Monday, April 28, 2008

The Pruning Power of Grace

So yesterday Kristal and I were on our way home from church and we had the following conversation:

Me: Kristal I feel like I have been a bubbling fool for the past 3 months. So often I presume to know more than what I do. Over the past few months I feel like I have taken the body of Christ for granted; I haven't realized the worth in the people God has put in my life; I feel like I have been too picky; that I have overemphasized everyone's faults; I have been consumed by myself and my own agendas. Kristal I have not been right with the Lord in these things. I want to value the people of God and their ideas; I want to not be nit-picky; I want to only speak when it will be beneficial.

Kristal: Wow. I think we all struggle with those things.

Me: Yeah, I know. But I feel like I have been extra careless lately. I honestly am ashamed of myself. This is a part of myself that I don't want anyone else to see.
Ok, we have to take a break in the narrative. So, I was in the middle of confessing the blackness of my heart, and then out of no where I start to laugh. Ok, back to the narrative:
Kristal: Why are you laughing?

Jimmy: I love this!

Kristal: What? What do you love?

Jimmy: Kristal, the Lord isn't through with me! He is still pruning me; He is still purifying me; He is not leaving me in my sin. I AM HIS!
Yesterday I experienced first hand the purifying power of the grace of God. These are the strangest moments in the world--one second you feel like a run-over, bloated toad in the middle of the road on a hot day, and then, out of nowhere, you feel like a Child of the Most High. Then you wonder how such great joy could fill your heart in the midst of such inner chaos. Then you see the grace of God and the power of His Spirit and you just don't care anymore how awful it feels to be pruned by him--your only desire is to be like Christ. Your joy becomes bound up in the cross. You know you are a failure and you are just happy that God's love for you does not depend upon your performance but upon the perfect and completed work of Christ.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Chillin With the Church--Acts 2

I am presently taking a class on discipleship at Liberty. For this class I am reading a book by Bill Hull entitled "The Disciple-Making Church." Although I haven't agreed with everything in the book, it has been a good read thus far. At one point in the book Hull talks about the importance of being committed to the church. So often when we talk about being committed to the church we emphasize the importance of attending the Sunday and Wednesday night services, doing ministry together, praying together, and things like this. Now, don't get me wrong, these things are important. However, one of the things that Hull talks about is the simple need for the church to just simply hang out. Luke (the author of Acts), in Acts 2, says, "They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts."

Look at what Hull says,

"The Jerusalem Christians had gotten beyond coffee and doughnuts; their conversation had bridged the treacherous chasm between the world, the weather, and work and cares, conflicts, and concerns. Because they spent large amounts of time together, eating, working, and playing together, they could make this crucial transition.

The Body of Christ needs to have enough fun together to set the stage for accountability and obedience. When a parent takes time to have fun with a child, he builds up relational equity that makes it much easier for the child to obey when friction occurs. The bond causes the child to say, 'Okay, I'll do that for you, even though I disagree.'

In the body of Christ, living and playing together smooth the way for moments when people must go along with tougher tasks required of the church.
I have found this true in one-on-one accountability as well. Here's the rule: if my accountability partner and I only talk about spiritual things and never hang out just for fun, it will ruin our relationship. Our relationship will become nothing but seriousness and rules. Folks, hang out time is so important for the people of God. Is church dull to you right now--does your time with the people of God feel stiff and over-serious? Try and practice some genuine hang out time. Invite some of your fellow church members over to your house to watch a baseball game, or have a Bar-B-Q, or go to a movie or something. Don't be afraid to talk about God, but don't be afraid to just hang out and have fun.

I feel that I must end by making it clear that I think one of the greatest problems with many of the churches in America today is that once the sermon is over the people of God simply stop their "God talk" because their spiritual duty is done. I don't want to downplay this problem. However, it is also a problem when we can only talk about theology. We all know people who only know how to talk about theology and the Bible. These sorts of people are unstable and are in need of realizing that God has made many things in this world for us to enjoy--yeah, enjoy together.

Before moving on, go back up to the top of this post and take a look at the picture of the grill with the food on it--this is what it means to break bread (in the Acts 2:46 way) in our present day context.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mohler on Pope Benedict XVI

I just read an article by Dr. Albert Mohler (president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY) on Pope Benedict XVI's present visit to the US. You can access the article by clicking here. Mohler is thoroughly biblical and has, in this (short) article, concisely given his take on the pope and his present and future involvement in Christianity as a whole. At the end of the day, although Mohler applauds the Pope in his steadfast conviction, he does not foresee the Roman Catholic Church, under Benedict's leadership, making the changes that we Protestants feel convicted are necessary.

