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!"

28 April 2006


In our church planting core group, we've finally gotten around to studying exclusive Psalmody. One of the objections I've heard to exclusive psalmody is that we're missing out on the great hymns of the church. Regarding that, here are some quotes culled from Michael Bushell's Songs of Zion:

I believe that a man can find nothing more glorious than these Psalms; for they embrace the whole life of man, the affections of his mind, and the motions of his soul. To praise and glorify God, he can select a psalm suited to every occasion, and thus will find that they were written for him.

-Athanasius (296-373 a.d.)

The truth is, the Old Testament Psalms are perfectly suitable to our dispensation. God and His perfections are the same—correspondence with which there is a permanence n the character and the attributes of the saint, which lays a foundation for a stated system of Psalmody; the graces and exercises of the saint are substantially the same at all times; the description and expression of these, by the Spirit of God, we prefer to the paintings of men. If unsuitable, what a pity that neither Jesus nor His apostles, at any time, gave the most distant hint of this fact; nor did they, so far as we know, attempt to supply the defect.

-Gilbert M’Master, An Apology for the Book of Psalms, 1852

27 April 2006


Why do we fall back into the same sins? How is it, once we've felt their sting, seen their ridiculousness, experienced the carnage, etc. - how is it that we are yet tempted? Are we that spiritually stupid? Sometimes, yeah.

Pro. 26:11 - Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.

Ah...the favorite verse of little boys everywhere. I clearly remember acting out this verse in junior high Bible class. I gave an inspired performance as "the dog." And yet behind the exceeding grossness of the metaphor lies the exceeding ridiculousness of repeated sin.

When it comes to sin, without God's Spirit and Word and sanctificaiton, I am clearly no better than the dog who stupidly yet happily returns to eat up that which he just ralphed. So as for me there's no way to imagine regurgitated vomit to be appetizing, God must look at my repeated sin with the same disgust and forehead slapping: "I can't believe he's gonna do it again!"

How depressing the whole thing would be if I hadn't been made something new, something un-dog-like, by the work of Christ and His Spirit. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!


How is my writing? How is your writing? on blogging and the demise of the English language. Looks like it's time to go back to English grammar flashcards. Seriously, though, communication in an electronic format need not be sloppy. Capitalize the beginnings of sentences. Write whole sentences. Spell things correctly. 'n stuf

25 April 2006

Book Review - Turning Points

Turning Points, by Mark Noll

Mark Noll is currently the Carolyn and Fred McManis Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College, though leaving soon to work at Notre Dame. He's a prolific and well-respected writer, though this is the first book of his I've read (some of you might encounter him in Books & Culture magazine).

The idea behind Turning Points is to organize a survey of church history around 12 major events in post-ascension Christianity. Dr. Noll admits that such an approach has its weaknesses, but argues that an introductory survey like this should find some way of boiling down such a huge topic for dummies like me. (He didn't say I was a dummy.) I must say that the organization of the book was a huge help to me. Here are the 12 "turning points" Noll chose, though he freely admitted others could be added:

1. The Fall of Jerusalem (70)
2. The Council of Nicaea (325)
3. The Council of Chalcedon (451)
4. Benedict's Rule: the Monastics (530)
5. The Coronation of Charlemagne (800)
6. The Great Schism (1054)
7. The Diet of Worms (1521)
8. The English Act of Supremacy (1534)
9. The Founding of the Jesuits (1540)
10. The Conversion of the Wesleys (1738)
11. The French Revolution (1789)
12. The Edinburgh Missionary Conference (245)

Just to cover himself, he added a 13th chapter with "further turning points of the 20th century": the rise of Pentecostalism, the 2nd Vatican Council, the emergence of women in public visibility, the globalization of Christianity as seen through new Bible translations, and the survival of Christianity under communist regimes. Several ot the chapters really filled in huge gaps in my knowledge while others gently challenged assumptions I had made; Noll's fairly sympathetic treatment of the monk's work in the church brought some good balance to my thinking.

This is an excellent introduction to church history. Several times while reading, I found myself wishing I had read this before I took my presbytery exam on church history (not a pretty sight). Very few of us will ever delve deep enough into church history to take up more specific studies of each period or even go to the original sources. So if you need a good guide to church history, let Noll take your hand and walk you through.

