Monday, December 18, 2006
Yet the way the story is written makes this event central to Isaac's coming:
"Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him."
Why does God highlight a circumcision, and what was the significance of it being done on the eighth day? You may not realize this, but you actually will be celebrating the true significance of this act two weeks from today. What do I mean?
Well, first read this from the Wikipedia Encyclopedia:
"Most countries in Western Europe officially adopted January 1 as New Year's Day somewhat before they adopted the Gregorian calendar...This is sometimes called Circumcision Style, because this was the date of the Feast of the Circumcision, being the eighth day counting from 25 December."
Having the beginning of the year happen exactly one week after Christmas (eight days in the way the Jews counted it - Sunday to Sunday was eight days for they counted the first Sunday) is not just a coincidence but a deliberate setting of the time to correspond to Jesus' circumcision which also happened eight days after his birth. Listen to a Lutheran pastor explain this further:
"Many people, Christian or not, use the western calendar’s New Year’s Day on 1 January as a time of taking stock, evaluating decisions, and making resolutions. It’s also the Church feast day commemorating the Circumcision and Name of Jesus. Some churches celebrate one or the other of these events, some both, and some neither....(Why?) 'And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. (Luke 2:21)' Once the Christian Church established a date for Christmas, the commemoration of His circumcision was set for one week later."
Yet why would the church want to celebrate Christ's circumcision of all things? Wikipedia continues, "...It is a feast celebrating not only Christ consenting to submit to Jewish Law, but also the first time the Redeemer spilled his blood for mankind."
Then why was circumcision done on the eighth day? Some of the early church fathers perhaps understood these things better than we:
"The command of circumcision, again, bidding [them] always circumcise the children on the eighth day, was a type of the true circumcision, by which we are circumcised from deceit and iniquity through Him who rose from the dead on the first day after the Sabbath, our Lord Jesus Christ. For the first day after the Sabbath, remaining the first of all the days, is called, however, the eighth..." –Justin Martyr
"For because the eighth day, that is, the first day after the Sabbath, was to be that on which the Lord should rise again, and should quicken us, and give us circumcision of the spirit, the eighth day, that is, the first day after the Sabbath, and the Lord’s day, went before in the figure; which figure ceased when by and by the truth came, and spiritual circumcision was given to us." –Cyprian
Jesus arose on the first day of the week, also called the eighth day by the Jews (see John 20:26). He was the true circumcision, having taken away our sin and filth by His death and burial and giving us new life through His resurrection. All those circumcisions on the eighth day of Jewish boys from Isaac to Jesus through the ages were a bloody testimony to that which has now come. And the very calendar we use was set to start off each year by reminding us of this gospel truth.
So as you wish someone Happy New Year in these next few weeks, why not also say, "By the way, did you know....?"
Thursday, December 14, 2006
The counsel we had received from eminent domain legal specialists in our first go around was that when threats are proposed to not let a day go by without speaking to it. To that end, I wrote a letter to the editor (basically the material from the blog of last week) that was published in the Tribune on December 13th. A reporter had contacted me the day before so there was also a front-page article entitled "Church on the defensive" in the paper which you can read here: http://www.kokomotribune.com/local/local_story_346231202.html.
Yesterday I was on the phone quite a bit, as one library board member and then the board president called in response. Both conversations were cordial, and they both assured me that the firm making the proposal had indicated, despite what the map showed, that it would not involve taking the church. They both also identified with pressures they feel as citizens regarding the property tax burden mentioned in the letter. I am very thankful for their quick response and reassurance.
They also both expressed that they wished that I had spoken to them privately before going to the paper. Perhaps I should have. Yet had they followed that same principle and notified us before the article, I may not have written at all. For when information is spread publicly in this manner, what option do we really have than to chose the same method of communication they did?
We are hopeful yet will remain guarded, as other civic leaders beyond the library board are now involved in these decisions and, in communities across the nation, private property and churches are being taken for "the good of the public." Need evidence? Read this article about the Supreme Court docket or look here to see all the cases or see this 60 Minutes report to read about the latest. As one eminent domain lawyer quoted in the last link states, "This is a nationwide epidemic. We have documented more than 10,000 instances of government taking property from one person to give it to another in just the last five years." (emphasis added)
One final thing we all definitely agreed on. Both board members also requested prayer, as the turmoil in our city government in Kokomo, especially seen in the response to the library situation, has been difficult for them personally. Indeed, the board member has already written a letter to the church that was sent to me that day, which he concluded this way,
"I certainly understand your concern and, as I stated earlier, please rest assured that I will work to make sure your church is not threatened.
From one Christian brother to another I would ask that you, as well as your church, pray for me as well as all the others involved in the project that we would have the wisdom to make the best decision for our community. As the Psalmist says in the first part of Psalms 127:1 'Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.'"
We are praying for them to have wisdom and that the Lord's hand would be clearly seen in this matter. We are "seeking the welfare of the city and praying to the Lord on its behalf" (Jeremiah 29:7). As Psalm 127:1 above verse goes on to say, "Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain."
"Guard our city, O Lord Jesus."
Monday, December 11, 2006
- "Your hair [what's left of it is implied in this comment] is getting more gray around the temples."
- "Time for your colonoscopy again." [Sigh.]
- "Your whole face fills with wrinkles when you smile." [Okay, I actually said that one to the face looking back at me in the mirror as I laughed at all my laugh lines.]
If the comments are not enough, feeling the sore back every morning when I wake up, finding out recently that for months I have been calling a couple that I see regularly by the names of Larry and Nancy when they are actually Steve and Ruth, and hearing more adults using "Mr. York" rather than my first name serve as daily messengers that the "way of all the earth" has no exception clauses. We are all but a vapor (James 4:14), a fading flower (I Peter 1:24), each man a breath (Psalm 39:11) - from dust created and to dust returning. Sometimes this "dirty" truth occurs particle by particle, the dust flaking away imperceptibly until one day we awaken to find just how much has departed. My wife and I gave our bedroom a vigorous cleaning this weekend and removed all the "dust bunnies" under the bed. Are we not all just glorified dust bunnies - a brief appearance swept away in a moment of time?
Yet not all is gloom, ghastly and gray. Nothing worse than a grumpy old man. Though the outer body is decaying, there is a soul in that dust bunny. I can testify that, in Christ, with age also comes the renewal of the inner man. "The honor of old men is their gray hair" the proverb reads, and the Lord does honor age by giving wisdom as time marches on toward its unstoppable victory. The passing of years that has brought monumental struggles with sin, aching knees, and witnessing too many broken relationships has also tamed my bucking soul. I find that I can appreciate the simple blessings He daily brings, such as:
- Having more fun watching and helping others, especially my sons, play basketball than playing myself.
- Meeting a friend for lunch and enjoying listening to what is on his heart rather than always having to tell what's on mine.
- Holding my four-year old on my lap in worship last night during the singing and hearing her belt out a psalm we are memorizing.
- Finally admitting and laughing with my children that their untucked shirts are actually in style and not a sign of disrespect to my generation.
- Not having to win every theological discussion.
- Hearing my wife pray.
Each grain of sand falling in the hourglass serves not only as a reminder of the passing of time but as a picture of what is happening to us. We do well then to learn the wisdom God offers, proving that hearing and seeing in a spiritual sense can improvewith time. One final thing I would confess to seeing better now than as a young man is that, with all our glory fading as it is, we do well not to take ourselves too seriously. Some innocent fun along life's journey (as the picture below taken this summer at the fair may show) does not have to be beneath serious-minded Christians. Actually, is it not a small slice of the eternal enjoyment that will eventually transcend this time that, for now, indeed ages us, but will not and cannot defeat us? For besides bringing me aches and pains, is not time also bringing me closer to the source of all blessing and joy?
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Yet in an article published this week in a local weekly paper, a $110 million, eleven city blocks, seven towers proposal was unveiled by an Indianapolis firm for the downtown area. Two of these towers would be directly in front of and beside the church building, and a map published in the paper shows these towers being connected by a building structure that surrounds the church property on all four sides? Though this firm is only in the proposal stage at this point, the library board has agreed to lay further planning aside for six months in order to see how this proposal develops.
