On Pilgrims And Doors

“It is a dangerous business… going out your door. You step into the road and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
— Bilbo Baggins to Frodo

I believe that God sends to us the conversation partners that we need at any particular time in our life. These are often friends who help us to sort through difficult issues that we are facing. For me, however, some of my best conversation partners have been great books.

I am facing some important decisions and potential changes in my life over the next few months and I have just discovered a wonderful conversation partner. It is a brand new book calledIn Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness and Heart of Christianity written by Dr. Jim Belcher. The theme of the book is pilgrimage.

Dr. Belcher took his wife and four small children on a pilgrimage across England and Europe to help them experience many of the great heroes of the Christian faith. Belcher explains in the first chapter that his goal is multifaceted. He wants his children to truly embrace the Christian faith and know the stories of such people as C. S. Lewis, William Wilberforce, Corrie ten Boom, and even Maria von Trapp (from the “Sound of Music”).

But Belcher takes the pilgrimage himself as well. He wants a renewed sense of love and devotion to the Lord and seeing and experiencing the places where such great Christian men and women walked helped to bring him back to his love and away from the burnout he and his wife Michelle were facing.

The book begins with their time in Oxford and a trip to the site of the burning of Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer. Belcher’s prose here is mesmerizing. Far from a dry history lecture, the lives of these three men come alive, and their deaths are written about with care, accuracy, and emotion.

Belcher mentions his trip up the stairs to see the representation of the cell in which Kranmer was kept until he was burned at the stake. On the way up the stairs, they pass a door which is the actual door behind which Kranmer was kept. Dr. Belcher goes on to poetically remind the reader of how important doors are to a pilgrimage.

This first chapter is both challenging (particularly for Christian parents) as well as affirming. I believe that this book will be one of the most important conversation partners of the last 15 years for me and I look forward to sharing with you more lessons from upcoming chapters.
If you would like to order the book (and I highly, highly recommend it) click on the link below. It’s a book that you should read with your entire family.

In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness and Heart of Christianity

Onward,

SamLam

P.S. Full disclosure-Dr. Belcher is a colleague of mine at Knox Seminary, but a good book is a good book. And this is a great book!

Does God desire all people to enter heaven?

I’ll be teaching Sunday School at Cross Community Church this week. Each week we choose a difficult ethical question about Christianity and try to deal with it from the Scriptures.

This week we will be asking the question “Does God desire that all people go to heaven?” Of course, being Reformed, we believe that God has chosen some to salvation. How then can one believe that God makes such choices and still wants all to enter heaven? This is a question that has confounded many and not an easy one to answer. If you would like to be a part of the discussion, or just sit and listen, please make your way to the Cross this Sunday morning. We would love to see you there.

If you would like to read more about this question from a Reformed standpoint a good place to start is with John Piper’s new booklet (it is only about 50 pages). You can find it here:

Does God Desire All to Be Saved?

Blessings,
DrSamLam

Speaking this Week

I’ll be speaking Wednesday night, October 23 at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. The title of the message will be “All that I needed to learn, I learned in Vacation Bible School.” It will be a message on the closing story of the sermon on the mount; the house on the sand and the rock. If your life feels like you are without stability and you need to know what or whom you can really depend upon, come on over to 5555 North Federal Highway at 6:30. I know I need this message, and perhaps you do as well.

The message will be short (about 20 minutes) and will remind us all that there is only one rock and dependence upon anything else will ultimately be a failure. I’ll look forward to seeing you there.

If you’d like to learn about the sermon on the mount, a new book by Scot McKnight has just been published and I am enjoying it immensely. It not only deals with the grammatical topics raised in the sermon, but is full of practical advice about how to apply Jesus’ message to our own lives. I recommend it highly. You can get it from Amazon (and help out with the cost of the blog) by clicking below.

Sermon on the Mount (Story of God Bible Commentary, The)

I’m teaching Sunday School regularly now and will be putting up the topics for discussion each week. I’ll put up this week’s topic tomorrow.

No Joy Allowed in This Church!

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.