Hopefully, you'll read a lot of church history before you get to heaven. Church history gives us desperately needed perspective, hope from God's fulfilled promises, and reliance upon the Spirit in the face of so many errors. ...But if you're going to read just a few church history books, this would be a good one to get.

Turning Points isn't an incredibly easy read, though it's not an academic book by any measure. I could easily envision a high school class using it as a textbook for church history or maybe a fairly devoted Sunday school class.


In other news: turns out that prayer doesn't help you get better. This study found that those who prayed for recovery after a heart bypass surgery fared no better than those who didn't. The sad thing is that some Christians are upset by this because they've so radically misunderstood prayer. (thanks Andy)


Finally: hopefully, #1 will learn to get his "s" and "p" sounds together soon. It's hard not to laugh when he answers "Who is our Helper?" by saying "Holy Ferret!"
The new Sabbath: the Sun-day. School had a day off for nice weather. Can't blame 'em too much...


Sunday's sermon on Proverbs 25 (kinda bad sound this week, sorry).

The answer to the exegetical conundrum (below) is, I believe, that heaping burning coals on our enemies' head is a promise of divine judgment. That is, we are freed to love our enemies by the certainty of God's dealing with their sins and injustices. Rather than simply a symbol of shame, if coals are a sign of justice (as they are in Ps. 140:9,10), then we are freed to love like Jesus loved: without reservation, without vengeance. Finally, to support this idea further, Romans 12:17ff is a passage about not taking vengeance, but leaving vengeance to God; in this context, Paul quotes Pro. 25:21,22, placing it squarely in the realm of vengeance and justice and not just shame.

21 April 2006


This week's fun little exegetical conundrum has come from Proverbs 25:21,22:

21 If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, 22 for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.

The question is: What are these burning coals, what do they symbolize? In his book Crying for Justice, John Day summarizes the three possibilities, to which Charles Bridges add a fourth.

1. Burning coals are a symbol of shame - or -
2. Burning coals are a picture of repentance - or -
3. Burning coals are an image of divine justice - or -
4. Burning coals symbolize the smelting down of the enemy, love that conquers all.

Which do you think works the best? So as not to ruin it for you, I'll let you chew on it; this way, I won't ruin the sermon for you :)

Here's an exegetical help: always check to see if the verse is used elsewhere, whether directly or indirectly.

19 April 2006


The things we get in the mail...Because preparing for communion was just too much of a burden, now there's the Celebration Cup!, the world's first fully-sealed wafer&wine portable sacramental potable.

The grape juice is all right, but the wafer is powerfully untasty. Oh well, anything in the name of convenience.

18 April 2006

Why so many churches?

This morning I read Mark Noll's chapter on The English Act of Supremacy, wherein Henry VIII and Thomas Cranmer effectively broke England's ties with the Roman Catholic Church and set up the Anglican Church, with Henry as its head. Noll uses this as a jumping off point to think on the historical setting and the result of Protestantism's rise. Here is part of his conclusion: seems to me that the rise of multiple Protestantisms, each tied closely to a local situation, created conditions in which local renewal of the faith could take place more readily and stir hearts more deeply than in the Catholic regions of Eruope. The ecclesiastical division of Europe, however, also hastened the secularization of Europe, because the loss of a universal church directly or indirectly encouraged men and women to disregard all traditional authority and to think and act on their own. Protestantism thus may have created a situation anticipating both the secularization that abandoned Christian authority and genuine Christian revival. By contrast, Roman Catholicism, with its renewed commitment to the universality of the church, probably created a situation less propitious for local Christian renewal, but also more propitious for preserving traditional European respect for religious authority, the revelation from God found in Scripture, and Christian tradition itself.

What do you think? I hesitate to agree that post-Reformation Catholics maintained a high regard for God's revelation in Scripture, but other than that, Noll's assessment helps me understand some of the independent spirit of Protestantism, which so often seems to work against us. The proliferation of Protestant denominations may point to something good (strong convictions), but must also point to something bad, in that disunity always has sin at its root, somewhere. Of course, each denomination thinks that the sin is in the other denomiation and "That's why we had to separate from them." Surely, though, none are 100% correct.

