Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tim Keller on iTunes

Earlier this week Redeemer Church in NYC added "classic sermons by Timothy Keller" to iTunes at no charge. Redeemer has sold audio versions of the sermons for more than a decade and distributed them via cassettes, then CDs, and now MP3's. They also provide a handful of free sermons directly from their site. But now some of the top hits are being offered for free as podcasts.

It didn't take Tim long to rise to the top. He's already jumped to #11 on Religion & Spirituality, displacing Oprah (thank, God!).

Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

iPad

As an Apple evangelist, I've been eagerly awaiting this day for months. Rumors had been circulating that Steve Jobs would announce the arrival of a new product at an electronics conference today at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Many speculated that Apple would release a tablet to compete with Amazon's Kindle and other less popular digital readers. Those speculations proved true as Apple's CEO announced their newest game-changer, the iPad. Here are a few thoughts on the product and a few questions.
  • The iPad offers the usual amenities: Safari, Mail, Photos, Video, YouTube, iPod/iTunes, Maps, Notes, Calendar, Contacts, etc. But what does it offer current iPhone/MacBook Pro users? In other words, as cool as this thing seems, I'm still asking myself (wishing for a good reason): "Why would I buy this?" OR: "Under what circumstances would I want/need this over my phone or computer?"
  • I admit, the iBooks feature/app is the biggest seller for me. Apple has (almost) solved the problem of digital readers, namely, the look and feel. The iPad seems to be the best option for purchasing/organizing/reading digital books (e.g. full color, appropriate size, visual sort-sortability [a la Delicious Library], etc.). Only problem is, I still like buying books and reading them the old fashioned way. Difficult for Apple to capture the process of looking through stacks of books, flipping through pages, the smell, the feel. But if anyone can do it...
  • Am I missing something? I want to love this product. I just don't see it. Maybe it's my lack of sleep since the baby's birth. Help me.
I want to hear your thoughts.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Room With A View

Speaking of cities, this is the view from our room. I forget how much I love Houston ... even in spite of stories like this.

The Other Four Cities

Last month I decided to read and blog through Doug Wilson's 5 Cities. I submitted a series of posts from the Introduction and one on the first chapter, Jerusalem. However, as I continued to read, the following chapters weren't as "blog-able." Yet there are a few things worth mentioning:
  • I like Doug Wilson. I've met him, heard him speak, and read many of his books. We even named our church after his (sort of). But this book is not a great representation of a great writer (which he is). Five Cities is salted with Wilson's characteristic humor, but it lacks his signature insight and provocation.
  • I would however happily recommend this book to armchair-historians and those fascinated with urban development and cultural evolution.
  • Though I felt the book dragged at times (Athens and London), the chapter on New York was worth the price of the book for me. Wilson's comments on baseball were especially engaging, as were his comments on the youth of our nation: "In virtually every town in our nation, there are a few people who are one hundred years old. At the time of this writing, they were born in 1909. When one of those individuals was a newborn, he or she could have been placed on the lap of another person, also one hundred years old. The second person would have been born in 1809, when James Madison was president.... Take it back one more lifetime. That person would have been born in 1709 when Queen Anne was our monarch" (Wilson, 172-173).
  • Wilson sums up the book nicely in the Epilogue, connecting the Incarnation and the Great Commission with the great cities of the world. Our prayer should be for God's kingdom to come, for His will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven. "The City of God is not something far removed from us [and the cities of man]. The prince of [the city of God] is named Immanuel, God with us. His name is not God-still-distant or God-removed-from us" (Wilson, 198-199). Wilson paints a picture of freedom as he presents the good news, and, indeed, interprets the story of his five cities through the lens of freedom. He calls his readers to see areas of redemption and future redemption in those cities as he offers a prophetic conclusion from Isaiah:
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And he will swallow up son this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the LORD has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him,
that he might save us.

This is the LORD; we have waited for him;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation" (Is. 25:6-9).

Glad I read it. Borrow it anytime.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

H. W. Hyde

"Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them" (Ps. 127:3-5)!

Yesterday, January 23, 2010, at 3:57PM God blessed us: H. W. Hyde was born. Annie Dillard describes maternity wards as "issuing out miracles in blasts." This seems like an apt description. In fact, miracles are so common place here that things move along as though God had not formed each of these little souls in their mother's womb. But he did. And we do feel blasted. But not only blasted, blessed too.

