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!"

30 May 2005


Here are some cool links about guitars:

Tim Brookes is an essayist who's done several pieces for NPR. This is a oral summary of his new book, Guitar: An American Life. He does a fun work of combining his search for a new guitar and the history of the guitar in America. This is a wonderful, rambling piece about the wonders and histories of the guitar; especially delightful are his comments about guitar-shopping.

I'm no expert in archtop guitars...but I do know that Bob Benedetto makes some of the best out there. Take a while and peek around the different models he offers - beautiful! He's also written a book about building an archtop guitar. I have the book and I love to read it and look at the pictures, but I lack the great ambition it would take to build such fine instruments.

The homepage for National Guitars is well-done and shows off their beautiful instruments. These are the "steel" guitars, the "hubcap" guitars, the "resophonic"...or whatever you call them. They have an extremely unique sound, and I would love to have one someday. Check out this bad boy: a baritone tricone! Too cool for words.

A few other great guitar makers:
Santa Cruz

29 May 2005


Baby girl was baptized today (2 mos, 1 day old). What a great day!

28 May 2005

Book Review – Class

Paul Fussell, Class: A Guide Through the American Status System

I picked this book up on a whim while surfing through Amazon's temptations. Published in 1983, it claimed to be a witty, insightful book into the levels of class or status we have in America. So I read on, hoping to understand people just a little bit more. [Paul Fussell is the Donald T. Regan Professor Emeritus of English Literature at University of Pennsylvania.]

First the disclaimers: Fussell is not a Christian and clearly doesn't operate from a Christian worldview; at a few points, he uses American Christianity as a sign of being terribly outdated. The book, now 20 years old, is in some ways outdated; in other ways, it's still right on the money. Finally, there is some crude language in the book.

Second, the highlights: this book was a treat. Maybe because I wasn't expecting too much...but I laughed out loud many times, mostly from seeing myself and others in a different light. This book will help those who want to know people better or just want to understand our society a little more.

Fussell's theory begins with 9 levels of class in America: Top out-of-sight, Upper, Upper Middle, Middle, High proletarian, Mid-proletarian, Low proletarian, Destitute, and Bottom out-of-sight. The first and last categories are ones that few of us will ever have any contact with: the super-rich and those poor or disabled enough to never interact with society. Where you fall in the rest of the scale depends on many factors.

What factors? How you look (upper-middles and prole's age differently), where you live (no one from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico will gain admittance to the country club), what kind of house you have (a mark of upper-middles is having many more guest rooms than you need), what type of clothes you wear (“legible clothing” is a definitive mark of prole status)...and so on. Fussell goes on to evaluate different parts of life in their different class mutations: language, appearance of the home, how we think. Throughout this whole section, light bulbs kept going off in my head - he described how different classes treat waitresses differently and I had an Aha! moment thinking about the different kinds of folks you see at a restaurant. Finally, he speaks of how one can move up or down a class; one reviewer wrote about the book “Anyone who reads it will automatically move up a class.”

Fussell doesn't write to elevate one class over others; although he often refers to “unforunate” places to live and how certain dress is “vulgar”, he does it sardonically. In the end, he wants us to open our eyes to who we are and how we live. There are different classes and those who recognize it are able to move about in this life and country with much more ease.

It would be a fun exercise for students of humanity to take the levels of society and think through how the gospel may be best communicated to each. Should you buy this book? Probably not – there are far more important books to buy. I'll loan you my copy; it'll make me look cultured.

Loving Life

I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they life; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil-this is God's gift to man. I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. (Ecclesiastes 3:12-14)

How am I living this life? My actions, thoughts, words, the books I read, websites I visit, time I spend with family...all of this betrays what I really think about this life. Am I loving it, believing with actions and attitudes that pleasure is God's gift to man?

I have found in Ecclesiastes that the same actions (reading, eating, drinking, sitting) can be great and vacuous signs of an empty, atheistic life...if one does them "under the sun," that is, without God in view. Those same actions, however, take on great and significant meaning and value when done "above the sun," with the Living God in view. This is the death-blow to asceticism, the Christian-life-as-funeral-march attitude. I am indeed a servant, but a servant invited to a feast. Hard times will come, hard work will have to be done - but good times are from God, and joyful times must be enjoyed as "above the sun."

Maybe another way of saying it is that feasting means nothing without fasting and vice versa. This world and life are hard, but they are also a good gift.

27 May 2005

I'm Back

Got back late last night from the Banner of Truth conference; it was outstanding. I hope to post some of my notes and reflections from the sermons soon. But, because I need to prepare for Sunday, here's a list of some great books I picked up, with deep discounts (!).

1. The Life of John Brown (mostly written by his son)
2. Pentecost Today, by Iain Murray
3. The Christian Ministry, by Charles Bridges
4. John G. Paton, autobiography
5. The Imperative of Preaching, John Carrick
6. Fair Sunshine, Jock Purves (stories of the covenanters)
7. The Christian Life: a Doctrinal Introduction, by Sinclair Ferguson (Ferguson gave a group of us a guided tour around the book room at the conference - highly entertaining and informative)
8. Princeton and Preaching, James Garretson
9. The Puritan Papers vol. 5, ed. J.I. Packer
10. Overcoming the World, Joel Beeke
11. Sketches from Church History, S.M. Houghton

23 May 2005


I'm leaving tomorrow with a few other pastors to go to the Banner of Truth Pastors' Conference in Grantham, PA. It should be a great time.

..and I probably won't be posting anything till we get back. Have a great week!

22 May 2005

Hello's from the Lord's Day

New Books!