Here is a little blurb from the article:

"Perhaps the most clarifying moment since his election came last July when the Vatican released the document known as "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church" – a document that reasserted the claim that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church.

The secular press and a good many non-Catholic church leaders expressed outrage and offense at the Pope's comments – assuming that such teachings were simply out of place in the modern world. But Benedict was restating the tradition and teaching of his church – and he did so because he cared for those he believes are outside the blessings of grace he is certain are given to those in the communion of his church – and to that communion alone.

I actually appreciated the Pope's concern. If he is right, we are endangering our souls and the souls of our church members. Yet, I am convinced that he is not right -- not right on the papacy, not right on the sacraments, not right on the priesthood, not right on the Gospel, not right in understanding the church."

I am not a Catholic-hater or anything like that (in fact, I have Catholic friends), but I can say that the Scriptures lambaste any doctrine which teaches that people are saved (or disqualified from being saved) for any reason other than faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Pope Benedict clearly teaches that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church. He expresses concern for anyone who rejects the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. Well, I guess I fall in that boat. With Luther I cry out my allegiance to Christ and his word. I affirm the Catholic Church in so far as they have faithfully interpreted and applied the Scriptures, but I knowingly separate ties where they part ways with the Scriptures.

I am not one of those who says that you cannot possibly be a Christian if you are a part of the Catholic Church, however I can say that you cannot possibly be a Christian if your hope (confidence) of salvation lies anywhere but in Christ and what he has won for you on the cross.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Priorities in Prayer

One of the most helpful books on prayer that I have ever read is called "A Call to Spiritual Reformation" by D.A. Carson. Carson's main point in writing the book is to do a survey of Paul's praying as recorded in the New Teastament in order to know what he prayed about. In other words, Carson wants to show what took priority in Paul's praying. His main concern is that if what we ask for in our prayers is too far removed from what the New Testament writers ask for then our praying may be a bit off-we may need to change our prayer life. Furthermore, if what we praise God for is too far removed from what the New Testament authors praise God for then our praying may be in need of some help. Carson's main concern is that the prayers of present day Christians have not been shaped by the Scriptures enough.

Well, I have decided to implement some of what I have learned from Carson into the Bible study I currently facilitate at our house. Every week Bible study starts with a time of sharing and praying. I recently noticed that the majority of the prayer requests have centered on sick people, people looking for jobs, stress in people's lives, and things like this. Don't get me wrong, these are all things that we need to pray about. However, these are not the sort of things that largely characterized the praying of the writers of the New Testament. What I decided to do (only two weeks ago) to remedy the situation was to, rather than just sharing any-ol' prayer prayer request, limit the prayer requests to a certain topic. For instance, last night the prayer requests had to deal specifically with spiritual deficiencies we all have in our lives.

One of the amazing things about our sharing time was that one of the members of the study raised their hand and said, "Jimmy, I know that we are not supposed to be praying for the sick tonight, but I know someone who is going through surgery this week--can we please pray for this person?" I was not annoyed with this prayer request at all. In fact, I was glad that this person brought the prayer request up. We need to pray for the sick (and the situation was worthy of urgent prayer). Also, this prayer request gave me an opportunity to reinforce my purpose for praying only for spiritual deficiencies. I responded to the group by saying this:

"Do you see the urgency with which this person offered up this prayer request? Why is it that we are only urgent about praying for the sick? It is not as if it is a bad thing that this person couldn't help but bring this up tonight--it's an urgent matter. The point of me wanting to only pray for our spiritual deficiencies tonight was not to create a wooden, legalistic rule. My purpose is that we might become as urgent in our praying about spiritual matters as we are in our praying about physical matters. It would thrill my heart if on the night that we pray for the sick if someone were to raise their hand and say, 'Jimmy, I know that we aren't supposed to pray for our spiritual deficiencies tonight, but the Lord has just convicted me in such a deep way about the pride in my heart--Can we please pray for me in this way tonight?'"
Another thing that D.A. Carson alludes to in "A Call to Spiritual Reformation" is the fact that our prayers reflect our desires. In other words, whatever consumes our prayers consumes our hearts. This is a terrifying thing. If your prayers are completely devoid of requests for God to cleanse you and make you more like his Son, it is a good indication that Christ-likeness really is not as big of a deal to you as it should be. If your prayers are completely devoid of requests that God might reveal himself to you more and more, it might be an indication that you do not desire him enough.

