My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"
25 December 2005
Ps. - I'm happy to report that my sermon on the geneaology of Jesus in Matthew 1 went well. It seemed to be a lot of fun for people to take time to think through the list. (Sermon posting coming soon)
23 December 2005
“We purpose as a congregation”
To live and proclaim the reformed faith and biblical worship
- By living our theology in making church planting a continual priority with bold faith in God’s sovereignty and purpose in bringing Himself glory through growing His church
- By continually planting joyfully reformed churches who stand solidly upon the doctrines of grace and the Biblical worship of God
Isaiah 60:1-2 Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.
To joyfully serve and send those who God brings to us into ministries around the world
- By Great Commission work of planting churches committed to missions local and worldwide
- By planting churches that have the most opportunity for finding, training and sending new laborers to the ends of the earth
Matthew 9:38 pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
To be salt and light to the earth by living out the Mediatorial Kingship of Christ
- By planting churches that have the most opportunity for bringing God’s kingdom on earth by discipling individuals, families, cities, and nations with the gospel of Christ
- By planting churches committed to ministries of true religion: caring for the poor, the widows and the orphans (James 1:27)
Jeremiah 29:7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
To train and equip men and women to be effective laborers for Christ
- By planting multiplying, church-planting churches, believing God uses church planting to raise up laborers, exponentially increasing opportunities for service in the church, training in leadership, and increased responsibility in ministry
- By planting churches committed to equipping men and women according to their gifts for the work of ministry
2 Timothy 2:2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.
22 December 2005
From the introduction:
There is hardly an area of biblical theology more troublesome to the Christian conscience than the so-called imprecatory psalms - psalms that declare a desire for God's just vengeance to fall upon enemies. They naturally evoke a reaction of revulsion in Christians schooled in the "law of Christ." [see the letter of the lady in the previous post]
...Since the character of God does not change, the essence of his ethical requirements does not change. Therefore, as the imprecatory psalms were at times appropriate on the lips of believers before the Incarnation, so they - or their like - are at times appropriate on the lips of believers today. There is a time and place to call for tangible, temporal divine judgment; there is, indeed, a "time to curse."
If [God] is to save his people from sin, oppression, and injustice, he must exact vengeance upon his enemies - the enemies of his people...Yahweh is a God who saves his people; but without God's vengeance against his enemies, there can be no salvation for his people.
Day helpfully gives four reasons why it's right for Christians to cry out for vengeance and violence:
1. "the vengeance appealed for is not personally enacted. Rather, God is called upon to be the Avenger."
2. "this appeal is based upon the covenant promises of God"
3. "both testaments record examples of God's people on earth calling down curses or crying for vengeance"
4. "Scripture further records an instance in which God's people in heaven, where there is no sin, cry out for divine vengeance and are comforted by the assurance of its impending enactment (Rev. 6:9-11)"
Instead of throwing out these songs of violence, as some have tried to do (yes, Isaac Watts, I'm looking at you), it is when we understand them Biblically and have a passion for God's glory and His church that we can sing them while worshipping in spirit and truth.
20 December 2005
First, here's the responding letter:
Using religion to justify state killing
I never cease to be amazed at how easy it is for some people to use (and misuse) religion to justify their political biases. The author of a Dec. 16 letter, "Redemption not in the job description," came close to saying that if America doesn't execute its capital offenders, it is somehow dishonoring God.
If the writer is Christian, it would seem that he might have concentrated his Bible studies in the first five books of the Old Testament -- the so-called "Books of Law" -- and that he altogether skipped the New Testament, where biblical law was replaced by Jesus' teachings of grace and forgiveness.
But Bible teachings aside, I, like many other Americans (Christians and non-Christians alike), reject capital punishment based solely on innate human values and common sense.
Consider the following questions: How does a society teach that killing is immoral by killing its killers? Why is the United States the last industrialized country on earth to ban capital punishment ("godless Russia" included)? Why do so many people talk about "justice" when they really mean "revenge"? Why do some persons believe that executions offer more protection to society than "life without the chance of parole"?
Perhaps it's true that some people are so evil that they don't deserve to live. But I, like so many others, am against state-sanctioned killing not because I feel sympathy for the offenders, but because I want our country to stand for higher and nobler ideals.
Sigh. I suspect any religiously-tinged letter should expect to find some party calling it biased by political positions. Oh well, I can't deny that I am biased; I can only hope my biases come from Scripture and emanate toward the world around me rather than the other way around.
Apparently, I came close to saying that if the government doesn't kill capital offenders, it dishonors God. Well then, I didn't go far enough, so let me state plainly: Any government that refuses to kill capital offenders dishonors God. Genesis 9:6 Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. (There I go using those darn "books of the Law" again.) God Himself says this is the way it works: if a man murders another and the murderer's life is not taken, then an affront has been made upon the King of Heaven Himself, because justice (which God alone gets to define) has not been accomplished on behalf of the precious life made in His image.
Next up, the dangers of dispensationalism. Having no insight into the religion of the letter's writer, I can only comment that her note on Scripture is what any good dispensationalist would say, and a perfect example of how they cut the heart out of Scripture. To say that the Old Testament law has been replaced by Jesus' teaching on grace and forgiveness is so outlandish that it's hard to know where to begin. How about with Jesus' own words: Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Mt. 5:17) The New Testament is full of harsh, law-type language and the Old Testament has plenty of forgiveness and grace (Micah 7:19 - He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.) Any time you hear someone say that a part of Scripture was "replaced" by another, run. Not only are they wrong, but they're so wrong that it might be contagious.
Following her disappointing Scriptural explanation, the author rejects capital punishment based on (1) innate human values and (2) common sense. God will be so glad to get that memo. Um, God? Yeah, we know Scripture says stuff about the government's sword (and isn't that in the books of the law? It's not? Oh well) but we all decided that it's best to do away with all this killing stuff. Why? Well, because it seems to all of us to be wrong and it doesn't make much sense. What's that? Yeah, I suppose such an attitude does mean we don't care what you think and that we've become our own gods. But we're pretty sure we can handle it from here on out. Thanks for the help, though.
