Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The King in the Cattle Trough


The true Christian religion is incarnational and thus does not begin at the top, as all other religions do; it begins at the bottom.  You must run directly to the manger and the mother's womb, embrace the Infant and Virgin's Child in your arms and look at Him.

- Luther

Monday, December 16, 2013

Now Joseph was a Just Man ...


"Who is the model that Jesus followed as a young man?  His name is Joseph.  Joseph is the example that Jesus had in His early life.  Where do you think Jesus learned to lay down His life for His Bride, which is the Church?  Where do you think Jesus learned to love His Bride even when things did not seem to go the way they ought to go?  Where did Jesus learn to be humble and compassionate?  Where did Jesus learn to be a righteous husband?  He learned that from His earthly father, Joseph.  And so we learn this lesson:
Parents who imitate Joseph's righteousness are more likely to have children who imitate Joseph's Son."

- Pastor Uri Brito

Friday, November 22, 2013

Reading The Revelation in Context


"Revelation is often read as if, when we turn the page from Jude, we’re no longer reading about early Christian communities in a Greco-Roman world, but about the end of the first millennium AD, or the Black Death, or the turmoils of the Reformation era, or the Cold War, or the War on Terror and Jewish-Muslin tensions in today’s Middle East. So it’s again important to state the obvious: Revelation is a book of the New Testament."

-Peter Leithart

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Dangerous Gospel of Jesus Christ

*Pastor's warning! Please note: explicit language warning for the first minute of this video clip!*


While we were busy running around in Sandestin for our annual Family Conference, on the other side of the world [down under], the Festival of Dangerous Ideas was concluding in Sydney.  The highlight of my time in Sandestin was getting to host our Q&A with Douglas and Nancy Wilson.  This morning, Doug posted the link to the Q&A session from FODI, which features his friend and Christian apologist, Peter Hitchens [brother of the late, radical atheist, Christopher Hitchens].
2 things stood out to me.  The first was the clarity and provocative intrigue of Peter Hitchens' articulation of the gospel of Christ Jesus.  The second is the utter disdain of children among the rest of the panelists.  It is often said by Christian Pro-lifers that we are a culture that hates children.  At times that has struck my ears as harsh hyperbole.  But in this clip, the hatred and abandon couldn't be more obvious.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Some Thoughts on Historical Redemptive Preaching on All Saints Sunday


It is sad that the phrase "Reformed fad" even exists, but alas, we're all simply human.  Over the years, there have been several kurfluffles in our circles over HR preaching and my thoughts returned to the subject this week as I prepared a sermon for All Saints Sunday.  Here is an excerpt from a response letter I had to write on the subject a few years ago:

Jesus told the Pharisees that the O.T. Scriptures speak of Him [Jn 5.39] then further revealed Himself to the Apostles from the words of Moses and the Prophets as He walked with two of them on the road to Emmaus [Lk 24.27].  Christ can and should be found ALL THROUGH the O.T. … the animal slain in Eden to provide a bloody skin to cover the shame of a disobedient Adam and Eve; the institution of meat-eating so that, through the death of an animal, Noah and his family could live by eating of them; the Paschal lamb; the Rock and Manna in the Wilderness; Esther’s risking her life to redeem her people; Mt Moriah; the Scarlet thread hung out by Rahab in Jericho; the least of the tribe [Gideon] or least of the family [David] being the chosen one and deliverer; God’s use of the most humble and unexpected weapon to defeat His enemy in the most unexpected way with every one of the Judges especially Samson who spread wide his arms and brought divine judgment upon himself in death to deliver God's people; God’s sending a promised child via unusual conception circumstances; Jonah being three days in the belly of the sea creature; just to name a few…

Concretely, one of the best ways to maintain a redemptive focus in a church is to end every week’s service with communion.

Friday, November 1, 2013

On Church Discipline


When God speaks of church growth in Scripture He is speaking more of fruit than shade.  The Bible pictures an orchard rather than a forest.  This is why pruning is necessary.  

[photo: Baugher's Orchard & Farm, Westminster, MD; Heidi Kenny of www.mypapercrane.com]

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Love it...

This morning, like many Wednesday mornings, I'm sitting in the church study at my desk typing out emails and sermons notes with my baby daughter on my lap.  Right now she is saying that she "wannas eggies".  But we just ate lunch, so that's not gonna fly.  One Sunday evening, she wandered from her seat in the front up to the pulpit while I was concluding a service and I had to pick her up, finish my remarks and close in prayer while holding my toddler.  Such is life in the Kingdom.  So this morning I couldn't help but appreciate these news photos.  Apparently, even the Pope sometimes has the same challenge, only at the time, he was addressing 150k+ at the Vatican!



Thursday, September 26, 2013

True Faith: Living, Active, Vocal ...


Faith is often confused with resignation. The prophetic word comes, cutting like a double-edged sword, and we respond with tight-lipped silence. This is not faith. Faith responds to God’s word, not with silent submission, but with confession, praise, earnest and anguished petition. Faith responds with the desperate cries of a Job, the “my God, my God” of David and Jesus, the “how long, O Lord?” of the Psalms. God’s word is not the end of a conversation, but an invitation to renew conversation. God does not judge and condemn to send us slinking away in resigned silence. God judges and condemns so that we can give our “amen” to his judgment, humble ourselves, and be saved. Ultimately, the issues go to theology proper: the Triune God, the God whose life is an eternal conversation, does not create a world as a stage where he performs soliloquies before a respectfully hushed audience. God creates the world and humanity to enter into a dialogue.