1. Overcoming the World, Joel Beeke - this one was sent to me free by PRTS, looks promising.
2. Real Sex: the naked truth about chastity, Lauren Winner - I've seen a fair amount of buzz about this book (Books & Culture, World Magazine). Certainly will keep a reader's attention.
3. Homiletic Moves & Structures, David Buttrick - most of you won't envy me of this beastly tome. But I haven't really worked on improving my preaching hopefully this will help. My wife's excited about me getting some "moves."
4. Proverbs, Eric Lane - To help with the ongoing Proverbs sermon series. Lane goes through Proverbs sequentially, finding some ties in seemingly random places. I'm hoping this will help me preach systematically through Proverbs rather than thematically.

Pastor Long did a great job this morning speaking on 1 Corinthians 12 and the parts of the body. There's so many things to love about our church: how the people serve selflessly, how the children love being in church, how the elders have the hearts of shepherds, how so many needs are met without ever seeing it...I hope we'll do better at believing all 1 Cor. 12 has to say to us as a church. I'm excited to see what God has for us in the future, not because we're perfect, but because we're Christ's.

Tonight I'm expounding John 13:31-35, on loving one another. Some random thoughts, questions:

1. Jesus says this is a "new" command - how is love a new command?
2. Leviticus 19 sets forth, in the form of God's law, the practical aspects of love. Going back and read through Lev. 19:9-18 and see this reason continually given for Christian love: I am God, or I am the Lord your God. This is the one fact, God's existence and Lordship, that drives all our love; if it's not, our love will ultimately crumble because the foundation will be less than eternal.
3. The context of John 13 is Jesus' betrayals (first Judas, then Peter) - how does this impact our interpreting this new command to love? (Come to church tonight for the answer!)

Short book review
Norm Abrams' New House - picked this up from the library on a whim. A great, fun, quick book about Norm Abrams building himself a brand-spanking new house (instead of fixing up This Old House for himself). Lots of fun stories and a very appreciable craftsman's point-of-view at the homes we live in. Also, it convinced me never to try this. Never. Lots of work, far too much I don't know. So, if I ever decide to be my own general contractor for a house, punch me in the back of the head.

21 May 2005

Here's a good editorial about Hooters, evangelism and victory over our sex-crazed society.

Put this on your reading list. It's a fairly lengthy article by J. Gresham Machen about Christianity and Culture. Significantly, it's placed at the Mars Hill Audio site, one outfit doing the grunt work of consecrating culture unto Christ.

20 May 2005

Books on Prayer

Here’s the list of the books I’ve used to prepare for our Sunday School class on prayer:

  1. Talking to God, Wayne Spear (this has been the textbook for the class)
  2. Institutes, John Calvin (book 3, ch. 20 – great stuff!)
  3. The Complete Works of E.M. Bounds on Prayer
  4. Theology of Prayer, B.M. Palmer
  5. The Works of John Owen, vol. 16
  6. Facets of Prayer, Frans Bakker
  7. Prayer: More than Words, Leroy Eims (some questionable stuff in this one)
  8. A Simple Way to Pray, Martin Luther
  9. A Guide to Prayer, Isaac Watts
  10. Prayer, John Bunyan
  11. Practical Religion, J.C. Ryle
  12. A Hunger for God, John Piper
  13. The Lord’s Prayer for Today, Derek Prime
  14. A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, Robert Reymond

There were a few others I consulted only briefly. I also can't claim to have thoroughly read all the books above, but most of them got at least a looking-over. It sure took a lot of searching to find this many good books on prayer; the greatest deficiency in the list above is the dearth of help in the practice of prayer. Very few of us need to be convinced to pray more. But most of us need a lot of help – not just in the why and what, but in the how.

19 May 2005

On Prayer

A short, helpful article on prayer was forwarded to me today; one sentence, though, gave me pause with this fairly common idea:

Here is the balance to which we must strive: to pray as if it all depends upon God and to work as if it all depends upon us.

I would like to contend that, although this idea seems good and Biblical, it is inconsistent and therefore should be replaced with this one: pray as if it all depends on God and work as if it all depends on God.

God’s Word clearly proclaims the sovereignty of our Creator. It nowhere demands that we labor in the kingdom as if everything depended upon us; to do so would be to affirm one thing theologically and yet to deny it by our lives and attitudes. The spirit behind the idea is probably a great one, desiring that God’s people live with earnest for the glory of Christ – but it ultimately falls flat because it is sub-Biblical.

If God is sovereign, we ought to affirm that in our lives as well as our prayers. The doctrine of Christ’s perfect reign over creation should result in more, not less, earnestness in holy living, more zealous evangelism. The fact that those who believe God’s sovereignty often fail in earnestness and zeal means that we need to live like we believe, not believe one thing (God’s sovereignty) and live another (behavioral Arminianism).

The solution is to believe that God is sovereign over all and then to live like God is sovereign over all. What this will do is give us ridiculous, unlimited amounts of confidence. It will keep us from pride, from believing that Christ’s kingdom depends on me and my efforts. It will allow us to serve with gratitude and love rather than abject servitude and fear (what if I fail? How will the kingdom come then?). So, let’s pray as if it all depends on God and let’s live as if it all depends on God.

I'd again like to say that it was a very fine article that will give the reader much profit and encouragement. Please read the "comment" section where Rev. Ortiz has graciously responded. In the end, the disagreement is slight; hopefully, the point will have been to encourage us all to prayer and zealous living.

Here's a wonderful site full of GK Chesterton quotes.

Here are a few that struck me with giggles and/or joy:

The word "good" has many meanings. For example, if a man were to shoot his grandmother at a range of five hundred yards, I should call him a good shot, but not necessarily a good man.

A room without books is like a body without a soul.

Art consists of limitation. The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame.

And so on.