My beautiful bride is resting peacefully in bed; she is without pain and happy. My new son is pressed against her, content. My other two children are in route now to meet their new brother. Things are as they should be, and I am reminded of these realities:
  1. Children are a heritage from the LORD. Eugene Peterson put it like this in his paraphrase: "Don't you see that children are God's best gifts?" Amen!
  2. This means that children should not be viewed (or treated) as a burden or inconvenience. Children are not a burden, and we should repent of any attitude, activity, tone, statement, investment, and agenda that may even hint at that wicked notion.
  3. Unfortunately, we are surrounded by a culture that consistently and increasingly undervalues children. Continuing a 12-year decline, the U.S. birth rate has dropped to the lowest level since national data have been available, according to statistics recently released by the Center for Disease Control. Christians must trumpet the loud call of the Psalmist: "Children are a reward!" Are we faithful messengers?
  4. Children are weapons. They are weapons against the enemy and against our own flesh and chronic selfishness. Children are tools that God uses to shape and mold us more and more into the image of Jesus. The enemy attacks us with selfishness; God blesses us with children to curb our selfishness. The enemy attacks us with pride; God blesses us with children that melt that pride and arrogance by requiring our constant attention to the menial. Children are not only tools used to shape us; they are weapons pointed directly at the enemy. Demons shudder when children pray. Do you listen?
  5. I am thankful that God added one more to my quiver. I feel blasted, blessed, more equipped, better protected, and more loved.
I am also thankful that I have many around me who share these convictions. Join me in celebrating this new reward. I can't wait for you to meet him.




Friday, January 15, 2010

Does God Hate Haiti?

On Tuesday, January 12, 2010, a catastrophic earthquake devastated the impoverished country of Haiti. The earthquake occurred inland approximately 16 miles southwest from the capital city of Port-au-Prince. The intensity of the quake shook the neighboring countries of Jamaica, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico. Many of the buildings in Port-au-Prince, including the Presidential Palace, the Haitian Parliament, and the National Cathedral were significantly damaged or destroyed. According to a BBC News report on January 14, the International Red Cross estimates that approximately three million people were affected by the quake and that approximately 50,000 people were killed; yet the death toll seems to rise each hour. Indeed, some speculate (including Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive) that the death toll may have surpassed 100,000. If this estimate is true, as one blogger noted, “that would translate on a per capita basis … in the U.S. as a loss … of 3 million Americans.”

In the face of this unbelievable tragedy, many are confronted with difficult spiritual questions. Many struggle to make sense of such an horrific event. And some speculate on God’s involvement.

Televangelist Pat Robertson made such a speculation on Wednesday on his Christian Broadcasting Network’s program “The 700 Club.” He said, “Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it, they were under the heel of the French, uh, you know, Napoleon the third and whatever, and they got together and swore a pact to the devil, they said, we will serve you, if you get us free from the Prince, true story.” He continued, “And so the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.' And they kicked the French out, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free, and ever since they have been cursed by one thing after the other.”

Robertson’s statement provoked outrage among believers and non-believers alike. Later on Wednesday, Raymond Joseph, Haitian Ambassador to the U.S. appeared on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and shamed Robertson. Joseph pointed out that Haiti’s freedom led to freedom across Latin America and eventually resulted in the U.S. being able to gain the Louisiana Territory for $15 million. Joseph continued, “That’s three cents an acre. That’s 13 states west of the Mississippi that the Haitian slaves’ revolt in Haiti provided America.”

Raymond Joseph wasn’t the only one upset by Robertson’s remarks. Dr. Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, posted an article online (“Does God Hate Haiti?”) on Thursday as a subtle response to Robertson (though Mohler never mentioned Robertson by name). Mohler asked, “Does God hate Haiti?” He added, “That is the conclusion reached by many, who point to the earthquake as a sign of God's direct and observable judgment.”

Mohler acknowledged his belief that God controls all things as he noted, “God's rule over creation involves both direct and indirect acts, but his rule is constant. The universe, even after the consequences of the Fall, still demonstrates the character of God in all its dimensions, objects, and occurrences. And yet, we have no right to claim that we know why a disaster like the earthquake in Haiti happened at just that place and at just that moment.” He warned, “The arrogance of human presumption is a real and present danger.” Mohler asked rhetorically, “Why did no earthquake shake Nazi Germany? Why did no tsunami swallow up the killing fields of Cambodia? Why did Hurricane Katrina destroy far more evangelical churches than casinos?”

Mohler asked again, “Does God hate Haiti? God hates sin, and will punish both individual sinners and nations. But that means that every individual and every nation will be found guilty when measured by the standard of God's perfect righteousness. God does hate sin, but if God merely hated Haiti, there would be no missionaries there; there would be no aid streaming to the nation; there would be no rescue efforts—there would be no hope."

