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Updated: 2017-07-23T05:25:07.007-05:00

 



A Letter to Preachers: Help Us Remember!

2014-05-04T21:29:33.073-05:00

To all the preaching pastors out there:I know what you do is hard because I've done it before. I've studied and been trained in preaching, and have had the opportunity to do it here and there, though I must quickly point out that I've never shouldered the burden of preaching weekly. But I know enough to know it's hard work. You literally pour your heart and soul into your study and preparation each week. You wrestle with the text - its meaning, its context, its implications and applications. You feel the weight of the responsibility to bring God's Word to God's people as they gather to worship. I share your high view of preaching. Like I said, I've done it before. But now I'm the church member who is listening and benefitting from your labor. I have a job, some kids, a busy life. And there's a sad truth that we need to discuss. That sermon that you wrestled with, that kept you up at night, that you pour so much of yourself into… well… most of us will forget most (if not all) of it by tomorrow. And that really, really stinks. I hate that I'll forget it (especially when you hit that proverbial home run). I don't want to forget it. So I'm writing you with one simple request: Help me remember it. I'll do my part by taking notes, so I can try to hang on to at least some of the message. But I'm asking you do take a part in helping me remember. How can you do that? That's a good question worth pondering at some length. The answer(s) will depend on your context -- each church and community will be a bit different. So with that disclaimer, here are five suggestions:Let me hear it again if I want to. Hopefully your sermons are recorded and made available somehow to those that missed them or want to hear them again. You can burn them to CDs or you can set them up as a podcast where they can be easily downloaded. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you've probably got a young person in the church who can help.Give me a summary. I suggest setting up a blog on the church website where you (or someone on your staff) can post a sermon summary each week. The level of detail is up to you - but at least highlight the key points. I would love for you to build on this further…Help me re-visit your material. As I said above, I try to take notes, but I miss some things. (I'm punching my notes out on a phone for crying out loud!) Use that blog to help me out. Post the "money" quotes from your message. If you had a really helpful quote from some writer, use that in the blog (with proper attribution, obviously). The same could be set for a chart or diagram. As a general rule of thumb, if something makes it onto the screen while you preach, it should make it onto a blog. After all, we know somebody typed it out already and organized it - now it's just a matter of uploading it onto the blog!Give me some direction to explore in depth. Are there certain articles or books that would help me go deeper? Sure there are! Why not list a few of these resources so I can check them out? Provide suggestions for further reading or study.Give me some discussion points. Help me initiate a discussion with my friends or family by providing some starter questions. Many small groups would benefit from having 3-5 questions that they could use to discuss the sermon. Ideally at least some of these questions would drive us in the direction of making application of this message (and this passage of Scripture) to our lives. Ask questions that begin with "how" or "why." I think that last point could be significant. As you're neck deep in the text and in your preparation, spend a few extra minutes considering these kinds of questions and then make them available to us. The conversations that could result might really help the message get worked out in the community and get us thinking and talking about how we could apply it to our lives. And isn't that one of your chief goals in this whole enterprise? I have deep respect and gratitude for the work you do. That's why I'm so keen for your labor to bear fruit and make an [...]



Getting (Only Half) the Gospel Right

2013-01-30T21:58:04.620-05:00

Sometimes the "Cross-Centered Life" can become a sin-centered life.  "Hi, I'm Alex, and I'm the chief of sinners." I've been in small group meetings where that would probably have been a fitting way to do introductions. Unfortunately, I've led meetings like that too! You know, where the purpose of the group meeting seems to simply ferret out sin, so we can theoretically confess it and move on. Then do it all again next time.  But a small group meeting doesn't have to sound like an AA meeting, does it?Now, it is certainly appropriate and necessary to confess our sins to each other. But what I'm talking about goes beyond that into the kind of naval gazing sin hunt that can eventually bog down the soul. I mean, seriously, doesn't that get depressing after a while? This is what happens when we get just half of the Gospel. You know, my sins were put on Christ. Sometimes an evangelist might really try to drive home the point by saying that my sins nailed him to the cross. And there is truth in that for sure. We must come to the grips with the depths of our sin if we're to repent and if we're to fully appreciate the riches of grace.And this emphasis on "I'm the worst of sinners" is ultimately meant to magnify grace. I am a great sinner, and my sins separated me from holy God. But God, because of his rich mercy, sent his Son to bear His wrath for my sin. (Eph 2:4 ) And so, indeed, my sins were put upon Him that God's justice might be satisfied AND I might be forgiven (Romans 3:24-25). The fancy theological term that we've just defined is "propitiation." It's a wonderful truth and a word worth knowing!This is the Gospel… but not the whole Gospel. And, too often, this is where our understanding of the Gospel and appropriation of the Gospel often ends. You see, the Gospel is a great exchange, and we've just defined one part of it. But both parts are important, and when we focus exclusively on one half, we do so to our detriment. The exchange looks like this: (1) My sin was put on Christ. (1 Peter 2:24; Isaiah 53:6)(2) His righteousness was put on me.  (Romans 3:21-22?)If you stop and think about this, it doesn't take long before you see the freedom that this brings. If all we ever focus on is sin, sin, sin, we can't help but become overly burdened  by it. Look, it's healthy to think about our sin and the grace of Christ -- it brings a perspective that many people in our self-esteem culture need. But if we just stay there without also dwelling on the second half of the exchange, we'll be stunted and maybe even defeated. After all, sin is heavy, and constantly reminding ourselves of our sin can weigh us down unnecessarily.The other side of the great exchange, though, shows us exactly what that amazing grace has provided for us: the righteousness of the perfect Son of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Our sin was replaced with the exact opposite. The language of the New Testament pictures a garment that is put on us. We are covered in his righteousness. (See Paul's description in Philippians 3:8-9). It is credited to our account. The theological term to get to know here is imputation. It's a marvelous, life-giving doctrine. (Romans 5:1-2)So the doctrine of propitiation looks backward to see what became of our sin and the doctrine of imputation describes our present and our future. It helps us look forward and begins to help us flesh out what it means to live in Christ. We don't have to focus on our sin all the time because we've been set free from it. While we must remember who we are and what we've been saved from, we must be equally mindful of the gift we've been given. Our lives are no longer defined by sin -- they're defined by the righteousness of Christ. That is what is most fundamentally true of us. We've been transformed by the Gospel (2 Cor. 5:17).Of course we live in the tension of having been made righteous in Christ (that is our legal standing, if you will), but not yet completely free from sin. We still sin, and we must deal with it through [...]



