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!"

29 January 2007

A Good Goodbye

Sunday morning was our last time of Sabbath worship as part of the Lafayette Reformed Presbyterian Church. Pastor Long preached on God's character as a sending God and then we had a service of consecration and sending for the folks going to Immanuel RPC. It was a truly blessed morning - not easy by any means, but it was clear to us all that we are following God's will in church planting. There was sadness without bitterness and joy for how Christ has cared so well for us. My only role in the service was to say IRPC's official "goodbye's" to our church family. I really thought I would be fine, but it ended up taking twice as long because of tears (I think I had something in my eye...), which seemed to be plentiful all around. Really, even as I read these goodbyes, I was astounded at how faithful God has been to us through this dear church family. Here, at length, is our goodbye - quoted to honor our "mother" church and to glorify God.


January 28, 2007
To the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Lafayette,

How can we really speak of our love for you and our thankfulness to God for how He has used you in our lives? Certainly better words than these would still fail to make clear how dearly we cherish you, so please accept these words of love and gratefulness with the depth we wish we could express.

God paints several word-pictures to help us understand the church better. In each of these pictures, we find reason to confess our love for you and our deep thankfulness to God for His work through you. Please understand, as we speak of our love and respect for you, we know behind you is our perfect God who has used you and blessed your faithfulness to us.

The Church is an army
As you have you have reminded us day after day, Jesus’ church has an outward focus, a worldwide mission, a passion for multiplication. We have learned this from your words and your example. In fact, if you’re a little sad to see us leaving, realize that it’s mostly your fault – you have given us a vision for pursuing the kingdom of Christ over our own comfort.

Because you have fought for us and alongside us, and because you have equipped us with the weapons of spiritual warfare and are willing to send us, we love you and we thank God for you.

The Church is the temple of God
Paul tells us God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. 1 Corinthians 3:17 The temple is where and how God dwells with His people. Rather than a building, now the temple is wherever God’s Spirit is. Living and worshipping with you, we know God’s Spirit abides in you – we know this in part because you have driven us again and again to the pursuit of holiness for the glory of God. You’ve never abandoned us when we stumbled; rather, you have consistently walked beside us and held us up as we sought together to live a life pleasing to our Creator.

Because the Spirit in you has led us to holiness, we love you and we thank God for you.

The Church is the body of Christ
God also calls His church a body; specifically, He says we are the body of Christ, united not just in our purpose, but in our head, Jesus Christ. We have seen in you what this means for day-to-day life in the church: some of you are elders, some teachers, some serve in ministries of prayer, ministries of mercy, ministries of service, the grand ministry of raising children…but all of you have a place in the body. You have helped each of us to find how we can serve the body of Christ; you have removed us from the spectator stands and brought us into significant service to Jesus.

Because you have shown us that the church is more than a club, that the ministry lies at all our feet, we love you and we thank God for you.

The Church is the bride of Christ
The Apostle John’s Revelation describes heaven as a marriage feast, when the church and Christ will be finally and fully unified. And so, learning from you, we look forward to the day when all our sins will be purged, when we are clothed in the robes of Christ’s righteousness. And in faith, we see this has begun even now. You have shown us the church is truly beautiful, not because she’s yet perfect, but because she is Christ’s bride. But in you and with you we have learned to look with the eyes of faith and see what the Holy Spirit is really doing.

Because you are beautiful and ever-growing in your beauty, we love you and we thank God for you.

The Church is God’s flock
We are a flock, a rather humiliating reminder of our weakness, our constant need for guidance, our inability to follow Christ on our own. Rather than pretending to be strong, you have shown us how to live in meekness and rejoice in weakness in order to glorify Christ. You who have been our elders have shepherded us faithfully and lovingly, never serving in selfishness, but calling us to follow our Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ. This is especially true of Pastor Long, whose faithful ministry in the Word can now be measured in decades rather than years. All of you have called us to hear the Shepherd’s loving voice day after day.

Because you have shown us how to follow the Shepherd’s voice in the midst of weakness, we love you and we thank God for you.

The Church is a family
Perhaps more than anything else, today we remember that God calls His church a family, a household. We are thankful to God for the meals we have shared together and will share together, for the acceptance we have found in your midst, for the innumerable opportunities for prayer and worship together, the many chances to labor with you, physically and spiritually, and even for the discipline we have sometimes needed. And we believe and want you to know that you aren’t like our family, somehow resembling something like a family but you really are our family. We call you brothers and sisters without qualification, for this is what you are. We truly believe that, although you are sending us out today, you can never get rid of us as your family.

Because you are our loving family, we love you and we thank God for you.

We don’t know and cannot see every implication of this move for us and for you. Certainly many changes will come – but surely God will bless the relationship between two local congregations seeking to do His will. We know that for some of you, it is as hard for you to send us as it is for us to leave – but again we’re going to blame you. If you had taught us following Christ was about being comfortable and seeking our own pleasures, we wouldn’t be leaving. But you haven’t. Rather, you have shown us true discipleship means evangelism and equipping, sacrifice and sending, always looking to the Savior and seeking God’s will above ours in all things.

