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!"

26 July 2005

Vacation Books

Here I am in the middle of vacation...I thought I'd give you some very short notes on books I've read or are reading lately.

Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince - Another good book by Rowling; I sure wish, though, parents would read it before they let their kids read it. As Harry grows up, so do the books: there's some fairly harsh language in this one. Amazing storytelling, too.

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis - A really amazing book of which I'm sure I understood very little. Lewis retells the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche (which I don't know much about) into a mythical story about two sisters. Anyway, there's not much I can tell you about the book till I read it a few more times, but it's definitely worth your time.

The Life of John Brown by John Brown and William Brown - John Brown of Haddington was a Scottish pastor in the 18th century. This is a remarkable life story, of an orphan teaching himself Greek, Hebrew & Latin while plowing fields. The book includes some autobiographical fragments, a large portion of his "last words", some notes from his son, and pieces of his shorter writings. A couple thoughts: First, the writing isn't all that good and the book isn't well organized at all - yet it retains some power. Second, the religion of John Brown - or at least the religion he puts forth in his writings - seems quite odd or over the top. He is so often denegrating himself, casting himself in the worst possible light. This helps him exult more in Jesus' love, but it makes him seem like a religious manic-depressive. Lately, I've been pondering what good and bad self-esteem is. If I, as a pastor, met someone who spoke himself/herself like Brown wrote about himself, I would take them to the Scriptures and learn about definitive sanctification, about being a new creation in Christ.

19 July 2005

Notes on Preaching

I'm reading through The Imperative of Preaching by John Carrick (pub. by Banner of Truth). It's really good so far. The one thing that's really stuck with me so far is his discussion of the indicative and imperative in Scripture and its relation to preaching. The indicatives are the statements of fact - these ought to be the major part of each sermon. The imperatives are the directions based on those facts - normally we call this application.

Carrick really helped me by pointing out that, Scripturally, there's not just one indicative and one imperative, but two of each, going something like this:

Ind - Jesus died an atoning death and was raised from the dead to seal salvation.
Imp - Repent of your sins and confess Jesus as Lord.
Ind - In Christ you are a new creation, made holy by the power of the Spirit
Imp - Act like the new creation that you are!

This put into words how I have typically tried to structure sermons; Paul's words from Philippians often ring in my ears: Let us live up to what we have already attained. The "attained" is the indicative, what is presently true. The "live up" is the imperative - an application not desperate, but founded upon present reality.

I include this here not because you all are preachers, but to help you listen to sermons better and because it may help you read Paul's letters a little better.

15 July 2005

Coming and Going

Got back last night from our family conference; it was really a time blessed by God. I had a great time with the junior high kids - I think they received the lessons on the Lord's Prayer very well. Two of the sermons by our speaker, Denny Prutow, can be found here.

Today I'm flying out to Pittsburgh for a meeting of the Youth Ministries Committee for the denomination. This is a new assignment for me and it's good work, so it should be interesting.

This is all to say "sorry" for the lack of substantial posts recently. I'm working on it, really.

08 July 2005

FYI (pronounced fee-yiii)

We're taking off in the morning for our presbytery's family conference. So, I'll miss you for another week...and they told me summer is supposed to be the easier time.

If you think of it, pray for my time with the junior high kids. I'm pretty pumped about teaching them.


Now for something lighter...Raul Midon popped up on NPR a couple days ago. He's a great guitarist, songwriter & singer. I suppose it falls into the R&B arena, though his guitar playing is aggressively percussive & flamenco at the same time. Here's a video of his performance at the Kennedy Center - looks like a great performer, too. He plays solo, but does this great mouth trumpet thing - if you close your eyes, it could be a trumpet or flugal horn.

Anyhoo, open the video on your computer and watch a few minutes.

