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!"

20 December 2007

Sermons

Immanuel RPC has recently joined sermonaudio.com. Those who are interested can listen to our sermons at the new site. We're now also a part of reformedvoice.com, the sermonaudio mini-site where all RPCNA and RPCI sermons are collected.

This brings a couple things to mind. First is the great benefits technology can have for the church. Though we are a fairly "old-fashioned" (as in 2,000 years old-fashioned!) church, I'm glad for our churches to be thinking creatively about the use of technology. Not that I'm gunning for powerpoint sermons or anything, but in light of all the negative press technology receives - and often rightly so - it's good to seek out the good things and plunder the electronic Egyptians.

Second, the advent of recording technology should be a special encouragement to families with children. Since I have a better-than-front-row seat for worship every Sunday, I can testify that no matter how hard parents with young children work, they probably will not be able to listen to the whole sermon. I greatly appreciate parents working to train their children to worship alongside them, but I also worry about the spiritual health of parents who only get "sermon snippets" every week. If the weekly preaching of the Word is one of God's plans for our salvation (and I strongly believe it is), then any opportunity we have to catch the whole thing is a great gift. So if providence (or sleepiness - you know who you are!) kept you from hearing the whole sermon, use the technology providence has provided to keep yourself under the Word of God.

04 December 2007

Stupidity not necessary for conversion

As Christianity penetrated the well educated society of Alexandria, the choice for the convert seemed too often to be between clever, eloquently defended heresy on the one side and a dim, obscurantist orthodoxy on the other. It was one of Clement's principal achievements to render this dilemma unreal and irrelevant...

-Henry Chadwick, The Early Church, 95

23 November 2007

Thanksgiving

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving. Immanuel RPC held her first annual Thanksgiving service yesterday morning. It was a wonderful time of worshiping a very good Creator.

The newspaper wrote about the story here (doesn't Ben look good? Note: right now the story says about 12 people came; this is a typo. I think about 120 were with us). And a tv-crew even showed up (I haven't seen the video yet).

Here is the original 1777 Proclamation of Thanksgiving by the Continental Congress. As we read this during worship, we were all amazed at how explicitly Christian it is.

And here is the prayer of Thanksgiving we offered to God near the end of worship.

Our great and good Heavenly Father,

ruly You deserve more gratitude, more offerings of thanksgiving, than we could ever bring to you. On this day particularly, we take time to remember and to give voice to a fraction of the gratitude you have worked within us.

Father, thank you for the revelation of your goodness and the ongoing proofs of it - you have created us after your image, you have preserved our lives, freely granting us our daily bread. You have helped many of us recover illness and have lifted many hearts out of despair and discouragement. You have given us much peace and have made us far more wealthy than most of our fellow men.

Father, thank you for your wonderful plan of salvation which you planned perfectly from before time. Thank you that before the first word of creation was spoken, you chose your Son to be our Redeemer, despite knowing the fullness of our rebellion and the cost of His death on the cross. Thank you for the many promises and pictures of Jesus Christ given to us in the Old Testament and for the incarnation of God into this world as the son of Mary.

We thank you for the obedience of our Savior, for the perfect fulfillment of the law and His willingness to die on the cross as the propitiation for our sins. We thank you for the many and wonderful invitations from Christ to sinners, that we could come to Him and be rid of our guilt, that we could come to Him and find communion through Him with the Triune God. We thank you for the blood of Christ, which satisfied fully your wrath and justice and holiness, which cleanses us from our sins, which provides our hope for victory and triumph on the last great day.

We thank you for the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and His ascension to heaven, where He reigns at your right hand. Thank you for a King who loves us and protects us. Thank you for the many comforting and certain promises of His return to this world.

We thank you for the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, who comforts us and supports us and changes us and prepares us for the Second Coming.

We thank you for the Scriptures you've given to reveal yourself and your plan of salvation. We thank you for the church Jesus is building, for the family of families you have brought together, that we might not walk as solitary pilgrims, but as a joyful band of saints. Thank you for the communion of saints we enjoy with Christians everywhere and at all times. Thank you for the sure hope of eternal life in your glorious presence, where our fullness of joy is.

Thank you for making us and sustaining us.
Thank you for teaching us and drawing us.
Thank you for forgiving and cleansing us.
Thank you for persevering with us and for us.

We thank you in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and King, Amen.

16 November 2007

Jesus Camp - Some thoughts


I picked up Jesus Camp last week at the library and have some thoughts I'd like to get down before they're gone.

A summary: Jesus Camp is a documentary about a Pentecostal youth minister, Becky Fischer, her "Kids on Fire" youth camp in North Dakota with a focus on a few of the kids attending, all framed by reaction from a radio talk-show host (a self-professed moderate Christian) who's quite alarmed at the idea of kids becoming Christian soldiers in "God's army." The camp specializes in training young children to "take back America," while also whipping them into an emotional, tongue-speaking, ecstatic state. So, clearly, there's nothing controversial here. Just move along.

[Side note: the documentary includes sermon footage from Ted Haggard, proclaiming the normal, Republicanized Christianity. After this film's release, Haggard was released from his pastorate in the midst of accusations from a homosexual prostitute. In the sermon clip, homosexuality was one of the specific sins he spoke against. In the wake of his personal sin, the film clip is both ironic and terribly tragic.]

Here are some thoughts, in no particular order:
  • I thought the documentary was about as fair-minded as one could be trying to record something like this. There was no overdubbing, all-knowing narrator and there were only a few explanatory notes along the way (i.e., "Evangelical Christians believe one must be born again by faith in Christ to be saved."), most of which were accurate, if simplistic. So the directors (Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady) should be commended for that.
  • Having never really been around much charismatic Christianity, the film was a real eye-opener for me. Several times I found my mouth open and my eyes wide at how different this type of Christian life is.
  • Despite her obvious love for the children and strong faith in her message, Becky Fischer's teaching strategy was thoroughly manipulative rather than Scriptural. Clips of teaching kids how to speak in tongues ("just open your mouth and let the Spirit flow through you!") and young children crying in fear of Satan all made me quite sad. Even if the parts of the camp they left out were filled with solid, Biblical and reformed teaching, I still wouldn't send my kids within 10 miles of the camp. The problem lies not just with Fischer, but with the hyper-emotional, unbiblical and manipulative tendencies of charismatic Christianity.
  • I shudder to think that the outside world, looking in at the church, thinks the evangelical church is all like this. But yet we are joined in some way to Becky Fischer and the charismatic-evangelical churches. Until we are ready to disavow them as Christians at all, they are our brothers and sisters. And so I find myself in the odd position of being embarrassed by our own extended family. It make me hesitant to write these thoughts in public, because I don't like the idea of airing our familial grievances before the world. Yet there is, I trust, another branch of the American evangelical church, one not beholden to the Republican party, one steeped in Scriptures rather than emotional experience, one ready to engage the world thoughtfully and Biblically - and somehow I want the world to know about that part, too.
  • One of the homeschooling moms interviewed had a solid and reasonable defense of homeschooling her children. I was glad for this.
  • Watching a young girl (7 or 8) take a tract to an adult woman in a bowling alley, stumble through the most awkward gospel presentation ever ("God just wants to love you and you'll be happy and Jesus died for you and...") and walk away assured that she has done what God wanted ("I just heard Him speak to me...") must be one of the most uncomfortable moments I've ever seen on film. But when was the last time I had the courage to approach a stranger to proclaim the gospel?
  • The passion for and focus on the children should also be commended. Fischer and her church is entirely right to believe the future of our nation and culture lies with our children. That belief is good and right; it's how they work it out that poses the danger of zeal without knowledge.
  • That this movie is rated PG-13 is quite interesting. As far as I can tell, it's because of some discussions of abortion. But even then...
Overall, I'm glad this film was made and that I ran across it at the library. I'd be interested in your thoughts if you've seen it!