I strongly recommend everyone reading this blog to buy this book. If you want to buy it, click here.

I have one suggestion for those of you who are thinking about buying and reading this book: Make sure that you do not just read what Carson has to say. Make sure that you thoroughly read each chunk of text that Carson deals with at least 5 times before reading Carson's commentary on it. I didn't do this my first time reading through it. Because I just flew through the verses, Carson's commentary wasn't half as useful as it could have been. On top of that, Carson is lame compared to the Scriptures. No offense to Carson, but honestly, he is only good in so far as he is merely reiterating and applying what the Scriptures are already saying--and Carson would be happy to hear me say this.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Meet Dr. James R. Snowden II

This is a picture of James in his new wheelchair/stroller. He really likes it! Grandpa John is making a whole bunch of changes to it--I guess you could say that he is pimping James' wheel chair (is that an ok thing to say on this blog?).

Friday, April 11, 2008

Living on the Edge?

I just read an excellent (short) article by Jim Elliff entitled "No Lay-up Shot: A Lesson From the Master." Jim has an abnormal amount of wisdom that is so simple yet so profound.

I remember the engagement party our church threw for Kristal and I before we got married. We sat in front of everyone as they gave us advice on how to a have a god-glorifying, happy marriage. Well, since it was a church event almost all of the advice given had to do with honoring Christ and doing devotionals and asking forgiveness when we know we are wrong--you know, biblical stuff. Well, Jim piped up with his paradoxically simple yet profound wisdom: "Jimmy, you need to do everything you can to make Kristal's day easier for her. You need to remember that caring for the kids and keeping the house is just as difficult as the job you will be working. Here is one little thing that you can do for her to make her life just a little bit easier--hang up your pants. Rather than just taking your clothes of and leaving them where they lay, hang them up for her." That's it, that's all--just hang up your pants. Honestly, this piece of advice, although it was borderline painstakingly simple, was the most helpful advice I got that evening.

All that to say that Jim has an amazing ability to be profoundly simple. In the article mentioned above, Jim lays forth a simple challenge to Christians to not "play it safe." His purpose is to challenge Christians to give their all for the Kingdom of God.

Here is a little snippet:

There are those believers whose entire life is spent hitting lay-ups. These are the cautious, forever tentative people. Sadly, not much happens for the kingdom of God through them.

There is a time to be careful, of course. It's not courageous to play tennis on the highway, for instance. It's just stupid. But we're talking here about the big issues of life. Are you tentative or tenacious in your approach to the future? Did God place you in the world just to protect yourself or to do something meaningful and courageous?
Well said. You can access the article by clicking here.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Ben Stein interviewed by R.C. Sproul

R.C. Sproul apparently interviewed Ben Stein about the new movie I just referred to in the previous post. You can access the interview on R.C. Sproul's website, or by clicking here. The interview is quite good. They get into some good dialog about the creation-evolution debate. It lasts about 30 minutes or so.

Ben Stein and Creationism

Although I am not one who generally throws a party each and every time I hear Hollywood stars taking a stand on Christian principles and ideas, I was happy when I watched the trailer to Ben Stein's new movie, "Expelled: No Tollerance Allowed." In this movie Stein deals with the creation-evolution debate as a committed creationist. I am not sure what the rest of the movie is going to be like, but the trailer looks promising. You can access the trailer by clicking here. This could be a good evangelistic opportunity for Christians--we need to begin brainstorming now how it can be used for the advancement of the Gospel when in it comes out this May.

I have just a thought or two about creationism before I end this post:

(1) No matter what anyone tells you, the creation-evolution debate does not center on science, it centers on philosophy (or, if you want to be picky--for Christians it centers on revelation). Any scientist, no matter his credentials, who tells you that this is a scientific debate has no clue what science is. The fact is that science, first and foremost, is based upon experimentation. Guess what? It is impossible to do tests (run experiments) on something which cannot be repeated. The beginning of life as we know it cannot be repeated, and thus it cannot be tested. Not only that, but all scientific experimentation and observation is guided and shaped by the philosophical pre-conceived ideas possessed by the scientist.

(2) In evangelism it is best to not get too caught up in the creation-evolution debate. Many people who believe that we were created by a loving God will go to hell. Evangelism ought to center on the cross as a person's only hope for salvation. This does not mean, however, that Christians should never engage in such debate. Rather, just be careful that it does not distract from what is most important.

