Sunday, August 31, 2008

Pray for Disaster Relief

As Hurricane Gustav barrels into some wary Gulf Coast state, many of you will faithfully pray for evacuees and homeowners and law enforcement personnel in the affected area. Might I ask you to take an extra minute on your knees and to lift up before our Lord the thousands of volunteers with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief who will mobilize to meet this disaster wherever it strikes? I'm sure that they could give you an ever better idea of how to pray, but I'll offer these suggestions:

  • Pray for opportunities to share the gospel. Unapologetically I will say that any disaster relief that does not bring people to a confrontation with the gospel is, in eternal terms, a missed opportunity and a wasted effort. Our disaster relief volunteers want to share the gospel, but more importantly, local congregations get the opportunity to present the gospel through the efforts of disaster relief efforts. Indeed, sometimes the efforts emanate into the community from a headquarters at a local church.
  • Pray for their safety. A hurricane strikes quite a blow against the infrastructure of an area. It also sometimes attracts looters and miscreants. Law enforcement officers do a great job of keeping the volunteers safe, but even an emerging medical problem can pose extra difficulties with the local doctors' offices decimated and local hospitals overwhelmed by the effects of the disaster. So pray for the health and safety of the volunteers.
  • Pray for the families, homes, and enterprises left behind by disaster relief volunteers. These people drop everything at a moment's notice and trudge miles and miles away to help people they've never met. Contrary to what you might presume, they are not all retired people with nothing to do (indeed, most retired people are not people with nothing to do!). These volunteers need the blessing of God upon the things that they sacrifice and neglect in order to provide disaster assistance.
  • Pray for wisdom for the people in leadership over disaster relief. The coordinating efforts required to manage a disaster response are formidable. I'm talking about our NAMB and state DR leadership, but I'm talking about even more people than that. In the 2005 Astrodome response in Houston, it was my blessing to sit through some of the briefings and meetings managed by Harris County Judge Robert Echols and to see at close hand some of the labors borne by incident commanders and other people in leadership on the scene. These people didn't sleep very much…not for days or weeks. They faced a multifaceted set of problems that was unprecedented and unanticipatable (to coin a word?). The effectiveness of our volunteers usually depends to some large degree upon the effectiveness of these people. So pray for them. Not all local leadership is of the same caliber, and depending upon where Gustav chooses to make entry, this item may require more or less prayer attention. I think we've all seen in years past what the varying quality of local leadership can do to affect the response to a disaster.
  • Pray for the churches in the disaster area. Some churches didn't survive Katrina and Rita. Ideally, a moment of community crisis (if the community survives!) should be a season of opportunity for God's people. Pray that God will sovereignly use this destructive hurricane to draw errant souls to Him.

Beyond Crying

|säb| verb (sobbed, sob•bing) [intrans.] cry noisily, making loud convulsive gasps. Syn: weep, snivel, howl, bawl, blubber

That, my friends, is what both Tracy and I did when we first watched this:

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Bell Has Rung on the Final Round

If you have recently longed for the ugliness of earlier epochs in Baptist blogging, take courage. The newest post-Olympic sport seems to be Synchronized Slander. Within the past few hours, both Wade Burleson and Les Puryear have published attacks upon people who champion the biblical principles of Baptist Identity, each directed not at what we say, but at what they say that they are sure that we must mean by what we say (great mind-readers that they are).

But apart from this post, I'll not be taking the bait. I've found in the recent hiatus that I have plenty to enjoy in blogging without a brouhaha. I enjoy fellowship with my friends over at SBC Today, the production of "SBC Perspective" with them for that site, blogging on items that interest me, and pursuing the Lord's work in my church and the SBC. I have interacted with some bloggers in the past as I have believed that their movement posed some danger to the Lord's work in the SBC. I no longer see much of a movement, and I no longer can justify such an intense investment of the fleeting days that the Lord has allotted to me.

If there has been any contest between me and Wade or Les, I declare that the bell has rung on the final round, so far as I am concerned. At times I wrongly went out of my way to make personal what was theological. Theology is personal if it is real, but the harshest of my writing spoke more to my lingering and dogged immaturities as a believer than to the many weaknesses in my erstwhile opponents' positions.

In the future, I will be just as immature, I do fear, but I plan at least to make it less obvious to the world. And in doing so, I hope that the many weaknesses in these other positions will become the focus of attention rather than the heat that our discourse has sometimes generated.