To work toward unity, it helps to recognize where our disunity came from, as best we can.

14 April 2006

Friday's Randomness

I've been feeling fairly dry in blogging inspiration, but it's flowing like a river now, thus the following disjointed post:

Blogs of Irish RP Pastors! (please tell me if names or congregations are incorrect):

Mark Loughridge of Milford RP Church
David McCullough of Dromore RP Church


Good concert: Neko Case at the 9:30 club on


Another quote from Noll's Turning Points, this time on the differences between the Greek (Orthodox) and Latin (Roman) church, by Bishop Ware:

From the start Greeks and Latins had each approached the Christian Mystery in their own way. At the risk of some oversimplification, it can be said that the Latin approach was more practical, the Greek more speculative; Latin thought was influenced by juridical ideas, by the concepts of Roman law, while the Greeks understood theology in the context of worship and in the light of the Holy Liturgy. When thinking about the Trinity, Latins started with the unity of the Godhead, Greeks with the threeness of the persons; when reflecting on the Crucifixion, Latins thought primarily of Christ the Victim, Greeks of Christ the Victor; Latins talked more of redemption, Greeks of deification...These two distinctive approaches were not in themselves contradictory; each served to supplement the other, and each had its place in the fullness of Catholic tradition. But now that the two sides were becoming strangers to one another - with no political and little cultural unity, with no common language - there was a danger that each side would follow its own approach in isolation and push it to extremes, forgetting the value in the other point of view.

Nothing like a little theology for Friday afternoon. For you Protestants, which way do you think you/we lean?


A thought on Titus 2 - our Bible study was in Titus 2 last night, which I generally think of as a passage about different roles in the church (older men, older women, etc.). It is indeed that, but I came away profoundly grateful for verses 11-15, which form the theological backdrop for verses 1-10. Often I feel a tendency to approach Paul's teaching on church roles (especially women in the church) defensively, with my gloves up, so to speak. Not that I don't believe him, but I tend to anticipate folks bucking against Paul's instructions for them, especially young women.

But the problem is that I've read it and taught it apart from verses 11-15. A much better way is to meditate on the grace of God (v. 11), our great calling to live heavenly lives on earth (v. 12) and wait actively for Christ (v. 13). This is the Christ who purchased us to Himself by His blood; He didn't purchase a lifeless item, but a people designed to be zealous for good works. What a great calling! This, then, is the foundation of the roles of younger women and men and older women and men: the grace, salvation, and return of Jesus Christ.


Music review:
The Derek Trucks Band, Songlines

I mentioned Derek Trucks a while ago; if you haven't checked him out yet, I pardon you of your minor oversight. Now you have no excuse.

Songlines is flat-out great CD. Derek Trucks, the quite-young guitarist for the Allman Bros., and husband to blues-wiz Susan Tedeschi, is the best slide player I've heard. He clearly has the chops to play faster and fancier than most, but it's his musicality & tastefulness that keep impressing me. Rather than just being a guitar album, songlines is full of great songs and well-placed guitar solos.

For this album, DTB added a new singer, Mike Mattison, whereas in the past they employed guest vocalists. Mattison is a great singer and it helps to have the same voice throughout the album. The rest of the band consists of a drummer, percussionist, bassist, and flute player. The style of music is quite hard to pin down, though Songlines feels less experimentally international than the last two albums.

They cover blues, African, gospel, soul, jazz, etc. It's all very toe-tapping; I often find myself smiling at how good it is. So, if you're looking for a new cd for the summer, here it is.

[p.s. The title of the album comes from aboriginal myths wherein the ancients wandered through the Outback singing creation into existence. Later aborigines believed that if you knew the right songs, you could find your way anywhere. Sort of reminds me of Narnia's creation.]