- Peter Leithart

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Relating to the Church Calendar, Liturgy, and Preaching ...


"People need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed."

 - Samuel Johnson

Friday, September 13, 2013

"Missional" Living


"All the people of the Church [must] live their baptism in a missionary way... throughout the developed world today, every territory is mission territory; when you walk out the door of your house - and even before you walk out the door of your house - because Christian mission really does begin at home."

- George Weigel

Thursday, August 29, 2013

ORA et LABORA

ORA et LABORA

Recently we’ve had the great privilege of coming together to consider our Lord’s teaching on the Kingdom, and how we are to picture it in our minds.  I say “picture it in our minds” because rather than presenting a lecture, He chose to start by drawing two pictures with words for His disciples and listeners.
The first picture was that of a tree – a great tree growing from a mustard seed.  The wording in the translation we heard in worship used the phrase “a grain of mustard seed”.  In this way, the translators link the idea of the seed with the word “grain” which helps us picture the scale of its size.  Wikipedia reports that the average mustard seed is 1-2mm in diameter.  This is also the size of a “course” grain of sand.  In other words, very, very tiny.
But this same tiny grain, although hidden underground for a time, will sprout to life and grow like a mighty tree, providing a home for the birds from all around. 
Or the leaven powder a woman hides inside the giant lump of dough, slowly fermenting the whole three measures [~60 lbs].
We’ve already considered together what this picture implies.  The Kingdom begins very small – with only a handful of believers and then is hidden underground.  Just like our Lord was hidden in the ground of a garden, His Church was driven underground at first, literally having to worship underground and in catacombs at times because of Roman persecution.  This situation is still taking place among Middle Eastern and Asian peoples, and so we continue to pray for the day when the Kingdom comes on earth and the great branches and leafy canopy fill the sky above our heads.
But faithful prayer is only half of the equation.  Our other duty is faithful work.
And this is reflected in the beautiful Latin phrase we’ve been given in Church History: Ora et Labora.
So I would like to remind you of it and ask you to continue to keep it before yourselves, especially in this green season of “ordinary time” and growth when we are starting back up into the school year and plowing forward once again into the rhythms of the year.  This is the time of summer slowly coming to a close and fall harvest work beginning. 

A dear pastor friend of mine from Niceville is fond of saying: “You cannot change the world, but sometimes God gives you a little piece.”  And he is right.  But how do we change even our little piece?  The answer is faithfulness – faithfulness in prayer and faithfulness in labor; lives lived in this duality of faithfulness among us and our children and our children’s children.  Covenental faithfulness.  Generational steadfastness.  Incremental advances.  This is how our Lord taught us to think about how His Kingdom would grow.  
There is a great poster I saw once on the internet, illustrated after the fashion of the British WW2 poster, it said: “Keep calm and Ora et Labora.”  These are our marching orders.  So go forth, praying and laboring.  The book of Ecclesiastes teaches us that much of our human work "under the sun" is vain because of the fall and curse.  But not all life is vanity and not all work is vain.  So do not grow weary in doing good work, but persevere, knowing that when you work in the Lord, your labor is not in vain [1 Cor 15.57-8] . 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

True Grit


The past few days I've been reading True Grit to my sons before bed.  Not a single time have I been able to get through it without bursting into loud laughter at least once.

Just last month, The Big Read released an audio episode devoted to this great American novel and it is well worth a listen, here.

I was surprised and tickled last night to read this paragraph:

The Indian woman spoke good English and I learned to my surprise that she too was a Presbyterian.  She had been schooled by a missionary.  What preachers we had in those days!  Truly they took the word into “the highways and hedges.”  Mrs. Bagby was not a Cumberland Presbyterian but a member of the U. S. or Southern Presbyterian Church.  I too am now a member of the Southern Church.  I say nothing against the Cumberlands.  They broke with the Presbyterian Church because they did not believe a preacher needed a lot of formal education.  That is all right but they are not sound on Election.  They do not fully accept it.  I confess it is a hard doctrine, running contrary to our earthly ideas of fair play, but I can see no way around it.  Read I Corinthians 6:13 and II Timothy 1:9, 10. Also I Peter 1:2, 19, 20 and Romans 11:7.  There you have it.  It was good for Paul and Silas and it is good enough for me.  It is good enough for you too.

Somehow that part didn't make it into the film.
There is a tremendous amount of Biblical imagery present in the book.  The theme teeters back and forth on the line between vengeance and justice.  I don't think it is an accident that with the Lex Talionis at its core, the Marshal is a one-eyed man.
The book is emphatic that these events took place in winter.  Arkansas becomes Narnia.  Additionally, the woman falls into a pit with serpents, but her deliverer descends into the earth to bring her up out of captivity, shooting the serpents [at least several of them] and then using her humble pony "little Blackie" to pull their rope and lift them up to salvation.
Upon seeing that it was "Little Blackie", Maddie references the Messianic Psalm lyric - "the stone which the builders rejected has become the chief Cornerstone."
Finally, the wicked Tom Chaney ends up being cast down into that serpent's pit and destroyed [different than the Coen brothers movie ending].
Don't ask me where LaBeouf figures into things.  I have no clue on that one.
Have you noticed any of these themes from the book or films?  I talked further about some of them a while ago in my review of the film here. I'd love to hear your thoughts and invite your comments below.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Drivetime to Church


"But exhort one another daily, while it is called today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." 