The Wrong Response to the Right Thing (Finally)

Senator John Edwards is finally doing the right thing. He was wrong to cheat on his wife. He was wrong to lie about the affair to the public. If he continues to lie to the public, that's wrong, too.

He's also wrong about so many of his political positions and decisions.

But today John Edwards is apparently doing the right thing: He's asking for forgiveness. He's not doing it for show (it isn't because of him that we know about it, so at least he's not doing it for show very well). He's simply admitting that he was wrong and asking people to forgive him. By people, I mean his former advisers, donors, supporters, and campaign staffers, who are reportedly receiving private phone calls from a contrite Edwards.

Fox News is reporting that Edwards's staffers—at least some of them—are rebuffing Edwards's requests for forgiveness. One reportedly told Edwards brusquely, "I don't want you to call me again." That's the wrong response to the right thing.

And the whole matter is germane to the question of biblical church discipline. The same Jesus who gave us the procedure for the exclusion of errant members in Matthew 18:15-20 is also the One who, in the very next breath, told us in verse 22 that we are to forgive a brother "up to seventy times seven." So, if John Edwards were a member of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, it would be our duty to accept his request for forgiveness, to forgive him entirely, and to welcome his continued membership in the church. To abandon church forgiveness is just as problematic a sin as the abandonment of church discipline. Indeed, it may be a more problematic sin, for the refusal to forgive produces a repugnant stench in any matter of church discipline, leading many godly people in their rejection of an unforgiving spirit to go too far and reject biblical restorative church discipline along with its mutant clone.

I'm willing to presume that the former Edwards supporters in the Fox News piece are all lost people. But if any of them are not, they've committed a very public sin and have been disobedient to their master.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

May God Have Mercy Upon Our Souls

(HT: Baptist Press) Following is an excerpt from one of their stories today (linked above).

The procedure that normally resulted in a botched abortion is called "induced labor abortion" and requires inducing the woman, with the goal that the baby will die during labor. But sometimes, as Stanek testified before the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee in 2001, the baby survives.

"In the event that a baby is aborted alive at Christ Hospital, he or she is not given any medical care, but is rather given what my hospital calls 'comfort care,'" she testified, according to a transcript. "'Comfort care' is defined as keeping the baby warm in a blanket until the baby dies, although until recently even this was not always done."

Parents were given the opportunity to hold their aborted baby, but most of the time they declined. Stanek then told of how she watched one particular baby die, a moment that helped change her mind about abortion.

"One night, a nursing coworker was taking an aborted Down Syndrome baby who was born alive to our Soiled Utility Room because his parents did not want to hold him, and she did not have time to hold him," Stanek testified. "I could not bear the thought of this suffering child dying alone in a Soiled Utility Room, so I cradled and rocked him for the 45 minutes that he lived. He was 21 to 22 weeks old, weighed about half a pound, and was about 10 inches long. He was too weak to move very much, expending any energy he had -- trying to breath [sic].

"Toward the end, he was so quiet that I couldn't tell if he was still alive, unless I held him up to the light to see if his heart was still beating through his chest wall. After he was pronounced dead, we folded his little arms across his chest, wrapped him in a tiny shroud, and carried him to the hospital morgue where all of our dead patients are taken."

Monday, August 18, 2008

Gimme Those Old-Time Olympics?

In so many ways, the modern Olympic games are far different from their ancient progenitors and becoming more different every year.

The ancient Olympics were built upon the physical abilities of human beings. Technology plays a greater role with each successive quadrennial tournament. In 2008, we've seen the technological aspect of the competition extend even to the material composition of the swimwear. It is truly incredible how the Olympics have come to represent a partnership between the jocks and the geeks!

The ancient Olympics incorporated only a few games, but the modern games involve a dizzying array of "sports." Who knew that jumping on a trampoline was an Olympic event? As I was saying to Tracy a few minutes ago, the Olympics includes several sports that I really enjoy watching for one game every four years. Men's table tennis? I'm not paying for season tickets, but I sincerely enjoy taking in a game or two during the Olympics. With such diversity of contests, there's something for everyone to watch and enjoy.

The original Olympics did not, to my knowledge, involve any prizes awarded according to the subjective analysis of "judges." You either crossed the finish line first, or you didn't. You either threw the javelin the farthest, or you didn't. We've injected a new level of controversy into the modern Olympics by having an ever increasing number of sports in which panels of judges award medals based upon sometimes-so-obviously-flawed judging systems.