Let's now take up the author's charge and consider her questions. How does a society teach that killing is immoral by killing its killers? Two ways: believe the truth of Scripture and teach it to our children. Not only will we understand the punishment for the crime, but we'll understand the why. The current American confusion around the topic stems from one thing: not understanding and believing what God has spoken. Second, we need to advance our semantic ability beyond first grade, and do it by how the Bible speaks. When a man kills a man in anger or rebellion or covetousness, it is murder. When a government exacts the proper punishment, it is killing, but it's not murdering. So, a murderer kills but when the government kills the murderer, it isn't murdering (because it's commanded by God and motivated by a desire for justice and His glory).
Why is the U.S. the last industrialized nation to forego capital punishment? I can only surmise that it is a remnant of the Biblical foundation of many of our nation's laws. Almost magically, the mind can go two ways here: either we still have capital punishment because we're way behind Russia, et al, in terms of social progress. Or, Russia, et al, have rejected capital punishment because of their much quicker descent into secular humanism. Hmm.
Why do so many people speak of justice when they mean revenge? I don't know about the others, but I spoke of justice rather than revenge because I meant justice rather than revenge. Scripture is clear: when I am offended (even so great an offense as a loved one's murder), it is not my right to take revenge; "vengeance is mine" God said. How does He pursue vengeance? First, through the courts and punishments of just governments. Second, through the eteral justice of God, met either at the cross or in hell. Having said that, though, part of Scriptural justice is revenge on behalf of the widowed and dispossesed. Should you murder my loved one, I have a right, not to kill you myself, but to see your life taken.
Why do some people believe that executions offer more protection than life without parole? I honestly don't know. Logically, if "life without parole" really means just that, then our protection from the murderer would be the same either way. But that's not why we do capital punishment; protection's merely one of the benefits. When our only foundation for capital punishment is mere protection, then justice is only minutes from being swept out the door.
Finally, she does admit that (maybe) some people are so evil they deserve to die. Finally, the humanistic punchline. Now we get back to my original letter; it's when we begin speaking about the evil or the righteousness in the hearts of the convicted that government has dangerously superseded her heavenly charge. Capital punishment is not a matter of the heart's redemption or persistent wickedness. It's a matter of what was done, in the real world, and how the wrong will be made right. Regardless of whether or not God's plan for justice makes sense to me or you or anyone else simply will not, cannot change the eternal standard of justice. We can jump off buildings and pretend gravity doesn't exist, but the ground might convince us otherwise. We can reject capital punishment by pretending the reasoning of men is much better than God's, but reality will, one day, convince us otherwise.
p.s. - I can't pass up an opportunity to point out that all of us are so wicked that we deserve to die. How great is the love of God who, for His glory and and love for the church, spared some from eternal capital punishment by the substitutionary death of Jesus!
19 December 2005
Here's a letter I put into our local paper, edited down from something I posted here last week. (You've got to scroll down a ways to find it - "redemption not in the job description". The link might not last many more days.)
For Christmas, my father-in-law generously got me a new set of Kittle's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. This is a huge and rich resource, chronicling the biblical and extra-biblical usages of the more important words found in the Greek New Testament. It's word studies on steroids. And it looks really cool on the bookshelf.
It's hard to describe how exciting it is to see God raising up a specific group of people who are excited about being part of church planting. Many of the people I talked to last week have a real grasp of some of the sacrifices and are willing to be trained and pushed beyond their comfort levels. Different people are excited about different aspects of a new church, but there's two things that people are most excited about.
The first is the increase in the depth of fellowship. As our church has continued growing, it's become harder and harder to get to know new people and maintain deep friendships with others. And while we should not expect the new church to remain small for long, there's something electric about banding together with a group of people and attempting to do something that only works if God wants it to.
The second is that most people are very excited about seeing new believers brought into the kingdom. While no church is "where we should be" in evangelism, God has really been blessing us lately with the fruit of the gospel. It's given all of us, I think, more confidence in the power of the gospel for the salvation of souls - especially those of our neighbors, friends, and family.
16 December 2005
Celebrating the Tradition of Christmas
Dave Long – December 16, 2005
Are traditions wrong, evil or sinful? The answer is only if they violate Scripture, or if they claim to be equal to or above Scripture by requiring men to do something that the Bible does not require. Otherwise traditions can be a good thing. They help us celebrate things that are important – birthdays, victories, accomplishments. They build continuity from one generation to another. They bring people together. They build thanksgiving into our hearts for things that God has done.
Even traditions that are developed to counter sinful things in the world can be a good thing. On campuses across America students have a tradition of gathering together in dormitories for evenings of fun, relaxation and what is know as “partying”. Unfortunately these traditions are often drunken affairs filled with excess. A few years ago a group of Christians decided to capitalize on this worldly tradition by adapting it for Christ’s glory. So they developed their own tradition of “pizza night”. They threw dorm parties with free pizza instead of beer, with the only requirement for admission being that you came with at least one spiritual question. Ask your question and you got free pizza. Through the traditions and practices of man came a tradition for the glory of God.
Imagine what it would be like if Saturday afternoon college football games evolved into something similar to the old Roman gatherings where they slaughtered Christians. What if every Saturday afternoon, horrible ungodly things began to take place in stadiums across
In the same way, the tradition of celebrating Christmas is not an evil or sinful thing. It is a tradition of remembering and giving thanks for something that is wonderful and at the heart of our religion. Even if (and there is evidence that we have gotten it wrong and that Christmas is not a capitulation to the heathen customs of the world), but even if the tradition of celebrating Christmas did arise as a counter measure to the practices of the world, the tradition is not sinful if it doesn’t violate Scripture (and certainly remembering and giving thanks for Christ’s advent is not a violation of the Bible), and if it does not rise above the Bible and claim to have divine mandate. I have never known a church disciplining someone for having a conviction of not participating in the traditions of Christmas. We do need to be clearer in stating that Christmas is not a divine holy day, but rather a wonderful Christian tradition.
