Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas's virtue

"I am sure that I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round-- apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that-- as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time, the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys."

~Scrooge's Nephew

Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, chapter 1.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, one and all. May the Christmas season bring you all great joy and cheer in the love and promises of our lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ideas for Celebrating Christmas

Just as they did with Advent, the folks at the Reformed Church in America (RCA) are offering a lot of very good and helpful ideas for celebrating Christmas and Epiphany:
Thanks, RCA!

Advent Cartoon 10: Displaying Cards

card-display

Find this and other great Advent cartoons at Dave Walker's Cartoon Advent Calendar. Also be sure to check out Dave's other church-related cartoons at his website, Cartoon Church.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

To all the Tiger Woods "rubberneckers"

"For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret."
~Ephesians 5:12

Monday, December 21, 2009

Advent Cartoon 9: Tree Decorations

who-decorated-the-tree

Find this and other great Advent cartoons at Dave Walker's Cartoon Advent Calendar. Also be sure to check out Dave's other church-related cartoons at his website, Cartoon Church.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bits & Tidbits, Advent 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

Advent Cartoon 8: Finding the end of the tape

sticky-tape-ends

Find this and other great Advent cartoons at Dave Walker's Cartoon Advent Calendar. Also be sure to check out Dave's other church-related cartoons at his website, Cartoon Church.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Church is bigger...

One of the common traits of a certain subset of Christians (and I can't quite put my finger on who these folks would be; emerging/emergents? Post-Evangelicals?) is that they have come to the realization (at some point in their journey of faith) that "the Church is bigger than ____ " (insert subtle jab at a/the local church). They then proceed to unpack how that realization has led them to the enlightened, though slightly disenfranchised, place where they now are. Often, what follows is the suggestion that, if other Christians would open their eyes to the same realization, they too would be freed of the bondage that is the local church, or denominational affiliation, or organized Christianity in any form.

I "get" where these folks are coming from, because having one's eyes opened to something one was unaware of can be striking and can even present a true paradigm-shift. I also understand how some of the more prominent voices among the "slightly disenfranchised" have come to where they are through many years of wrestling and struggle; and frankly, most of these guys, though slightly disenfranchised, are not openly "giving up on the local church" nor are they overtly encouraging others to do so.

But I'm troubled by how some-- especially, it seems, the avid followers of the more prominent folks-- are more actively and adamantly pursuing
their conclusions toward a proselytic end. To these dear ones, I'd like to offer a few pastoral comments in response:
  • First, it is wonderful that you have become aware that Christianity is "bigger" than the local church that was, otherwise, the summation of your church experience up to that point. Be careful, though, not to eschew your local church simply because it doesn't represent the whole of Christianity. It never pretended to. Perhaps you assumed that it did at one point, but whose fault is that? Should a Physicist, who could now teach his 9th grade Algebra teacher a thing or two, write off that Algebra class as irrelevant-- and the teacher as an oppressor? Should he assume that his Algebra teacher didn't know all that he does, simply because she didn't teach it to him? Just because there is more to something doesn't mean that a partial expression of it is inherently bad. Remember: that local church that you are so quickly writing off has likely been responsible for much of the spiritual shepherding and discipleship that has brought you to where you are.
  • Second, just as the Church is bigger than the local expression of it as you have realized, so too Christianity (and the Church) is more than just you and your experiences and gathered wisdom. Your assertion that you don't need the local church has no foundation in the Bible. Your assumptions that others are naïve or deceived, or even part of the deception, suggest a spiritual pride that is dangerous. Please be careful that you don't pick and choose which portions of Scripture you will accept as relevant to shaping your image of what Christianity and the Church must be; those other parts that inconveniently speak so clearly about the local church are important, too.
  • Finally: you're not the only one who realizes that the "Church is bigger than..." Some others of us know that, too-- and yet we're also somehow still committed to the local church. We're not necessarily less self-honest, less aware, less intelligent, or less thoughtful than you are. Yet we love the local church. How does that fit into your realizations and assumptions? In fact, through 2000 years of Church history, Christianity has found expression primarily through the local church. Were all of our spiritual ancestor simply wrong-- or could your understanding simply (and potentially) represent another step in the direction of advancing the Kingdom?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Advent Cartoon 7: Christmas Card Algorithm

diagram-to-do-with-christmas-cards

Find this and other great Advent cartoons at Dave Walker's Cartoon Advent Calendar. Also be sure to check out Dave's other church-related cartoons at his website, Cartoon Church.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Advent Cartoon 6: Wrapping

wrapping

Find this and other great Advent cartoons at Dave Walker's Cartoon Advent Calendar. Also be sure to check out Dave's other church-related cartoons at his website, Cartoon Church.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Prayer 14: general resources for learning to pray

Many have e-mailed or just asked for more help in learning to pray. Since prayer has been our ministry focus for 2009, I have (needless to say) done a fair amount of reading about it. Here are some of the books that I have found to be highly-recommendable:
  • The Heart of Prayer by Jerram Barrs: a wonderful teaching on prayer from one of the most godly men I know. It will open hearts to prayer as a welcoming and approachable activity, instead of the daunting drudgery that prayer sometimes becomes for many of us.
  • Praying Backwards by Bryan Chapell: this one will change the way you think about why we pray and how we pray. Excellent.
  • A Method for Prayer by Matthew Henry: this classic is a great guide to prayer for both the novice and the experienced. It has recently been updated in language, and the whole thing is available online.
  • The Ministry of Intercessory Prayer by Andrew Murray: if you want to learn how to pray for others in more powerful and meaningful ways, this volume is your guide and friend.
  • WIth Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray: another excellent work by Murray, who masterfully takes scriptural principles to offer a general guide to prayer for any believer at any level of spiritual maturity.
  • The Life of Prayer by Edith Schaeffer: Schaeffer's take on "learning" to pray is much more experiential than the others; she looks at life circumstances and activities and how they fit into prayer, and prayer into them. As a consequence, I find Schaeffer's book mandatory reading for Christians who would take prayer seriously.
  • Prayer: Does It Make a Difference? by Philip Yancey: this one is different from the others in that, first, it is from a popular author and written at a "popular" level; and second, it attempts to answer questions about prayer, rather than simply to teach about what prayer is and how it is conducted. I don't fully agree with all of Yancey's conclusions, and some will find this book to be to "simple" or introductory for them, while others will find its substantial length off-putting; still, I recommend it as a worthwhile read for most discerning congregants.
I would also put in a recommendation for A Praying LIfe by Paul Miller. While I haven't read this one, so many people who I trust and appreciate have recommended it to me that I feel it would be conspicuous in its absence.