18 May 2005

Notes on Luther, 8

Bondage of the Will, Ch. 4, paragraphs 1-5

1. Why Erasmus' definition of free-will can't float - First off, here's how Erasmus defined "free-will": a power of the human will by which a man may apply himself to those things that lead to eternal salvation, or turn away from the same. Despite wanting to use different terms (free-will is ambiguous at best), Luther spends time discussing this definition. Here, says Luther, are the parts that don't help: "apply", "turn away", "things that lead" - too mysterious.

Next, note that Erasmus would have free-will grasp eternal salvation. Eternity, by definition, is beyond the reach of humanity's capacity. 1 Corinthians 2:10 tells us that without the Spirit of God, man simply cannot know eternal things. Take a walk through history and look for the brightest minds, those who should have had the most "free-will" - the vast majority of them rejected God's wisdom, considering eternal life & the resurrection to be foolishness.

Another way of looking at Erasmus' definition is to consider what kind of power he grants to man. According to Erasmus, it is man who can find, achieve eternal life, it is within man's grasp to obey the law & believe the gospel. If man can choose life or death, man has replaced God, the only giver of life. Man has replaced the Spirit and grace. Luther, et al, aren't denying that man does things and chooses things, but that his doing and choosing is enslaved. Man's will, says Luther, is like a log; a log, by virtue of its weight, can always fall downward, but it can never rise beyond its current point without someone else lifting it.

2. Why Ecclesiasticus 15:14-17 won't help - Erasmus appealed to this passage (also called Sirach), found in the Apocrypha: Sirach 15:14-17 14 He himself made man from the beginning, and left him in the hand of his counsel; 15 If thou wilt, to keep the commandments, and to perform acceptable faithfulness. 16 He hath set fire and water before thee: stretch forth thy hand unto whether thou wilt. 17 Before man is life and death; and whether him liketh shall be given him.

Luther mentions question of Ecclesiasticus’ status as canonical (a good book, but not properly part of Scripture), but he promises to deal with it rather than to debate the book’s merits. He deals with this more fully in paragraphs 4 & 5, but here he notes Erasmus' failure to find any passage that actually defines what free-will is or what it can do.

3. 3 Views of Free-will?
Erasmus sees 3 views of free-will:

  1. man cannot will good without special grace (this is where Erasmus places himself)
  2. man’s “free-will” can do nothing but will to sin, all good is from grace in us
  3. “free-will” is an empty term and a myth

Luther calls Erasmus on his logical misstep: in defining free-will, Erasmus said that man is able to exert something toward eternal salvation on his own. Here, however, he admits that man can do nothing of the sort without special grace from God. He now says free-will cannot actually accomplish good on its own, a position Luther is happy to agree with.

Luther grants that perhaps Erasmus conceives of a middle position, a pure “willing” without reference to good or evil. Not only is this a “logical fancy”, but Christ clearly denied it by saying there are only two positions in regard to God: for or against (Mt. 12:30). Getting back to the 3 views, Luther closes this paragraph by arguing that they are, in fact, three ways of saying the same thing. If you deny that man can will good on his own, you will necessarily end up at the third position after a couple minutes of thought. So, here Erasmus had beaten himself.

4. Back to the passage in question – At first glance, the passage in Sirach does seem to have some bearing on the question of free-will. But upon further examination, we find that, in the end, man is still subject to the law of God. What kind of freedom is it when one is obligated to a law?

Beyond that, this passage really doesn’t speak to “free” will, only to “will.” God puts His law before men with the command to obey and the promise of reward. Because of the structure, “if thou art willing”, there is really nothing proved toward man’s freedom to obey.

5. Command doesn’t imply ability to obey – Erasmus already replied to this last point, arguing that God giving a law that we can’t obey is like us telling a blind man, “If you’re willing to see, you will find the treasure.” In human terms, that does sound ridiculous.

Luther gives two responses; first, men do speak this way. Parents often ask their children to do something impossible for them, in order to show the children their need for mom and dad. Second, although it may be ridiculous in human terms, it’s exactly what God is doing. One of the uses of the law is to shut the mouths of men, to convince them of their inability, their lack of strength, their bondage of will – indeed, for God to command a law we are unable to obey may seem mean or joking, but if, in the end, a sinner is stripped of pride in his strength and forced to seek strength and grace outside himself, he is that much closer to the gospel of Christ.

To paraphrase Robert Reymond, God does not deal in ability, but responsibility. We are not able to keep the law, but we are responsible to keep the law. Thus, all the more clearly does Christ’s righteousness shine as our great hope!

17 May 2005

Music - Ben Harper

I listen to Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals quite a bit lately. Their music is simply excellent; Harper's known best for his slide playing on the Weissenborn guitar (a hollow-neck version of a dobro/lap steel), but he's a great regular guitar player, too - and quite a collector of really cool guitars. The music varies from slow folk to blues to some not-so-heavy rock. The band always seems to play the right notes at the right times.

It's also fascinating to listen to the lyrics. If you've ever heard about the "social gospel" idea, you will find it embodied in Harper's songs. Quite often the lyrics veer toward Christianity and religion; in fact, they have done some collaborations now with the Blind Boys of Alabama, a famous black-gospel group.

If the songs portray Harper's religion correctly, we may assume he does hold to the social gospel more than to the gospel of atonement through Christ. And, although parts of the songs would be unpalatable to the "compassionate conservative", much of what he sings about should prick the conscience of many churchgoers.