(3) Although Ben Stein's movie looks promising, we must all remember that believing in creationism does not make one a Christian. Be careful as you watch this movie--it may be full of false doctrine. Who cares if Ben Stein believes that the world was created by a loving God if he does not believe that Jesus is that loving God. I am not sure if Ben Stein is a Christian, however just because he seems to have this one thing right does not mean that his movie should not be watched with discernment.

(4) By far, the best book I have read on the creation-evolution debate is "Defeating Darwinism By Opening Minds" by Phillip Johnson. I sincerely suggest everyone reading this blog to buy and read this book. If you want to buy it, click here. The book is short, easy to read, and it gets at the heart of the issues in the debate. The nice thing about this book is that Johnson doesn't get into a whole bunch of detailed scientific arguments.

Friday, April 4, 2008

New Schtuff

I am happy to inform you all that Ariel Vanderhorst, one of my friends from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has just started a new blog. Many of you are already familiar with Ariel's present "Bitter Sweet Life" blog. He is going to continue with the "Bitter Sweet Life" blog, but he wanted to start a new one that would focus primarily on things having to do with Christianity. If you have been as blessed with Ariel's creative and profound writing as I have you might want to check it out. You can access it by clicking here. As with any human being, I do not agree with everything that Ariel says, however his content is worthy of a hearing.

Also, be praying for my dad. He went in for surgery last night to get some kidney stones removed. They ended up having to stop the surgery because the stones were too large to take out of his kidney without the large possibility of causing uncontrollable bleeding. He has been on a hospital bed all night with a tube sticking out of his back. He should be having the surgery some time today. Pray that the doctors would be able to operate with precision and wisdom. Pray that the Lord would grant my dad a quick recovery--I guess this surgery is painful.

Also, continue praying for us. James is doing quite well, but is struggling with reflux again. Also, we meet with his neurologist this coming week to discuss the tests they took last week.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Your Spiritual Condition

This post has to do with the recent poll I took on the blog (you can see it to the right) where I asked "Which would best describe your present spiritual condition?" The results were as follows: 1 selected "reached Christian perfection;" 3 selected "steady spiritual growth;" 10 selected "average spiritual growth;" 3 selected "minimal spiritual growth;" and 0 selected "no spiritual growth," "going backwards spiritually," "rebelling against God," and "not a Christian."

The crazy thing is that I know that many of those who read this blog are not Christians at all (or at least they don't strive to know Christ). For those of you who fall into this category: don't be afraid to vote! Your vote will be anonymous--I don't even know who votes and how they voted.

I was not surprised by the outcome of the poll. For those of you who are wondering who selected "reached Christian perfection:" I hope you don't envy me, but that was my pastor who chose that. He is so humble that he couldn't help but tell me (with a chuckle) that he was the one who chose "reached Christian perfection"--he just couldn't help but let the good news of his superlative spiritual state out of the bag. Moe is pretty much about as holy John the Baptist. He has finally reached a place where he no longer needs our prayers. Ok, so I am just kidding. Oh, by the way, Moe just started a new website. Check it out at Also, you can listen to his sermons on our church website--he is an excellent preacher/pastor. Anyway, now that Moe is officially vindicated and christened on my blog--let us get onto something less important.

I do not want to write a dissertation on the result of the poll, but I do want to ask a question to those who participated? Why did you choose the answer you chose? How did the Scriptures play a part in helping you decide how well you are doing spiritually? Personally, I chose "average spiritual growth" because I have no clue how much I am presently growing. Those of you who chose "steady spiritual growth:" how do you know that you are not just being motivated out of the flesh? Maybe your great spiritual growth is motivated out of a heart seeking the praise of men. Those of you who chose "minimal spiritual growth:" what made you choose that? Maybe you are being worked on more than anyone right now. Maybe you chose "minimal spiritual growth" because you are more aware of your sin than those who chose "steady spiritual growth."

To be honest, I think our modern day methods of gauging spirituality need some fixing. I am not so sure that any of us know for sure how we are presently doing spiritually. I know myself too well to get excited when I feel like I am doing well spiritually. I am know myself too well to get down when I feel like I am doing bad spiritually. Maybe the best way to gauge how you are doing spiritually is to see how happy, safe, and hopeful you are even in the midst of great spiritual failure. This is not to say that true spirituality is undetectable. However, I do not think that true spirituality is always as detectable as we think it is. This is what Jesus slammed the Pharisees for: they were confident about what true spirituality looked like and they did everything to model it. We do the same thing on many fronts.

Please, anyone who participated, explain (from the Scriptures) why you chose what you chose.