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!"

11 December 2008

If you're still reading this blog or getting the feed, be herewith informed: I am somewhat officially, semi-permanently switching to my tumblr blog. It's more fun and better looking. I'm going to leave this site up for reference sake, but if you're interested, feel free to dig the new blog.

28 October 2008

My internet fast: reflections and resolutions

I've been back from the internet fast for a while. Here are some thoughts and applications.
  • My relationship to the internet is definitely more love/hate than ever
  • The internet is a powerful tool and should be wisely used for great good by God's people
  • The internet is a powerful tool and can be wickedly used for great harm by anyone, God's people included
  • A month away from the incessant drumbeat of more information isn't enough to get me back to thinking more deeply. I need to read more books and less snippets.
  • James was right (1:14) -- Temptations come from within, whether laziness or impurity or otherwise. The internet, especially through anonymity, only fans the already-present flame. To think otherwise, to think we can avoid temptation by swearing off this or that, is foolish.
  • However, though temptation is unavoidable, wisdom will lead us to avoid it as much as possible
  • For now, I have decided to only read blogs of people I know personally. There are lots of great thinking and posting being done right now, but I simply can't keep up and am tired of trying. I have too many wonderful and powerful and proven books to read to wade through the good, bad and ugly of blogging. But I do want to keep up with friends and family!
  • I am officially quitting youtube...unless someone sends me a link to something worthwhile. Really, it's just a time waster and my schedule needs surgery right now.
  • I'm not sure if I'm going to keep blogging or not. I like the idea of a pastor being able to do a little more teaching and writing in a medium accessible to the congregation. But I'm not sure that I have a lot to say right now. As topics come up in my life and reading, I will likely still use the blog to attempt a small helpfulness to others.
  • I have decided to start a tumblr blog for my own sake: here I intend to post quotes, news stories, pictures, etc., that might be helpful in future lessons, articles or sermons. Feel free to follow along, but don't feel you need to. I'm using tumblr instead of blogger for this project because it is more user friendly and the tagging system is a little more intuitive.

16 September 2008

An experiment

An idea has grown out of the soil of frustration: I am going to try to go without the internet for a month (I'll still do email, see my rules below). Why? Two main reasons:

First, I think (don't know, though) that the internet is changing the way I think. See here and here. Simply put, for my life's calling, I can't afford the short attention span this interweb has developed in me. I can't afford to think in blog posts and headlines; I need to get back to essays and books and talking to people.

Second, the internet is changing the way I work and not usually for the better. I realize the incredible resource this is, especially for research, but I need some time away to learn better to separate the wheat from the chaff, to figure out what I really need and what is wasting my time.

Caveat: my little experiment is really designed for me and shouldn't be taken as a condemnation of the internet or as an example to follow. This experiment is designed to combat my own weakness in self-discipline. When my wife and I first got married, we lived in a place that had cable. I learned then that I would either watch way too much t.v. or I would keep the television in storage until I really had something to watch. So I'm putting the internet in storage for a little while.

My rules: email is still in, because it's a necessary part of my work as a pastor. Financial interactions (paying bills, making necessary purchases) are in, but online window-shopping is out. Also, if someone adds me as a friend on facebook, I'll accept, but only to avoid hurt feelings. Finally, there are one or two couple small tasks for which I use the internet; I'll continue those.

So, no blog posts. No twitters. No news. No youtube. No wikipedia. No drudge.

Ultimately, I'm headed back to the stone age in an attempt to get enough perspective to discern what parts of this internet are worth keeping around in my life.

09 September 2008

On Modesty

Modesty is a must, everywhere and for everyone but perhaps never more so than in our increasingly proud and licentious society. How does this practically work out in the family? In your family?

Fathers are responsible for what goes on in their home and family; this includes the clothes your daughters wear! My daughter is not yet old enough to need rules and guidelines but I've already tried to think through some, mostly on behalf of the families in our congregation. It's actually a very difficult thing to do. So I appreciate the wisdom of these four guidelines from Michael Hyatt, who's the CEO at Thomas Nelson [of course, I don't endorse much of anything that Thomas Nelson publishes]. But first, a friend sent me a good preamble to keep us from diving off the other side:

Recognizing that God has designed women with beautiful features that should not be covered like the muslim women, consider these guidelines...
  1. If you have trouble getting into it or out of it, it is probably not modest.

  2. If you have to be careful when you sit down or bend over, it is probably not modest.

  3. If people look at any part of your body before looking at your face, it is probably not modest.

  4. If you can see your most private body parts or an outline of those parts under the fabric, it is probably not modest.
A couple thoughts: this list smells like Biblical wisdom to me and I appreciate that it doesn't claim a proof text for each rule, which is a dead giveaway for legalism. If you (ladies) or your wives/daughters (men) don't like it, I'd be interested in hearing why not and what guidelines you use toward modesty.

Finally, it's worth remembering that modesty isn't for women only. Anytime we pridefully draw attention to ourselves-whether it sexual or otherwise, whether it's tight clothes or prominent piercings-we are being immodest. So let's not forget to teach our sons about modesty, too.

02 September 2008

Science, Scripture, and the people stuck in the middle

Recently, I had a conversation with a fellow believer, who's also a scientist, about creation, evolution and the many gray areas in between. One thing he said stuck out to me, so I thought I'd toss it out for discussion:
When the Bible and science disagree, the Bible is always right. When Christians and scientists disagree, scientists are usually right.
Do you agree? Why or why not? What the implications?

20 August 2008

Maybe the show doesn't need to go on

I just read that LeRoi Moore, the brilliant saxophonist for the Dave Matthews Band, died from an ATV accident. The band went ahead with their scheduled concert last night.

One concertgoer asserts "they knew it was the right thing to do and LeRoi would have wanted it."

A thought that I've had before but never published: when I die, I don't want the show to go on. I want people to stop the regularly scheduled programming of life and think about deep things like life, death, love, hate, Jesus and salvation. I want people to be uncomfortable.

Is there anything more typical of a culture that shudders to think about death, that refuses to measure their days, than the ridiculous notion that the "show must go on"? The dude at the concert (and he certainly was a dude) even said it was the right thing to do--it was a moral obligation to keep the party going. We live in a world that takes every opportunity possible to push death to the shadows and boundaries of life. When death comes close, we keep the concert going when we should stop and consider, "unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."

