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 November 2005

Apologetics Assignment

If you listen to NPR at all, you've likely heard the ongoing series, What I Believe, a collection of essays by some regular people and some more famous than regular people. The essays are collected here.

Reading the titles of some of the essays, like "Finding Prosperity by Feeding Monkeys" and "Getting Angry Can be a Good Thing" and "In Praise of the 'Wobbles'", I almost passed by quickly. Then I realized what a great opportunity was here to understand the mind of our culture. So often we talk about engaging culture in order to understand people so that we might better present the gospel to them; and then we use that mission to rationalize engaging the more poisonous parts of culture that appeal to our old man. Here is a better way, a chance to read the heart of people.

For instance, Penn (from Penn & Teller) has an essay titled, "There is No God" wherein he argues that, indeed, there is not a god and this is a good thing. Reading his essay will do a couple things: first, it will make you look up the word solipsistic (finding in its definition a very good reason to believe in a god) and second, it will stretch as you wonder how you might answer such a man.

What a great Sunday School class this would make - reading and discussing the major beliefs of real people. How would Jesus bring the truth to such a person?

Interestingly enough, were we to use these essays for that purpose, we would be subverting the intended purpose of the essays. About the show's creators:
In reviving This I Believe, Allison and Gediman say their goal is not to persuade Americans to agree on the same beliefs. Rather, they hope to encourage people to begin the much more difficult task of developing respect for beliefs different from their own.
So they don't want Americans to believe the same things; too bad about that whole "every knee bowing, every tongue confessing" thing. Well, in the meantime, this is a great tool for plundering the Egyptians. Read a few essays and see for yourself. Maybe even submit your own essay.


Here's the sermon from Sunday night:


It's becoming more and more fun to see how often Proverbs repeats itself. It's a little challenging to not feel like I'm preaching the same exact sermon every week but more encouraging to know that the really important lessons in life aren't incredibly numerous and can be mastered by everybody. Repetition is also fun because the themes of Proverbs become more and more recognizable to the young men in the congregation; after all, this is our book.

29 November 2005

Just so's you know, is having a 10% off sale Wednesday and Thursday. And with Christmas in sight.


I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. We had a great time with both sides of the family and I got the chance to read a couple novels, including a dragon story called Eragon. It is a pretty remarkable book, if only because its author was 19 when it was published. It follows the pretty typical fantasy/adventure story line, but it's still a whole lot of fun.


We're using Sinclair Ferguson's Let's Study Ephesians in our mid-week Bible study this semester. It is a really great study guide.

He has some great notes on this passage:

Ephesians 4:17-19 17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.
Ferguson lines out Paul's analysis of sin like this:

Hardness of heart leads to
Ignorance which involves being
Alienated from the life of God which leads to our being
Callous and
Given up to sensuality and thus
Greedy to practice every kind of impurity.

This is a great summary of the power of sin, its parasitic and progressive nature, how it twists and winds itself into various poisons and pollutions...and what are we do to do? Should such a realization set us to make new New Year's resolutions? Should a new understanding of sin simply make us fight harder and smarter? Or should it lead us back to Jesus Christ, rejoicing in the total salvation He has won. This is the best thing about getting a glimpse of the power and complexity of sin: we get a glimpse of the power and complexity of the salvation that is able to overcome sin! (And then we fight harder and smarter...)

23 November 2005


Exporting our pluralism

From James H. Billington, the librarian of Congress, is proposing a World Digital Library, to bring together more and more cultures in the information and technology realm. Fine and good. But this is what caught my eye:

Libraries are inherently islands of freedom and antidotes to fanaticism. They are temples of pluralism where books that contradict one another stand peacefully side by side just as intellectual antagonists work peacefully next to each other in reading rooms. It is legitimate and in our nation's interest that the new technology be used internationally, both by the private sector to promote economic enterprise and by the public sector to promote democratic institutions. But it is also necessary that America have a more inclusive foreign cultural policy -- and not just to blunt charges that we are insensitive cultural imperialists. We have an opportunity and an obligation to form a private-public partnership to use this new technology to celebrate the cultural variety of the world.
Pluralism is the new religion of America, one many are darn proud to support, versus all us fanatics and our fanaticism (You believe you're right?! How dare you, you insensitive cultural imperialist!). And the temple of our pluralistic religion may be the public library, where tomes of Christianity sit oh-so-peacefully next to the writings of Confuscius and Mohammed. I am all for having access to important literature, and religious texts certainly fall into that category. But we just have to remember that one will win and all the others will lose.