A great gospel song:

I Want to Be Ready (Ben Harper)

how i am strong
is to know what makes me weak
how i am found
is to know just whom i seek
the gift of a blessing
the burden of a sin
turn to him

i want to be ready
ready to put on
my long white robe

nailed across
from hand to hand
for the sin
of woman and man
all upon his earth
is all within his plan
and i know this shall be
my journey home

i want to be ready
ready to put on
my long white robe

covet no silver
covet no gold
reach your empty
hands for him to hold
up in his kingdom
glory shall be proclaimed
sing the song
and praise his name

An interesting song that, depending on what's behind it, could be social gospel or Biblical Christianity:

Excuse Me, Mr. (Harper/Plunier)

excuse me mr.
do you have the time
or are you so important
that it stands still for you

excuse me mr.
lend me your ear
or are you not only blind
but do you not hear

excuse me mr.
isn't that your oil in the sea
and the pollution in the air mr.
whose could that be

excuse me mr.
but i'm a mister too
and you're givin' mr. a bad name
mr. like you

so i'm taking the mr.
from out in front of your name
cause it's a mr. like you
that puts the rest of us to shame
it's a mr. like you
that puts the rest of us to shame

and i've seen enough to know
that i've seen too much

excuse me mr.
can't you see the children dying
you say that you can't help them
mr. you're not even trying

excuse me mr.
take a look around
mr. just look up
and you will see it's comin' down

excuse me mr.
but i'm a mister too
and you're givin' mr. a bad name
mr. like you

so i'm taking the mr.
from out in front of your name
cause it's a mr. like you
that puts the rest of us to shame
it's a mr. like you
that puts the rest of us to shame

and i've seen enough to know
that i've seen too much

so mr. when you're rattling
on heaven's gate
let me tell you mr.
by then it is too late

cause mr. when you get there
they don't ask how much you saved
all they'll want to know, mr.
is what you gave

excuse me mr.
but i'm a mister too
and you're givin' mr. a bad name
mr. like you

so i'm taking the mr.
from out in front of your name
cause it's a mr. like you
that puts the rest of us to shame
it's a mr. like you
that puts the rest of us to shame

15 May 2005

Hello's from the Lord's Day

Do we apologize for holiness?

Tonight I'm preaching on the subject of evangelism, using the church in Thessalonica as an example. One of the reasons their testimony was effective was because of their God-given holiness, a Christ-likeness that made them stand out.

First, if statistics can be trusted (1 part statistics, 3 pinches of salt), the American church is, at best, only slightly more Christlike than the rest of the country - a situation that calls only for shame and repentance.

Second, many Christians whose lives are holier than their unbelieving neighbors often fall prey to the silent attack of the tolerance dogma. Because we feel that even our holy lives are a silent indictment against those who would choose to get blitzed or toasted every weekend, we often neglect to show forth our holiness. Not that we show our holiness with any pride, but people must see Christians as different. So, when the guy in the next cubicle speaks about his upcoming barroom conquests, we ought not to be silent - we ought to publicly thank God that He delivered us from such a vacuous life. God's holiness in the lives of His saints is an indictment against the world - an indictment, however, that is only part of the gospel of life.

Third, I'm beginning to think that many Christians feel the need to "hide" their holiness among other believers. If you have been delivered from needing to work on the Sabbath, if you have been delivered from pointless hours of television stupor or the drive to see every latest movie - don't hide it just because I might be offended. The Thessalonians learned holiness from the example of Paul and Silas; then they became examples themselves. Maybe I need your example, your testimony to spur me on to holiness.

Fourth, when we speak of our (hopefully Biblical) convictions, let us do so with great grace and warmth in our speech. Your convictions will be much more palatable, thus helpful, to me if they come in the form of testimony rather than outright challenge; they will be convicting to me if I see you rejoicing in the freedom of holiness rather than trying to find company for your new misery.

Finally, let's remember that our current standards of practice (which none of us hold to with any degree of perfection) do perhaps veer into the supra-Biblical category. If you have thrown out your TV because you desire increased purity in your home, great. I'd love to hear about it. But if your mission is to get me to throw out my TV (rather than to get me to love purity more), be careful how you talk.

So those are some random thoughts on holiness among God's people. This is really on my heart these days; I pray that God will see fit to make our local church a bright light of progressing-holiness. That we would be concerned first with God's glory rather than homogeneity, that we would find those among us to imitate and we each would one day be worthy of imitation. Again, this stuff is on my heart; I long for more holiness in my life and in our church. And I don't want to hide it when it comes.

14 May 2005

Looking Back, Ahead, Again

I'm looking forward to worship tomorrow.

We're wrapping up our Wednesday night study through the book of Exodus. Moving through this book slowly, purposing to find Christ and His deliverance in every part of the book has had a wonderful effect on my soul.

Our subject this week was the divinely-prescribed furnishings of the tabernacle. A lot could/should/has been written about the ark, table for showbread, lampstand, etc. But if you put yourself in the shoes of the average Joe-Israelite, the story starts to sparkle. Each article preached a sermon for the faithful, pointed them to a truth of the deliverance that was to come. We sit in our 21st chairs and nod our heads, seeing how each was fulfilled in Christ, without seeing how much we have in common with Joe-Israelite. We need to realize that we were made not just to look back with understanding; we have hearts that beat for the future, that need to look forward with anticipation.

Christ's deliverance isn't just in the past; His return holds the promise of final fulfillment, of finishing what He powerfully started at creation. Consequently, worship isn't just a celebration of the past, but of the future as well. Just like each part of the tabernacle pulled the faithful forward, caused them to dream and long for the day when the lampstand would be replaced by the glory of God in the face of Christ, just like the faithful longed for the day when the imperfect, ongoing sacrifices would be finished in the one, eternally-powerful sacrifice - so our worship calls us forward, causes us to dream and long for what is to come.

The call to worship is a hint of that one, final Call to Worship, when all the faithful are called fully into the presence of God. Our Psalms are foretastes of the new song given to the faithful in God's presence. Our sermons aren't just God's needed Word for the week, but a reminder of the day when God's Word won't be on a page in our hand, but will be before us on the throne. And so on.

So, I'm looking forward to worship. Looking forward to looking forward. I need to remember to dream, I need to be reminded that this is all just a taste, just a shadow of the wonders to come.

