Sunday, August 29, 2021

Giant Funnel


Just got done with the S.E.E. (Student Engagement Expo).  It is a very full day...full of people, full of talking, full of spiritual interest surveys, full of sun and's great, I genuinely love it.

We met and spoke with hundreds (thousands perhaps) of students, and had ~260 students fill our our spiritual interest survey, which surveys various theological commitments they have.  You can see it here, if you're interested. 

This (and others like it) event is not evangelism, per se, but function as something of a giant funnel, by which many are narrowed down toward evangelism and discipleship opportunities.  There is now lots of opportunities to engage with many of these students, followup meetings, gospel sharing, etc.  Praise God for this.

Monday, May 3, 2021

The Heart Cannot Exult in what the Mind Rejects

"The heart cannot exult in what the mind rejects." 

This is increasingly my top-of-the-page, bold-letter way to summarize and express what I mean by apologetics  — one of those words with as many different meanings as there are readers.  It doesn’t mean to apologize, nor does it require an annoyingly persistent young man who knows he’s right on issue X, and he won’t stop until you know it, too.  The word comes from the Greek apologia, and it means to “make a defense.”  It comes from classic biblical texts like 1 Peter 3:15, “Always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…”  Paul defends himself in Acts 22:1 in regards to charges made against him, and he defends the gospel in Philippians 1:7,17, and several other places.  It was used in ancient Greece in law courts for the same purpose.  There’s a gaggle of books on the subject if you’re interested, a history of it here, or different approaches here.   But the point, as I see it, is to clear a path for the heart to rejoice (exult).  “Exalt” works, too — “to esteem highly” or “glorify.” 

To understand, just try this exercise.  Make yourself (genuinely) excited about getting gifts from Santa Claus.   Excited? Is your heart exulting yet? Well, why not?

The answer is obvious: the heart can not exult in what the mind rejects.  You can pretend.  You can watch Santa movies, get yourself hyped up by singing Santa songs, but your heart cannot truly rejoice in Santa because your mind knows he’s a lie.  

And so it goes with the True and Living God.  “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). “They suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18).  The modern university is filled with young people whose minds reject their creator.  Some of them do so intentionally and explicitly.  They google atheists’ arguments, and a rare few even read some books written by them. But for most students (perhaps nearly all), it's just the air they breathe. And you don’t usually think about what you're breathing.  In profession, most SDSU students are Christians (~95% according to our super-scientific polls), but most are practical atheists, living as though there is no God.  

Regarding my path clearing analogy...Classically, apologetics serves both as branch chopping and as constructive gravel packing.  The branch chopping part is the responsive, defensive part.  A student might have a problem with theodicy (the problem of evil in a world where God is all good and all powerful), and the loving duty of the young Christian is to chop that branch down, removing said objection of the existence of evil from their mind (as a recent Equipper recently asked me about).  The gravel packing part comes in a more positive form, in which fresh and persuasive reasons are given for right and proper beliefs.  The branches are chopped down, and the new path is painstakingly laid down.  

Lest you think I’m waxing poetic, I really do believe this is (or can be) vital work.  The Santa Claus thing is no mere rhetorical flair.  Students really are raised in a secular, godless worldview (by and large).  Students think they’re being asked to do something special and uniquely religious when it comes to faith and devotion to the Lord.  “It’s fine, insofar as you’re personally helped or encouraged by that sort of thing.” In reality, of course, everyone believes something about ultimate reality, what professor James Sire calls “prime reality”, or the thing from which everything else comes.  But students don’t know this, and in my experience, in lieu of reasonable, thoughtful, beautiful and persuasive Christian thinking, the most common MO is to fill that (large) gap with entertainment/emotionalism.  That’s an important rabbit trail, but suffice it to say that the modern church-growth/megachurch/youth-culture might instead say “the heart cannot exult in what the mood lights and emotionally-moving music don’t jin up enough”.  

Don’t get me wrong.  God made our emotions, and they’re good when they’re followers and not leaders.  I believe “worship” can be (and perhaps often enough, should be) immensely emotional.  My point is simply this: eventually, the vacuousness of most students’ faith is felt and revealed, and no memory of those moving worship services will stem the tide of doubt and skepticism that a lifetime of secular education has been pouring in.  Do I exaggerate?  Is this a favorite soup box of mine? Am I merely hyping up something for good newsletter fodder?  Well, I’m convinced ‘no’; it certainly is; and I sure hope not...respectively.   

