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!"
31 August 2005
I pray that the body of Christ will become a refuge and a strength to others. In my study in Proverbs 14 this week, it's becoming clear that God has an attitude that He would like for all of us to adopt toward the poor and needy. We are to love them because they were made by Him. We do God honor and true service when we are generous to the needy. (Pro. 14:31) We should pray for lives to be saved, both physical lives here in the Shadowlands and eternal lives from the Book of the Lamb.
I also pray that the leaders of the church will speak with power, love, and truth. It is sad to hear so many on the radio say, "We were lucky." There's a big - and life-changing - difference between "lucky" and "spared." Why is it that people don't get it, they don't see that their time has been extended here for just a few more moments, moments that could be used to find mercy? Perhaps because the church is too frightened to say that "Our God is a terrible and awesome God." After the tsunami in southeast Asia, I recall hearing several pastors refusing to credit any of it to God. That's all nice and well-meant, but if God did not do these things, then why can He be trusted to do anything else powerful and amazing (like save a soul)?
Let us be reminded, then: God is God and we aren't. God is not tame and often does not fit into our ideas of what He should be. He is our refuge, not our treehouse; He is our Savior, not a handy deity. May God be glorified through the salvation of souls today and through the love of Christ poured out of the church!
P.s. - I've now seen some video footage over the internet. Crews pulling whole families out of homes, dead and decaying; the superdome has become a living hell; 1/3 of Mississippi has no power or water. Has anything like this ever happened here before? Have we ever known such destruction?
May the church shine with the brightest light of love and help and hope in Jesus our Rock. Lord have mercy.
28 August 2005
Coincidentally, it was also the day of our Sunday school promotion service; during the second hour, we give reports on what the classes have been reviewing, and we celebrate kids moving up into various classes. I led a devotion from Deuteronomy 6, seeing that parents hold the primary duty for the education of their children, but also seeing throughout Scripture to see that God has never intended for parents to carry that burden alone. Thus enter the covenantal involvement of other saints into our children's education and spiritual life. We should seek not to replace or undermine, but always to support and supplement parents in their incredible kingdom-mission.
Tonight I'm preaching on "Walking by Faith" from Proverbs 14:1-15. Here's a fascinating verse:
Pro. 14:6 - A scoffer seeks wisdom and finds none, but knowledge is easy to one who has understanding.
Easy. God says that knowledge is easy. Allow me to make an observation as a relatively new "blogger" (ugh, hate that word); you would not be able to tell the truth of this verse from the majority of Christian blogs, or even Christian magazines/websites, out there. Everyone is struggling to find the truth, unsure about themselves or others or their opinions or others' opinions; there seems to run beneath the surface of American Christendom a vague fear of never really being settled, never really having firm, rock-solid convictions on important stuff. But that's not God's plan. We are supposed to be people who study and learn and grow; but we are also supposed to be people who know, who have a significant body of knowledge that is beyond doubt, beyond assault, beyond question. It's easy because we have the trustworthy Word of truth and the Spirit of Christ within us.
Short Book Notes
Withhold Not Correction, by Bruce Ray - this is a book about corporal punishment of children. For many reasons, spanking is unpopular, uncool, abusive, etc. But Scripture is clear - those who withhold the rod hate their kids (Pro. 13:24), and so we spank our children. But there are many valid questions which follow: What's the goal? How do I do it? What's the difference between Biblical spanking and authoritarian revenge? It's these questions where Bruce Ray's book shines. It is warm, Biblical, and thoughtful - and it helpfully addresses the problems that may come from an unfaithful reading of Scripture (i.e., what's the difference between spanking and "abuse"). This is something parents need to have settled in their minds.
Even young parents who have been brought up with a loving "rod" don't always know how to do it right themselves. Please buy this book and absorb it; God will be glorified in our homes.
Baudolino, by Umberto Eco - I've been told that I shouldn't have read this first out of Eco's canon. Alas, it's too late.
Baudolino is a historical fiction/fantasy, set in the 13th century. We follow Baudolino, as good a liar as they come, as he tells his story to a new friend. His story involves many famous people, places, churches, etc. Eventually, he gets to telling about his search for the famous Prester John, who lives in a country no one's ever been to. On his way to this country, he has some odd (and some obscene) adventures with some odd people...wish I could be more descriptive here, but it wouldn't help you much.
The most outstanding feature of this book is its great skepticism. Baudolino is a liar, a great one even. Much of his progress through life has come from his abilities to make things up and then get people, even himself eventually, to believe them. This is all good and fine until Eco takes aim at the church (by the way, Eco has some sort of established relationship with the Vatican). It turns out that the reason Baudolino and his friends are searching for Prester John is a letter he sent to the emperor. But it quickly fades from his memory that he and his friends wrote the letter in the first place.
