Cool update from Louie Giglio…

For those who’ve watched Louie Giglio’s talks in the “Hope” and “Fruitcake and Ice Cream” dvds, you are familiar with the story of Ashley, a college girl who passed away in a car accident just weeks before graduation and a few months after encountering Christ.  Many remember Louie’s honesty and realism about the continued skepticism and struggles of her dad especially.  He put it, “You don’t always get the bow at the end of package.”  (Or something like that.)  A good reminder that life isn’t always Disney-scripted.

But nevertheless, 3 years later, Louie posted a very cool update to this ongoing story…

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Helpful Thought about Giving by Stetzer

In the book, Planting Missional Churches, Ed Stetzer provided an intriguing insight that many church leaders could learn from regarding the topic of “giving”:

“We are convinced that teaching tithing as the first lesson of stewardship makes no sense in our context: people are already living at 120 percent of their income and making it 130 percent only frustates them.”

“Adopted for Life” – Book Review

Adopted for Life was released last year and made its way onto a lot of bloggers’ “Best of 09” lists.  Dr. Russell Moore is dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in “LOU-eh-vool”, Kentucky.  He also is on pastoral staff at a local church.

Adopted for Life is a blend of Biblical theology, the personal narrative of Moore’s own experience adopting two little boys from Russia, and practical advice for those considering or interested in adoption.  More than that, it aims at not just informing individuals and families but also churches and pastors to find their place as well.  It is a compelling blend of orthodoxy (right beliefs) and orthopraxy (right actions) rooted in the Gospel.

The first chapters are Moore’s tracing of the theme of adoption in the Bible.  For almost 40 pages, Moore brings out the Biblical teaching on adoption from Israel’s story to the new family made up of Jew and Gentile sharing one Father.  He excels at reminding us of the tension in the first century between Jew and Gentile and how the “adoption” language used by Paul relates.  He also spends some time in the third chapter looking at the most overlooked of the Christmas story characters-Joseph, and relates that both to the Old Testament deliverance of God’s people but also to the modern “anti-children” sentiment so many (even Christians) hold onto.  He roots the importance of adoption in the “fatherhood” of God (much likes James 1:27).

The rest of the book is a continued telling of his own story–from his own struggles with having children, bitterness towards those who did not struggle with fertility at all, and God’s work and provision in moving the Moores to adoption.   It is filled with practical, concise advice regarding things like domestic vs. international adoption, whether to use agencies, cultivating a culture of life in one’s church, foster care, the issue of race in adoption, even things like selecting a gender and dealing with disabilities.  Yet in this practical section, Moore manages often to remind us of the Biblical theology of adoption that should shape our thinking about as simple things as whether to adopt a boy or a girl.  The strength of the book is that is not simply a good summary of the theology of adoption followed by a good practical section, but rather the way the two are interweaved.

Whether you are young without children (that’d be me), or are contemplating adoption, or have your “quiver full” and simply want to know how you might still be involved, or are older and wondering how this topic relates to you at all, I heartily recommend this book to you.  It is emotionally moving, theologically compelling, and practically informing about a subject that is very near to the heart of God, the Father “in whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.”

Seeking Reward in an Upside-Down Kingdom

In Matthew 19, we have the well-known story of the “Rich Young Ruler.”  Well, in Matthew we don’t find out he is a “ruler”, but you know what I mean.  Most of us are familiar with his pride (assuming there was only “one good thing” left on his to-do list, assuming doing bare minimum commandments was good enough for God [“which ones?”], assuming he checked off those commandments already, etc.), and, of course, the story is heartbreaking as well.  For in the end, he not only rejects following Christ because of his love for money–but he KNOWS he is choosing the idol of his wealth over Christ (he went away “sorrowful”, implying an awareness of his choice…but he still went away.). Jesus reinforces the reality of his decision by declaring the sheer impossibility of the rich entering the kingdom of heaven.

In response to this, the disciples ask Jesus, “Who then can be saved?”  After all, if the rich, commandment-keeping person wasn’t getting in, then there wasn’t much hope for backwoods, rough-and-tough, foot-in-mouth fisherman types.  Or anyone in between for that matter.

Jesus responds that this is indeed humanly impossible…unless God intervenes.

Peter, though, noticed something in Jesus’ demand that the rich man sell his possessions and follow Christ.  If that leads to eternal life, then, he figures out–“We as disciples have done that already! We have left all and followed you, Jesus! Is there reward for us?” (v. 27).

I expect Jesus, by these point in the Gospel, to say something like “eternal life is enough reward.” or (in my mind), “Peter, you’ve said so much stupid stuff that it pretty much cancels out all you left behind.”  But he doesn’t.  Instead, he feeds their appetite for rewards- thrones to judge the 12 tribes in the “regeneration” when the Son of man reigns, inheriting 100x more of what they left behind, and of course, eternal life- the cherry on the sundae!.

Now all that’s left is for the disciples to figure out what order the thrones will be in.

Which is precisely why Jesus doesn’t end strictly with this great promise of reward.  He adds a stinging and somewhat perplexing sentence- “The last will be first and the first will be last.”  And as if that sentence weren’t enough, he launches into a parable to illustrate just that point.  (the chapter break from 19-20 is very poorly timed here.) In 20:1-16, he describes a vineyard owner hiring day-laborers to work.  He agrees to pay (or reward) the first group 1 denarius for the whole day- a fair wage.  then a few hours later, he finds some others (with no pay guaranteed), then a few hours later, and so on, until a final group (probably the weakest and worst laborers, since no one else hired them all day!) is chosen to help work the final hour of the day. When closing time hits, those showing up for one hour are paid a denarius each.  So the original crew, who were there first, labored all day (even during the afternoon sun), assume that their pay has been upped.  It’s only fair, right?  To their chagrin, they are also paid a denarius and proceed to complain to the foreman about the unfair wage practices occurring.