Just like our first go-around with the library board, all these proposals are being made public first before we have even been contacted. Last year we found sites on the web showing our building gone. We were served papers for a building inspection to estimate demolition costs during Thanksgiving that threatened eminent domain. I was told the sheriff would serve a warrant if I did not comply with this inspection. All of this before anyone from the library even talked to us! As I repeatedly explained to them in their own meetings, does not wisdom, a sense of public service, and neighborly love dictate that plans involving other's properties be discussed with them privately before you print articles and publish maps showing what you hope to do with their property?
The library board has taken to blaming others for the political mess that has resulted from their expansion hopes. Yet they must have done enough to alarm our state legislators, who, made aware of this situation in Kokomo, included in legislation signed by Governor Daniels earlier this year the removal of eminent domain powers from non-elected library boards. They and other community leaders need to consider again what community service really means. Fancy buildings and flower-lined streets may look nice and welcoming, but if paid for by bullying and overtaxing the citizens of Kokomo (ahem, our property taxes were increased by forty percent last year!) these amenities will only be a testimony to the moral and spiritual poverty of our leaders. The Lord warned against those leaders who clean the outside of the cup, but inwardly are "full of robbery and self-indulgence."
Strong words, yes, but so were being threatened with a warrant and eminent domain.
Monday, December 04, 2006
The story that immediately follows after the destruction of Sodom. Lot ended up living in this cave with his daughters and...well, go ahead and just read Genesis 19:30-38 for yourself. The sordid details are there, but for a clue just realize his oldest daughter named her new son "From father" and the youngest daughter called her pride and joy "Son of my (father's) people." What creative, shameless names.
As I have been preaching through Genesis, the question did arise whether this story was appropriate sermon fodder. One commentary expressed the sentiments of others: "This text should never be used for a sermon." Sensitive people and children are there, and we are in the presence of God for goodness sake. Yet Paul taught that we are to "preach the whole counsel of God," and being committed to expository preaching, I plunged ahead with a message entitled Sodom Reborn. The fascinating thing about preaching on Lot was that he must be treated as a righteous man, for that is what God says about him three times in II Peter 2:7-8. I sought to help the congregation see that this story is not to be a strange comfort for sin among God's people ("Lot committed incest but, hey, don't worry, he was forgiven"), but rather a strong warning against sin ("Look at the devastating consquences that being affected by sinful culture will have on you and future generations").
Anyway, my point is not to preach it again but to tell you what happened that day to make a point. It just so happened on that particular day a man was visiting the church who, unknown to me at the time, is being charged for a hideous act he committed against a minor while drunk, i.e., he had behaved just like Lot. Those who have knowledge of the situation told me later that each point addressed exact issues he was facing. May God also grant him the faith Lot had.
God in His wisdom put stories like these in the Bible because he knew people like this man - and people like this preacher - need to have every issue of life addressed and His ways made known. If we try to sanitize the Bible, and not be forthright in all that it contains, we will become prudish churches and pastors, and sinners will not be reached with the gospel.
So having this story preached might lead to the accusation of having an R-Rated pulpit, but the response would be that's because preachers have R-Rated congregations. Oooh, I know that might sting some, but consider having all your actions and thoughts over your lifetime put on a movie for others to watch like God sees you. Then you might just consider me generous in my rating. Or better yet, read Matthew 5:22 & 28 and see if that is not what in so many words the Lord Himself is saying.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
On the Obama front, Ben Shapiro reviews Obama's book with the title The Audacity of Hope (no, this is not a biography on Bill Clinton) and clearly delineates the senator's evil views on a variety of social issues by quoting him. Obama is pretty clever, for with one sentence he can show his support of homosexuality while simultaneously denouncing the infallibility of Scripture: "I [am not] willing to accept a reading of the Bible that considers an obscure line in Romans to be more defining of Christianity than the Sermon on the Mount." Shapiro then goes on quoting and showing how Obama should be seen as having more in common with Karl Marx than, say, Rick Warren.
However, one has to wonder. Faithful reader and friend Jeff Kessler cued me in on this WorldNetDaily article by Bob Unruh which tells of Warren's recent trip to Syria. Apparently Pastor Warren sang the praises of the freedom Christians have in this Muslim-dominated nation while he was there, much like Billy Graham did when he visited communist China. The only problem is that our own State Department disagrees. After some backlash, Unruh quotes Warren as saying, "In hindsight, I wish we'd been better prepared for our visit to Syria. We would have a handled some meetings differently, watched our words more close (sic), and been more aware of the agenda of their state press." But I'm sure after this admission he will handle Senator Obama just fine.
Is this what happens when one has a Purpose-Driven® pulpit?
Monday, November 20, 2006
With that in mind, please go to Kevin McCullough's article at Townhall.com entitled "Why is Obama's Evil in Rick Warren's Pulpit?" The gist is that Warren has invited Illinois Senator Barak Obama, whose public stance on marriage, abortion, and homosexuality runs contrary to the Scriptures Warren claims to belief, to speak at his Saddleback Church on World AIDS Day on December 1
Admittedly, pastors of small churches such as myself criticizing leaders of megachurches can come across like a guy sucking sour lemons. Yet McCullough's article points out how the fellowship of light and darkness undermines the faith, which is already doctrinally compromised within the megachurch movement. He is seeking to get people to call or e-mail Saddleback. Stay tuned to see if there is any response to this by the church.
All of which goes to remind us: When you start standing up for everything, you end up standing for nothing.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
However, I do not want to diminish the importance of carefulness. In his experience-filled book on the work of preaching called Preaching & Preachers, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones speaks of the need for attentiveness to the true theme of the text in sermons. "...there is one golden rule, one absolute demand - honesty. You have got to be honest with your text." The goal of the preacher is to bring out God's truth in the text. He must then treat the text honestly by relating to the congregation accurately God's purpose in giving us that portion of His Word. If this be the case, then a carefulness to the details of the text, or any aspect of the sermon for that matter, is essential.
Having fumbled, bumbled and mumbled over some things the past few weeks, and having had them brought to my attention either by others or by that nagging feeling something was amiss, I thought it would be good to go public here and clear the air. If magazines feature corrections for the sake of accuracy, why not preachers?
1) Historical blunder- A couple of weeks ago, to illustrate Abraham's military move to rescue his nephew Lot, I told the story of Richard Cameron and his urgent prayer "Lord spare the green and take the ripe!" before he rode off into battle and his own life was taken. My problem? In the midst of telling this story I kept saying "Richard Baxter." Though perhaps I could defend substituting in the name of a English Puritan pastor (whose book The Reformed Pastor is one of my faves) for a Scottish Covenanter pastor in the same time period by saying that was better than calling him, say, "Richard Dreyfuss," for those new to or learning church history it could be quite confusing. And for those who knew the difference, nothing like taking away the power of the point you are urging on the congregation than a repeated faux pas. How can they listen to you when they keep hearing a mistake that's like fingernails on chalkboards?
2) Orinthological misidentity - In Genesis 15, Abram is instructed to prepare birds and animals for a covenant ceremony God makes with him. We are told that "birds of prey" then swooped down on the dead animals. Abraham had to drive them away, and God explains this as a prophetic warning that Abraham's descendants would be oppressed by other nations. Wanting to make a connection with the verse where our Lord states that "where the corpse is, there the vultures are also," I kept referring to these birds of prey as vultures. Yet the mistake pointed out to me is that birds of prey are birds like eagles, hawks, falcons, etc., not scavengers like vultures. My eagerness to make a valid connection caused me to read the connection back into the story and misemphasize it. It is one thing to be circled by vultures and quite another to be circled by eagles. Not too many teams named the Vultures!