12 May 2005

Book Review - Talking to God

Talking to God: The Theology of Prayer
By Wayne Spear

This is Dr. Spear's last year as the full-time systematic theology professor at RPTS; his presence there has been an incredible blessing to our denomination and to the many pastors he has shaped by the Word of God. Dr. Spear is quiet and warm and his theology is undergirded by a love for Christ and a love for his students. In short, my respect for Dr. Spear approaches unlimited. Consequently, this is a wonderfully biased review.

As part of his doctoral work, he wrote a treatise on the theology of prayer, recently republished by Crown & Covenant. I am currently using this book as a textbook for our Sunday School class. It is a short book (103 pages), yet incredibly helpful. Some parts may be slightly technical for younger readers, but I believe students down to junior high could read this book profitably.

Dr. Spear thinks like a systematic theologian, dividing the book into chapters like "The Hearer of Prayer," "The Role of the Spirit in Prayer," "The Role of Christ in Prayer," etc. Particularly enlightening is Dr. Spear's discussion of what it means it to pray in Christ's name - it means praying with the fullness of Scripture's revelation about Christ in mind, not just claiming His priviliges as our own, but taking into account everything Christ is, everything Christ did, and praying in the light of that.

Another very helpful distinction is the levels of accord our prayers may have with Scripture; we can pray the very words given us to pray in Scripture and have absolute assurance that we'll be heard and answered. We can pray according to the general principles of Scripture (i.e., praying for that job because Christ told us to pray for our daily bread) - here we ought to submit our prayers to God's plan..."if it is Your will." Finally, we can pray directly contrary to Scripture - obviously not a good plan.

There are a lot of these great little tidbits in the book. It is not extremely strong on the practice of prayer and I don't think it was meant to be. But our practice of prayer must be founded on a right and inspiring understanding. Buy this book and read it slowly. Let God's truth correct and fortify your prayers. Let His truth help you see again what a great privilege prayer is!

To Blog or Not to Blog?

Proverbs 11:9

With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor,
but by knowledge the righteous are delivered.

There you have it - a great reason not to blog and a great reason to blog. Better yet - a great reason to guard carefully what exits my mouth and fingertips.

11 May 2005

Notes on Luther, 7

Bondage of the Will, Part 3, paragraphs 4-6

4. Light is, well, light - After arguing that everything must be judged by Scripture, Luther answers Erasmus' objection that Scripture just isn't clear on the point of free-will. The perspicuity (understandability) of God's Word is foundational to any discussion of ultimate reality. Luther refers to God's Word, pointing to places like:

Deuteronomy 17:8 - we are to judge by God's law. If that law isn't absolutely clear, we would be unjust.
Psalm 19:8 - God's commandments enlighten (not darken!) the eyes
Psalm 119:30 - the entrance of God's Word always brings light

Luther also points out how Jesus and the apostles used the Old Testament Scriptures to settle debates; such a use of Scripture implicitly assumes their perspicuity. So, to call the Bible obscure or darkened would be to accuse Christ of false or manipulative teaching. Realizing that some moderates may say that Scripture is unclear on only some doctrines, Luther asserts "of the whole of Scripture that I do not allow any part of it to be obscure." With any doctrine, then, there are two options: either it is unimportant or it is clear in God's Word. It cannot be both.

To back this all up, Luther refers both Scripturally and historically to mouths that have "been shut" by God's Word proclaimed. A "mouth shut" doesn't mean that one keeps quiet but that one proves by his very response that there is no possible response. If God's Word has this ability and power, it must by nature be clear and understandable.

5. A blind person can't prove something's not there by saying, "I don't see it." - Erasmus had asked, "Why, then, do so many of the brilliant church fathers, fail to interpret Scriptue on this point?" While it is impossible to say exactly which fathers were true believers and which weren't, there are a couple possible answers: (1) Isaiah 6:9 predicts that many will hear God's Word but not really hear it. Thus it may be with many who deny that God's Word speaks to free-will. (2) Our surprise, then, shouldn't be that some were blind, but that any were not. God has infinitely confounded human wisdom and has graciously opened the eyes of some to see the truth.

Surely some true believers still can't see God's sovereign grace taught in Scripture - Luther chalks this up to immaturity of faith, the power sin still has in our minds and Satan's passionate work of deceiving God's children.

6. Eating & having cake - here Luther catches Erasmus in a logical bind. First, Erasmus appealed to the obscurity of Scripture in this debate, that God's Word simply isn't sufficiently clear here. Then he appealed to those church fathers who supported man's free-will over the sovereign grace of God. Aha, says Luther, you can't have it both ways, because those fathers who asserted free-will did so on the basis of Scripture (albeit a faulty understanding of Scripture). They didn't believe Scripture was obscure on this point. So, Erasmus can claim the obscurity of Scripture or he can claim the support of (some) church fathers, but not both.

Luther: But I maintain that in fact neither assertion is true; both are false. Firstly, I hold that the Scriptures are perfectly clear; secondly, I hold that the persons you mention, so far as they asserted 'free-will', were wholly inexpert in the sacred writings...

[Food for thought: While I agree with all of Luther's positions here - especially holding Scripture as the clear and ultimate standard - reformed evangelicals must be careful not to quickly discount the history and authority of the church. This means a couple things: first, we must know the history of the church so that when opponents use it against us we can either counter with more accurate history or concede that we are indeed going against the church's history, and thus we shall proceed all the more carefully. Second, we ought to value good Christian historians much more than we often do. Third, our discussions ought to be firmly settled by the Word of God, but we ought not to be afraid of hearing and speaking on how the church has answered this question.]

