how “Jesus found” him and that he read the Bible and realized he was accountable for it, his life’s goal was to be a good man, a morally upright man. This is understandable, given his background, but there’s nothing in his story that explicitly ties to the Gospel. He avoids church because he’s “tired of the hypocrite show,” but this is only somewhat contradicted by Aunt Zella who challenges him to get outside of himself and warns him about moral pride. In the end, Clay holds to a moral code that’s religious but driven by rule-keeping. The resolution of the flim has to do with the need to show mercy for people’s weakness, including your own, but there’s not clear reason why that mercy is given.  II Corinthians 5:17 is quoted (“the old things have passed away—behold, all things have become new”) but no mention is to the reason WHY they’re new—the fact that “He who knew no sin became sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Cor. 5:21).

Ultimately, there’s nothing in Clay’s moral code that couldn’t be held by a Mormon or a Jehovah’s Witness or a moderate Muslim. The character may be respectful, honorable, even chivalrous; but being a Christian is something different. A Christian man who understands the Gospel doesn’t just forgive and show mercy because not doing so will keep him isolated from others; rather, he understands that the grace of God that saved him from his sins will compel him to love as Jesus loves and proclaim the mercy of God that’s been purchased through the sacrifice of Christ.

Maybe I’ve gotten all this wrong; maybe it was really there and I missed it. But I was looking for it, and if I missed it when I was looking for it, how will people find it who aren’t?

Another spiritual wrinkle, related to the main one: Amber tells Clay plainly that she is spiritual, but not religious, and that she doesn’t believe everything that’s in the Bible.  While there is a point later on in the story in which Amber begins to read the Bible and it seems to affect her, Clay has no spiritual reservations about pursuing her. While I know this happens all the time, it was a warning flag for me.  Perhaps this fits the profile of a man who says he loves God but hates the church; it’s through our connection to the community of believers that we often receive accountability about our choices, including the important choice of whom we should date/marry.

My Recommendation

I enjoyed watching Old Fashioned.  I really did; I liked it. It’s corny but sweet, and while it may not be appropriate for younger kids (due to some of the thematic elements), it might be a good pick for families with older teens.

However, the underlying spiritual message of Old Fashioned is missing something really important.  Without a right understanding of the Gospel of Jesus, old-fashioned values quickly become moralism and judgmentalism.  My concern is that audience members, both Christians and non-Christians, will come away from this film inspired to be moral without worrying about being like Jesus.

Maybe I’m expecting too much. It just seems to me like this old-fashioned love story could have used a bit more explicit discussion of the Old, Old Story.

The Adventures of Captain Buzzkill

Want to hear something cool?  I have a secret identity.

I’ve developed a persona since I’ve gotten married, a role that I probably could have anticipated but didn’t realize would come into play so heavily in the first year of marriage.

I don’t have a cape or cowl, but I prowl around on rooftops and pounce on unsuspecting Bible teachers.

 I am Captain Buzzkill.

What are my powers and abilities? I ruin worship music by pointing out that it’s unscriptural. I steal away excitement for conferences by pointing out that the speakers are involved in Christian mysticism and have moved away from sola scriptura. I tip sacred Baptist cows by learning and sharing that even the most beloved of female Bible teachers** is starting to go off the rails both in her teaching and her associations.

But only one person has really known the full extent of this super-heroic (anti-heroic?) persona: my poor wife.

Over the last few years, I’ve become more and more aware of how really theologically wonky things are in the American evangelical church, and even in my beloved Southern Baptist Convention. And while I’m not actively trying to become a curmudgeon, I take seriously my responsibilities to my church and my Sunday School class to teach truth, discern error, and warn them about wolves—especially those whose products are bought and sold in Christian bookstores and carried on the shelves of our own church library.

However, this has carried over into my marriage. There have been several times when I have pointed out where popular teachers have (in my mind) taken a hard left-turn, and my loving, patient wife groans, “Seriously? Them too? Argh, you’re killing me.” More than once, she’s turned to me during worship at church and said, “I can’t sing this. This is your fault.” It’s now getting to the point where she’s noticing more and more when things aren’t quite right, and asking me about it.

I want to stop and make something clear here: what I’m not describing here is some kind of totalitarian spiritual mandate in my household. My wife is intelligent, wise, discerning, and very grounded in her faith. She’s read more of the Bible more often than I have, I think. She is most certainly a woman of the Word. So when these sorts of things happen, it’s not an issue of me saying “You can’t read X” and her saying, “But I wanna!”

Neither is this one of those sorry situations where the wife has no thoughts of her own and just waits for her husband to tell her what to think and believe. My wife loves the Lord her God with her mind. She seeks to know Him and His word every day. It’s one of the things I absolutely love about her.