3) Theological blurring - Lately, when teaching about an early church heretic named Cerinthus, I called him a Docetist. That is true only in that Cerinthus' teachings led to Docetism. Docetists were people who believed Jesus only appeared to be human, that actually he was a spirit who took a human form. Thus, they denied the actual crucifixion of the man Jesus. Cerinthus, however, distinguished between Jesus the man and Christ the spirit. He believed prior to the crucifixion the Christ-spirit left Jesus the man who then really died on the cross. Later followers of Cerinthus' teaching fell even further from truth into the Docetic heresy by saying Jesus the man did not even exist.
One of my favorite quips about preaching is by Jay Adams, who said, "A mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew." Clarity is essential to preaching, and in reality is ultimate to it. So on a more serious note, I hope these confessions will clear up any dimming of the glory of the Lord that may have been brought on by this preacher.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
They need to be men and protect the women in their life, no matter how little they may be or how dangerous the situation.
Have you noticed that both shooters walked into classrooms and ordered all the boys to leave? According to news reports, none of the boys involved refused either gunman's request. No boy's life was taken. They all complied and in each case left girls with a man obviously intent on harming them.
Is the only story of resistance by any boy the one that ended up being a lie? A young man went on the Today show portraying himself as one who had initially resisted gunman Duane Morrison at the Platte Canyon High School tragedy. Yet the very next day he appeared again on the same show admitting he had not even been in the same classroom. He said, "I hope that people will know me for who I am, and not a liar." Sorry, but after trying to get attention as a hero, when girls are being molested and dying, it is a bit too late for that. And besides, even his lie reveals cowardice. As part of his lie, the fifteen year-old boy had said he still left when his life was threatened by Morrison. Are not heroes supposed to be willing to sacrifice their lives?
Some might object that expecting preteen boys or even high school guys to face down a mad gunman is asking too much. Yet I direct you to the only story of bravery I have so far run across in these tragic events, which almost reads like an indictment against my gender. Fox News reports that in the one-room Amish school house, some of the girls who survived the shootings related that thirteen year-old Marian Fisher, one of the older girls whose life was taken, begged to be shot first. Apparently she hoped by giving her life that the other girls would be able to escape. Should it not be the boys, in this violent, terror-filled world, who are trained to protect girls with their very lives? Again, the objection may be they are too little. Sorry, but even grown men feel like grasshoppers at times - just ask ten of the spies who went into the Promised Land (Numbers 13:33).
The church must train its boys to be little men who grow up to be big ones. At a young age they need to learn to show respect for their mother, sisters and other ladies in their lives. Small acts done early such as holding the door open for a lady or standing when a woman enters the room will develop into larger ones such as providing for and protecting wives and children later. Boys should be taught when it is appropriate to defend themselves and others. They must be trained and directed into leadership responsibilities in the church. And they need to be severely reprimanded when they fail in any of these things. Most importantly, they need to be inspired by the men in their lives with instruction and stories of courage such as what men did on the Titantic or on United Flight 93. If called upon, it is a man's duty to show the greatest love as Jesus did, which is laying down your life for another (John 15:13).
The evangelical church has grown feminine or, in the words of another, its "men are soft." How much more ecclesiastical and societal decay (translate that "death") will have to take place before strong bass voices, theological acumen, male moral purity, men crying to God for strength they do not have, and even a sword or two when necessary (see Luke 22:36-38) will be found among the people of God again?
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
One of the ten existing copies of this work is on display as "America's First Book" in the Library of Congress. The Bay Psalm Book was used extensively throughout the colonies and went through many revisions and improvements.
My point in drawing your attention to this is to encourage you to read the preface which supports and defends the practice of the church singing the psalms in its worship. The preface begins with this eloquent statement:
"The singing of Psalms breathes out nothing but holy harmony and melody..."
but then quickly raises the concern against the church setting psalm singing aside:
"...but such is the subtlety of the enemy, and such is the enmity of our nature against the Lord and His ways, that our hearts can find discord in this harmony and notes of division in the holy melody."
The preface then goes on to answer the following three questions:
1) First, which psalms should be sung in churches: the psalms of David and other biblical writers, or psalms composed by godly and gifted men throughout the history of the church?
2) Second, if we sing psalms from scripture, should we sing them in strictly literal translations, or should we use the metrical forms common in English poetry?
3) Third, by whom are they to be sung? Should the whole church sing with voices together, or should one man sing alone while the rest join in silence and close by saying "amen"?
The answers, though not a complete treatise, are worthy of our study. As the preface closes with the following words, note how different is the spirit of these godly forefathers than the one typically found in the modern evangelical church:
"If the verses, therefore, are not always as smooth and elegant as some may desire or expect, let them consider that God’s altar does not need our polish (Ex. 20). We have chosen to respect a plain translation rather than smooth our verses with the sweetness of paraphrase: and thus we have honored conscience rather than elegance, fidelity rather than poetry, in translating the Hebrew words into the English language and David’s poetry into English meter; that so we may sing in Zion the Lord’s songs of praise according to His own will; until He take us from hence, and wipe away all our tears, and bid us enter into our Master’s joy to sing eternal Hallelujahs."
If even the federal government can acknowledge this work as "America's First Book," what does it say of modern churches and their leaders who do not even know this heritage exists?
Sunday, October 01, 2006
She made it known several weeks beforehand that she wanted to go home from the ward for Christmas. They did not think she would live that long, but on Christmas Eve she was still alive. She honored her promise to the doctor, not holding her young child at all and wearing a mask all the time except when she was alone with her husband. She returned to the medical center late Christmas day, and in the ensuing days her condition worsened further still. Yet she hung on to life. By February, she fell below 80 pounds, and began vomiting and refusing food. That is when they discovered a gift that she had been given on her trip home at Christmas. She was pregnant.
A medical abortion was refused, and the doctors reasoned that her body would reject the baby eventually. The doctors fed her intravaneously as she struggled for weeks, sure she and her baby would succumb. Yet in late March, they began to notice improvement. Her temperature went down. She began to eat and gain weight. An X-ray showed that growth of the tuberculosis cavity had stopped, and a later one revealed that the diaphragm from the growing womb had pushed up and closed the cavity. The end result was that a normal baby was born and the mother was healed. In this case, the child saved the mother.*
Knowing that you live in a nation where daily thousands of young children, by the desire of their parents, are ripped to pieces before they ever see the light of day, and that this practice is defended as a "civil" right, can be disheartening and just plain sickening. Yet the story above is not just a medical marvel, but a reminder of a Biblical truth that can encourage us in the pro-life community. Children will eventually save us from this plague, for children always do.
When Jewish babes were being tossed into the Nile by order of Pharaoh to diminish Israel and appease Pharaoh's gods, one was tossed obediently into the Nile but just happened also to be in a wicker basket. That child, named Moses which means "drawn out," grew to draw out Israel from this awful slavery. Recall the last plague on Egypt? The God-ordained death of the wicked's firstborn, an act not only of God's perfect justice but a foreshadowing of where true mercy and salvation would come. For this Moses was merely a picture of a "greater Moses." In the days when "Rachel was weeping for her children" because Herod had ordered mass infanticide, a child was carried away from this bloodshed by his parents down to that same Egypt. This child, the Son of God, arose to lead all who believe in Him out of the awful slavery of sin, leading his own mother to say of this child, "my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior." In that case, the child saved the mother - and a whole multitude more.
So let us not lose heart. Even as those outside the kingdom of God work hard to protect the right to kill their own offspring, the Lord is raising up a generation of children who love Him and will be used by Him to persuade hearts of abortion's wrong and draw us away from this evil practice. It will happen, for remember that "from the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength because of Your adversaries, to make the enemy and the revengeful cease" (Psalm 8:2). We do not merely have to hope that will be the case. Because of the Son of God, the One who though dead now lives, we must believe it shall be.
*From the December 2000 Focus on the Family Newletter. Go here to read the more complete details of this amazing story.
Friday, September 29, 2006
(For background to this alert, you may want to go to the last story on this page.)
