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!"

24 February 2006

A Paucity of Gluttony

I am astounded, confounded, and all around flabbergasted. Well, maybe not that much, but I am quite surprised: whilst studying Proverbs 23:20 (be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat), the rare topic of gluttony is naturally raised. My surprise is how rare the topic is.

The Hebrew word for gluttony is only used 10 times in the Old Testament, with only four of them being translated as "gluttony"; there is only one reference to gluttony in the New Testament (Titus 1:12). Here's what I've been able to piece together from my word study:

"Gluttony" (Hebrew, zalal) begins its etymological life as a verb meaning "to be light, worthless, to make light of, to squander." From there, it turned into its noun forms "worthlessness" and "insignificant." Jeremiah uses this word in Jer. 15:19 to encourage us to utter what is precious rather than worthless (zalel). The tricky thing, though, is that the main idea of the verb is "to make little of" while we often think of gluttony the opposite way: "to make much of; squanderous excess." Squanderous excess is not a bad definition of gluttony, but the spiritual truth behind gluttony is, I think, starting to come out. We are gluttonous when we make way too much of a thing - whether food or drink or luxury or music or relationships, etc. - but in our pursuit of something which ought not to be pursued as an end in itself, we end up emptying it of all its divinely-ordained potential.

To put it another way: meat & drink are blessings from God. But when good food and drink is pursued as an end in itself, we empty those blessings of their blessing, thus making little of something by making much of it. When used from a heart centered on the Living God, meat and drink are a blessing. When used apart from that mindset, when we pursue the gift instead of the Giver, we have emptied it by trying to get too much from it. We have been gluttons.

Back to my surprise...I went to my books to see what better men have thought about gluttony, only to find they haven't. I did a search through my electronic books in Logos to see what I could find there. Barely a mention in a topical textbook. [Ed. note: I'm assuming that the Puritans wrote quite a bit on gluttony, just as they did on everything else, but they have yet to publish the definitive Puritan index. Or I haven't found it yet.]

Alas, who would help me? To the rescue came (superhero theme music here) John Calvin. I've got to remember to start checking with him first rather than last. In his discussion on the abuse of Christian liberty (3:19:9), he has instructed me well:

There is almost no one whose resources permit him to be extravagant who does not delight in lavish and ostentatious banquets, bodily apparel, and domestic architecture; who does not wish to outstrip his neighbors in all sorts of elegance; who does not wonderfully flatter himself in his opulence. And all these things are defended under the pretext of Christian freedom. They say that these are things indifferent. I admit it, provided they are used indifferently. But when they are coveted too greedily, when they are proudly boasted of, when they are lavishly squandered, things that were of themselves otherwise lawful are certainly defiled by these vices.

...Surely ivory and gold and riches are good creations of God, permitted, indeed appointed, for men's use by God's providence. And we have never been forbidden to laugh, or to be filled, or to join new possessions to old or ancestral ones, or to delight in musical harmony, or to drink wine. True indeed. But where there is plenty, to wallow in delights, to gorge oneself, to intoxicate mind and heart with present pleasures and be always panting after new ones - such are very far removed from a lawful use of God's gift.

Ah yes, the wonderfully bittersweet sting of conviction. One more reason to be thankful for Calvin.

21 February 2006

Book Review - Trinity

Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, & Relevance
by Bruce A. Ware

It's not that I disbelieved the doctrine of the Trinity - it's more that I didn't think I could really understand it, so I just left it there. Besides, so many other doctrines seemed not only more understandable, more grabbable, but also more practiceable. Sanctification - now there's a doctrine we can sink our teeth into.

So often we speak of God being three-in-one and then bow our hearts reverently, realizing how great a mystery this is. And it really is a mystery - but that doesn't mean it's unknowable, just that it's unknowable to its totality. God as Trinity is not something to be taught, confessed, and then shelved next to infra- vs. supra-lapsarianism on the "historical and trivial, but mostly unknowable and unusable" shelf. Thus, it is for people like me that Dr. Bruce Ware (professor of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) wrote this excellent book.