30 July 2008

Aloha-or, how Hawaii kills push ups

While many of our friends went to the RP conference at Calvin college, we went to Hawaii. They're back and we're back. But we're more tan. Plus, we swam with sea turtles. The downside, though, is twofold: I hear we missed a lot of great preaching and fellowship. And it turns out that it is physically impossible to stay on the push up routine in Hawaii. So, for all my push up buddies, I'm a week behind, maybe two. I'll let you know.

18 July 2008

pushups and other

(for my push-up buddies) I wasn't able to start the push-ups until Wednesday...let me assure you that doing them three days in a row is killer. I've only been able to max a little above the minimum.

Someone asked if we could get together at the RP international conference -- alas (for you, not me) I will be in Hawaii tomorrow evening, Lord willing. This providential trip to Hawaii has cancelled our attendance at the conference. But we'll be praying for God's blessing on you who are going!

12 July 2008

The 100

Here's my push-up project update--First week is completed with no snags. After the 5 sets each day, I maxed at 15, 15, then 21. How about you?

10 July 2008

Praying for Pastors, even Spurgeon

I received a kind note the other day that included this from Charles Spurgeon on praying for pastors; I pass it on for the sake of your pastors, that it might encourage you to pray for them.
"Brothers, pray for us!"
--I Thessalonians 5:25

Today I want to remind you about the importance of praying for your ministers. In the most earnest way that I can I ask every Christian household to grant this request of the Apostle Paul on behalf of every minister of the Gospel.

Brothers, the fact is that our work affects the eternal benefit or curse of many; the souls of men are our eternal business. A very heavy responsibility rests upon us, and we strive to be innocent of the blood of all men.

As officers in Christ's army, we are the special point of attack of those who hate Christ. They watch for us to fall, and work to trip us up in any way they can. Our sacred calling requires us to endure certain temptations from which most are exempt. We see some go back into a life of sin, and we see millions dying without Christ. We long to be useful both to saints and sinners.

And so, we ask you, pray for us! Your spiritual blessings come from God, and not from us; and yet, how many times has He given those blessings through His ministers. In our behalf, please pray that we may be the humble jars of clay into which the Lord may put the treasure of the gospel. On behalf of all those who are called to minister the Gospel today, I ask YOU to "Pray for us."

09 July 2008

Because we don't kill babies for no reason

George Grant has started a new blog exposing the genocidal legacy of Planned Parenthood. It's worth plugging into your Google Reader, if only to be reminded more regularly of the ongoing homicide bloodying the hands of our nation. This historical reminder is from a recent post:
...dark and malignant seeds were already germinating just beneath the surface of the new century's soil. Josef Stalin was a twenty-one-year-old seminary student in Tiflis, a pious and serene community at the crossroads of Georgia and Ukraine. Benito Mussolini was a seventeen-year-old student teacher in the quiet suburbs of Milan. Adolf Hitler was an eleven-year-old aspiring art student in the quaint upper Austrian village of Brannan. And Margaret Sanger was a twenty-year-old out-of-sorts nursing school dropout in White Plains, New York. Who could have ever guessed on that ebulliently auspicious New Year's Day that those four youngsters would, over the span of the next century, spill more innocent blood than all the murderers, warlords, and tyrants of past history combined? Who could have ever guessed that those four youngsters would together ensure that the hopes and dreams and aspirations of the twentieth century would be smothered under the weight of holocaust, genocide, and triage?
(thanks to Jeff for the link)

06 July 2008

Quote, unquote

If you go into the future, there are evil robots. If you go into the past, they don't have toilets. So, why bother?

-Meg Morton on the philosophy of time travel

05 July 2008

Happy Independence Day

A day late, but hopefully not a dollar short, here's a great version of our national anthem.
May God see fit to bring this independent nation into her rightful dependence on King Jesus.


03 July 2008

100 push-ups project

100 push-ups is a popular strength-training program that seems quite simple to do.

I linked to it last week and asked if anyone wanted to have a go with me. Check it out if you haven't - the idea is that everyone will be able to do 100 consecutive push-ups at the end of the program, regardless of where they start.

Anyhows, it seems a couple folks are interested, so here's the plan: if you want to do the program together (well, as together as we can be over the internet), take the
initial test sometime today or tomorrow and reply to this post with your initial level (I'll put a comment with my level later today - we're all friends, so there's no shame here). Then I'll post my progress once a week and have everyone participating use the comment section to post their progress as well.

The more folks participate, the more fun we'll have!

25 June 2008

Justification Controversy

The synod just passed these recommendations from a committee that was formed to study the current controversies surrounding the doctrine of justification. If you're not in on this controversy, don't worry about it - it's not really worth your time. If you know some of what's going on, you'll be interested to see where our synod now officially stands. I should also note that these recommendations were unanimously approved with no dissent.

1. That Synod declare that we stand in solidarity with our Reformed and Presbyterian brethren in rejecting as contrary to our confessional standards the theological views that are generally associated with the movements identified as "The New Perspective(s) on Paul" and "The Federal Vision."

2. That Synod reaffirm our commitment to the biblical, historical, and confessional, Reformed doctrine of justification - sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus - which requires the imputation of the active obedience of Jesus Christ as an essential component of that righteousness which is the ground of our justification and is received by faith alone.

3. That Synod recommend to our ministers and members the study of the reports of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), the Mid-America Theological Seminary (M-ARS), and the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS).

4. That Synod request our Sessions, Presbyteries, and other examination boards to be diligent in their examinations of potential office holders as to the critical areas of theology that are associated with the new views.

24 June 2008

Synod

The RPCNA synod began meeting last night. Keith Magill, pastor of the Elkhart congregation, preached from 2 Corinthians 11. Afterwards, Dr. Denny Prutow, professor of homiletics was elected as the new moderator. This morning, John Edgar preached from Acts 16 on the mission of church planting. More of these kinds of details can be found at the official synod blog.

If inspiration strikes, perhaps I shall publish some synodical limericks or haikus.