10 May 2005

On Prayer

"The teaching about prayer in the Bible cannot be separated from the biblical view of God and the world that is its foundation and context. The defense of Christian prayer cannot be successfully undertaken apart from an acceptance of the biblical revelation as a whole. But when by faith we apprehend God as personal, conscious, active, powerful, and benevolent; when we see the world as created by God, and under God's sovereign control; when we embrace the commands and promises of God concerning prayer as set forth in the Scriptures; then prayer in all its aspects, not excluding petition, becomes a reasonable and meaningful practice."

Dr. Wayne Spear, Talking to God, 98

08 May 2005

Happy Mother's Day

Reasons abound to praise and thank God. Today is the resurrection day, that great event by which I was brought into God's family. No less personal, today is mother's day - a day kindly set aside to give thanks and blessing to those who have blessed us beyond measure. I realized that I now have three wonderful women in my life.

My mom has so gracefully progressed from changing diapers to storytelling to carpooling to teaching to peacemaking to counseling to supporting and encouraging to cheering. At every stage of motherhood she has deserved to be called "blessed." Now she is not just someone I strive to honor, but someone I delight in honoring, a friend far closer than most.

My wife is now in the diaper & corralling stage of motherhood, and she couldn't be better at it. The love she constantly pours out on two little diaper-conquerors astounds me and moves me to wonder more of Christ's unconditional love for me. She sings and reads and cleans and is joyfully tired every night. She works hard and well and lovingly and is indeed "blessed."

My daughter is seven weeks old today. She eats and sleeps and stretches and coos and that's about it. But she has a secret up her pink sleeve: a covenant heritage. I would be scared for her, scared because I know my sins and deficiencies and inabilities to raise godly children, scared because I know the world and its many lies of empty womanhood...I would be scared were it not for those who have gone before her. The greatest blessing I can give to my mom and my wife is that they give me such hope and confidence for my daughter. In them I have a picture of what God can do with the women He loves.

Generations from now, what will be said of these three women? Maybe not much. But, by God's power, their impact on the kingdom of Christ will be absolutely immeasurable. May God be praised and mothers' be blessed!

06 May 2005

Psalm singing

This is really cool; Gaelic acapella psalm singing. Be sure to listen to a few of the audio clips. It sounds much less like traditional "lining-out" psalm-singing and much more like the call and response of gospel music; there's an article on the site that supports that possible historic link.


I mentioned a few posts back an argument for singing only the Psalms, vs. singing the Psalms as well as other parts of Scripture. The main thought there is that from God's action of closing of the Psalter - an event we know did happen even thought we don't know exactly when - we ought to draw the conclusion that this is what God wants us to sing. (By "closing", I'm referring to that point in which the Psalter was, by God's standard, completed and not open to any additions or subtractions.) The picture is God handing to His people a book of songs we know He desires us to sing in worship; that very action seems to carry the weight of exclusive command. It should be pointed out that the lack of divine command to sing other songs is a much stronger argument against singing other parts of Scripture; all the while, we must bear in mind the perfection of the Psalter as our only-needed hymnal.

While there were some Old Testament non-Psalm songs sung in celebration and worship (Exodus 15), these were before the closing of the Psalter. Once the Psalter is closed, we have no examples of other songs sung in corporate worship. The most obvious counter arguments would be Mary's magnificat (Luke 1) and the several songs scattered through John's Revelation. In response to the first, I would still point out that we have no command to use this as a song in worship (although each and every statement of the magnificat has wonderful cross references in the Psalms). In response to the songs of Revelation, I would again point out that the material in those songs is not unfamiliar to the singer of Psalms and that the visions in Revelation do not directly correspond to the called, corporate worship of God's people in these last days. This is only to say that Revelation is not designed to be our theology-of-worship manual (it's purpose is much greater).

I'm afraid this may sound like a denigration of other parts of Scripture; certainly that is not intended. My concern is not to put down other Scripture, but simply to be faithful to what God has called us to do in worship. If He has called us to sing the magnificat, then by all means let us sing. If not, then let's believe that what God has given us is (1) what He wants and (2) far more than good enough for us.

05 May 2005

Book Review - Are you PoMophobic?

Postmodern Times
by Gene E. Veith

This book was published in 1994, when I was still a sophomore in high school. Then I would not have recognized the term postmodernism (PM or PoMo); now, however, I can't run a literary mile without tripping over it. Those of you in or entering the college years are bombarded with postmodernism, up front and through the back door. Those of you out of college, depending on what circles you run in, may not be forced to interact much with the new prevailing philosophy whose only absolute is the rejection of absolutes. Regardless of which category you fall into, this is your world.

Veith does a fine job running the gamut of postmodernism, exposing the reader to the goods and bads without getting bogged down in overly technical discussions. Some helpful points:
  • The rise and fall of modernism and, hopefully, the end of exalting human reason. This is one of the good things of PMism.
  • The rise and fall of romanticism, which again is a good thing. Following that was existentialism, "the philsophical basis for postmodernism."
  • The difference between being postmodern and being a postmodernist. You and I are postmodern by virtue of the time in which we live. You and I may or may not be postmodernists, holding to a certain philosophy/worldview.
  • The helpful aspects of PMism, which include the fall of modernism & rationalism, as well as various opportunities to be a witness of Christ's grace in more powerful ways. PMism may help us accept that we can't argue people into the kingdom; we are faithful when we simply testify, tell our story of salvation (while holding firm to the truth - not a strongpoint of PMism).
Veith helps with the major points of PMism, including the deconstruction of language, conscious eroding of foundations, disbelief in language's ability to communicate, and the destruction of the self ("if Marxism is modern, fascism is postmodern", i.e., when human identity is gone, the state can become the all). He then continues to exam the tree by its fruits; postmodern art, more concerned about what's not true than what is, consciously rejects any unity in reality, any communication of meaning in a work of art. PM architecture has gone in two directions: rethroning beauty over functionalism (a good thing), while consciously mocking the form and function of the very building constructed. Pop art mediums (see code word "metanarrative") like music and TV are perhaps the strongest source of PMism into our home. Veith summarizes this section: Modernist art promoted meaning apart from the external world; postmodernist art promotes the external world apart from meaning. Art becomes a matter either of expression or representation, meaning or appearance, reality or illusion, truth or convention. Both modernists and postmodernists have forgotten that art can be both.