Newbigin via Keller on the the Church and politics

2013-01-20T00:31:01.142-05:00

I read this tonight and found it quite interesting:
"Those who call for a Christian assault on the worlds of politcis and economics often make it clear... that the aim of the attack is to seize the levers of power and take control. We have seen many such successful revolutions, and we know that in most cases what has happened is simply that the oppressor and the oppressed have exchanged roles... The throne is unshaken, on there is a different person occupying it. How is the throne itself to be shaken?... Only by the power of the gospel itself, announced in word and embodied in deed... The victory of the Church over the demonic power which was embodied in the Roman imperial system was not won by seizing the levers of power: it was won when the victims knelt down in the Colosseum and prayed in the name of Jesus for the Emperor." 
-- Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society, as quoted by Tim Keller, Gospel in Life, 200. 

These are thought provoking comments that bear on a number of issues regarding the church in culture, including American politics, the concept of "culture war" and how to engage in divisive moral issues like abortion and gay marriage, and all sorts of other things.

The primary role of the Church is not to endorse, campaign, and elect the right candidates with the right views. These things are not unimportant, but I think many in the Church overemphasize them. Frankly I'm not sure that churches should endorse candidates.

I do believe that churches can certainly speak to moral issues - abortion comes to mind first - in a prophetic way. But speaking in a prophetic way is, it seems to me by definition, to speak of them biblically. And I think it's hard to speak in a biblically consistent and helpful manner in the kind of cynical, ad hominem manner and tone that is so common in (post)modern politics.

The role of the church (and the role of individual Christians) is primarily to serve as a beacon of the gospel message. And sometimes our dalliances in politics (and the allure of the power, money, and influence that go with it) causes us to be distracted and to throw up roadblocks to the message. The gospel itself is a stumbling block, so we ought to strive not to create additional stumbling blocks for people.

I don't claim to have the answers here because these are sometimes muddy waters. But it's worth considering. What do you think?



An Awesome Perspective of the Earth in Space, from the Space Station

2012-07-22T14:43:05.919-05:00

allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="300" mozallowfullscreen="" src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/45878034" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="400">

Some things just don't require a lot of commentary. If a picture is worth a thousand words, I suppose time-lapse video covers a lot of ground. Figuratively and literally in this case.

Let's just say you can't watch this and feel big or proud. I also fail to see how you watch this and believe that it was all an accident - you know, a couple atoms of unknown origin bumping into each other.

Anyway... enjoy the awesomeness.



A Nice Moment in Seattle You Probably Missed

2012-07-08T22:08:26.034-05:00

You probably missed this because it happened around 1 am EST. That's why I missed it. Of course, most people also missed it because it happened in MLS (Major League Soccer). I'm a soccer fan, but truthfully not a big MLS guy either. But, trust me, this is worth it.

Steve Zakuani, a Seattle Sounders forward, was one of the better players in MLS, a rising star, in fact, until about 14 months ago, when a vicious tackle by Brian Mullan of the Colorado Rapids snapped his leg. (There's video out there, but it's brutal...  I'm talking Joe Theissman brutal. So I'm not linking it here).

It was such a vicious injury that many, including Zakuani himself, wondered if he'd ever play again. His recovery was long and arduous and there were significant setbacks along the way.

Last night, the Seattle Sounders were hosting, you guessed it, the Colorado Rapids. With a 2-1 lead in the 86th minute, the Zakuani entered the game as a substitute. Now, the Sounders are known to have a raucous, enthusiastic home crowd (averaging 40,000 or more per game). But the stadium was reportedly shaking as that crowd welcomed back one of their favorite players. Pretty cool moment:

allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/-XVyD4JGQN0" width="560">

But it was not the only cool moment on the night.

That tackle last season obviously had a dramatic impact on Zakuani - but it also had a dramatic impact on Brian Mullan. To be fair, it was a rough and reckless tackle, but many fans vilified Mullan as if he had intentionally tried to ruin the career of a rising star.

Mullan was a respected veteran in the league and won championships with multiple teams. He became an overnight villain, and the incident apparently took an emotional toll on him as well.

(image)
Mullan and Zakuani. Photo credit. 
So the second moment of note was when Zakuani approached Mullan and offered to swap jerseys. (Swapping jerseys is a common tradition after a soccer/football game as a gesture of appreciation between respected rivals). It was a show of class and sportsmanship that spoke volumes.

After the game, Zakuani said he had no problem with Mullan and had forgiven him: "I have said from day one that I do not have any issues with (Mullan)," Zakuani told the media after the match. "I forgave him a long time ago."