19 June 2008

Prayer, 2

Here are a few more thoughts on prayer from our recent series through the Lord's Prayer.

First, prayer is God-connected. That connection is specifically the connection of adoption, so Jesus teaches us to approach God in prayer as our Father. It's fascinating that there is extremely little said about the Fatherhood of God in the Old Testament, but it's all over the New Testament. This points to the greatness of living in the new covenant, of following the one who tore the temple curtain in two. Also, this God-connection aspect of prayer means that prayer is inseparably connected with the gospel. In fact, we could say that prayer is living out the gospel of our adoption.

Second, prayer is God-centered and so Jesus teaches us to orient ourselves around our great God by addressing Him not only as Father, but as our Father in heaven. An illustration may suffice to make the point: when you are getting directions from Google maps or Mapquest, you may know full well your destination, where you want to end up. But if you don't start at the right place, you're going nowhere. So it is with prayer. We may have a clear sense of what we want or need from God, but if we are so quick in prayer that we skip past praise, we have not begun in the right place.

Third, prayer is God-captivated: our first request is "hallowed be thy name" or "make your glory more known in my life and the world." Where does the heart of adoration come from but meditation? One of the greatest passages of praise, one of the most God-captivated portions of Scripture is Romans 11:33-36 (O the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God...). how did the Apostle Paul cultivate such a God-captivated heart? Well, by meditating upon and writing about the great truths of Christ's redemption for eleven long chapters. So meditation begets adoration. Deep prayer requires deep thinking.

12 June 2008

Presbyterians & Joy

Yesterday was our bi-monthly pastors' fellowship lunch in Indianapolis. As I was driving back, I alternated between meditating on the upcoming sermon passage and reflecting on the blessings of this meeting. Here's what I came up with for the latter:

It's a wonderful comfort to be in fellowship with men I can trust. This trust comes from both their personal character as well as our common subscription to our doctrinal standards. The second may seem like a little thing, but to know that these men stand in the same place I do (or, more properly, that I stand where they do) is a wonderful, presbyterian joy.

It's also a wonderful humbling and instructive thing to hear godly men pray. As we split up for prayer, I found myself in a group with three other men who were each walking with Christ when I was still "behind the picture on the wall." All three prayed differently, but with each there is an almost-tangible sense of their closeness to Jesus.

Finally, it is a great blessing and boon to true fellowship to be understood. Jesus sent out his disciples two by two because solo ministry is, well, stupid. Even though most of us serve as the sole pastor in a congregation, being a presbyterian means never really being alone. It means having friends and mentors who are always available for counsel and prayer and who understand this vocation more deeply and incisively than most.

03 June 2008

Prayer, 1

As 2008 approached and commenced, I wondered to God what He would have for my spiritual growth this year. At the same time, I was prayerfully considering the same question for our congregation. The four areas I have been steadily praying about since then are (1) more outreach, (2) more holiness, (3) more generosity and (4) more prayer.

Two weeks ago our sermon series came to Luke 11, where Jesus teaches His disciples to pray. At the same time in our congregation, we are beginning a new class on basic spiritual disciplines and an evening sermon discussion time. All this amounts to a lot of time this month at Immanuel RPC talking about prayer. It occurs to me that perhaps God is answering my prayer for more prayer.

In this light, I thought I might take a few blog posts to share some Biblical points and personal thoughts on prayer. For those at Immanuel, this will be review...but review makes the soil of our hearts and minds able to sustain growth.

First, prayer must be learned. The disciples grew up in a praying culture, but yet realized how much they had to learn. Thus they asked Jesus, "teach us to pray."

Second, prayer is not natural. Certainly there is an impulse in humanity to cry out to a conceived deity. Only a very few succeed in stifling this impulse entirely. But even though we all pray, Biblical prayer, Christ-centered and Spirit-powered prayer are not natural. We are all born breathing and breathe all our lives - but as opera singers must relearn the right breathing for their art, so Christians must relearn prayer.

Third, a desire from prayer comes from keeping our eyes on Jesus. Luke the historian brings a great gift to the church in constantly revealing to us the ongoing, infinite and eternal love that exists in our Triune God. In the gospels, the Father is always pointing out the Son and providing for Him; at the same time the Son is always seeking the Father's glory and purpose. As we watch this, we are to be more than instructed: we are to be inspired. Like the disciples whose desire for prayer came from watching Jesus, so we should meditate on the majestic, Trinitarian love of Jesus for the Father.

06 May 2008

Joyful Ministry

Sunday's sermon was from Luke 10, when Jesus sends out 70 (or 72, depending on translation) to visit various towns and prepare His way. The tone of the whole text (v. 1-24) is joy. From this joyful text, I drew out five lessons for ministry. Not just better ministry, but joyful ministry. I hope they might encourage you as you serve Christ this week. Some of you know this, but the word ministry most often simply means "service", so this should apply to every Christian.

1. Know your purpose - Jesus sent the disciples out to prepare the way for Him. So they went out to their ministry with a clear sense of purpose. The great thing here is that this is our purpose as well: whatever God has called you to, you are preparing the way for the return of Christ. Whether raising covenant children, building houses, running a company or preaching sermons, we are all working to bring all things under the lordship of Jesus in preparation for His return. What is key, then, is remembering it.

2. Begin with prayer - The first thing Jesus told these laborers to do? Pray for more laborers. When we pray, we give honor to Jesus as the only one who can do it. When we pray, we remember that the fields are white for harvest and we simply cannot do it all. Let's commit to this, then: beginning every ministry, every service, every day with prayer.

3. Confidence creates vulnerability - Jesus then tells these disciples that they are going out as "lambs in the midst of wolves." A cheery thought. But then he makes it even harder by telling them, "Don't take your overnight bag or your credit cards or any extra footwear." Why this strange command? Because Jesus expects them to have such confidence in the gospel they are preaching that they are willing to be vulnerable. There is no effective and joyful service to God which doesn't require vulnerability and real risk. To be up for that risk, we must continue to develop confidence and faith in the gospel.