In his editorial "A Revisitation of Religion and Politics," Greg Goodnight used an assortment of quotes, Bible citations and personal reflections to support the idea that most American want "a ceasefire in the culture wars" and that individuals and churches should not use God's name to win votes. Though certainly Christians must be careful not to put their hope in political power nor abuse it, and his personable style seeks to disarm criticism, the fact that Mr. Goodnight contradicted his own thesis within his column invites response.
Mr. Goodnight cites a survey that says sixty-six percent of Americans want a "middle ground" on abortion and that six out of ten white evangelicals also support compromise. This position reflects his own publicly-stated, pro-choice political views regarding this practice. He then refers to the Bible as a basis for having compromise when it comes to issues like abortion: "The point is that the Bible is open to interpretation, and fair-minded Christians may disagree or come to different conclusions about specific points," such as the abortion issue he had just raised. See the contradiction of his own thesis? Mr. Goodnight does not want Christians to use God to influence politics, but has no problem referring to God and His Word in order to defend his own pro-choice views. He then slips even further when he goes on to quote a reference (I Corinthians 13:12) from the Bible to try to support the idea the Bible is not clear. See then the inconsistency of his argument? He claims that people should not use God for political purposes, then uses God to address his view on abortion; he states that on an important topic like abortion, the Bible is unclear; to support the statement that the Bible is unclear, he quotes the Bible!
Mr. Goodnight, the Bible is explicitly clear, and just because someone goes to church and also believes in abortion does not invalidate the perspicuity of Scripture. An unborn child is a person (Psalm 139:13), and parents who take the life of their own children have committed a vile offense against the child, society and their Creator (Exodus 21:22-23). To those who believe this and want this practice stopped, your muddled arguments for compromise and for us to be silent are patronizing. The next time you preach to others (for that is what you were doing), perhaps beforehand you need to think more deeply upon the Shakespeare you offered the rest of us from the Merchant of Venice about even the devil quoting Scripture, and then look up the line that follows. As the Bard of Avon said elsewhere, "This above all: to thine own self be true."
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
My goal for this class is to hopefully give the students just a taste of the experience I had in seminary while sitting in the class of Dr. Clark Copeland. Class after class I would sit there and have him open up for me the Old Testament Scriptures in ways that I had never seen before. Just as the guys on the road to Emmaus had their hearts burning when Jesus explained the Scriptures to them (Luke 24:32) and the disciples had their minds opened that they might understand the Scriptures about Him (Luke 24:44-45), so I had that experience while attending class.
So not only am I preparing new lessons each week, learning to use a PowerPoint presentation for the first time (on our new SCA video projector!), and putting more hours in the classroom, but I am working to help these young people see Christ in the Old Testament Scriptures. Like the rising sun in the picture above that serves as the backdrop for the opening title in PowerPoint for each class, the Law and the Prophets colorfully shine with the anticipated glory of the coming Christ.
One of my favorite moments thus far was to tell the class during our study of the book of Exodus that Moses is also a New Testament character, and then to ask them where he appeared. Then as they recalled the story of the Mount of Transfiguration, where Christ shined with a glory surpassing that of Moses on Mt. Sinai, we looked at what Moses and also Elijah (the Law and the Prophets being fulfilled!) discussed with him in Luke 9:30-31. The topic was Jesus' "departure," or, as it says in the Greek, His "exodus!" As the new Moses, Christ was preparing for the cross to provide His people an exodus from their slavery to sin. I don't know if the students were excited, but I can testify that the teacher surely was!
Yet most of this course is taking place outside of the classroom. You see, as I prepare this Old Testament Survey, I am being stretched to clearly explain the whole counsel of God's Word. I am seeing how little I actually know about the Book I have devoted my life to studying and teaching, and am feeling the weight of how careful I must be in accurately handling the word of truth before these young minds. I feel shame at how pitiful my devotion to the glorious Lamb of God really is, how casual my regard for His sovereignty can be, how quickly I forget or even disbelieve His promises. I start each study examining the Word of God carefully, like the students in Biology class looking at a specimen with the microscope. Yet how come it is that my studies so quickly turn to the feeling that I am the amoeba on the slide?
I guess what I'm seeing is that surveying the Old Testament really ends up in an exercise of the Old Testament surveying me. So though I can only pray that my students end up with burning hearts and opened eyes, so far the only result I can report is a dust-covered forehead of the teacher who, like the saints of old (i.e. sinners saved by grace), is overwhelmed again by the awe of the holy Lord.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Does not the above quote sound like the end of a sermon? In a sense it was, but not the type you might think. Nor was the audience a congregation gathered at church on Sunday morning hearing about the return of the Lord Jesus. The speaker concluded his message with this loudly-proclaimed prayer: "Oh Almighty God, all men and women are your creatures and you have ordained their guidance and salvation. Bestow upon humanity that thirst for justice, the perfect human being promised to all by you, and make us among his followers among those who strive for his return and his cause."
These words were spoken by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the United Nations on September 19th. As several bloggers such as Hugh Hewitt and Rush Limbaugh are reporting, the media has abundantly covered Ahmadinejad's condemnation of President Bush and the United States, but few reporters have caught the significance of these closing words. Ahmadinejad, based on his Shiite Muslim views, believes that the Twelfth Imam, the messianic figure who will return at the end of the world, will emerge in the next few years during a period of worldwide chaos and bring the justice for which he prayed. To that end, Ahmadinejad had a $20 million mosque constructed in Qom, Iran, recently to receive the savior. And to that end many believe he is saber-rattling because he wants to provoke the war that will bring the great Mahdi out to save the world.
So on American soil, our sworn enemy not only condemned our nation but preached an antichrist. Can you imagine the uproar if George Bush, who also spoke to the UN this week, had preached Jesus and prayed for His return? The media and the United Nations will accept uncritically their UNChrist, but not the true Savior of mankind.
One thing you have to hand to the Iranian president/preacher is at least he is bold. Psalm 33:12 says, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD." When will the church find its voice again to preach and to pray as if it believes that?
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Ran across this picture and thought I'd share it with you.
It was taken back in February at Senior's Night for my son Jamey's basketball team called the Eagles. Miriam and I were supposed to walk out with Jamey before the game, hear some nice words read about Jamey and his future, and then have Jamey present his mother with a rose. I had even donned a tie for the occasion. Simple, right?
The only problem was that the other team did not show up.
We called the other team, but seems that there was a scheduling problem. They did not even have us down. So with a rented gym, referees, all that money spent on roses, and three seniors looking forward to being honored, we figured we better get an opposing team together quick. So some dads and alumni ran home, grabbed some gym shorts, and cobbled together a team. What fun we had that night! We even gave the Eagles a good game, though they came through with the victory at the end.
By the way, if you decide to form a home school team, don't choose Eagles as your mascot. It is the most popular high school team name, and that's even more true in home schooling circles. The Eagles versus the Eagles every game gets a bit redundant. However, in keeping with this spirit, our old man's team was dubbed the Bald Eagles for obvious reasons.
And I still got to wear my tie.
Thursday, August 31, 2006
"Hello, Sycamore Reformed Presbyterian Church."
"Yes, this is Christy from Teen Rage with an exciting offer that will help your youth love Jesus! May I speak to the director of your youth group, please?"
"We don't have a youth group."
"Oh," followed by the long pause of a telemarketer who doesn't have that response on her script. "Ok, well, thank you," spoken with the voice of one who has mistakenly dialed up a leper colony.
Our congregation really doesn't have a youth group, but this blog is not an anti-youth group rant. Rather, I wanted to tell you that I've just enjoyed a great summer hanging out with youth, be it my own youth group of six kids at my house, the young people in the congregation, or those at church camps and conferences. The highlights:
1) Monday through Wednesday of this week we had our second annual Youth Summer Service Project (YSSP) at the church. Fifteen teenagers attended. The three days started with devotions, ended with a fun time at Kokomo Raceway Park on Wednesday, and contained tons of hard work and laughs in the middle. What spectacular results were accomplished! They transformed from drab to classy two classrooms; either threw out or organized thousands of piles of stuff around the building, in the process finding many items lost for years; cleaned, waxed and polished everything in sight and even things that were not; weeded and trimmed hedges; changed a paint-peeling, uninviting nursery to a welcoming, bright environment (that wasn't even supposed to be on the list); and much, much more. And it was all done with nary a complaint or problem! I praise the Lord I was able to be with Hannah, Breanna, Emily, Megan, Luke, Rachel, Haley, Addie, Moriah, Chelsea, Kaitlyn, Melanie, Jamey, Lindsay and Trevor these days, and for all the others in the church who prepared for and supported their efforts. Thanks especially to Jason & Jenny!