As they go throughout their adventures, much is made of "icons" (physical memorabilia of sacred people/things), especially of the bowl Jesus drank from on the cross. This icon becomes a source of hope and vision, even as Baudolino puts it out of his mind that it was a bowl his father carved out of a root.
And so the story goes. I won't go too much further, because I can't recommend the book for its unwholesomeness. I will say that I greatly disliked it at first; but now, a couple months removed, I'm more certain that it's a valuable and stinging critique from one who sees "value" but not "truth" in religion. This is a critique I want to be better at combatting on a daily basis.
27 August 2005
Martin Luther - Bondage of the Will,
6. Remember Pharaoh? – Back to the question of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart – how? Luther says it goes like this: God worked on Pharaoh outwardly (signs, plagues, prophets), but not inwardly. This outward-only working always results in more hardness of heart; without the will of Pharaoh being changed, it can only react to God with rebellion.
Many have questioned why God doesn’t change every will – Here, we must bow before the ways and judgments of God, which are beyond finding out (Rom. 11:33). It is good to remember that God is not subject to doing what is right; rather, His actions are the very definition of what is right. Does this make it easier for us to understand? Not necessarily, but it does humble us before God.
Why did God harden Pharaoh? Luther gives a couple reasons. First, He meant to build faith in
7. On to Paul – Romans 9 is awful hard for those who want to hold on to truly free will. Erasmus did what many do, try to pass off that Paul isn’t talking about salvation here, but something else. But the plain sense of the text is that God predestines (which is the same thing as foreknows). For Erasmus and those who question the God who would harden hearts, Romans 9:20 holds a powerful rebuke: Who are you, O man, to answer back to God? In the end, this is the spiritual heart of the issue between Erasmus & Luther.
Here, then, is a matter of reverence, submission & humility. Will we deny God’s sovereignty when it comes uncomfortably close to assaulting our freedom? Will we rejoice in God’s sovereignty, even in salvation, when it means we must humble ourselves under His mighty right hand?
8. Sovereignty for Dummies – As some often do, Luther turns to human reason to prove that, even in this realm God’s sovereignty removes humanity’s absolutely-free will. Simply put, it just goes back to the question: is God God? If so, He must be sovereign. If He’s sovereign, He’s sovereign over salvation, too. If He’s sovereign over salvation, man’s will is something less than absolutely free.
It is understandable why people don’t like this part of the doctrine – but in the end, a passion for God’s glory should outweigh our sense of entitlement.
9. Back to Paul – Luther goes on to point out that the whole book of Romans is geared toward convincing us that we can do nothing, “not even when we seem to do well.” While this lack of ability would be depressing to some, for those convicted by the Spirit, it drives us to Christ, who could do what we couldn’t: Obey the law perfectly.
10. Well, what about Judas? – Judas could be another interesting case study. Was he infallibly bound to become a traitor? Erasmus actually said he was, but that he was able to change his will…to accomplish thinking like this requires philosophical gymnastics of the gold-medal variety. It centers around the idea of necessity and consequence. If something is necessary, is its consequence guaranteed?
Erasmus would like both of these to be true: (1) Judas can will not to betray; (2) Judas must necessarily will to betray. Not gonna happen…something has to give, either God’s sovereignty in planning Judas’ betrayal, or Judas’ sovereignty in being able to determine his future.
This is not to say that men don’t choose – Luther has said all along that we have wills and we choose accordingly. The question is not whether we have the freedom to choose, but whether we have the ability to choose right when our hearts love to choose wrong.
26 August 2005
We got Australians! Things that have been in progress for several months came into focus this week when we picked up an Australian family at the airport late Tuesday night. G will be interning with the most senior pastor and I. He has a wife and three kids; so far it's been great getting to know them. It's the first time we've had a full-time intern, although the most senior pastor has had plenty of interns (including me) in the past. So pray that it'll be a great year for G to grow in ministry skills and that he might be used mightily in our midst.
Some more from the elder planning conference. It was a great time, as usual; I always come away from session meetings, especially these planning retreats, with great thankfulness in my heart for being a presbyterian. The wisdom of the plurality of elders is no joke - the thought of trying to do church planting without them gives me the hives. The most significant part of the weekend was spent on our vision for church planting.