The first chapter constitutes the argument for the existence of such a book; Ware doesn't have to go too far to get the reader convinced that the Trinity is an important, vital topic: "The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most important distinguishing doctrines of the Christian faith and therefore is deserving of our careful study, passionate embrace, and thoughtful application." Amen. On to the second chapter. (Side note: I was challenged by Ted Donnelly at last May's Banner of Truth conference, who asked us, "Would your sermons be acceptable in a synagogue or Mormon tabernacle?" Application: Sermons that aren't distinctly Trinitarian aren't distinctly Christian.)

Chapter 2 combines a historical and scriptural survey of the development of Trinitarian doctrine. Ware does a great job taking a monumental church history lesson and paring it down to the essentials. In a similar fashion, he surveys Scripture concisely and convinces the reader that, according to Scripture, God is/must be Triune. The importance of this chapter is immediately apparent to anyone who's ever spoken at length with Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons - how well we can defend this doctrine from Scripture may well dictate how well we can evangelize to those groups.

Chapter 3-5 deal in turn with the wonder of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit in their distinct roles and relationships within the Trinity. Each chapter begins with a version of summarizing Trinitarian doctrine: "...there is one and only one God, eternally existing and fully expressed in three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each member of the Godhead is equally God, each is eternally God, and each is fully God - not three gods, but three Persons of the one Godhead. Each Person is equal in essence as each possesses fully the identically same, eternal divine nature, yet each is also an eternal and distinct personal expression of the one undivided divine nature." While this is a mouthful, it is a great summary of what the church has believed and taught and clung to ever since the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.).

These three chapters reveal the distinctions Scripture gives to the Father, Son & Spirit. I.e., the Father as supreme, the Son's eternal submission to the Father, the Spirit's mission to glorify the Father by glorifying the Son, etc. It's hard to put into a review how powerful these simple chapters are. To have a teacher and a lover of Scripture clearly line out for us good teaching on the Trinity was to my heart the heartiest meal on the coldest day. Each chapter ended with some hints at applying these truths to our lives/families/churches.

The final chapter took some of those applications and teased them out even more. Earthly fathers modeling the loving authority of the Father in heaven, wives (and all under others' authority) modeling the loving submission of Jesus, finding delight in the varying roles and gifts and structures of the church, making sure our prayers are Trinitarian (as opposed to Unitarian). Each of these points of application was well-said, and each could be a wellspring from which to draw much more.

Father, Son, & Holy Spirit is an excellent survey and introduction to Trinitarian doctrine. I recommend it with great enthusiasm!

p.s. - because Ware is a Baptist, it doesn't surprise me that he left out mention of how the ideas of covenant and Trinity work together (the covenant of redemption being an activity of the Trinity before the creation of the world). Something for another day, I suppose.


The sermon on money from Sunday night (it takes a little while to get started because we had some mic troubles):

mp3 (sermon audio - smaller)

p.s. - I resisted the temptation to quote Pink Floyd's "money", mostly because it has some vulgarity in it...but it remains a pretty good critique of a money-hungry culture.

19 February 2006

Book Review - Sing the Psalms!

It is absolutely impossible to deny that psalm singing is Biblical. David did it. Israel did it. The prophets did it. Christ & his disciples sang them. Paul and Silas sang them in prison. And Revelation leads us to believe we'll be singing Psalms in heaven. So what happened? What can explain the current state of psalmody in the church and what can remedy it?

In this simple and lucid book, John W. Keddie does a very good job answering these, and many more, questions. While it is often a dangerous thing to diagnose a problem in the church, his account of the rise of non-inspired hymnody is short, but accurate. Which describes well the whole book, Sing the Lord's Song: short and accurate.

In a scant 65 pages, Keddie answers many objections to exclusive psalmody, reveals the Biblical mandate for psalm-singing, reviews the regulative principle, surveys history and the current, temporary demise of psalmody, and finally encourages the use of psalms by reviewing a few of their many benefits. It seems to me that Keddie must have had many of the same conversations I've had - both as an opponent then as a proponent of exclusive psalm singing - because, while his book is by no means comprehensive, he gets to every objection I've ever heard leveled at those who believe God desires us to sing his psalms to him without addition or subtraction.