- Heb 3.13


When deciding between two locations to live or buy a house, people will often say things like - I'd rather be ten minutes from work and forty minutes from church because I drive to work every day but church is "only Sundays".
This is a common viewpoint and an understandable one, but it reveals a very unBiblical and anemic ecclesiology.  Church is NOT "only Sundays".  Your involvement in church life is not simply an hour Sunday morning.  You are to be a real part of the local body.  That means service and shared life together.  And that means more than Sundays.
Your ability to minister, serve, help, visit, commune & fellowship with, live alongside of, share time with, join, eat together, just stop by, shoot over to lend a hand, drop off extras, and so forth will all be hindered if you choose to live farther away because you think of church as only a Sunday commitment.  I'm not saying that the right decision is always ten minutes from church, forty minutes to work, every time without fail.  But I am saying that church is NOT "only Sundays".  Real church life is a daily thing.  #Heb 3.13

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Restoring the "We" to our Vocabulary

As our congregation has been working through Luke's Gospel, we recently came to the Disciples' Prayer [aka "The Lord's Prayer"] in chapter 11 and we took a great deal of time to notice the pronouns.  The only pronouns Christ gave us to pray were You [Thou] to the Father and first person plural [us, we, our].  Here is a great summary of that point from a different angle - the stories of Wendell Barry as described by Eugene Peterson.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Qualifications of a Pastor


"Qualifications of a pastor: 

the mind of a scholar, 
the heart of a child, 
and the hide of a rhinoceros."

- Stuart Briscoe

Monday, July 22, 2013

Top 4 Questions a Father should ask a Young Man Interested in His Daughter ...


Gleaned from Pastor Burke Shade after years of family courtship, matchmaking, and counseling:

1. What is your Church experience, background, and practice?
2. How is your relationship with your mother, sisters, and father?
3. Are you sexually pure?
4. What is your work now, plans for the future, and can you provide?

Friday, July 12, 2013

"Be the change..." Another Counseling Nugget


"Indeed, man wishes to be happy even when he so lives as to make happiness impossible." 

-- St. Augustine

Thursday, June 27, 2013

DOMA & Gay "Marriage" - a Christian Evaluation Part 2


In the aftermath of the SCOTUS DOMA ruling, here are 7 points to help us understand why we are where we are and 7 things Christians should do about it.

1. Heterosexual couples destroyed the sanctity of marriage long before the gay rights movement hit the mainstream. "I have two dads, you know." This is what a young boy I know recently told me. His words struck me. I knew they were true. But I'd never thought of it ... like THAT before. His birth parents divorced while he was an infant [for what I believe were sound, Biblical reasons]. His mother went on to remarry a fine Christian man and so, like so many other boys around, he has "two dads". Why should we think it so odd that this trend continue, though now with the ruthless efficiency of eliminating the mother altogether? A long time ago, our society began to deliberately streamline the process by which a man or woman can dissolve the oath they had previously made before God, church, family, community, and state to stay united until death.  And for decades, the process of oath-breaking has been made more and more convenient.  At this point in our history, "the sanctity of marriage" is nothing more than a hollow-sounding phrase; a string of words that used to mean something.


2. It was heterosexual promiscuity that paved the yellow-brick road on which gay rights activists now march.  What young people really mean when they say "Don't tell THEM what THEY can't do in THEIR bedroom" is "Don't tell ME what I can't do in MY bedroom".  This is what 'the pill' is all about.  What we see today is the fruiting of seeds that were planted fifty years ago and have been faithfully watered and fertilized ever since. Pulling levers and pushing buttons isn't going to change that or stop what has been in motion for so long. But being faithful will... eventually. This is a bitter fruit, but the story is far from over.  As a society, we seem to have lost the ability to to make even the most basic moral judgments and distinctions.  Just open up your iTunes store and watch the scrolling "what's hot now" banner at the top.  By and large, we are daily consumers of the obscene.


3. The black church is crucial in our culture wars. They have been the sleeping giant that has been roused in the recent cultural reversal of popular-level abortion views. They will be crucial in courageously speaking out to forbid FALSE equivocations between civil rights struggles and the campaign to make sodomy a socially-acceptable sexual practice. One of my best friends in the world was born with very, very dark black skin.  His ethnic background is Nigerian.  He was black last year as a Ph.D. student in Seattle.  He is black today as an entrepreneur in Charleston.  He will die black.  None of this has the slightest thing to do with extraneous cultural influences or his own behavior and personal choice.  He is a black man, pure and simple.  To equate his blackness with another man's decision to engage in sodomy is false and wrong, and there is no amount of voice-raising or finger wagging that will change that fact.  But my words here aren't the ones that matter.  Those belong to my brothers of color, [many of whom are speaking out] such as Voddie Baucham, Thabiti Anyabwile, Ken Jones, Jemar Tisby, Philip Holmes, Reddit Andrews, Mike Campbell, Anthony Carter, LaCrae, Shai Linne, Curtis Allen, and others.

4.  Gay is cool.  Let's face it.  Well, perhaps it would be better to say it this way -  the gay cause is the cool side.  For the general public actually being gay is not the cool thing [see the horrifying long-term health statistics below], but it is most definitely cool to have gay friends.  It is cool to support them vocally and frequently.  It is cool to be passionate for their cause.  And the gay rights movement has found a way to morally tap into the fashion sense of the American public.  Many have wisely noted that in current public opinion, image trumps character.  The average Joe arrives at his ethical views in large part the same way he chooses his shoes, skinny jeans, and coffee brand.  Designer ethics is part of a designer lifestyle.  Pro-gay is chic and fashionable.  But as we've seen with fanny packs, disco, and eugenics, trends change and fashions - material and ideological - fade away.