Simple logic tells us that Christianity and Islam can't both be right (any good Muslim would tell you that); but pluralism has pulled us far past logic into postmodern relativism, where A can be A and non-A simultaneously. Just as God has given Western culture over to the lusts of the flesh, He apparently is giving our minds over to the downward spiral as well. This is, of course, nothing new. What is new, though, is how eager we are to export our passionate, postmodern pluralism. It's not enough that we have no solid ground to stand on, let's make sure the rest of the world gets this great benefit as well!

Most admit that the more powerful the country, the greater the international responsibility. But this is true on more than just a political level. American culture is exported and consumed just as quickly as American foreign policy makes its impact internationally. Yet for all the crying about having a better foreign policy, we neglect to see how our cultural swampiness is dragging the rest of the world down as well.

One more thing to pray about, one more national sin to confess and one more way for Christ to show Himself King by overcoming our hedonistic & pluralistic influence around His globe.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Remember this day in which you came out of Egypt,
out of the house of slavery, for by strength of hand the
Lord brought you out from this place.
Exodus 13:3

Oh sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous
things! His right hand and His holy arm have
worked salvation for Him.
Psalm 98:1

Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice to
God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name.
Hebrews 13:15

Our errand at the throne of grace is not only to seek the
favour of God, but to give unto Him the glory due unto
His name, and that not only by an awful adoration of
His infinite perfections, but by a grateful acknowledgement
of His goodness to us, which cannot indeed add
any thing to His glory, but He is pleased to accept it,
and to reckon Himself glorified by it, if it comes from a
heart that is humbly sensible of its own unworthiness
to receive any favour from God, that values the gifts,
and loves the giver of them.
Matthew Henry

Worship Predictor

For worship this Sunday morning:

144 (in Psalms Settings)

Pastor Long will be preaching on John 8:1-11, "Go and Sin No More."

In the evening, I'll be preaching on Proverbs 19, "Old Math."

21 November 2005

Movies - To End All Wars

Here's the scoop: I got this movie for Christmas, 11 months ago. And I just watched it for the first time, 2 days ago. This delay was on purpose, because I knew I would need some emotional fortitude to make it through the movie...which I still did not have 11 months later. Five minutes after the movie was over, I started crying. Let me explain.

As a movie, To End All Wars is pretty fine. Good acting, good directing, smart writing. As a story, To End All Wars is soul-shaking. This true story is of a mostly Scotch regiment captured and interned in a hellish Japanese POW camp and forced to build the "railroad of death" through the Asian wilderness. The horror of the camp, though, is not the story; this is a story about bitterness and forgiveness.

We follow four captives through their time, seeing them each deal with imprisonment and impending death in different ways. Dusty Miller speaks quickly and often about the Bible and forgiveness; his quoting of Scripture finds far more power coming from his mouth than if it were just printed on the screen and is surprisingly not trite. The sole American, Jim Reardon (Keifer Sutherland) first tries to steal and barter his way to contentment - but he undergoes something of a conversion-by-way-of-maiming experience.

The main characters are Ernie Gordon and Major Ian Campbell. Campbell is the consummate leader/soldier, always planning a suicidal escape mission. Ernie instead takes up Dusty's charge and begins to teach his fellow POWs - things like Plato and Shakespeare and Scripture. The forceful question of the movie is: which is the better way, forgiveness & turning the other cheek, or bitterness and vengeance? [By the way, Ernie is Ernest Gordon, longtime dean of the chapel of Princeton seminary. The movie is based on his autobiographical book Through the Valley of Kwai.]

While justice is never decried or abandoned, the forgiveness and sacrifice of a few men carries far more power and glory than the vengeance of others. As the POWs give of themselves, emotionally and physically, to each other, their souls are fattened (to use more Biblical language) while their bodies are killed slowly.

While it is always good and powerful to be reminded of the sacrifice of so many men so few years ago on our behalf, far more powerful is the vividness of the gospel. I doubt that very many of the filmmakers were Christian, but it is impossible to tell this story without picturing the gospel. By way of contrast, the sacrifice of Christ is shown to be far more glorious and powerful than the vacuous bushido code of emperial Japan or the silly, selfish vengeance of other prisoners.