4. Don't be distracted - Jesus tells them, "Don't greet anyone on the road"...not because he wants them to be rude, but because they are to be urgent in their task. What is sapping you of your sense of urgency in ministry? Where does the life and priority of the church fall in your priority scheme? Sometimes, even good things can rob us of heaven-centered urgency, like greeting someone on the road. But we must focus on Jesus and maintain the radical urgency of those who are preparing his way.

5. Keep Jesus' sovereignty in view - Jesus finishes thier commission by telling them what to do when people accept the message (heal & proclaim the nearness of the kingdom) and when people reject the message (condemn & proclaim the nearness of the kingdom). Rather than take John and James' approach of calling down heaven's fire on the infidels, Jesus' disciples are to preach and give warning and let Jesus take care of the rebellious on the last day. Serving Christ without a conscious appreciation of his sovereignty leads to crippling failures and prideful victories.

28 April 2008

The days are evil but my ipod isn't

A while back, I bought an 80-gig ipod. At the time, I really hoped it wouldn't be a waste of money; in fact, I had hopes of it being a help and blessing to my spiritual life. Towards that hope, I have delved into the world of podcasting: investigating, subscribing, unsubscribing and listening to a lot of different podcasts. In the end, I'm very happy with what I'm able to listen to every week. I thought some of you may be interested in this list of my regular downloads.

Preachers
-Joel Beeke
-Mark Driscoll
-Sinclair Ferguson
-Thabiti Anyabwile
-Ted Donnelly
-R.C. Sproul (Renewing Your Mind)
-Alistair Begg (Truth for Life)
-Several RPCNA Pastors (see reformedvoice.com)

Lectures
-Covenant seminary's church history
-Covenant seminary's preaching class
-Sovereign Grace Leadership Series

Fun/Humor
-NPR's Car Talk
-Best of YouTube

Culture/Music/Other
-This American Life
-NPR's live concert podcast
-NPR's All Songs Considered
-NPR's Science Friday
-Mahalo Daily
-Paste Culture Club
-National Geographic's Wild Chronicles
-Grammar Girl

What am I missing? What podcasts help you or encourage you in some way?

17 April 2008

Sermons

The internet is pretty nifty. Our sermons are hosted at sermonaudio.com, but now they have a little widget, which you should see in the right hand column under "recent sermons." Visitors to the sight will be able to listen to the sermons by simply pressing the play button. If you want to download it, you'll still need to click the title of the sermon to go to its specific page. I'll try to post our newest sermon there every week.

15 April 2008

A Prayer for Preachers

O Spirit of God, may you then waken my mind and tongue as a loud-shouting clarion of truth, so that all may rejoice, who are united in spirit to the entire Godhead.
-St. Gregory of Nazianzus, poem 1.1.1 De Filio

More from Bonhoeffer

When Bonhoeffer wrote The Cost of Discipleship, he was struggling to call the Lutheran church to wake up and prepare for to do battle with national socialism. His prescription went much deeper than mere laziness. He blamed it on poor theology masked with good theology. I read this paragraph with my mouth open (people at the coffee shop think I'm a little weird anyway); it is bracing prophecy, a powerful tonic even today.
We Lutherans have gathered like eagles round the carcase of cheap grace, and there we have drunk of the poison which has killed the life of following Christ. It is true, of course, that we have paid the doctrine of pure grace divine honours unparalleled in Christendom, in fact we have exalted that doctrine to the position of God himself. Everywhere Luther's formula has been repeated, but its truth perverted into self-deception. So long as our Church holds the correct doctrine of justification, there is no doubt whatever that she is a justified Church! So they said, thinking that we must vindicate our Lutheran heritage by making this grace available on the cheapest and easiest terms. To be "Lutheran" must mean that we leave the following of Christ to legalists, Calvinists and enthusiasts - and all this for the sake of grace. We justified the world, and condemned as heretics those who tried to follow Christ. The result was that a nation became Christian and Lutheran, but at the cost of true discipleship. The price it was called upon to pay was all too cheap. Cheap grace had won the day.

I'm not convinced this exalting of the doctrine of free grace is the problem in reformed churches today, but this is a clear warning: we are not justified by the doctrine of justification. We are justified by Jesus. A misplaced focus will give birth to a host of errors and sins.

Bonhoeffer, Luther & Cheap Grace

For our next book club, I'm reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship. In light of Bonhoeffer's historical context (the degeneration of the German confessional church giving way to Nazi control) and our own context (good reformed theology not always have the effect it ought to have), I thought his discussion about the reformer Martin Luther and cheap versus costly grace was fascinating. Here are some interesting quotes that struck me.
The grace which gave itself to [Martin Luther] was a costly grace, and it shattered his whole existence. Once more he must leave his nets and follow. The first time was when he entered the monastery, when he had left everything behind except his pious self. This time even that was taken from him.
...
[Before Luther left the monastery for the secular world] the Christian life had been the achievement of a few choice spirits under the exceptionally favourable conditions of monasticism; now it is a duty laid on every Christian living in the world.
...
The only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ. Such a man knows that the call to discipleship is a gift of grace, and that the call is inseparable from the grace. But those who try to use this grace as a dispensation from following Christ are simply deceiving themselves.

08 April 2008

Probably not

My lovely wife is out shopping, all four kids are in bed and relatively quiet. I'm back to studying and suddenly wondered, "Is God relieved when I go to sleep at night, just so He can have some peace and quiet?" 

Yeah, I didn't think so either. If only I were that obnoxiously constant in my prayers and singing. 

Now another thing pops to mind: during dinner tonight, I was trying to have a civilized conversation with said wife and #3 called out continually, "mama! mama! mama! mama! MAMA! MAMA!" So, I gave him whatever it was he wanted. No, God doesn't grant prayer requests because he's tired of me, but he loves that spirit, that continual cry until I receive from him the desire he's planted in me. 

27 March 2008

pssst, new links (look right)

I'm almost 30

I'm listening to Bruce Hornsby on Pandora right now. And I really like it. Perhaps adulthood has its perks. Like not being required to hate piano pop anymore. Billy Joel, watch out.

07 March 2008

Koran, round 1

For this month's book club, I decided to read through the Koran. This was the first time I have done so. Though I hesitate to record my thoughts (picture an Islamic book club reading through the Bible for the first time...), here are some things that stuck out to my on my first reading.