So I want to leave you with just a couple of practical things after reflecting on all of this.  Our mission statement here for our college ministry starts off, “to equip college students to humbly proclaim, explain and defend the gospel…”.  Lots (most or all?) college ministries have an evangelistic center of their mission.  I’m not saying we don’t or shouldn’t, but I think what we understand “evangelistic” to mean is quite important, and often distorted.  It’s common enough to think of an event, like a Crusade, or a student going couch to couch in the student union and asking, “Can I have just a couple minutes of your time to talk about Jesus?”  Must I qualify again?  Well I will. I think that random evangelism can be just swell, and though I’m no historian or missiologist, I know that people get saved and greatly challenged by such encounters.  However, if the evangelist’s faith is hardly less shallow than the potential proselyte, then it's but by the grace of God for their faith to grow much deeper (Matt 13:20-21 soil).  It’s always grace, of course, but there are dire warnings about not building with straw or other pathetic “ministry” materials (1 Corinthians 3:1-15). It is the one who hears “and understands it” that both survives and thrives in grace (Matthew 13:23).  

At a minimum, I want to be both the kind of gospel laborer and lead a kind of gospel ministry that equips students to understand their faith deeply and rejoices deeper still.  I want to equip them to embrace the truth of the gospel with their minds so that they can further exult in God with their hearts.  It’s not a 100% one-directional thing, but we are transformed “by the renewal of our minds” by beholding the true God rightly (Romans 12:2; 2 Cor 3:18; this goes way beyond merely proving God exists, by the way).  

To the practical things I mentioned, I’m hoping to light a fire under some students toward starting a Christian journal on campus.  I’ve had a few conversations with some people who lead these across the country, and they’ve seen great fruit.  I’ll just leave you with the link .  I’m hopeful this could scratch a major intellectual itch in the minds of believers and unbelievers alike at our campus.  

“The heart cannot exult in what the mind rejects” is a great line (to which I credit Stephen Meyer, a favorite author and scientist).  Understanding apologetics as a means towards rejoicing might sound like a broad definition, so broad as to be not much more than “love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.”  I think we can get more specific, but at the same time, I’m alright with that.  Jesus summarized the Bible with a shorter statement: love God, love neighbor.  I think the battle of the mind over truth is a vital and costly fight, and I’m hoping to fight it well (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).  Would you pray for us, that God would enable us to do so?

ps.  If this blog sounds familiar, it's because I was re-reading a past newsletter, and thought "huh...that's really good, I'd like to post that again!"  :) What can I can, my past self struck a chord with my present self, I guess.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

"I am a woman trapped in a man's body."

“I am a woman trapped in a man's body.”  What explains THAT?


Apparently, yesterday was #transgenderdayofvisibility, as the hashtag lords have spoken.

 There’s a great deal to be said on the transgender issue, including the (not unimportant) political angle, such as CNN’s recent “report” that declared, “​It's not possible to know a person's gender identity at birth, and there is no consensus criteria for assigning sex at birth.”  

What I’m most interested in (here) is what would explain the two VERY different reactions to such a statement as that (and other comparable ones).  One reaction from my “progressive” friends is “Amen” (so to speak).  They, often enough, continue with something like “…all you hateful, bigoted transphobes who are “against” trans people ought to be ashamed of yourselves.  All these legislations do is “…permit discrimination against trans people.”  Disagreement and opposition to a statement like CNN’s, in other words, is nothing but pure, ignorant hatred.  

Other’s reactions amount to “What color is the sky in the world in which you live?  No one “assigns” sex at birth, and even if we did, we’d know exactly how to do it in virtually every case since the dawn of time.”  Not an unreasonable reaction, of course.  It’s one in which I agree. But my question is this: how do we have such different reactions?  It’s like oil and water on a hot day…it’s like yin and yang…it’s like a super nova vs a black hole.  I don’t know what, but those reactions ARE like people from different worlds.  

What explains that?

  Well, I just happen to have the answer!  Or, rather, Carl R. Trueman has the answer.  I just finished he masterfully clear, concise, scholarly-yet-accessible book “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self” (add subtitle which doesn’t actually help understand the book).  