Traditions can be a great thing, even long and widely held traditions. Are there abuses? Absolutely! Our culture abounds in them. So there is great need for each individual and family and church to be careful to not violate the commands of God. But with that carefulness there is also great freedom and flexibility to enter into the tradition according to one’s desire and ability to use it for the glory of God.
15 December 2005
Our college winter retreat is coming up and I'll be doing a workshop titled "Christ is King over the Arts." All I have for the workshop so far is that title...and now this article.
I really liked this post by Catherine Gillespie about Christmas. I've had some of the debates before, but I'll summarize my opinion as such: although we are not commanded to celebrate the Lord's birthday, we aren't told not to. There are many wonderful reasons to celebrate Christmas and it can be done in a Christ-honoring way. It should not take precedence over the Sabbath, which is our ordained holy day. If some are led to not celebrate Christmas, good and fine. If others do celebrate it, Merry Christmas!
I've heard other pastors delight in not preaching a Christmas sermon near Christmas; this is, of course, their right, as we should not be bound to liturgical, church calendar. But why would I pass up an opportunity to speak about the incarnation of God into the world of man?
Pastor Long will be preaching on John 8:12-30, "Who is Jesus?"
In the evening, I'll be preaching on Provers 20:12-28, "The Wrath of the King, Part 2"
Happy Birthday to our #1 who is 2 today! We had a good time at Bob Evan's this morning; he's pretty much a hit wherever he goes.
Boggle online! Of course, "when words are many, transgression is not lacking" (Pro. 10:19)...
Right now I'm in the process of meeting with all the families in church who might be interested in being part of the church plant. It's been an incredibly fun time sharing my vision, answering questions, hearing what God is putting on the hearts of other families. If you're praying for us, you might pray that God would continue to lead clearly during this time, that He would give great excitement to those who He would call to the new church and that He would bring the right group together.
New Christmas cd! Blind Boys of Alabama Go Tell it on the Mountain. Really fun. Great players (John Medeski on organ, Duke Robbillard on guitar), fun guests (George Clinton [!], Solomon Burke).
14 December 2005
The back cover calls it a classic. I do find it amusing that a book first published in1991 can already be described as a “classic” – don’t we have some standard for what constitutes a classic, like the author being dead at least?
Anyhow, Will Metzger is quite alive and this is a great book which will hopefully become a classic. This is a thorough, Biblical book on one of our great missions in life, evangelism. Metzger does a fabulous job establishing evangelism Biblically, quoting Martin Lloyd-Jones: “The supreme object of the work of evangelism is to glorify God, not to save souls. The only power that can do this work is the Holy Spirit, not our strength.” Amen. Through examples of evangelistic literature and personal illustrations, Metzger shows (or reminds) us of how thin and man-centered most evangelism is. Recovery of the fullness of the God-centered gospel must be the answer. Tell the Truth stands firmly upon a reformed understanding of salvation, which is essential to God-honoring salvation.
Apparently, this updated version contains larger sections on grace and worship. In the section on worship, Metzger quotes from John Piper’s Let the Nations be Glad: “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” From this, he argues well that it is the worship of God which is the only final antidote to the fear of man which cripples so many of us in evangelism, especially yours truly. In addition to worship being the answer for us, it is also the motivation for calling others to Christ.
Metzger believes, quite rightly, that the best evangelists are not necessarily those whose zeal outshines the rest of us, but those who have the best grasp on the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is far more effective and honoring to Christ to understand the gospel thoroughly than to have one or two pre-packaged questions for people. In this way, we become able to show each unique individual how Christ is the atoning answer for their unique sins and despairs.
The author does give us a thorough gospel presentation to learn and use – one which I hope to use and teach others. But he doesn’t just give one or two proof-texts for each point; each point on the presentation is supported theologically, scripturally, and with good illustrations. His gospel presentation includes five main points: Who God is, God-centered living, self-centered living, Jesus Christ: the way back to life, your response: coming home. Included are several very practical and helpful appendices (how to ask good questions, language barriers, saying what you mean, etc.)
The one beef I have with this book is the lack of references to the church; perhaps because of his ministry as a campus minister with InterVarsity, Metzger seems to present evangelism as a Lone Ranger affair. There is much support, power, and gospel context to be had when we do evangelism as members of a church. Certainly we are calling people to repent & believe, not to affiliate denominationally; but the commission tells us to baptize those who we are to disciple. Clearly, Jesus wants the church as His body to take up this great work of evangelism.
Beefs aside, this is book is worthy of your bucks. I plan on using it next semester in training our church planting core group for outreach and evangelism.
13 December 2005
To quote one of his supporters: "He showed me clearly what would come from becoming a gangbanger -- a life in jail, or worse. Now they're killing him, even though he turned his life around in prison and reformed. Isn't that what prison is supposed to do?'' Turns out Williams repented, not of the murders (which he never admitted to), but of his involvement with and support of gangs. In jail, he wrote children's books against violence and probably turned some away from that life by his writings. Well and good.
But the idea that capital punishment has anything to do with redemption shows how desperately we misunderstand the role of government. Two thoughts spring to mind:
1. It has never been the purpose of government to remediate people. While changing people's hearts toward crime may occur and while the watching public may learn from "striking a scoffer" (Pro. 19:25), these are not the goals. Why? Because the power to change men lies not with men. Government is set in place by the Living God in order to secure justice and peace; it is when justice and peace exist by the power of the government's sword (Rom. 13:4) that the gospel work of changing men and women can be done without roadblocks.
So the government's purpose is justice, to set wrong things right, to provide redress for the widowed and dispossessed. It was not the job of the penal system to change Stanley Williams'; their work was to provide justice to the family of the murdered and to the God in whose image the murdered were created.
2. But...man's innate tendency to look to something or someone other than Christ to be the redeemer is more evident today than yesterday. We look to the government for redemption rather than justice; we look to the government for "welfare" (a horrible misuse of a wonderful word) rather than peace.