A great comeback. Forgiveness. Class. Sportsmanship. We need more of this in sports, don't you think?



God, Conciousness, and Random Physics Experiements

2012-07-05T17:05:20.109-05:00

This is one of the dumbest things I've read:Several prominent physicists are right now suggesting that our universe is a simulation, a physics experiment created by a vastly superior race of beings who inhabit a higher dimension. (Source)I mean, seriously? These are presumably brilliant physicists. Here's the context: There seems to be ample evidence that the physical laws governing the universe had to be instituted by some higher Architect. The article cited is arguing that the existence of consciousness is itself something that physics (and science, generally) has yet to come to grips with. So, to summarize, there are evidently prominent physicists who, at some level, have come to the conclusion that there may be reason to believe that there is a higher intelligence behind the laws of the universe that they're exploring. Someone/thing who wrote the laws of physics:This gets to the Creator behind the very laws of physics. How was the framework of quantum mechanics created in the first place? Who selected and fine-tuned the cosmological constants to support the formation of stars? How was the framework of dark matter and dark energy engineered?Those are good questions. The article (and it's not exactly easy reading) doesn't come to the conclusion that these questions necessarily lead to a belief in the Christian God. But they certainly don't lead one to believe in atheistic Naturalism either. (And, to be clear, I have no idea what the author believes about these things.)SourceMy point, though, is to emphasize again that there are purportedly prominent physicists (admire the alliteration) who theorize that our universe is a big physics experimented being conducted by some higher race of beings? That, to me, is further evidence of the lengths to which some people will go to avoid the uncomfortable conclusion that there is a God. Because, let's be honest, concluding that God exists is uncomfortable -- because that raises a whole host of other questions.Like... we might find ourselves accountable in some ways to that God. We might find that there are unpopular, politically incorrect moral realities that we have to do something about. Suddenly we may realize that what we do, the choices we make, actually matter. And this makes unbelievers uncomfortable.On the other hand, to those who believe in the God of the Bible and the Gospel, will realize that this realization brings hope. It is a positive, hopeful thing that we matter. It is a freeing thing to realize that there is a point and a purpose to the universe. And it ultimately freeing, of course, to have been reconciled to this God through His son.Count me among those more at peace with the idea of a universe created by God with purpose rather than a random experiment of some mysterious higher race. What about you?[...]



That's My King -- a Cool Video

2012-06-26T09:43:23.777-05:00

allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/yzqTFNfeDnE" width="560">



How the Jerry Sandusky Case Argues for the Existence of God

2012-06-24T21:55:14.876-05:00

Sandusky. Photo Source.I believe the sad story of Jerry Sandusky presents a fairly compelling argument for the existence of God. Really. Now, many people who hear about young boys being raped would have a kneejerk reaction in the opposite direction. After all, many reason, if God exists, how could he let this happen? The fact horrors like this befall children seems to be proof that God does not exist. There's a point in the process of dealing with pain, especially early on, when it's natural to react like this. Because pain hurts! The case that follows is not written for people presently dealing with that kind of pain. Their open wounds need to be tended to and addressed at a deeper emotional level.With that aside, after the jump I'll make my case for the connection between Jerry Sandusky and Christian apologetics:The StoryIt's a sad story that you've likely heard by now. Photo SourceA brief recap (there's a longer one here): Jerry Sandusky was a respected longtime assistant football coach under the legendary Joe Paterno at Penn State. He was a good coach and seemed to be a good guy. He started and ran a charity to help at-risk young people in the community and spent lots of time with these kids.Last fall it emerged that he was doing more with those young boys. He was abusing, molesting, and raping them. Who knows how many victims there were over the years. The fallout of these allegations was intense.On Friday night, a Centre County, Pennsylvania jury convicted Jerry Sandusky of 45 counts of various kinds of assault charges. He'll rot in prison for the rest of his life, likely in solitary confinement (for his own protection).The ReactionThe outrage is universal and pointed. Don't believe me? Scroll through Twitter or skim through some of the sports columns out there that have written about Sandusky (like this one). It's like people are trying to outdo one another in their degree of moral outrage.Recall how Joe Paterno went from near-saintly status in the world of college athletics to the object of anger and derision because many felt like he was in a position to "out" Sandusky and put a stop to his horrible abuse of young boys.And you know what? That's as it should be. Jerry Sandusky was (is) a monster. What he did to young boys is disgusting and it's wrong. And I'll bet the house that you agree. But let's step back for a moment and ask why. Why are commentators and observers universal in their agreement (with you and I!) that molesting and raping young boys is wrong? Seriously. Why?Let's examine this through the lens of two worldviews:The Naturalistic / Atheistic Worldview. God doesn't exist and "nature" is all there is. We have evolved over eons from the primordial ooze in the wake of the Big Bang.One of the real struggles for those who champion this worldview is to identify the source of morality. It must be arbitrary -- which is to say it is not really based on any kind of higher or normative standard of right and wrong, because there is nothing higher on which to base something.That is the root of moral relativism. If you've ever heard someone say that a certain belief or moral conviction is "true/right for you but not for me," then you've heard a relativist. Moral relativism is the de facto moral position that is championed in most of Western culture.It's fair to say that cultures could, over time, develop their own sense of right and wrong - the old idea of the "social contract." But, ultimately, these rules remain arbitrary. There's no ultimate basis for saying that something is really right or wrong. How could there be? So there's no real basis for someone to judge another culture -- whatever a culture says are its rules are fine. This is cultural relativism, which is simply another version of moral relativism.Would there be any real basis for anyone to judge the choices and behavior of someone else? Is[...]



