What Do You Expect?

I thought this was interesting…and tiring.

The Rev. Warren Carr of Durham, North Carolina, prepared a questionnaire asking his congregation to tell him how much time that they thought he should give to a list of specified tasks. The members of his congregation were shocked to discover that the average work week indicated by their answers was 82 hours. One answer proposed a schedule of 200 hours–32 more than there are in a week. —Life Magazine, August 20, 1956, p.102 (quoted in Shepherding God’s Flock, Jay Adams, 39)

I wonder if some of the sheep have lowered their expectations 51 years later. Based on some recent conversations I’ve had and blog posts I’ve read, I don’t think so.

The Mirror of Our Love

*There are a few things I don’t need any help with. I’m good at these things. I don’t need tips from books. I don’t need advice from friends. I know what I’m doing and I do them well. If “Things I’m Good At” was a category on Family Feud, the number one answer according to the survey is: I’m good at thinking about myself.

Josh Harris made a similar observation in his recent post titled “My One and Only Week on Facebook.” Not only did he find Facebook a time-waster, what’s worse is that he found it stimulated even more self-admiration and self-absorption. (Thanks to Justin Taylor for highlighting Harris’ article, AboutFaceBook.)

I’ve considered writing about MySpace and Facebook and their online ilk before, but as bothersome as they are to me, I haven’t brought myself to utter any imprecatory posts into the void. And, yes, I also get that blogs can be equally narcissistic, but I still believe there is something expressly self-oriented about some sites. They make it so easy for online life to reflect what we most love in offline life: ourselves! Perhaps that’s one of the reasons they’re so popular.

Winners vs. Losers

My dad shared the following poem with me when I was a kid and I’ve never forgotten it. It was written by Pat Williams, a former NBA General Manager. I shared it during a sermon I recently preached on Men at Work while illustrating the seriousness of taking responsibility. Since numerous people asked me for a copy after the message I thought it might be good for the entire void.

Winners vs. Losers

When a winner makes a mistake, he says, “I was wrong;” When a loser makes a mistake, he says, “It wasn’t      my fault.”

A winner works harder than a loser and has more time; A loser is always “too busy” to do what is necessary.

A winner goes through a problem; A loser goes around it, and never gets past it.

A winner makes commitments; A loser makes promises.

A winner says, “I’m good, but not as good as I ought to be;” A loser says, “I’m not as bad as a lot of other people.”

A winner listens; A loser just waits until it is his turn to talk.

A winner respects those who are superior to him      and tries to learn something from them; A loser resents those who are superior to him      and tries to find chinks in their armor.

A winner feels responsible for more than his job; A loser says, “I only work here.”

Live or Memorex?

*

I’m eager to publish (what is hopefully) the last explanation behind my music video. It was posted first on February 6, and within a week (thanks to the PyroManiac) the video was viewed over 1200 times. I don’t know how many of those views were actually by different people since the Pecadillo informed us that it was not unusual for him to hear the video playing two or three times per visit to his parents’ house. Nevertheless, I know it’s been viewed by some who are beyond my normal readership since a few total strangers approached me at the Shepherds’ Conference last month singing the song.

Of course, many were concerned, and rightly so, about the condition of my Apple laptop. So on February 12 I posted the first Behind the Music explanation, namely that the Mac is in fantastic condition and fully operational.

However, in the comments some discussion arose related to the nature of the outtake at the end of the video, namely whether the fall was staged or a providentially captured blooper. Jim from OldTruth was the first to ask for another “behind the scenes” look and then a friendly disagreement ensued between he and Trinian, as Trinian graciously guessed that I was at least a “temporary” klutz while Jim concluded that it was “totally staged” since the sound effects were “too perfect.”

It has been some two months since that post. The YouTube view count currently sits at 2095. I continue to be amazed that people think it’s funny. And then last night Trinian exclaimed:

Enough stalling! I must know, was the fall staged or legit?!

Okay. The fall was 100% purposeful. In fact, I had been planning on taking this dive for almost two years. Every time I ran on my treadmill for those two years I was choreographing my moves mentally to maximize visual effect and minimize personal pain. From my perspective both were achieved with flawless execution.