5.  This is an experiment - a cultural experiment.  I'm an optimist, not a henny-penny kind of guy.  I wouldn't run around like my hair was on fire if my hair were actually on fire. And here is one of the reasons. This is an experiment. Will state-sanctioned gay marriage result in a happier, healthier society?  The answer is 'no'. This experiment is doomed to NOT work. Our great, great grandchildren will look back on this sort of thing and either chuckle or scratch their heads. You cannot rebel against a creational pattern as deep as gender and think things will just keep rolling forward. So stay faithful and keep on keepin' on. Roe was hardly the end of the abortion debate, and we are not even close to the end of this discussion either. There are plenty of people paying attention and taking notes. The numbers are being counted.

6. And this brings us to a separate societal trend which is set on a direct collision course with the Gay Rights Agenda: that of fully-socialized medicine. We've already seen lawmakers attempt to ban soft drinks because of this conflict.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Great Budget Tool

Not long ago we finished the Ramsey course at Trinity and so far, we've been doing a fair job at sticking with it.  But Dave recommends re-doing/reviewing your household budget every month.  I have to admit that because of the way I'm wired, I really hate that idea ... but he's absolutely right.  Here is a handy tool to make that dreaded task MUCH easier:

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Goliath's Cross-shaped Sword


"Old writers would always compare the cross with Goliath's sword.  Goliath was the Philistine giant and he intended to destroy David and the army of Israel with his sword but in fact the tables were turned on him and  the sword that he had sharpened to destroy the Israelites was the very thing that lopped off his head.  And that's exactly what the cross is.  The cross is the fullest expression of man's cruelty.  It's Satan's greatest instrument.  And yet this very cross was the thing that destroyed the Devil and his works."

- Michael Phillips

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Managing Pain - thoughts for counselors



Dan Ariely on the results of his pain management research.  How might these principles be applied by pastors and Biblical counselors in discipline cases as we think through the "how" of repentance and make plans to move forward while attempting to imitate our Lord Who would not break the bruised reed?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Monday, June 10, 2013

Losing Church Kids - The Numbers


The results are in from a recent survey headed up by the Fixed Point Foundation about young adults who have left the faith and were willing to open up about why and how it happened.   Here is a summary of their findings compiled by my friend, Steven Wedgeworth:

1- They had attended church
2- The mission and message of their churches was vague
3-They felt their churches offered superficial answers to life's difficult questions
4- They expressed their respect for those ministers who took the Bible seriously
5- Ages 14-17 were decisive
6- The decision to embrace unbelief was often an emotional one
7- The internet factored heavily into their conversion to atheism


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Illustrating the Trinity



This past week, for Trinity Sunday, I preached a sermon on the Trinity from John 8.  During that sermon, I talked about how the common Trinity analogies are actually examples of anti-trinitarian heresies which have long-since been condemned by the Church.  Afterward, I was asked by one of our brightest young theologians if, after all my error bashing, I could go on the affirmative to provide maybe just one helpful analogy or illustration of the Trinity that wasn't, in the end, heretical.
I told her that most theologians teach that no natural analogue exists, but that I'd think and study further.
Well, after more thought and study, the answer is: more of the same.

One of the greatest theologians among the early Church Fathers, Gregory Nazianzen [a 4th-century contemporary of Augustine, who - though he seemed to have been aware of their shortcomings - was a bit more loosey-goosey with Trinitarian analogies] said these words after evaluating several of the common Trinity analogies:

I have concluded that there is no solid ground upon which to stand my mind in these analogies.  In order to consider the Object I am trying to better understand [God], I must completely accept one part of the analogy while rejecting the rest.  In the end, it seems best to me to abandon the images and shadows [analogies], because they are deceitful and fall very short of the truth.  Instead, clinging myself to the holier way of thinking, I rest upon few words and by the guidance of the Holy Ghost  I make the light which I have received from Him my final friend and companion.  
I journey through this world to persuade everyone else, to the best of my ability, to worship Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the One Godhead and Power.  To Him belongs all glory and honor and might for ever and ever.  Amen.

Both Melanchton and Calvin said: "We do better to adore the mysteries of Diety than to investigate them."  [Servetus take note.]

Friday, May 24, 2013

Ordination Charge by Pastor Emeritus Glen Knecht



Ordination Charge to Ben      (By Glen Knecht)

Today I want to charge you to approach your ministry with the eyes, the perspective of our Lord Jesus.
 Ever the Realist, Christ was also the Artist.  He is positive and creative in the way He sees people and God’s Kingdom.  We might call His “the artistic approach to the ministry of the Gospel”.  I refer to the way the artist frames his subject so that he can have the most light and beauty reflect on the whole.  He does not emphasize weakness or defects, but rather the radiant essence of his subject.
That is what the Lord Jesus did with Nathaniel.  The poor man was thinking of himself as a nobody from an obscure place who was utterly incapable of producing anything good.
But Jesus saw what careless eyes could never see.  They would pass over the mysterious connection between heaven and earth, but Jesus saw something else, something wonderful in Nathaniel’s face.  He penetrated the veil of the fig tree with which Nathaniel thought he could hide his nothingness. There Jesus saw the precious heart of faith which would cry out “You are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel.”
Jesus took the artistic view of Nathaniel that made of  him a faithful follower, a chosen Apostle, that stayed with Him through the Cross and the Resurrection and beyond -– all the way to Heaven itself.
Ben, I want to charge you to have these same eyes., the eyes of the artist as you come to your work -an ordained minister of the Gospel.  Have eyes that will see people differently, When others dismiss  them – you will delight  in them,
And  look at your Church through the prism of the artist.  Instead of seeing her deficiencies, her doubts, her divisions, you will see her glories, her greatness, her destiny to reign with Christ, her glorious groom.
And I call you to see yourself through these same glasses.  Overlook , if you can,  your fears and foibles, and failures, and search for the hidden talents God has placed within you. Go deep within your soul and mine the pure ore of the unique personality you are.
Most of all I charge you to take the artistic view of God Himself.  He is the Author of beauty and music, of great food and of a marvelously unimaginable future for His people.  Cast off any low constructions you may of Him. Always place the highest and most creative motive  on His acts of providence , even on the hard Providences which we experience.  God is always good. Bad things don’t happen to good people.   Everything that comes to us will work for our eternal good.  See God in this light and show this portrait of God to your people every Sunday. And you will be what they want you to be – a ministerial artist- and a happy pastor.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Form, Content, Design [and Worship]