Finally, I might also humbly mention that I have written a brief book, entitled For All the Saints: Praying for the Church, which will be published next year by Doulos Resources. While I shudder to think that someone might consider me experienced or expert enough to be an authority on prayer, I found the utter lack of resources on praying for the church a compelling mandate for the book-- better an average book on the subject from a mediocre pray-er than no book at all. I'll mention it again when it is available in print.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Advent Cartoon 5: Christmas Tree

christmas-tree

Find this and other great Advent cartoons at Dave Walker's Cartoon Advent Calendar. Also be sure to check out Dave's other church-related cartoons at his website, Cartoon Church.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Advent Reflection 8: Faux Tannebaum, Faux Tannebaum...

...Or, in praise of the artificial Christmas Tree.

We got one of the pre-lighted artificial trees while in our seminary apartment in Gulf Drive, and I love it.

We struggled with the surprisingly-high costs of (formerly) live trees, and felt we couldn't justify it every year-- especially in those years when we planned to travel during all or part of our Christmas break. And although we both had fond memories of the various excursions with our families to pick out a tree together, we also knew enough about pastoral ministry (from previous churches) to know that the Advent/Christmas seasons are busy enough, and full of other traditions enough, to not need the added busyness of that errand.

Since then, I have become well-acquainted with the further merits of this arrangement:
Setup for our tree usually takes about 10-15 minutes, at most, from opening the box to lit in the corner.
The stand is built in, and I don't have to deal with sap, saws, or the bizarre engineering of Christmas tree stands.
It doesn't shed needles, need water, or require vacuuming after it is put up.
It breaks down even faster than it goes up.
It is paid for, and cost no more (at the end of season) than a decent formerly-live tree.
AND, it looks plenty good enough to fool many people into thinking it is real.

Now that we are in a home with a larger family room than our apartment, it
would be nice to have a slightly larger tree (plus, this would give more room for the ornaments that we continue to acquire). But the one we have is adequate-- and the money we save every year could easily go toward replacing it sometime if we really wanted it.

The only thing that we
really miss (well, actually only Marcie really misses it) is the scent of the fresh tree in our home. To satisfy this longing, we have sometimes bought a wreath made from cut-pine boughs, and that will do the trick.

Sing with me:
Faux tannebaum, faux tannebaum--
How many are your merits...

Monday, December 7, 2009

Advent Cartoon 4: Lights

lights

Find this and other great Advent cartoons at Dave Walker's Cartoon Advent Calendar. Also be sure to check out Dave's other church-related cartoons at his website, Cartoon Church.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Apprenticing myself

I find that I am, effectively, apprenticing myself to certain writers and thinkers. These are the people who have shaped, and are shaping, my theological, ecclesiastical, and pastoral thought and action. Some of these are living, while others have passed on to glory. I thought I would mention who these folks are.
  • Donald MacNair-- was described once (by Harry Reeder) as the "father of church revitalization". He had near-prophetic insight into how the "church growth movement" would have negative and even damaging effects, and how to foster healthy church life and vitality.
  • David Martyn Lloyd-Jones-- I can't get enough of his preaching, and everything I've read by him is so solid. I've heard that he was considered one of the greatest preachers of the 20th century.
  • Henri J. M. Nouwen-- has to be one of the most pastorally-minded people I've ever encountered, and even though a couple of his books are fairly odd (I'm thinking of The Wounded Healer), I gain much from him.
  • Adolf Schlatter-- what a solid theologian, and again a model of pastoral and theological integrity. Schlatter was one of the very few voices of orthodoxy in the midst of the emerging German theological liberalism (think Karl Barth) of the 20th century.
  • William Still-- was a Scottish pastor whose faithful model challenges me in every way that I encounter. If I can be half the pastor Still was, I'd consider that a great accomplishment and legacy for my life.

Also, those still living:
  • Hughes Oliphant Old-- is teaching me a deeper meaning and richness to worship that I didn't know was possible.
  • John R. W. Stott-- his exegetical capabilities are invaluable, and his ability to apply the Word is immense.
  • Sinclair Ferguson-- is a hero on many counts, including both his theological prowess as well as his exegetical and preaching skill.
  • Philip Graham Ryken-- is both brilliant and approachable, in ways that I wasn't sure were possible. His expository commentaries are a real delight, but all of his books are worth time and investment.

And these are some who are "emerging" (not in the ecclesiastical sense, but in the sense that they are only beginning to show up) as influences:
  • Lesslie Newbigin
  • Miroslav Volf
  • J.C. Ryle

Some guys are devotees of Tim Keller, John Piper, Lig Duncan, C.J. Mahaney, or some other "in vogue" models. I've got nothing against those guys-- but the ones above are the guys who are influencing me heavily.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Advent Reflection 7: Ox and Ass before Him bow...

In one of my favorite Christmas carols, "Good Christian Men, Rejoice," there is a line that sings, "ox and ass before him bow, and he is in the manger now." As a kid (okay, for much of my adult life, too) that line frequently made me giggle.

The truth is, though, that no nativity scene would seem complete without an ox, cow, or bull, and a donkey (or ass) present. And for good reason, as
this interesting post makes clear: our Christmas hymnody is rich with references (beyond the one already mentioned, also "What Child Is This?" and older versions of "The Little Drummer Boy") and scripture itself has a compelling message about how Christ came to overcome our sin and rebellion (and the animals present at his birth signify that).

Incidentally, the referenced post also has some beautiful images of older frescos and paintings that picture ox and ass in the nativity, demonstrating that this isn't a new convention in nativity scenes (as so many of the conventions are-- witness the dozens of figures offered by
Fontanini and others).

As we prepare for Christ's coming, the stark realities of the manger scene-- its humility, the absence of worldly recognition, the presence of Christ amid the dirtiness and mess of a broken world-- are a warm reminder of how much we NEED Advent.