It is unbiblical and wrong for the government to act as redeemer or messiah of the people it serves. Even the person who could have pardoned him, Gov. Schwarzenegger, believed his dilemma was one of whether or not to believe Williams' redemption - not whether justice would be served. Think about that - the governor was setting himself up as the judge of men's hearts. This is the job of Christ the King, not Arnold the governor! So Gov. Schwarzenegger made the right decision, but ultimately by misguided reasoning.
Likewise, it is just as wrong for us to look to government - or any human institution - to give us what only Christ can. Not only will we be sorely disappointed when the best, most efficient government cannot reign in the evil of men's hearts, we do great dishonor to Christ when we make helpful institutions into idols.
Theme By reflecting on God’s greatness and His great promises in Christ, those longing for the Promised Land take heart in singing to their great God.
I. 1-4 – Our Promise of praise
II. 5-6 – God’s plan for praise
III. 7-9 – God’s Promise of victory
IV. 10-13 – Our Plea for God’s presence
This is a song of David, but it may not be his directly. Rather, this is a song that is composed of parts of two other psalms that he wrote: Psalm 57:7-11 makes up the first five verses of Psalm 108. And Psalm 60:6-12 makes up the second half of 108. We can make sense of this if we understand that, perhaps many generations after
Put together, the two parts to this psalm naturally form four different sections. While the song is born from a plea and longing for God’s presence, it rightly begins with a promise of praise. Singing verses 1-4 we promise to praise God steadfastly, without wavering or ceasing. While this is impossible by ourselves, if our praise is based on God’s faithfulness and steadfastness (v. 4), we can take up this great mission of lifelong praise!
Next we sing of God’s plan in v. 5-6. God has always purposed through creation and Christ to bring Himself glory from every corner of earth; wondrously, His glory is most achieved when sinners such as us are brought into His family through grace. This means singing for God’s glory also means singing for the growth of the church, and vice versa.
Then, quoting from Psalm 60, God promises that Christ’s kingdom will extend to every part of the earth, that His victory will be achieved in every nation and tribe and tongue. Despite appearances and whatever doubts we may have, Christ’s kingdom is sure and His victory is certain. It was sealed by the resurrection and will be consummated on His return to claim the world as His own. In the meantime, our duty is to go forth believing in (and singing of) His kingdom.
Finally, the song ends on more of a low note, wondering why God does not go forth with His people to victory. But the question we sing, “Who will lead me to
Application James Boice suggests two applications from this Psalm. First, gain strength for your present conflicts from faith in God’s promises. Sing this song to learn those promises and work them deep into your heart. Second, trust in your Warrior King who along will bring His people to the Promised Land. Look always to Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith.
09 December 2005
Is it proper to be afraid of God? The only proper answer is that it is the essence of impiety not to be afraid of God when there is reason to be afraid. Adam's sin and his sin alone was the reason for the emotion of terror with which his soul had become stricken. But once he sinned the absence of this dread would have shown complete insensitivity to the revolution in which his sin consisted and which it also caused. For Adam to have behaved as if the rupture had not taken place would have been an unspeakable aggravation of his offense.
...It would be a violation of the infirmity inherent in our finitude not to be filled with horror and anguish at the thought of being subject to the fury of God's displeasure...Why do we resist the thought of God's wrath? Why do we try to suppress the conviction of its reality? Is it not because we do not wish to entertain the terror which the conviction involves and we do not wish to be placed under the necessity of fashioning thought and life in terms of this reality?
08 December 2005
07 December 2005
Really, it was a momentous night, one which I pray will be the beginning to a road that glorifies God. I'm thinking that this blog might be a good way to keep some of you up to date on what's going on with the new church.
So, what is going on with the new church? Um, nothing yet. This Sunday we are going to lead the church through our newly adopted church planting vision statement and relate the reasons we believe God is leading us to work across the river in West Lafayette. It will likely be toward the middle of January before the core group gets off the ground.
Stay tuned. Even better, pray. I'll be getting in touch with many of you to ask you to commit specifically to praying for the new church; until then, I'll assume that many of you will join me in that work.
O praise the Lord! O thank the Lord!
For bountiful is He;
Because His lovingkindness lasts
to all eternity
06 December 2005
Here are some comments I sent to our college students:
This is a good chance to remember one of the bigger distinctives the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America has in her theology. While most think the RPCNA is set apart by psalm singing and a lack of instruments in worship, it is really our stand for the mediatorial kingship of Jesus Christ which has historically set us apart – even among other reformed denominations. Hearkening back to the faithful Covenanters of Scotland, we believe that “God has given the exercise of all authority to the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is the Divine Lawgiver, Governor and Judge.” (RPCNA testimony, A-70)
Because God the Father has set God the Son on the throne over the whole world (Ps. 2; 110) and not just the church, Christ has complete divine authority – not just over individuals, but nations and their rulers as well. Thus, “Every nation ought to recognize the Divine institution of civil government, the sovereignty of God exercised by Jesus Christ, and its duty to rule the Divine affairs of men in accordance with the will of God. It should enter into covenant with Christ and serve to advance His Kingdom on earth. The negligence of civil government in any of these particulars is sinful, makes the nation liable to the wrath of God, and threatens the continued existence of the government and nation.” (A-70)
Governments are not “secular” institutions, but are put in place in order to bring peace and serve the
Well, what’s next? We first need to continue our submission to our rulers until they command of us action that is clearly unscriptural (A-75). And “It is the duty of every Christian citizen to labor and pray for his nation’s official and explicit recognition of the authority and law of Jesus Christ, Preserver and Ruler of nations, and for the conduct of all government affairs in harmony with the written Word of God.” (A-71) However, we understand Scripture to teach that “a true recognition of the authority and law of Christ in national life can only be the fruit of the Spirit’s regenerating power in the lives of individuals.” (A-70) This means that outward acknowledgement in word only is not enough; we should not be satisfied when the government allows prayer in Christ’s name. We need to pray for the conversion of the men and women who hold office, that their acknowledgement of Christ’s kingship would be truly sincere.