As we approach the launch of our new church webpage, I have repeatedly been reminded of this fantastic TED talk by Design guru, John Maeda: How art, technology and design inform creative leaders.

Alongside a few other dear souls, I have spent several hours over the past few months agonizing  over font selection, tiny layout details, and nearly-unnoticeable design features.  Why?  Because they are NEARLY unnoticeable ... which is to say: noticeable.  And more important: something we all know instinctively, but somehow often forget, ignore, or even intellectually deny when we come to church life:
FORM SHAPES CONTENT as John Maeda so expertly demonstrates in this video clip.

APPLICATION:  There is more to a worship song than just the lyrics.  The MUSIC matters!  Sometimes how we sing matters more than what we sing [case in point: italics].  Things like instrumentation, the minister's apparel and appearance and demeanor, the lighting, the physical atmosphere [stained glass or neon night club] - all these things matter in our churches.  And all these "external" things shape the content ["words"] of our worship.  Enjoy!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Prayer for Mother's Day

"Father, because our nation was founded upon Your Law, and in many ways still reflects this, for indeed it is impossible to live and thrive apart from obedience to You and Your will, we as a nation have set aside this day as a special day of honor to our mothers.
So we lift each of our mothers up before Your holy throne today. Shine the light of Your face upon them, for theirs – above every other station – follows after that of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who showed forth His greatness by washing the feet of the lowly and serving and caring for the little ones when the others would send them away.
We are so grateful for the priceless gift You have given to us in our mothers. God bless, guard, keep, and strengthen them. Encourage their hearts who the world despises, but who are precious in the sight of God, which is to be truly precious indeed."

Friday, May 10, 2013

Ascension Cookout Balloon Release



A few years ago after hearing this Ascension sermon, and trying to explain to my little ones what "ascended" means, our family started an Ascension Day tradition of releasing balloons to celebrate our Lord's Ascension to the Father's right hand.  This year we had the joy of continuing that tradition with many friends from Trinity.  Here is a glimpse.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

W.E.B. Griffin on Writing


I try to write in the mornings.  If I can write until noon, all morning, it's a good day of work.  I heard Shelby Foote once say that the trick is getting three days in a row.  Productivity depends on writing three days in a row and something always seems to come up and interrupt that.
The essence of a good story is drama.  A likable character always seems to triumph over threatening odds.  First and foremost, I am lucky. But, B: I work hard.  I have been at it a long time and I am a firm believer that the longer you do this, the better you will be at it, like cabinet making.

-W.E.B. Griffin [William Edmund Butterworth III]

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Marriage, Divorce, and Gay Rights


"Under the new arrangement, a mutual pledge made by two people ... has been transformed by law into a pledge which can be revoked at will by one party.  And the party who wishes to maintain the marriage and to stick by the original vows can - in the end - be dragged, under threat of prison, from the family home."
-Peter Hitchens ...
...on how divorce "reform" laws undermined the sanctity of marriage a long time before anyone thought to legalize homosexual marriage.  

Friday, April 12, 2013

Work, Sleep, and Meetings



When I arrived here a year ago as a new young pastor, Jim Jordan was gracious enough to take me out on a few occasions and let me pick his brain over Asian cuisine.  One of the things he told me stands out.  He said that Greg Bahnsen used to tell him to think of studying like underwater diving.  You had to set it up, prep, and then plunge in and reserve a large block of time for being underwater.  Then, you come up.  Take a break.  Get a bit of air.  Refresh.  And then start it all over again.  This is exactly what Jason Fried's research has found by paralleling work and sleep cycles.  For a pastor or anyone whose vocation involves creative work, this is a GOLDEN NUGGET!  Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Found Otherwise


One of the biggest dangers we face when coming to Scripture today is UNDERreading.  Like my children handle apples, three bites off the big side and they're done.  There's so much more to be digested than that!  Of course, there's eventually a stem and core that is best avoided, but there is a lot more flesh there yet to be consumed!  This is often the product of not reading the way the Apostles taught us to read - not reading Christologically.

The other danger is MISreading.  This is often seen when Scripture is read by the Academy rather than by the Church - not reading ecclesiologically.
A classic example is Samuel's telling of the immensely deep, rich, and passionate friendship between David and Jonathan.  When he told us this story, sodomy was the farthest thing from his mind.  But of course, secular scholars, with a knowing grin and a pat on the head, tell us otherwise.  The truth of the matter, however, is that the Sacred Writings were not given for them to read.  They were given to God's people to be read in and by the Church.  Not only were they given by God they were written by Him in the truest sense of the word.  And the Spirit, Who cannot lie, for Whom a day is as a thousand years, is capable of talking to us without contradicting Himself - just as I am in telling a story to my children over the course of thirty seconds.  This is how we know what the Holy Spirit meant when He spoke to us through holy Samuel about David and Jonathan.
But in a hyper-sexualized culture [so-called] where our basest instincts are incessantly fondled by lurid adds and prurient peddlers, ignorant and unstable men will twist the Scriptures to their own destruction.  To the pure, all things are pure. To those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure. Their minds and consciences are defiled. They claim to know God, but plainly deny him by their deeds. They are detestable, disobedient, and unfit for good work of any kind.
May we be found otherwise.