The earthquake in Haiti, which may eventually be included in the top ten deadliest natural disasters on record, is unexplainable from our perspective. As a Christian, I confess, as Mohler does, that God controls all things. Yet I must also confess that God’s ways are not my ways, that He sees things that I don’t, that I don’t have all the facts. By faith I trust that God is in control and that all things happen for a reason, even if that reason isn’t easily explained or understood this side of eternity. In the end I believe that John 3:16 applies as much to Haiti as it does to my family, yet neither deserves it.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Responding to Haiti

Pastor Jonathan Dodson offers helpful suggestions to those responding to Haiti:
  1. Go to God in prayer for the Haitians to encounter true, whole gospel relief and attention–spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, socially, and physically. Pray, “Lord have Mercy on the Haitians!”

  2. Before putting God in the dock, remember that although we all deserve death, God has graciously given some of us life. How are you using your life? Will you use it to bring blessing and hope to hurting Haitians? How will you live in response to Haiti? We will all suffer and die, perhaps not en masse or in great tragedy, but we will suffer and die. How will you suffer? How will you die?

  3. Respond intelligently and deliberately to the plight of the poor.
  • BUY needed items for Red Cross Relief and/or donate to Red Cross and the ADRN here.
  • GO to Haiti if you have medical skills by taking AA up on free airfare to go serve the Haitians. Call 212-697-9767
  • GET a HELP HAITI T-shirt. All proceeds go to HAITI.
  • JOIN Austinites from across the city on Monday night for the Hope for Haiti benefit concert at The Parish.

This is a great opportunity for you to make good culture, redeem social ill, and share a whole gospel. Don’t waste it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Good News and Bad News

In his book Telling the Truth: Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale, Frederick Buechner notes that the Gospel is bad news before it's good news. We must know and understand the severity of our sin before we understand the extravagance of God's grace. We must tremble at Psalm 7:11-13 before we can rest in Psalm 103:8-12.

God is a righteous judge,
and a God who feels indignation every day.
If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword;
he has bent and readied his bow;
he has prepared for him his deadly weapons,
making his arrows fiery shafts (Ps. 7:11-13).

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 (Ps. 103:8-12).

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Why I Am Thankful That I Got Jacked

Yesterday started out so good.

Monday was an intensely long day for me so I had intentionally scheduled Tuesday to be light. The plan was to sleep in a bit and work for a few hours before my friend would meet me at my house at 10AM so we could go to Houston to pick up our guitars that were in the shop. We'd get our guitars, eat lunch, find a place to work for the afternoon, and then head back for a meeting we both had at 4PM at the church. Great plan for a great day.

The plan took off without a hitch. I spent the morning working, we left at 10AM, got our guitars, and had lunch.

We left the restaurant and walked to my truck. I unlocked the doors and we both got in. I noticed my console was open and I asked my friend if he had opened it. "Nope," he said, "Did someone break in?" Ugh! I looked in the console, nothing was missing and nothing even looked disturbed. I looked in the backseat, our guitars were still there and a few of my books. I could see behind the passenger seat and I asked my friend, "Did you bring your computer?" He said he thought so. I got out and opened the backdoor. Neither of our backpacks were in the backseat, but everything else seemed untouched. "Are you sure we brought our bags?" I asked. "Maybe we didn't," he said. I closed the back door and was about to get back in the driver's seat to call Brandi to ask her to check to see if we left the bags at home. As I reached for my door my heart sank. I noticed the lock in the handle was missing, completely gone (I'll upload a pic soon!). I knew immediately that we did bring our bags and that they were gone. As I realized what had happened I fell into shock. What else was in my bag? Why didn't they take the guitars? When was the last time I backed up my files? What personal information did I have on my Mac? Etc. I felt sick.