I hope this helps; the RPCNA testimony (pdf) actually has a lot of good things to say in this area and it does a good job backing it up with God’s Word. I commend it to you.
May God turn the hearts of our nation, individually and corporately, to our King Jesus Christ.
02 December 2005
Anyhow, this is a marvelous passage of Scripture. Rarely have I been led by the Spirit into such worship as I have in this passage. This, I think, is the theme of the passage: God radically identifies with (puts His name on) His undeserving covenant people, promising grace (shining His face), forgiveness (lifting His face), freedom from shame and true wholeness (peace), a home in heaven (bless) and protection along the way (keep).
Part of the context of this blessing is in Leviticus 9:22, "Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them." Leviticus 9 is the accounting of God directing and then receiving Aaron's burnt offering on his own behalf and the behalf of the people, for the express purpose of atonement. Think about it: Aaron turning and raising his hands and blessing the people is a powerful, visible statement: God has accepted our sacrifice! He has forgiven you! He loves you and has made the way straight for you to be His people! Do not doubt, do not dwell on your sins for God has done it: He has provided the ram for the sacrifice and His wrath has been turned away, leaving only His great mercy for you!
So at the end of worship, when the pastor pronounces the benediction, it should be a powerful reminder for us: of completed salvation in Christ, of freedom from shame, of our home in heaven and our refuge until we get there, of the fact that this is all the doing of a great and merciful God. Fact is, ever since God tied our boat to His, He has considered the good of His people to be part and parcel with His glory; so just as much as God loves His glory, that is how much He loves to bless His people.
Although the mind of the Creator is far beyond our comprehension, I even began to wonder if the benediction might be God's favorite part of worship...
01 December 2005
Pastor Long will preach on John 8:12-20, "The Light of the World"
Sunday evening, Graeme will preach on 2 Peter 3:9, "God's Patience - Motivation for Evangelism"
We (the Olivettis) will be traveling to Michigan to minister to the saints at Southfield RPC outside Detroit. I'm looking forward to seeing the church there again and spending time with friends and family.
30 November 2005
Reading the titles of some of the essays, like "Finding Prosperity by Feeding Monkeys" and "Getting Angry Can be a Good Thing" and "In Praise of the 'Wobbles'", I almost passed by quickly. Then I realized what a great opportunity was here to understand the mind of our culture. So often we talk about engaging culture in order to understand people so that we might better present the gospel to them; and then we use that mission to rationalize engaging the more poisonous parts of culture that appeal to our old man. Here is a better way, a chance to read the heart of people.
For instance, Penn (from Penn & Teller) has an essay titled, "There is No God" wherein he argues that, indeed, there is not a god and this is a good thing. Reading his essay will do a couple things: first, it will make you look up the word solipsistic (finding in its definition a very good reason to believe in a god) and second, it will stretch as you wonder how you might answer such a man.
What a great Sunday School class this would make - reading and discussing the major beliefs of real people. How would Jesus bring the truth to such a person?
Interestingly enough, were we to use these essays for that purpose, we would be subverting the intended purpose of the essays. About the show's creators:
In reviving This I Believe, Allison and Gediman say their goal is not to persuade Americans to agree on the same beliefs. Rather, they hope to encourage people to begin the much more difficult task of developing respect for beliefs different from their own.So they don't want Americans to believe the same things; too bad about that whole "every knee bowing, every tongue confessing" thing. Well, in the meantime, this is a great tool for plundering the Egyptians. Read a few essays and see for yourself. Maybe even submit your own essay.
It's becoming more and more fun to see how often Proverbs repeats itself. It's a little challenging to not feel like I'm preaching the same exact sermon every week but more encouraging to know that the really important lessons in life aren't incredibly numerous and can be mastered by everybody. Repetition is also fun because the themes of Proverbs become more and more recognizable to the young men in the congregation; after all, this is our book.
29 November 2005
I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. We had a great time with both sides of the family and I got the chance to read a couple novels, including a dragon story called Eragon. It is a pretty remarkable book, if only because its author was 19 when it was published. It follows the pretty typical fantasy/adventure story line, but it's still a whole lot of fun.
We're using Sinclair Ferguson's Let's Study Ephesians in our mid-week Bible study this semester. It is a really great study guide.
He has some great notes on this passage:
Ferguson lines out Paul's analysis of sin like this:
Ephesians 4:17-19 17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.
Hardness of heart leads to
Ignorance which involves being
Alienated from the life of God which leads to our being
Given up to sensuality and thus
Greedy to practice every kind of impurity.
This is a great summary of the power of sin, its parasitic and progressive nature, how it twists and winds itself into various poisons and pollutions...and what are we do to do? Should such a realization set us to make new New Year's resolutions? Should a new understanding of sin simply make us fight harder and smarter? Or should it lead us back to Jesus Christ, rejoicing in the total salvation He has won. This is the best thing about getting a glimpse of the power and complexity of sin: we get a glimpse of the power and complexity of the salvation that is able to overcome sin! (And then we fight harder and smarter...)
23 November 2005
From ArtsJournal.com: James H. Billington, the librarian of Congress, is proposing a World Digital Library, to bring together more and more cultures in the information and technology realm. Fine and good. But this is what caught my eye:
Libraries are inherently islands of freedom and antidotes to fanaticism. They are temples of pluralism where books that contradict one another stand peacefully side by side just as intellectual antagonists work peacefully next to each other in reading rooms. It is legitimate and in our nation's interest that the new technology be used internationally, both by the private sector to promote economic enterprise and by the public sector to promote democratic institutions. But it is also necessary that America have a more inclusive foreign cultural policy -- and not just to blunt charges that we are insensitive cultural imperialists. We have an opportunity and an obligation to form a private-public partnership to use this new technology to celebrate the cultural variety of the world.Pluralism is the new religion of America, one many are darn proud to support, versus all us fanatics and our fanaticism (You believe you're right?! How dare you, you insensitive cultural imperialist!). And the temple of our pluralistic religion may be the public library, where tomes of Christianity sit oh-so-peacefully next to the writings of Confuscius and Mohammed. I am all for having access to important literature, and religious texts certainly fall into that category. But we just have to remember that one will win and all the others will lose.