When promoting exclusive psalmody, I've found a few approaches to take, some better than others. One can simply expound the virtues of psalm singing (memorizing God's Word, having no doubts, whatsoever, about the material being sung, the unity of the church, etc.). Or one could start with the regulative principle and reveal through Scripture that God has never desired non-inspired hymns to be sung in his worship, thus only the psalms are appropriate. Or one could go in the back door and ask those who sing other songs in Scripture: "Where in the Bible does God allow us, commission us, or show us how to write songs to him?" Each three work, but some can be more hard-nosed than others. Keddie seems to do all three in his 65 pages.

The more I sing the songs of Christ, the more I read the Word of God, the more I am surprised and saddened that so many feel the need for something else in worship. Certainly good and doctrinally sound songs exist - but why do we need anything else in God's worship than God's songs? Even if you disagree - perhaps especially if you disagree - Keddie's book will challenge you with God's Word, rather than with man's reasoning.

17 February 2006

Robert Lewis Dabney: A Southern Presbyterian Life
by Sean Michael Lucas

Mostly for good, R. L. Dabney (1820-1898) is seeing something of a revival of interest these days. Dr. Lucas' book is the first in a series by Presbyterian & Reformed focusing on prominent figures in American Reformed thought. Dabney most certainly qualifies. A southern gentleman, a powerful preacher and pastor, friend and staff to Stonewall Jackson, an influential professor at Union Theological Seminary, and a towering intellectual, Dabney does indeed serve Lucas' purpose of showing forth a "southern presbyterian life."

This is an even-handed biography, showing clearly the brilliance of Dabney as he takes on theological liberalism and generaly wishy-washyness and this new-fangled Darwinianism - indeed, it seems that Dabney was one of the church's most prudent objectors to macro-evolution theories, seeing in it far more evil than Charles Hodge did. But Lucas does not hide from the warts, either. It is no secret that Dabney was a racist, and there is simply no excusing his writings on behalf of race-based slavery, or his refusal to support full membership of blacks or qualified black men as pastors in presbyterian churches. Dabney also comes across as overly dogmatic in certain ecclesiastical situations. At least he's got a really kickin' beard.

I do recommend this book, not just as a biography or even a good reformed biography, but as a book that made me think, really think. Here are some questions I'm wrestling with as a result of reading this book:

  • Lucas mentions quite often that Dabney was very concerned to be a professional pastor. For Dabney this meant excellence in everything he did, as well as struggling by his excellence to see the pastorate take its place alongside the other high callings of society (e.g., medical, legal, political fields). This clearly rubs against John Piper's philosophy-of-ministry book, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. Piper's point is that pastors simply cannot desire or find a way to put their vocation on the same shelf as other "professionals," and to attempt to do so is both damaging and prideful. So, now I'm stuck between Dabney and Piper; like Dabney, I wish the pastorate were as respected as it once was and I wish all those in pastorate would give themselves to excellence, especially in their dealings with Scripture. Yet I remained persuaded by Piper that our work is of a different nature than any other work - not that it's better, just that it simply cannot be measured on the same scale. There is no dollar amount you can put on a sermon, there is no way to count the hours of a faithful pastor, and there is no way to equate the spiritual work of pastoring with other vocations.
  • Although I find no good way to take sides in the North vs. South debate that still rages hither and yon, I will admit that I am very offended by Dabney's racism, so much so that it causes me to look askew at other things he wrote; even in his cultural context, how could such a man of God have such a huge, gospel-denying blind spot? More importantly, then: what are my blind spots? What has our society & culture and even my upbringing sewn into my consciousness that denies the gospel? And how do I root it out?
  • How seriously do I view threats upon orthodoxy? How much value do I place upon Biblical, reformed theology? How far am I willing to go to defend it? Over the course of his life, Dabney gave up more and more, from his friends to his professorship to his influence to even his name, in order to defend reformed theology in the southern presbyterian church. It is a testimony of strength and commitment.
Because it made me think and because it is a genuinely good biography, I highly recommend this book.


I added some new bookmarks on the right: Voice of the Martyrs, Prairie Home Companion, and Car Talk. Enjoy.