Read:
Ox and Ass at Christ’s Manger

Friday, December 4, 2009

Advent Cartoon 3: Playlist

playlist

Find this and other great Advent cartoons at Dave Walker's Cartoon Advent Calendar. Also be sure to check out Dave's other church-related cartoons at his website, Cartoon Church.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Advent Cartoon 2: Shopping

shops

Find this and other great Advent cartoons at Dave Walker's Cartoon Advent Calendar. Also be sure to check out Dave's other church-related cartoons at his website, Cartoon Church.

Prayer 13: Praying for those who preach

Justin Childers, pastor of Christ Baptist Church of Wilson, NC, posted on his blog about "praying for those who preach" in March 2008. His insights are invaluable, and his challenge is needed.

He offers six suggestions for how one might pray for preachers:
1. During the week, pray for God to reveal the burden of the text to him.
2. During the week, pray that God would grip the preacher’s heart with His glory revealed in the text.
3. On Sunday morning, pray that God would free him from distractions.
4. On Sunday morning, pray that he would proclaim the truth boldly and clearly.
5. On Sunday morning, pray for God to powerfully speak through him.
6. On Sunday morning, pray that Christ would be treasured by all gathered.

Read all of Justin's post here.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Sermon texts for December 2009

December 6 Advent part 3: Leviticus 16 -- Do We Recognize Our Need for Forgiveness?
December 13 Advent part 4: Zechariah 7 -- Should We Keep On as We Have?
December 20 Advent part 5: Revelation 21:1-7 -- Do We Remember the First Love?
December 24 Advent part 6: Revelation 21:1-8 -- Do We Long to Be Made New?
December 27 Christmastide/Ministry Sunday: John 4:19-26 -- Worship in Spirit & Truth

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advent reflection 6: some Advent blogs

Here are a couple of blogs I’ve come across that are offering some interesting ideas on Advent:

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Advent Cartoon 1: Looking Forward

forward

Find this and other great Advent cartoons at Dave Walker's Cartoon Advent Calendar. Also be sure to check out Dave's other church-related cartoons at his website, Cartoon Church.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Prayer 12: What Prayer Does

Last week, I wrapped up a short series on "What Prayer Does" in our Wednesday night Bible Study. In that series, I addressed the "myths" about prayer that are commonly believed today, and the realities about what prayer really does.

This is a summary graphic that accompanied the lessons:

what prayer does

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Advent reflection 5: family practices for Advent

Just as I did last year, I'll reflect a bit on the season of Advent during the season.

If you missed them, be sure to check out Advent
reflection 1 (Labor of Love), reflection 2 (The End of Advent), reflection 3 (What Means This?), and reflection 4 (Teaching Ourselves the Season) from last year.

Here is a small collection of ideas on celebrating and observing Advent as a family:

NOTE: I'm posting this one BEFORE Advent, because you might actually want to plan ahead and actually do some of these.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Honesty in advertising

My friend Ben linked to this brutally honest commercial on his Facebook-- it's hilarious. Why can't more ads be this straight-up?



EMBED-Brutally Honest Mobile Home Commercial - Watch more free videos

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bits & Tidbits, late November 2009

Friday, November 20, 2009

Prayer 11: resources for leaders

Not long ago, a friend asked for some book recommendations about prayer-- specifically, about the Lord’s Prayer.

I thought I would offer a quick list of suggestions for leaders in the church who wish to lead better in a ministry of prayer-- both praying for others, and teaching others to pray.

General:
  • The Praying Church Sourcebook by Alvin J. Vander Griend with Edith Bajema-- what a great book on leading a church in prayer, including more than 30 different strategies for increasing the opportunities and commitment to prayer in a congregation, and dozens of stories and anecdotes about prayer in various settings and contexts.
  • The Praying Church Idea Book by Douglas A. Kamstra-- the companion volume to the above, this one is even better-- a resource of methods for prayer (more than 40), essays about the leader’s prayer life, ideas for prayer ministry, ideas for prayer in small groups and other group settings, help for prayer retreats, and 49 different ideas for prayer in worship. These two volumes should be in every pastor’s library.
  • Leading in Prayer: A Workbook for Ministers by Hughes Oliphant Old-- Dr. Old has dedicated his long and fruitful career and ministry toward studying worship and its leadership, and in this fine (and thick!) volume, he unpacks a lifetime of wisdom about leading in prayer in the context of public worship. Incredibly valuable, and every page offers a nuance, insight, or challenge that will benefit your ministry. (I’m reading it now and getting humbled.)
  • Equipping the Church for Kingdom Praying by Barbara Thompson-- a workbook of sorts, published by the PCA’s Christian Education and Publications department, that is practical and helpful in leading a congregation toward an increased commitment to corporate prayer. This book includes a good essay on the private use of the Lord’s Prayer.
  • Spurgeon’s Prayers-- this little volume (published by Christian Focus) is a great asset for prayer leadership. For one, Spurgeon’s prayers are beautiful, rich, and timeless; I’ve borrowed from these from time to time, and continue to do so. For another, there are two additional elements that alone would be worthy of purchase: a lecture entitled, “The Golden Key of Prayer” and a section at the end called, “Prayer meetings-- as they were and as they should be.” Valuable insight into prayer from this great ancestor of the faith.
  • Earth & Altar: The Community of Prayer in a Self-Bound Society by Eugene Peterson-- in classic Peterson style, this book offers a view of community and spirituality that is contrary to much of what is employed in our culture and society today. While this isn’t a book written specifically for leadership, it is a valuable read for leaders, especially pastors, as we need to lead our congregations toward more prayerful community.
  • Two Are Better than One by David Mains and Steve Bell-- here’s a little guide to making “prayer partnerships” more effective. There is a lot of experience and wisdom from these men, who offer much helpful counsel toward effective prayer and accountability relationships. Be careful of applying this too legalistically, but otherwise a good find.
  • Leadership Prayers by Richard Kriegbaum-- here’s a book that is written in a devotional style, with a prayer and a reflection for each of 30 different categories. This one was written for leaders in the business world, and thus some of the prayers don’t really fit into the church (such as marketing); still, there is a lot to find here.
Books with help on the Lord’s Prayer:
  • Philip G. Ryken, When You Pray, is exclusively devoted toward learning prayer from the Lord’s Prayer.
  • Jerram Barrs, The Heart of Prayer-- the first several chapters of this book deal with learning prayer from Christ through the Lord’s Prayer.
  • Evan B. Howard, Praying the Scriptures, has two chapters on praying the Lord’s Prayer.
  • Matthew Henry’s A Method for Prayer has a chapter on praying the Lord’s Prayer.
  • Richard Foster’s Prayer has a good, if small, section given to the Lord’s Prayer.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Setting two personal goals...