06 July 2005


I read a thought-provoking article in Books and Culture from a couple issues ago. Kevin Corcoran, philosophy professor at Calvin College, reflects on the doctrine of universalism in an article entitled “Dark Thoughts.” Universalism is the doctrine which holds that all humans will eventually be saved. They do not claim salvation for all in this life, but eventually, perhaps after countless ages, God will bring all humanity to dwell with Him, presumably through Christ's work on the cross.

First things first: this is not a Biblical, reformed doctrine. I do not hold to universalism or its cousin, annihilationism (those dying apart from Christ will simply be destroyed into nothingness). Corcoran speaks disapprovingly of double predestination, which would be the exact opposite of universalism and happens to be what Scripture teaches (2 Peter 2; Exodus 10:20). Second, Corcoran does not believe in universalism, but would sure like to – more on that later. That aside, I have two notes about the article.

Corcoran puts forth a possible reasoning for universalism: If God is God, His purposes will be fulfilled. God's purposes, according to the author, is for humanity to “flourish.” Humanity's flourishing would be impossible if a significant portion of said humanity was in hell. Thus, God has reason to save all mankind, even those who lived all their earthly life in rebellion to His Kingship. The fault, I believe, in this reasoning is the assertion that God's main purpose is to make humanity flourish; theologically speaking, God's main purpose is to glorify His name, to show His holiness and greatness above all gods (Matthew 6:9). Problems abound when we mistakenly place mankind as central in God's plan. Of course humanity plays a wonderful role, being made to reflect God's glory, being made in His image, etc. But Romans 9 makes clear that God can be glorified by the judging of wickedness as well as the redemption of the wicked.

Getting past the negative, then, I was struck with how seriously the author was struggling throug this issue. He tells the story of a dear, Jewish friend of his who passed away recently; understandably, he recoils at the notion that his friend is suffering eternally. In his classes, Corcoran challenges his students to wrestle with the idea of hell:

Sam, so far as I know, did not die in Christ. Is he damned? Forever? It's a question that pricks the heart when someone you know and love—someone who, so far as you know, did not embrace Christ—dies. It's an important question, one that I tell my students ought to keep them awake at least a few nights of their life.

Have we wrestled enough with hell? Has it kept me up at night? Toward this end, of dealing honestly and Biblically with an extremely hard idea, I would recommend Ted Donnelly's book,
Heaven and Hell. I clearly recall several nights when I was only able to read one or two paragraphs before I couldn't handle any more.

Finally, as you wrestle with hard issues, take comfort in the God of all things. He is good and He will always be good. His glory, not our comfort, is the highest goal and should capture the prized place in our hearts.

05 July 2005

Back Home Again

It's so good to sleep in one's own bed. Even if my mattress has permanent indentations that match my's nice to be home.

Synod went well; it was a relatively quiet week. There were no grand theological debates (although I think those are coming in the next few years). What there was was a good bit of talk about vision and purpose and plans for the RP Church as a whole. As of right now, there's no one really tasked with setting forth an encompassing vision. It had fallen for a while to the finance committee, but that doesn't seem to be lasting. The Home Mission Board did some work on it, though; they recommended synod adopt a vision for planting 20 new churches by 2020 (2020 vision, it's called). Although the final wording of the recommendation didn't have the same strength of language (it went from calling evangelism and church planting our highest priority to making it a renewed priority), it was good for the church to commit itself to a good plan like that.

So here are some prayer requests for our denomination, if you're so inclined:
1. Pray that we might be blessed with many new pastors in the coming two decades. The fields remain white for harvest and we must continue to importune God to grant us laborers for those fields.
2. Pray for the current new churches and those yet in the womb (which includes our church).
3. Pray for those appointed to the committee to revise the Directory for Worship. This will not be an easy task, but a very important one.
4. Pray for peace and unity among our churches; pray also for peace and unity across denominations.

This week I'm preparing my lessons for the junior high students at our family camp next week. [spoiler] I have decided to move through the Lord's Prayer, focusing both on improving our communication to God and the wonderful theology underlying our great prayer-example. As I work on it this week, I hope to post some quotes from cool books I'm working with.