She also trusts me and my judgment, so when I bring up these issues, she hears and considers what I’m saying. But if I were to go off on some fundamentalist tangent, I don’t doubt that she would lovingly question me about it. (This, consequently, puts the onus on me to be very sure about the facts before talking about it, because I don’t want to give her misinformation and misuse her trust in my discernment.)

Recently, she mentioned wanting to download more music from Bethel Music; she likes their instrumental album and was curious about their other stuff. I “hmm”-ed, and she replied, “What? Them too?” I did a quick google search, and told her that Bethel Music is based out of Bethel Church in Redding, CA, an extremely charismatic church with crazy theology—the home church of the Jesus Culture music movement that has crept into the broader evangelical church and become a ubiquitous part of weekly worship everywhere.  She groaned, and I immediately apologized. “I swear, I’m not trying to be Captain Buzzkill. I don’t want to be hypercritical and shoot down everything you want to check out.”

Then, this sweet, godly woman took my hand in hers and said (something to the effect of), “Sweetheart, do not apologize. You are trying to make sure that what your family takes in is based on good theology. Yes, it’s frustrating that so much out there is bad, but I’m so thankful that you are taking your job as spiritual leader seriously. Don’t hear me say that I’m frustrated with you. I’m thankful for you.”

…And so, day after day, Captain Buzzkill continues his crusade against bad theology and pop-Christian nonsense. Not because he loves being a naysayer and criticizing others—not at all. He does it because he loves his wife, he loves his friends and family, and he loves the truth of the Scriptures.

**To be clear, I didn’t write the Pulpit and Pen post, but it was too compelling not to share.

Planted.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3 ESV)

A few thoughts to consider this morning:

Notice that the blessed man is planted by the streams of living water. He’s not a tumbleweed ranging about, looking for moisture. He knows where his sustenance comes from, and there he stays. He is rooted in soil that is saturated with groundwater, fed continually by the living brook. Delighting in the Law of the Lord and meditating day and night seems to require more than the dutiful 10 minutes on the busride home. If I want to be a flourishing tree, I need daily contact with the Living Word through the written Word. Spiritual writings by other men are good and useful in their place, but if i’m not drinking deeply of the fresh water, all the devotional literature in the world won’t refresh me.

Consider also this point: the seed that becomes the tree doesn’t plant itself. (And don’t try to bust the metaphor by bringing up airborne dissemination of plants; that’s not the point here.) The image in verse 3 is of a seed that has been planted, and has flourished.

Christian, God has planted you by a living stream by giving you access to His thoughts through His words. In its waters, you have all you need to grow into maturity and be thoroughly equipped for the work laid out before you. Take up and read, and drink deeply today.

Host home.

Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the LORD; exult before him! Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land. (Psalm 68:4-6 ESV)

Two years ago this week, I had my second Define-the-Relationship talk with an amazing woman from my Sunday School class. We met for coffee after Sunday lunch with the group, and we spoke in very frank terms about what we both wanted from a relationship, moving forward. She told me about her deep and abiding passion for orphan care, which God had instilled in her from her early years through difficult personal experiences and the ministry opportunities He had given her. She made it clear that, if we were ever to have a future together, orphan and foster care would be a part of it.  I told her I had no problem with that, and while I did not share her depth of passion, I did support it, and certainly would do everything I could to support her.

Fast-forward 18 months. 

It started with a weekend visit. My new wife had recently left her longtime job as a houseparent for a group home that helped children who needed a place to live due to various circumstances. The kids in this program sometimes have the chance to visit relatives and friends for overnight visits. After I had completed the necessary steps, we had two of the kids she used to work with stay with us for a weekend.  And it was a lot of fun. We played video games and went to the movies. It felt like having a little brother, something I never had while growing up.

Then there was another visit, and again, we had a wonderful visit with the kids, but this time, it was also a little strange for me. I found myself shifting into a more paternal role—not something I’m really used to. My wife had been doing this for years, so she didn’t think anything of it. For me, this was an adjustment. I’ve been used to hanging out with the kids on their turf, when our Sunday School class would visit as a group. Now, I had to figure out how to be a little more of an authority figure–set gentle boundaries and say “no” when necessary. I watched my wife’s example and followed her lead.

Before bed one night, about a month later, she raised the subject of having kids over for an extended visit at Christmas, and I realized that this wasn’t going to change any time soon. It’s easy to agree to the idea of orphan care and fostering, but it’s a different experience when you’re being asked to share your first Christmas as a married couple with teenagers.

I have to be honest. I struggled with this decision but finally agreed, mainly because I had given her my word. From the very beginning, I told her I was on board. I wasn’t going to back out now that we were married. My word has to mean something, to her most of all. So I agreed, even with reservations.