He sets the stage of the book very helpfully with the following:

“The origins of this book lie in my curiosity about how and why a particular statement has come to be regarded as coherent and meaningful: ‘I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.’ My grandfather died in 1994, less than thirty years ago, and yet, had he ever heard that sentence uttered in his presence, I have little doubt that he would have burst out laughing and considered it a piece of incoherent gibberish. And yet today it is a sentence that many in our society regard s not only meaningful but so significant that to deny it or question is in some way is to reveal oneself as stupid, immoral, or subject to yet another irrational phobia.  And those who think of it as meaningful are not restricted to the veterans of college seminars or queer theory or French poststructuralism.  They are ordinary people with little or no direct knowledge of the critical postmodern philosophizes whose advocates swagger along the corridors of our most hallowed centers of learning.  … In short, to move from the commonplace thinking of my grandfather’s world to that of today demands a host of key shifts in popular beliefs in these and other areas.  It is the story of those shifts…that I seek to address in subsequent chapters.”

And address it he does!  With vigor, wit, precision, historical, philosophical and theological insight that is necessary to get thru the otherwise often incomprehensibleness of the modern transgender movement (ala his grandpa’s reaction, which I think is still shared by many).

He adds, “At the heart of this book lies a basic conviction: the so-called sexual revolution of the last sixty years, culminating in its latest triumph - the normalization of transgenderism - cannot be properly understood until it is set within the context of a much broader transformation in how society understand the nature of human selfhood."

“Understanding”.  A simple concept, and one which you think everyone could agree is a great goal before we start lobbing accusations and claims around.  You’d be wrong.  Virtually no-one is actually interested in true understanding.  

So, the whole post is basically nothing but one long commendation to read Trueman’s book.  I would suggest that any thinking christian in the 21st century basically needs to have a working understanding of what is going on in our culture.  I have a hunch that no other resource will be as helpful for many years to come, then Carl Trueman’s “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self”.

The first chapter or two can be listened to here for free.  You can purchase it via Amazon, or less discriminating and censorious places like Crossway (same link).  

Here is Neil Shenvi’s *EXCELLENT* review/summary, “Liquid Souls”. 

Here’s Shenvi's conclusion (though I’d suggest reading the whole review, it’s not long): 
“In summary, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self is crucial reading for all Christians and especially Christian pastors trying to understand the underlying assumptions at work in the culture around us. I will say loudly what Trueman says softly: *THESE IDEAS ARE DEADLY* [my emphasis]. They are grounded in a denial of human nature, they are predicated upon an understanding of reality that views God’s commands as evil and oppressive, and they sow seeds of misery, fragility, and discord wherever they go. Those are the Tweetable bullet points. But if you want depth (and you should want depth), read the book.”

Other books for this #transgenderdayofvisibility should include: 

“When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment” by Ryan T. Anderson.  Excellent and very narrowed on this issue. 

“Love Thy Body” - by Nancey Pearcey, which has a couple chapters on transgenderism, as well as a broader approach.  It is super duper as well. 

Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing our Daughters” by Abigail Shrier.  I have not read this yet, though I’ve listened to a few interview of hers, and she’s very helpful.  I actually disagree with her on a handful of rather significant points, but I think her main thrust is extremely necessary right now.  And given how dangerous it is to say such things in this climate, the more people with the guts to do so, the merrier.

Monday, October 5, 2020

You Should Fear a 15lb Canon Ball to the Face

John Piper gave an analogy once (here, a couple paragraphs down under "A Holy Fear"), in which he likened the fear of God, for a believer, to being caught in the middle of a raging snow storm while hiking a glacier.  The storm is terrifying to behold, but being a believer is like being safe inside a cleft of a rock, safe and protected from the storm raging just feet away.  The storm is still terrifying, and to step outside the safety of the cleft would be certain death.  Yet, you are safe inside, much like being safe in Christ.  "Perfect love casts out fear", in other words, doesn't reject that the storm is still a storm.  It's just that you are safe and no longer fear it in that way.

This video might be another apt illustration.

He says "I trust the conservation of energy 100%."  He trusts his understanding of the laws of physics, in other words.  And he proves it, as you can enjoy watching for yourself (!). 