But another important development was a concern that God has laid on the hearts of the elders to be giving more help to the fathers (old, new, and not-quite-yet) in the congregation. Because we love our kids and pray that they'll be faithful to God, we realize our most important work for the kids will be discipling these young fathers, myself included. So we're going to work that into the schedule this year. More than anything, I pray we can develop an atmosphere where fathers don't feel like they're going at it alone, that they're willing and excited to get encouragement and teaching - whether from older men or the elders. We just can't do this parenting stuff by ourselves.
And, because you've worked so hard this week, here are some funnies:
More fun than four regular horses
Who's on first? political edition
Words barely suffice
24 August 2005
So, in order to combat the idea that this is the worst time, ever, period...here are some quotations from other bad times. (#507 in my copy of Pensees)
It is by virtue of senatorial decrees and votes of the people that crimes are committed. (Seneca)
Nothing is too absurd for some philosopher to have said it. (Cicero)
Pledged to certain fixed opinions they are compelled to defend what they do not approve. (Cicero)
This is what suits me, you do as you ought. (Terrence)
Amazing - despite the old language, these are the cultural headlines of our times - national sin, tolerance dogma, the wildness of academia. To think that we, as a society, are much worse (or much better) than others is simply untrue and most likely harmful. So, without denying sin and the rank rebellion around us, let's not be so down in the mouth about our society that we allow others to goad us into HHD (hyper-holiness disorder - seen by Pharisaical adherence to other men's personal applications of God's good principles). Again, strive for Godliness - but adherence to men's laws isn't Godliness, it's manliness.
23 August 2005
His friend Greg Wilbur has a list of books he's having students read this fall in order to understand Christendom through the perspective of the British Isles.
I got St. Athanasius' On the Incarnation in the mail today. I'll give a review soon (um, hopefully). But I was tickled pink to find the introduction by C. S. Lewis. Here's a couple great quotes:
There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books...The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face...first-hand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than second-hand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.
...I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it...If you join at eleven o'clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said.
He of course goes on to talk about the actual book but this is all very convicting - I feel so often I have jumped into the middle of the 21st century Christian dialogue while never having heard much of the rest of the conversation. Thus my new goal to always be reading at least one book by a dead guy or gal, to see if I can catch up on the conversation.
Acts 7 was on tap for devotions this morning; it contains Stephen's (rather long) speech/sermon to the high priest and the Freedmen who had captured him, deceitfully accusing him of blasphemy. Here's what struck me: Jesus is not specifically referred to until v. 52. The majority of his sermon is Stephen simply relating the history of Old Testament Israel to men who would have known it. He wasn't really telling them things they didn't know or would be surprised by. So why did they get mad? Because he was using truths they knew to be true to support his devotion to and previous teaching of Jesus. There's some power there...God's Word, and thus sermons, are designed to change people: their thinking, their emotions, etc. Change is more likely when we're working with material you already know to be true. That is, if I as a preacher, don't have to convince you of the truth of the Biblical material, we are in a much better position: me to bring God's Word as the agent of change and you to be changed. Application: We all need to study our Bible and believe it. This will not remove from us the need for sermons; it will prepare us to be changed more quickly and powerfully by the sermons.
Second point: The high priest asked Stephen (7:1), "Are these things so?" That is, "Is it true that you're speaking against the temple and the law of God and threatening that Jesus will destroy it and change our customs?" Those accusations could be partly true in a certain light, and Stephen certainly had a case to defend himself. Yet he never speaks of himself the whole sermon. He gives glory to God by pressing home the history of the Israelites to the Jewish leaders of his day - and what a kick he gives at the end, accusing them of grieving the Holy Spirit, killing the Righteous One, betraying and murdering the prophets, and disobeying the law delivered by angels. What a scene this must have been! This is a great picture of one called to preach, one who can't stop from preaching and even defaults to preaching when he might be saving his own hide instead. (Side note: for anyone who wishes every sermon was as fiery as Stephen's, remember that he was addressing avowed enemies of the Christ. When we think of what the proper tenor for sermons is, we should look more to the Psalms and the letters of Paul to the churches and the letters of Christ to His churches in Revelation.)
On a much different note, our softball team won the championship last night! We started off this season losing the first three games and things looked not well. We had a great turnaround, learning to play together and cutting down our fielding errors. The two games we played last night were great fun. The championship game was especially tense - we were tied going into the last inning and scored one final run in the bottom of the inning to win it. It sure is a lot more fun to win than it is to lose.
21 August 2005
We had our elder planning conference Friday and Saturday. We kicked it off with dinner out with the wives, which was a great time of fellowship. Then we retreated to a riverside cottage owned by the in-laws of one of the elders. Friday night we worked till 11:00 or so. After a good breakfast, we got going Saturday around 9 and finally quit around 6. It was much longer than usual, but some great, great discussions were had. The main focus of the time was on church planting, gathering our thoughts about daughtering a work somewhere nearby. More on this later...