Psalm 5:11 (NIV)

As some of you know, I preached last week at Coral Ridge. You can find it at http://www.crpc.org/media/sermon/the-pressures-off—part-5  (though I would not recommend it). As happens to me sometimes, I said some things that the congregation found funny. This week the church received a stinging phone call that excoriated them for allowing someone to introduce humor into the pulpit (after all, what could be worse than joy when the people of God meet together?).

Thinking about this, I was reminded of a couple of things from the great Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon’s style was so loose he was criticized again and again for bordering on frivolity in the Tabernacle pulpit. One can read his writings today and still laugh out loud. Certain incensed fellow clergymen railed against his habit of introducing humor into his sermons. With a twinkle in his eye, he once replied: “If only you knew how much I hold back, you would commend me. I would rather have the congregation laugh a little than sleep a lot, though of course, those are not the only two alternatives.

In his book Lectures to My Students Spurgeon has a chapter called “The Blind Eye and the Deaf Ear.” In it he has the wise advice: “You cannot stop people’s tongues, and therefore the best thing is to stop your own ears and never mind what is spoken.” I have found that helpful in my time in the ministry.

Let me say that this does not mean, nor did Spurgeon mean, that we ought to ignore those who bring us complaints. He only meant that there are some who bring nothing but complaints and have no other aim but to hurt. After all, I stood at the front of the church for nearly a half-hour and the caller did not come to me then; my number and email address is very easy to find, yet the caller made use of neither one of them. This shows me that the purpose of the call was not to be helpful (and I will admit that sometimes I get carried away) but to be destructive. To those such comments there is nothing better than the “blind eye and the deaf ear.”

I am convinced that Jesus laughed and laughed loudly. The false description of Jesus, coming from the ninth century A.D. that includes the statement “no man has seen him laugh” needs to be stricken from our churches. Please don’t write to me telling me that Jesus was a “man of sorrows.” I know that and I am very familiar with the Isaiah 53 description. This does not mean, however, that he was continually sorrowful.

There are several times in the Psalms that God is said to laugh. The number of times that Jesus says things that were obviously Semitic humor through overstatement is high (log in your eye; camel through the eye of a needle; a man owed 10,000 talents). But the most obvious evidence for the laughter of Jesus is that children loved him.

So I will admit that sometimes I say funny things. There are times that I mean to say such things and other times when it just happens. But the Gospel is (in the classical sense of the word) a comedy. A story with such problems that it can never work out, and then comes the most unlikely of characters to save the day. Jesus is the ultimate such character and I look forward to sitting down to a banquet with him. I’ll be the one laughing.

Back from Korea (1)

I arrived back home from Korea on Saturday evening tired and sore, but thrilled that I have been given such opportunities. It never ceases to amaze me that the Lord allows me such an amazing privilege. I’ll give a quick summary of the trip and try to get my photos posted on Facebook if you should like to see them (I should have them up by Monday night/Tuesday morning).

Cindy and I left on Friday Morning from West Palm to Atlanta. From Atlanta we took the flight of slightly over 14 hours to Seoul. Since Seoul is 14 hours ahead of Eastern Time, we arrived on Saturday night to meet up with Dr. Gage who arrived by a different flight about ten minutes after we did. Meeting us were my friends Nathan and Dr. Sohn who are always incredibly gracious and punctual. I fly to Korea without either of their phone numbers or addresses, simply trusting that they will be there. They always are and I never worry at all. We put on our coats (it can be very cold in Seoul this time of the year and snow stayed on the ground the whole time we were in Korea) and headed out to the van.

Dr. Sohn and Nathan took us out to a wonderful supper at a beautiful Korean restaurant. Dr. Sohn made sure that a female student came along to the dinner to make Cindy feel more comfortable. She (her western name was Augie, many Asians choose a western name to make it easier for us to pronounce/remember) was from Mongolia and planned to study counseling at the seminary.

Service in Asia seems to be on a whole different level from the U.S. One example will communicate the difference. Cindy and Dr. Gage asked for a diet Coke to drink, while I asked for Sprite. My Sprite came out immediately but the diet Cokes took a little time. When someone asked why they took so long, the server explained to our friends (who translated for us) that they did not have diet Coke and had to send someone out to the store to get it. I can’t say that I have ever had that happen in the states.