Don't Buy a Trampoline

2012-06-21T21:42:37.141-05:00

Kids love to bounce.

At least mine do. I bet yours do too. Heck, I sometimes love to bounce too.

But don't buy a trampoline. They're fun, but I've got a better idea for you. But first, here's a couple reasons to steer clear of the trampoline:
  • They're dangerous. Yeah call me a big killjoy, but a doctor friend has told me too many horror stories (a couple that just aren't fit to print!) about injuries he's seen from trampolines. 
  • They take up too much space. Seriously, that's a big chunk of yard space getting swallowed up by that trampoline. 
My alternative: Get a bounce house! Here's why:
  • They have walls. They keep your kids inside so you don't have gruesome falls to the ground or into rusty metal springs or poles. 
  • They're inflatable. So when you're done with it you just roll it up and put it away. 
  • They're great for get-togethers. Something to do when friends come over, birthday parties, etc. 
  • They make naptime/bedtime easier. Seriously - they will wear your kids out. 
(Just so you know, the link above will take you to my Amazon affiliate page)



Free e-book - Piper's Exposition of Romans

2012-06-14T14:48:30.975-05:00

I like free stuff, don't you?

Monergism Books is making a pretty cool Bible study resource available for free this month. You can pick up John Piper's Exposition of Paul's Epistle to the Romans (Part 1: Chapters 1-8) for free if you don't mind reading it as an eBook. It is available in both Kindle and ePub formats.

I'm assuming this would be a useful tool for Bible study or a nice supplement if your church happens to be studying Romans.

While you're there, if you scroll down you'll see a bunch of other free e-books, mostly older works by guys like Calvin, Machen, and various Puritans.

Know of other useful resources at this kind of price point? Leave a comment below.



The Gospel in Four Minutes

2012-06-06T21:55:12.974-05:00

allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/K48-Li7lIfA" width="560">



Am I Called?

2012-06-04T22:30:32.540-05:00

"Am I called?"Photo by Jordon CooperIt's a question that has vexed many a young man -- including me -- over the years. But I think I can answer that question for you right now:Yep. There. Feel better? I hope so.What do we mean when we ask a question like that? Presumably this: Am I called to give my life to vocational ministry of some sort? And I'd maintain that for every believer the answer to that question is yes.Every vocation (that is, every job or career) is to be a Christian vocation - pursued for the glory of God, fitting within a fully-orbed worldview, and as living as light in a dark world. Those aren't just platitudes -- it's the calling of every Christian.What I can't answer, of course, is what that looks like in your life. But I feel certain that every believer is called to be engaged in the ministry of the Gospel -- growing in Christ, proclaiming Him, serving the Church, counseling and encouraging those who struggle, gently confronting sin, and that sort of thing.Photo creditAs to the question of -- "Am I called to full-time vocational/paid leadership in a church?" -- I'd suggest that maybe it's a little hard for a young man in his teens or twenties to really answer that question. Can God call such people? Sure. But I wonder if there's a better way to look at this whole concept.My suggestion to young men asking this question is to go to school and major in something other than Bible. Pursue a profession or trade of some sort, start a career, and begin to build a life. Be involved in the leadership of your church where there's a need and an interest. Serve humbly and well. Pursue mentors and read a lot.Over time, if God is calling you into the full-time-ministry role, He'll make that known -- to you and to others. When the time is right, you can make that leap. But don't assume the time will be right when you're 22 or 32 or whatever. That's not necessarily up to you. (I mean, after all, the term "elder" is not often applied to man in his 20s, right? It can be... but perhaps not as much as we think).So I'd suggest that much of the hand-wringing and naval-gazing about this is overdone. I'd suggest that we consider the role that selfish ambition can play in this -- or the faulty worldview that believes in that silly sacred/secular dichotomy (the pastor/laity nonsense). Or this idea that to really live out a Christian vocation in the world, you have to do it for a living.There's more to say but for now let's leave it there. Yes you're called -- but don't get too bogged down in the details right now. The Caller will make that stuff clear at the right time, so just relax.[...]



Counseling Solutions Group

2012-06-03T21:26:39.096-05:00

I've recently begun writing for my friend Rick Thomas at the Counseling Solutions Group. Rick is a top-level biblical counselor (with various credentials to prove it if you need that sort of thing), and the Counseling Solutions Group is a great repository of articles and information on a wide variety of topics that generally relate to the issue of sanctification. 

(image)
Rick Thomas
If you're interesting in biblical counseling, you absolutely need to check out Rick's stuff. The secret, of course, is that we're all counselors - hopefully biblical counselors - whether we realize it or not. I think it would be safe to argue that one could describe biblical counseling as really just another term for or expression of biblical friendship

In that vein, the Counseling Solutions Group is useful to any Christian who wants to better serve and encourage other believers in their walk with God. Of course there is a place for people with particular training in these kinds of matters, and Rick can provide that for those who are interested. 

The sheer volume of material that Rick continues to put out is hard to believe. You'll find stuff on counseling, leading small groups, marriage and family issues, and much more. 

I recommend you check it out!



Calvinism, "Traditional" Southern Baptists, and the Politics of Division

2012-06-04T21:48:05.852-05:00

Someone's picking another fight in the Southern Baptist Convention.

It seems innocuous enough -- some pastors and denominational bigwigs decided to craft a theological statement on their view of salvation. There's nothing really wrong with that on the face of it. This particular statement, however, seems more intent on drawing dividing lines than anything else.