2) I brought four messages to about 45 youth at our denomination's Youth Leadership Conference July 21-24 from Psalm 110 on the topic Bound to the Crown: Held Captive by Our Wills in Service to Christ. As this psalm speaks of the kingly power of Jesus Christ, verse 3 tells us one of the dramatic impacts that will occur: "Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power; in holy array, from the womb of the dawn, Your youth are to You as the dew." That verse promises that Christ will bring forth the covenant young people to live holy lives and offer themselves in service to their King, bringing refreshment and life to the church. As we see serious-minded youth throughout the RPCNA giving themselves to such things as mission work home and abroad, spending three weeks at Theological Foundations for Youth learning at our seminary and serving in local churches, or being vital parts of their local congregations, we are witnessing Jesus fulfill this promise in our midst. Thanks especially to Will & Sarah!
3) We've been busy preparing and getting ready for our fifth year of Sycamore Covenant Academy (SCA), a supplemental educational and discipleship program for home educating families. We have more teachers (six) this year offering classes and more students (pushing 40) than ever, and beyond my regular classes of Beginning Greek and Algebra II I get to teach an Old Testament Survey Class. I'm looking forward to an exciting year.
4) With Jamey starting full-time at IUK, Lindsay entering her senior year and taking classes both in Marion and Indianapolis, Trevor being the first kid to get to play two sports in our family (on a soccer team in addition to basketball), Emory continuing to progress in violin and taking lessons on the north side of Indianapolis, Spencer incredibly entering the fourth grade (it does not seem possible), and Celia turning four with her latest trick being dragging a yo-yo behind her like a dog she calls "O-yo," Miriam and my cup runneth over with youth activities. (And no, Honey, Celia does not need a pet, despite what you said. See how busy we are? And she's got lizards, remember?)
5) Sitting on the window sill of my office is a card with a picture of three kids on a bike being followed by a dad on a small bike with training wheels. Inside it says, "Happy Father's Day to the Biggest Kid on the Block." With all this activity, our neighborhood "Cops & Robbers" games have been too few this summer. But the kids haven't forgotten - I just got asked this week by one of the little neighbors if I could come out and play. That's my plan this Friday night, Lord willing.
So we may not have a youth group, but I hope I am never too old to be a youth groupee.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Learning Obedience through Suffering
What the Lord Taught a Pastor as the Congregation He Served Struggled through Division that Threatened Its Existence
- If my perfect Lord learned obedience through suffering, so must all who follow Him.
- Nothing helps like dry and thirsty times to bring out the sweet taste of the Psalms.
- The best prayers are often offered with a libation of tears.
- God provides an oasis in our deserts. They are called friends.
- If God destroyed a whole generation for grumbling and complaining before they entered the land of promise, what will He do to those who grumble who are in Christ and His church?
- In backyard basketball, we say, “No blood – no foul.” In other words, quit complaining about every infraction and just keep playing. That makes for a loose but good paraphrase of Hebrews 12:4-5, “If you have not started bleeding yet, then your trial isn’t nearly as bad as it could be. Accept the discipline of the Lord and press on.”
- Often silence is the answer.
- As Spurgeon said, those who slander your name would really have something to talk about if only they knew the truth about you. When others speak ill of you, be glad they do not see you as God does. Then take refuge in Christ your Advocate.
- Your foe is probably not as wicked as you make him out to be. Neither are you as righteous as you think you are.
- Roosevelt’s “Speak softly and carry a big stick” is not only pithy, it is Biblical. The Lord’s bondservant must learn to avoid entangling arguments while he trusts in Biblical discipline to run its course.
- As a shepherd, be tenacious in protecting the flock from those who sow stumbling blocks and dissension. They are the wolves in sheep’s clothing you’re supposed to be watching out for.
- Keep written records and have witnesses to all interactions with parties under church discipline.
- The Proverbs state, “Drive out a mocker and out goes strife; quarrels and insults have ended.” The peace in our congregation following our struggles demonstrates the truthfulness of this statement.
- While struggling, find joy in serving others. There is always someone more miserable than you are.
- Often the fastest way to church growth is through subtraction, not addition.
- “Be angry, yet do not sin.” Take your frustrations out on pursuing the offenders, not your kids.
- “An excellent wife, who can find?” By God’s grace, I have.
- It is pride - not godliness - that refuses to ask for help.
- Finally, thanks be to the good Lord that I am a Presbyterian. I have a place to go when I need help.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
He asked for five bucks because he said he was hungry. Jason, who was with me, asked if he had gone to the Mission, which offers two free meals a day, every day. He said people there made fun of him and asked for five bucks again. We flat-out said no. He said he would come to church if we gave it to him. We told him to come to church the next day then we would start talking about it. Without another word he turned and stumbled out the door in disgust.
Were we cruel?
Well, before I tell you a bit more about this situation, meditate with me upon a truth about the gospel. Did you ever consider that when the gospel is preached, it is a call to the impossible? That you are asking the hearer to do something he is completely incapable of doing? In essence you are saying to him, "Do what you cannot do."
For recall how often the Lord made incredible demands on His hearers:
- "Get up, pick up your pallet and walk." -Command to a man who had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years (John 5:8).
- "Go and sin no more." -Words spoken to woman caught in adultery (John 8:11).
- "Lazarus, come forth!" -Shouted to a man lying dead in a tomb for four days (John 11:43).
Calling people to faith and repentance is the same. We tell them to repent of their evil ways and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. Yet God is the one who ultimately grants repentance (see Acts 5:31) and ultimately gives faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). When the gospel is preached, the hearer is powerless to obey just as the preacher is powerless to create obedience. Because the hearer is dead, blind and lame, we must rely on the Spirit of God to enable him to do what naturally he can neither understand nor accomplish (I Corinthians 2:14), which is entrust his life and soul to Christ. Seeing the impossible occur is how God receives all the glory in our evangelism.
So often, because we are overeager to get a response or to feel good about helping someone, we preach the gospel "lite." No sacrifice is called for and the truth about Christian discipleship is minimized. Yet Jesus preached the gospel "heavy." He demanded of people such things as "Go get your husband" when a woman at a well was not even married but shacking up; "I cannot give the children's bread to the dogs" when a foreign woman was begging Him for the life of her child; and "Go sell all you have and follow me" to a rich, young ruler to tell him what he needed to let go of in order to receive the eternal life he claimed he wanted.
Now back to our refusal to help the palsied man. I also know this man because several years ago he was in my study. On that night, as several of us tried to minister to him, we realized by the testimony of a neighbor and the smell that his speech was slurred and his pants were soaked in urine not because of his palsy but due to his drinking. He also spoke openly, even proudly, of his immorality. We called him then to quench his thirst in Christ alone, and he left us that evening in disgust as well. You see, he uses his palsy to play upon peoples' sympathies in order to subsidize his wicked lifestyle. Last week we reminded him he had been here before, and repeated the message that his hunger was due to his disregard for God's ways. We invited him to come to church to learn of Jesus. He left, for it is clear that was asking him to do something he could not do.
Far worse than physical palsy is the spiritual inability to walk with God. We must preach the gospel so that people realize they need to cry out to God to bring about what they cannot. Then how we must pray that God would attend the sowing of His word with His Spirit and power.
In the words of a Puritan, "Repentance with man is the changing of a will; repentance with God is the willing of a change."
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Last month, this preacher felt like he went to VBS for Pastors, though my squirming was due to paying attention to the lesson rather than trying to escape it.
