Monday, June 30, 2008

Quick thoughts on the Psalms

We’re just back from vacation, and as I wind down I thought I would throw out a couple of thoughts about the Psalms I had while driving home. These are motivated from things I saw and heard during our trip.

First, unlike the rest of Scripture the numbers don’t represent chapters; they represent the Psalms themselves. Thus, it is not correct to say, “I’ll read from Psalms 23, verse 2” because that would connote that you’re reading from chapter 23 of the Psalms. In fact, you are reading from Psalm #23, or simply Psalm 23 (note the lack of a plural “s” on the end). By the way, it’s the same in your hymnals: you aren’t turning to page so-and-so, but hymn # so-and-so.

Next: someone was telling me about what they do in their worship service (as far as readings go), and they said, “we have an Old Testament reading, a reading from Psalms, and a New Testament reading.” I’ve also heard before someone describing their devotional practice thusly: “I read a chapter from the Old Testament, a Psalm, a Proverb, and a chapter from the New Testament daily.” Here’s the thing, folks: Psalms is a part of the Old Testament! (So is Proverbs, incidentally.) So it is redandant and unclear to say, “we have an Old Testament reading and a reading from the Psalms.” I assume that these are two separate readings; one from the Psalms and one from another part-- perhaps the historical books? Or the major or minor prophets? It’s great that your liturgy includes two Old Testament readings, and that there is a weekly reading from the Psalms. And it would also be helpful to more accurately describe the other reading. (If it sounds like I’m nit-picking, realize that this person said something about this several times in the conversation, leading me to believe that it wasn’t just a semantic mistake.)

Finally, the Psalms include a peculiar aspect that isn’t present anywhere else in Scripture: they have verses that aren’t numbered. At the beginning of many Psalms, there will be a comment that reads something like, “a Psalm of ascents” or “to be sung to the tune of ‘Doe of the morning’” or somesuch. These comments are part of the original text, and are a part of the inspired Scripture just like the rest of the verses. During my vacation I heard a sermon on one of the Psalms, and this pastor included this unnumbered verse in his reading; but I have heard many other people (including some pastors) read a Psalm in its entirety, only skipping over this opening comment. It’s part of the text! So it should be read and considered just like the rest of the text. (The numbers to the Psalms are NOT part of the original, inspired text.)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

First wedding

My friend Paul commented that it has been a long time without a blog post-- right you are, Paul, and I do beg your forgiveness. What folks in my congregation know (but you blog readers of course have no way of knowing) is that I’ve been on vacation all week, having come to South Carolina to visit my family and friends and participate in a wedding.

In fact, we’ve just returned from the wedding a few moments ago (or from the reception, actually). My dear friend who was married today is someone I knew since before she was old enough to be in my youth group, and part of a family that considers me to be something of an adopted member. Her father, also a PCA pastor, and three other pastors-- including me-- officiated in the wedding today, so we tied the knot really tightly. Congratulations, Suzanna and Johnathan.

I’m delighted to report that my small part in the wedding went fine. I was asked to do the prayer of invocation only, which is an admittedly straightforward and fairly simple portion. Still, ever since seeing
Four Weddings and a Funeral I’ve been concerned that my first wedding-- or part of a wedding-- might possibly present similar problems. Not so today, so perhaps I’ve avoided the “first wedding jitters” or what-have-you.

And so, in honor of the bride and groom, Johnathan and Suzanna Stenbeck; in honor of my first wedding being behind me; and as an effort to apologize for not blogging this week; I offer you the following, for your viewing and laughing pleasure:

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Cheesy lawyer ads

Do you get as tired of seeing these guys on TV hawking their “law services” to any of us who might remotely fall into an action class? This modern-day version of ambulance chasing gets under my skin. Consider this an open response to these hucksters.

First of all: why would I hire you instead of calling someone I actually know (who is at least remotely connected to the field of law) and asking for a referral? If your answer is, “because you know my face from TV” then you’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid too long.

Second: how did you decide that this-- marketing yourself as someone who takes advantage of others’ difficulties-- was a good career for you? Are you aware that you come across as slimy and opportunist, and most people (if they don’t ignore you) consider you and the services you offer to be about two notches lower than the seedy used car salesman stereotype? Surely someone has cared enough to tell you this before, but if not, I’m Simon Cowell enough to do so now.

Finally: you should be aware that I (and, hopefully, others like me) will urge anyone I know NOT to employ your services. As a Pastor, I’m convicted that the biblical passages that urge Christians not to take one another to court applies today; further, I believe that when legal action is necessary, it should be as uncontentious as possible. My instincts tell me that your approach would be at the far-opposite end of the spectrum, and you would go for as much contention as you could muster. I generally believe that our culture is far too letigious, and I think the positions and attitudes that you represent have greatly contributed to that.