14 November 2007

Everyone, say hello


Here is John Ambrose Olivetti, who made his entrance and began breathing air Monday night, a tad before eight o'clock. God is good and great. My wife is my hero. Big brothers and sister are appropriately tickled pink.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.
1 John 3:1

11 November 2007

How spirituality will kill the church

I love the Weekend Journal. On Fridays and Saturdays, the Wall Street Journal includes this section of movie reviews, book reviews, art lessons, political commentary (Peggy Noonan) and other assorted goodies. If we ever stop getting the Journal, I'll probably still go out and buy it on the weekend just for this section. For me, the most important column is the weekly "Houses of Worship" column, authored by various writers, giving quite wide-ranging thoughts on religion.

This week's column ("Buddhist Boomers: A Meditation" by Clark Strand) really has nothing to do with Christianity, which is of course my religion. Except that between the lines of the article is a potent prophecy for American Christianity about her incessant desire to flirt with the world ('cause, y'know, if they like us, maybe they'll invite us to the party!).

Here's the scoop: Among the major religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam), Buddhism stands as the only one the rest of the country is comfortable with. Even Sam Harris, one of the new evangelistic atheists, doesn't mind Buddhism so much "because it is not a religion of faith, or a religion at all in the Western sense."

The problem Buddhism faces is one of aging and eventual extinction. Most American converts to Buddhism are over 50 years old. Worse yet (for the religion, that is), these converts have no concrete sense at all of what it means to be Buddhist. They know nothing about Buddhist baptisms, weddings or funerals. The version of Buddhism they practice is a "thought experiment" more than a true religion; that is, it is an active attempt at a peaceful, tolerant form of spirituality trying to find a home in the intolerant, hypermodern world. Problem is, without the religious part of the religion, without baptisms and rules, funerals and rites, there is nothing to pass onto children except a vague sense of spirituality. And so young Buddhist children have a vague sense that their parents want them to be spiritual, too (but nothing too specific, lest anyone charge the parents with abusive brainwashing).


Therein lies the parable for the church. Quite in vogue is all this talk about spirituality versus religion. (Exhibit A:
Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious thoughts on Christian Spirituality, by Donald Miller. Exhibit B: every other Christian radio preacher proclaiming "Christianity is a relationship, not a religion!") As the church continues to lose relevance by chasing it, she is more and more capitulating by refusing to speak of "religion" and focusing solely on "spirituality." Loaded terms, to be sure. But here's what I think folks like Donald Miller mean: religion is what constrains us and restricts us, defining us with rules and rites. Spirituality is what sets us free to be what we're meant to be in Christ.

For these anti-religious Christians, Buddhism is now waving the yellow flag. If we lose the religion and attempt to keep the spirituality, we will end up with neither. While this anti-religious spurt may really tickle you, it will mean nothing to your children because there can be no substance without form. It is religion we pass onto our children and it is Spirituality which the Holy Spirit imparts through the ordained means of grace (y'know, those rules and rituals that seem so confining).

Can the church be too religious and not spiritual enough? Absolutely. But the answer is not to abandon the foundation for the upper story. The answer is to use the rites and rituals and means of grace to the end for which God intended: radical spirituality. Just because your car smells a little funny doesn't mean you should stand in your driveway, hoping magically to appear at the Grand Canyon. God has ordained one to get to the other. Give up the car and you can't go anywhere. Give up the religion and spirituality becomes a vapor to chase.

07 November 2007

Magazine

This week only, you can subscribe to Paste magazine for $_.__! They're letting folks name their price. Everybody wants to be like radiohead.

I love Paste magazine - it's a thoughtful and fun journal of culture. I find more great music with them than anywhere else (they send a free [and good] sampler CD each month). I've never seen an offensive photograph in their pages; the content is adult, but most often in a good way. They often review significant Christian artists. Etc. You should subscribe. (ht: Lynard)

02 November 2007

Books

First off, Christian Audio has a free download of an audio book every month. A couple months ago I got Augustine's On Christian Doctrine for free and this month they're giving away Jonathan Edward's Religious Affections for free. So if you're an ipodder or listen to books in the car, go forth and reap the freebie.

Next up, some book reviews:

The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper - What kind of book can both fill a preacher's soul with visions of glory and slap him around at the same time? Well, Piper's short take on preaching fits the bill. The first section of this preaching manifesto - and you should know it's not a lengthy theology or practical book about preaching - consists of lectures given by the author at Gordon-Conwell Seminary. The second section returns Piper to his favorite historical subject, Jonathan Edwards, to see what the preacher can learn about preaching from the life and ministry of America's greatest theologian. This isn't a whole compendium on preaching, but a lightning bolt of a preacher's passion. I greatly recommend this to any preacher and to anyone interested in reading a book which might show them a Biblical vision for preaching.

The Gospel & Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever - Evangelism being a weak area of mine, as I'm sure is true of many of you also, I was glad to find another resource from a pastor I would trust on the subject. The many unbiblical assumptions about evangelism prevalent in the church today ("Let's get them all the watch 'The Passion' and then we'll hand them tracts!") often makes me hesitant to go near Christian leaders when they're talking about spreading the gospel. But this book is different! Not only is it short (helpfully so) but it is full of long and deep thinking on the idea and practice of evangelism. The chapters are helpful ("Why Don't We Evangelize?" "How Should We Evangelize?" etc.) and the writing is Biblical, clear and to the point, often with great illustrations. Though Pastor Dever should write with more authority in spots ("I don't know what you think, but I agree with...") this book is worth having in multiple copies to give away to anyone longing to be used by Jesus in building His church.

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne - This is the book I reviewed for our most recent book club (which has been a real blast so far). The Secret has been near the top of the bestselling nonfiction list for more than a year now, catapulted to fame by the endorsement of Oprah, or the "Great O in the Sky" as some like to call her. What is the Secret? I'm terrified to even tell you. The Secret is "the law of attraction." You want more? Really? The point is this: the universe is at your command, by your thoughts and emotions you are sending out wavelengths to the universe which will inevitably attract the things you are thinking/feeling about. That's it. That's the secret. Think it and it will come true. So...let's reason together...if you're sick it's because you've attracted sickness to yourself with negative thoughts. If you're rich it has nothing to do with God's blessing but everything to do with how powerfully you are commanding the universe. Oh, but why can't these people "attract" immortality? Or why can't they "attract" the end of the law of attraction? Or if, as they claim, the law of attraction has the same scientific merit as the law of gravity, why can't they "attract" anti-gravity and fly around for a little bit. The real secret isn't in this book - the real secret is why people are buying this book. Figure that out and you'll have found the desperate condition of humanity, the condition crying out for Jesus Christ in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.