I'm setting out to make some healthy changes.

In July 2008, I stepped onto the scale and saw the highest weight I had ever been: 303 pounds. I'm 6'5", so I don't
look very overweight; with clever wardrobe choices, I can mask the extra pounds fairly well. (The double chins are another matter!) But I set out then to do something about it. Marcie and I had done Weight Watchers before, so I started "counting points" and worked hard at it for a few months.

By late October, I was down to 273-- very encouraging progress. I had begun to stall, though, and needed to increase my exercise. I also wasn't getting enough water, and that was slowing the progress substantially.

Then we had Abbey and Caroline, and the holidays were just around the corner. My commitment to any sort of diet, exercise, or other effort ceased completely. I saw my weight slowly start to crawl back up.

I'm now at 287. Still far from where I was at 303, but I need to get back to it. And I need to do it very publicly, so that I have the accountability of everyone's expectations.

I'm starting back onto counting points. I'm also going to start exercising-- I've missed running terribly ever since high school, and hopefully I can get going with that. I'll try the "Couch to 5K" plan and see if my knees can stand it. If not, I'll at least get back on my bike (I miss that from high school, too!).

I have two personal goals in my efforts: to get my weight down to the mid-240s, and to run a 5K by late spring. (An alternative to the 5K goal, if my knees can't take it, is to do a Quarter-Century by myself by early spring on the bike.)

Friday, November 6, 2009

New feed for this blog

For a variety of reasons (they're all boring, I promise) I'm "shifting" this blog to a slightly different location. You won't be able to recognize the change visually, but the important shift comes in this way: the RSS feed is changing.

This means that, if you're one of my tens of readers directly from the feed, you'll need to change your feed reader to the new feed (see below).

If you're one of the folks who reads my posts via Facebook: over the next few days, you'll probably see a lot of my older posts show up again. Sorry for the redundancy.

The new actual address for the blog is:
pastorblog.hickorywithepc.org. It is official as of tonight; I've just posted my review of Hank Hanegraaff's Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century Edition.

Feed users:
click here for the new RSS feed.

Book Review: Christianity in Crisis, 21st Century Edition by Hank Hanegraaff

I was delighted to read Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century Edition by Hank Hanegraaff. [Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of this book by Thomas Nelson in exchange for my agreement to review it.]

When I was in college, the first edition of this book came out. I was floored; I had always had a hunch that guys like Benny Hinn, Robert Schuler, and Kenneth Copeland were more snake-oil salesmen than they were Bible preachers, but I never knew how, to what extent, or just how dangerous they were. Kanegraaff picked their teachings apart astutely, always pointing out from direct quotes where the errors were, and always pointing the reader back to the true, biblical understanding of the same subject.

Incidentally, a friend of mine had the audio-book version, and it was amazing: everywhere there were plain quotes in the printed text version, the audio-book provided an original audio clip of the heretic in question saying exactly what was quoted!

Fast foward almost 20 years, and there are still lots of snake-oil salesmen around. Some of the same guys are peddling their lies, but a whole swath of new folks have emerged on the scene. Hanegraaff faithfully takes these guys on, too: Joel Osteen, Joyce Myer, Creflo Dollar, and others fall flat on their faces as Hank picks their teachings apart.

Two things I really appreciate about this book:
  • First, we're not talking about mere nit-picking or looking under every rock. Hanegraaff reveals the serious errors in the big-picture ideas that these teachers present. They don't simply misspeak or occasionally say something unclearly; these people are perverting the Gospel almost every time they open their mouths publicly, and Hanegraaff reveals this.
  • Secondly, he doesn't do it in a mean-spirited or unkind manner. He's gentle and loving about it, concerned for the souls of the people who listen to these false teachers AND the false teachers themselves. The tone of the book is firm, and even aggressive at times, but Hanegraaff carefully avoids ad hominems and vitriolic attitudes.

(Buy it here from Amazon.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

On "conversion"

"Obviously, what Jesus promises is highly desirable. Blessedness, freedom, healing of internal sin, access to eternal life-- who does not gladly hear of such things? Who would not want to celebrate with the King? What hinders us, since he calls to each of us and demands nothing in return?

"But this misconstrues the intent of the goodness whose goal is to lead us to conversion. It is not shown to us so that we might remain what we are. It rather appeals to us to transcend our base drives and free ourselves from coarse desire. For the king remains the king, even when in his grace he opens his banquet to all. All his banquet serves his glorification, even if it bestows great blessedness upon us. The fellowship of those who celebrate with him is not the place to put our contempt for God on display. Nor is it an occasion to assert our resistance against his command. Without our cooperation, God's grace comes to us and lodges with anyone who places trust in it. But to trust in it is to recognize its greatness and treasure its value. For it is to know that it is God's grace. One can no longer live as though grace no longer claimed him, as if it were some negligible trifle or extra ingredient of only secondary importance. Grace, once received, obligates."

Adolf Schlatter,
Do We Know Jesus? p.486.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sermon texts for November 2009

Morning:
November 1 Luke 22:54-23:25 -- Betrayal of the King (Guest Preacher Doug Barcroft)
November 8 Luke 23:26-56 -- The wages of sin...
November 15 Luke 24:1-12 -- He is not here...
November 22 Luke 24:13-53 -- Eyes opened
November 29 Advent part 1-- God as Father

Evening:
November 15 Colossians 1 -- Gnosticism
November 29 Advent part 2-- God as Father

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Responding to the fear-mongerers

While Jerram Barrs was here over the weekend, I asked him (among many other things!): How should we respond to those who are trafficking in Gospel-denying fear about political matters?

Part of his response was to point out how disrespectful talking about President Obama and others as some Christians do is-- not simply of our president,
but of other Christians who have faced real threat and persecution.