One of the things that we (Knox professors) do in Korea, in addition to teaching at Reformed Theological Seminary in Seoul, is preach at a Korean Church while we are there. I learned on the ride from the airport that I was slated to preach at a church that is pastored by Dr. Abraham Park. The church sits on a mountain that is owned by the congregation and has a large number of buildings for worship because the members could never fit into one building. I was told that between the worshipers in the building and those watching on closed circuit, there would be over 20,000 people watching and listening to the sermon. I had a terrible fear that at any moment someone was going to come up to me and say, “there has been a terrible mistake, we thought you were someone else, someone taller.” One of the things that I use to try to “break down the fourth wall” between speaker and listener is humor. This tool though is almost totally worthless when speaking through an interpreter. Between the fact that all humor is language and culturally based (even humor that does not depend on wordplay needs a certain “rhythm” to be effective) and the fact that my self-deprecating humor is not culturally acceptable in Asia, it was a difficult time for me. I knew that I had no business speaking at such an incredible place, but the Lord was faithful and I did my best not to embarrass Knox Seminary or myself. I always feel unworthy when I preach, but this was a very special case and I felt especially like I had no business being on the platform. In spite of all that, several spoke to me about how they had been blessed. The Lord uses even our worst to bring honor to the Kingdom.

After finishing speaking Cindy, Nathan (my interpreter for the week who did an incredible job) and I were taken to one of the church “restaurants.” We were fed a delicious meal and within a half an hour of the benediction I was brought a DVD of the service. I was flabbergasted. Next we were taken to a museum of the collection of Biblical artifacts belonging to Dr. Park and Kenneth Vines.

In the collection were incredible archeological pieces from the time of Christ and before. This was truly one of the high points of my trip because we had the place all to ourselves and had a very knowledgeable guide. I would have loved to have spent more time there but I was feeling the effects of jet-lag (kind of like now as I write this at four in the morning my time, six at night in Seoul) so we headed back to the hotel, a very nice one only a few minutes from where Dr. Gage and I would be teaching from Monday through Friday.

On Monday the class began, which was an exegetical overview of the Sermon on the Mount. Many of the students were assistant pastors or evangelists from Dr. Park’s church so most of them knew me, either from another class or from the sermon on Sunday.

Next, I’ll write about the class itself as well as some of the interesting side trips that Cindy and I took into downtown Seoul. I’ll tell you some very interesting things that I learned from my students, as well as some cultural differences that can affect teaching.

Blogs for the New Year; Sermon from December 30

One of my resolutions for this year is to get back to blogging more often. I have quite a few ideas, but I hope to finish one this week. It will answer the question of why Knox Seminary requires students to read pagan poets and philosophers. I believe that there are very good reasons for this reading so check back later in the week to find out what they are. If you have other questions or issues that you would like to get my take on, just let me know.

On December 30 I was the guest speaker at Rio Vista Community Church. I spoke on the passage from Matthew 2 and the sadness that often follows Christmas. If you would like to listen, you can find the audio here http://riovistachurch.com/?s=lamerson

This morning (Jan 6) I spoke at Coral Ridge and will post the link to that sermon as soon as I have it.

I am never satisfied with my sermons, but God is gracious and uses His word despite the speaker. I hope you are blessed.

Happy New Year,

SamLam

My Visit to China-1

It was mid July and I was speaking to a group of Chinese students about what happened on this same day in 64 AD when Nero started the fire that burned Rome. Because he blamed it on the Christians, a great deal of persecution followed the event. I could not help but think about how many other people in this country of China had faced the same sort of persecution for their faith. Yet the room where I spoke (I can’t reveal much detail here) was packed despite the excessive heat, overcrowding, and lack of proper air-conditioning. These students desperately wanted to learn about the Scripture.

While things have changed in China, it is still a communist country and a foreigner like me was not allowed to teach in an illegal (yet acknowledged) school. I was a little nervous at times, but thought that if these people were willing to take the chance then I could do the same. They, after all risked jail. I doubted that they would arrest an American (but I didn’t know for sure).
It was clear that most of the students were poor even by Chinese standards. Yet they saw my coming as a great and wonderful opportunity to learn. In other teaching situations I usually hear begging from students to be let out early. Here I heard genuine requests to be kept late. I taught from 8:30-5:30 each day (with a lunch break) and the students would come back at night to study what I had taught during the day.