26 September 2007

Prayer means staying awake

Accordingly it seems to me that anyone who intends to embark on prayer should lay a foundation for himself by preparing himself a while so that he will be the more attentive and alert throughout his prayer. He will have put aside every testing and troubling thought and will recall, as far as possible, the greatness of the one whom he is approaching, and the disrespect which lies in approaching him yawning and inattentively and, as it were, contemptuously.
Origen, On Prayer, 31.2

21 September 2007

Prayer is War

...the spiritual poison...is injected by the enemy powers into the mind of any who neglect prayer and who do not observe the words of Paul, following the exhortations given by Jesus, that we should "pray ceaselessly." For like a dart from the soul of the one who prays with knowledge and with reason or by faith will it go forth from the saint, and wound to destruction and dissolution the spirits which are hostile to God, those who desire to truss us with the bonds of sin.
Origen, On Prayer, 12
My friend Jason passed along a great link and quote which I think are appropriate for the visitors of this blog and probably every other Christian blog as well. Francis Schaeffer, writing on love as the true mark of a Christian, has this to say about our disagreements:

A fourth way we can show and exhibit love without sharing in our brother's mistake is to approach the problem with a desire to solve it, rather than with a desire to win. We all love to win. In fact, there is nobody who loves to win more than the theologian. The history of theology is all too often a long exhibition of a desire to win.

But we should understand that what we are working for in the midst of our difference is a solution — a solution that will give God the glory, that will be true to the Bible, but will exhibit the love of God simultaneously with his holiness. What is our attitude as we sit down to talk to our brother or as group meets with group to discuss differences? A desire to come out on top? To play one-up-manship? If there is any desire for love whatsoever, every time we discuss a difference, we will desire a solution and not just
that we can be proven right.

I for one find myself wanting to win more than I find myself wanting to glorify God. I don't think we need to close down all bloggy discussions and disagreements, but we must go about them with the same passion which should be driving all of life: to make the name of Jesus Christ beautiful among the nations.

19 September 2007

Listen up

The almost famous debate between Greg Bahnsen and atheist Gordon Stein is being offered for 2 pennies from Covenant Media. Buy it and listen! It's worth, like, at least twice that amount. Seriously, this is one of the best examples of presuppositional apologetics ever recorded.

12 September 2007

Why "go" means "go"

In the comments section of a previous post, a discussion emerged about the propriety of the church maintaining an emphasis on international missions. Apparently, there are some who believe the American church should focusing more (or as it will practically mean, solely) on those God providentially brings to our nation.

To answer, I'd like to point out a few things about the Great Commission (Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.) and then a few practical remarks about the mission work of the American church.

Jesus' commission was to the apostles, but not the apostles alone. That is, this commission extends through the apostles to the whole church. The only proof one needs is to see the actions of the commission: teaching and baptizing. Those were actions repeatedly imparted to the church; if the imperatives of the commission were given to the church, then we can assume the scope of the commission (all nations) belongs to her as well. More proof of this would be to read on into the book of Acts to see how seriously the church took her commission to disciple the nations. There is nothing in the pages of the New Testament to make us think the geographical focus of the commission will be lifted before the return of Christ.

Jesus' commission is based upon and geared toward the great covenant promise God gave to Abraham: in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Gen. 12:3) There has always been, and there must always be, a worldwide focus of gospel-centered churches. We see this focus in Jesus' repetition of the commission in Acts 1:8, You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

More broadly, the pattern we see in the church of the new covenant is a pattern of sending. All we have to do is read through Acts and the Epistles to count up how many people were sent from one place to another for the purpose of gospel ministry: Peter, Barnabas, Paul, Philip, Silas, Timothy, Apollo, Titus, etc. The book of Philippians is especially strong with the expectation and need for sending: I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need (2:25)...a Christian church is one that sends laborers into the harvest fields, near and far.

In response to the charge that a focus on international missions is a foolish waste of money and resources and an unnecessary danger, I would note the following: Gospel ministry has never operated according to the wisdom of men (1 Cor. 2:4-5); remember the story of Paul being forbidden by the Spirit from going to Asia! This doesn't mean we don't use wisdom - it means we seek and use heavenly wisdom. If God has decided to use the foolishness of international missions for the building of His church, we are in no position to disagree. As to the threat of danger, we must weigh it seriously, but if the church comes the point where we aren't willing to risk our lives for the kingdom, what really has become of us?

In response to the charge that international missions can be accomplished in our own backyard, I say "amen." But it's an "amen" with a qualification. God has providentially arranged the world so ministry in American can have consequences reaching farther than ever before. But this isn't enough: there are yet some countries that have no significant presence in America. And even among those that do, there are families and certain groups in societies which will never be represented in America, being prevented by poverty and/or oppression.

In response to the charge that American missions is prideful, given the greater numbers of Christians elsewhere and the moral decline of the American church, I would reply: hogwash. Proper missions says: we are both sinful and worthless. The only difference is the access to God I've found in Christ. There is no pride in evangelism, local or worldwide. Also, it's important to note that, despite the decline of the American church, she still has much to offer a needy world. Even as the numbers of American believers declines, the church still has more financial resources than any national church at any point in history. Simply put, we can afford to send more missionaries and so we ought. Furthermore, the American church has a wealth of theology and men and women with ability to impart that theology to the baby churches around the world. Realization of our theological and monetary resources isn't prideful as long as we recognize the Giver of the Gifts.

But even if we had no money and our theology was paper thin, we must still go. Always going, always sending, the church - every church, everywhere - must participate in the great commission, beginning with our neighbors and extending to the corners of the earth. This is Jesus' plan for extending His dominion over the nations (not just individuals, but nations!) - may God keep us from anything that would hinder our participation in His plan.

06 September 2007

A word of advice

Say you happen to drive a Ford pickup with no air conditioning. And say you're driving to visit a friend on a 90+ degree day. If you happen to think to yourself, "Self, I have this ticket for a free car wash; now would be a good time to use it", you also ought to think to yourself, "But self, with no air conditioning, this truck cab would soon turn into my own little scorching Death Valley, but with 954% humidity."

This is all hypothetical of course.

04 September 2007

Sale

CVBBS is having their fall sale the next two days (September 5 & 6): 10% off everything in stock, including already discounted items. Buy and read!

01 September 2007

Cute, too

Though not as cute as the girl, our #1 can still hold his own (the second song he sings is sort of a "best of" collection):
video

31 August 2007

The Stars Aligned

Last night we finished our summer book club, concluding our discussion on St. Athanasius' On the Incarnation first and G. K. Chesterton's Heretics second. Throughout this time, I have read other books, one of which was the last Harry Potter novel. I tend to keep quiet about the Potter novels because I know some folks are uncomfortable with the idea and presence of magic. But though I've been quiet, I'm not apologetic about reading the books because they are simply great stories.

What might Potter have to do with Chesterton? Wonderfully, Alan Jacobs explains: in Heretics, Chesterton ably defends what he calls the "penny dreadfuls", unsophisticated, even unliterary works of popular fiction. Books with exotic locations, roaring stories and simple characters. Jacobs nicely argues that the 3500 pages of Potter might be the greatest penny dreadful ever written.

Really, just read Jacobs' article. It is outstanding as is everything I've read of his. [Note: it won't make much sense to folks who haven't read the books. But if you are a Potter opponent, it would be good for you to see the other side, to understand why some conscientious Christians read them.]

28 August 2007

The New Spirituality


I've been reading (slowly) David Wells' Above All Earthly Pow'rs: Christ in a Postmodern World. Wells sets out to give a thorough overview of the postmodern worldview and then address the church on how to live and worship in this world. It is, so far, an outstanding book, setting itself head and shoulders above other worldview analyses I've read. Here are some quotes I thought you'd like.