Simple logic tells us that Christianity and Islam can't both be right (any good Muslim would tell you that); but pluralism has pulled us far past logic into postmodern relativism, where A can be A and non-A simultaneously. Just as God has given Western culture over to the lusts of the flesh, He apparently is giving our minds over to the downward spiral as well. This is, of course, nothing new. What is new, though, is how eager we are to export our passionate, postmodern pluralism. It's not enough that we have no solid ground to stand on, let's make sure the rest of the world gets this great benefit as well!
Most admit that the more powerful the country, the greater the international responsibility. But this is true on more than just a political level. American culture is exported and consumed just as quickly as American foreign policy makes its impact internationally. Yet for all the crying about having a better foreign policy, we neglect to see how our cultural swampiness is dragging the rest of the world down as well.
One more thing to pray about, one more national sin to confess and one more way for Christ to show Himself King by overcoming our hedonistic & pluralistic influence around His globe.
Remember this day in which you came out of Egypt,
out of the house of slavery, for by strength of hand the
Lord brought you out from this place.
Oh sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous
things! His right hand and His holy arm have
worked salvation for Him.
Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice to
God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name.
Our errand at the throne of grace is not only to seek the
favour of God, but to give unto Him the glory due unto
His name, and that not only by an awful adoration of
His infinite perfections, but by a grateful acknowledgement
of His goodness to us, which cannot indeed add
any thing to His glory, but He is pleased to accept it,
and to reckon Himself glorified by it, if it comes from a
heart that is humbly sensible of its own unworthiness
to receive any favour from God, that values the gifts,
and loves the giver of them.
21 November 2005
As a movie, To End All Wars is pretty fine. Good acting, good directing, smart writing. As a story, To End All Wars is soul-shaking. This true story is of a mostly Scotch regiment captured and interned in a hellish Japanese POW camp and forced to build the "railroad of death" through the Asian wilderness. The horror of the camp, though, is not the story; this is a story about bitterness and forgiveness.
We follow four captives through their time, seeing them each deal with imprisonment and impending death in different ways. Dusty Miller speaks quickly and often about the Bible and forgiveness; his quoting of Scripture finds far more power coming from his mouth than if it were just printed on the screen and is surprisingly not trite. The sole American, Jim Reardon (Keifer Sutherland) first tries to steal and barter his way to contentment - but he undergoes something of a conversion-by-way-of-maiming experience.
The main characters are Ernie Gordon and Major Ian Campbell. Campbell is the consummate leader/soldier, always planning a suicidal escape mission. Ernie instead takes up Dusty's charge and begins to teach his fellow POWs - things like Plato and Shakespeare and Scripture. The forceful question of the movie is: which is the better way, forgiveness & turning the other cheek, or bitterness and vengeance? [By the way, Ernie is Ernest Gordon, longtime dean of the chapel of Princeton seminary. The movie is based on his autobiographical book Through the Valley of Kwai.]
While justice is never decried or abandoned, the forgiveness and sacrifice of a few men carries far more power and glory than the vengeance of others. As the POWs give of themselves, emotionally and physically, to each other, their souls are fattened (to use more Biblical language) while their bodies are killed slowly.
While it is always good and powerful to be reminded of the sacrifice of so many men so few years ago on our behalf, far more powerful is the vividness of the gospel. I doubt that very many of the filmmakers were Christian, but it is impossible to tell this story without picturing the gospel. By way of contrast, the sacrifice of Christ is shown to be far more glorious and powerful than the vacuous bushido code of emperial Japan or the silly, selfish vengeance of other prisoners.
The movie ends with the real life Ernest Gordon, by now a tall old man, meeting for the first time with one of his Japanese captors. This tiny Japanese man held an umbrella over Mr. Gordon's head as they walked the rows of the POW cemetary. His lips began to quiver with shame and remembrance; Mr. Gordon smiled warmly at him with love and forgiveness. This is where I lost it; so much have I done against a loving God. So many ways have I disgraced and dishonored what is good and lovely. To be forgiven, to know that another life was taken in my stead that I could be delivered, to simply be reminded that I am on the receiving end of sacrifice and mercy - this is the power of the movie.
To End All Wars is rightly rated R. Parts are extremely violent and some images of the movie will never leave you; to describe them would spoil some of the movie, but please decide carefully if you're able to watch this film. It is also peppered with the accurate but corase language of men in a concentration camp.
For all the wincing and the tears, this is a rare find: a soul-fattening movie. In truth, I cannot remember being drawn to such thanksgiving to God by any other film.
20 November 2005
- It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, to honor their persons, to pay them tribute or other dues, to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience' sake. Infidelity, or difference in religion, doth not make void the magistrates' just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to them: from which ecclesiastical persons are not exempted, much less hath the pope any power and jurisdiction over them in their dominions, or over any of their people; and, least of all, to deprive them of their dominions, or lives, if he shall judge them to be heretics, or upon any other pretense whatsoever. WCF 23:4 [emphasis mine]
Of all people, Christians ought to party the hardest on Thanksgiving. Not necessarily with football (though a little isn't bad, is it, James?) or feasts or alcohol, but by acknowledging to God His great mercies. When the President speaks of our freedoms, he likely means our political freedoms - but how much more do the sons of Jacob know of freedom? How much more does the church know of blessing and the giver of blessing? It's a day for singing and praying and confessing with a loud voice that our God is very good.
Last night was our annual talent night at church, complete with juggling and singing and dancing and knitting and a Maori war dance (by our favorite Australian intern). If you missed it, boy did you miss it. Perhaps what will stick with me the longest is the most senior pastor's youngest son doing a scene from The Two Towers, impersonating a couple hungry orcs and a couple frightened hobbits. It was the most convincing and frightening display of acting I've seen in a while. Well done, J. If only they had mini-orcs.