This was no small feat. The filming required a one time shot. A second take (let alone a third or fourth) would have required a retake of the entire treadmill sequence, including a new set of dry clothes, being doused with more freezing water, and considerably more cleanup.

First, I set the speed of the belt two miles an hour slower than my normal pace. This gave me a sense of greater control and lowered the likelihood of hurt if something did go really wrong. Then at the pivotal moment I stepped onto the side of the deck while simultaneously bending my knee to give the appearance that I had slipped off the treadmill entirely. I had positioned a number of metallic objects a few feet away from the machine, close enough for me to knock over but far enough away that I could control the crash. Truth be told, we couldn’t have generated better sound effects in the editing room. Though we were unsure about what kind of footage we captured at the time, everything worked out smashingly. And seriously, that watering can rolling around on its edges at the very end is priceless.

Thanks again to the Intern and to my wife for help to make the video, and thanks to all of you for watching it…and still coming back to the Void.

Resources for Studying Calvinism

TULIPWhen Phil Johnson taught on Spurgeon at the 07SR he referenced some of Spurgeon’s contentions regarding Calvinism. I thought it would be helpful for some of our youth staff and students to get a better grasp on what Calvinism really is, so I began a brief series entitled “God Saves Sinners” during our Sunday morning meetings (see the end of this post for links to that material). We are more than halfway through and I thought now would be as good a time as any to suggest some additional resources for those interested in studying Calvinism on their own.

Online Resources

Books

The first two of these are in my top 10 list of most influential books. If you’ve been waiting for a good time to start your theological library, wait no longer.

  • The Five Points of Calvinism, by Steele, Thomas, and Quinn. I’d recommend the newest version that has an updated typeface and some additional articles in the back. If you are going to buy just one book, this is the standard.
  • The Sovereignty of God, by A.W. Pink. You can also read this book online, or print it out for free, though it is worth having on your bookshelves–after you’ve read it, of course.
  • The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, by Loraine Boettner. Likewise, you can read this online.

Online Audio

If iPod listening is your thing, I wholeheartedly recommend:

And though I haven’t listened to any of these, and though it is only focused on the “L” of TULIP, I’m planning on listening to:

My own material is obviously not the first, nor is it the best, nor will it be the final word on Calvinism. Yet it is my attempt to explain it.

God Saves Sinners

2008 Faith Bible Church Reformation Conference

We Are Not Our Own

UPDATED [August 20, 2009]: These are messages I preached at the 2009 Faith Bible Church Reformation Conference. In 2008 they asked me to preach on the five points of Calvinism. These are follow up messages. I titled the series: We Are Not Our Own: The Implications of Calvinism, driven by this quote from Calvin in his Institutes:

We are God’s: let us therefore live for Him and die for Him. We are God’s: let His wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward Him as our only lawful goal. (3.7.1)

The audio for each session is available if you’re interested.

If you have other recommended resources for studying the sovereignty of God in salvation, please share those suggestions in the comments.

Teenagers Are Irresponsible

Series | Lies Every Teen Believes

The second lie teenagers believe is that they are, intrinsically, irresponsible. “Research” shows their brains have not yet fully developed so they can’t be expected to act appropriately. They are not ready to answer for their actions. Experts define adolescence as an extended season for experimentation and prolonged preparation. The teen years are for development and responsibility must be deferred.

Inevitably, the teenagers is a disappointment, whose combination of adult capacities and juvenile irresponsibility sows personal heartbreak and social chaos.” (Hine, 8)

*Our government doesn’t hold teens responsible. We’ve created an entirely different legal system to segregate younger lawbreakers from older ones. We’ve written new laws with lower standards because we don’t think they are able to make right decisions and behave appropriately. Many parents, teachers, and youth ministries have done basically the same thing by postponing opportunities to fail, as well as by protecting young people from the consequences of wrongdoing. We’ve gift-wrapped the excuse for them.

Shifting blame and shirking responsibility is as old as sin. Adam did it first when he sidestepped culpability in the garden–and he wasn’t even a teenager (Genesis 3:12). “It’s not my fault; it’s her fault.” And then he went even further and said “It’s the woman You gave me.” Adam was shameless enough to claim his sin was God’s fault.