On missions:
The reality, however, is that America is the
world's most religiously diverse nation now and from a Christian point of view it is as fully a mission field as any to which churches now are sending their missionaries. This is true, not only because of the arrival of these new immigrants with their diverse religions, but also because of the postmodern decay in American culture.
On the new spirituality:

In religion of a Christian kind, we listen; in spirituality of a contemporary kind, we talk. In religion of a Christian kind, we accept a gift; in spirituality of a contemporary kind, we try to seize God. In the one, we are justified by the righteousness of Christ; in the other, we strive to justify ourselves through ourselves. It is thus that spirituality is
the enemy of faith.

...because the emerging worldview is not being engaged, the Church has little it can really say. Indeed, one has to ask how much it actually wants to say. Biblical truth contradicts this cultural spirituality, and that contradiction is hard to bear...Is the evangelical Church faithful enough to explode the worldview of this new spiritual search?

Jesus Glorified

Luke says that when Jesus returned to Galilee and began teaching in the synagogues, he was "glorified by all" (4:15). But then they tried to kill him. What gives?

Turns out Jesus' so-called glorification was the same type of glory he suffers from so many of us. We appreciate Jesus as a great teacher, we admire Jesus as an upright person, we even adorn him by saying nice things about him. And so we think we've glorified him. But the real test is when the devastation of the gospel comes home: when Jesus claims to have fulfilled all Scripture, when he points out our sin, when he claims divinity - this is when the world tries to push him off the cliff.

Thus as we seek to glorify our Savior, we must not settle for the "glory" this world gives him. We cannot be silent when people seek to relegate him to the category of Ghandi and Confucius and any other admirable religious-type folk they can remember. Jesus doesn't let himself be "admired" and we shouldn't either, whether in our hearts or in the minds and lives of our neighbors. You either worship him or you hate him. Any middle ground is pure fantasy.

p.s. - One possible reading of Luke 4:14-15 is that Jesus was glorified in the greater area of Galilee, but not in Nazareth. The problems with this are (1) the people's initial reaction to Jesus in Nazareth was one of supposed "glory" as well and (2) the people of Galilee didn't uniformly exalt Jesus as Lord in their hearts.

24 August 2007

Update from Texas

We had a great trip to Texas and all accounts point to God's blessing in planting an RPCNA church. Last I heard the group will be called Brazos Valley Reformed Fellowship (since they're not really a church yet). The real kick-off is a fall Bible study meeting on Sunday afternoons/evenings, studying Scripture using the Westminster Shorter Catechism as a guide. Already a few families and individuals have expressed interest.

What can you do? Pray! Pray for Sean, who will be leading the study. Pray for the news to spread in a way that glorifies Christ and draws folks into the group. Pray for the Midwest presbytery as they oversee the work.

What else can you do? There may soon be an opportunity to give financially to this church plant; I'll let you know when I find out. Also, if you know folks or know of folks in the College Station/Bryan annex of Texas, let them know about the group!

p.s. - There are some new links to the right.

02 August 2007

Aren't you a little young for that?

I used to hate it when people asked me that question; most kids do because they have dreams bigger than their bodies - why else was I trying to make a basketball shot when I could barely lift the ball over my head? (No jokes about that being last week, now.) But there are some things that being young never disqualifies us for - like being in worship or helping mom and dad around the house.

Tomorrow morning I leave for a short (3 1/2 day) trip to Texas. One of Immanuel's founding families relocated to the College Station/Bryan area shortly before we began our first worship services last fall. As they've lived and worshipped and prayed in Texas, they began hoping God might be leading them to plant an RPCNA church in their new hometown. They've contacted the Midwest presbytery, who are intersted in investigating this new possibility; as a result, the presbytery has invited me to fly down for the weekend to minister to this family and talk about church planting stuff together.

This trip is part of God's answer to one of our prayers from the beginning of IRPC, that God might allow us to be used in planting other churches from the very beginning of our congregation's life; our desire is serious enough that we included church planting in our very first budget. To some this certainly seems counterintuitive - We aren't a mature church yet, why should we be extending ourselves to support a church plant in Texas? Isn't church planting something "old" churches do? Aren't we a little young?

Well, no. Because of the continuing force of the Great Commission, church planting is something every church should always have within their sights. We ought to seek and expect to see Great Commission-fulfilling in every part of the church's life. We ought to see our young people walking faithfully with Christ. We ought to see new people brought into the faith. We ought to see new churches planted. And we shouldn't wait for any of these. Many churches, especially in our denomination, are as small or smaller than we are; most have some sort of internal conflict which needs to be addressed (who doesn't?). But an outward focus - local outreach and wider church planting - will do something we never expect: it will help the local congregation to grow stronger. But even this isn't our ultimate motivation - we don't look outward to grow stronger internally (though this will happen). We look outward with the same motivation we seek holiness internally, to see the kingdom of Christ coming on earth as it is in heaven. We're never too young, or too old, for that.

If you're interested in reading more, here's a great article by Tim Keller on the why of church planting.

26 July 2007

Of making many books there is no end

I have a stack of books I wanted to write about and, coming to the realization that a full review of each one is a pipe dream, here are the mini-reviews!

Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, by Eugene Peterson - Though Peterson (author of The Message, a paraphrase version of Scripture) comes from a different theological stripe than I, this book was a good treat. He focuses on obedient reading of Scripture and what it looks like to live God's Word. His discussion of the Lectio Divina was helpful for the uninitiated like me and the chapter describing why and how he wrote the Message was clarifying, even if I don't totally agree with his translation philosophy. Peterson loves the Bible and helps his readers to do the same. [Note: this is the 2nd book in Peterson's "spiritual theology" book series]

The Fragrance of God, by Vigen Guroian - Guroian is an Eastern Orthodox theologian who teaches at Loyola College in Baltimore. I first heard of him from Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio, who interviewed him concerning ethics in the Orthodox tradition. Fragrance is a short book of meditations surrounding gardening. Weaving together Scripture, references from the church fathers, gardening and the seasons and the path of his own life, Guroian puts together a wonderful little book. Again, the theology isn't right up my ally, but the love for God and his creation certainly is. I should garden more (if only God had chosen a different curse than weeds...).

Art for God's Sake, by Philip Ryken - Pastor Ryken's short (90 page) take on the arts is very, very good. Beginning with Bezalel and Oholiab (the men called to oversee tabernacle construction) and moving through various theological and practical considerations, Art for God's Sake ends up being a Biblical and balanced take on a subject in which the 20th century church became quite unbalanced.

On the Mortification of Sin, by John Owen - Without qualification, this is one of the best books I've read since becoming a pastor. Owen's take on the battle against sin should be read by anyone who hates sin, and especially by anyone involved in counseling or pastoral ministry. Through this short (but dense) book, Owen considers general rules of mortifying (killing) sin and how sin is ultimately killed: by faith in Jesus Christ. Though Owen's writing is a challenge, please buy this book and read it. If you ever need to come to my office for counseling, what you'll hear will hopefully be a regurgitation of this book - so cut out the middle man and read it yourself.

The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, by Walter Marshall - If you don't read Owen, read Marshall. They address the same topic with the same point: believe in Jesus, not only for justification but also for sanctification. We so often try to fight sin and become "better" Christians through programs or checklists or accountability groups or some other means and yet we neglect God's plan for making us holy: by faith in and union to Jesus Christ, the Holy One. If this is a new thought for you, as it was for me, please read. (Thanks to David Reese for suggesting this book.)