Short book review - I recently read Bringer of Storms, the second in the "binding of the blade" series by L. B. Graham. I reviewed the first one here. So, um, there's not much I can say that will be helpful if you haven't read the first one. I can say the book was good, probably better than the first, despite the embarassing cover art (seriously, I couldn't take it in public without a brown paper bag cover like we used to put over our science books). It's good to read decent Christian fiction. I don't think I can make a hobby out of it, but I'm sure I'll keep up with this series.
Our students are back. It's good to have the college students back for the school year. They bring something to church that I can't always put my finger on; more than youth, they bring some vitality and excitement and opportunities for ministry. If you haven't checked out the website of our college ministry, it's on the right side of this page (purdueCORPS). We have a solid group of freshmen coming in and some of the students have moved, which always changes ministry. It's going to be great fun figuring out how best to disciple young believers and evangelize the lost this year. If your prayer list isn't too long, put us on it.
19 August 2005
So we decided to have a summer book club. What to read? We tossed around ideas of Foster’s Spiritual Disciplines, Edwards’ Spiritual Affections, but in the end we (by which I mean “I”) settled on this new worldview book by Nancy Pearcey, a past colleague of Chuck Colson (co-authored How Now Shall We Live), and a Francis Schaeffer devotee. I must say that I was totally ready for this to be a great book, guiding us into Christian patterns of thought, dethroning old, crusty worldviews and so on. But in the end we were disappointed.
Overview: The book is split into four main sections. The first deals with Pearcey’s philosophical theory, that Christianity has been relegated to the “upper-story” of the two-story split. The lower story is inhabited by things like science and hard facts. So, while we Christians are tolerated, we are not allowed to bring our Christianity into the public square with any validity. She traces this split through several areas and in the end does a good job proving her case.
The second section is the author’s attempt to dethrone Darwinism whenever it pops up its evolving head. Pearcey is devoted to the Intelligent Design movement, and it shows. This points to one of the arguments I have with the book: in a footnote, she explicitly states that asking “What does the Bible say about this?” is “not the way to do apologetics.” I beg to differ. Anyhow, her material on ID is helpful and I learned a few points which might prove helpful.
Section three attempts to decipher how the American church got where she is. Save the chapter on how feminism started the culture war, this is probably the most helpful section. If you need an overview of American church history geared toward understanding the present, read Iain Murray’s Revival and Revivalism – if you can’t find it, read this section of Total Truth. The chapter on women and the culture war would have been much more helpful if Pearcey was more Biblical in the way she thought about women – although she doesn’t say it, it’s fairly clear she considers homemaking to not be quite as high a calling as academia.
The last chapter, section four, seems to be written by a different author. For the majority of the book, she rarely quotes Scripture (although encouraging us to think Biblically), trying to convince the reader that we need to win philosophical battles using the words/thoughts/proofs of the other side. And now she quotes God’s Word left and right and tells us to expect to be derided and not taken seriously, that Scripture is the highest authority and that obedience is more important than anything other part of a Christian worldview. I wish this would have been the first chapter and that it would have guided her in writing the rest of the book.
Clearly Pearcey has done her homework and is able to outthink me like a racecar lapping a go-kart. She is a good, but not great, and engaging writer. But in the end, the book is flawed and its audience is extremely limited. It will accomplish real worldview shift only among undergraduates in science or liberal arts studies. It contains no help whatsoever for men and women slogging for Christ’s glory in blue-collar jobs and diaper-changing. If you’re not philosophically or scientifically inclined, there are better books. If you are philosophically or scientifically inclined, this book won’t be enough to help.
Finally, my biggest beef is that while Pearcey continually urges us to get Christianity out of it’s “cultural captivity” (in the upper story, remember?), she continually uses the thoughts and paradigms which got us there in the first place. And more broadly, she neglects the fact that, while the church might not be taken seriously and while the church might be anti-intellectual, Christ made the whole house. If we whine enough for Christianity to be counted among the world’s valid thought-patterns, we might be accepted into the circus. But is that enough? The point of Christianity is not to be one option among many, but to be the option. It is not enough to be taken seriously, to be included in the halls of academia. Christ is king and every knee will bow. Let us expect and labor for nothing less.
17 August 2005
Bondage of the Will,
3. Hey tough guy, what about Pharaoh, huh, huh? Luther is moving to consider Erasmus’ treatment of specific texts which we might point to for destruction of “free-will”, as Erasmus defines it. One of the first that comes to mind is God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus 4:21. Erasmus claims that it is God’s patience with Pharaoh which will make him every more obstinate. Luther begs to differ.