“What was unfair?” he asks.  “You agreed to a denarius, you got a denarius.  If I want to pay others the same, it’s basically none of your concern because I can be gracious with my own money.” Jesus summarizes again–“So the last will be first and the first will be last.”

Jesus has no qualms about promising rewards for righteousness.  There will be thrones and 100-fold rewards, etc.  But in striving to live righteously for rewards, we must remember that the kingdom is one of grace.  The king is a lavish giver, and we shouldn’t be surprised to see others rewarded who appeared far worse than we.  The death-bed confession, the struggling alcoholic, and the janitor may wind up on a throne next to us (to use Jesus’ picture.)  or above us.  Lest the disciples turn these promises of reward into their own checklist, into a competition between themselves for top billing in the kingdom, Jesus reminds them of the kingdom’s upside-down nature.  Another paradox for the Christian life–we are to seek reward in an upside-down kingdom.

Freedom or Intolerance? A Rare Political Post…

First, it was the Swiss banning minarets. Now it appears that National Assembly of France is considering either a total ban on full face coverings for women or a ban in public buildings (much like most banks in the US.)  The story is here.

The issues involved behind both these stories are complex and vital (as they are only going to increase).  The questions raise here go beyond the traditional “liberal” or “conservative” political ideologies of those involved.  In a “free” society, when does one person’s freedom (in this case, religious) infringe upon the freedoms and safety of others?  Must one promote “freedom” in general by limiting the freedoms of a few?  How does one grant freedom to those who “freely” reject it for themselves or their families?

Stuff to chew on…

Jesus and Paul on Marriage…

I find it interesting that between Jesus’ teaching on marriage in Matthew 19 and Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7, each of them take a slightly different angle on it…

In Matthew 18, Jesus proclaims the utter difficulty of marriage (the requirement for hearts joined to one’s spouse that endure even the toughest situations) so much so that the disciples ask “Who in their right mind would get married if it’s that tough?”  Jesus replied that some can’t, but rather dedicate themselves in a eunuch-like (read “Celibate”) devotion for the kingdom of God.  Marriage is for the tough.

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul approaches and proclaims his personal preference for single living.  He says though, that it’s tough and temptation will arise, if you’re not tough enough for this, go ahead and marry rather than burn with passion.  Celibacy is for the tough.

There are different kinds of toughness presented here, different objects of dedication.  Often we in the Church tend to as married or celibate people to either proclaim our own toughness in our respective situation as a badge of honor over the other, or at best we give a kind of token pity to the other side.  (I wonder how many terrible blind dates have been inflicted on Christians by well-meaning brothers and sisters in Christ as a result of such pity.) We must remember, though, that Scripture declares both lifestyles as requiring toughness and dedication.  They each bring their own challenges.  Perhaps, rather than the pride that may come from our marital status or the pity for the other one (an alternate form of pride-“If they were only as I am”…implying my situation is better), we might embrace a heart of prayer, remembering not only the challenges the other faces but our own liabilities as well.

“Who Made God?”- Book Review

Edgar Andrews’ Who Made God?: Searching for a theory of everything may be the funnest book I’ve read so far this year.

Andrews is a world-class scientist, whose lifetime of work at the University of London and as a consultant of several major chemical companies throughout the world give him a platform for attempting to write a book such as this.  Who Made God? is titled after what Andrews found to be “the sceptics favourite question” from atheists regarding the issue of the existence of God.  He might have also titled his book An Hypothesis of God’s Existence. He spends several chapters on defense, before spending most of the book studying the idea of God in the fashion of an hypothesis–that is, rather than arguing from the evidences to conclusions, in true scientific fashion, he sets forward an hypothesis–namely that God exists and that this God is the God described by the Old and New Testaments.  Then using his extensive insights, both in physical and biological science, he examines whether what we find in the world confirms or falsifies the hypothesis.

Andrews excels in the explanation; he takes complex ideas such as quantum physics, string theory, and genetic mutations and puts them into words and ideas that the non-technician can understand.  His wit and analogies make the book hard to put down, even if one finds oneself sludging through some pretty thick scientific mud.   For example, “There are several problems with Stenger’s (another physicist and author) bold claims.  First of all, he confuses ‘nothing’ with ‘nothing’–which is an intellectual feat in itself.”  or “I have a feeling that Dr Stenger might be like a man climbing Everest in a T shirt–brave but somewhat alone.”  These are just a few examples.

He also will make some happy as he not only discusses the major evolutionary and creationist worldviews (and their implications), but also builds in discussion about theistic evolution (noting several different types) and the Intelligent Design movement.  One of his major strengths is his consistent ability to distinguish between science and philosophy.  He notes that in searching for origins, evolutionists often fall into philosophical speculation of things like multiverses (many universes) and, he points out, once science has opened the door to philosophical speculation of one type, then creationism and other groups are just as welcome to enter the fray.  He doesn’t argue that the two spheres have no overlap, but rather that we must acknowledge them and not make empirical “scientific” statements that actually belong in the philosophical realm.

All that said, Andrews’ book is worth the read for anyone simply interested in science in general and especially for those who are interested in the overlap between science and Christianity and on the question of God’s existence.

One extremely helpful thing about the book is Andrews starts each chapter with a 2-3 paragraph summary of what will be discussed, along with a helpful list of 2-4 vocabulary words introduced for the non-scientists among us.

So, that said, I encourage anyone interested in these things to pick up a copy of Edgar Andrews’ Who made God?.