This morning I preached from Proverbs 18 on peace & conflict. The first verse says this: Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. This is one of the verses in Proverbs that's been pleasantly stuck in my craw for quite a while. (What exactly is a craw? Either the crop of a bird or insect or the stomach of an animal. Betcha didn't really want to know.)
Isolation & separation are clues into the heart of men and women. To escape conviction or any possible mention of our wrongdoings, we are natural retreaters, isolating ourselves in order to continue self-idolatrous pursuits without roadblock. I do this; when I'm refusing to repent and fight against sin, I persistently avoid those brothers and sisters who are more straightforward and likely to ask me hard questions; I skillfully steer conversations away from spiritual topics. Others do this, when elders come knocking, there's a big smile and welcome, but when the topic turns to obedience versus their own desires, things get cold and separated-like real quick.
Thing is, isolation works...for a time. Those who want to really distance themselves from the church can do so quite effectively. In fact, if you fall into grievous sin you could conceivably keep the church from finding out for years, decades, maybe even a whole lifetime. But...sin usually will come to the surface in this lifetime. Our sin has a habit of laying a trap for our feet to fall into sooner or later (Pro. 18:7); but even if it doesn't, God still knows. Isolationism is sinful not just because it seeks sin without consequences (which is like cheesecake without calories), but because it denies in practice God's omniscience. Separating ourselves to continue pursuing our own desires is, in essence, telling God, "I don't believe you exist. And if you do, I don't believe you see everything. And if you do, I don't believe you can do anything about it." Separationism, therefore, is a rather perverse form of idolatry: not just worshipping ourselves by pursuing our own desires, but denying God's character by thinking that because we avoid the eyes of men, we are avoiding the eyes of God.
19 November 2005
17 November 2005
If you're still holding off on jumping back on the blues bandwagon - yeah, I see that hand in the back - Moore might be your gateway drug into one of America's great musical forms.
Though I have known his name for a while, this is the first album we've owned of Keb' Mo'. I bought it because it was slightly cheaper than some of the others and seemed like a good way to get an introduction - and I was, surprisingly, right. It is an excellent cd, showing off Moore's great abilities as a singer and guitar player. It's a great mix of acoustic and slightly-electric blues, of original material and covers.
Moore has a wonderful cover of "Come on in My Kitchen" by the famous Robert Johnson. He also shows off his songwriting talent on "Perpetual Blues Machine": When I found out you were a fake, you ran up and bit me like a snake; and I wasn't ready to let go, to let all my feelings show - why you wanna be so cold? You gone and let your true colors show, you're a perpetual blues machine. This song makes me smile.
There's some gospel-style blues ("Don't Try to Explain"), some country blues ("Love in Vain"), some funky blues ("Am I Wrong?"), some Chicago blues ("I'm on Your Side"), and some pretty smooth blues ("Henry" - maybe the best song on the album). In fact, there's enough here to give you a great introduction, not just to Keb' Mo', but to the blues in general. Moore's voice is easy to listen to, his playing is always appropriate to the song, but usually has enough of a twist to keep us interested.
Really, really good stuff.
16 November 2005
Total Truth for 6.99 (hardcover!) - although I didn't fall in love with this book, it's certainly worth having at this price.
Counted Righteous in Christ for 3.99 - an important defense of the doctrine of imputation by John Piper. It is a little technical, but still worth having.
My Soul Magnifies the Lord for 2.99 - Martin Lloyd-Jones' sermons on Mary's Magnificat. His sermons are always worth having, regardless of the price.
Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.
Sunday evening I led a oddly satisfying discussion for our college group on the topic of sin. Therein, I did not fully quote all my sources, except Scripture. Here I will correct that mistake by telling you about this little book by Calvin Seminary professor Cornelius Plantinga.
His book purports to be a breviary (def: brief statement; or book of prayers used by Catholic priests), a review of some of the highlights – lowlights, I suppose – of sin. All things considered, this is quite the book. It stretches and expands one’s concept of sin, always a good thing despite the pain involved. Even better, a clearer, fuller view of sin should make us love Christ all the more – sadly not one of the applications Plantinga focused on. Perhaps the most outstanding part of the book is the writing. This is, hands down, some of the best theological writing I have ever come across. It is clear and witty and deep and understandable. Simply for the joy of reading good writing while getting some hamartology (study of sin), it is worthwhile.
Plantinga brings his thoughts on hamartology to us through several snapshots of sin. Sin is first a vandalism of Shalom, the peace of
Next, Plantinga steps back and gives some thought to the progress of corruption, how exactly one sin leads to another, deeper sin; here is more mystery than light: We still do not know why a person succumbs to the motive. Sin is then shown to be a parasite, needing the presence of good to even survive: murder needs the good of life, lying needs the good of truth, pride needs the good of satisfaction, etc. Without good, sin wouldn’t, couldn’t exist. In this odd way, the presence of sin in the world can point us to rejoice in the good on which it feeds.
Following the parasitic nature of sin, the author turns to the deceptive nature of sin, not just to those watching, but especially to those sinning. The self-deceptive power of sin is one of the scariest thoughts we ought to think. It looks like half-baked apologies (Terrell Owens anybody?) and being convinced that whitewash is the same thing as interior decorating.
The next two chapters are a little more disappointing. Plantinga’s discussion on sin and folly begins with a less-than-biblical view of what wisdom is (instead of being the life of Christ in us, wisdom is “the knowledge of God’s world and the knack of fitting oneself into it”). With that definition of wisdom, folly isn’t seen as gravely serious, only problematic. But I do agree with the main point: The shortest and clearest way to state the relation between sin and folly is to say that not all folly is sin, but all sin is folly. The following chapter on addiction focused more on the tragedy of addiction than on what Ed Welch rightly calls the “worship disorder” of addiction. By voicing some support for Alcoholics Anonymous’ method of dealing with addiction, Plantinga shows himself to be more in the “generally spiritual” camp of counseling than in the Biblical or nouthetic realm of counseling. Not the Way ends with a chapter on the attacks of sin and a chapter on how we evade the responsibility of sin.