I don’t think that I have ever felt more loved or appreciated by a group of students than I did in China. On the last day the translator said to me “the students have a gift for you.” I was afraid that they had taken what little money they had and purchased me something but what I received was much more valuable. They wanted to sing for me a Chinese blessing on my work and travels. It was a very moving experience.
Yes, I saw the great wall, which was spectacular. I witnessed amazing Chinese acrobats. I walked on Tianamen square and entered the Forbidden City. Yet nothing was so amazing as what God is doing in Beijing. Please pray for my friends in China. They are beautiful children of God.

This is the first of several blogs about my visit to China. I’ll tell more about some of the customs and culture (public spitting, crowds everywhere, beautiful countryside) in my next post.

Baseball in Air-Conditioning

Let’s begin this with the admission that there are a lot of things that I don’t know. I have a friend who out of college had a job as Madeline Albright’s traveling helper. I had jobs as a chicken outside of a chicken restaurant, the moon-headed “Mac-Tonight” character for McDonalds (don’t worry Ronald is real, only Mac Tonight was fake), and the magician at way too many children’s birthday parties to count. Let’s just say that my mental dinning room set might be missing a chair. Even though I am willing to admit that I don’t know a lot of things, there are few things that I know. One of them is that BASEBALL SHOULD NOT BE PLAYED INSIDE.

Josiah, Charity, and I went to the Marlins-Cubs game today at the new “Miami Marlin’s Stadium.” It reminded me of the times when they were little and we used to go to the minor league West Palm Beach Expos games at least once a week; of the times when they were a little older and we used to ride the EL down to Wrigley in the spring. It was great to see the ivy starting to come back, to feel the slight chill of the spring air, and even to get rained on sometimes. That was all part of the experience; part of the game; part of the tradition.

The new Marlin’s stadium is beautiful inside. There are aquariums behind home plate, though I can imagine what the fish think when a ninety-seven mile an hour fast-ball get fouled off right into their face. That can’t be good for the fish’s heart and I noticed that they were not kissing the glass after than happened. There are wonderful seats, and thanks to my friend, I had some of the best in the ballpark. Even the worst seats seem pretty close to the action and capable of getting a foul ball. The skyline of Miami is nice, if you like that kind of thing, and the home run “congratulatory marlin spinning in a circle while water shoots out” seemed nice, though it was not needed during the game and I wonder how often it will be needed during the season.

The real problem that I had was that we were sitting in air-conditioned comfort. Isn’t part of loving baseball something about suffering? You suffer when your team does poorly (I am a Cubs fan and an expert at this particular skill); you suffer when a great player gets hurt; you suffer when a foul ball glances off you your hand and a girl (a girl) in back of you gets it, although this has never happened to me (as far as you know); and you suffer when you watch the game in South Florida because it’s hot. That’s part of the deal. That’s what the true fan signs up for. That’s what baseball is all about. Just like the Tom Hanks character says in “A League of Their Own,” “There’s no crying in baseball;” I want to say “There’s no air-conditioning in baseball.”

How am I supposed to conjure up memories of Wrigley field on a cold night in October when I am sitting in climate-controlled freshness? How can I remember taking the kids to a warm day game, smelling grass (as well the grass on the field), seeing the fans sitting on top of the apartment building on Sheffield avenue, watching the bleacher bums throwing back home run balls, and slowly viewing the night overtake the city of Chicago?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad the Marlin’s have their own stadium. I glad that I no longer have to sit in the “end-zone” trying to see the pitch from a crooked seat, far out in left field. I’m not glad, however, that I have to do it inside. It just doesn’t seem right to me.

Maybe I’m just a grouchy old man, but I want the same experience I had when the kids were little. I guess I’ll never get that. Now that they have jobs they won’t depend on me to buy their snacks and souvenirs. They won’t depend on me to make sure that they don’t get lost in the crowd. They don’t need to depend on me to protect them anymore. Maybe it’s that which I miss more than the outside play. Maybe I just long for the time when I was the dad who would do “anything” if asked by one of my little aliens. Maybe I long for the past instead of the stadium.

But game moves on. We all realize that we will eventually be in the later innings of our life and we know that sooner or later, even if there are extra innings, the game is going to come to an end. Maybe I just want one more game like we had back then.