11 April 2006

Cruce, libro, et atro

No, I'm not learning Latin (unfortunately), but I am reading a good church history book by Mark Nolls titled Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity. This morning I finished a really good chapter on monasticism; it challenged a lot of my assumptions about monks and mendicans, etc. Here's a great quote about monkish evangelism:

The missionary effectiveness of the monks usually depended as much upon their plain virtues as upon more highly visible exertions in preaching or teaching. For a monastery to be established in a pagan area allowed the local population to see the application of Christianity to daily existence, as monks tilled the soil, welcomed visitors, and carried out the offices of study and daily prayer. So arose the saying that the monks civilized Europe cruce, libro, et atro - with cross, book, and plow.

I really like the sound and idea of that. Something to chew on for Tuesday.

07 April 2006


As I work on this week's sermon about truth and labor, I'm listening to this story on about Moussaoui's trial. The prosecutors have brought Rudy Guiliani and many other families and witnesses of the 9/11 attacks. The purpose behind these powerful testimonies is to convince the jury that Moussaoui deserves the death penalty for his actions. Biblically, I believe, the answer is "yep."

But two things are bounding around in my head: first, that there has to be such a long, drawn-out trial (beyond establishing guilt) to decide if someone deserves the death penalty, shows that we've got capital punishment all fouled up. These days, to get the death penalty in a federal trial, the crime has to have one or more "aggravations", technical points which make it somehow worse. As if plotting and executing the death of thousands weren't enough.

Second is how poorly npr reported this story. While being quite subtle about it, the flow and phrasing of their reporting clearly favors releasing Moussaoui from the death penalty. Merely judging by the amount of time they give to predicting the defense's options (most likely they'll paint Moussaoui as a victim of bad parents and Islamic extremism), it's clear that their humanism knows no bounds. Now I realize that when I listen to npr, I'm wading into the lion's den as far as truth goes, but this one really took me by surprise. So, here's my word to npr: "Whoever says to the wicked, 'You are in the right,' will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations, but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them." (Pro. 24:24,25) Those who report the news take upon themselves a great responsibility to the God of truth, whether or not they acknowledge it.


On a far, far happier note: PBS is airing a 13 week series on the Legends of Jazz, with performances by 13 top jazz folks. Here's an interview with Pat Metheny by, partly in reference to the city. Too bad we don't get any television (anybody wanna tape it for me?).

04 April 2006

Book Review - Gilead

By Marilynne Robinson

Congregationalist pastor John Ames has some things to get on paper before he dies in Gilead, Iowa. Having remarried at an older age (after his first wife and child died many years ago), he's concerned that his young son hear the heart of the old man rather than simply remembering an old man who liked to take naps. Gilead is the collection of those writings.

Rare is a book that makes me feel guilty when I read fast, but this is one; it is a book that astounds with the sheer beauty of the written word. It is nowhere complex or pretentious, but everywhere the beauty of grace seems to make the simplest ideas shine. It pleads gently to be read aloud, or at least at a whisper.

There is something of a plot to the book, but it's not important enough to even outline for you. Ames recounts his sons "begats" (his ancestry), his friendship with Boughton, the Presbyterian pastor in town, and does some thinking into Boughton's family. Much more, the book is about the wonder of existence, the nature of love and of the word "good" and the graces of forgiveness and joy.

From the very beginning, I found myself laughing or having to read passages to my wife, notably some good insights on why pastors have so many books. I also found myself just astounded that this wasn't real. Marilynne Robinson won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2005 for this book and deserved every silver stamp she got. There is no Robinson in this book, only an old pastor. It's like those rare experiences when you watch a science fiction movie and realize afterward that you never once doubted that it was all real. Nowhere in this memoir did it seem that someone else other than John Ames was writing. He's a man who's quick to forgive, honest about his own heart, a deep thinker, funny without being capricious, and a man who maintained a bright-eyed wonder at the world.

Sometimes I wish I were a better writer, just so I could somehow convince you all to buy this book. We have such a hard time finding the beauty in this life. Gilead isn't a magic pill toward that end, just a wonderful reminder. Don't read it for precise theology or solutions to philosophical queries. Buy it and read it for the beauty of God reflected in His creation, even in words. I have decided to buy a copy to add to my children's libraries; we especially pray that our daughter(s) will be beautiful women, and Gilead seems to me to be a piece of that beauty.