- Meditation on True Friendship, Real Marriage, David and Jonathan, Chastity, and our current temptations



As an interesting and historical note and mini-metaphor of twisting something from its true context for propagandized ends in this debate - and in the spirit of helping to cultivate a Christian imagination adequate to direct our thinking on the subject [as we've been wisely exhorted to do by Peter Leithart here] - it is very common to find the first illustration, a tableau from Friar Laurent's La Somme Le Roy [commonly called, The Book of Vices and Virtues] hijacked by online homosexual activists as an illustration of gay "love" between David and Jonathan.  
In it's original context, the embrace of David and Jonathan was an illustration of the virtue of friendship as opposed to the vice of hatred.  More to the point of our current temptations, below is another illumination from that same Medieval work, this one depicting the virtue of chastity over against vice of lust [luxure].  Chastity is crowned in gold, trampling upon a swine, and gazing at the intricate beauty of a dove [?] while Lust is limply wagging a cloth of fabric in one hand and jangling her slaves' chains in the other.  Upon close inspection, it can be seen that she is also coughing up blood.  
Below them are two scenes: First from the deuterocanonical Book of Judith in which she rebuffs impure advances with a beheading [!!] and then Joseph fleeing from the lecherous advances of Potiphar's wife.  Ours will be a different world when once again, we learn to be captivated by this kind of art.  In it we find triunity - truth, goodness, and beauty in one.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Sounding Brass of Lust and Tinkling Cymbal of Temptation


When two people love each other - truly and deeply - when they are committed to each other in life-long, selfless devotion and companionship; when they seek to serve and care for the other and join together to synergistically serve and improve the community around them ... the world should rejoice and pray for more like them and that couple should continue on while never allowing sexual impurity to intrude and corrupt the priceless gift their real love is.
I am afraid that when I do not understand this, it is because of my own relational shallowness and weakness in the face of our current temptations.

- Meditation on True Friendship, Real Marriage, David and Jonathan, Chastity, and our current temptations

[Paintings: David and Jonathan by Rembrandt above and Conegliano below.]


Saturday, March 30, 2013

"Gay Marriage" . . . A Closer Look at the Rhetoric, Part 1


We need to reverse these outdated and unfair laws! My sister steals things because she is a clepto. She was born a clepto and she will die one. For her it's the same as being tall or fair-skinned. For her, NOT stealing would be unnatural ... even borderline immoral! Calling her theft "wrong" is naive, judgmental, and cleptophobic! Why don't these people understand this! Our nation's laws and our societal stigmas have persecuted robbers for far too long! I stand on the side of love and equality with my sister and every burglar like her! Stop the ignorance and stop the hatred!

This Holy Week, our Supreme Court is considering whether sexual acts performed between two people of the same gender is something that the United States has an interest in endorsing so much so that it should officially overturn four centuries of legal precedent on this continent, not to mention millennia of cultural norms and moral consciousness as well as to contradict the uniform historic testimony of each of the three major monotheistic faiths.

It is here we see the chink in Libertarianism's armor .  The system so many Christians thought would be our salvation, is coming up impotent.  Liberals as well as Conservatives-with-a-Libertarian influence both surprisingly find themselves in vocal agreement supporting "gay marriage".  Their basic argument is the simple one we've all heard:

What 2 adults do [sexually] in the privacy of their own bedroom is none of the government's business [as long as no one is "hurt"].

If you can get past the fact that, thinking ethically and epistemologically, this is a completely arbitrary pronouncement - a brief, honest consideration of that statement is enough to demonstrate that it is clearly NOT true, nor is it an accurate or fair argument to enlist in the current  "gay marriage" "debate".
Let's take a turn at the spigot, and see how long it holds water [this is the part where the faint-of-heart may want to skip a paragraph].

First of all, what if the case in question involves a father and his 18 year old son?  Or two brothers?  Or an uncle and his eighteen year old niece?  What if it is a man and woman who are already married to other people?  What if it is a man who has just paid the woman for her part in it?
And those are just the easy ones that come readily to mind.
What if it is two men and a goat who are recording it on video and posting it to the internet so that anywhere else in the world other adults can watch, "use", and mimic "in the privacy of their own bedroom".  What if it is a single adult man who is using only computer software to generate pornographic images and videos of children and then post them to the world wide web for the same purposes?  

And that is where I'll stop, hoping that I haven't already ventured too far into the realm of indecency [please bear with me, I tried to be as euphemistic as possible.]

But this brings me to the second problem which the last two scenarios anticipate - the claim of PRIVACY.  For clarity's sake, let's try a thought experiment and instead substitute the word SECRECY.  

If this debate is about privacy [now SECRECY], then why can't I read the internet news for 60 seconds without having it thrust in my face?  Or the radio?  Or Facebook?  Or virtually any TV sitcom, TLC series, etc?  Or local school board curriculum meetings?  Or city council policy manuals? Or corporate onboarding sessions?  Or Major Denominational Assembly Meetings?  Or THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES?!?!?  