The movie ends with the real life Ernest Gordon, by now a tall old man, meeting for the first time with one of his Japanese captors. This tiny Japanese man held an umbrella over Mr. Gordon's head as they walked the rows of the POW cemetary. His lips began to quiver with shame and remembrance; Mr. Gordon smiled warmly at him with love and forgiveness. This is where I lost it; so much have I done against a loving God. So many ways have I disgraced and dishonored what is good and lovely. To be forgiven, to know that another life was taken in my stead that I could be delivered, to simply be reminded that I am on the receiving end of sacrifice and mercy - this is the power of the movie.

To End All Wars is rightly rated R. Parts are extremely violent and some images of the movie will never leave you; to describe them would spoil some of the movie, but please decide carefully if you're able to watch this film. It is also peppered with the accurate but corase language of men in a concentration camp.

For all the wincing and the tears, this is a rare find: a soul-fattening movie. In truth, I cannot remember being drawn to such thanksgiving to God by any other film.

20 November 2005

Sunday Hello's

Pastor James Faris came and spoke to our college group Friday night on the appropriate topic of thanksgiving. Out of the whole talk, what got me thinking the most was a reminder of my vows to obey our public leaders. The Westminster Confession of Faith (a belief in which I swore before God) says this:

  • It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, to honor their persons, to pay them tribute or other dues, to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience' sake. Infidelity, or difference in religion, doth not make void the magistrates' just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to them: from which ecclesiastical persons are not exempted, much less hath the pope any power and jurisdiction over them in their dominions, or over any of their people; and, least of all, to deprive them of their dominions, or lives, if he shall judge them to be heretics, or upon any other pretense whatsoever. WCF 23:4 [emphasis mine]
And then James went and posted President Bush's proclamation of November 24th (dad's birthday!) as our national day of thanksgiving. What the Confession says, and what Scripture teaches, is that we are bound to obey all of our President's "lawful commands", which this proclamation certainly is. So observing Thanksgiving is a matter of dutiful, Christ-honoring submission to our authorities and thus submission to God. How should we observe this day? President Bush: I encourage all Americans to gather together in their homes and places of worship with family, friends, and loved ones to reinforce the ties that bind us and give thanks for the freedoms and many blessings we enjoy. We could do much worse than his plan: we do Thanksgiving by (1) gathering together in (2) homes or places of worship (how about both?), and (3) giving thanks for our freedoms and blessing.

Of all people, Christians ought to party the hardest on Thanksgiving. Not necessarily with football (though a little isn't bad, is it, James?) or feasts or alcohol, but by acknowledging to God His great mercies. When the President speaks of our freedoms, he likely means our political freedoms - but how much more do the sons of Jacob know of freedom? How much more does the church know of blessing and the giver of blessing? It's a day for singing and praying and confessing with a loud voice that our God is very good.


Last night was our annual talent night at church, complete with juggling and singing and dancing and knitting and a Maori war dance (by our favorite Australian intern). If you missed it, boy did you miss it. Perhaps what will stick with me the longest is the most senior pastor's youngest son doing a scene from
The Two Towers, impersonating a couple hungry orcs and a couple frightened hobbits. It was the most convincing and frightening display of acting I've seen in a while. Well done, J. If only they had mini-orcs.


This morning I preached from Proverbs 18 on peace & conflict. The first verse says this:
Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. This is one of the verses in Proverbs that's been pleasantly stuck in my craw for quite a while. (What exactly is a craw? Either the crop of a bird or insect or the stomach of an animal. Betcha didn't really want to know.)

Isolation & separation are clues into the heart of men and women. To escape conviction or any possible mention of our wrongdoings, we are natural retreaters, isolating ourselves in order to continue self-idolatrous pursuits without roadblock. I do this; when I'm refusing to repent and fight against sin, I persistently avoid those brothers and sisters who are more straightforward and likely to ask me hard questions; I skillfully steer conversations away from spiritual topics. Others do this, when elders come knocking, there's a big smile and welcome, but when the topic turns to obedience versus their own desires, things get cold and separated-like real quick.

Thing is, isolation works...for a time. Those who want to really distance themselves from the church can do so quite effectively. In fact, if you fall into grievous sin you could conceivably keep the church from finding out for years, decades, maybe even a whole lifetime. But...sin usually will come to the surface in this lifetime. Our sin has a habit of laying a trap for our feet to fall into sooner or later (Pro. 18:7); but
even if it doesn't, God still knows. Isolationism is sinful not just because it seeks sin without consequences (which is like cheesecake without calories), but because it denies in practice God's omniscience. Separating ourselves to continue pursuing our own desires is, in essence, telling God, "I don't believe you exist. And if you do, I don't believe you see everything. And if you do, I don't believe you can do anything about it." Separationism, therefore, is a rather perverse form of idolatry: not just worshipping ourselves by pursuing our own desires, but denying God's character by thinking that because we avoid the eyes of men, we are avoiding the eyes of God.