Teenagers walk a similar path of unreasoning when they disavow responsibility. “I’m just a teenager.” Who does that blame? It implicitly points the finger at God. It’s almost as if they said, “God is in control of how old I am, and since He has me in this stage of life as an adolescent, He can’t hold me responsible.” They also take that to mean no one else can either.

But here is the crucial question: when a teenager disobeys God, is it a lesser offense in God’s sight? Is the penalty for adolescent sin more along the lines of purgatory rather than eternal death? No. God’s law opens no loopholes for teenagers. His standard remains perfection for all His creatures, including those who are still growing. We may be slow to hold teens responsible morally and spiritually; God is not. Church leaders, especially those of us who are parents or youth pastors, do young people no favors by failing to prepare them for God’s judgment.

Happy Sheep Come from Happy Shepherds

sheepThere is a sinewy connection between joy and shepherding and I regret that there are still too many occasions when the two are cut asunder. It isn’t that I lament others seeing the lack, I lament the fact of the lack. I don’t wish that I could hide my joylessness better, rather I want to experience and display joyfullness better.

The connection between joy and shepherding is consequential. Though Hebrews 13:17 is primarily a call for the sheep to follow the shepherd in such a way that he may shepherd with joy, it establishes the principle that a joyful shepherd is an advantage to the sheep. The potent consequence of the shepherds’ rejoicing is blessing and profit for the sheep, and often I must apologize that I have not been as great an advantage to my sheep as is right.

I do recognize there are still multiple things to be thankful for even in this shortcoming. First, sheep are less likely to follow me because of me; the clouded reflection of Christ in me is a constant reminder that He is the clear goal. Second, the sheep have much opportunity to serve me in prayer, that more of Christ would be formed in me. Third, we can commiserate together toward the day of glorification, when our joyful experience of completeness in Christ will equal our status.

So as we encourage one another, build up each other, and shepherd, let us do so with the joy of the Lord as our strength. Thank you for bearing with me as I progress in the same.

An Addendum on ADD

One of the compelling issues in the adolescence, ADD, and ADHD phenomena is the possibility of genetic or hormonal causation. We are told that if it can be scientifically determined that certain actions or attitudes are inherent in a person’s physical make-up, then we are obligated to consider their behavior normal and should remove moral responsibility from the discussion. After all, if they can’t help it, we shouldn’t expect it.

One of my points in the original post is that most of the deviant behavior diagnosed by doctors in adolescents has nothing to do with biology or endocrinology. Instead it is entirely related to hamartiology–the study of sin. And though I tried to state my case carefully, acknowledging the possibility of certain physical conditions that affect one’s conduct, a few additional or clarifying thoughts came to mind.

First, the Bible indefatigably reveals that sin is the dominant human problem, that sin originates from within our own hearts, that sin has a commanding influence on our behavior, and that we are morally responsible to God for our sin. Scripture holds us accountable, not others, our circumstances, our upbringing, our DNA, or anything other than the passions of our flesh. Since teenagers are human (some may still be waiting for medical confirmation on that one), their supreme trouble is sin.

But second, even if someday doctors do discover a biological basis for inattentiveness, laziness, rebellion, etc., that will not change our accountability before God.

I think there is a striking similarity between this subject and the argument for normalizing homosexuality. My wife has made this point in personal conversations for many years, and earlier this month Albert Mohler published a foundational article at his blog on the connection between moral responsibility and biological causation. As scientists look for “genetic or hormonal cause for sexual orientation,” see if some of Mohler’s take-away points don’t apply equally to the “genetic or hormonal cause for teenage disobedience” discussion. He encourages “Christians who are committed to think in genuinely Christian terms” to “think carefully about these points:”

1. There is, as of now, no incontrovertible or widely accepted proof that any biological basis for sexual orientation exists.

3. Given the consequences of the Fall and the effects of human sin, we should not be surprised that such a causation or link is found. After all, the genetic structure, along with every other aspect of creation, shows the pernicious effects of the Fall and of God’s judgment.

4. The biblical condemnation of all homosexual behaviors would not be compromised or mitigated in the least by such a discovery. The discovery of a biological factor would not change the Bible’s moral verdict on homosexual behavior.