Compared to the Bible, I was surprised at how little of the Koran is made up of history stories. There are some stories in the Koran, but not many. And the ones that are there are, by and large, re-told stories from the first five books of the Bible. This re-telling often adds or changes details (like Jesus speaking to Mary while he was still an infant); the changes are sometimes incidental, but other times constitute a major rearranging of the ideas of the Biblical story.

Some things were noticeable because of their absence. In the Koran, I found no trace of regeneration of internal conversion. And, despite claiming repeatedly that Allah is a merciful god, there is no sense given of how he forgives. That is, there's no sense of atonement. In the place of atonement is a strong theology of merit, of inheriting Allah's favor and eternal happiness through our good works. More broadly, there is a great sense of religion, but no great sense of redemption. Despite the reality of sin, there is no overarcing storyline of salvation.

There are other parts of the Koran which, if we read them without knowing who wrote them, could have been written by Christians. The Last Day, the resurrection, monotheism (only one god-ism), the reality of heaven and hell, the sovereignty of god - these are themes we have in common with the Koran. It's good to know these, to keep us from caricaturizing and to help us in our outreach.

Finally, there is not nearly as much violence in the Koran as I guessed there might be. I've heard that some of the harsher jihad teachings come from the Hadith (the recording of Muhammad's life and sayings) rather than the Koran. I only came across a few passages which tended toward a violent mindset and none of those were any harsher than what we could pull out of our Old Testament.

Again, these are my observations based on a first time reading. So take them with some salt pinches and feel free to correct me if I'm mistaken!

06 March 2008

Puny

I can't speak for other preachers, but one of the things that runs through my mind right before I preach is, "How can I preach? Why should these people listen to me? So many of these people are more advanced than I in their walks with Christ. Some here are more obedient to God's Word than I am." But even this is part of God's blueprint, even using weak and imperfect men. Yes, the character of the preacher is important; but even his weakness is part of God's plan. This quote from John Calvin came across my desk today and is a helpful addition to the recent discussion on the primacy of preaching.
This is the best and most useful exercise in humility, when (God) accustoms us to obey his Word, even though it be preached through men like us and sometimes even by those of lower worth than we. If he spoke from heaven, it would not be surprising if his sacred oracles were to be reverently received without delay by the ears and minds of all. For who would not dread the presence of His power? Who would not be stricken down at the sight of such great majesty? Who would not be confounded at such boundless splendor? But when a puny man risen from the dust speaks in God's name, at this point we best evidence our piety and obedience toward God if we show ourselves teachable toward his minister, although he excels us in nothing. (4.3.1)

04 March 2008

It's not easy

Poet Stephen Dunn, from an interview in Books & Culture by Aaron Rench, speaking about how poetry brings us closer to reality:
To get the world right is a hard-won thing. It's not easily done.

I feel the truth of this daily. This understanding the world rightly. It is a fight.

Honor to whom honor is owed

Our presbytery met last week in Orlando, Florida. Presbytery accomplishes a lot of good and necessary work, but the most significant thing we did last week was to honor the lifetime ministry work of Dr. Roy Blackwood. Dr. Blackwood officially requested, and was granted, that his resignation as senior pastor at Second RPC in Indianapolis be received. Although that part of the evening was a very sad occasion, the receiving of his resignation was followed by Pastor Keith Magill giving a long testimony concerning Dr. Blackwood's ministry and work. For me, three things shone through the evening.

First, the amount of work God has used Dr. Blackwood to accomplish is truly amazing. When he began pastoring in the 1950's, there was only one Reformed Presbyterian Church in Indiana. Now there are nine, all of which have the stamp of his passion and ministry upon them. Even our new church, Immanuel, owes honor to Dr. Blackwood; though he did not participate in the planting of this congregation, he helped plant our mother church and he helped instill the vision in that session and in our presbytery for continual church planting.

Second, the testimony of so many men and women include how Jesus used Dr. Blackwood in their lives. Several of the pastors spoke at a reception, revealing how Dr. Blackwood's passion for the church as a whole was equaled (if not surpassed) by his love for people as individuals. He was and remains a disciple-maker, calling and training many men for the pastorate and many more for lives devoted to Christ in other vocations.

Third, and perhaps the most moving, was Dr. Blackwood's reason for resigning his pastorate. His dear wife, Margie, was able to be there that evening with us and he recognized her commitment to and help for his ministry. This resounds in so many pastors' hearts, that "without her, I could not have done any of it." Fact is, Mrs. Blackwood needs more and more help these days. And Dr. Blackwood resigned in order to receive his promotion to taking care of her full time, this helpmate who took care of him for so many decades of ministry.

I'm sure Dr. Blackwood doesn't read blogs. If he did, he probably wouldn't like this post. At least not unless I end it the right way, by giving the honor to Christ rather than to Roy. This is his greatest testimony to me, that in everything, Jesus should receive the glory. It's not Roy's church or your church or my church. It's Jesus' church.

27 February 2008

Just once more

To conclude my part of this discussion, here are some quotes from John Calvin in the Institutes, book four, chapters five and six. Some quick notes: if this is getting old, I'm sorry and I'm almost done. If this discussion feels off-balanced by not addressing the preacher's responsibility, I agree and hope to write more about that soon. Finally, these quotes from Calvin are meant to inform the idea and are not aimed at anyone in particular.

On Ephesians 4:10-13: We see how God, who could in a moment perfect his own, nevertheless desires them to grow up into manhood solely under the education of the church. We see the way set for it: the preaching of the heavenly doctrine has been enjoined upon the pastors. We see that all are brought under the same regulation, that with a gentle and teachable spirit they may allow themselves to be governed by teachers appointed to this function.

On God's giving interpeters to His people (Mal. 2:7): This is doubly useful. On the one hand, he proves our obedience by a very good test when we hear his ministers speaking just as if he himself spoke. On the other, he also provides for our weakness in that he prefers to address us in human fashion through interpreters in order to draw us to himself, rather than to thunder at us and drive us away.