In closing, I offer the excellent commentary from my man Remy, who astutely points out everything that is wrong with your commercials. Watch and learn:

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Heroic sportsmanship

It’s both exciting and moving to see people do the right thing in a difficult situation (or when they don’t stand to gain from it, and possibly will be disadvantaged by it). To find examples is always a delight-- and never more so than in this account of a few earnest and pure softball players. Maybe you’ve heard about this already-- but check out the great exposé that ESPN (I think) did on the story.

Between Two Worlds

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sermon texts for June 2008

Here are the sermon texts for the month of June. The one exception is the last Sunday; I'll be in South Carolina on that Sunday, so we will have a guest preacher.

UPDATE: I’ve changed my text for Sunday, 6/22.

June 1 Luke 5:12-16-- A Gospel for Outcasts
June 8 Luke 5:17-26-- Spiritual Healing
June 15 Luke 5:27-39-- A Call to Sinners
June 22 James 5:19-20-- Wandering souls
June 28 Guest Preacher: Justin Westmoreland

Monday, June 16, 2008

Not taking ourselves too seriously

At the recommendation of my St. Louis friend Steve Hughes, I started watching Last Comic Standing on NBC this summer. Funny stuff-- I’ve always enjoyed stand-up comedy, and this is a fun reality show.

On the first show, a pair came on that really hit on something good. They present themselves as a “Christian folk duo with a message” and (after looking them up on the web) I think they really are Christians who are also comedians and want to poke fun at the sub-culture that has, sadly, emerged as perhaps representative of Christianity in our world. Here’s their first clip:

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Squaring our shoulders forward

I’ve mentioned before (twice: here and here) that a significant issue facing this year’s General Assembly was the question of women and how they fit into diaconal ministry. In what my friend Steven Estock called “the year of the woman,” there were no less than five overtures before the assembly that spoke to this matter, most of them asking the assembly to erect a study committee that would apply high-level scholarship to the issue.

After some substantial discussion (and some interesting moves of parliamentary procedure), the primary overture (and the rest as well, as related overtures) was answered in the negative (in other words, we voted against it) on the grounds that:

...the presbyteries should work through the implications in their own local contexts.

Their response was centered around the basis that the overtures were intended essentially to amend the Book of Church Order, and they pointed out that there are processes to amend the BCO that don’t require the time and resources of a study committee.

Already there is quite a bit of stir about this decision. Some will continue to debate the matter in a way that suggests that the vote hasn’t yet happened. Others will continue to insist that the questions being asked are such simple matters that the motives of the questioners must be suspect. (For a glimpse of some of this, you might read some of
the responses to ByFaith’s report of the decision.)

While I’m disappointed with the vote, I don’t think either of these responses is the most helpful or appropriate. Part of our presbyterianism-- a large part, actually-- is that we acknowledge that God works through His body, at least as much as (if not more than) through individual believers. So we need to trust that, if the assembly voted against this overture, God has good purposes for that.

What’s before us, then, is to receive the advice and instruction of the assembly and take up study of the issue in the lower bodies. I’m sure many are already beginning to do exactly this-- I certainly am-- and I’ll be curious to see how many overtures are presented next year with, not just questions about the issue that MIGHT lead to an amendment, but actual amendments.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Surprising things from General Assembly

I’m at the PCA’s General Assembly this week, which means I’m enjoying a week of visiting with old friends and new, gathering resources, ministering to friends and acquaintances, and meeting with over 1000 delegates to handle some important decisions for our denomination.

Over the week, here are a few things that I’ve noticed, heard, or been a part of that I’ve found delightfully surprising (I’ll update this list as the week goes on):
  • I served on the Committee of Commissioners (which essentially serves to audit the minutes and reports of the agencies of the denomination) for Covenant Theological Seminary. Our committee invited Bryan Chapell, who is the president of the seminary, to share with us any personal and pastoral needs and concerns that he, his family, and the community of the seminary may have. Let me add, this was a sweet and touching time. Here’s the surprising thing: Dr. Chapell said that no one (which I take to mean no committee) had ever asked him about that.
  • Friends old and new: I’ve seen three friends that I’ve known since high school or earlier, two of whom are pastors and one is the wife of a pastor. I’ve also seen and met with two friends who I have gotten to know over the past months and years only through my blogs and through e-mail exchanges.
  • Gary Campbell, who is the director of the PCA’s Retirement and Benefits, Inc. agency, was extended a pay increase that was reported on in the assembly. Here’s the surprise: Gary actually asked the board to REDUCE the pay increase that he was offered, out of concern that the resources of that agency be best utilized. The good news also is that the board refused to reduce it, recognizing that this act was a microcosmic representation of why Gary deserves a pay increase in the first place.
  • Presbyterians eat, right? And I’ve shared every meal with a friend, classmate, or new acquaintance. Here’s the fun surprise: my generous and hospitable friends have bought most of my meals, and I’ve actually only paid for one meal so far (as of Thursday morning). For that one, I took the opportunity to buy my companion’s meal, so that I could pass along the goodwill and hospitality. UPDATE: well, the trend continued. All told, I bought three meals all week. May I take this opportunity to say, THANKS! to all my friends who were so gracious.
  • Dr. Kooistra (who served as moderator for this assembly) is quite witty, and was able to bring an element of fun and lightheartedness even to some of the more serious discussion. It was wonderful to see this man of such stature and accomplishment not take himself too seriously (while not belittling the tasks or discussions before him, either).