My family had the privilege of attending our presbytery's family conference called Covfamikoi (a name derived by combining the words "covenant" and "family" with the first letters of the states represented at the conference). I had the opportunity to sit under the mature, masterful preaching of Pastor Ted Donnelly from Ireland as he brought messages to us from the book of Jeremiah. As I listened to the warm, probing sermons, one lesson I learned is how much I am still learning about the Bible. To be honest, having never done an in-depth study of this book myself, I learned such things as:
- The theme God gave to Jeremiah's ministry is contained in the six verbs of Jer. 1:10, "to pluck up and break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant." This theme is repeated throughout the book (for instance, see Jeremiah 18:7-10 and 31:38).
- The phrase "a new covenant" is found in the Old Testament and used only in Jeremiah (31:31).
- Just as God promised to write the law of God on hearts in the new covenant, He also threatened to the people of Jeremiah's day to inscribe their sins on their hearts by an iron stylus with a diamond point (17:1).
- Jeremiah's life mirrored Christ's to the point many in Jesus' day wondered if He was Jeremiah reincarnated (Matthew 16:13-14). Both Jesus and Jeremiah were rejected in their hometown, hated by the religious establishment, charged with treason, wept over Jerusalem and killed by their own people.
I share some of the fascinating things I learned as an encouragement that even pastors need to go to VBS, i.e., being a disciple of Christ means being a learner of the Scriptures your whole lifetime. Every week I prepare messages I am amazed at the things I see new or for the first time in Scripture. Maybe you are tentative to jump into Bible study or reading because you do not think you know very much about the Bible. I say plunge in and join the crowd!
Perhaps most encouraging and challenging to me - and the source of my squirming - was to hear that Jeremiah spent over 40 years of ministry being rejected by the people of God even as he persistently told them to turn back to the Lord. VBS 2006 for this pastor means persistently telling hardhearted people of the need to repent of their sins and seek the Lord. Even this very day He gave me the hour and a half opportunity to do that with someone who has been excommunicated. Even as I hung up disappointed for his failure to listen, Jeremiah 7:27 has become my strange comfort, "You shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you; and you shall call to them, but they shall not answer you."
Friday, July 07, 2006
1) Synod went well last week, as much wisdom and unity was displayed. The humorous comments made on the floor offered some very practical wisdom to us that I'll attempt to "proverbialize," such as...
- "Some of our current tunes require going through four time zone changes to get to the end." -A deliberately humorous remark made to the Psalter Revision Committee. Proverb #1 - If a Covie-chord cannot sing it, do not put it in the Psalm book.
- "Sir, you do not need to respond to every comment on your report." -Spoken by the moderator to a zealous young man defending his report from criticisms. Proverb #2 - Moderate your own mouth or it shall be done for you.
- "Please, let us end this agony." -Made after a rather lengthy debate, immediately after which a vote was taken and the discussion was ended. Proverb #3 - Better say nothing than speak and say nothing.
2) A "tragedy" struck the York household this weekend, as Celia came wailing that a pet lizard had died. Seems that they wanted to see the lizard run along the chain of the exercise bike while the wheel was turning, and the lizard was not quick enough to avoid being caught between spokes and chain. Ugh - I had to take the bike apart to clean it out. The only laugh that was elicited from my young was that they realized that in addition to having the name Arwen, they also had a more common name for the lizard: Squishy. Quite prophetic. And for all you members of PETA who read this blog (I know you are out there), please understand this was an accident by kids who love their lizards. Celia now runs up to Mom every day and asks, "Mom, can I hold a lizard..., I mean, the lizard?"
3) Preaching through the flood account and noticed in Genesis 7:18-20 that in three consecutive verses God's Word says that the flood waters "prevailed" upon the earth. The Hebrew word translated "prevailed" means to "conquer or triumph," like one army prevailing over another. God was utterly conquering evil by covering the whole earth in flood waters, even to the point that the highest mountains under the heavens were covered with more than 22 feet of water (see the verses!). As it says in II Peter 3:5-6, the whole world was destroyed in the flood. Those who try to teach a localized flood account cannot really believe the Bible nor do they take seriously enough the judgment the flood teaches us is yet to come (see Matthew 24:37-38).
Monday, June 19, 2006
The thin boy had caught the crawlfish earlier that day. He and his older friend by four years, Terry, had spent that morning as they often did, hunting for crawlfish in the two creeks that ran down the borders of the boy's yard and joined into a Y to form a larger creek as the water left his property. He had lifted a large rock and, after the few seconds it had taken for the silt from the creek bed to be carried away by the stream, had almost dropped the rock in amazement. Lying there, its claws raised menacingly, was the largest crawlfish he had ever seen. He had quickly thrown the rock aside on the bank, moved his hand behind the head of the crustacean, and quickly darted down and squeezed his fingers and thumb around its midsection. Like a fisherman who has finally landed the prize-winning catch, the boy had lifted the crawlfish triumphantly, the claws arching back toward his hand making him a bit nervous, and called excitedly to Terry to come and see.
Soon Terry and the other boys in the neighborhood had joined him at the picnic table in his backyard. As the boy held the four-inch crawlfish, again somewhat scared of its pincers waving erratically in the air, they confirmed that he had caught the granddaddy of them all. Terry, older and more wily, sensed the fear of the younger boy. Holding up a smaller, lighter crawlfish next to the boy's dark, large one, he angled in for the trade.
"Yers may be bigger, but yer pert 'nuf half-scared of that thang, and besides, mine could lick yers cause it's so much faster."
"Un-unh. Ain't either," said the boy, as he defended his champion crawlfish but did not deny the fear.
"Is too. Put it in this here bowl of water and see for yerself."
As the boys dropped their crawlfish in the bowl, it became clear to the boy Terry was correct. The larger crawlfish lumbered clumsily around the bottom while the small one, provoked by Terry sticking his finger in the water in front of its face, shot backwards with its tail, often banging into the larger crawlfish and knocking it sideways. With the other boys joining Terry's side, before long he had pulled a Tom Sawyer on the younger boy and made him see how good it would be to trade for a crawlfish "more suited for yer size."
After Terry had walked off with the crawlfish and the day had progressed, the other boys had continued to talk about how big "Terry's crawlfish" was. The boy had begun to regret the trade. This frustration led then to the crawlfish switch, and also brought on the inevitable confrontation.
That same evening, Terry returned to find the trick played on him by his young neighbor. Across the creek the following verbal volley ensued.
"You stole my crawlfish!"
"Ain't yers. I just was lettin' ya borrow it."
"You traded it, fair and square, for that little'un."
"Wuzn't no fair trade."
Funny how memories, like a dandelion seed on a summer breeze, can come floating across our minds. Though my buckteeth were corrected years ago by the pull of braces, and my thieving heart by the grace of God and restraint of His law, the above childhood memory came back to me recently. This in turn stirred other thoughts of how God actually used my stealing ways (my word to give the crawlfish to Terry should have been honored) to make me sick of sin and seek Christ:
- Like when I shoved the Hostess fruit pie down the front of my pants at Crawford's Corner Store after school one day. Just like the Proverb says, the stolen bread was sweet at first but then turned to gravel in my mouth because of the guilt. Years later, after our family had moved from North Carolina to Michigan, we were driving back to NC for a visit and had stopped on eastbound US 40 to help a motorist with a flat tire. Another car, going westbound, also pulled over to help. Who should the man be who crossed the highway and median to help but Mr. Crawford? Only God could orchestrate that! When he peeked into the car window to say hi to us kids, I just slunk down in the back seat like the guilty sinner I was.
- Or like when I stole the Gale Sayers football card from Tad when he went to use the bathroom during a trading session (I justified it then because Sayers was my favorite receiver, Tad had three of them after all, and he was being unfair not to trade). I kept that card for years, yet like Frodo's ring the weight of carrying it around seemed to increase over time. So one day I simply destroyed it to be relieved of the burden.