(image)
Behold the Bogeyman - John Calvin (who
did not invent the doctrines that bear his name)
Many of the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention in the 19th century held to such a view. I suppose then they can't be considered "Traditional" Southern Baptists. But it's fair to say it became a minority position in the 20th century. Now the tide has shifted a bit and those who oppose such theology are really concerned.

The statement, called a "Traditional Baptist View," has created quite a stir, as these things usually do. The blog wars in the SBC are nothing new. Many have cited some sloppy theologizing and the typical straw man argument (misrepresenting the views of those you oppose) - for example, the statement depicts Calvinists as believing that salvation can come without repentance or faith (cf article 3 and 5).

The statement has been dissected and debated by others. I simply have 3 thoughts to throw out there:

1. I believe the main objective of those who crafted this statement is to get churches and SBC agencies to use the document to freeze out those dreaded and insidious Calvinists. (Every time you say "Calvinist" you have to wag a finger and put a little quiver in your voice). They'll want to get these entities to require pastors and leaders to sign their statement. 

2. Sadly, I think these guys are probably correct when they say that their view is a majority view of those in the SBC. Not sure that means they're "traditional" - and absolutely sure that does not mean they are correct. Hence their strategy (#1). Of course, and I don't mean this to be offensive, I'm not sure what the general or "average" level of biblical literacy looks like anymore. 

3. I often wonder what it is about reformed theology that makes it so personally threatening to such men that they go to such great lengths to fight it and expunge it from their denomination. Seriously - it's quite a fixation for some of them. Is it an affront to pride? Fear of something different? Or is this a sort of theological/SBC version of "Get off my lawn!"?

The whole idea of the Southern Baptist Convention, as I understand it, was to draw together a group of diverse baptist churches under one big tent in order to partner together in the missionary cause. Apparently that tent is a bit too big for some people, which is too bad. 



Student Loans and Changes in Higher Ed

2012-06-01T11:26:15.131-05:00

Yikes! This bubble is going to burst. In the last decade, student loans have tripled - from $241 billion to $904 billion. Yes that's BILLION with a B.It's easy to see why -- the cost of tuition continues to skyrocket, even in a time of financial turmoil. It appears to me to be a vicious circle: Loans and financing are readily available, as are government grants, so prices go up. While these loans seem increasingly shaky (seriously -- would you assume that you'd get, say, $150,000 back if you loaned it to a kid getting a history degree? And I say that as someone with a history degree), the government guarantees the loans, so why not? But a tipping point is coming when people will begin to question the value of spending well into six figures on a four-year undergraduate education. This student loan / higher education bubble has to burst, doesn't it? And it will be a major factor in revolutionizing higher education.I think increasing numbers of people will realize that it just isn't worth it. The prestige of a fancy degree from Big Name U just isn't worth the bondage to Sallie Mae for the next twenty years. A lot of real world employers don't care anyway. The "college experience" is great, but at what cost?Similarly, mounting budget pressures at the state government level will continue to force tuition higher at state-funded institutions, and budget pressures at home will mean fewer people can swing the higher tuition. So I think the bubble will gradually burst, and market forces will dictate a few changes in the landscape.One such change, I believe, is that new players will emerge. The for-profit colleges will also continue to grow. They're certainly not without detractors and even scandal, but surely there are good options out there.And because they are for-profit, they are run like a business - meaning they should be more responsive to these kinds of market pressures. Like any business, they're motivated to find the right price point for their customers. I think they also will tend to be more innovative in utilizing web-based learning environments that deliver education in a de-centralized way because they're less mired in "tradition."Some traditional four-year colleges will adapt to market forces by lowering tuition and/or finding ways to deliver education for less money. Southern New Hampshire University, as detailed by Fast Company magazine, is a prime example of an innovative school seizing the opportunity provided by a shifting landscape. They've done so by utilizing technology and market principles like customer service and a commitment to technological innovation. If I was leading a small college, I'd aggressively pursue a similar path.Some of the top-tier school will always have their niche (and their ample endowments), but many in the middle will get crunched by budget pressure and the growth of more affordable community colleges and for-profit schools. Perhaps we'll even see self-directed, independent online learning environments emerge that eschew traditional accreditation requirements, and more apprenticeship-style models of learning. I believe that the college environment my kids inhabit in the 2020s will be radically different than the one I experienced in the 1990s. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, just different (and hopefully cheaper!).[...]