Gay "marriage" is about anything but privacy because it is the product of gay activism which is about the opposite of privacy.  That's why we call it "coming OUT"!  Weddings are public events.  Marriage is a public institution.  Activism, by its very nature, is loud and in your face.

If I engage in unseemly acts with animals when no one else is around - that's private.  That's a secret.  But if I then begin to have T-shirts made that announce this fact and I wear them around town, it's not private anymore.  It's public.  If I then put the word out and form a community of people with similar "interests" and we march through the streets twice a year proclaiming our "common bond" on banners and chanting that everyone else in the town is obligated to accept our behavior or find somewhere else to live, this is not a private thing we're talking about.  It's public - VERY PUBLIC!

If two men are in fact engaging in sexual activity behind closed doors in total secrecy year after year [as surely happened in past generations of American history], maybe the neighbors suspect something; maybe they don't.  Maybe their families wonder; maybe they don't.  Either way, it's a secret.  It's private.  

When those two men "come out" to the world and identify themselves - their whole lives, bodies and souls-  by the one distinguishing characteristic of that act that they engage in,  and then demand that society accept, support, and accommodate it; teach their children to accept, support, and consider it for themselves; and even press the nation legally to redefine the ancient institution of marriage to include their version of sexual behavior ... that is not a private act in a bedroom.
If I drink poison in my bedroom, it's private.  But if I wave a cup of cyanide in your face or dump it into the village river - it's not private anymore.  

Which brings us to the third problem with our argument: it assumes before-hand that no one is "hurt".  Which, of course, is sort of the whole debate in the first place: whether a society can simply throw off the order of nature and her God in a matter as deep as this one, with no expectation that harm will follow.

This is why everyone should care.  Everyone should be concerned.
I'm fond of using the analogy of an airplane.  If there is a problem with the plane at the most superficial level ... say the ice dispenser is jammed and we have to drink lukewarm gingerale at cruising altitude ... well, hey - feel free to mess with it and see if you can't fix the problem.  But when we're all way up in the air with a strong tailwind, I don't want a team of engineers to undertake a fundamental redesign of the wings.  And that's precisely what we're doing culturally.  This plane is not on the ground.  And there is a lot at stake here.

Or to change metaphors, let's think in terms of the planet - ecosystems with interconnected microclimates at specific ratios in fragile balance.
One can hardly listen to five minutes of public discourse without being scolded for not recycling every stray soda can, shrinking our carbon footprint, and denying our various appetites and urges in order to be more responsibly "green". We are told that as result of our negligence and excess, the average temperature rises globally something like half a degree every decade. And if this trend continues, it will have a radically negative effect on the world of our great, great, great grandkids, not to mention the polar bear cubs.
Let me ask this: Do we really think that nationally endorsing the act of sodomy is not going to affect our society over the next 10 generations?
Sure.  If there is no such thing as the human soul, then maybe not. But if we do have souls, and moral natures, and possess developing [or eroding] characters, ethical standards and societal taboos matter gravely over the long run.

The sexual drive is one of the most powerful impulses present in a society. And keeping it in check is one of the central challenges any culture can face. To tinker with the fundamental elements of the formula undermines the only means by which this is done.  It drastically and significantly changes the whole moral climate of our culture. 

What are the smokestacks pumping into our our moral atmosphere? [And please note- most of the pollution is of the heterosexual variety-more on that in Part 2].  This is why the prophetic voices often refer to the dilemma itself as an act of judgment already.
Is it in any way truthful to claim that no one is "hurt" by these things?  Can anyone really assert that society as a whole is not "hurting" and further "hurt"?  What do all the numbers say?  What does virtually every collection of health statistics tell us?  What do the suicide fact sheets and mental health data compilations report?

Right or wrong, "gay marriage" is not about a private act which the government has no interest in discouraging and which hurts no one.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Fashionable Ethics of Tolerance and Diversity


"Even if people say things over and over again, if fashion dictates that we should think something else we will simply ignore them..."

-N.T. Wright, [commenting on Luke's Resurrection Passage]

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Supreme Court and Mollycoddles in this Hour of Trial



"Weasel words from mollycoddles will never do when the day demands prophetic clarity from great hearts. Manly men must emerge for this hour of trial." 

- Theodore Roosevelt

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Got Carson?


"The world needs to be reminded that all human ills are not curable by legislation, and that quantity of statutory enactment and excess of government offer no substitute for quality of citizenship."

- Clarence B Carson

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Pray for Rome


Okay, if you're like me, you're a pretty Protestant Protestant, but I want to encourage the rest of you to add your prayers to mine and the countless others being offered up around the world for the Cardinals gathered today who will be electing the next Pope.
I am much more nervous about this election than I ever was for the race [so-called] between Obama and Romney.  The Roman Church, for all its problems, has been an unflinching pillar of prophetic strength in defense of the unborn as well as a stalwart testimony to the fact that God has made men and women different and that these differences have- according to HIM - ramifications for differences of ministry and restrictions of ordination.  It has also been uncompromising, in a way that no mainline Protestant denomination can claim to have been, by officially upholding a more or less Biblical standard of human sexual ethics.  In the face of so much fierce social and political pressure, the ramifications for this appointment, the potential to shift cultures in the direction of unrighteousness and sinful compromise as well as to further mar the name of Christ in the world is truly significant.

At the start of this meeting, the Cardinals prayed for the Holy Spirit's guidance in their deciding.  May He indeed be pleased to appoint a righteous, brave, and holy man.