15 February 2006

Sermon follow up

One of the points I made Sunday night, from Proverbs 22:12-21, was that a life dedicated to obeying Christ is, in fact, the most exciting, lifelike-life we could live. Obedience is freedom, contrary to popular understanding, which believes the opposite. The picture is that of a Indy racecar, parked by the pit crew. Clearly, this isn't what this car is made for; it isn't made to take kids to soccer practice at 40 mph; it isn't even made to to 100 mph behind a pacecar. It's only when the green flag is waved and the cars scream away at 230 mph that the racecar is doing what it was made to do. So with those made in God's image, it is only when we are living for Christ, submitting to God's will in all things, that we are doing what we were made to do.

To follow-up that point, here's a passage I read this morning in Bruce Ware's Father, Son, & Holy Spirit (which I hope to review soon):

It appears, then, that we need to learn something about the nature of true freedom. Freedom is not what our culture tells us it is. Freedom is not my deciding, from the urges and longings of my sinful nature, to do what I want to do, when I want to do it, how I want to do it, with whom I want to do it. According to the Bible, that is bondage, not freedom. Rather, true freedom is living as Jesus lived, for he is the freest human being who has ever lived, and one day we will be set free fully when we always and only do the will of God. So what is freedom? Amazingly, Jesus' answer is this: Freedom is submitting - submitting fully to the will of God, to the words of God, and to the work that God calls us to do.

Amen! What a wonderful Savior, who would set us free as He is free!

14 February 2006

Here's the sermon from Sunday night, on Proverbs 22:17-21. I'm really looking forward to digging into these "thirty sayings" of Proverbs. Just studying chapters 22-24 is helping me solidify what the main lessons of Proverbs are. I have a theory about Proverbs, that our problems and thus the main lessons of Proverbs, are relatively few in number. I'm hoping to solidify this theory in an article, perhaps after I finish preaching through, in 2010.

mp3 from Sermon Audio (smaller size)


A couple really great music discoveries:

The Wood Brothers. This is a concert from npr posted on their website. It's just Oliver & Chris Wood on guitar and upright bass, respectively. Oliver is the guitarist from Medeski, Martin & Wood (for all you modern jazz fans). But these songs manage to combine an old-timey feel with excellent guitar work and really deep grooves (the one thing I often feel is missing from "americana" music). Their cd is definitely going on my wish list.

James Hunter. I also heard him through an npr link to David Dye's World Cafe. It's really, really great soul/'60s r&b. His voice is so good it's almost impossible to believe his cd was recorded just last year.

As long as we're in this genre, I should metion Tres Chicas. I picked up their first cd, Sweetwater, for the wifey a while back. I can't even remember how I heard of them, but it is a great folk cd, although it's mostly marketed as a country album. What makes them stand apart is their great harmonies. The instruments are fine, but not showy; the songs are clever. But their singing...if I had a great big front porch, I would hire them to sit there and sing, because this is just what front porches were made for. It looks from their website like they have a new album coming out soon. (It also says they're holding a benefit concert for "reproductive rights"...argh.)


FYI - is having a sale. Free shipping on orders over $200. That's a whole lot of money and a whole lot of books, but if you've been waiting to pick up Calvin's commentaries or some other set, now's the time.

10 February 2006

My favorite quote of the day
From this post by Carl Trueman @ Ref21, about the ever increasing acceptance of homosexuality:

...we need to see this as an extremely encouraging development. As gay marriage makes homosexuality respectable and safe, it will inevitably make Christianity scandalous and dangerous. And that is how it should be: the cross is frightening, disturbing, volatile. For too long it has functioned as a piece of costume jewelry, so it’s about time it was once more an atavistic, disturbing force within society; and gay marriage is one sign that, in a sense, the world, fallen as it is, is returning to fallen normality. In the future, when the mega churches have finally become malls, when the emerging types have been conservative-and-liberal, Catholic-and-Protestant, dazed-and-confused for so long they don’t know who they are anymore, when Reg and Dave [Elton John & his partner] are celebrating their silver wedding anniversary in traditional style, then perhaps those looking for rebellion, for an opportunity to `stick it to the man’ will only have the cross and traditional Christianity to which they can turn. And that could perhaps prove to be the greatest evangelistic opportunity of them all. Till then, the situation looks set to get worse before it gets better; but, as Sir Elton once sang, I guess that’s why they call it the blues.