- Or like when I broke the dormitory window as a freshman at the University of Michigan while throwing snowballs at my friends, then lied about it when asked by the campus police. Jesus came to me in that same dormitory and saved me from my sin. It took some time (okay about five years!) but eventually my conscience would not let me go on without contacting them to apologize, determine the cost of replacement, then sending the money plus 20% (see Leviticus 6:1-5).
But better yet, let me tell you about One who can take all our debts away - yours and mine - and promises treasures in heaven in return.
Monday, June 12, 2006
Several years ago some godly members of our church, their consciences bothering them, asked our elders to study whether wine should be used in communion or not. Their reasoning to us was that it seemed to be the temperance movement in the history of our church, rather than an exegetical study of Scripture, had more to do with our denomination's practice of replacing wine with grape juice in the Lord's Supper. Their studied commitment to the practice of having worship regulated by God's Word rather than the traditions of men, combined with a peaceful and forbearing spirit they had consistently displayed, caused us to seriously take up this request.
Over several months we studied, then brought our conclusions to the congregation. We came to believe that the Scriptures and church history do show that wine has been used through the ages in communion. In trying to figure out what to do with our convictions, the elders decided that we did not believe that this had to be a matter where we sought to change the mind of everyone else in the denomination by writing long papers and giving lengthy arguments on the floor of Presbytery or Synod. Since our catechisms and Book of Worship discuss wine in the administration of the Lord's Supper (Curious about that assertion? See the Westminster Confession of Faith here at Chapter 30, Paragraph 3; the Larger Catechism here in Questions 168-170; or the Directory for Worship here at Chapter 3, Paragraph 14.), we believed there was a freedom in our church's documents for the session to decide what would be the wisest course to pursue to maintain the sanctity of the sacrament and the peace of the church.
So we let the congregation know how we had arrived at our convictions, that we would now be using wine, but that we would also provide juice for conscience sake as we understood other beloved brethren in the church did not share our convictions. Though admittedly making a change of this sort has had its awkward moments, the transition in our congregation has been a peaceful one. As we sought to pursue this matter along the principles of conscience given to us in Romans 14, we have experienced the blessing promised there: "the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17). Our communion services are sweet times of fellowship and, to be honest, when the communion dish returns to the table with the glasses missing, I would not be able to tell you who has taken which except in the cases where members have talked with me personally about it.
So why do friends ask me "the question"? One dear member of ours, believing this should be a matter decided by the broader church, worked to petition first Presbytery then Synod to rule on the change. Both higher courts, with words of admonition that we have sought to follow, ruled in agreement with our practice. Wine was allowable but juice should be made available. Yet along the way to these rulings, some pretty heated exchanges occurred on the floor that must have become associated in other’s minds with there being a controversy here.
During all those deliberations in the courts of the church, I never said a word as our intention was not and still is not to try to change everyone else’s mind. So why am I bringing this up here? I note that for consideration at this year’s Synod is a paper by a dear brother that I greatly respect but with whom I respectfully disagree seeking the overturning of this ruling. My hope is that Synod will choose to decline looking into this matter further and just allow its earlier ruling to stand. Without commenting on the paper itself, I believe that is the wisest course. Why?
1) Following the 2002 ruling of Synod, a presbytery petitioned Synod to have a study committee on the use of wine in communion. After a great deal of effort and time, this committee came back with an inconclusive report and was dismissed. I do not think further efforts in this area will yield better results.
2) Though we desire unity in our worship practices, complete uniformity is a different matter. For instance, I maintain that the very Word of God that we use in worship is of greater significance than the sacrament that seals that Word. The gospel can be preached without the sacrament, but not without the Word. Yet we trust sessions to decide what version of the Bible they believe to be best for their congregation. Within the parameters of our church documents and rulings, we should allow them the same freedom with the elements of communion.
3) Typically those who are upset with the introduction of wine into communion have been life-long Reformed Presbyterians with deep roots in the abstinence movement. Synod’s 2002 ruling allows those who believe in abstinence to continue its practice without mandating it for everyone else. This decision is consistent with Synod’s removal of abstinence as a requirement for both membership and ordination.
My only comment on the paper itself has only to do with a remark at its beginning that also hit me with a WHAM. I felt like I had run into that door again. The claim was made that some ministers are declining going to certain congregations because of the contents of the cup, and some elders would rather drop the tray than administer certain "fruit of the vine." Please tell me that this is not true. If it is, then maybe our problem is not with the content of the cup, but with the content of that greater vessel we are to use in our love for one another?
Thursday, June 08, 2006
The RSM here is slightly different in that it was designed to help us meet a need that exists in our own congregation of discipling the men. Thus, we are focusing currently on developing our men's ability to hear the Lord speaking to them through the studied and preached Word of God from our worship the Lord's Day prior to the meeting, as well as building mentoring and accountability relationships. We pray, however, that others will be led to join us eventually. The format we followed was:
- Historical Explanation of Exercises and Society Meetings by Jason Camery
- Our "Exercises" - Reciting our Scripture Memory Passage & Singing the Psalm of the Quarter
- First Presentation on the Study of Genesis 5:1-24 by Yours Truly
- Second Presentation by Jason Camery
- Question and Answer Period
- Accountability Groups where the Men Asked Each Other:
- What is one key application from our sermon and study you are making?
- What is one area you can use prayer in?
- What is one way that I can encourage you in your faithfulness?
7. Regathering for Closing Singing of Psalm 90C and PrayerThe night was a great success and immensely encouraging. The highlights:
- The presence of many new and young believers wanting to grow and have mentoring relationships with other men.
- A vanload of men from Marion making the commitment to be there despite the distance.
- Men seeing how God speaks to us from the Scriptures, even from what some call the "Obituary Section" of the Bible.
- Easy and open flow of conversation in the accountability groups spread around the Fellowship Hall and adjacent rooms.
- Bob McKissick having a birthday, which had us end our meeting with one of the most manly renditions of the Happy Birthday song I have heard in a long time, and being topped off by strawberry shortcake and ice cream prepared by Sharon.
Bob, let's just declare it's your birthday every time we meet. That way, we get Sharon's dessert and you might reach Methuselah's age!
Anyway, my blog title comes from a story by the English humorist P.G. Wodehouse, who tells a funny tale of a king who has a strange new religion known as "gowf" invade his empire and eventually conquer the people. For those who are hackers like me, golf by its very nature should give a lot of laughs, for what could be more ridiculous that trying to hit a tiny ball with a stick over hundreds of yards into a way-too-small cup? Below are a few of the gowf anecdotes that occured Tuesday. Notice I have concealed the identities of my partners in an attempt to not further embarass them.
- At the first tee, one guy swung mightily and missed the ball completely - twice. In a case of sports mix-up, one of us tried to encourage him by calling out "Strike two!"
- Another time, the same guy, with his ball lying on the fairway, missed twice again, but successively removed several inches of turf both times. After praising him for his consistency, he prepared for his third go at it. One of us used the sun behind us to make the shadow of his hand appear on the ground next to the ball, pointing at it so he could see it.
- While searching for a lost ball in the rough, one of us came upon a dead sparrow. Lifting it up by the foot, he said, "Hey, I finally got a birdie."
- One man among us donned a towel on his head to cover his neck from the deer flies. Of course we then dubbed him Mohammed Al-Subpari. (Incidentally, the wicked man whose name we were playing off of really took it in the neck by our forces today.)
- A minor accomplishment of mine was that I actually hit a few straight drives for once with a five-wood. Yet toward the end of the time, on my second shot on a par 5, my satisfaction of the feel of another good smack turned to dismay as I looked up to see the head of my club had snapped of and was hurtling down the fairway. As I picked up the club head and mourned, we could not locate my ball for a while as we thought it might have landed in the woods. However, my joy returned as we found the ball at the end of the fairway not far from the green. Since I then went on to make par for the first time ever on a par 5, I now have that five-wood head displayed in my office.