As you send us forth to pursue the Kingdom of Christ, we bless our great God for the love He has poured on us through you. We are honored to be your letter of commendation, living proof of what Christ has accomplished through your faithfulness.

Love, the families of
Immanuel Reformed Presbyterian Church

1 John 4:11-12
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.

24 January 2007

The God-Man

I came across this in preparation for tonight's Bible study on the incarnation:

If salvation were simply a matter of correcting some mistaken ideas that humans held, then Jesus need be no more than a good teacher sent by God in the manner of Moses. If salvation were simply a question of rectifying social structures that were oppressing the people, then Jesus need be no more than a faithful prophet sent by God in the manner of Amos or Isaiah. If salvation, in short, were simply a human matter, then Jesus needed to be only a human being.

But what if the New Testament speaks about salvation in terms quite other than didactic or political? What if the witness of the New Testament - and the life and practice of the church from the beginning - regarded salvation as something far more than the adjustment of thought or of social structures? Then the agent of salvation must fit the nature of salvation. If the salvation witnessed by the Scripture and experienced by the
church could come only from God, then the agent of that salvation, Jesus Christ,
must be considered fully divine (because we have received from him what only God
could give) just as he is fully human (because we have seen and heard him as a human like us). And this is exactly what the earliest witnesses to the experience of Jesus tell us.

from The Creed, by Luke Timothy Johnson

19 January 2007

Thoughts on other people's thoughts

Books & Culture magazine usually provides quite stimulating reading; it's not something I can read for enjoyment, as I have to keep my orthodox and reformed shields up while reading, but it does really draw me into other conversations and issues I wouldn't otherwise consider. Here are some notes on articles in the most recent issue.
  • Virginia Stem Owens reflects warmly on the name we choose to use for God when we pray. "Getting that initial address right seems important to me...the name I call to God with determines the guise in which I come to this task, duty, privilege of prayer." Our #1 is starting to pray more for our mealtimes. It's a true delight to hear him thank God for the snow and the opportunity to shovel and throw snowballs and sled down hills; sometimes he waxes poetic so long that our food gets cold. But what strikes me the best is the way he begins his prayer, with an earnest "Our gracious heavenly Father!" It's a big phrase for a little guy. Thing is, I don't think he got this from me. Rather, I'm pretty sure he picked it up from my dad. Regardless of the word we use to name God at the beginning of our prayers, wouldn't we do well to consider that name and consider what we're really saying about Him and us with that name?
  • Saray Hinlicky Wilson has an engaging review of The Complete Calvin and Hobbes entitled "A New Kind of Calvinism." But we already have neo-calvinists, so would this be neo-neo-calvinism? Anyway, it's light-hearted and clearly in love with Bill Watterson's boy-and-tiger strip. A quote: "Still, every Christmas without fail, Calvin is acquitted of his crimes and showered with gifts, even when he learns the wrong lesson from it. A parable of God's love for the sinner and justification by faith, not works, the theologian infers - good Calvinism, indeed."
  • Edward Short reviews the book Gothic Arches, Latin Crosses by Ryan K. Smith about the rise of Gothic architecture in American Protestant churches. Realizing that American Protestants were originally quite simple in their architecture and in the trappings of worship, the question becomes, "What changed? And when? And how?" Smith documents how in the 1840s American Protestants wandered from their iconoclastic roots and began feeling more comfortable with crosses and candles and stained glass and Gothic architecture. Therein lies a parable about the relationship between Protestants and Catholics: as the population of Catholics and Episcopalians rose dramatically toward the 1850s with the Protestant churches not keeping step, Protestants began to argue how and why they could borrow more traditional forms from the Roman church. "In the Gothic style Protestants saw an ideal not only of piety but of refinement, and they were determined to make it their own." Surely lessons could abound for us and how our heart leads us to make decisions, individual and corporate. Are we trying to keep up with the Jones'? Is that always bad?
  • Bill McKibben reviews David Orr's Design on the Edge, the story of how Orr and others worked to produce a "high-performance building" for Oberlin College (OH) for their environmental studies program. The building only uses 1/3 of the energy that comparable buildings use; the coolest innovation was titled the "Living Machine", an outdoor series of manufactured ponds and wetlands that treat the building's waste as it leaves, thus making the water going out as clean as the water going in. Apparently, Orr's book is as much about the politics of such a building as the building itself; one can imagine...what if we encouraged churches to think and build this way? Is it foolish for me to be scared of being associated with Al Gore just because I believe Christians ought to be concerned about the environment? Indeed, that Christians ought to be leading in such projects like Orr's and not putting up roadblocks? Anyway, it's a mighty nifty building that is just a nice little piece of dominion.

16 January 2007

At this moment, I am giving a Hebrew exam to seven wonderful students in my office. We're about 15 minutes into the exam, at which point I say, "2 more minutes!" and they all look up in horror. Good fun was had by all. Or at least me.