Erasmus cites Origen and Jerome in his defense; this is too bad because, as godly as those men were, they were the harbingers of some horrible Bible-study methods (Luther calls it “absurd and clumsy”, and he’s not wrong). Luther points out how Erasmus’ version of Exodus 4:21 makes Pharaoh the hardener of his own heart, not God, which is the exact opposite of what the Bible says. This would also mean that God’s mercy and patience really equate to punishment, not opportunity to repent (if Erasmus is right about Ex. 4:21, anytime God is patient with you, it’s a sign that He’s out to get you…hmmm).
Luther follows Erasmus’ argument to its end: what if God does harden with His patience? Then it is God’s mercy which removes free-will from men. Then God’s mercy becomes a cruelty instead, a turn of thought the Scriptures know nothing of. Erasmus valiantly tries to redeem this odd version of God through his own logic, but Luther powerfully responds, reason storms and contends, in order to clear God of blame, and to vindicate His justice and goodness! But faith and the Spirit judge otherwise, believing that God is good even though he should destroy all men.
So, in the end, a defense of man’s free-will is a spiritual issue, coming from a heart of pride and faithlessness. While it may indeed be harder to believe what Scripture sets out plainly about God ruling over all the affairs of men, that type of hard faith is exactly the type the Spirit provides. Many things seem, and are, very good to God which seem, and are, very bad to us. Thus, afflictions, sorrows, errors, hell, and all God’s best works are in the world’s eyes very bad, and damnable. What is better than Christ and the gospel? But what is there that the world abominates more?
4. You still need an answer? How does Luther explain God’s action of working evil in men? To quote bad comics everywhere: What’s up with that?
First, Luther notes, God’s Word ought to suffice for us here. But in case reason demands more, here’s a shot: (1) God is omnipotent/sovereign (still with us?). (2) Satan & fallen man cannot will good, but are stuck pursuing their own desires. (3) Satan & fallen man are still under God’s omnipotence. (4) When God works with the ungodly, apart from regenerating them, He works with them as they are; ungodly cannot produce godly, so the result of God working through ungodly men is ungodliness. It is like a man riding a horse with only three, or two, good feet; his riding corresponds with what the horse is, which means that the horse goes badly.
God cannot suspend His sovereignty; He cannot pause being God, so He must rule even in Satan’s heart, even in the hearts of fools. As a result he sins and errs incessantly and inevitably until he is set right by the Spirit of God. There you have it.
5. Hard to handle – Working with evil instruments isn’t the same thing as hardening them, so next to consider is this act of hardening. What goes on when God hardens someone’s heart?
Luther makes sense of it like this: before conversion, our passion is totally directed inward, we are worshipers of the self, seekers of our own desire. When God acts in the world, He often does things that run contrary to this self-love tendency of man. When the most basic, deepest tide of the soul is fought against without the converting power of the Spirit, it is only reasonable to expect a hardening, a further turning from the One who’s trying to get me to deny myself. God doesn’t need to make new evil in man in order to harden them; He only has to interact with them while withholding Spiritual regeneration and *poof*, they’re hardened.
We again must believe Scripture when it tells us God does not tempt anyone with evil or do evil Himself. So we balance that with seeing that God is able to use evil instruments toward His holy purposes. Here, instead of adding more logical puzzles to the mix, let us worship the God who can even use His enemy’s plans for His own glory!
16 August 2005
The links are up for Sunday morning's sermon on Proverbs 12
Here are the two mp3 links for the past two Sunday night lessons on the Ascension of Jesus. There was some interaction with the congregation, so you might miss a little because we didn't pass a mic around. If you're interested in my notes, which aren't posted, let me know and I can send them to you.
Tomorrow night we are finishing up our summer book club on Nancy Pearcey's Total Truth, a worldview compendium-type book. For several reasons, I am less thrilled with it than I would have liked to be (there are several positives too, though). So I had this question: What book(s), beside God's Book, have you read that has most radically changed your worldview? What author/speaker has done the most to help you see things the way God sees them?
Finally, I have decided to tone down my pessimism about the upcoming Lion, Witch & Wardrobe movie. I still have great reservations, but I will give benefit of the doubt to the filmmakers, recognizing my inability to judge the merits without prejudice. Having said that, I am 3/7 of the way through the Chronicles again and am continually amazed. I just read Horse & His Boy on my day off - it strikes me that Narnia might be a picture of the church more than a picture of all creation. Because there are other worlds beside Narnia (Calormen, Archenland, etc.), Narnia's uniqueness must come from the reign of Aslan, rather than from simple existence.