We had teens from the group home stay with us for 11 out of the 16 days around the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, and I’m so glad we did. We had a great time watching movies and playing board games, looking at Christmas lights and cooking family meals.  It started off a little strange, but by the end it felt natural. Truth be told, the apartment was a little too quiet, those first few days after the school year started and everyone was back home.

I didn’t really expect that our first Christmas would include a couple of teenagers who slept half the day and devoured an impressive pile of snack food. But I’m married to a woman who has an enormous heart that is full of compassion for kids who don’t have family they can rely upon, so when I asked her to be my wife, I was signing up for this. And I don’t regret it one bit.

I don’t know how many kids will end up sleeping under our roof in the future, but my prayer is that all who stay with us will be able to know that God sees them and cares for them. By His grace that is at work in our lives, we will be able to open our doors to those who need a place to call home, because that’s what God did for us, in Christ.

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I’m not sharing this to brag–not at all. This isn’t about my family. This is about children who need to be loved with the love of Jesus.

Let me encourage you now to talk to your church about getting involved in orphan and foster care.  This is a huge opportunity for the Church to make a real, practical difference in the lives of children.

The Christian Alliance for Orphans has a great website with resources about starting a foster care ministry in your church.

Orphan Sunday is November 15. Yes, that’s 9 months away, but that gives you plenty of time to plan to take part. Talk to your pastors and elders at church, talk to your Sunday School class or civic group, and get involved.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27 ESV)

Sufficient Fire Fallout: Session #6 by Phil Johnson

UPDATE: Here’s the audio. Enjoy!

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Phil (may I call you Phil?) was planning on preaching a sermon on Psalm 19 that he gave a few weeks earlier at GraceLife, but decided instead to finish the general sessions by following Frank’s lead (always a risky proposition) and sharing some of his own story. I won’t recount it all here except to say that Phil was doing in the 70’s what many in the evangelical church are doing today: paying lip-service to the Gospel but seeking social salvation in political action.

Phil began with the idea that the sufficiency of Scripture is vital because the Gospel and the Gospel alone is the power of God unto salvation. The Gospel message does not need to be added to, propped up, or laid on any foundation of works or relationship or social action. 

The text for Phil’s sermon is the text that was instrumental in his own conversion: I Corinthians 1:21.

Phil notes that there were lots of problems with the motley crew in Corinth, but rather than abandoning them as a lost cause, Paul points them back to the Gospel. What Paul preached was simply the Gospel of Christ crucified.

The Gospel is the only thing that will address the moral decay of any culture.

We should notice in verses 18-21 the absolute contempt that God has for the wisdom of the world. In fact, the great thinkers of the age are in trouble, because their human wisdom is ultimately foolishness (I Cor. 3:18-21).

A great quote at this point: “I’ve never seen a political ideology really change anyone’s life for good.”  SELAH.

The only effective answer to the evils of this age is the undiluted Gospel.

Notice 3 things in I Corinthians 1:21 and following:

1) There is a worldly wisdom that can never save. The world did not know God through its own wisdom; it’s only through the Gospel that we can know god. The political programs of the world cannot change the hearts of people. If righteousness could be brought about by legislation, the Gospel would be superfluous.

2) There is a heavenly “foolishness” that does save. The most potent weapon against the sins of society is the message of the Gospel. Paul is teaching against the dominant philosophy of American evangelicalism here, by dismissing the idea of shaping church to meet the desires of the culture.  Is that effective in transforming lives? No! And the Bible says not to do this!

In verses 22-23, Phil notes that if Paul were following our contemporary church growth experts, he would have given a sign to the Jews and wisdom to the Greeks, because that’s what they were looking for (it was their “felt need,” if you will). Instead, we must give them all the Gospel–the opposite of what they are demanding.

3) There is a divine strategy to keep the two distinct (v. 28). The reason evangelicalism is such a mess right now is that the churches are full of false converts responding to bad strategies instead of believing the undiluted Gospel. For the Church in America to be effective in transforming lives, we need to get back to the thing that the apostles were teaching–the good news of our crucified and risen Lord.

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This was a great way to end the general sessions, and a great message to come away from the weekend with.

For things in the American church to change, we have to get back to the core of our message: the idea that the Word of God is the true and trustworthy revelation of God, which gives it full authority over our lives and our message. In it, we have the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.

I’m deeply grateful to Phil, Dan, and Frank for their time and sacrifices to make Sufficient Fire a reality, and I know that many lives have been blessed and strengthened as a result. 

Thank you for reading, and I hope these posts have been a blessing to you as well.

When the conference audio is available, I will update all of these posts with the link, so stay tuned.  It’s up! See the link at the top of the post!