Again, this is a remarkable book for its excellent writing and deep thought on a serious subject. Here are the downsides: Knowing little of Plantinga’s theological stance, it is becoming increasingly hard to trust scholars from Calvin Seminary due to the seminary’s rapid descent into liberalism. Phrases like “the literature of Scripture” and of Adam and Eve, “the Bible’s primal pair of humans” ring a liberal tone to me. All this to say this book is not exactly a bastion of conservative orthodoxy. Along with that, Plantinga’s illustrations often strike a liberal political tone. The biggest downer of the book is its lack of focus on Jesus Christ as the comprehensive answer for the comprehensive problem of sin. The author doesn’t ignore Christ entirely, but it the book would have been much more fulfilling and helpful if, at the end of each chapter, he had taken a few paragraphs to show how Christ saves us from this part of sin, too.
Despite the downsides, this is a valuable book to which I’ll probably refer several times in the coming years. It gives clear insight into the “longest-running of human emergencies” – which all of us must face in our own lives and in the lives of those we love.
14 November 2005
Did some reading in my architecture-review book yesterday. As the author was gushing over the ancient Indian culture (not American Indian), he commented on how the inside of the buildings are really pretty dark and unfulfilling, that most of the splendor of ancient Indian architecture is on the outside. Several chapters earlier, he had written at length about the high gothic cathedrals of the middle ages; those cathedrals were designed to be monuments of light, with walls and walls of stained glass windows and clever ways to catch the light at different parts of the day.
Then last night our Australian intern (really, who else gets to write those words?) preached from Luke 12, where Jesus rebukes the Pharisees & lawyers for being whitewashed tombs. The difference between Indian temples and gothic churches is a wonderful illustration of Christ's teaching. From a distance, they both have beauty and magnificence. But on the inside, it is the ancient churches which are full of light and beauty. Hindu temples are, on the inside, dark and undecorated, concerned only with the impressiveness of the outside.
The outside, visible part of our lives is to be beautiful. But if that beauty doesn't begin with Christ's light shining in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, it is only so much whitewash on a temple to another god.
10 November 2005
09 November 2005
There are some really cool things to being a pastor, too. It's a great blessing when God providentially grants me opportunities to preach the gospel. This has happened twice in the last four days. On Saturday I got to do my first wedding service (!) with a couple who's been worshipping with us for a few months. The vast majority of the people at the wedding weren't believers, and the couple asked specifically that I preach the gospel (who can no to that?). So, after giving them both an exhortation from the Word, I preached the gospel to those there, using the marriage as a picture of Christ & His church and inviting them to be joined to the Righteous One in faith.
Then yesterday we got a call from a local family whose mother/grandmother had just passed away. They were looking for a short, silver-haired man who might have done a funeral for someone they knew many years ago. Well, no one by that description here, so they asked for one of us to come and speak to the family - they didn't have money for a funeral; again, who can pass that up? So, late Tuesday afternoon I headed out to meet and pray with this family. There were about 12-15 people there, two of whom may have been Christians. We talked about grieving and giving thanks for life, then I led them through reflection on their own mortality and need for a Savior - we began in Genesis and ended with the resurrection of Christ.
I was incredibly thankful because being a pastor - something which often closes doors of conversation - in these two instances opened wide the doors of people's hearts. I didn't have to develop a spiritual conversation, because it was already there; I just got invited into the middle of it. If you have space in your prayer time, would you pray for fruit from these two proclamations of the gospel? If you have further time, would you pray that God might continue to open these kinds of opportunities for the gospel?
At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison - that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Colossians 4:3,4
08 November 2005
The deeper you go into any particular subject, the more pressure you should feel to go to the sources (ad fontes), to seek the originals as well as those who copy the originals. Hence my desire to read some of George MacDonald's fantasy work. This was the man whose writing grabbed Clive Staples Lewis and wouldn't let go. These were the stories which inspired other writers like Tolkien and Sayers and l'Engle. In fact, Lewis read Phantastes years before his conversion, writing later, "I should have been shocked in my 'teens if anyone had told me that what I learned to love in Phantastes was goodness." And later, this: "I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him."
Phantastes, a Faerie Romance, is quite the difficult book to summarize. Although if falls squarely into the realm of fantasy (or phantasy, as MacDonald would spell it), it goes about its work much more loosely than Lewis or Tolkien. We follow our weak, unnamed hero as he slips into the fairy world and takes it upon himself to embark on a journey through this land, only half-thinking he may be able to return to his world when he's finished. During this journey, he meets up with charming but less-than-traditional fairies, powerful living trees (some good, some bad), and many other colorful characters. He falls impossibly in love at least a couple times, I think, but these are not your normal love story, as one lady is, um, stone and the other is quite elderly, though young in the eyes.
MacDonald throws in some subplots, helpfully placed because the hero has stumbled upon a fairy library and takes it upon himself to treat us to some stories. There isn't an over-abundance of action - nothing matching the manic wars of Tolkien. But there is one rather stirring event of redemption when our hero comes through in a pinch, fighting some monsters that have terrorized a small town. Also sprinkled throughout the book are some songs, both of our hero and others; these, I must confess, must be somebody else's cup of tea, because they're not mine. And then the end of the book arrives and the reader is left wondering exactly what just happened. Perhaps that fogginess, murkiness of story, was exactly what MacDonald was shooting for. Our hero's remarks upon singing to his lady of stone seem to summarize my feelings toward MacDonald's writing: But I cannot tell whether she looked more of a statue or more of a woman, she seemed removed into that region of phantasy where all is intensely vivid, but nothing is clearly defined.
What MacDonald did for fantasy writing was to make it okay, acceptable, a worthy pursuit. His writing is not as amazing as his literary children and grandchildren, but we can join them in being thankful for his striking out in new territory for the kingdom of Christ. Should you take and read? If you're a reader of Narnia or Middle Earth, or even newer fantasy, it would be good to see where it all came from. If you're not, you would probably do better to start with the disciples rather than the master.