13 August 2005
Proverbs 12:6 - The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood, but the mouth of the upright delivers them.
12:14 - From the fruit of his mouth a man is satisfied with good, and the work of a man's hand comes back to him.
12:18 - There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
James 3:2 - ...if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.
Indeed, John encourages us to love not just with words, but with actions (1 Jn. 3:18), and Proverbs has a lot of stuff to say about diligence and action. But I would like to petition you gentle readers to never think that talk is cheap. Our words are what God uses to draw people to comfort in Christ, to alleviate anxiety by pointing to the Savior, to bring needed truth, to be a fountain of love.
I'm working on Proverbs 12 for the sermon tomorrow. Here's a spoiler: those righteous in Christ are people who plan their words, who think through conversations, who devise clever and gracious ways to speak love to another, who delight to speak truth. Plan your words. God is profoundly concerned with what comes out of mouth. It is not cheap or unimportant; rather, our words are the bricks and mortar of the kingdom of God. The words of the church build the kingdom, right alongside the church's works.
12 August 2005
It is so very rare that I get to recommend a movie, so today is a rare day.
Last night, I watched Primer, an independent film made for about $7000. It is something of a science-fiction/plot-twister kind of movie. Premise: four guys make stuff in the garage when they're not working. Two guys find that one of their inventions has the unintended consequence of making whatever's inside the box repeat the same minute over and over. That's right, time travel. But no big flashes or neon lights. The kick to this movie is when these two guys, Aaron & Abe, start doing some minor time travelling (supposedly for things like playing the stock market) and their lives start to unravel. Things start to happen between the two friends and their doubles and soon the viewer is just trying to play catch up, and that lasts pretty much for the rest of the movie.
Despite its low budget, it is a beautifully-made film, with understated (i.e., not over-acted) dialogue. Directly upon stopping the movie, I retreated to the internet to try to figure out the plot turns, most of which escaped me. I think I'm now ready for my second viewing.
So, go find it somewhere and watch it [caveat: it's rated pg-13 for corase language, which must have slipped by me]. It'll make you think, which is so very, very rare from the box of mindlessness.
11 August 2005
1. Mormon elders are extremely well-trained, but there's a limit to their capabilities (as there should be when operating in an untrue system). When you hit their limit, when you catch them, they have their fallback: "This is what I know: I had an experience, I've been convinced in my heart that this is true." Once again this lays clear the truth that I cannot convert anyone with perfectly reasoned arguments because only the Spirit changes wills...not that it's not fun or useless to beat them, though.
2. The god of the Mormons is a capricious, changing god. This was fairly new to me. Somehow we got on the topic of polygamy and they reported that the official Mormon doctrine had changed over the years. This I knew; what I didn't know was that the church claims that such changes come from god. So, the book of Mormon forbids polygamy; but ten years after its publication, Joseph Smith gets a new revelation from god, saying that polygamy is okay for a while. Recently, the high prophet got another revelation from god, now condemning the practice of polygamy. All this they reported with a smile on their face, oblivious to the implications of serving a changing god. Here I interjected Numbers 23:19 - God is not a name that He should lie, nor a son of man that He should change His mind. Does He speak and not act? Does He promise and not fulfill? - "Don't you see, guys? Your god could wake up tomorrow and decide all that stuff about salvation? I've changed my mind...all that stuff about loving you? Now I hate you. And the very changeable-ness of your god is proof of a false system. Just like little kids continuing to invent lies to support past lies, so the Latter Day Saints must continue to reinvent god to keep up with their false system."
3. In the end, the most tragic part of the night was our realization of that these two guys were trusting in their own works for salvation. They wouldn't say this, of course, but when we pressed them on it ("why will God let you into heaven?"), they mentioned both faith in Christ and a life lived as best they could - in fact, they often said things like, "We live as best we can so we can please god." This is not new - it's the same mistake most other religions have made: earning your own salvation. It is a sad thing. We spoke to them about the purpose of the law (not to measure up, but to see that we can't measure up and to draw us to Christ). We talked about the importance of properly-placed obedience (not to be made new, but because we are new). In the end, we passionately invited them to come to Christ for salvation apart from their good works, apart from their self-salvation.
4. I began the conversation by asking them what they thought about Jesus, which generally gets to the heart of the matter in conversations like this. "Do you believe Jesus is God?" I asked. "Jesus is god," they replied. "Do you believe he is the God, the second person in the Trinity?" "Uh, no. We don't believe in the Trinity. We believe Jesus is a god." This comes up with the JW's as well as many other false religions. If Christ is not God, the second person of the Trinity, there is no hope, no possibility of salvation.