How I Kicked Coke... Again

2012-05-22T08:46:08.558-05:00

I used to wonder about people who smoked cigarettes. Everyone knows that smoking is a terribly unhealthy habit with seemingly nothing but undesirable consequences. So why stick with it?Then I realized that my relationship with Coca-Cola is awfully similar. It has absolutely no redeeming value other than tasting great. It's full of serious calories, caffeine, and all kinds of other junk that doesn't exactly help the body. And it's super acidic. I've known for a long time I shouldn't drink it, but couldn't bring myself to quit because, well, I just liked it. A lot. Interestingly enough, there have been at least two times where I conquered the addiction and quit Coke. But I wound up coming back to it. Actually, both times I "fell off the wagon" we had recently had a baby and I really felt like I needed caffeine (I don't like coffee or tea).So here's what I've learned about how to quit your Coke (or similar) habit:* Don't quit. Sounds like strange advice, eh? Part of the problem with going cold turkey and swearing off something (a Coke, a cigarette, whatever) is that if you "fall off the wagon" you immediately feel guilty. And then, with your streak ruined and your resolve weakened, it's very easy to slip back into old ways. Trust me, I know.I don't think I've quit Coke - I've just scaled way back. There's nothing inherently wrong with enjoying a Coke. After all, most of us allow ourselves to enjoy other things that are not nutritious. The key is to do so in moderation.* Baby steps are better than cold turkey. The problem with breaking an addiction is, obviously, the withdrawal phase. In my case with Coke, this involved some serious headaches, and when you live in a house with rambunctious little kids, you tend to not want to give yourself a headache for days on end.So this time, instead of just mustering up the resolve to quit cold turkey, I scaled it back gradually. One a day, then one every couple days. Now it's been a week since my last Coke and, quite frankly, my appetite for it has gone.My new beverage of choice -Water with lime* Use a crutch. When I was scaling back my Coke consumption, I allowed myself to have something sweet to eat once in a while in the afternoon. Once or twice I even got a piece of chocolate candy (a peanut butter cup - don't tell my kids!) so I could get a bit of caffeine to blunt the headache. I also didn't hesitate to use ibuprofen.Will I ever have a Coke again? Almost certainly. And that's OK - don't judge me if you see me sipping a Coke! The goal here was not to create some kind of legalistic rule but to change my patterns and habits to be more healthful. And that's the key principle here. Legalistic rules only work for a while, and when broken they often lead to defeated resignation. But positive changes in lifestyle will, I think, bear more fruit.And that's a principle that goes way beyond Coke, don't you think?[...]



Meet the Sheppards

2012-05-16T08:54:59.735-05:00

Imagine moving to a small town in the hill country of Liberia. With a new baby. Let me introduce you to John Mark and Sara Sheppard.

The Sheppards visited our small group a couple weeks ago and told us their story and about their vision to work with the Manya people in Liberia. The Manya are an unreached people group in the northwest part of the country. While 99% of them self-identify as Muslims, their version of Islam is heavily influenced by folk religion. Fortunately, theirs is a culture where people are generally very open and receptive to spiritual conversation. They told us stories of how they have already seen God begin to move among them.

John Mark actually grew up in Liberia as the child of missionaries who worked with Liberians in that country and in refugee camps nearby. The two first met while Sara was on a short-term mission trip, so I suppose one could say that missionary work is in their DNA. But the work will be challenging, and obviously it won't be easy moving a young family to a rural part of Liberia (they're reasonably confident they'll have electricity!). So the Sheppards need partners -- they covet your prayers and, quite frankly, need more financial backers as well.

You can learn more about them on their blog.



Take Systematic Theology from Wayne Grudem for Free

2012-05-15T15:05:15.643-05:00

(image) Got a tremendous offer for you. Interested in digging into theology and doctrine a bit, but don't know where or how to start? Consider this deal from Monergism Books - they've made noted Evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology course available for free via mp3 CDs. All you pay is $4.99 in shipping (in the U.S. - I can't speak for points further afield).

If you're unfamiliar with Wayne Grudem, he is one of the best-known and most-respected living Evangelical theologians. His Systematic Theology is a standard textbook for systematic theology courses in many evangelical seminaries (including the courses I took).

These mp3 courses would be useful during a commute or a workout, or whatever time you want to give to them. I believe that you'll find digging deeper into theology and doctrine will be rewarding and edifying. You might also consider grabbing a copy of Grudem's Systematic Theology, shamelessly promoted below (if you buy it, throw me a bone and do it here!):

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Thinking Out Loud About Gay Marriage

2012-05-10T09:35:10.401-05:00

North Carolina voters approved an amendment yesterday that defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and Barack Obama today announced he was in favor of gay marriage. So here we've got a nice political wedge issue in a big election year that really strikes me as mostly an attempt to stir up "the base" in the respective political parties. I listened to some radio commentary on the subject today and have read a few articles and blogs here and there, and I have to make this confession:I've never understood why this is such a huge issue... for either side. On the one side... Are there really that many gay and lesbian people that are itching to get married? If so, why? Why do these folks feel like they need a state-sanctioned blessing of sorts on their relationships? I really don't mean this to be patronizing. It's a legitimate question. Is the issue really all about equality as if a marriage license and contract can legitimize them in a way that they don't yet sense legitimacy? Or is there something deeper going on?On the other side of the divide... does enacting a state (or federal) law against gay marriage really bring about some kind of meaningful victory in a culture war? Does that mean anything when the culture seems to largely accepts homosexuality? Does the Church really have a vested interest in what the state decides constitutes a marriage contract?Let me be clear about a couple of things. I believe that marriage, as defined in the Scripture, is a covenant relationship between one man and one woman, and that any kind of sexual relationship outside of that covenant is sinful. I think I have a high view of marriage that is derived from biblical authority. So in raising these questions I'm not the kind of wishy-washy Christian who wants to compromise on biblical authority in the face of the rising tide of cultural objections. I am wondering about the wisdom of the Church becoming the vocal epicenter of these political debates. Is the Gospel really advanced when churches get waist-deep in this kind of political activism? I know there's a school of thought out there that views the church's role in politics as part of its mandate to be "salt and light" in a society, and I guess to some extent that's warranted (abortion comes to mind). But is this really a hill worth dying on? And, to be clear, I'm talking about how the state defines marriage, not how the church defines it, which I see as two very different matters (perhaps this is a key to what I'm thinking here). I'd suggest we need to see LGBT folks as sinners in need of the Gospel (just like everyone else) rather than as political opposition out to destroy us. And it seems to me that's more a call for compassion than fear or anger. And we can approach these people that way without compromising biblical teaching. In fact, it seems to me that Jesus approached sinful people ("others") with this kind of compassionate engagement, and obviously this happened without compromising biblical teaching. I'm not sure that political rallies and "get out the vote" campaigns are really anywhere near the core of a biblical agenda in this culture. (And this is absolutely NOT a capitulation to the idea that "spiritual" beliefs have no business in the public arena. I reject that kind of false dichotomy wholeheartedly. This is more a question of the wisdom of approaching this issue this way). I'm still thinking through this stuff so am open to engagement and dialogue. I know many will disagree. For what it's worth, I prefer a system where marriage is left alone, but I don'[...]