To those who think the authority of the Word is belittled when handled with authority by men: For, although God's power is not bound to outward means, he has nonetheless bound us to this ordinary manner of teaching. Fanatical men, refusing to hold fast to it, entangle themselves in many deadly snares. Many are led either by pride, dislike, or rivalry to the conviction that they can profit enough from private reading and meditation; hence they despise public assemblies and deem preaching superfluous...In order, then, that pure simplicity of faith may flourish among us, let us not be reluctant to use this exercise of religion which God, by ordaining it, has shown us to be necessary and highly approved.

What follows in chapter six is a great portion discussing the balance of believing the primacy of preaching yet giving full credit to God who "claims for himself alone both the beginnings of faith and its entire course."

26 February 2008

More on the primacy of preaching

I do want to continue the discussion from the last post. Not having much time to write, let me point your attention to this article from Keith Mathison, critiquing the doctrine of solo Scriptura (vs. the reformed doctrine of sola Scriptura). Those on the other side of the debate are holding to a form of this, not the full-blown solo Scriptura, but a form of it, and thus ought to wrestle with Mathison's conclusion. (thanks to Jeff for the link)

Not only has solo scriptura contributed heavily to this division and sectarianism, it can offer no possible solution. Solo scriptura is the ecclesiastical equivalent of a nation with a constitution but no court of law to interpret that constitution. Both can lead to chaos. At best solo scriptura can offer an abstract doctrinal statement to the effect that “Scripture” is the sole authority. But using Scripture alone, it cannot tell us what “Scripture” is or what it means. It simply cannot resolve differences of interpretation, and the result is more and more division and schism. The resolution of theological differences requires the possibility of authoritatively defining the propositional doctrinal content of Christianity, and it requires the possibility of an authoritative ecclesiastical “Supreme Court." Since neither of these possibilities are allowed within the framework of solo scriptura, there can be no possibility of solution.

Solo scriptura also undermines the legitimate ecclesiastical authority established by Christ. It negates the duty to submit to those who rule over you, because it removes the possibility of an authoritative teaching office in the Church. To place any kind of real hermeneutical authority in an elder or teacher undermines the doctrine of solo scriptura. Those adherents of solo scriptura who do have pastors and teachers to whom they look for leadership do so under the stipulation that the individual is to evaluate the leader’s teaching by Scripture first. What this means in practice is that the individual is to measure his teacher’s interpretation of Scripture against his own interpretation of Scripture. The playing field is leveled when neither the ecumenical creeds nor the Church has any more authority than the individual believer, but Christ did not establish a level playing field. He did not establish a democracy. He established a Church in which men and women are given different gifts, some of which involve a special gift of teaching and leading. These elders have responsibility for the flock and a certain authority over it. Scripture would not call us to submit to those who had no real authority over us (Heb. 13:17; Acts 20:28). [emphasis mine]


Elsewhere in the article, Mathison points out that those who appeal to the Bereans of Acts 17 as Scriptural evidence of the primacy of the individual over the preached Word ought to realize that Acts 17 comes after Acts 15, where the council of the church decided what the Scriptures taught regarding circumcision and handed their decision down as authoritative. Again, the Scriptures lead us to seek balance. Real authority, the primacy of preaching yet maintaining the practice of submissive discernment.

20 February 2008

Especially Preaching

The shorter catechism (#89) says that the Spirit of God makes "the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation." What follows is an attempt to justify the idea of "especially" in the catechism.

Please know that I do not mean to lessen the importance of private and family worship, but to rescue the importance of corporate worship and the preaching of the Word from the depths to which it has sunk.

First, some Biblical thoughts:

Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:11 that Jesus gave pastors and teachers (or, more literally, pastor-teachers) to His people. Why? V. 14 - so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. In other words, Jesus gave pastor-teachers because we need them. Because on our own, we would be blown every which way and would not reach maturity in Christ. The fact that Jesus gives preachers - and that we didn't come up with this idea on our own - means that our responsibility to the preaching we receive on Sunday mornings is a responsibility we have to Jesus, the giver of the gift. Contrary to popular thought, it was Jesus' opinion that we do need preachers to understand the Word of God. Not as mediators, but as teachers. And not that we are ignorant on our own, but that we won't normally achieve the maturity and protection Jesus has planned for us apart from the church's preaching and teaching.

In Acts 17:11 we see the Bereans searching the Scriptures for themselves. But the Bereans aren't solitary Christians deciding for themselves and by themselves what the Scriptures say. They are searching the Scriptures for a purpose: to make sure what they heard from the preachers was true. What prompted their searching was their receiving the Word with joy and their hope to find these things to be true. In other words, this isn't a picture of individualized Christianity, reading and living the Bible on their own. What set these Jews apart, what made them "more noble than those in Thessalonica" was the eagerness with which they received the Word, eagerness proved by their devotion to understand and double-check what they were about to obey. I would argue these Jews did exactly what I exhorted our congregation to do: watch how you hear! (Luke 8:18) Along the same lines, note the testimony of the Thessalonican church (1 Thess. 4:5), the Colossian church (Col. 1:5)

Many of the promises we have regarding the Word of God come in relation to the Word of God proclaimed and preached. See Romans 10:10-15 - justification comes by faith (10) and faith comes by hearing the Word preached (14).

Also helpful here is Paul's instructions to Timothy regarding his preaching. 2 Timothy 4:2 is well-known by every preacher: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. Why such a strong instruction? Because the "time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions." In other words, because we are sinners, we can't be trusted to read, study, understand and obey God's Word entirely on our own. Personal study shouldn't be neglected, but the noetic effects of sin - sin's ongoing brain damage - necessitate the giving of authoritative teaching. Not infallible, but authoritative. "But" some will say,"don't preachers have the same problems I do?" Yes, which is why the Bereans' discernment was totally warranted and why the painful process of ordination is so vital. This isn't a call to turn off our minds and consciences, but a call to joyful, expectant submission.

Yes, pastors are imperfect people; just ask my friends. Yes, we make mistakes. Two weeks ago I found myself repenting of something I had said from the pulpit. This is why we have sessions overseeing the pulpit, guarding the people from the preacher's mistakes. But at root here is the attitude we bring to worship: do we come to worship with an expectation of hearing God's Word from the preacher and obeying what we hear or do we come with great reservation? Do we recognize worship as the highlight of our union with Christ or as a possibly helpful time of encouragement? Do we view our preacher-in-his-preaching primarily as one more imperfect man or as Jesus' gift to me?