This is such a key point. This video underscores it:


[HT: Glen]

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
~Romans 8:15, emphasis added


Friday, October 23, 2009

Spiritual Life Conference

The Hickory Withe Presbyterian Church Spiritual Life Conference starts this evening. Our theme for the conference is: Ask, Seek, Knock-- Learning to Pray.

If you're in the area-- or even remotely close-- you might
seriously consider changing your plans to come be a part of this. Prof. Jerram Barrs will be our speaker, and events will include multiple lectures, a Q&A luncheon, a prayer service, and worship together Sunday morning.

Online registration is closed, but you can still come and register when you get here-- it's only $15! This will be too good to miss; get here if you can!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Join the team

I've been discussing church membership a lot lately.

The other day, I was interacting with someone about the importance of membership, and they offered the following argument:

"Joining a church doesn't make someone a Christian, any more than attending a football game makes you a sports fan."


Granted. But there's more that is telling about this analogy than just whether joining a church makes you a Christian.

You see, most Christians today assume that joining a church is akin to
attending a football game. This is the big flaw in the conventional wisdom. Joining a church is more than merely attending a football game; it is even more than buying season tickets.

We're not just observers. We aren't "doing church" just so that we can watch. The degree to which we are called to participate in the life of the church is not simply to "cheer on" the professional Christians that we've hired to run plays.

If you want to use a football game analogy to describe joining the church, here you go:
You, my fellow Christian-- you, who are called by Christ to put off your old identity and take up the identity you are adopted into in Him--
YOU are a Left Tackle. Or a Strong Safety. Or a Fullback.

You get the picture? Maybe you've been a Left Tackle all your life. Perhaps you are the most promising Strong Safety in this year's class. It could be that you are the most well-developed Fullback this side of the Mississippi. But without a team to play on, you have only so much to offer. Without the other 10 guys on the field with you, your skills and talents-- even your crowd-wowing abilities-- are fairly useless.

So join the team. There's room on the depth chart for you.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A new take on David and Goliath

A bohemian interpretation... surprisingly faithful to the spirit of the text.


(HT: Glen)

Monday, October 12, 2009

John Piper has it backward

"Worship is first an identity before it's ever an activity."
~Paul David Tripp


Not quite 15 years ago, I began hearing a buzz about this Baptist pastor from Minnesota who had begun to change the way that some people were thinking about the Christian life. In fact, he was challenging the way that people thought about the first question of the
Westminster Shorter Catechism! (This was WAY before the "young, restless, Reformed" movement-- so imagine my surprise that a Baptist pastor was even AWARE of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.)

Of course, this pastor was John Piper, and he, through his writings, lectures, sermons, and other platforms, has continued to be formative in the lives of many believers-- Baptist, Presbyterian, and other identities altogether. That book that I was introduced to in the mid-90s,
Desiring God, remains one of his most popular titles and, in fact, lent its name to the ministry that spun out of his Baptist congregation and serves as the launch-pad for so many of his ministries outside of Bethlehem Baptist Church.

These days, Desiring God Ministries is huge, and Dr. Piper has become almost a celebrity in some circles. He, along with literally just a few others, have spurred a movement of the introduction of Calvinism to the hearts and minds of believers. I've known people who are convinced that Dr. Piper is the pre-eminent leader of our generation, and others who can quote from his books as others quote from the Bible. A friend of mine coined the term "Piper-Calvinist": someone who isn't exactly "Reformed" but is familiar with Dr. Piper's brand of Calvinism and embraces it. Doubtless, John Piper is a brilliant man, and an influential thinker.

But I think, on at least one substantial point, he is wrong. Or rather, backward.

Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
~Westminster Shorter Catechism, question #1


I was given a copy of
Desiring God, and I read it (and even read through it and discussed it with a good friend). The fundamental principle that drives the book-- and subsequently, so much of Dr. Piper's ministry-- is his idea of "Christian Hedonism", which he spins out of his adaptation of the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Dr. Piper's adaptation goes like this:

Answer: Man's chief end is to glorify God
by enjoying Him forever.

In other words, we seek our pleasures in God, and that is the most glorifying thing that we can do. When we find our delight in God, we are, in fact, glorifying Him.

Now, I'm not convinced that this is
wrong. I think Dr. Piper has some fair points in his angle on this (though I think that, in several places, he takes it too far in the book). I believe that the basic principle is right, and even probably biblical: it IS glorifying to God to delight in Him.

But I don't think that is what the Westminster Divines (the guys who wrote the
Westminster Shorter Catechism) meant. In fact, I think they would probably be fairly appalled at that interpretation of Question #1. And while I believe it to be a biblical assertion as one end, I don't think we find that in Scripture as man's chief end.

[An aside: To be frank, I think that the Westminster Divines would be fairly appalled, in general, at how we have venerated the
Westminster Standards (the Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms). I'm simply not convinced that they intended for that work to become a standard that some would elevate (almost) to the level of Scripture in its authority.]

This is where I think he has it backward: Dr. Piper asserts that the first part of man's chief end is dependent on the second. Thus:

pipers

I won't elaborate; if you're quite interested in how he comes to that conclusion, he develops the idea pretty thoroughly in Desiring God. As I said above, I don't think the idea of glorifying God by enjoying/delighting in Him is wrong; I just don't think it is man's chief end.

As I read Scripture, however, I see that man's chief end is precisely the inverse of Dr. Piper's assertion: the second part of man's chief end is wholly dependent on the first. Thus:

mine


All of the Bible compels me to believe that we were made to be worshipers-- and that God intended us to find our ultimate fulfillment in the worship of Him. To "glorify God" according to Scripture is inherently tied to worship. And we cannot be truly worshiping God if we are first of all seeking our own pleasure and delight.

Instead, our identity must fundamentally become all about the worship of God. As Paul David Tripp says (see the opening quote), "worship is first an identity before it is ever an activity." When this becomes our
identity, then the consequence is that we enjoy God forever through the satisfaction of fulfilling our own identity!

This is, by our contemporary way of thinking, a convoluted manner of understanding our enjoyment of God. In part, this is because we are such individualists that we default to a "me-first" attitude-- and the notion of putting God first in our chief end is incongruent. Also in part, this is because we secretly suspect that God is not interested in what gives us enjoyment-- we believe His law to be oppressive, not freeing.

