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 November 2007


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


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


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.