The Substance of Style by Virginia Postrel - Because of my recent interest in Christian interaction within the arts, I've also found an interest in design and style - no skill, mind you, but interest. Postrel's book (subtitle: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value is Remaking Commerce, Culture & Consciousness) first shows that increased wealth and economic prowess have allowed us to be more picky about the style of what we consume; i.e., all things equal, I'll choose the more stylish teakettle, even if I have to pay a little more for it. Then she argues that this "aesthetic value" isn't a bad thing, only a complicated thing. So if you're interested or involved in visual art, design, fashion, etc., this is a very deep-thinking and helpful book. [Note: this is not an explicitly Christian book; but, I think, Christians should read it and consider how pursuit of fashion and style and beauty can reflect the beauty of God or, I suppose, distort it.]

19 July 2007

Cuter than me

This is a cell phone video on purpose because if I posted a high quality video, your head would burst with the cuteness.

Extra points if you can actually tell what she's saying.





[Here's what she's saying: "John 5:24 - Truly, truly I say to you: whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgement, but has passed from death to life. John 5:24" ...she certainly has a unique way of talking.]

29 June 2007

Synod, part 3

A couple updates:

The first chapter (out of 5) of the worship directory was approved, the 2nd and 3rd chapters were sent back to the committee with comments. The committee will bring back their work next year for further review and votes.

The Psalter revision will continue after hearing synod's "mind" on some of the updates they were proposing. The new psalter might be ready in a year or so.

Also, synod put together a committee to read and report on the various committee work done by other reformed denominations on recent controversies on justification.

27 June 2007

Synod, part 2


A modern psalter suggested
An appendix of old tunes requested;
At such a new shape,
Synod went ape;
Revision committee arrested.

(This interpretation of events is slightly out of line, since the revision committee hasn't finished reporting.)

Synod, part 1


The worship directory was read

Then many presbyters pled;
They prodded and poked
And fires were stoked;
The worship directory fled.

(Actually, the worship directory will be revised during the week, so hopefully we can yet approve the first few chapters.)

23 June 2007

What my brain is eating

Here are some things entering into my brain these days:

The Narnian, by Alan Jacobs - this is sort of an intellectual biography of C. S. Lewis. It is, without qualification, excellent. After fifty pages, I thought Jacobs was very smart. After 100 pages, he started to make me smarter. I especially have been appreciating his explanation faery (an English literary construction - important for all y'all who don't like fairy stories). The title reflects Jacobs thesis, that Narnia was place Lewis inhabited, spiritually and intellectually, and the books he wrote flowed from his God-enchanted worldview; I want to live in Narnia. They have talking mice. With swords.

Handel's Messiah by the London Philharmonic Orchestra - Goose bumps covering goose bumps.

Ringing Bell, Derek Webb - Paste magazine gave Webb's new CD 5 stars, which prompted my purchase. It's a trim, 30-minute pop music masterpiece. Smart songwriting and good music. Let's hear it for Christians who've moved their art past kitsch.

Depression: A Stubborn Darkness, Ed Welch - My respect and appreciation for Ed Welch continues to rise. His excllent book on addictions should be required reading for anyone interesting in killing idols. This book on depression is gracious and gentle and Christ-centered. He doesn't run to quick solutions or hurtful platitudes about depression. If you fight depression or love folks who do, please buy this book and read it with them.

I'll be at synod next week, accompanied by my laptop. If you luck out, I just might post some updates; last year, I did updates in haiku. This year, I'm considering limericks. Or, if I'm really, really crazy, iambic pentameter.


09 June 2007

Book Reports

Hi again. It's been a while, hasn't it? I'd really like to do a long review of all the books I read, but that's become impossible. So here are some bite-size reviews, hopefully to whet your appetite.



5 Paths to the Love of Your Life, Alex Chediak, ed.



This fascinating little book brings together five different authors to opine about the best and most Biblical way to go about finding and getting hitched to that significant other. Now, I've found God's best wife for me and have no personal need for this book; but I'm a pastor and a father, so it was extremely helpful in leading me to give more intelligent counsel and better lead my children. Here's my take on each of the five paths:


  1. The countercultural path (Lauren Winner) - "the real issue is not determine a correct dating method but instead to live entire lives-including dating relationships-in obedience and devotion to Christ." Sounds pretty good, but I think Winner's advice falls flat, especially in Biblical and theological depth and accuracy. She doesn't deal much with the differences between men and women and doesn't deal too much with accountability to authority (church and/or family). But...she does have some good things to say for those who choose to date.

  2. The courtship path (Doug Wilson) - I should confess I haven't read many (any) of the recent spat of books on courtship, though I probably should. Despite not reading much on the topic, I think my predisipostion tends toward some form of courtship. Wilson does an outstanding job setting forth the Biblical pattern of the father's authority and responsibility in the daughter's life as well as working out practically how a courtship might proceed to Christ's glory. I also appreciated that Wilson recognizes the potential downfalls of courting ("...the courtship model means that we have six idiots involved instead of two.")

  3. The guided path (Rick Holland) - Holland sets forth ten "principles" to guide decisions about dating relationships, principles like the character principle ("being the right person more than finding the right person") and the common ground principle ("consider only another Christian for a romantic relationship")...hey! All his principle start with "c". He must be a preacher. Anyway, Holland does a very fine job shaping a Biblical practice of dating. If folks choose to date, here is some really good ways to form and refine your thinking and living.

  4. The betrothal path (Jonathan Lindvall) - This was, by far, the most disappointing chapter, for a couple reasons: first, Lindvall never exactly shows what betrothal looks like (although it has to do with an "irrevocable" agreement to get married, somehow being decided by the parents with some input from the kiddos). Second, Lindvall's arguments for betrothal are quite flat: his appeals to Old Testament Scripture read quite a bit into the text. And, his theological argument is lacking; it goes like this: (1) Christ and His church are the divine pattern for marriage. (2) The church is, currently, betrothed to Christ but not yet married. (3) Therefore, betrothal must be God's will for romantic relationships. The problem with this is that it fails to take into account the reality that we are, right now, in union with Christ; I am married to Christ right now, but not as fully as I will be at the last day. This is what theologians call the "already and not yet." I don't believe betrothal can be argued against (that is, I don't think we can prove it's unbiblical), but Mr. Lindvall certainly didn't convince me that it could be argued for.

  5. The purposeful path (Jeramy & Jerusha Clark) - If the betrothal chapter was the most disappointing, this was the second-most disappointing. The Clark's basic take is this: Christians can date in a healthy and appropriate way. But what makes this chapter different from the 3rd is the greater freedom and looseness in standards. The purposeful path doesn't take too seriously the role of the young woman's father or the harm that can come from pursuing romantic relationships before one is ready for marriage. If folks are going to choose dating as a path toward marriage, I'd much prefer they go with Mr. Holland's advice over the Clark's.

In the end, it is quite difficult, if not impossible, to forcefully argue that God has revealed one and only one path toward marriage. Therefore, some grace needs to be practiced in the church as folks choose different paths. But this grace doesn't mean everyone gets to go their own way (contra Fleetwood Mac) without me raising a stink. There are Biblical principles we must submit to, principles which necessarily mean the modern method of dating, hooking up, breaking up is out of the question. What to do? Know the principles and decide for you and your household how you will proceed in this great life endeavor. Involve your pastor and elders in the decision and let them know what you decide so they can pray for you and shepherd you well in the process.