It was all down hill from there. We called insurance companies, the cops, Apple, talked to the restaurant, waited for the cops, called friends, tweeted, texted, tried to change passwords on online accounts via my iPhone, etc. What about my calendar? All my work? My pictures? My personal information? Identity theft? I was defeated. I felt foolish for not having established a religious routine of backing up my computer and for not password-protecting sensitive files. In my fragile state I vowed never to return to that restaurant, never to return to that city, to password protect everything, to join Mozy.com. I'm still not over this ordeal, but by grace I have grown thankful for the many subtle (and some not so subtle) blessings of this event:
  1. For better or for worse, I am thankful that I wasn't alone. I feel horrible that my friend had his computer stolen; his loss was significant. I would give anything for that not to have happened to him, but in those moments I was glad to mourn with a friend who knew exactly how I felt. As we drove away my friend half-joked, "Our friendship just jumped up a few notches!" Yes it did, John! Yes it did!
  2. It could have been a lot worse. They could have stolen our guitars; could have damaged the car more; could have taken many important papers, some books, and so many other random things of value to me. Also, if the console hadn't been opened we wouldn't have realized it for awhile and may not have known when or where it exactly happened. As it stands now, we're able to make a claim on the restaurant's insurance and will hopefully recoup much of the expense.
  3. I learned a tough lesson. A significant part of my job is content creation. I write, teach, and preach. I spend hours everyday writing, researching, making notes, etc. It is foolish and irresponsible not to consistently back-up my files and protect sensitive material. And yes, as of today, I'm a happy customer of Mozy.com.
  4. I was humbled. I'm not that important. My work is replaceable. My life does not consist of the contents of my computer. God is sovereign. This event didn't fall below his radar. He works all things for good. He has purpose and that purpose includes all people at all times ... not just me and my Word documents and Keynote files.
This event was not easy for me at all. I'm playing catch-up on months of work, scheduling, planning, writing, and research. It's a hassle to change passwords, configure email accounts, and talk to insurance adjusters. But God is good, and in the end I am thankful I got jacked.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Reading and Listening

On January 1 I began my bible reading plan for 2010. January 1: Slam Dunk. January 2-3: No Dice. Anyone else? So now it's January 4 and I'm already playing catch-up. (Yet, one of the my favorite things about my reading plan is that it gives me 5 extra days each month to catch up. Thank God for grace!)

Here are a few things to note about my bible reading plan:
  1. I read the ESV Bible. I've used this for over a year now and love it (more on this in another post perhaps). In fact, our church buys boxes of these Bibles and gives them away weekly. These are also the Bibles we use for pew Bibles.
  2. Before reading, I pray. I pray that God would speak to me, that God would help me see Jesus in the text (all of the text), that God would help me connect the dots (e.g. from Acts to Genesis to Matthew to Psalms), and that God would apply the text to my heart and not just to my head.
  3. In addition to reading the text itself, I listen to an audio version of the text (as I read). I listen to The Listener's Bible: ESV read by Max McLean.
  4. I do this for a few reasons: (1) Reading and listening simultaneously helps me to remember the text and to commit it to memory. (2) Listing to the text helps me stay focused. I'm not as easily distracted because I don't want Max McLean to get too far ahead; Max McLean has an knack for keeping my eyes on the page and away from my phone or computer.
  5. I try to talk about the text with Brandi or friends. I try to blog about it or integrate it into other writings (journal, sermon prep, etc.). This helps keep me from being "a hearer of the word only;" it allows me to be a "doer" (Jam. 1:22-23).

Introduction to the Pastoral Epistles

Tonight a group of students at Christ Church Academy will begin a study through the Pastoral Epistles.

We'll begin by discussing the critical issues of the three letters (1/2 Tim. and Titus): Author, Date, and Recipients. Dr. William Mounce notes: "More than perhaps for any book in the NT, exegesis of the PE is affected by one's critical assumptions" (Word Biblical Commentary, xlvi).

Regarding authorship, Dr. Samuel Ngewa suggests that "the arguments put forward by those who oppose Paul's authorship fall into four main groups" (Africa Bible Commentary, 1):
  1. Historical/biographical
  2. Linguistic
  3. Doctrinal/theological
  4. Ecclesiological
I. HISTORICAL/BIOGRAPHICAL:

“Some of the events mentioned in the PE are very difficult to fit into the account of Paul’s ministry in the book of Acts” (ABC, 2).

Strengths: Acts does not mention Paul’s visit to Crete (Titus 1:5). When did Paul journey to Macedonia (1 Tim. 1:3)? Is the imprisonment in 2 Timothy the same as those mentioned in Acts (Acts 23-26 and 28)? “It is not easy to fit the settings they describe into Paul’s life as Acts presents it” (Encountering the NT, 334).

Weaknesses: “These problems only discredit Pauline authorship if we assume that the book of Acts deals with all of Paul’s up to the time of his death. But the book makes no such claim” (ABC, 2). Cf. Acts 28:30-31. “Given that Agrippa and Festus considered Paul innocent of the charges against him (Acts 26:32), it is likely that he was eventually released from his imprisonment in Rome” (ABC, 2).

