Thursday, February 27, 2014

Lent for Dummies [and Presbyterians] part 3 of 3: Putting On

The Right Kind of Putting On

Of course, formal fasting is not always necessary for Lenten observance.  Remember, giving up is never the point of fasting.  Positive tasks can be done for God’s glory and our good without picking something to “give up” [James 1.27].  So I encourage you to think as much of "Lenten resolutions" as you do of Lenten fastings.

How about buying 40 stamps for letters of encouragement to missionaries or people in our congregation or long-deserved Thank you cards.  Since the middle ages, Lent has been associated with Spring cleaning. Perhaps you need a season of house cleaning and organizing; regaining a handle on stuff, time, and life; culling your wardrobe and giving away 40 of your possessions to others; 40 days without missing my time of devotional prayer and Scripture reading; 40 days of family Scripture reading and singing before bed; 40 days of being on time [or early] for every appointment or engagement [see the point about being overly-busy below]; 40 new verses memorized; 40 days of reading that Christian classic you’ve always wanted to read; learning 40 new things about your spouse; 40 days of re-evaluating your financial stewardship, giving, updating your budget and will; 40 days of doing the dishes for your wife or helping mom with the cooking and cleaning; 40 days of tucking your children in every night.
Is 40 too many?  Why not 7?  One a week [rounding up].  7 weeks of attending the men’s prayer breakfast or our midweek services; 7 passages of Scripture memorized;  7 weeks to knock out that ministry project or Evangelistic Bible Study; 7 weeks of praying outside the Abortion "clinic"/mill or making hospital or nursing home visits; 7 weeks of Saturday mornings working to help your elderly neighbors or fix up that broken, shoddy, unpainted, part of the church building that's bothered you for so long; 7 weeks of inviting the fatherless kids you know to join in your fun activities and outings; 7 weeks of helping out young families that are struggling, providing childcare; 7 weeks of focusing on discipline in the home and re-establishing first-time obedience; 7 weeks of demonstrating your love to your wife by knocking out those lingering honey-do list items or a wife her husband by cleaning out the attic or garage.  Does this seem too mundane?  We need not be hyper-spiritual about things.  God certainly doesn't ask us to be [see Peter Jones here].

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Lent for Dummies [and Presbyterians] part 2 of 3: Putting Off

So how ought we observe and benefit from Lent?  I recommend the 2-fold Biblical Pattern of putting off and putting on.

Putting Off

Putting off involves first repentance and then forms of fasting.

As a point of important clarification, it is vital to remember that Christians never fast from sin.  Sin isn’t to be fasted from.  It is to be repented of quickly and forcibly.  Remember our Lord’s words in Matthew 5.29-30.
Fasting is a temporary time of giving up otherwise good things; things like certain types of food or drink, alcohol, caffeine, a meal, TV, the internet, use of a computer, phone, or mobile device, Facebook, the daily news, talk radio, secular music, shopping, that fine-but-time-consuming-hobby, etc. and replacing them with prayer, Scripture, and good works.
During this season of preparation, repentance is the first order of business.  What sins have drifted in under the radar?  Where have we become lazy in our sanctification, holiness, purity, or integrity?  We plan to meditate through the classic list of the seven deadly sins.  This is the time to consider yourself honestly.  Ask your spouse or a close friend for the favor of a faithful wound.  What sin most needs targeting by your deliberate repentance?  Pray earnestly for God to show you.
In addition to specific sins, there is the general malaise that can creep in.  I recommend spending the next few days prayerfully considering the patterns and habits of your life, individually and in your home.  What sorts of habits, intakes, entertainments, ways of speaking, cycles, unhealthy dependencies, budding addictions, negative tendencies have begun to crop up?  Lent is the season to uproot these.

But don't ever forget that Lent is a season of putting off in order to put on.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Lent for Dummies [and Presbyterians] part 1 of 3: Introduction

Next week begins the Church Season of Lent or Lententide.  Because so many of us did not grow up in churches that made much use of the Church calendar, and because Lent has a way of sneaking up to catch us off guard, a bit of preparation for the Season of Preparation is in order.

Despite the impression given by many Protestants, Lent is far from a Roman Catholic invention.  There were various set times of fasting mentioned by the early Church Fathers, but the first mention of Lent from history comes in the writings of the Council of Nicea [A.D. 325] which refer to the 40 days of fasting and preparation in Spring.
In the centuries since then it has undergone changes and timing adjustments, but remains a fixed part of the yearly Church cycle.  Just as the preparations of Advent precede the celebrations of Christmas, so the preparations of Lent precede the celebrations of Easter.  Humility before Exaltation.

Originally called “The Forty”, its name was changed to “Lent” referring to the lengthening of days at the start of Spring [and allowing less misunderstanding for the football fans among us].
Many Christians from many different denominations and backgrounds observe Lententide as a time of “focused devotion upon the Lord Jesus Christ” and “a season of repentance, struggle, and self-denial.” [Strawbridge]

In Scripture, 40 days mark an important and complete season for God’s people.  I submit to you that it is especially effective as a period of habit breaking and/or cultivation.  But more on that in part 2.
Lent derives directly from a remembrance of Jesus’ forty days of temptation and victory over the Devil in the Judean desert.  He triumphed in forty days where Israel failed for forty years.
You will notice that this year Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on March 5th and ends Saturday April 19.  If you add up the squares on the calendar you will find that the total is 46 days.  This is because the 6 Sundays in between are excluded from the normal 40 since they are Lord’s Days – and every Sunday is a mini-Easter in celebration of our Lord’s resurrection.  Thus many Christians do not maintain their Lenten fasts on Sundays [in fact, some early Church fathers prohibited any fasting on Sundays].