I would recommend this book to young folks and parents - as much thinking and praying needs to go into the decision about how you are going to find the "love of your life" as who that love is. Parents, you need to work this out in your minds well before it becomes an issue in your children's lives. That way, you'll be able to teach them over the course of years how they should seek a spouse and you'll be able to pray consistenly for them.

p.s. - I thought I would do a bunch of reviews, but this one ran long. Next time, I suppose.

10 May 2007

Just a little more

A couple wise friends have noted, in relation to Carl Trueman's essay ("here we go", below), that we need to be wise and Biblically balanced in discussing women's vocations, especially when it includes homeschooling. I believe their notes are helpful, so I want to put them before you as we continue our conversation.

Jeff rightly noted that it's not a sin for women to work hard and be tired. In fact, if a mother of young children or homeschooled children isn't a little tuckered out at bedtime, one would wonder how well she is fulfilling her calling. We must be careful not to drive our wives to "haggardness" by demanding more than they are capable of - but all of us are called to work six days a week. All of us should know that specific weariness at the very end of a day of Christ-honoring work. That's a good - nay, great - weariness. I hope the distinction is clear.

Another friend pointed out that women, especially women in the congregation I serve, may be wondering, "Does he think I'm haggard and way in over my head?" Let me say that, although I believe this is a problem in the reformed world and one I have observed in the past in local congregations, the women at Immanuel RPC are doing a bang-up job glorifying Christ in their various vocations. If it were not so, it would be the job of the husband and elders to find a way to help her out. I think we can expect the situation Trueman speaks of (a wife unfairly overworked) to surface every now and then. When it does, the church must help - beginning with her husband. But please know that my post was not done with any of the ladies at IRPC in mind.

Finally, the same friend pointed out that God has a pattern of leading men and women through times of stress and incredibly hard work. We are indeed jars of clay and sometimes we are pressed more than at other times. Being "haggard" doesn't necessarily mean something's off; when there are medical problems at home, when God brings a family or individual to a time of concerted effort for the kingdom (starting a church?), when God is dealing with big sin in the family...these can be times of God-ordained "haggardness." But let it be from God and not from insensitive husbands and inattentive churches.

09 May 2007

Prodigals

Many, if not most, Christian families with children know the pain of seeing a child conscientiously and purposefully reject the grace of Jesus. Abraham Piper, the son of pastor John Piper, was one such wayward son, won back to Christ after his wandering. In this article, he shares his perspective as one such prodigal son.

I must confess that, in my haste and speed-reading of blogs, I rarely pause to stop and think. But, for personal and pastoral reasons, Abraham's article made me stop, brought me great conviction and loosed tears from my eyes. If you are near to such a wanderer, please read it.

Piper: And not only is [Jesus] the only point—he’s the only hope. When they see
the wonder of Jesus, satisfaction will be redefined. He will replace the
pathetic vanity of the money, or the praise of man, or the high, or the orgasm
that they are staking their eternities on right now. Only his grace can draw
them from their perilous pursuits and bind them safely to himself—captive, but
satisfied.

He will do this for many. Be faithful and don’t give up.

Here we go again

If you've been keeping up with the comments on the last post, this article might be interesting to you: Challies discusses the spiritual challenges of homeschooling. It is by no means a homeschooling-bashing party, but a pretty frank discussion of what potential problems can come from choosing to educate children at home. I think discussions like this are rare and important; homeschooling is often seen as "the answer" rather than "a good choice."

One of the common motivations for homeschooling is to keep negative influences away from kids - but this is both impossible and (even if it were possible) not a good enough reason. If they are Christians, parents are still sinners, quite able to exert some very negative influences upon their children (as well as the positive, righteous influences). Homeschooling guarantees nothing, though it is often chosen as a guarantee.

To take this a step further, it is God's good and gracious plan that we live life in a covenant community larger than our family. In many churches, when a baby is baptized, the church family enters into that covenant, promising to help the parents in the raising of that child in the fear of the Lord. To edit Hillary Clinton, It Takes a Covenant Village.

I am the federal head of my home, the one responsible for my children's education (what a weighty resopnsibility!), but I refuse to be the only one influencing them. I need their Sunday school teachers, other fathers and mothers, the elders of the session to come alongside and offset my weaknesses and negative influences. My kids need you and your kids need me. The family alone is not sufficient; the covenant community is. This is all to say, when parents choose homeschooling (often a fine and great choice!), they have a responsibility to make sure the natural insulation of homeschooling does not extend to their life in the church.

04 May 2007

Here we go

This is why I really like Carl Trueman: he says stuff everyone else thinks but doesn't say. I would love to hear some thoughts on this post at Ref21's blog:

In the US (and it is the US -- I have not seen this so much in the UK) , I
have lost count of the number of women I have come across, particularly in
presbyterian circles, who feel the need to conform to some Reformed cultural
norm. You can tell them on the Sundays: the exhausted and haggard mothers
whose husbands expect them not only to cook and to clean, but also to
home-school the kids. For every omnicompetent wife who seems to be able to
run the world and then some, and still look like a million dollars when hubbie
gets home for dinner (already on the table, of course), there are ten or more
who look crushed and dispirited, who really need to send their kids out of the
house in the morning so they can get some rest and some mental sanity, who need
their husbands to see the problem and take steps to help them. Are they
inadequate as Christian mothers? No. They are crushed by a
"Christian" culture that demands their all and gives no slack.

I am no feminist (my wife will confirm my impeccable Neanderthal
credentials); I have strong views on women's ordination; but I am saddened by
the way Reformed church culture so often tramples its women underfoot with its
mindless identification of biblical manhood with something akin to John Wayne
and its assumption that all Christian women should make Mary Poppins look
domestically incompetent.


What do you think?

20 April 2007

Current events

I know I almost always post a link to Peggy Noonan's latest column, but here it is again, this time on the VaTech murders. She is one of our finest cultural critics, hands down. Actually, you can have WSJ.com email you their "Opinion Journal" every day, which includes Noonan's column once a week or so.

On a different, but perhaps related note: have you kept up on the murder of Christians in Turkey? It kind of slips through the net in a week like this, but here are three brothers wearing the crown of martyrdom for the glory of Christ, testifying by their death to the essential conflict between the followers of Christ and every other religion, including Islam.

19 April 2007

Responding to Evil

I was just looking through some of the victims of this week's shootings in Virginia. The NYTimes should be commended for putting a human face on what the media has turned into a sickening circus.

One of the far more sobering reasons to sing the Psalms is to be able to react to evil according to God's plan; many Christians look to the Pslams to give Biblical voice to their joy. But Jesus' songs have much to say about wickedness and evil, too. And they give us a chance to say it in a way that we know pleases God.

The two churches in town (Lafayette RPC and Immanuel RPC) have planned for a while to have a joint psalm sing this Sunday night. We've decided to focus the night on "Responding to Evil through the Psalms." I hope to post the service outline, to give you a sense of how the Psalms can help in a week this - but I'd rather you come and sing with us, to experience rather than just learn!