19 November 2005

Worship predictor

For worship tomorrow:

Psalms 117A

Sermon Proverbs 18:1-21
"Peace in a World of Conflict"


Here's a fun story about Calvin & Hobbes.

17 November 2005

Music - Keb' Mo'

Little while back, Martin Scorcese produced a series of short films on the blues, with each film being headed up by a different director (Clint Eastwood is probably the most famous of the group). To go along with this massive production, he oversaw the publication of a book and a boxset overview of the blues, as well as a series of CDs highlighting great songs from different artist's careers. This CD by Kevin Moore (Keb' Mo') falls into the latter category.

If you're still holding off on jumping back on the blues bandwagon - yeah, I see that hand in the back - Moore might be your gateway drug into one of America's great musical forms.

Though I have known his name for a while, this is the first album we've owned of Keb' Mo'. I bought it because it was slightly cheaper than some of the others and seemed like a good way to get an introduction - and I was, surprisingly, right. It is an excellent cd, showing off Moore's great abilities as a singer and guitar player. It's a great mix of acoustic and slightly-electric blues, of original material and covers.

Moore has a wonderful cover of "Come on in My Kitchen" by the famous Robert Johnson. He also shows off his songwriting talent on "Perpetual Blues Machine": When I found out you were a fake, you ran up and bit me like a snake; and I wasn't ready to let go, to let all my feelings show - why you wanna be so cold? You gone and let your true colors show, you're a perpetual blues machine. This song makes me smile.

There's some gospel-style blues ("Don't Try to Explain"), some country blues ("Love in Vain"), some funky blues ("Am I Wrong?"), some Chicago blues ("I'm on Your Side"), and some pretty smooth blues ("Henry" - maybe the best song on the album). In fact, there's enough here to give you a great introduction, not just to Keb' Mo', but to the blues in general. Moore's voice is easy to listen to, his playing is always appropriate to the song, but usually has enough of a twist to keep us interested.

Really, really good stuff.

16 November 2005 is having some crazy good sales on a couple good books:

Total Truth for 6.99 (hardcover!) - although I didn't fall in love with this book, it's certainly worth having at this price.

Counted Righteous in Christ for 3.99 - an important defense of the doctrine of imputation by John Piper. It is a little technical, but still worth having.

My Soul Magnifies the Lord for 2.99 - Martin Lloyd-Jones' sermons on Mary's Magnificat. His sermons are always worth having, regardless of the price.

Book Review - hamartology

Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin

Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.

Sunday evening I led a oddly satisfying discussion for our college group on the topic of sin. Therein, I did not fully quote all my sources, except Scripture. Here I will correct that mistake by telling you about this little book by Calvin Seminary professor Cornelius Plantinga.

His book purports to be a breviary (def: brief statement; or book of prayers used by Catholic priests), a review of some of the highlights – lowlights, I suppose – of sin. All things considered, this is quite the book. It stretches and expands one’s concept of sin, always a good thing despite the pain involved. Even better, a clearer, fuller view of sin should make us love Christ all the more – sadly not one of the applications Plantinga focused on. Perhaps the most outstanding part of the book is the writing. This is, hands down, some of the best theological writing I have ever come across. It is clear and witty and deep and understandable. Simply for the joy of reading good writing while getting some hamartology (study of sin), it is worthwhile.

Plantinga brings his thoughts on hamartology to us through several snapshots of sin. Sin is first a vandalism of Shalom, the peace of Eden, the way it is supposed to be. Sin is next a corruptor, debasing to the core whatever it comes into contact with, save God. Sin is also a perverter, polluter, and disintegrator, taking good and making it crooked.

Next, Plantinga steps back and gives some thought to the progress of corruption, how exactly one sin leads to another, deeper sin; here is more mystery than light: We still do not know why a person succumbs to the motive. Sin is then shown to be a parasite, needing the presence of good to even survive: murder needs the good of life, lying needs the good of truth, pride needs the good of satisfaction, etc. Without good, sin wouldn’t, couldn’t exist. In this odd way, the presence of sin in the world can point us to rejoice in the good on which it feeds.

Following the parasitic nature of sin, the author turns to the deceptive nature of sin, not just to those watching, but especially to those sinning. The self-deceptive power of sin is one of the scariest thoughts we ought to think. It looks like half-baked apologies (Terrell Owens anybody?) and being convinced that whitewash is the same thing as interior decorating.