Part 3 of the book discusses PMism's impact on various parts of society: a new tribalism has emerged, where people find more identity in their groups than in themselves or their families. Politics has changed to reflect much of PMist ideology, now accepting as standard that society makes the moral law and thus is not subject to it. Everyday people seem to have changed: now people feel comfortable holding to mutually contradictory ideas because it feels right. Business and the academy has changed with a new outlook on information, characterized most strongly by the information glut of the last two decades. Here, again, the believer ought to find the good things and plunder the Egyptians; we also ought to be looking for chinks in the armor, cracks in the foundation that we might speak the gospel into this new world with power.

Veith closes the book with a discussion of PMism and religion. In PMist churches, truth becomes subjected to experience: if you experience God, you will have the right teaching. (Which is no worse than the modernist mantra: If you have the right teaching, you will experience God.) This includes "megashift" theology, a consciously PMist version of the gospel, downplaying absolutes & transcendence, highlighting relationship & tolerance. This section presciently speaks to the "emerging" church (without using those words), the new, hip way to plant a church. While we can learn a lot from PMism and the "emerging" church planters, I believe we do best to hear these words of Veith: To be relevant to the postmodern era, the church must simply proclaim the truth of God's Word, the validity of God's law, and the sufficiency of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Is this simplistic? Maybe; but it's a good start. Before we go running off convincing our PMist buddies to become PMist Christians, let's be sure we know and proclaim what Christian really means, detached from any -isms.

Should you buy this book? Maybe. If you
interact with PMists, or just wonder about these ideas on a regular basis, it's very helpful. It's probably outdated at this point; some I know would consider it slightly unfair toward PMism. Overall, I believe it's a Biblical look on a new philosophy, a philosophy that ought not to reign in our minds but that we do well to understand clearly in order to be better ministers of Christ's gospel.

04 May 2005

Questioning Scripture

No, not doubting Scripture, but picking and peeling at it with really good questions.

I'm working on a lesson for this Sunday about private and family worship. I'm hoping to collect some good questions that will help open Scripture to our understanding. So - let me know what you think; what questions do you try to answer when you read for devotions or family worship? Which are most important, which least important?

Thanks for the help!

03 May 2005

Notes on Luther, 6

Bondage of the Will, Part 3, paragraphs 1-3

1. Appealing to the Ancients - Here's a tricky one; your opponent claims that the weight of church history, especially of the church fathers, is squarely on his side. How to respond? In many ways, it appeared that Erasmus had the numbers on his side and then challenged Luther about abandoning the testimony of the ancients. Luther first expresses that his position is not without supporters (most notably Augustine), then that he only departed from the church's historical teaching when prompted by Scripture and conscience.

Luther then reminds his reader that imperfections were present in the fathers just as every other man (even the apostle Peter who spoke so rashly) – some of whom may not have been true believers. Luther proceeds to go on the offensive, drawing Erasmus appeal to the fathers together with his support of freewill. Why not have the church fathers prove freewill by showing evidence of the Spirit apart from grace, by working miracles out of their own will rather than God's, or by progressing in holiness through an exertion of their own might. It has never, and will never, happen. Thus, not only are the fathers not fully authoritative, their very imperfections prove Luther's position that freewill is an illusion.

2. Appealing to the church of history
– A similar argument by Erasmus is this: it is simply unbelievable that God would have let this error, if it is an error, to continue so long unchecked. Luther responds that the true (i.e., invisible) church never errs. He supports this with an argument for this theological distinction between the visible church, which includes unregenerate, and the invisible church, composed of only the elect. [Here I think Luther's position is weak – it's hard to support the argument that the invisible church never errs; it's easier to show that God often waits for seemingly lengthy periods of time before correcting His people; indeed, His delay is itself a symbol of mercy.]

Luther shows grace in having charity accept baptism as a true sign of conversion, until otherwise proven. But he's also not naïve enough to believe all the baptized speak with the same authority or understanding. He wisely points out that the church fathers themselves often disagreed; if we are to appeal to those fathers, we have no ultimate standard of discrimination other than Scripture...

3. Appealing to Scripture
– Erasmus settles firmly in the “undecided” category because there are learned men on both sides and the Bible “is somewhat deficient in clarity at present.” This is a line of argumentation that would lead one to desire another authoritative voice, namely that of the bishop of Rome. This is how, according to Luther, men have exalted themselves above Scripture, justifying whatever actions seem best to them.

Men's responsibility, however, is to judge, to decide where the truth lies. The first standard of judgment is the inward enlightening of the Holy Spirit, the “internal perspicuity of the Holy Scripture.” The second standard is the external perspicuity of the Scripture, or the clarity of Scripture as taught by honest preachers and teachers of God. For it should be settled as fundamental, and most firmly fixed in the minds of Christians, that the Holy Scriptures are a spiritual light far brighter than the sun, especially in what relates to salvation and all essential matters.

[These points are a great call for us to decide what our standards and ultimate standard will be. What place will the fathers have in helping you decide right and wrong, true and false? What place will Scripture have? Elevating the second is not to trash the first, but to give the first something to aspire to, to have that final, ultimately trustworthy authority that all men ought to crave.]

Confidence - Psalm 74:12-23

Psalm 74:12-23

(74B in the Crown & Covenant Psalter)


Amidst a destructive world, confidence comes through knowing and worshipping the sovereign and faithful God.