Nations did not issue passports—false or genuine—for their athletes in ancient Greece.

But for all the ways that the modern Olympics are advancing further and further away from the original Olympics, I can identify one way in which our modern games are with each iteration coming so close to the original Olympic ideal. It came to me as I was watching the American women's volleyball team last night and then the U.S. women's hurdlers tonight:

The original Olympians competed naked.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Truly Great President

I believe that history will eventually smile on George W. Bush and regard him as a truly great president.

That's not to say that he has served perfectly (but who has?). Although the war in Iraq was necessary (and was not in any way preemptive, by the way), Bush and Colin Powell chose to make the most sensational case for the war before the United Nations and the United States. When "weapons of mass destruction" became the catchphrase of the conflict, Bush opened the door for the carping that has dogged him for a full term. He should simply have made the case that the first Gulf war had never completely ended; that Iraq had brazenly disregarded the terms of the cease-fire; that since the cease-fire Iraq had repeatedly committed acts of war against allied aircraft and other assets; and that it was high time for the United Nations to shock to world by actually doing what it had promised it would do unless Iraq met her obligations to the world. Bush and Powell did give some attention to these core elements of the need to subdue Iraq, but they wrongly allowed the much sexier notion of "Chemical Ali" to become the lynchpin of the public's endorsement for the war.

Bush's flirtation with the entitlement society—nay, his all-out torrid affair—has birthed an illegitimate scion of the party of Reagan in the form of Medicare prescription drug coverage. Bush and the now-defeated Republican Congress needed to enter a twelve-step program to wean themselves off of the tit-for-tat of selling government largesse for votes. They especially needed to do so since the votes that they want to court never seem to come through for them—have you heard any liberals patting Bush and the GOP on the back for Medicare Part D during this campaign? Bush further stumbled incoherently through the embryonic stem cell situation, and his Department of Justice apparently lacks, at times, the courage to stand up against items so morally clear as slavery and human trafficking.

By the way, with John Kerry, I also get a little nervous when I hear President Bush attempt to say "nuclear."

But none of these things, important as they are, are sufficient to dim the truly great things about President Bush. For that millisecond in 2003 when the nation was behind President Bush, our worldwide influence was so strong and our foreign policy so effective that even MohammarMuhamarKhadafiGhaddafi…Lybia set aside her terrorist ways and came running to the Red, White, and Blue in contrition. Bush's idea was the right one—really it isn't Bush's idea at all, but goes back at least as far as Teddy Roosevelt's big stick.

Even while dragging along a nation largely populated with self-absorbed addicts to instant gratification, Bush has managed to persevere in achieving what is now a far cry from the dismal outcomes predicted by folks like Barack Hussein Obama. It is only at the prospect of Bush's imminent departure and likely replacement with a weak-kneed dove that the Putins of this world are once more emboldened to wreak open skulduggery upon the world.

Bush is smarter than talk show hosts will acknowledge, but intellect is not his strength. He is more compassionate than can possibly be acknowledged by the party that has shackled generations to a debilitating and humiliating public welfare program, but this is not his great strength, either. Bush's greatest attribute—and the one that will garner him praise from another generation someday—is that he's going to say and do what seems right, and in doing so he doesn't give a rip what the U.N. or the latest Zogby poll or anybody else has to say about it. It is an attribute that tends toward stubbornness, and I'm sure that the President has to guard against that foible, but when pointed in the right direction, stubbornness is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

Nowhere was this determination on Bush's part on any greater display than it was this week at a Protestant church in China. There the President of the United States of America had the temerity to lecture the Chinese thugs about Religious Liberty. "No state, man or woman should fear the influence of loving religion," saith the Prophet W. And to that I say a hearty "Amen." George W. Truett was willing to say much the same thing in a lengthier speech a century ago, and for doing so he has been lauded recently by Baptists. As for me, I'm thankful for Truett's oration…I really am. But you've got to acknowledge that it takes very little courage to speak boldly for religious liberty on the Capitol steps surrounded by Baptists in the 1900s. For a man to stand on the steps of a church in Communist China and deliver that message (and to do so over the objections of his advisors, I guarantee you) takes a kind of moral courage that most men lack. Especially since a great many of the Baptists who trumpet about Religious Liberty the loudest will be the last to give him any credit for it and the first to stab him in the back.

Now I ask you, can you name a recent president who had the moral courage and clarity to say such a thing? Can you imagine either of our current candidates doing it?