The next two chapters are a little more disappointing. Plantinga’s discussion on sin and folly begins with a less-than-biblical view of what wisdom is (instead of being the life of Christ in us, wisdom is “the knowledge of God’s world and the knack of fitting oneself into it”). With that definition of wisdom, folly isn’t seen as gravely serious, only problematic. But I do agree with the main point: The shortest and clearest way to state the relation between sin and folly is to say that not all folly is sin, but all sin is folly. The following chapter on addiction focused more on the tragedy of addiction than on what Ed Welch rightly calls the “worship disorder” of addiction. By voicing some support for Alcoholics Anonymous’ method of dealing with addiction, Plantinga shows himself to be more in the “generally spiritual” camp of counseling than in the Biblical or nouthetic realm of counseling. Not the Way ends with a chapter on the attacks of sin and a chapter on how we evade the responsibility of sin.

Again, this is a remarkable book for its excellent writing and deep thought on a serious subject. Here are the downsides: Knowing little of Plantinga’s theological stance, it is becoming increasingly hard to trust scholars from Calvin Seminary due to the seminary’s rapid descent into liberalism. Phrases like “the literature of Scripture” and of Adam and Eve, “the Bible’s primal pair of humans” ring a liberal tone to me. All this to say this book is not exactly a bastion of conservative orthodoxy. Along with that, Plantinga’s illustrations often strike a liberal political tone. The biggest downer of the book is its lack of focus on Jesus Christ as the comprehensive answer for the comprehensive problem of sin. The author doesn’t ignore Christ entirely, but it the book would have been much more fulfilling and helpful if, at the end of each chapter, he had taken a few paragraphs to show how Christ saves us from this part of sin, too.

Despite the downsides, this is a valuable book to which I’ll probably refer several times in the coming years. It gives clear insight into the “longest-running of human emergencies” – which all of us must face in our own lives and in the lives of those we love.

14 November 2005

Presbytery went well, and quickly. There's been a trend in recent years to make the younger members of the court the moderator - by current calculations, I might be up for the gig in another year. I hope the trend shifts; I'm not entirely familiar or comfortable with Robert's Rules and running big meetings. But I'd be happy to serve.


Did some reading in my architecture-review book yesterday. As the author was gushing over the ancient Indian culture (not American Indian), he commented on how the inside of the buildings are really pretty dark and unfulfilling, that most of the splendor of ancient Indian architecture is on the outside. Several chapters earlier, he had written at length about the high gothic cathedrals of the middle ages; those cathedrals were designed to be monuments of light, with walls and walls of stained glass windows and clever ways to catch the light at different parts of the day.

Then last night our Australian intern (really, who else gets to write those words?) preached from Luke 12, where Jesus rebukes the Pharisees & lawyers for being whitewashed tombs. The difference between Indian temples and gothic churches is a wonderful illustration of Christ's teaching. From a distance, they both have beauty and magnificence. But on the inside, it is the ancient churches which are full of light and beauty. Hindu temples are, on the inside, dark and undecorated, concerned only with the impressiveness of the outside.

The outside, visible part of our lives is to be beautiful. But if that beauty doesn't begin with Christ's light shining in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, it is only so much whitewash on a temple to another god.

10 November 2005

out of touch

Yes, I am.

But now with good reason. We're heading down to presbytery for the rest of the week, so I'll reassert my web presence next week.

09 November 2005

It's Good to be a Pastor

There are some hard things to being a pastor. One of the more frustrating is the lack of contact I have with those who haven't bowed their knee to Christ. Unlike the rest of God's family, most of my time is consumed with ministering to Christians, not working alongisde unbelievers. This is, of course, mostly my own fault for lack of diligence and zeal.

There are some really cool things to being a pastor, too. It's a great blessing when God providentially grants me opportunities to preach the gospel. This has happened twice in the last four days. On Saturday I got to do my first wedding service (!) with a couple who's been worshipping with us for a few months. The vast majority of the people at the wedding weren't believers, and the couple asked specifically that I preach the gospel (who can no to that?). So, after giving them both an exhortation from the Word, I preached the gospel to those there, using the marriage as a picture of Christ & His church and inviting them to be joined to the Righteous One in faith.