I. 74:1-11 Lament over Jerusalem’s destruction

II. 74:12-17 Remembering God’s power and faithfulness

III. 74:18-23 Pleading with God to act


The context of this Psalm is probably the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar’s forces in 586 b.c. This destruction included leveling the temple (v. 3,7), desecrating the sacred elements (v. 4,6), and removing all true prophets (v. 9). Naturally, this destruction resulted in a period of great mourning and longing for God to act in justice (v. 1-11).

After the heartbreaking lament (see 74A), the Psalmist starts the next section with a powerful “yet”. Despite the surrounding devastation, God has always proved Himself faithful and sovereign. Specifically, we sing that God has always been working for the salvation of His people, the great news being that He will never change from that course. Then we sing of the power of God in creation and in making His creation do what He tells it to – verses 15 and 16 remind us of God’s miraculous power in delivering His people from Egypt (and us from bondage to Satan and sin).

Following the great reminder of who God is and what He’s done, this song directs us to plead with God. We plead with God that He would remember how evil evil is (v. 18), that He would not abandon His people (v. 19), that He would be faithful to the covenant (v. 20), that He would protect those without protection (v. 21), and – most importantly – that He would arise against His enemies to defend and promote His glory. The tone of this final section helps the singer to remember that there is no hope apart from God, that wickedness would conquer all if it were not for the sovereign Lord. This final part also teaches us to plead with God, using three great “arguments” – His love, His covenant, and His glory.

Verses 12 and 20 both point us to Jesus Christ. The salvation that God has been working from before time (v. 12) is centered upon the person and work of Jesus. The covenant (v. 20) of God is the relationship the Father began with His people, a relationship only made possible by the life, sacrifice, and resurrection of Jesus. When we sing for God to remember His covenant, we are pleading with Him to remember Christ’s work on our behalf.


Ø Ongoing wickedness ought to drive us to pray and sing and remember the faithfulness and power of God.

Ø Don’t be an ostrich Christian; keep your head out of the sand, don’t ignore wickedness, but understand both this world and God’s sovereignty.

Ø Rejoice in God’s past displays of greatness and use those to gather confidence for His future victories.

Singing Psalm 74B

This driving tune matches well with the victorious tone of the Psalm. Sing with boldness and confidence (i.e., sing loudly!).


James has some great thoughts on Christlike blogging at Searching Things Out. If you ever write anything for the internet, or if you ever write anything, or say anyting, read this.

01 May 2005

Hello's from the Lord's Day

This morning in Sunday School, I paused from our discussion of the Lord's Prayer to speak of the relationship between singing and praying. Several have asked me (1) why sing only the Psalms when there are other prayers of Scripture that seem appropriate for worship and (2) what's the difference between singing and praying? These are similar, but different questions. Here's a few thoughts:

  • Singing and vocal praying are, while similar, different physical actions. Singing requires the maintaining and modulation of tone; prayer does not carry the same concerns
  • Singing and praying are portrayed throughout Scripture as separate, though related actions
  • One of the similarities between praying and singing is that both are human language addressed to God
  • An oversimplification of the idea might be to say that singing is a subset of praying.
  • The reason the oversimplification doesn't work is that singing carries a function that praying doesn't - instruction. We do not pray to instruct each other, but we do sing to instruct each other (Col. 3:16); we address our prayers only to God, but we address our songs to God and to each other
  • Singing, by its very nature, is necessarily planned and coordinated. For the singers to sing well, they must sing the same thing. Thus, songs must be written, while prayers certainly do not have to be. Thus, song in worship is always regulated throughout Scripture; God's people are never given the freedom with song which they are given with prayer (namely, the freedom to compose songs for worship).
  • As for singing only Psalms, to the exclusion of the Magnificat, et al - God's act of closing (or completing & sealing) the Psalter was an act that had an implicit instruction to use only those songs. Since God delivered to us a book of songs, it is incumbent upon us to believe that it is complete
  • Another part of the above argument is that the praises and desires found in other Scriptural prayers are all to be found, in principal, in God's Psalter. It really is a complete manual of praise
This afternoon, I read a wonderful article in Books and Culture on Skellig Michael, a rock island (skeilic) in the Atlantic off the coast of Ireland. The essay is from a book by Daniel Taylor. Skellig Michael's significance is its housing of a monastery from the 6th to 8th centuries (roughly). Taylor does a great job describing the harshness of this rocky solitude and I was immediately attracted, on a gut level, to these monks. These monks who stole puffins' eggs, killed seals to trade their pelts, endured pillaging and murder by the Vikings, and recited up to 75 Psalms a day.

I believe monasticism makes sense to most Christians - that feeling that we aren't meant for the rat race, a yearning to put away the world in order to seek the divine, a sense that life is more than the everyday. But most believers also see the error in monasticism. It is not our call or prerogative to abandon this world, this world that is Christ's. So what to do with this tension? Immediately, this day of resurrection-celebration comes to mind. The Sabbath is our God-ordained monastic retreat. This is the day when the world gets put on hold, not because it's not real, but because it's not ultimate. This is the day when we give ourselves to seeking the things above, gathering with the like-minded and calling each other to more holiness, more worship, more prayer and obedience, more grace. Today is our monastic call to spiritual retreat and rest; tomorrow is our call for world conquest.

Taylor remarks on the monks' desire to be "fully recognised for what they were." (This fits well into the Sabbath idea) We live in a culture in which serious religious faith is slightly embarassing. Faith is seen as possibly a value - something hoped for - and not as a fact - something known. It is benign or even useful for food drives and homeless shelters, but ugly and even dangerous when it publicly asserts its claims to truth. Therefore it is asked to stay private, to speak only when spoken to, to stay in the corner and mind its very limited business. The Celtic Christians could not have imagined such a thing. All of life was to be organized in light of spiritual willing am I to organize my own life and actions and relationships around those spiritual truths that I claim should define every life?