Like I said, there are lots of things I don’t know. But I do know that I have had some great times at baseball games and that all of them have been outside. But for now I’ll take an inside game and think back to when the ivy was coming back, Harry Caray was still leading “Take Me Out To the Ballgame,” my kids thought going to the game on the EL was a great adventure, and the Cubs flag held up a W. Memories like these are golden trophies that don’t need polishing. Time makes them shine. Maybe time will make today such a memory, because it was still baseball, inside or not.

BLOG AND MAYBLOG: God’s judgment on blogs and Facebook posts

A lie can get around the world twice while the truth is still putting on its pants.
– A. Lincoln

While Abe Lincoln could not have foreseen the Internet, his words could have been spoken with blogs and Facebook posts in mind. Two events happened this morning to remind me of what a terrible thing the Internet can be. No, I don’t speak of porn, political ads, or even the misuse of chimps on YouTube clips. Rather I speak of “Christian” blogs and Facebook posts.

This morning I was made aware of two events the likes of which happen all too frequently on the web. The first was a Facebook post attacking a theologian who not only has forgotten more about the Bible than I will ever know, but how is also one of the most Godly men that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. The post was unkind, unfair, and worst of all, untrue. It was posted, of course, by another Christian who wanted to “warn others of the error.” The difference between warning others of error and taking potshots at a brother or sister seems to me to be the same line that is used to distinguish between sharing gossip and sharing “prayer request for (insert name here) who was caught doing (insert sin that no one knows you are guilty of here).

To make bad matters even worse the post shared links to blogs that mischaracterized this gracious gentleman in even shoddier terms. I suppose the Facebook poster could claim that he was “simply sharing information for those who desired it.” Unfortunately, this claim does not absolve anyone from the sin of bearing false witness.

After hearing and reading about the Facebook post I learned of another problem. A student at a particular school found negative information about the school and some of its faculty on (need I even say it) blogs. The student, rather than going to his professors, went to some of those named on the blogs and became convinced that he had entered an institution that was not orthodox. Again, the Internet at its finest.

After hearing about these events, I was reading (providentially) Genesis 37. This is the start of the Joseph story. In Genesis 37:2 the text says, “Joseph brought a bad report of them [his brothers] to their father.” The verse here seems to indicate that Joseph was wrong in bringing this report. In fact Wenham, in his Word Biblical Commentary, translates the phrase as “Joseph told tales” and later points out that the Hebrew word used for this action is “always used elsewhere in a negative sense of an untrue report.” Thus Joseph’s “report bringing” is indeed a negative action. A reminder to all of us to be careful about the “tales” that we tell.

The Westminster confession (as well as many other confessions) in speaking about the Ten Commandments, reminds us that while the commands are mostly negative, that they imply positive actions. So, for example, the command not to kill implies that we are also to try to save those who are being killed (in Nazi Germany for example). We are commanded not to lie, but this also implies that we are to do our best to set the truth straight when we can. That is we are commanded to try to protect those who have been lied about, not to pass on unconfirmed attacks and slander.

This sort of slander and hateful speech is a terrible sin. It harms the Church of our Lord, and hurts individuals in ways that we can only imagine. There are those who argue that the great pastor Charles Spurgeon’s life was shortened as a result of his battles with those who were jealous gossips, passing along whatever negative statement they could find, regardless of its truthfulness.

Lest you get the wrong idea, I certainly am not against all blogs or the Internet (it seems unnecessary to state this since you are reading it on a blog, but I wanted to be clear). I only mean to communicate the need for us all to be careful about what we say and be particularly careful (because it lasts so much longer and is so much more public) about what we post, tweet, re-tweet, blog, wall-to-wall, “like,” or even point our browsers toward.

Let us all post with the knowledge that one day we will stand before God and he will ask us “Did you check those facts before you posted that?” What will we say? I used to sing a song in Sunday School that reminded us to “be careful little feet where you go, or be careful little eyes what you see.” In this Internet age we could add another verse to the song, “be careful little fingers what you post.” Let us all strive to “tell the truth” even when it might be inconvenient.

*Blog and Mayblog is the name of Doug Wilson’s blog. I wish that I had thought of it.