Then yesterday we got a call from a local family whose mother/grandmother had just passed away. They were looking for a short, silver-haired man who might have done a funeral for someone they knew many years ago. Well, no one by that description here, so they asked for one of us to come and speak to the family - they didn't have money for a funeral; again, who can pass that up? So, late Tuesday afternoon I headed out to meet and pray with this family. There were about 12-15 people there, two of whom may have been Christians. We talked about grieving and giving thanks for life, then I led them through reflection on their own mortality and need for a Savior - we began in Genesis and ended with the resurrection of Christ.

I was incredibly thankful because being a pastor - something which often closes doors of conversation - in these two instances opened wide the doors of people's hearts. I didn't have to develop a spiritual conversation, because it was already there; I just got invited into the middle of it. If you have space in your prayer time, would you pray for fruit from these two proclamations of the gospel? If you have further time, would you pray that God might continue to open these kinds of opportunities for the gospel?

At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison - that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Colossians 4:3,4
Please read George Grant's post on the persecuted church and how they bless us more than we bless them.

08 November 2005

Book Review - Ad Fontes

The deeper you go into any particular subject, the more pressure you should feel to go to the sources (ad fontes), to seek the originals as well as those who copy the originals. Hence my desire to read some of George MacDonald's fantasy work. This was the man whose writing grabbed Clive Staples Lewis and wouldn't let go. These were the stories which inspired other writers like Tolkien and Sayers and l'Engle. In fact, Lewis read Phantastes years before his conversion, writing later, "I should have been shocked in my 'teens if anyone had told me that what I learned to love in Phantastes was goodness." And later, this: "I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him."

Phantastes, a Faerie Romance, is quite the difficult book to summarize. Although if falls squarely into the realm of fantasy (or phantasy, as MacDonald would spell it), it goes about its work much more loosely than Lewis or Tolkien. We follow our weak, unnamed hero as he slips into the fairy world and takes it upon himself to embark on a journey through this land, only half-thinking he may be able to return to his world when he's finished. During this journey, he meets up with charming but less-than-traditional fairies, powerful living trees (some good, some bad), and many other colorful characters. He falls impossibly in love at least a couple times, I think, but these are not your normal love story, as one lady is, um, stone and the other is quite elderly, though young in the eyes.

MacDonald throws in some subplots, helpfully placed because the hero has stumbled upon a fairy library and takes it upon himself to treat us to some stories. There isn't an over-abundance of action - nothing matching the manic wars of Tolkien. But there is one rather stirring event of redemption when our hero comes through in a pinch, fighting some monsters that have terrorized a small town. Also sprinkled throughout the book are some songs, both of our hero and others; these, I must confess, must be somebody else's cup of tea, because they're not mine. And then the end of the book arrives and the reader is left wondering exactly what just happened. Perhaps that fogginess, murkiness of story, was exactly what MacDonald was shooting for. Our hero's remarks upon singing to his lady of stone seem to summarize my feelings toward MacDonald's writing: But I cannot tell whether she looked more of a statue or more of a woman, she seemed removed into that region of phantasy where all is intensely vivid, but nothing is clearly defined.

What MacDonald did for fantasy writing was to make it okay, acceptable, a worthy pursuit. His writing is not as amazing as his literary children and grandchildren, but we can join them in being thankful for his striking out in new territory for the kingdom of Christ. Should you take and read? If you're a reader of Narnia or Middle Earth, or even newer fantasy, it would be good to see where it all came from. If you're not, you would probably do better to start with the disciples rather than the master.

06 November 2005

Sunday Hello's

Hi everybody in Sabbath land. We've just arrived home, put the kid to bed and now I'm in my basement working on the sermon for tonight - any ideas on what I should preach? He he. I'm looking forward to preaching on Malachi 1; I chose the passage because we're celebrating communion tonight and the ancient fathers believed that Malachi 1:11 was actually a prophecy, not just of Christ, but of the sacrament of communion.

Malachi 1:11 For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.

I can't have as much confidence as they had in this interpretation, but I do believe that one powerful application of this passage lies in our celebrating the Lord's supper, as it reminds us that we can bring to God only our paschal lamb, Jesus Christ. But you'll have to listen in for the rest of the sermon. Keith Mathison: There is no reason to deny...that this prophecy is fulfilled to some extent in the observance of the Lord's Supper by the new covenant church. (Given for You)


Here is a really cool program that makes the great reformed confessions searchable and accessible. Download it, use it, get in touch with the past, and other good things.

In the spirit of confessionalism, here is some of the Larger Catechism's guidance on preparing for and taking the Lord's Supper.