09 February 2006

We talked a couple posts ago about the Muslim riots around the world.

Here is a short article by John Piper that is simply right on the money.

Here is a post by George Grant that bears on the discussion as well.

Finally, some thoughts by James Faris on the true threat of Islam.

08 February 2006

Limiting Education

In family worship, we are reaching the end of the gospel of John. After John records some of Jesus' appearances to and interactions with his disciples (notably with Thomas), John makes this comment:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:20,31)

I brought these verses to our Christian Education meeting last night, to discuss the limitations of education. Both as a pastor and teacher in the church and as a father (and also as a learner, I suppose), I have this great desire to impart to our students and my own children a comprehensive education. Although it's ridiculously impossible, I want them to know everything, or at least most of everything. In areas of Scripture, I want our Sunday School students to have a masterful command of every Bible story and genre and doctrine; I want them to be able to recite the catechism with their eyes closed; I want them to be able to tear down every unbiblical worldview and to be able to present Christ in love. I want them to learn Greek & Hebrew, and maybe even Aramaic. I want them to win Bible trivia contests and to memorize huge chunks of Scripture.

The first problem is that this is unrealistic. If comprehensiveness is the goal of parenting or teaching, we have doomed ourselves to failure before we start. Answering the challenge thus begins with limitation. We must limit the education we give to our kids, our students; even as a preacher, I have to limit every week what I'm going to say. There is always really cool stuff I have to cut out of the sermon. Besides, if new people ever come to faith in Christ and then attend our church, they're starting from close to zero in their Christian education - often halfway through life.

Acknowledging limitation should lead us to find a standard for limitation. How do we know what to cut out and include? How can a CE committee decide wisely what to focus on during Sunday school and what to exclude? Here, John's wisdom can aid us. The Apostle John knew exactly what he was doing with his gospel; he knew his audience and he had a defined purpose. John's one goal was to lead people to believe that Jesus is the Christ and that believing they would have life in his name. If he had wanted to write a comprehensive biography, he could have gone on for years (see 21:25); if he had wanted to simply stenograph all of Christ's teachings, he would have just been a reporter. But his goal was to lead people to salvation; for that, he knew they must believe that Jesus is the Christ, the anointed Messiah of God. Every word of his gospel was crafted for this purpose.

What a wonderful guide in limiting education! When faced with a choice, whether as parents or elders or preachers or teachers, wondering whether to cut out A or B, we will do well to ask, "Which class/lesson/instruction would best lead someone to believe that Jesus is the Christ?" Certainly there are other wise ways to choose between this or that class, but I would like to humbly suggest that John's method of limiting education should be the very first question we ask ourselves as parents, teachers and preachers.

07 February 2006

Here's the sermon from Proverbs 22 last Sunday evening:



This could be an interesting movie: The Second Chance. It's about two pastors from "different sides of the tracks"... perhaps it only popped out to me because it bears on my daily work. From the trailer, it's hard to tell if it will be an accurate rendering of the gospel in real life and an accurate critique of American evangelicalism or if it will bear more on the social justice part of the gospel, which seems to be much more popular these days.

Here's the homepage.


Two weeks ago, Garrison Keillor brought Prairie Home Companion to Purdue University. It happened to occur during our annual congregational meeting, so I wasn't tempted to go. But the wife and I were listening last night and it was a lot of fun.

Perhaps the best part was hearing the Purdue Fight Song sung on national radio by the Glee Club. All the stars seemed to be aligning...(it's in segment 2).


What do you think about the many Muslim riots over the Mohammed cartoons?

Here's the latest (NATO troops firing on protestors in Kabul) - you can also read past related stories from this page. You can see the cartoons here.