This post is too long to continue. I hope to write again about the historical nature of this question and my own testimony regarding it.

*note: this post was edited on Feb. 25 to reflect some of the ways the discussion in the comments have helped clarify my thinking. None of the edits were changes to my central arguments.

**Thanks for all the comments. For now, I've decided to hide them all, because we seemed to reach the end of what was helpful. If you have a question about this, feel free to email or call. -Jared

18 February 2008

Watch How You Hear

Yesterday I preached on the parbable of the sower and the seeds from Luke 8. The only command in the passage is Jesus' admonition to "take care how you hear" or, more literally, "watch how you hear." My exhortation to the congregation was the same: take a look at how you hear sermons. Do some evaluation.

Toward that end, I'd like to offer some evaluation questions to use as a mirror. I really don't think faithfully hearing sermons means being able to answer all of these questions, but they should give a good idea of how we're doing. These questions are designed to lead to living Scripture; this is on purpose, because Jesus wants us to be those who hear God's Word and do it. (Luke 8:21)
  • What passage was the sermon from?
  • What was the story or main thought of the passage?
  • What was the main point of the sermon?
  • What subpoints, illustrations, exhortations struck me most?
  • What applications did the preacher draw from the text?
  • Is there any reason to think this application is a bad idea or somehow unbiblical?
  • If not, what is my plan for implementing this application? How will I know when I've done it or at least in process of doing it?
  • How can our church family live out this application together?
  • What other applications should I draw from the sermon? What is my plan?
  • How should this part of Scripture change the way I pray?
  • How can I use the sermon and its applications in discipling my children this week?
  • How will living out what I've heard change how I treat my wife, husband, children, friends, parents, etc.?
These questions would be a nice outline for discussion over Sunday dinner or a good way to spend some of your private and family worship through the week.

Would you add any questions to this list?

07 February 2008

Down in my heart

#1: We're going to go to heaven when we die, aren't we?

Me: Yup. 'Cause we belong to God and trust in Jesus.

#1: We're all going to die, aren't we?

Me: Yup.

#1: But I won't die, because I've got lots of schoolwork to do. In my heart.

05 February 2008

God 1, Jared 0

video

One year

Sunday was Immanuel RPC's first anniversary as an organized congregation. During our evening service, we spent time giving thanks to God for His many mercies toward us over the past year. Some highlights include a wonderful sense of unity, great ministry from families to families, financial blessings, fifty-two weeks of sitting together under God's Word in worship, some good evangelism and outreach events, the mom's group and the grad fellowship group.

Near the top of my list for thanksgiving is the servant attitude of so many people at Immanuel. Especially the young men and women. Our junior high and senior high men are always willing and excited to serve; they find ways to help on Sundays. And our young ladies have been incredible encouragements to those of us with young children!

Glory be to God! May He give us another year of worshipping and serving Jesus Christ, who is God with us.

04 February 2008

Toward a theology of geese

Since the post a little ways down generated some feeling, I thought we might have a fruitful discussion about a Biblical view of animals. It's really a fascinating topic. Toward this end, here are some theorems, thoughts and ideas I have about the topic and how I think Scripture supports them. Please comment - do you agree, disagree? Are there other points to add?

[Note: once more, let me say that the whole goose-kicking thing was fairly serious but written for a laugh. For those who laughed, grand. For those who didn't, please know I don't chase down animals just to kick them. I'm pretty sure it was going to bite me.]

Sorry for the bullet points. It's probably harder to read, but it helps me think more clearly. Here we go:
  • Animals aren't people. Man and woman are made in the image of God, birds, beasts and fish aren't. (Gen. 1:26-27) Therefore, the idea of "humane" treatment is somewhat oxymoronic. They have value, clearly. But it isn't even on the same continuum of the value of human life.
    • If there is ever a choice to be made, we go with human life rather than animal. Always. Risking a car accident to avoid hitting a squirrel is unbiblical.
  • Animals aren't plants. Obvious, yes, but worth pointing out. (Gen. 1:11, 20) Though we may eat meat, God told Noah not to eat meat with the blood still in it, because the life is in the blood. Plants have no blood, therefore no life, in the Biblical sense.
  • Animals are part of the creation over which humanity is given dominion and stewardship. (Gen. 1:26) Animals exist for mankind, not mankind for animals. So there should be no talk about humanity serving animals. (Gen. 2:20)
    • Along the same lines, check out Genesis 9:5 where God tells us that animals are held responsible for their actions toward humanity. If one kills a human, God decrees its life should be taken. But it doesn't flow the other way - we aren't responsible to pay in any way for the spilled blood of animals. Also see Exodus 19:13 where God promises punishment for both men and animals who might touch the mountain.
    • After the flood, God clearly and specifically gave animals to humanity to eat (Gen. 9:3). Perhaps because the curse of the fall (i.e., how hard it would be to farm), perhaps as a measure of kindness and mercy. Either way, animals belong to man (in a stewardship sense, see below).
  • If you're like me, Proverbs 12:10 comes to mind in this discussion: Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel. Some thoughts:
    • The word regard is the very general Hebrew word "to know." So "regard" simply means "to be aware of", not necessarily to have a great passion about or even to value highly, but simply to be aware of. So I take the verse to mean "the righteous person has an awareness of his animals' lives, and seeks to provide for them based on that awareness."
    • Deuteronomy 25:4 is a good example, that oxen shouldn't be muzzled when they're treading grain. Why? Because it would be cruel. Because being full is better than starving and animals should share in the fruit of their work if at all possible.
    • Cruelty to animals for fun or spite is unrighteous.
    • A theory: because modern Americans are (1) often pet owners and (2) often very removed from the animals which they eat, we may be quite off-balance in what it means to "regard" animals. It doesn't mean treat them like pets.
  • I think the overriding rule is that of stewardship. We are stewards of the animals. Stewards don't own that which they care for, but are responsible for it. Humanity will have to answer for how we cared for creation, including animals.
    • Therefore, species' extinction is a bad thing. Interestingly, Darwinian evolution cannot account for why extinction is bad. Yet macro-evolutionists are more passionate about this than most Christians.
    • Conversely, refusing to control animal population is also bad. See modern India for an example of how religious beliefs lead to a refusal to take animal life which leads to economic and health problems.
  • For Christmas, we bought our family this great series on nature/creation. It's astoundingly beautiful. The great variety and beauty among God's animals reveal His beauty and majesty. So a fully Christian ethic of animals must include delight in their beauty and diversity.
Well, surely I'm missing something. What would you add? Or disagree with?