Q171: How are they that receive the sacrament of the Lord's supper to prepare themselves before they come unto it?

A171: They that receive the sacrament of the Lord's supper are, before they come, to prepare themselves thereunto, by examining themselves of their being in Christ, of their sins and wants;of the truth and measure of their knowledge, faith, repentance; love to God and the brethren, charity to all men, forgiving those that have done them wrong; of their desires after Christ, and of their new obedience; and by renewing the exercise of these graces, by serious meditation, and fervent prayer.

Q174: What is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord's supper in the time of the administration of it?
A174: It is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord's supper, that, during the time of the administration of it, with all holy reverence and attention they wait upon God in that ordinance,diligently observe the sacramental elements and actions, heedfully discern the Lord's body, and affectionately meditate on his death and sufferings, and thereby stir up themselves to a vigorous exercise of their graces; in judging themselves, and sorrowing for sin; in earnest hungering and thirsting after Christ, feeding on him by faith, receiving of his fulness,trusting in his merits, rejoicing in his love, giving thanks for his grace; in renewing of their covenant with God, and love to all the saints.

Q175: What is the duty of Christians, after they have received the sacrament of the Lord's supper?
A175: The duty of Christians, after they have received the sacrament of the Lord's supper, is seriously to consider how they have behaved themselves therein, and with what success; if they find quickening and comfort, to bless God for it, beg the continuance of it, watch against relapses, fulfil their vows, and encourage themselves to a frequent attendance on that ordinance: but if they find no present benefit, more exactly to review their preparation to, and carriage at, the sacrament; in both which, if they can approve themselves to God and their own consciences, they are to wait for the fruit of it in due time: but, if they see they have failed in either, they are to be humbled, and to attend upon it afterwards with more care and diligence.


Thursday night was our latest session meeting; we spent the majority of time interviewing people for church membership (a total of 8 adults and 4 to-be-baptized covenant kids). It was, as the most senior pastor remarked, "Magnificent." A wonderful testimony to the powerful and varied grace of God. Eight individuals brought to faith through the powerful working of God.

What struck me is how God used other people in these saints' lives. Some had grown up in covenant homes, never knowing a day without repentance and faith in Christ; others God pulled out of the miriest mire, answering desperate prayers of their families; some marked their conversions to the power of God's Word preached. We laughed and cried and rejoiced in the God that works.


I'm pretty stoked about a fun, new book we got about architecture, The Story of Architecture, by J. Glancey. Although he falls into some polished postmodern rewriting of history (speaking far too highly of the achievements of Islam without admitting the violence of their conquest, being far to quick to denounce the "bloody crusades" of the church), the book is remarkable for succinct overviews of architectural periods, filled by great photographs.

On Gothic architecture: Gothic architecture is one of the glories of European civilization, an attempt to lift our everyday life up to the heavens, to touch the face of God, in the highest stone vaults, towers, and steeples that contemporary technology allowed...High above the naves of these shiplike structures, and often well out of the range of the human eye, we find expertly carved angels, demons, fronds, and finials, the work of individual craftsmen for whom nothing was to be hidden and nothing was too good for the all-seeing eye of the heavenly father.

I don't feel capable of giving well-laid arguments for church architecture one way or the other - but I love the passion with which craftsmen labored on Gothic cathedrals, sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God was watching and that He was passionately interested in their life's work. This is part of the fount of human worth, not just being made in the image of God, but being in the eye and passion of God. In their haste to escape the burden of God's authority, the world has also released its right to the greatest source of joy and righteous pride in their life's work: that God cares.


My friend Josh Gillespie has a new blog here.

His wife, Catherine, has a slightly older blog. Josh and I are both blessed the knowledge of what it means to have wives much smarter and attractive than us. Read this post from Catherine's blog and you'll see why.

04 November 2005

Hi everybody. Thought I'd let you know that Mars Hill is still having their great inventory-reduction sale (free shipping on orders over ten dollars!).

I'm having a great time listening to their conversation, "Wandering Toward the Altar", about the decline of courtship in America. I'll tell you about it sometime (don't think it's still available in the sale, though).

03 November 2005

worship predictor

For Sunday morning:

Psalms (from the Crown & Covenant psalter)


Pastor Long will be preaching from John 7:37-39, "The Spirit of Living Water." In the evening, I'll be preaching on Malachi 1, "The Lord's Offering" before communion.