All right, now because you're worried about how non-Protestant I sound, here is a great quote from Carl Trueman:


Rome has chronological priority over any Protestant denomination. Thus, Protestantism was and is a movement of protest. We are by definition protesting against something: the claims of the papacy, the burying of the gospel under garbage, the denial of assurance to ordinary Christian believers. We must never forget these things. We should respect our Roman Catholic friends; we should rejoice in the great doctrine we hold in common; but we must not minimize that which divides us from each other.

Friday, March 8, 2013

A Lenten Meditation from Lewis



"The attempt [to marry Heaven and Hell; right and wrong] is based on the belief that reality never presents us with an absolutely unavoidable "either-or"; that, granted skill and patience and (above all) time enough, some way of embracing both alternatives can always be found; that mere development or adjustment or refinement will somehow turn evil into good without our being called on for a final and total rejection of anything we should like to retain.
This belief I take to be a disastrous error. You cannot take all luggage with you on all journeys; on one journey even your right hand and your right eye may be among the things you have to leave behind. We are not living in a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the centre: rather in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks into two, and each of those into two again, and at each fork you must make a decision. Even on the biological level life is not like a pool but like a tree. It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good."
 [Go ahead ... click below - keep reading - you really should - it's only one more paragraph -  and I promise it's worth it.]

Book List [what I've been reading/listening to lately]...

You are what your mind eats ...


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Lent, Virtue, and Maturity


"Lent teaches us that Satan’s gifts are easy to master. They come with first grade instruction manuals. They are made to be mastered quickly and enjoyed rapidly (fornication, drugs, alcohol; various temptations). God’s gifts are a little harder to master. They require self-control and patience. They anticipate spiritual growth; they demand a kingly attitude to grasp kingly wisdom. God’s instructions mean you have to seek others in the community to understand them properly. You have to exercise and express a theology of patience built into a theology of blessings."

- Uri Brito, in Lent, Ligon Duncan, and Legalism

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Of and For this World ...


"While many have supposed Christ's coming to be something that changes people's hearts but makes no difference to the public order.  This was not the hope of the Jews.  Had they expected that kind of a kingdom, Herod may not have lifted an eyebrow when the news reached him that the Messiah had been born in Bethlehem.
As is was however, Herod knew what Zecharias knew and had prayed about, that when the Messiah came, the game would be up for the tyrants like himself and a new order of justice and peace would be introduced."
"Christ's kingdom is  a reality for this age which touches every area of life.  It is a public, tangible, visible reality that transforms the world ... People will quote John 18.36 where Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world...".  It's helpful to realize that a more accurate translation of the Greek is: "My kingdom is not from this world...".  Wright points this out in one of his excellent articles on Paul.  While Christ's kingdom does not arise from this world, but from Heaven, it comes to the earth.  So Christ's kingdom is very much of and for this world.
That's how our Lord taught us to pray!  They kingdom come they will be done on earth!"

- Robin Phillips, author of Saints & Scoundrels: from King Herod to Solzhenitsyn

Monday, February 25, 2013

Hard work, Character, and ... Fun?


After reading Jerry Apps' interesting and touching memoir of growing up on a Wisconsin dairy farm during the WW2 years, I propose that we make this the new cliche for kids' pee-wee soccer teams everywhere:

"Listen, what matters most is not whether we win, but whether we all have ... a chance to work very hard at a very difficult task for a very long time."



Friday, February 22, 2013

Such were some of You - Dr Rosaria Butterfield





Above are a few selected samples of a jaw-dropping presentation from former radical Lesbian feminist activist turned Reformed Pastor's wife homeschooling mom [yeah ... another one of those!].  I encourage you to listen to her full talk here and then the entirety of her Q&A here.  I have been studying this issue for several years and this is the best - the most faithful expression of the true Christian/Biblical answer to the questions of homosexuality I have found in both  what she says and how she says it [the latter often being where we fail miserably].

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why it's a "Baby", not a "fetus" ...



Here is a clip of Michael Coren, one of my favorite media personalities.  I have enjoyed his talk show since I discovered it a few years ago.
Caveat - he is Canadian, Roman Catholic, and not all of his views are as  rigorously Biblical as I think they should be.  Having said all that, he is an outspoken, articulate Christian striving to be faithful and consistent under the spotlight within a culture where that is quite difficult.  
Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Form and Content in Film and Liturgy



"Film affects us by marrying form and content and then style influences their meanings ... the meanings we get from film really come through the cinematics of the picture.  Really good films use cinema, more than just words, to convey ideas to us."

- Raphael Shargel, Understanding Movies: the art and history of film

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Book List [what I've been reading lately] ...

You are what your mind eats ...


Put "God" at the head of the list and you're practically quoting Qoheleth


"The 4 best words in the English language are love, wife, home, and work.  The fifth one is friend."

-Stephen Ambrose, Comrades

Monday, February 4, 2013

Our Indulgent Father in Heaven ... [!]



I trust I have now sufficiently shown how man’s only resource for escaping from the curse of the law, and recovering salvation, lies in faith; ... The whole may be thus summed up: 
Christ given to us by the kindness of God is apprehended and possessed by faith, by means of which we obtain in particular a twofold benefit; first, being reconciled by the righteousness of Christ, God becomes, instead of a judge, an indulgent Father; and, secondly, being sanctified by his Spirit, we aspire to integrity and purity of life.

- John Calvin

Friday, January 25, 2013

Preaching like Augustine



The 3 Goals of Augustinian Preaching are to:

1. Teach
2. Delight
3. Persuade

St. Augustine quotes Cicero as saying, “to teach is a necessity, to delight is a beauty, to persuade is a triumph.”