22 January 2008

35 years

Today is the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Approximately 1.37 million children are killed each year in America, sacrificed at the altars of privacy and convenience. This is not a political issue. This is not just a drum for Republicans to beat. This is a matter of religion and the holiness of God.

Here is George Grant's
short reflection.

Justin Taylor shares a rightly
disturbing video.

Some thoughts, if I may. It would be good for each of us, personally, and each church to spend time in prayer this week. This prayer should include praise to God, who is the giver of life; it should include repentance for our nation's many sins; it should include a prayer for deliverance; it should also include a call for our Priest-King to go to war for the cause of truth and meekness and right (Psalm 45:4).

Lest we sink into despair, consider during your prayers Jeramiah 31:38-40 -
Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when the city shall be rebuilt for the LORD from the tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. And the measuring line shall go out farther, straight to the hill Gareb, and shall then turn to Goah. The whole valley of the dead bodies and the ashes, and all the fields as far as the brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be sacred to the LORD. It shall not be uprooted or overthrown anymore forever.

The context is the truly astounding promise of the new covenant (see v. 33 - I will be their God and they shall be my people). In that context, God promises the expansion of His children's territory, despite the current state of His people in Babylonian exile. This rebuilding and expansion will include the tower gates and the corner gates. But it's more than just the city - God promises to send His measuring line to the hill Gareb and Goah, covering the valley of dead bodies and ashes.

We don't know the details about Gareb and Goah, but we do know this: the valley of dead bodies and ashes was where the Israelites killed their children, sacrificing them to Molech and other pagan gods. What a horrible thing to even consider. But note what God promises: not only will He reclaim the ground where they sacrificed their children, but it will be a place "sacred to the Lord."

This is the greatness of the new covenant - not only does God save us from sins, but He goes right to the place of our greatest sins and makes it His greatest glory. Those who are sinfully angry glorify God when He makes them gentle and peaceful. Those who are full of lust God glorifies by making them pure in heart and body. And so we can rightly pray that God would go to the source of our nation's greatest sins, till up the ground, plant a new garden and make it sacred to the Lord. In other words, don't just pray that God would help us stop killing our babies, but that He would make us a people who love life, who love children. Pray that our greatest sins would become the place of His greatest glory. This is how He promised to work in the new covenant.

On Bloggery

Technology in general and blogs in particular have broken the dam and set loose a flood of words. Each of us could read blogs all day and never find the end of words being put forth. What to do? How, then, shall we read?

I began picking through a book of theological poetry by St. Gregory of Nazianzus this morning and found this gem:
Seeing many writing in this present life
words without measure, smoothly rolling,
who pass most time in drudgeries
producing only a hollow logorrhea,
and how they write so brazenly
things clogged full of idiocies,
as sand fills the sea or fruit-flies Egypt:
I've found this to be
the single sweetest counsel, that,
pitching out all other word, one hold
on only to those inspired by God,
as a calm harbor for those who flee the storm.

In other news, we had a great college conference this past weekend. David Hanson spoke from the book of Job and the Spirit was working, ministering through David to many students there. See Barry's comments here.

17 January 2008

Friendship

This weekend is the annual CYA (covenanter young adult, i.e., college) Winter Conference. And by "winter", we apparently mean four degrees below zero. Real winter.

Anyhow, my friend David Hanson (pastor of Grace RPC in State College, PA) is coming to speak to the students; he'll be speaking on triumph and tragedy in the book of Job. On my latest read through the book of Job, I was convicted of the quality - or lack thereof - of my friendship toward others. Here are the lessons I took away from Eliphaz, Bildad & Zophar on what not to do.
  • Just "being there" does not qualify me as a good friend
  • Just "being there" does not give me enough capital/sufficient right to say anything I want
  • I will constantly be tempted to rush to judgment without all the facts; and when I do rush to judgment, I'll usually be wrong
  • Theology isn't enough...theology without love kills. Theology without wisdom kills. Wrong theology kills.
  • True sympathy is often impossible (who can really sympathize with Job??) - I can't assume I know what my friends are feeling or enduring
  • Singing the same song sixteen different ways doesn't make it true - Job's friends really didn't say all that much, they just said it a lot.
  • Just because someone's in pain doesn't mean they're wrong

16 January 2008

This morning the guard goose was back. As I came to the office for our session meeting, the stray Canadian goose (or does he belong to the house near the building?) was wandering around the parking lot in the dark, honking at me. And then he got in my way and hissed at me. So I kicked him in the head. Hard.

Then, I needed to go back to my truck to retrieve something and there he was again, on the sidewalk, hissing at me. So I kicked him in the head. Harder. He flopped around for a while.

This is how you know it's going to be a great day. When you get to kick a goose in the head. Twice. Goose head first, the gates of hell second. I'm on my way.

11 January 2008

Chaplain to the status quo

Ken Myers, of Mars Hill Audio Journal fame, sends out the best fundraising letters. They're four pages long, with two lines of money requests and two hundred lines of great wisdom:

...there are two conclusions with which I started this project which have been remarkably reinforced. The first is that what is called "modernity" is essentially incompatible with Christian faithfulness, that what makes modern culture distinctively "modern" involves a rejection of important Christian beliefs and practices. The second is that one of the greatest temptations faced by the Church and her leaders is the desire to be approved by the world, that the evangelistic motive can produce a dangerous preoccupation with "getting along," with being "winsome." When the Church gives in to this temptation, the result is a form of cultural captivity in which the Church is simply a chaplain to some cultural status quo, reducing the consequences of faith to personal, "spiritual" matters, but incapable of encouraging a truly counter-cultural stance except at the margins.