18 April 2007

Update

Man, it's true. I'm getting bad at blogging. I hope to do a couple book reviews soon...in the meantime, here are some general points of interest or non-interest as the case might be.
  • Olivetti baby #4 is on his/her way. Yea wife! Yea God! (Pray for strength - it looks like there will be about a month when we have four children under the age of four.)
  • We're also trying to sell our house. Right now we live in the north part of Lafayette and we'd really like to be in West Lafayette, living near those we're seeking to build up in faith. We've had some interest (actually, there's someone looking at this very second - how exciting!).
  • Immanuel is turning into a healthy little church - not that there's always excellence in smallness, but I'm glad to see God blessing our fellowship and building strong relationships. I've also been blessed to see several folks really grow in the quantity and quality of their service to the kingdom of heaven. We hope to find some effective roads of outreach this summer, so you can pray for that, if you're inclined.
  • Movie review: The lovely bride and I really enjoyed Stranger than Fiction. It's not perfect in purity, but quite thoughtful. And with a great soundtrack.
  • As an early birthday present, my parents told us they're taking us to see Alison Kraus & Union Station this summer. I hope I can preach the next morning without a really goofy grin on my face.
  • Finally, my little brother is graduating from law school next month! We're glad to hear he and his wife are moving back to Indianapolis. It'll be great to have them around more.

Have a great Thursday, everybody.

06 April 2007

It is a good Friday

Almost 2,000 years ago a man died for me. Knowing my name, knowing the number of hairs on my head, he died for me. Knowing that I hated him, he died for me. Knowing my worthlessness and weaknesses, he died for me. The God of vengeance visited his own son so he might pass me over. Blood of infinite worth and power was spilled for me. Nails between his bones held him up on a wooden stake so he could suffocate to death for me. Thorns squeezed blood from his head because he was a king not yet ascended. Crowds mocked and I would have too, if I was there. Or, maybe I'm the thief and not a soldier. Maybe my eyes, these 2,000 years later, would be open to truth in all its beauty. Maybe my ears have heard the amazingly gracious promise, "Today you will be with me in paradise." Like that thief, I have done nothing to earn these words from the dying Savior.

On this day, grace was so amazing that it approached insanity. As the heart fills with gratitude, the mind swirls in incredulity - How can this be? How does this work? What kind of God would make a deal like that for me? And then heart and mind combine to confess with the apostle, O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! I am no detective of grace, no investigator of God's wisdom, no explorer of his ways. The depths cannot be plumbed and grace's motivation cannot be fathomed. I am a thief, dying. Dying yet holding in my hand an invitation to a feast. And what a feast! But that's for another day. This is Friday, the day a man died for me.

23 March 2007

7-word album reviews

The Black Crowes, Freak 'n' Roll...Into the Fog (live at the Fillmore) - The best live rock album ever. Maybe.

Tom Petty, Highway Companion - To be played with windows rolled down.

Madeleine Peyroux, Half the Perfect World - Norah Jones with jazz cred. And romantical.

R.E.M., And I Feel Fine...the Best of the I.R.S. Years (1982-1987) - Learn well, young friends; the eighties rocked.

Norah Jones, Not Too Late - Slow doesn't always mean boring. Does here.

Taj Mahal, Shake Sugaree: Taj Mahal Sings and Plays for Children - Taj rescues your children from musical ignorance.

Umphrey's McGee, Safety in Numbers - Jamband; uptight, eighties version of Phish. Awesome.

21 March 2007

Peace hippies, part 2

When you begin peeking under the church's rug for the dust bunnies of worship controversy, the floodgates seem to open (and your metaphors begin to mix, apparently). It seems a mini-controversy has come about regarding John Piper and Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. Dr. Piper invited a Christian rapper, Curtis "Voice" Allen, to rap at some of their worship services and in another part of their building after service. This, apparently, rankled some fundamentalists concerned about the impropriety of rap for worship. (By the way, Curtis Allen loves and raps about the doctrines of grace, so we're on his side, at least theologically.)

The controversy is instructive for how (and how not) to speak in the blogosphere. Allen has acquited himself quite graciously and humbly, deciding not to stoop to his attackers' ridiculous vitriole and anti-intellectualism.

But there remains another voice to be heard: the peace hippies (!!). I don't pretend that singing without instruments gets rid of all questions about music styles and preferences, but it sure does answer any questions about instruments, and, de facto, some about style. Anyone who's ever been involved with instrumental worship knows the problems that sprout up like weeds, and the silliness that comes when folks try to answer those problems. Some only want a piano. Others want the whole band (the bigger, the better). Others think wisdom would lead us somewhere to the middle.

But unless you come sit in the peace hippie circle and decide to forego instruments in worship (like the apostles...and Jesus...), you will find a great lack of any "line" to draw. That is, why piano and no guitar? What spiritual principle are we applying there? What theological or Scriptural argument informs whether we have one drum set or three ("this Sunday in worship, the Allman brothers!")? Why a little bit of drums and no thump in the trunk? Why is "Amazing Grace" okay and Allen's "Unstoppable" so damnable?

I believe it comes down to this: by surrendering her Scriptural and historical testimony on the purity of worship, the majority of the church has become enslaved to the cult of preference and personality in worship decisions. Preference because no line of right and wrong can be drawn. Personality because the strongest personality in each debate will take home the trophy (only to realize said trophy is plastic and covered with lead paint).

The days are coming when their guitars and pianos and synthesizers and bass machines will be hung on the wall of the local Applebee's and the entire church will worship in the light of Christ's face, without the shadows of the old covenant confusing us. Come, join the peace hippies; make worship, not war.

p.s. I should say that I really like instruments and don't really want them smelted down or hung on a wall. But, for the sake of unity and purity, I would prefer them outside of God's worship.

20 March 2007

Peace hippies, part 1

This past weekend, Jerry O'Neill (president of RPTS) led our men's retreat in considering Scripture's teaching on worship, especially the "distinctives" of the RPCNA - exclusive psalmody without instruments. I thought I'd take a couple posts to explain an observation I made about ecclesiastical unity.

In the American church, it's common to hear of "worship wars", interchurch or multi-church arguments about what and how to sing to God in corporate worship. This leads to one of the great arguments for exclusive psalmody: the unity of the church. The church is unified in Christ and part of her mission is to manifest that unity more and more. This includes our worship; so, what will we sing? The psalter is the only truly ecumenical hymnbook, the only book of songs all Christians can agree to sing. Thus, in regards to the worship wars, exclusive psalm-singers are the peace hippies, sitting cross-legged in their bongo-less psalm circles, calling to the church, "Make worship, not war."

And then, lo and behold, this comment appeared on
Ref21's blog from Dr. Phil Ryken in regards to his recent Korea visit:
The hymn-singing was vibrant. I discovered that Korean Christians
typically have their hymnals bound with their Bibles, and that all of the
evangelical churches use the same hymnal (also the same Bible
translation). The advantages of this are immense. Having a hymnal
always ready to hand facilitates greater familiarity with the worship music of
the church. Also, having a Bible/hymnal that cuts across denominational
lines enables Korean Christians to have shared experiences of worship and a
common memory of biblical texts. I couldn't help but be a little
envious.

Imagine that! A hymnbook in the Bible - what will they think of next?? And a hymnbook that cuts across denominational lines - why didn't God think of this??

Infectious sarcasm aside, if you love the church (the whole thing and not only your slice of it), sing the psalms! Anything other hymnal you pick up, any other song you put on the overhead is a wedge dividing the people of God.