Our Experience at a Homeschool Convention

2012-05-15T15:03:04.496-05:00

I mentioned previously that we spent a day and a half at a really big homeschool convention that was held locally. We are interested in potentially homeschooling at some point, though we are not necessarily committed to the idea at present, so we decided to check it out. There was an enormous number of seminars available that appealed to a wide arrange of styles, methods, challenges, and stages of education. A few stood out (for all the wrong reasons!):

  • Let Go or I’ll Break Your Leg
  • UH, OH! The Fractions Are Moving In! (There goes the neighborhood!)
  • I’m German and I have PMS
  • Have you ever…Dressed Up in Traditional Garb to Discuss the Baroque Period?
  • Introduction to 4-Level Analysis Grammar Instruction

Now, to be fair, the seminars we actually attended did, without exception, hold some value (some more than others, obviously). There was some thought-provoking stuff, a lot of which could hold application for those who don't homeschool. Honestly, though I'm poking a bit of fun here, I have a high view of homeschooling, whether or not we opt to do it.

Evidently one of the main reasons people hit these conventions is the exhibit hall, and it was absolutely massive. There were scores of vendors. As you'd expect, many curriculum providers had huge displays staffed by multiple people to discuss their curricular offerings. There were book sellers and all manner of services that were available to provide some kind of aid in the homeschooling venture. There were also, interestingly enough, seemingly random vendors that had little to do with homeschooling, like the homemade soap people. While there were a couple of guys who seemed to think they were going to a Renaissance Fair (they were, I'm fairly certain, vendors), the majority of people there seemed, contrary to the stereotypes, pretty normal.

About 24 hours into the thing, we were out of gas. The whole thing was pretty overwhelming, and one day was plenty for us to get a feel for it, talk to people in the exhibition hall, and that sort of thing. Will we homeschool our kids? Maybe now, maybe later, maybe not at all. There are advantages and disadvantages. We'll see.



Thinking About Classical Education and Latin

2012-05-25T21:41:14.365-05:00

'Tis the season for our annual discussion and exploration of how to educate our children. As we explore the idea of homeschooling, we're looking through various curricula and co-op options and talking to a variety of friends about what they do. One of the approaches to education that has gained traction in the homeschooling world, particularly among the theologically Reformed, is the classical education model. There's a lot to commend it, but I have reservations as well. What follows is essentially me "thinking out loud."Photo from InsideClassicalEd.comClassical education generally distinguishes three stages in the growth and development of children, and tailors the educational goals and methods to each stage. These are usually labeled "grammar" (for little kids through grade 5-6), "logic" (roughly the middle school years), and "rhetoric" (the high school years). The grammar phase focuses on memorizing facts and data, the logic phase begins to assemble them into greater understanding (connecting the dots, so to speak), and the rhetoric phase develops these into a worldview that can be explained, articulated, and defended. That's a rough explanation (as I understand it).It makes sense in many ways, and certainly has strong historical precedent dating back to the Greco-Roman period - hence the name "classical" education. But I have my reservations, the chief of which is the usual insistence on most classical schools and curricula that students learn Latin. I don't think that "that's the way it's always been done" is a good enough reason to do it this way. Obviously for close to 2,000 years, Latin was a central component to education (utilizing some version of what we now call the "classical" model). The early American universities like Harvard all required a reading knowledge of Latin as a prerequisite for admission.Image via gosummitacademy.comBut, for most of that period, Latin was the language of education because most of the source material and books used had been written in Latin. It was the universal language of the intelligentsia, the learning class across Western civilization. There just wasn't nearly as much material available in other languages. But that does not remain the case. In fact, French supplanted Latin in that role around the 1700's (giving rise to the term "lingua Franca"), and now English is the universal language of learning.So is Latin useless? Of course not. Understanding Latin gives one a leg up in learning languages that derive from Latin (like Spanish) and in broadening one's understanding of English, much of which comes from Latin roots. A lot of terminology in fields ranging from medicine to theology derives from Latin. Learning Latin is also said to be excellent training for the mind - though I wonder if that's true of any kind of language learning.So Latin is fine and has some value. I just have not been persuaded that it's important to begin having young kids memorizing Latin as opposed to a "living" language like Spanish or other academic pursuits. But I'm open to argument on that point.[...]



Kindles Aren't for Small Group

2012-04-01T21:52:58.623-05:00

I like my Kindle Touch and have enjoyed reading with it. In many ways it's easier to read than a physical book due to the wonders of e-ink, it's obviously much more portable, and books are accessible via phone and computer. So I'm a very content Kindle user. But, one thing I've learned the hard way, is that the Kindle is not a great tool for leading (or probably for participating) in a small group book discussion.

Now, I could certainly be missing something because I remain a Kindle novice. But the biggest hindrance I've found is that, at least in some books (like the one we're reading!), you can't see page numbers. Instead, you get something called location numbers. That's fine when you're reading a book, but problematic when discussing it. "What do you think of what he said on page... ummm... location 2138?"