5. Revelation is, obviously, a big issue. They do not believe in (1) the sufficiency of Scripture or (2) the inerrancy of Scripture. To prove this, they pulled out an extremely weak argument from John where an event is described in 2 slightly different ways (I can't remember the exact place). Anyhoo, they also believe the Book of Mormon had many mistakes, initially, but that they're all fixed now. But the problem remains of additional revelation. If the Bible wasn't enough, how can we be sure the book of Mormon is enough. Besides, Peter says the Scriptures we have are the "more sure prophetic word" which we should desire over any miracle or new revelation. What I tried to get across is the danger of receiving & wanting new revelation - it makes for a faith built on sandy ground.
Those are some of the things that came up; it was good to get a chance to proclaim the gospel in love to them and to pray for them later. Many of you know there are numerous other beliefs and practices of the Mormon church that could warrant disagreement, but I think it's important to stick to the facts of the gospel rather than trying to get them on baptism for the dead, etc.
10 August 2005
The Guide: Ecclesiastes
by Gordon Keddie
I have no choice; niceties must abound or I can't write the review at all. See, Gordon Keddie is now no longer a pretty name, but a real face I must see at presbytery meetings (he's the pastor of Southside RP in Indy). So this is really a case of, "If you have nothing nice to say, keep your wide trap shut." Thankfully, I have nice things to say.
This 334-page paperback is a devotional commentary on the philosophically-God-centered book of Ecclesiastes. It is part of Evangelical Press' Guide series, which seeks to bring readers online to write questions and thoughts to the author and to have responses. After a short introduction, Pastor Keddie proceeds through Ecclesiastes, splitting his writing up into 25 chapters.
Let's get the negative out of the way: the design/layout sort of irked me. Because, I think, EP is trying to reach a newer, hipper crowd (which I suppose I'm not part of), the book has a much different layout than you're used to. Each page has a header running up the left side of the page and the bottom right pages have a large "weblink" icon behind the text. That's all to say, the layout didn't do anything for me. However, I did like the extras sprinkled into the chapters, where Gordon pulls out some great quotes and thoughts from really smart dead guys.
Positives: Pastor Keddie's writing is at the same time easily digestible yet dense and wry enough to keep your attention. Being a non-native Enligh speaker (He's Scottish :) ), he throws out great phrases that kind of give you little smiles. The chapters are short enough to make the book usable for devotions, which is what I did, or even family worship.
Content-wise, the book is outstanding. He does a great job dealing with the text both academically and pastorally. There are some really hard things to understand in Ecclesiastes (11:1 - Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days...anyone, anyone?) - and the book seemed to read my mind. Whenever I scratched my head a little, he explained what I didn't understand. Practically, Ecclesiastes speaks to deep issues that trouble deep thinkers - yet Keddie shows how each deep question makes a difference for our living and our faith. This wisdom book is something of an evangelistic philosophical work, showing people how ridiculous life is without God (i.e., "under the son") and how blessed and real it is with Him, all of which comes out in this commentary.
Should you buy it? Yeah. It would make a good read for Bible study, for devotions, or just for fun. I would especially recommend it to anyone who digs philosophy and wrestles with questions the rest of us would drown in while perhaps neglecting to realize the real-world implications of ideas. A final note: I greatly appreciated the last chapter, wherein Gordon relates his own conversion story after hearing a sermon from Ecclesiastes 12 - a great cause for rejoicing.
09 August 2005
To celebrate our 6th anniversary, we went to dinner last night, then to Barnes & Nobles to pick up a CD. Although the wife dawdled too long amongst the books and felt too rushed to select a musical goodie, I found mine. It is Rachmaninoff's All-Night Vigil or Vespers. It is, hands down, the best choral cd I have (yes, it is the only choral cd I have, but it's great nonetheless).
The liner notes say that Rachmaninoff wasn't the closest friend the Eastern Orthodox Church ever had, but this work goes a way to displaying something of his spiritual side. Designed to be used in an all-night Orthodox Church service, the selections are mostly Biblical texts and mostly Psalms (!), and all in Russian (I think). It is almost devastatingly beautiful...I can almost feel my sermon prep getting better.
The sermon from Sunday morning is up: Proverbs 11:9-31, "What difference does Christ make?"
As we work through the wisdom of Proverbs in the preaching series, I have an apocryphal addition: The wise know their food and keep it; the foolish leave their Snack Packs in the church refrigerator for over a week and expect the pastors to have more self-restraint than they. It was tasty.