But it is largely difficult for us because it is "upside-down" to our normal way of thinking. But this is the way of the Gospel-- everything is upside-down.

The cross tells you everything you have heard in the world is wrong. Because the cross says the way up is down, the way to get real power is to give your power away, the way to get real riches is to give away your money radically and generously, the way to get tremendous self-esteem, assurance of your beauty, is to admit that you are such a terrible lost sinner that somebody had to come from heaven and die for you.
~Timothy Keller


To be perfectly fair, I believe that Dr. Piper would largely agree with much of what I've just said (though not entirely). But the way that many of his "disciples" apply his notion of "Christian Hedonism" is far afield from this way of thinking. Therfore, it may have been more accurate to label this "John Piper's disciples have it backward-- but then that wouldn't have gotten your attention as easily!

Friday, October 9, 2009

A communion hymn

We'll be singing this hymn during the sacrament of Communion on the last Sunday of this month; until then, we'll be learning it on Wednesday nights.

If you aren't familiar with this one, here are the lyrics and a video of it being sung. (HT:
Adam) It is called "Behold the Lamb" and is written by Keith and Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend.

Behold the Lamb who bears our sins away,
Slain for us – and we remember
The promise made that all who come in faith
Find forgiveness at the cross.
So we share in this bread of life,
And we drink of His sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of peace
Around the table of the King.

The body of our Saviour Jesus Christ,
Torn for you – eat and remember
The wounds that heal, the death that brings us life
Paid the price to make us one.
So we share in this bread of life,
And we drink of His sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of love
Around the table of the King.

The blood that cleanses every stain of sin,
Shed for you – drink and remember
He drained death’s cup that all may enter in
To receive the life of God.
So we share in this bread of life,
And we drink of His sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of grace
Around the table of the King.

And so with thankfulness and faith we rise
To respond, – and to remember
Our call to follow in the steps of Christ
As His body here on earth.
As we share in His suffering
We proclaim Christ will come again!
And we’ll join in the feast of heaven
Around the table of the King

Thursday, October 1, 2009

UnPresbyterian Dissent

What's going on in Florida right now is a perfect illustration of how little "presbyterian" we often are in the PCA.

Dr. D. James Kennedy was the founding pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, and was one of the most well-known names in the PCA (and elsewhere), and when he died just over two years ago, it was a loss for both the PCA and the Kingdom. Dr. Kennedy was a strong leader, and was well-known for Evangelism Explosion (an evangelism program that he developed), his outspoken participation in political debates, his media ministries, and starting Knox Seminary in Florida.

In the spring of this year, the news got out that Coral Ridge PCA was ready to call a new pastor: Tullian Tchividjian, who was at that time pastoring another church in the area. Though young at 37, Pastor Tchividjian has written several books (with another on the way), and had already begun to make quite a name for himself as pastor of New City Presbyterian Church. He also had the distinction of being the grandson of Rev. Billy Graham. New City didn't want him to go, but Coral Ridge had set their hearts on him; they finally agreed to merge the two churches so that he could do both! Everyone was excited.

That is, until some of the people at Coral Ridge realized that Pastor Tchividjian is not Dr. Kennedy. They were unhappy with his decision not to wear a robe when he preached. They weren't happy with the fact that he felt that Evangelism Explosion, while having its place, was not as effective a method as it once was; most people, he said, are still a few steps away from those questions. They also were displeased with the fact that he refused to offer strong political messages from the pulpit as Dr. Kennedy had frequently done. Once they realized these things, some were unhappy. Did they voice their concerns to their Session? Did they contact their new pastor and speak to him directly about their concerns? No-- they did none of these things.

Instead, a few-- six, to be exact-- began to circulate a letter to the congregation against the wishes of the church's leadership. In that letter, this handful of members from the 2000+ member congregation stated their case against Pastor Tchividjian, and circulated a petition calling for a congregational meeting to remove him as pastor. Eventually, they accumulated several hundred signatures (more than the 100 required by the Book of Church Order), and a congregational meeting was called. (Those six also were disciplined for their sinful stirring up of dissent, instead of handling their complaints in a biblical manner.)

The meeting that these dissenters had longed for came, and to their surprise the vote went the other way: 422 voted WITH the dissenters to remove Tchividjian as pastor; 940 voted AGAINST that action, and instead voiced their desire to see him remain as their pastor. Incidentally, 100% of the church's officers voted with the majority to keep Tchividjian as Pastor.

How did these dissenters respond? They had taken full advantage of presbyterian polity to force a meeting and vote, hoping to get their way. Would they behave like true presbyterians, and accept the decision of the majority without further complaint?

No-- in fact, they revealed that they are not very presbyterian after all. They left immediately, and
the following weekend held services for a new church-- with 400+ people in attendance, 501(c)(3) status already applied for, and talks of property hunts already underway. One of the leaders of the group said, "what happens next depends on what denomination contacts us."

I grieve this sort of unbiblical dissent, but as much as that I also grieve this sort of easy abandonment of presbyterianism. Whatever this group becomes, I hope they can recognize that they aren't presbyterian in any functional way-- because presbyterianism is fundamentally based on the idea that I'm as likely as not to be mistaken or even sinful in my decision-making alone, and that the larger body usually has greater wisdom and discernment than I do individually.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sermon texts for October 2009

Morning:
October 4 Luke 22:7-23-- The FIRST Supper
October 11 Luke 22:24-38 -- Service to the King
October 18 Luke 22:39-53 -- Handing himself over
October 25 Guest Preacher Jerram Barrs (
Spiritual Life Conference)

Evening:
October 4 The Life of Faith
October 18 The “Tribulation”

Worst idea ever.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Two kinds of Homeschoolers

It's clear to me that there are two kinds of homeschoolers-- that is, two kinds of parents who homeschool their children.

The first kind are primarily concerned about the education of their children. Because of circumstances, opportunities, and/or necessity, they have chosen to take on the education of their children at home. That doesn't mean that they wouldn't accept another opportunity (
even public schools) if it met their standards and/or was necessary; it simply means that, as things are, this is what is best for their children right now. It also means that they are open to different options in the future if, again, they considered it and determined it to be what is best. These homeschoolers are generally accepting of other people's decisions about how those people educate their children, because, after all, those parents are the ones in the best position to know what is best for their children's education and overall health and well-being.