He does prove his trust in those laws.  Yes indeed.  But...not without fear. :)  

Monday, February 18, 2019

Creation: Why you Should Get a Haircut and get a Real Job

You can, if you were to be so silly, write an entire english paper in a Spreadsheet program.  It’s doable, but it will be a difficult, awkward affair to say the least. 
Christians are often in a similar situation with regard to how we think we’re supposed to live our lives in this world.  A substantial source of the problem is that we’re trying to fit our lives into the wrong software: a mistaken understanding of why the world exists and what we are created to do in it. To a degree, we understand that people need saving so we don’t go to hell but dwell with God forever...but where that fits into the larger picture is almost completely lost on us. .
First though consider again the reality that you don’t need to exist.  Our existence is contingent, unnecessary, unneeded.  We might not have been at all.  God didn’t need us, and he is not served by us “as though he needed anything.”  Logically starting here is truly crucial if you are to have a truthful and moral life.  Because, as we touched on last week, the whole of created reality exists for one ultimate purpose: to make much of God.  He wanted to display himself, to show his power, to make known his that his glory might shine brightest through His Mercy - Rom 9:22–23 “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, [23] in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—.”  So all things exist to display God in all his fullness.  But, we aren’t left in the dark regarding how that happens and what our role in that is supposed to be.  We have a written record. As  Genesis 1:1; 26-31 records,
“[1] In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  [26] Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
[27] So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. [28] And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” [29] And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. [30] And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. [31] And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”  So let’s break this down a bit.
Sin-free Goodness
First of all, to start where the text ends, God declares everything he made “very good”.   For starters, it means that whatever plans and purposes God had for the glorification of his name, those purposes were prior to sin.  This means that mission or evangelism is not primary: missions are not the ultimate goal and purpose of our lives.  The world was full of potential, and God gave instruction about this world prior for any need of mission/evangelism.  This doesn’t mean mission/evangelism is unimportant: a sinner’s most urgent need is to hear that Jesus died to forgive their sins before a righteous God of judgement.  But God declaring his created purposes “very good” prior to sin does mean that there is purpose for absolutely everything else that doesn’t fall under the category of mission/evangelism...which is a lot.  This really matters, since both in creation and in the “new heavens and new earth” there will be no mission, no outreach.  Both the beginning & end of history there will be no evangelistic activity.  So, what was the idea at the beginning, and how does that influence us now?  Let’s consider the text a bit and see...
He’s a “Yes God”, so it’s a “Yes World”  
Notice that the first commandment God gives is not a prohibition but provision: Gen 1:29  “And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.”  The same in Genesis 2:16  “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden…”.  You’ll notice the ellipsis there because the next phrase is “but, you may not eat…”.  What comes before the “but” is lost on us: the first commandments are blessings and provisions: “Behold, I’ve given you food…” “Here’s some deliciousness to eat...”.  He is, in short, a “Yes God”, not a stingy God; not a hands-off-the-fine-china God.  This is who God is, it’s what he is like: it pleased him to give, and to lavish in abundance.  Since this is what God is like, it is the reason why it’s “more blessed to give than to receive”.  Why? Because we are like God, and it is his nature to be pleased to give & provide: He gets glory as the giver.  Adam had only two things to say in response: 1) “thanks!” and 2) “mmmmm”.  Both of which glorify the giver: Adam’s “mmmm” was the first ever “compliments to the chef”.  A chef & his restaurant patrons - patrons get pleasure, and the Chef gets glory.                
Paul picks up this creation truth, in 1 Tim 4:1–4  “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons…[what’s the demonic teaching?} [3] who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. [4] For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving…”.  He says later in chp 6:17 “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.”  Richly Provides...for what purpose? A: enjoyment.  NOW...the enjoyment God intends is not intended to terminate merely in the enjoyment of the enjoyer.  Like God, the joy spills over again toward others: 1T6:18 “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share…”  More on that to follow.