Yet none of these tops my favorite gowf anecdote that happened several years ago. While playing with one of these same men, he hit a shot into a creek that cut across the fairway. The bank of the creek went down about six feet, so my friend pulled his extendable ball retriever out his golf bag, which was resting on the pull cart behind him and to his left. As I stood watching him from the other side of the creek, I saw the pull cart begin rolling down the hill to the bank. Before I could cry out the alarm, the cart and bag with all his clubs plunged with a splash into the creek below. As he went down the bank to fetch his sinking bag, he heard the sympathetic question, "You have a ball retriever, but I guess you left your bag retriever at home?"
Thursday, June 01, 2006
While having family worship at our table one morning this week with Miriam's parents (affectionately known as Papa and Hoo-Hoo, the latter tag bestowed upon Grandma by young grandchildren for her habit of calling "Hoo-Hoo!" when entering the house), we were reading the last chapter of Proverbs about the excellent wife and came upon the above verse. The question arose over "What is a distaff?" Given that the context is talking about the industrious nature of the wife and mother spoken of in this passage, and the obvious reference to weaving or sewing in the second part of the verse, we concluded that the distaff must have been a part of a loom for weaving and went on.
This morning Miriam's mother told us she had looked it up in the dictionary, and this is the interesting definition as given by Merriam-Webster:
distaff - "1 a : a staff for holding the flax, tow, or wool in spinning b : woman's work or domain 2 : the female branch or side of a family."
As we discussed especially the "1.b." and "2" definitions, we reasoned that so associated was the woman in her working with weaving cloth and clothing her family that the instrument used to hold the materials for spinning became synonymous with both the woman's work and even her side of the family. A Google search confirmed these suspicions:
A distaff is 'a staff with a cleft end for holding wool, flax, etc., from which the thread is drawn in spinning by hand'. It can also be a simliar attachment on a spinning wheel. A dis is a bunch of flax. The word distaff first appeared in English around the year 1000. We find it in Chaucer (e.g., in the "Nun's Priest's Tale": "And Malkyn with a dystaf in hir hand") and in Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy ("Tradesmen left their shops, women their distaves"). There was also an expression "to have tow on one's distaff" meaning 'to have work in hand or trouble in store,' as in the "Miller's Tale": "He hadde moore tow on his distaf Than Gerueys knew." (Tow is the fiber of flax or jute prepared for spinning.)
Since women were the ones who did the spinning, the meaning of distaff was extended to mean 'woman's work'. This sense also goes back to the Canterbury Tales. In the "Monk's Prologue" we find, "She rampeth in my face And crieth...I wol haue thy knyf And thou shalt haue my distaf and go spynne." In King Lear Goneril says: "I must change names at home, and give the distaff into my husband's hands," i.e., 'I must become the soldier and leave my husband to do the spinning'. Shakespeare also used the word in Cymbeline: "Their owne noblenesse which could have turn'd a distaff to a lance." The distaff is contrasted with the sword, women's work of spinning contrasted with men's work of fighting.
The day after Twelfth Night was called distaff's day": that was the day on which women resumed their spinning and ordinary household tasks after the Christmas holidays. Herrick wrote a poem called "St. Distaff's Day."
Eventually distaff came to be used figuratively for the female sex, and the female branch of a family came to be known as the distaff side (as we might say "on my mother's side").
So the woman's side of the family was known as the distaff side, and the man's side was the sword side. Of course, many would take exception to this distinction today, for the article I quoted from above ends with this warning, "Be careful using distaff as a synonym for 'female'. Some women might find it offensive -- especially if they know the origin of the word." However, in the age when the Biblical roles of men and women were considered honorable, referring to the female as distaff would not have been seen as derogatory but as a symbol of her noble and caring work. A Biblical encyclopedia said that the woman held the distaff under her left arm as the fibers were pulled from it in the spinning process. Thus, to use distaff to refer to the woman would imply she was a source of constant supply to her husband and family, which is exactly the picture given in Proverbs 31.
Of course, with Miriam's parents there, we had some fun with this as well. You will understand why the older grandchildren and I will from now on always introduce Papa and Hoo-Hoo as our "distaff relatives." You will now know that it is not that they suffer from some disease or condition, nor that they are only related to us in some strange way. Rather, it will actually be a compliment, as in Miriam they have answered for me the question of Proverbs 31:10 and made me rejoice in the distaff by my side.
Friday, May 26, 2006
- Have a twenty minute study on the passage preached in the previous Lord's Day sermon.
- Have an elder give a ten minute presentation on his own study of the passage, stressing application.
- Give time for questions and further discussion.
- Pray together in accountability pairs.
- Conclude with some robust psalm singing.
The only hitch? Jason proposed that we call this the "Men's Reformation Society." Later that night when I got home I realized something. What will invariably happen is that this gathering will be acronymized and be referred to as MRS. Inviting men to come to the "Missus" will not work. So we still have to work a bit on the name, but we are excited about the potential.
Our first one is scheduled for Wednesday, June 7th, at 6:30 p.m. at Sycamore RPC. Hope to see you there!
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Thank you for the letter that you sent me at the beginning of the month. I thought about visiting you, but then decided to write back so you could think through my answers to your concerns. Then if you would like to talk personally about these things, I would be glad to meet with you.
A statement you made in your letter seems to be a good summary of your concern: “Having been associated with a legalistic church one thing I don’t need is much more doctrine.” You asked if the Reformed Presbyterian Church is big on doctrine. I can understand the concern you are expressing here.
What I would like to ask you to consider, Tony, is that the question you need to be asking at this point in your life is not “How much doctrine is necessary?” but “Whose doctrine am I going to follow?” Jesus warned the Pharisees (who we know were big on doctrine) in Matthew 15 that “Well did Isaiah prophecy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” Jesus is stating that their problem was not that they had doctrines, but that the doctrines they had were men’s commandments rather than God’s. He told them the result was that, “You have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.” In this same story (Matthew 15:1-20), Jesus chastises them because they are more concerned about keeping their ceremonially cleansings (which were not commanded by God but came from the traditions of men) than they were about keeping the fifth commandment regarding honoring their parents.
What this means is that we must be very careful that what a church is teaching comes from the Scriptures and is not man’s false philosophies and traditions. That we must be diligent to do this is seen in the Lord Jesus’ warning to His disciples to “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:5-12). The way to be sure that we are not following cunning teachings and lies is to carefully study the word of God. That’s why God’s word must be like bread to us (Matthew 4:4) as we constantly eat from it so that we will be strong enough to avoid the devil’s temptations. Jesus says His disciples must abide or live in His word, for it is only then that they will be free (John 8:31-32).
That's why the Lord has given the church teachers so they can build up the saints, so they will not be like children tossed here and there by the crafty doctrines of men, but mature and stable in Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16). That’s why every Christian must diligently study the Bible, to make sure the teachers he has put himself under are speaking the truth of God’s Word (Acts 17:11). As a pastor, I take God’s commandment in I Timothy 4:13-16 very seriously, “Give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine….Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.” How important true doctrine is, for it leads to Christ and salvation (John 5:39)! And false doctrine leads to damnation (Matthew 18:6-7)!
Tony, please be careful about going to a church that makes light of teaching and doctrine as a reaction against the legalism of your former church. It can sound pious to say things like “No creed but Christ.” Yet what someone has said is true, “Men trade in the Ten Commandments of God for the thousands of commandments of men.” If a church does not have a clearly written confession of faith that explains what they believe on essential issues, then people soon find themselves under the binding influence of man’s opinions and traditions rather than the freeing word of God.
I invite you to return or to speak further with me about this issue, for one final encouragement I would give you is to not give up on the church. Often people use a bad experience they have had as an excuse not to go to church at all. Remember, Christ is still Lord and has promised to build His church (Matthew 16:18), which is His body (I Corinthians 12:12-14) that He is the head over (Ephesians 1:22). One of His commands that we must keep is not to forsake worshipping Him and fellowshipping with His body (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Your motto should not be "No Creed but Christ." Rather, it should be "No Creed but Christ's Creed."
Sincerely in Christ’s Service,