If you're not a fan, you should be. If you are a fan, did you know you can listen to NPR's Car Talk on the internet whenever you'd like? I would try to figure out why this show about car repair is so great, but that would probably ruin some of the mystique.
06 August 2005
These 7 short books have been great sources of grace to me in my life. From my dad reading them to us when we were little to rediscovering them in high school and reading them once a year since...I never fail to be amazed. I read Lion, Witch & Wardrobe again yesterday and, despite being a somewhat distant reader, I never fail to get goose bumps whenever they say, "Aslan is on the move." Teary eyes and the whole bit...every time Aslan is called good and terrible at the same time.
During my college years I re-read The Last Battle. Finally coming to the Narnian version of heaven ("farther up, farther in!"), joy flooded my heart. At a point in my youth, I often had trouble falling asleep because I was scared of a housefire (I think the fire in the Black Stallion got to me). Despite holding to Christ for life, I still had fear of death sticking to the back of my mind like gum under a picnic table. And, like nothing else had done, Lewis showed heaven to my heart. I wasn't scared anymore - not that I wanted to die, but the thought of heaven, of a world like this only perfect and more colorful, this beats fear any time.
So I don't think a movie will work. While it sorta did for Tolkien's vision, I deeply doubt cinema's ability to capture Narnia's heart. The sense I get from the previews is the WETA-workshop-look-how-cool-we-can-make-everything kind of movie. Unlike Middleearth, Narnia is an explicit and blatant metaphor for the kingdom of Christ. Sin and regeneration, death and resurrection, heaven and hell - more than can be accomplished by movie-makers not completely devoted to a Christ-centered vision.
I'm certainly open to the accusation of overreacting. What do you think?
03 August 2005
1. Instruction: Often used in conjunction with correction. "The two terms together can be summed up as discipline; they give the reminder that wisdom is not to be had through extra-mural study: it is for disciples only."
2. Understanding/Insight: Captures the idea of discerning between two things, usually good and evil, righteous and wicked.
3. Wise dealing: "good sense, practical wisdom, savoir-faire...Its supreme expression is in the unworldly triumph of the Servant of the Lord (Isa. 52:13)."
4. Shrewdness & Discretion: the power of forming plans. "...the godly man is in the best sense a man of affairs, who takes the trouble to know his way about, and plan his course realistically...he knows the ropes."
One of the ways I've tried to view Proverbs is as the promises God has made to Himself concerning those being conformed to the image of Jesus. This is the wisdom He has planned for me, even me! A great thought and some good, specific ways to pray for wisdom (James 1:5).
01 August 2005
I happily report that Summerland is a very good and effective book. It resides more in the tradition of Tokien than Lewis, as Graham attempts to create an entirely different world (Lewis & Rowling both used worlds that touched or integrated into our world), the world of Kirthanin. It's a world populated by men, dragons, Great Bears, and Malek (boo, bad guy) and his cronies: Malekim, Black Wolves, Vulsutyrim (giants), & the Grendolai. The hero, Joraiem, is a young member of the ruling class who travels to the Summerland for the purpose of meeting the others of his class from all areas of the land; this group then faces challenges because of the rise of the bad guy and his baddies. The book is suffused with the Christian faith, the good guys speaking often of Allfather's grace & providence, placing hope in His promises of resurrection and restoration, and so on. Malek is clearly a symbolic Satan, one of the Titans who fell from grace when he tried to take more power for himself.
Without going into too much of the story, here are the negatives: the dialogue of the book often feels forced and/or too American and modern (here I was struck with the linguistic genius of Tolkien and the languages he created for Lord of the Rings). The book is also a little slow to get started; but as this is the beginning of a series, that seems okay.
Positives: overall, this is a great read. While it makes me appreciate Tolkien's true genius a little more, Summerland accomplishes what I think it meant to, a Christian fantasy that's a really good story, too. There's a lot of great characters (the bears are cool), some good romance (if you're into that kind of thing), captivating action scenes, and even a surprise ending. Probably the best thing I can say about it is that I plan to buy the next one when it comes out.
This is a book I can wholeheartedly recommend, especially to parents looking for something exciting yet not lascivious for their Potter-passionate kids. If you like Tolkien or Narnia, you'll dig this one.
P.s. - last night, Pastor Long led us in a meditation of Psalm 18. It struck me that this is a great psalm for those who love to read fantasy. It's a great song of victory & deliverance - a great idea would be to read this Psalm after you finish reading Narnia or Tolkien or Summerland to the kiddies.
P.s.s. - Um, just realized that the second in the series (Bringer of Storms or something like that) was released June 1. True to my word, it's on its way.