The last monetary contribution that I made to a Democrat candidate for anything was made to a congressman in another state. Several members of my family made a donation in exchange for a few minutes of the congressman's time to lobby for a bit of backbone toward the oppressors of Chinese Christians. Our pleas (and even our dollars) fell upon deaf ears. "Why, we can't offend the Chinese!" Yes, God forbid that the duplicitous, pompous, repressive, brutal, pastor-arresting, Tibet-stomping, Olympics-opening-ceremony falsifying, little girl substituting, second child aborting Chinese Communists get their feelings hurt! We were told that trying to help Chinese Christians would actually only hurt them, provoking the Chinese government to get really tough on the poor Chinese Christian church.

Well I've got news for that congressman and for anyone else listening. Being a Chinese Christian ain't no Sunday picnic right now, and from everything that I see, the Chinese Christians are willing to suffer a bit in the hope of a greater platform to share the gospel of Christ with their fellow Chinese and with the rest of the world.

The greater heroes in the Chinese struggle for soul freedom are people like Hua Huiqi (HT: Dallas Morning News editorial "China Lies about Religious Freedom"), a pastor of a Christian house church in China who was detained by police on the way to worship with President Bush. President Bush knows that he's going to get to board Air Force One and come back home after making that speech. Hua is in hiding today, somewhere in China, without hope of being escorted by Secret Service onto a 747 and out of the grasp of Communist brutes. But at least he knows today that the leader of the free world has dared this week actually to state that he is in favor of the world being free. One should hope that such sentiments would be a baseline qualification for presiding over our nation, rather than a criterion differentiating the great from the mediocre occupants of the office.

Farewell, President Bush. No matter which choice we make in November, I, for one, will miss you.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Louis Moore on Religion

I've really grown to appreciate Louis Moore's blog. If you haven't subscribed to his feed, you're doing yourself a disservice. His recent article about Georgia (the far-away republic, not Emir Caner's new home state) is poignant and enlightening.

I can tell why readers of the Houston Chronicle so eagerly anticipated his legendary column in that paper years ago.

Good Article on Baptism

I only had time to skim Nathan Finn's latest blog article on baptism, but I liked what I skimmed. The article itself is very brief, not saying that much. But what it does say is well worth your time in reading it.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

SBC Internet Changes

This may not be "the change we must change to the change we hold dear" (HT:JibJab), but "the times, they are a changing" in the SBC blogosphere. For those of you trying to keep track, I update you on the following items:

  1. SBC Today Launches New Podcast, "SBC Perspectives."

    Disclaimer: I am a participant in the "SBC Perspectives" podcast.

    SBC Today has been among the vanguards of the Southern Baptist Internet since its inception. Now the good fellows at SBC Today have launched a new podcast entitled SBC Perspective. They've even been so cordial as to invite me to participate. The taping of the pilot was a hoot. I'm really looking forward to this—basically it is a collection of friends discussing the events of the day and the events of the ages. We love one another and have fun with one another. We're going to have fun in the production of this podcast. I hope that you have fun listening from time to time.

    If you're trying to keep up with who's saying what, I'm the guy who sounds like Gomer Pyle.

  2. Andrew Fuller Center Moves to New Website

    I love the eighteenth-century English Baptist grandee Andrew Fuller. So do the guys at the Andrew Fuller Center over at Southern. But there's more than just Andrew Fuller over there. His life and teachings make a great forum for considering our heritage and identity as Baptists. So, bookmark the link above and visit the fine folks over there often.

  3. Baptist Distinctives Conference at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

    OK, so this one doesn't really involve a change and has nary a thing to do with the Internet, other than the prominence of the themes involved in recent Baptist blogging and the involvement of some names you've either read or read about on the Internet. But, this one will be a conference worth attending and worth publicizing. I'll be there, and I would love to see you and visit for a while in Fort Worth in September.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Shouldn't They Have Had to Write "I Will Eat Mor Chikin"?

Fox News is reporting that prominent Christian businessman and Chick-Fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy has (in my opinion, not Fox's) exhibited Christian mercy and grace in his dealings with two teenaged girls who vandalized the 87-year-old chicken magnate's Florida home.

Rather than press charges—an action that Cathy feared would "leave [the girls] with a criminal record"—Cathy has arranged for the girls to have to write 1,000 times "I will not vandalize other people's property," to read a "good book," and to forego television and video games for a length of time unspecified in the story.

I like it. I really like it.