13 March 2007

Humility in the Face of God

In our Sunday night teaching services, we've been sauntering our way through the Shorter Catechism; currently we're on question 4, a marvelous mini-systematic theology:
Q4: What is God?
A4: God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his
being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

One of the things I try to do as a teacher is bring our discussions into practical applications. But sometimes I feel stuck in a rut; for example, as we've considered these aspects of God's essence (His eternity, immutability, wisdom, etc.), it seems I keep coming back to the application of humility.

As I study and write next week's lesson, I've come to see this is the way it should be. Whenever we come into contact with our Maker, whenever we study any of His majesties and attributes, shouldn't we always conclude that humility is a proper application? Shouldn't we echo Psalm 8, "Who am I, that you should make so much of me?" and Psalm 131, "O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high"?

Do we want to know God? We must be prepared to be humbled. Do we want humility? We must continually seek the face and truth of God. And as we look for elders and teachers and spouses and friends, how we will find those who know God deeply? Look for humility - it is the mark of those who have spent time close to the God who cannot help but humble us by His majesty.


07 March 2007

Get Broken or Get Built

Isaiah prophesies the coming Immanuel will facilitate God's dwelling among His people (8:14) - He will be the cornerstone of the sanctuary, the where and how of God's fellowship with His children. Or He will be the rock of stumbling. According to Isaiah and Peter, Jesus is one stone set upon the earth by God. All the world will come into contact with that stone and either be bruised or built upon that stone. One stone with two purposes. If, in our preaching or evangelism, the world is given any choice other than "Be built or be broken" when confronted with Jesus, we have become unfaithful in handling the gospel. If, in our hearts, we devise some third way, of turning Jesus into a pet rock, we are serving an idol. Jesus breaks or builds souls; therefore, one of the marks of a faithful ministry is the refusal to find a third option.

01 March 2007

More on Creeds & Catechisms

Here is Carl Trueman on creedal middle ground (read the whole article here):
Creeds and confessions will, I suspect, continue to suffer at the hands of
friend and foe alike. The latter will always dismiss them as encroaching on
scripture’s authority; the former will continue to make them narrower and
functionally more important than they were ever intended. But on this issue I
believe there is a middle way, which gives peculiar but subordinate status to
such documents, and which also sees a place for occasional, transdenominational
statements as well. The church must never compromise the unique authority of the
Bible, must always focus on the basic essentials which cross time and space, but
must also speak thoughtfully, to the here and now. Historic creeds and
contemporary declarations thus both have their part to play in making the
church’s voice a relevant voice. Until we realize that, I fear that a good creed
will seldom go unpunished.
And this from Gregory Reynold's in OPC's Ordained Servant: (thanks, Nick)
When Washington's troops built their fortifications in Brooklyn, he
insisted that they explore the terrain before battle in order to be surefooted
during the rapid movements often required in the fight. Likewise catechizing
should be a chief concern of the church militant...Just as no one confuses a map
with the reality of the terrain it depicts, so we understand that the Satechism
helps us understand the terrain of the Bible itself. It is not a stand-alone
source of truth. So, reading the Bible confirms the terrain, just as traveling
confirms the accuracy of a map. A map teaches us what to look for and keeps us
from getting lost.

Our mid-week small group is continuing to benefit from a slow, careful study of the doctrines of Scripture using the outline provided by the Nicene Creed. And our evening teaching services at Immanuel are structured on the outline provided by the Shorter Catechism. This is on purpose and it is not because we don't believe in Sola Scriptura. On the contrary, it is because we believe so strongly in Sola Scriptura that we value the roadmaps God has providentially provided to His church throughout the centuries.

19 February 2007

Books

So for my absence from your bright, shiny screens. Like most of you, life and snow combine to render me busy...but not too busy to read, of course.

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Mark Dever's ministry philosophy 9 Marks of a Healthy Church has turned into the foundation for a wide-reaching ministry aimed at revitalizing lagging chruches or simply kicking them in their Biblical keisters. At their website, 9Marks presents a great resource of articles, book reviews, and audio interviews - any pastor would do well to bookmark their site and use it as a source of encouragement and learning.

The book that started it all is centered around Pastor Dever's (Capitol Hill Baptist Church in D.C.) conception of what a healthy church looks like:
  1. Expositional preaching
  2. Biblical theology
  3. The gospel
  4. A Biblical understanding of conversion
  5. A Biblical understanding of evangelism
  6. A Biblical understanding of church membership
  7. Biblical church discipline
  8. A concern for discipleship and growth
  9. Biblical church leadership
It's hard, if not impossible, to disagree with his assesesment that unfaithfulness in many of these marks persists in today's churches. While each reader could probably substitute one or two other "marks", it would also be hard to argue that any church consciously striving for faithfulness in these nine areas would be missing something. In the book, each "mark" gets the same treatment: a chapter-length, Biblical defense of what it is and why it's important. I especially appreciated the chapters on expositional preaching and a Biblical understanding of conversion.

The negative side of the book is not any of the teaching, but the simplicity of the teaching. As Dr. Dever aims at helping the church by convincing her leaders of what a Biblical church looks likeI think he could have delved into the Biblical teaching on these topics more significantly than he did. One of the blurbs on the back reports that
Nine Marks is required seminary reading, which is disappointing - again, not because of the book's faithfulness, but because of its simplicity. Readers who are presbyterian by conviction will find a few other points to quibble with, as Dr. Dever writes from a muted-but-present Baptist background.

I did enjoy this book and appreciate the reason it was written; originally, I read it to see if it was something our session could benefit from reading together. In the end, I decided to go with something more consciously presbyterian and pastoral, John Sittema's
With a Shepherd's Heart. Nine Marks is a fine book of solid ecclesiology; perhaps it might become the basis for a more in-depth book in the future.

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The Enemy Within by Kris Lundgaard is a highly readable, extremely helpful book about our fight against sin. Lundgaard begins by acknowledging his dependence on the venerable John Owen, whose two books, Mortification of Sin and Indwelling Sin, form the theological backbone of this book. Anyone who has read John Owen realizes the great work Lundgaard has accomplished by making Owen's dense, theological, Puritan writing easily understandable.

The problem of sin faces every believer and it doesn't always make sense - "In what sense has Christ defeated sin in the believer?" The answer is that he has overthrown its rule, weakened its power, and even killed its root so that it cannot bear the fruit of eternal death in a believer. Still - and this is amazing but true - sin is sin; its nature and purpose remain unchanged; its force and success still grab us by the throat.

Through a series of short chapters (with discussion questions included at the end), the author begins by examining the power of sin in a believer - what is it, how does it work? As I read this, I felt like I was getting a sneak peek at the enemy's playbook, or as Bryan Chapell put it, a "remarkable reconnaissance mission behind enemy lines..." If Lewis' Wormwood and Screwtape were devils conniving against a soul from the outside, Lundgaard would have us also recognize the incredible enemy lying inside - what the Apostle Paul calls our flesh.

Throughout the book and especially toward the end, Lundgaard is our general in the battle against sin, teaching us to use our weapons against sin, teaching us to keep our eyes on Christ - especially His cross - and encouraging us to never let up in the battle.

The Enemy Within can be read in short order (I shot through it in a couple plane rides) - but should really be read slowly. The Biblical teaching in this book is exactly what need for the ever-present battle against sin - and is best digested through meditation and prayer.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough; for you who read it, you will likely be spurred on to read John Owen's writings as a followp-up, which is an added benefit. The Enemy Within would be a great book for accountability partners, small groups, men's groups, etc. For the good of your soul and the purity of the church, read this wonderful book!