In imitation of our Lord, in keeping with healthy Church traditions, in preparation for the celebration of Easter, and for a well-needed time of focused intensity about our own walks with and before the Lord, I encourage you to consider observing Lent this year.

Part 2-Putting Off.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Learning from Bread

Incredible presentation from master artisan breadmaker and E.O. teaching layman, Peter Reinhart.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Emergency Valentine's Day Love Letter Template

My updated list of things I love and appreciate about my bride, _____________:

Your dogged determination and faithfulness to  _____________.
Your true and far-reaching commitment to my  _____________.
Your passionate devotion to  _____________.  You really care about  _____________.
How you  _____________when I’m stressed or grumpy.
For all the thousand hours of personal time you’ve given with gladness to  _____________ .  
How you model  _____________.
How you sacrificially give of yourself for  _____________.
How you speak with  _____________.
Your willingness to give up  _____________.
All the years you  _____________.  
Your cute love of  _____________.
Your heart for helping others by_____________.
Your zeal for_____________ with excellence.
The way you have shown/taught me _____________.
Your selfless bravery in _____________.
Your lifelong love of _____________.
Your unwavering commitment to _____________.
Your resolution to _____________.
How much courage it took to _____________.
Your patience/dedication to me through _____________.
How carefully you always _____________.
How you always take the time to _____________.
How much you've helped our family over the years by _____________.
How you use your God-given gift to _____________.
Your willingness to _____________ when I asked you to, even though you didn't want to.
The consistent way you sacrifice so we can _____________.
Your desire to _____________.
The glorious way you _____________.
The honest and brave ways you _____________.
Your almost expert eye at/for _____________.
The way you honor _____________.
The strength you displayed by _____________.
The way you patiently _____________.
The way you have learned to _____________over the years.
Your vision for/to _____________.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Thoughts on the Nye / Ham Debate ...

I did a lot of sighing.  Of course, I am grateful for Ken Ham, his gifts and faithful ministry ... but anyone familiar with Greg Bahnsen or any Reformed debater downstream from him was sighing along with me.  [*disclaimer: because I was also watching my children, I missed 10-20% of the debate, but most of it was from the Q&A at the end.]

Don't get me wrong.  It wasn't like watching the Super bowl all over again.  It was by no means a landslide victory for Nye.  But I think it's safe to say that, in boxing terms, this one went to a decision.  And as they say, the first rule of winning is, never let it go to a decision; never give it to the judges.

Here are 2 lessons I took away from the debate.

1. Doctrine Matters.

The fact that Ham is not self-consciously Reformed was a major handicap for his position.  Presuppositional apologetics is king.  Resistance is futile.  The debate is never really the debate. The resolution always teeters precariously on top of a whole pile of assumptions and underlying presuppositions which have to be aggressively challenged.  Don't argue details the whole time.  Touch on them.  But spend the bulk of your time deeper.  It's like championship ping-pong.  You have to back several steps away from the table to really get that spin and speed to win.  You'll miss the bigger picture if you're not at least a few steps back.
Bill Nye debated for an hour with a Kentucky fossil rock sitting on top of his podium.  He was locked into the debate on the myopic level of details, individual proofs, and datum.  But as the holocaust, Margaret Sanger's eugenics, and Columbine have taught us, the most compelling problems with evolution are found on a worldview level.  It's not the rattle that concerns me so much as the dripping fangs I found attached to the head on the other end when I traced the connection.
And while we're at it, does your worldview account for the laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, the possibility of scientific advancement, not to mention the possibility of human morality, dignity, the reliability of empirical data, the existence of mind, human thought, and inquiry, etc.?  No.  As a matter of fact, your worldview directly undermines these things.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Pastors Who Can Hold Out Against the Tempest

A great quote from Pastor Steve Hemmeke's blog:

“Consider, then, what kind of man he ought to be who is to hold out against such a tempest, and to manage skillfully such great hindrances to the common welfare; for he ought to be:
 dignified yet free from arrogance, 
formidable yet kind, 
apt to command yet sociable, 
impartial yet courteous, 
humble yet not servile, 
strong yet gentle, 
in order that he may contend successfully against all these difficulties.”

- St. Chrysostom, On the Priesthood” 
in Philip Schaff, ed., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers

Screwtape on Chastity

If he must think of the medical side of chastity, feed him the grand lie which we have made the English humans believe, that physical exercise in excess and consequent fatigue are specially favourable to this virtue. How they can belive this, in face of the notorious lustfulness of sailors and soldiers, may well be asked. But we use the schoolmasters to put the story about — men who were really interested in chastity as an excuse for games and therefore recommended games as an aid to chastity.

- Screwtape

C.S. Lewis