A second problem, also quite problematic, is that not every book published on the Kindle includes endnotes and appendices. And, in many cases, study questions are found in an appendix!

The bottom line is that the Kindle is fantastic for personal reading, but is not a great tool for small group discussion. By the way, this is my first act as an Amazon Affiliate... If you want to check out the Kindle Touch, Wi-Fi, 6" E Ink Display, do it here!(image)



The Danger of Facebook Ads

2012-02-09T22:47:24.227-05:00

We recently launched a new division of our insurance agency called Go Mission Trip Insurance, which is aimed at providing travel/medical insurance coverage to missionaries - especially short-term mission teams. After putting a considerable amount of time as well as some money into building the website, setting up the business, and that sort of thing, we turned our attention to spreading the word (a process we're still very much engaged in).

I thought it might be interesting to experiment with Facebook ads. The idea is pretty cool - people tell Facebook so much about themselves that you can do some narrowly targeted advertising. You can, for example, target ads to people by age range (or just a certain age), by marital status, by where they live, and by their various interests, "likes" and affiliations. So I put together an ad aimed at people who were interested in various "mission" related keywords, as well as those who "liked" a bunch of mission agencies, seminaries, and notable figures. The first ad bombed -- not sure anyone saw it and don't know that anyone clicked through.

So I went back to the drawing board, changed the ad around, widened the scope, and... BOOM! After a week or so I realized our traffic had gone through the roof and that it was clearly the Facebook ad doing it's thing. "Well," I thought, "it's a good thing I had put a cap on how much money we can spend each day!" But... and it's a very big but.... I soon learned that Facebook increased my buy without my permission.

I won't get into my specific reaction(s) to this when I realized what had happened. But let's just say that we don't have much of a marketing budget (I mean... hardly anything - we're not a big company!), and this was going to hurt. Turns out that, sure enough, when you get into the nitty gritty of Facebook's ad program, they can (and evidently, they DO) increase your cap automatically if your ad is getting a lot of play.

This, of course, begs the question: Why give me the illusion of control by letting me set a cap?

The moral of the story is that you need to be very careful in setting up your Facebook campaign, and you need to keep a very watchful eye over it's success rate. I've not given up on Facebook ads (though I don't have any more money for it right now!), but next time you better believe I'll be very careful. You should too.



My Experience of the 2012 South Carolina Primary

2012-02-03T22:51:12.175-05:00

Living in an early primary state comes with certain opportunities and certain annoyances. Among the latter are incessant advertising through every form of media which leads one to eventually missing low budget ads from auto dealership and sleazy local attorneys. But it also leads to unique opportunities to get a little closer to these campaigns and their candidates. It's been more than a week now since the Republican primary here in South Carolina, so I thought I'd briefly describe my experience of it.Rick SantorumMy view of Rick SantorumThe first visit to a campaign stop was not planned in advance at all. I had said that I really wanted to hit a campaign event (didn't care who) just for the experience. But what originally caused us to head to Spartanburg on a Wednesday morning was not Rick Santorum, it was the Duggar family (you know, "20 Kids and Counting"). At least the prospect of seeing a bunch of them at a Christian bookstore. Fact is, we sometimes watch their show and find it amusing. Keri just thought it would be fun to go see them, but only two of them were at that event. So we decided to head a mile up the road to the Beacon, a local hole in the wall that is famous for... I'm not sure. It's a poor man's Varsity, if you're familiar with that iconic Atlanta establishment.JimBob DuggarAnd once there, we were, in fact, in the middle of a genuine presidential campaign event. Santorum gave a nice version of his stump speech, and it was nice to hear the whole thing instead of 30-60 second soundbites in a debate. There was a warm crowd, a large media contingent (including a rather surly Carl Cameron), and all that stuff. And, yes, there were a bunch more Duggars present as well, so mission accomplished. We left feeling glad we had experienced a slice of a real Presidential campaign. We thought that would be it, but as it turned out, several other opportunities remained.Ron PaulMy view of Ron PaulI've always liked Ron Paul and his outside-the-box message, style, and campaign. His strict adherence to the Constitution and libertarian approach to most domestic issues is very attractive and sensible to me. His much-maligned foreign policy is not perfect, but overall I like him very much. (In fact, I think he's the most likable guy in the campaign). I recently wrote a longer take on Ron Paul here.Now, I decided to catch Ron Paul in a hangar near the downtown Greenville airport as he was barnstorming the state on the eve of the primary. That crowd was totally different than the Santorum crowd - younger, much more raucous, and quite devoted to their guy. They're all convinced that they are the vanguard of a real revolution, and I'm not sure I disagree. In fact, I hope they're right. Paul was exactly what you'd expect. He is who he is all the time, I guess, which is pretty refreshing in a politician. Worth getting soaked for the experience.Mitt RomneyEnthusiastically awaiting their guyLess enthusiastically waitingOur family expedition to see Mitt Romney was almost completely spontaneous. We were talking about it at dinner with my in-laws, and the next thing you know, we're all heading downtown after dinner to catch the last pre-election rally for Mitt Romney, which would also feature SC governor Nikki Haley and VA governor Bob McDonnell.Not the best photo of Romney!Nikki Haley with Ann Romney & Bob McDonnellNow this was a top-end political event, staged by an experienced crew. The room was stuffed[...]



Homer Simpson Would Love This

2012-02-06T09:58:49.280-05:00

Here's an image that seems fairly descriptive of a fairly wide swath of our culture. It seems this is a remote control that doubles as a bottle opener. And, just in time for the hyperbolic run-up to the Super Bowl, it's available at a Groupon special price. Oy.