Proverbs 15:30 The light of the eyes rejoices the heart, and good news refreshes the bones

Proverbs 16:24 Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

Proverbs 17:22 A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

How much fun could we have with these verses? There seems to be at least three directions we can go in our interpretation of these "bones" verses in Proverbs:

1. We could simply dismiss them as statements of the obvious ("meatball sandwiches are tasty; good news is nice to have"), and go on to the next verse. I will admit that this was my initial interpretation.

2. We could use these verses to develop a rather technical discussion of the medicinal qualities of righteousness (i.e., always look for spiritual causes of sickness and prescribe spiritual cures of good news and joyfulness, "Three smiles, two Psalms and a Proverb a day and that ulcerative colitis will clear right up"). This is, in fact, how several have interpreted these verses. By hyper-literalizing the text, they create solutions (& problems) that aren't Biblical. Are these verses God's idea of a medical textbook? Hardly. So, this interpretation is out because it's unfaithful to the text. On to interpretation #3.

3. After looking into it some more, I found this sensible and contextually appropriate comment by Bruce Waltke on 16:24:

This verse draws the subunit on competent speech to its climactic conclusion. It compares the extraordinary remedial power of morally and aesthetically pleasing words to overflowing honey….The metaphor is explained in verset B: honey uniquely is both sweet and a remedy. Sweet to the soul connotes their pleasing and attractive style to the audience. And a remedy connotes that their substance is an instrument of healing to those hurt by the damaging speech of fools (see 4:22). The synecdoche to the bones (3:8) refers to the restoration of the entire person or community, both the immaterial and material aspects. Normally medicine is bitter, and what is sweet is not medicinal. Both properties, however, are necessary. Were healing words bitter, the tonic would not be consumed and of no benefit.

More simply, "bones" aren't just bones. Waltke argues that bones is a synecdoche - today's new word! Synecdoche is a figure of speech where a part is used for the whole. E.g., when I say I won't harm a hair on your head, I'm (hopefully) referring to your whole person and not just the thin things protruding from your follicles. Thus, in Proverbs, "bones" is much bigger than just my bones.

Biblically, “bones” often means much more than those long white things in the middle of my arms; it represents the innermost part of the body, thus the person (see Ps. 6:2; 22:14; 31:10; 34:20; and so on). This means that those who take these verses and speak so strongly of the medicinal quality of righteousness and goodness (see #2 above) make the mistake, not of going too far, but not going far enough. The goodness of righteousness extends far beyond our physical health, even to the whole person and the whole community. Do good words do good to our physical, joints-and-tissue-and-bones body? Yes. But the truth is much grander; our words can do good to the whole person, that person made in the image of God. We, with Christlike words, can do something doctors can never hope to accomplish: minister to the whole person, body/soul/mind/strength.

I think the other mistake is that this interpretation gets way more specific than God’s Word lets us. This is an interpretation error is common in some fundamentalist/supra-Scriptural camps, and one that leads to all sorts of problems. One way to guard against this error is have good commentaries and teachers; when we go beyond what the church has taught about these passages and claim to have found the "new and improved - health secrets from Proverbs!!", that breeze we're feeling is because we are out on a tiny limb.

01 November 2005

Movies - Saints & Soldiers

As always, I'm thankful to find a movie I can recommend with something approaching a whole heart. Saints and Soldiers is a WWII flick based on a true story. It begins with the Malmedy Massacre, a tragic slaying of 86 American prisoners by the Nazis. It follows with four escapees (there were 43 total in real life) trapped behind enemy lines with one gun and four bullets. From there they run into a downed English pilot who's in possession of information that could save many soldiers' lives if they can get him to friendly forces soon enough.

The story is a fine one, with meaningful characters and real dialogue. It brings some thoughtfulness about the nature of war and how men can come to kill each other with abandon. One of the men was, before the war, a missionary in Berlin - that, together with his personal tragedies, grants him a gentler and humane perspective on the war. The movie ramps up action-wise and emotionally, concluding very well with something nearing what we evangelicals might call a conversion.

The PG-13 is for some realistic violence (according to your scruples, it would be good for mature kids to see...sort of a toned-down Saving Private Ryan). The movie has won a basketful of awards and the cinematography is outstanding: stark and beautiful. Their website is well-done and as I poke around there, they have the soundtrack playing, which is quite good also.

I hope the passing of time and our proliferation of action movies and video games don't cause us to think less or little or not at all of the sacrifices of the soldiers of WWII. More than anything, movies which pay homage to our soldiers with humanity and without sensationalizing violence are something truly valuable from a medium so very rarely meaningful.