II. LINGUISTIC:

“The words and style of writing in the PE are very different from those in Paul’s other writings” (ABC, 2).

Strengths: “This argument is a strong one” (ABC, 2). A total of 306 words out of the 849 in PE are not characteristic of Paul’s style as we know it elsewhere in the NT. SEE: Ngewa’s notes on 418-419.

Weaknesses: “It is quite possible that Paul changed his vocabulary and his style of writing to suit the new circumstances these churches were facing” (ABC, 2). It is also likely that Paul employed a scribe.

III. DOCTRINAL/THEOLOGICAL:

“The PE do not mention some of Paul’s key teachings in his other letters, such as salvation by faith, believers’ union with Christ, and the role of the Holy Spirit” (ABC, 2).

Strengths: (1) Some central Pauline theological themes are not mentioned. (2) Pauline theological themes are treated differently. (3) New theological themes are introduced. (4) The PE references a fixed theological tradition (e.g. “sound teaching,” “the faith,” “the truth,” etc.). SEE: Ngewa’s notes on 419.

Weaknesses: “This argument, however, raises the questions of why Paul would need to repeat these things to Timothy and Titus, two of his key assistants who had worked alongside him and must often have heard him teach on these topics” (ABC, 2).

IV. ECCLESIOLOGICAL:

“Some argue that the church in Paul’s day was not as structured as the one we meet in the PE and would not have had bishops, elders, and deacons” (ABC, 3).

Strengths: “Some have argued that this type of church organization developed only after Paul’s death, particularly in the time of Clement (AD 95), and Ignatius (AD 110), who wrote to the churches in Asia Minor” (ABC, 419).

Weaknesses: “In Acts 14:23 [Paul] appoints elders and in Acts 20:17, 28 he meets with the elders of the church in Ephesus.... Moreover, the problems with false teaching in the churches for which Timothy and Titus were responsible may have necessitated organization and strict discipline” (ABC, 3).

OUR COURSE ASSUMES:
  • The traditional belief that Paul wrote all three letters known as the PE. “No one has yet produced evidence that the ancient church accepted letters as apostolic that it knew to be written pseudonymously” (ENT, 335).
  • That Paul’s imprisonment in Acts 28 ended in his release and that his ministry extended at least four years after the imprisonment in Acts 28. “During these travels he could have written 1 Timothy and Titus” (ENT, 335). Paul likely wrote 1 Timothy and Titus between AD 63-67.
  • That Paul was re-arrested, and during this final imprisonment he wrote 2 Timothy, “which was his last testament before his execution in AD 67 or 68” (ABC, 3). “Shortly after writing 2 Timothy Paul apparently suffered death by beheading under the persecutions instigated by the ‘degenerate madness’ of the Roman emperor Nero” (ENT, 335).

Friday, January 1, 2010

Beginnings and Mission

I began my bible reading plan for 2010 this morning: Gen. 1-2; Psalms 1; Matt. 1:1-17; Acts 1:1-11.

I've been teaching through Genesis at Christ Church, and I was immediately confronted by an obvious motif in Genesis 1: God creates (ex nihilo), God forms, God blesses (indeed, with procreative power; e.g. And God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply.").

Psalms 1 offers a powerful warning: The one whose "delight is in the law of the LORD" who "meditates" on the LORD's law "day and night" is "like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither." Yet "the wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away."

Matthew, of course, begins his gospel with the genealogy of Jesus, the promised Messiah, tracing the line from Abraham through David to the Christ. Matthew does not avoid the skeletons in that family's closet. He notes that "David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah" and reminds his readers of the deportation to Babylon. Indeed, that particular exile serves as a hinge-point for Matthew's narrative: "So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations" (Matt. 1:17).

In Acts we encounter the resurrected Messiah commissioning his disciples: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

Our LORD creates (bara) from nothing. He creates and then forms with purpose. Not only this, but when we rebel and reject that purpose, he is gracious to replace "beauty for ashes" (Is. 61), as he did with David's fornication and violence. Or when things don't go as we had planned or predicted (e.g. the horrific exile of the Jews), YHWH corrects and restores and infuses the darkest seasons with a bright redemptive light. His perfect beginning will match his perfect end. His grace goes further: He includes us in his unstoppable work of declaring his glory and goodness to all people in all places. He sends those who rebelled and betrayed; he transforms them into missionaries with a new story to tell.

Rest in this as you take your first few steps into 2010.

Let your New Year be marked by delight, meditation, and proclamation.