Stewards, Workers & Families
The creation pattern can be broken down into at least roles or callings for mankind: stewards, workers and family makers. We’ll consider mostly the second two for times’ sake.
Stewards - responsibility to care for and protect our world.  In short, Dominion & Subdue ≠ “do what I want”, but do what I must to care for God’s world.  We are to make it beautiful, cultivating, creating and crafting a world to it’s limitless potential. 
Workers - To be a worker is to have the joy of being “fruitful”.  If I had a nickel for every time I heard “I don’t know how my faith informs my job”.  This struggle to know how to push our faith into all corners of our lives is because we have a very limited understanding of the creation mandate found in Genesis 1-2.  When it says “be fruitful and multiply”, it is not repetition, “multiply and multiply”.  Adam was instructed to be fruitful with his live and his wife.  V28 “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion…”.  We might say, rather than “God instructs us to be fruitful with our lives”,  that the very definition of what it means to “have a life” is “fruitfulness”.  Or to put it negatively, you don’t have a life unless you’re fruitful.  That was certainly presumed in the first instructions from God to Man: Be full of fruit.  And as it this regards the enjoyment mention, it is not the kind of enjoyment that is passive.  It is not the kind of enjoyment of sitting on a beach, sipping rum in retirement, “enjoying” the sunset every day, being waited on hand and foot.  The enjoyment is enjoined with travel plans: “fill the earth, subdue it”.    
Families - “multiply”. As God created in an overflow of his joy and love, so we are instructed to create as an overflow of our love of wife/husband.  Here, again, is a built-in fruitfulness: the sexual union between humans that God blesses is a union that produces (it is, in fact, the only one).  The fruit of the marriage bed is children.  With children comes responsibility and more opportunities to be fruitful for the sake of others, for the good/joy of others.  As my wife recently commented, children are among the best gifts that God teaches us what life is all about: namely, for the sake of others, since children require this of us.  This is why the presumption of “birth-control” is so terrible: because Divorce is terrible.   We divorce the fruit from the tree - the marriage bed is designed to produce fruit, and offspring are wedded to the nature of marriage.  So, when we presume “the pill”, we presume a new order to things: marriage w/out children, like an apple tree with no apples (or at least, only apples until we are darn good and ready).   [[pseudo-caveat: we know, now, that singleness is a gift; and while the presumption of “the pill”l is ungodly, the mere use of contraception is not necessarily a problem.  It’s simply that the passage in Genesis 1-2 has nothing about this caveat...hence it’s brevity.]
Closing Applications:
What ought a proper and growing grasp of these truths produce (pun intended) in you?  
  1. An eagerness to Work - a proper and growing grasp of God’s creational designs should produce eagerness to produce: to be fruitful.  Yes, share the gospel at work; yes use your income in culturally defying ways (give a lot) for missions, for service; yes start a Bible study at your workplace, pray for open doors with co-workers: yes and amen to all of that!  But first know the purpose of work: gain eyes to see the great enjoyment of creating, producing, molding, writing, building...because God created us to, and like God, we take joy in creating, in being fruitful and subduing the earth.
  2. Eagerness to make your life about something other than yourself - your life is for purposes beyond you: tending and keeping (being a steward); fruit is consumed by others, and is meant to be produced with that in mind.
  3. Eagerness to marry and raise children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord - not just marry, but marry without principally divorcing the fruit of that marriage: children.  Marriage is more than this, but I highlight it here because the Genesis account highlights it, and the role of men, women and purpose of marriage is so terribly confused and rejected in our modern era.
All of this, of course, is very good...but all of it is broken.  It is hard.  And we are ourselves broken and don’t desire as we ought.  We call this “The Fall”, and we’ll turn to it next week.  But for now, the first and consistent answer to obedience to this is repentance of sin and salvation from our saviour, Jesus Christ.  Only through Jesus are we able to reclaim God’s designs for us.

Monday, January 21, 2019


I recently read an article by Challies, Why You Shouldn’t Stop Blogging (or Why You Should Consider Starting).

It was good, and kinda motivated me to get back at the blog, with perhaps some added content from time to time.  

This entry may perhaps be merely a prayer request to pray for wisdom for me.  I'm thinking that creating "blog versions" of my messages (or some of them) might be of some value and interest to at least some of you.  You'd get an insight into what we're talking about on a regular basis at Equip on Wednesday nights, and it would do all the things that Challies talks about in that article.  

So, perhaps!  How's that for vague and non-commital?  But fear not, I'll at least fulfill the desire with a single entry, forthcoming, a summary/blog-version of last week's Equip message: "Creation: Why You Should Get a Haircut and Get a Real Job".  

Thursday, November 8, 2018

A Window into weird

Just fyi, this is the kind of thing that happens when you work with college students.

I was talking the other day about ordering pizza for our debate viewing we did this past Monday night.  I was also thinking about eating popcorn, and said "we could eat [something, something]...".  Obviously, it was just a confused sentence, and I moved on.  But these two ladies (Hannah and Mary) took me literally, and brought some "popcorn pizza".