The second kind of homeschoolers would like for you to believe that their primary concern is the education of their children. They will even say that is their primary concern. But it isn't-- in fact, that is a secondary concern, at best. The primary concern for these homeschoolers is bound up in their worldview, political persuasion, and dogmatic views about what they believe is right for ALL children. They are convinced that they are "right" about all of their views-- not in the sense that they have carefully weighed it against all others and are acting on personal conviction, but in the sense that what they say goes for everyone else too. They have fallen into the fateful error of believing that they have unlocked "God's way" for understanding education, politics, social discussions, education, and everything else that interests them. As far as education goes, they have not only determined that what is best for their children is an education administered by them, but that there is
no other biblical way that children can be rightly educated. This determination gives them a sense of superiority that empowers them to treat anyone who differs with them with condescension and belligerence.

In the Christian church, the first kind typically handles themselves in particular manner. They have come to their decision humbly, and regard others with the same humility. They are simply out to do their best, and are interested in connecting with others who homeschool because they recognize that many others are working in ways that they could learn from. While they may hold opinions about politics and social issues-- and even about whether others are making wise choices regarding their children's education-- they understand that those are their
opinions. They do not view their homeschooling as necessarily motivated out of the "right" way to do all things, but out of what they believe is the best decision for their family; in fact, they acknowledge that sometimes homeschooling is a train-wreck for some families, and was a bad decision. They are grateful for the church as a refuge for broken people, a community of fellowship, and most importantly as a place where sinners may come to learn and grow in Christ's grace as those who were once the enemies of God but have now been adopted as His children. Many of them get concerned when the church loses its focus on the Gospel and emphasizes too much the things of this world.

In the Christian church, the second kind also handles themselves in a
predictable particular manner. Regardless of the manner in which they have come to their decision (humbly or not), they tend not to regard others with humility. They are out to prove a point-- and nearly every contact with them begins or ends with that point being pushed on others. They regard their opinions about politics and social matters, as well as education, to be definitive, and anyone who disagrees with them is obviously in sin. They have no problem with foisting their every political comment and complaint on whoever will listen (and many who won't), under the guise of "keeping people informed" but in the form of a presentation that is not only biased but frequently disrespectful and undignified. They typically equivocate "Christian" with "Republican" and assume certain shibboleths (such as "pro-life" and "pro-family") to be the markers of "real" Christians-- indeed, that these are all but required alongside a profession of faith for the profession to be valid. They believe that the church is a place for the righteous, a coalition of the like-minded, and most importantly as a place where everyone should go to be shown all of the right ways of thinking about the issues they care about. They get concerned when their preacher doesn't call people to the carpet for their political, social, educational, or other failures.

Homeschoolers: which one are you?

To the first group, I say this: thank you for your humble and tireless efforts to raise your children as best as you are able. I know that it is often difficult, and you sometimes wonder if you have made a mistake in choosing this path. Your humility is affirming of the fact that you are approaching this with the right attitude, and that counts for a lot. Keep up the good work, and know that there are many of us behind you. You give homeschooling the good name that it (usually) deserves.

To the second group, I say this: please reconsider the over-confidence and absolute certainty with which you approach this and many other positions that you hold. I cannot say with any conviction that your attitudes or positions are inherently "blessed" by Scripture or by God, as you seem so persuaded is the case. I am certain of this: there is no requirement of political or educational uniformity in Scripture, and you are misrepresenting the church, the Gospel, and Christ Himself in much of the way you portray them. I fear that your presentation of what it means to be a Christian is a hindrance for many who otherwise long for the grace of the Cross.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering 9/11

The 8th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks is upon us. There may be a thousand other things now competing for your attention; there certainly are mine. But I wanted to take a moment anyway to remember and grieve, and to encourage you to do so.

I remember...
  • Hearing about what was happening on the radio, having just dropped Marcie off at work and while on the way to the seminary campus.
  • Finding my friend Bryan and the two of us immediately hitting the internet to try to learn what was happening.
  • Realizing with relief that no one I knew well, personally, was a direct victim of these attacks-- but also that more other people than not were in the other position, having lost someone to the attacks.
  • Everyone I knew walking around in a sort of daze for weeks, with no sense of humor or levity seeming appropriate.
  • Finally beginning to feel some sense of healing, after Bryan Chapell preached THIS sermon in chapel.
  • Many of my friends responding with anger, with a sense of vengeance in their hearts.
  • One friend eventually feeling led to obtain a handgun and a concealed-carry permit, so that he might take responsibility to stop others who might perpetuate hate and violence.
  • My heart, on the other hand, being wrung with grief not only for the victims, but for those who committed such acts and organized or called for them; and finding, not vengeance or even outright cold justice, but redemption as the greatest hope that I might have for them.

A number of things have come to pass since then...
  • I had a son just over a year after (on 9/13/2002), and the memories are more filled with joy now than shock and grief.
  • As a culture we've forgotten the unity that was brought about by those events, and have become more fractured than at any time recent memory can recall.
  • Many have continued to be wracked with grief and sadness, unable to overcome the horror of that day.
  • Even within a few years, however, my students at the school where I taught in seminary did not have much memory, if any, of the events of that day.
  • This driving desire in me for redemption and hope of reconciliation that arose in response to these events eventually brought me to where I am today, where I am much closer to being a pacifist than anyone else that I know, and I find myself deeply committed to non-violent solutions.

Still, it is worth remembering the events themselves. Remember the brokenness, beloved, that we might mourn with those who still mourn, and cry with those who still cry. That we might continue to struggle together against the brokenness, and yearn together for redemption and reconciliation. Remember, that we might together long for the soon return of Christ and meet that day in which he will wipe away every tear, and there will be no more mourning.

In case you have forgotten, here is a reminder:

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sermon texts for September 2009

Morning:
September 6 Luke 20:27-21:4 -- Confusion about what is what
September 13 Hebrews 12:1-3 -- 175
th Anniversary Sermon
September 20 Luke 21:5-36 -- Anticipating the Return
September 27 Luke 21:37-22:6 -- Delighted at betrayal

Evening:
September 20 Daniel 5 -- End-Times Events

Friday, August 28, 2009

Spiritual gifts-- some thoughts

I’ve had a few recent conversations on spiritual gifts, and I thought I would offer some thoughts.