Friday, June 6, 2008

Bits & Tidbits, 6/6/08

A few links and fun stuff for the weekend:

Thursday, June 5, 2008

So, I entered a drawing...

There's a contest (or drawing... is there a difference?) that I entered on another blog. The idea is this: this other blogger is giving away 20 sets of 18 CDs, apparently provided to her by WOW-- which is a group that produces compilation CDs of Christian music. (HT: Megan)

Who knows if I'll win? But if I do, it'll be an interesting experiment. I haven't listened to very much "Christian" music for years. The only musicians who market themselves as "Christian music" that I've bought in the last decade are: Wes King, Andrew Peterson, Bob Bennett, Michael Card, and Bebo Norman.

I'm sure there's some decent stuff out there, but I can't bring myself to listen to the local Christian music radio station to find it-- and there wasn't a Christian music radio station in St. Louis, even if I had wanted to. (I know-- hard to believe, isn't it?) So this is an opportunity for me to be re-introduced to what's worth listening to.

Here's an interesting twist: of the 17 artists listed in the give-away, five of them are names that I have bought before (over a decade ago): Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Newsboys, Third Day, and Point of Grace. They either have aged well, or the Christian music being offered today sounds surprisingly like early 90s pop. You decide...

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Books for May 2008

The Work of the Pastor by William Still (re-read). This brief volume is a help, challenge, and rebuke for all of us. Still, who pastored a single flock in Scotland for 51 years, here presents the sum of the pastor's duties, distilling it down to the essence of shepherding and feeding the lambs on the Word of God. For such a short book, there is much to be found here, and it is one of those books I believe should make its way into the rotation of every pastor. (10)

Wiring a House by Rex Cauldwell. Yes, I actually read this book cover-to-cover. And, in fact, I thought it was a great read. When I was in seminary, a friend who was a former electrician taught me how to wire lights and outlets; now, as I face the work of our attic renovation, I realized that I had a bit more wiring to do than simply a light socket here and there. This book answered every question I had remaining, and gave me the knowledge and confidence to move ahead with the electrical part of the job without fear (or at least without more fear than is a healthy amount when working with electricity). This writer is a seasoned Master Electrician, and he does a great job of telling the industry secrets while introducing concept after concept in a very readable and didactic manner. He also goes the extra mile with "Above Code" comments in every chapter, telling you where the code standards aren't quite enough for one reason or another. A great book, and a must-read for me in my current status as part-time contractor! (9)

With Reverence and Awe by D.G. Hart and John R. Muether. This book, subtitled, "Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship," was a difficult read for me. I agreed with 90% of the content, and found it engaging in that manner; however, I agreed with about 30% of the tone-- how they brought about communicating their ideas. Like most forms of communication, tone matters so much when conveying sometimes difficult and/or confronting content. Even though they claim not to do this (of course they would!), there was also a little edge of "if you're not worshiping like us, then you're not worshiping the way God wants you to" in the book; that sort of arrogance gets under my skin quickly, even in small doses. There is some good content in this book, and they do a fair job of driving the discussion toward the Scriptures-- it might be worth reading just as an introduction to relevant biblical texts for thinking about worship (though other books do a better job at that). (5)

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero (re-read). I first read this book a few years ago, but decided that it might be, well, healthy to read it again. It was just as good. Scazzero deals with a difficult subject honestly, with clarity, and with practicality. He discusses what emotional health is (on a primarily individual level), and how a church might (or any relational group) might embody good emotional health. While there are some shortcomings in the book, and while I want for more help and information on some of the points (another post on this is coming), I'd like to think that every church CAN aspire to what Scazzero sets forth as something like an ideal. (8+)

Ruling Elder by Leonard Van Horn. Here's a (very) brief little booklet that is great for orienting Elder candidates to the office. It is quite basic, offering a short examination of three questions: Are you called to be an Elder? What is your view of the church? Are you qualified to be an Elder? Van Horn works through each competently. By no means is this little book sufficient for all officer training needs! But I plan to use it as a give-away to all nominees (in complement to the training they are already receiving) to help guide them in considering their nomination. (8)

Framing Floors, Walls, and Ceilings by the editors of Fine Homebuilding. You can tell by the fact that I read two books on home remodeling-type subjects that I'm in the midst of a big project at the house! Unfortunately, this one wasn't nearly as good as the one above. It looks to be essentially a compilation of articles by these editors, all of which are moderately helpful. But because this one was cobbled together-- rather than written step-by-step with comprehensive planning involved, like Wiring a House was-- there are big holes of information. Since I've done some basic building and remodeling before, I was mostly able to follow along; someone with no experience in this area would easily get lost. I'll still use this for reference at times, but it's likely that I'll look for another (better) book on the subject to round out my knowledge-base. (4)