11 January 2007


What's going on in my life...

  • Baby #3 is sleeping around 7 hours a night now, for which we (mostly my wife) are quite thankful. #1 just learned his first Bible verse (John 3:16) and laughs with joy every time he gets to say it for us. #2 is, well, learning how to work the system as the only little girl in the house. And the beautiful bride is obviously lovingly busy.
  • Our mid-week Bible study is going piece by piece through the Nicene Creed and studying each doctrine Biblically. It has been more encouraging than I could have hoped. If you'd like a copy of the Bible studies I've been writing, let me know. I've toyed with the idea of putting them together in a nice little booklet for Bible study groups.
  • At Immanuel RPC, we're nearing the end of our sermons in Colossians. It has been, for me at least, very helpful and very convicting. February 2nd is our official organization date - you're welcome to come! I've been praying that it would be a night of great encouragement and great glory for God. If you do want to come, we'll be at the Lafayette church building, beginning at 7 p.m.
  • February 4th is first morning worship together; we haven't picked a new sermon series yet, but hopefully we will soon. We're all very excited to begin our full Sabbath day of worship together.
  • This weekend is our college winter conference. Pastor Harry Metzger is coming to speak on developing a heart for the lost...nothing too convicting, I hope. I'll be doing a workshop on improving our worship.
  • Tootsie rolls lollipops now have a lemon lime flavor. It's like a party in my mouth.

06 January 2007


- Check out the nifty "search my library" doohickey down toward the bottom on the right.
- I'm not planning on posting anymore links in these posts. I will continue to update the "links" section on the right with new and interesting and otherwise.

Blessings on your Sabbath!!

03 January 2007

Becoming a fearful statistic

In the latest Books & Culture, Christian Smith (professor of Sociology at Notre Dame) contributes an oustanding article, "Evangelicals Behaving Badly with Statistics." Dr. Smith documents then laments the generally pathetic manner of evangelicals and statistics. His example is an advertisement for a ministry conference heralded by these words: "Wake Up Call - Christianity Won't Survive Another Decade Unless We Do Something Now." What proof could be marshalled to support such an appalling view of the future? "...current trends show that only 4 percent [of teens] will be evangelical believers by the time they become adults. Compare this with 34 percent of adults today who are evangelicals." Of course, Dr. Smith did some digging and found that this "statistic" came from a book on youth ministry wherein the author recounts an informal survey of 211 teenagers in 4 states, finding that only 4% of them were, at that time, born-again believers. Smith believes, and I concur, that this is one example among many of "Evangelical leaders and organizations routinely [using] descriptive statistics in sloppy, unwarranted, misrepresenting, and sometimes absolutely preposterous ways, usually to get attention and sound alarms, at least some of which are false alarms."

He then goes on to dig a little deeper - the band-aid prescription is for the leaders of the church to simply be wise about how statistics should be gathered and use. But the deeper prescription has to address the deeper problem - why is this a trend in the evangelical church? "Evangelicals, by my observation, thrive on fear of impending catastrophe, accelerating decay, apocalyptic crises that demand immediate action (and maybe money)." I have, in past conversations, labeled this tendency as "fear-mongering"; peddling platitudes and statistics designed to scare someone into committing themselves to extra-Biblical doctrines and commands. Keep your eye open for it and you'll see it in many different ministries from many different corners of the church.

Ironically, just today I read that good-for-a-laugh Pat Robertson has made his yearly prediction, that God has told him of mass killings in America in 2007, perhaps even nuclear attacks. Putting aside, if we are able, the theological problems and sheer silliness of Robertson and his club, what's the point of his prediction? Isn't it to scare people into (1) greater Christian service [the best option] or (2) giving more money to the 700 Club so they can get the word out [the more probable reason]?

This isn't a problem only among the theologically wayward like Robertson. Fear-mongering and alarmism can be heard from many parachurch ministries and many churches themselves. Every time a Christian leader prophesies and proclaims that this is the doomsday, this is the worst generation ever, we are facing a moral decline unlike any in the history of Western civilization, etc., we need to name those platitudes for what they are: rubbish. Is our country in a sorry state? Yep. Is it the worst country ever? Nope. More importantly, are we, the children of God, to be operating from the assumption of pessimism and fear of the world or from the foundation of optimism and confidence in Christ our King? When we make decisions based on fear of anything/anyone but God, we are foolish and have our head in the sand, Biblically speaking - whether that decision is about what ministries to support or how and where to educate our children, fear-based decisions aren't Christian decisions. Not that we don't take into account possible downsides of certain decisions, but that our decisions must ultimately be motivated by confidence in the promises of God, not fear of what man can and is doing.

May God grant for His church to begin operating on confidence and certainty in the kingdom of Christ and her King. May we be alarmed at what is truly alarming: the prospect of eternal punishment for those who refuse to bow their knee to the King. Beyond that, let's meditate and act upon God's promises and not oft-repeated predictions of doom. Serve in the church, not because the world is going to hell in a handbasket, but because Christ promised to make all things new and we get to take part.