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!"

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

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.