9. We must stop confusing the issue of moral responsibility and moral choice. We are all responsible for our sexual orientation, but that does not mean that we freely and consciously choose that orientation. … We do not always (or even generally) choose our temptations. Nevertheless, we are absolutely responsible for what we do with sinful temptations, whatever our so-called sexual orientation.

10. Christians must be very careful not to claim that science can never prove a biological basis for sexual orientation. We can and must insist that no scientific finding can change the basic sinfulness of all homosexual behavior.

So Christians who identify sin as the problem and the sinner as responsible do not need to fear the future discoveries of science and medicine. Even if biological factors are found in sexual orientation, teenage rebellion, or any other kind of temptation for that matter, personal culpability for sin is not removed. The Bible exhorts us to rebuke sin as sin–even in teenagers–and urge them to repentance and to consider themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

UPDATE [7:53AM March 15]: The original post by Mohler is still making waves, upsetting both conservatives and liberals as seen in this article at The Christian Post (HT: Challies). Again, Mohler is not saying that there is a biological cause for homosexuality, he says if a connection is eventually pinpointed, it still won’t change the person’s moral responsibility to God for breaking His law.

Teenagers Are Incompetent

Series | Lies Every Teen Believes

Today we’ll address the first of the six lies of adolescence. Remember, by the name “adolescence” we are not simply referring to the biological changes that take place in a person over a small period of time (i.e., puberty). In our culture the word is more than a convenient catalog of the days, months, and years of being a teen. Adolescence refers to a mindset, and now an entire sub-culture, that has been established by certain lies that need to be laid bare.

1. Teenagers are incompetent.

*The first lie of adolescence says teens are not quite competent, in some ways not really complete humans. Thomas Hine said, “The concept of the teenager rests…on the idea of the adolescent as a not quite competent person, beset by stress and hormones” (The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager, p.4). Someone who is “incompetent” is a person who fails to have or show the necessary skills to do something. This lie presumes that teenagers don’t yet have the necessary skills for life. The church version of the lie maintains teens do not have the wisdom or ability for spiritual life.

To be sure, growth and maturity is a process. There is no reason to expect teens will have the wisdom and competence that they will when they are 30, 50, or 70. But the lie of adolescence implies that because teens are not as mature as they will be someday, it is okay for them to remain childish. Many parents defend their child’s incompetence like it is a right while others even insist that it is unreasonable to expect them to grow up!

This low expectation has far reaching consequences. Because we believe the lie that teenagers are incompetent we don’t expect them to be responsible, so we don’t give them responsibility, and the downward spiral is perpetuated. We’re not surprised when they fail. We anticipate their excuses. And now even medical doctors are dispensing excuses for their incompetence.

For example, one diagnosis of teenage incompetence comes in the form of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). ADHD is a behavioral disorder found mostly in boys that renders them incapable of paying attention for any significant length of time. Those with ADHD are easily distracted and physically incapable of sitting still. Currently, ADHD is understood to be “a persistent and chronic syndrome for which no medical cure is available.”

There have been some very excellent advances in medicine and technology in our day. Of course, some of those advances have enabled us to become really good at packaging our bologna. ADHD may just be old bologna in new packaging. When I was growing up, failing to pay attention was called rude, and 1 Corinthians 13:5 exposes rudeness as a lack of love. Getting low grades in school didn’t mean that you had a disorder, it typically meant that you were sluggard. Proverbs 6:6-11 clearly designates laziness as a moral problem, not a medical disorder.

I am not denying that there are legitimate disabilities that make it difficult for some people to learn and that may even make it hard for some people to sit still. In fact, I don’t love sitting still for long periods of time. Maybe I have adult ADHD (which of course is now a sanctioned diagnosis from medical professionals). But isn’t it obvious what happened? The kids diagnosed with ADHD grew up and, low and behold, it didn’t go away. But the reason their inability to pay attention didn’t go away is because it’s not an adolescent problem, it’s a heart problem.

For the majority of young people, hyperactive behavior, unwillingness to pay attention, habitual forgetfulness, etc., is just plain selfish. Selfishness says that my plans and what I want to do with my time are more important than what you want me to do. Not paying attention to someone else has more to do with focusing on yourself (cf. Philippians 2:3-5). That is selfishness and pride, not a disorder. Selfishness is a sin.