I don’t claim to represent the views of the PCA on this, although to the best of my knowledge my views are not out of accord with the PCA. (The predominant view of PCA pastors on spiritual gifts, especially on the apostolic or “sign” gifts,
can be found in this Pastoral Letter, which is a good summary.)

  • I am a “Cessationist” when it comes to the apostolic or “sign” gifts. That is, I believe that they have “ceased” to manifest. These were, from everything I can tell from Scripture, gifts given to evidence the presence of the Holy Spirit in the churches, primarily so that New Testament-era believers could discern when the teaching they were receiving was orthodox or not. Two things convince me that such signs are no longer necessary: first, that we have the Bible-- and therefore we have a different, and better, measure of orthodoxy; second, that we have the completed Bible-- which means that ongoing revelation (which appears to have been the immediate content of the manifestation of these gifts) is unnecessary and, in fact, contrary to our views of Scripture. Also, I don’t hold that against others-- I’ve had good friends who have believed in the continuation of the apostolic gifts, and it hasn’t been reason to break fellowship.
  • I expect that the exercise of spiritual gifts is to be done in a biblical manner. One of my professors from seminary mentioned in class once (in an appropriate context) that he was not a Cessationist, but that he looked for, not the gifts of the Spirit, but the fruit of the Spirit as evidence that someone is a believer. This view comes out of a right understanding of what Scripture-- and especially the New Testament-- says regarding how we might be confident in someone’s faith. It also happens to fly in the face of the practice of many, who claim that someone who has not evidenced one or more certain gifts (and they are always the apostolic or “sign” gifts) must not have the Holy Spirit present in their lives. Not surprisingly, there are other biblical manners by which the gifts of the Holy Spirit are prescribed to be exercised, which are ignored by many who engage in their practice. For example, 1 Corinthians 14 clearly requires that, in the case of speaking in tongues, an interpreter must be present-- and if one is not present, then the speaker should keep quiet. It also stipulates that, at most, two or three people should offer prophecy, and not more; whereas, I have known of times when dozens of people have claimed to have prophecies in some Charismatic churches. As I mentioned above, I don’t have a strong conscience about other Christians’ belief in the continuation of these gifts; my problem is with the unbiblical exercise of them.
  • I believe that, in general, it is helpful to consider spiritual gifts. For a while in the 80s and 90s, you couldn’t swing a dead skunk without knocking someone’s “spiritual gift inventory” off of a table-- there was great fervor for spiritual gifts, and frequently what seemed to me to be an over-emphasis on them. In our typical “all-or-nothing” way, many Christians summarily rejected spiritual gifts as unimportant, mainly out of reaction to the zeal. I don’t think either is appropriate; it seems clear from Scripture that there are spiritual gifts that are present in the lives of believers, and therefore it seems right that we should investigate and consider our spiritual giftedness-- but not in isolation or to the exclusion of other aspects of how God has made us. There is nothing wrong with completing a “spiritual gift inventory” and learning more about your spiritual gifts. In fact, we have some information about these in the Resources section of the HWPC website.
  • I think that spiritual gifts are connected to “natural” gifts. It seems to me that what it means for someone to receive a spiritual giftedness in a certain way simply means that they already had some natural talent, ability, or giftedness that was "sanctified" in their conversion for spiritual usefulness. There are plenty of people who are gifted teachers, for example, who are not believers; when they get converted, however, the Spirit appropriates their natural talents for teaching for Kingdom-usefulness. I don't believe that, ordinarily, one should expect his/her spiritual gifts to be altogether different from something that they already had some capacity for. I've never known it to be the case, for example, that someone who stammered and stuttered, and who was terrified to the point of hyperventilating to stand before a crowd, upon conversion suddenly becomes a preacher. If it has happened, then it is extraordinary, not ordinary. (Before you tell me that John Piper was afraid to speak, remember that he was already converted long before he overcame that fear.) This also means that there is spiritual gifting that includes more than simply what is listed in the New Testament letters, because there are areas of natural giftedness beyond these areas. For example, one spiritual gift inventory I saw listed "music" as a spiritual gift-- appropriately corresponding to the obvious natural abilities that some have (though not others) for musical skills. I think this is right, even though there is no mention of music at all in Paul's lists.
  • I have found that investigations of spiritual gifts are helpful to "connect the dots" for some. Someone recently asked me why spiritual gift inventories are valuable, especially if they are simply extensions, if you will, of natural gifts. In my experience, there are two ways. First, someone may not immediately or intuitively recognize how their natural talents and abilities are useful for Kingdom purposes; for whatever reason, they may have a misunderstanding that some interest, ability, passion, or talent that they have is not holy and profitable for Christ's service. A spiritual gift inventory may open their eyes to the contrary, and help them see how their unique giftedness fits into Christ's transforming work. Secondly, Christians often affect a self-effacing denial of their own value, believing that it is the path to humility; consequently, they begin to believe that they are worth little, and eventually their identities as children of the living God are squelched by this false view. A spiritual gift inventory can counteract this by directly exposing the aspects of a person's character and being that are useful and valuable to God.
  • I am convinced that spiritual gifts are just a part of who we are. One of the results of the enthusiasm toward the spiritual gifts craze of recent years was that some began to understand their identity in Christ primarily by way of their spiritual giftedness. This had two consequences, both negative. It suggested a hierarchy in worth, because some people obviously had more spiritual gifts than others; thus, some became envious of others' gifts, or simply became depressed because they weren't all that. Also, it denied the many other aspects of who someone is, and how Christ might transform them into His image; this even, at times, had the unfortunate result of creating large "blind-spots" in someone's spiritual growth, because the focus was so much on the spiritual gifts. God has made us as complex creatures, and the more we might know about ourselves, the better. In my experience, there is wisdom to be gained from considering, not only spiritual gifts, but also temperament, communication style, natural talents and abilities, leadership style, key life experiences, major influences, and even passions and dreams. (A good book to look at these comprehensively, by the way, is Aubrey Malphurs's Maximizing Your Effectiveness: How to Discover and Develop Your Divine Design.)