Some questions for discussion:

  • Since we're always being told that Islam is a "noble" religion, a religion of peace...will the widespread violence of these protests be enough to convince the world otherwise? Is it time to see what's just below the mellow surface of Islam?
  • Apparently, many Muslims are rioting because it is against their law to have any pictures of Mohammed, to prevent idolatry. Is there a lesson here for Christians? Not to imply that we ought to be violently protesting anything, but are we passionate enough about God's laws to, say, call the NFL to move their games off the Lord's Day?
  • Do these riots scare anyone else other than me? Thousands of people, all over the world, shouting and burning and shooting with abandon - how long can it be before this comes to Indiana?
  • Conversely, does the recklessness and the vitriole of these protests encourage you in a roundabout way? Think about it this way: Christians all over the world don't shoot and burn stuff when Jesus is made fun of through cartoons or other media. Why should we? The weapons of our warfare are spiritual and Jesus can take care of His own name, thank you very much. But if your weapons aren't spiritual, if you're in another camp where all you've got in the quiver are the same old bullets and riots, then the very intensity of your protest gives testimony to the shortness of your cause. Jesus doesn't need us to burn stuff when people make fun of Him. Mohammed, on the other hand, has no way to defend himself, no true spiritual power, so he must resort to inflaming his disciples on his behalf.
  • Any other lessons I'm missing?

03 February 2006

Book Notes

Cathedral, by David Macaulay - you've probably seen this book, or others in this series by David Macaulay. It is a visual record of the building of a cathedral in 13th century France. The text is quite short, but informative enough to convince me the author knows what he's talking about. Even better are his illustrations; with wonderful, grand and detailed pen and ink drawings, Macaulay somehow manages to impart a sense of scale (i.e., huge) and wonder. I told myself that I bought this book so my kids would have it around when they're able to enjoy it; but really, I bought it because it's really, really cool.

His other books in this series include: Pyramid, Castle, City. Makes me want to draw something.


In the same vein, I finally finished The Story of Architecture, by Jonathan Glancey. The booksellers tell me this is a college freshman-level introduction to architecture. Glancey devotes 2-4 pages to various architectural eras, important architects, imposing philosphies, and some of his ideas about the future.

The book is fairly deceptive because it's so pretty. Each page is filled with wonderful pictures, clearly illustrating the ideas and styles Glancey writes about. But it's far from the kid's book it seems to be. There are numerous people and dates and cities and philosophies mentioned and explained in detail. This is a good thing, because it serves to be both a nice, coffee-table book and a fairly thorough introduction to architecture.

It is interesting to try and guess at the author's religious, philosophical, and political persuasions. Despite acknowledging the greatness of some cathedral and church architecture, I don't think he's a big fan of Christianity; he finds interesting ways to keep bringing up the Crusades early in the book. Also, he doesn't take an overt stand for or against some of the more godless ideas in architecture, most notably the purposeful silliness and meaninglessness of postmodern architecture. But even with a possibly skewed philosphical foundation, this is a fine book and one I'll look forward to reviewing in the future.


The audio files from our winter conference have been uploaded. You can find them here; I've had opportunity to use the materials in Pastor Selvaggio's lectures a few times already. Most of the students who attended were greatly blessed, or so they tell me. On the same page is the audio from my "Christ & the Arts" workshop. It's fairly hard to listen to, because I did a lot of audience participation and they weren't miked...

01 February 2006

More on Christ & The Arts

I'm enjoying all your thoughts and comments on the arts.

Here is the final installment of my workshop from a few weeks ago. It's not meant to be complete, but to be a work in progress, some thoughts for how we can advance in this arena. What would you add? Take away?

For Christians in Art:

  • Be a Christian, then be an artist. Being a “Christian artist” will take care of itself
  • Commit not just to the message, but to the medium, to the quality of your art
  • Art is a valid calling in the kingdom
  • Art is not a higher calling (we have Romanticism to thank for transforming art into Art and the artist into the Artist)
  • Both Bezalels (God-ordained artists) and Gideons (God-ordained idol smashers) are needed. Be both.

For Christians Consuming Art:

  • Be a Christian, then be a consumer. Being a “Christian consumer” will take care of itself
  • Consciously reject silly assumptions the church makes about art
  • Pursue both good art & good books about art
  • There’s far too much good art for us all to pursue everything. Pick one or two or three “arts” and study, read, learn. Therein find joy and true entertainment.
  • Work to understand artists better. How can the church better minister to and with artists?