The lie of certain adolescent incompetence paints a pathetic picture of teens. But to believe that every teen is incompetent ignores thousands of years of capable and accomplished young adults. Consider David the shepherd boy as he defeated the giant, Daniel the exile who stood up to the Babylonian king, Mary the young mother of the Messiah, and even Jesus Himself as a young man in the temple confounding the wisdom of the Scribes. The Bible specifically exhorts young people, “Don’t let anyone despise your youth, but be an example of the believer” (1 Timothy 4:12). Scripture assumes teens are capable of spiritual competence with the Spirit’s help.

Of course, saying that teens are incompetent not only casts an ugly shadow on teens but it also calls God’s competence into question. Is adolescent incompetence so powerful God cannot overcome it? Or does He just not care about teenagers to begin with? We must press to this final point of trusting God at His Word and looking for His grace in our young people. Buying into the cultural lie that adolescents cannot be spiritually empowered to live wisely merely reveals a deeper problem, namely a belief that God cannot or will not use our teens for His own glory.

Behind the Music

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Last Monday I posted a couple videos here at the Void. The clip of Phil tubing is growing in popularity with over 200 views. But somehow in just one week, Water has been viewed 1,245+ times.

It spent over 24 hours on the PyroManiacs bulletin board and was later given the monicker of “world-famous.” The comments there ranged from “everything about it is just wrong”, “ouch” and “painful,” to one person calling me their “hero” and another nominating me for a Dove Award. One commenter even suggested an idea for a future video: “I would like him to do a ‘you are like fire’ song (he could wear a protective suit) or something with ‘I’m stumbling over the rock’ kind of lyrics.” Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.

Here at the Void some responded emotionally, one suggested that lip-syncing would have been enough, and one accused me of ruining another perfectly good song (which begs the question, Are the originals of Flower in the Rain and Water “perfectly good”?). Still others seemed to care far more about the condition of my computer than that I was being doused with cold water in little clothing on a January day in Washington. So for all of you more sympathetic to the PowerBook’s plight, let us go behind the music.

First, I’m typing this post from the machine in question and it is working just fine. Some thought I was using my old Titanium G4. I was not. My Apple friends would have quickly spotted the difference between that and my current laptop so I knew I couldn’t use a stunt-computer.

Second, I was not trying to fry my primary work machine in order to upgrade. Though Spurgeon may have thrown bricks through inferior windows in order to expedite their replacement, I had no similar motivation (though come to think of it, I would throw bricks at Windows machines). Besides, I am only halfway through our church’s three year cycle of computer replacement, so if I destroyed my computer I would have worked with a destroyed computer for quite a while. In addition, mine is the ministry video editing computer and we needed that for the snow retreat the following week. It would have been a very poor time to impair its abilities.

Third, okay, I was not actually expecting that much water to hit my desk. I more so envisioned the water running down the front and back of me, onto my chair, and then onto the floor with only a minimal amount spilling onto my desk. In fact, we covered the bottom shelf of my books with a plastic tarp to protect them from any splash. But I failed to consider that I was sitting too close to my desk, leaving the path of least resistance as the top of my desk.

Fourth, the keyboard to my desktop PC (used only for entering grades for my Bible class) was absolutely soaked. When the Intern and I turned it over I estimate maybe a cup of water drained out. Not to fear, however, because CTRL-ALT-DEL still works and those are the only three keys you need on a PC anyway.

Finally, I have done some stupid things in my life (as the video itself demonstrates). But I am not that stupid. If you look closely at the bottom left of the screen near the edge of my laptop you will notice a piece of light blue fabric that does not move when my shirtsleeve moves. That piece of fabric is a blanket, folded in thirds to approximate the width of the computer. The blanket ran from my lap, covered the keyboard, and shielded more than half of the screen. Though a few drops did hit the display causing the screen to shake, very little water actually touched the PowerBook. As soon as the segment was filmed I picked up the computer so that all the water on my desk wouldn’t seep into the bottom.

So the only thing damaged in the video was my credibility, not my Mac. I hope everyone will be able sleep tonight.

UPDATE [4:06PM April 19]: Get the final answer to the treadmill fall.