Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sermon texts for May 2009

May 3 Luke 14:25-35 -- Discipleship re-defined
May 10 Luke 15 -- To seek and save that which was lost...
May 17 Luke 16:1-15 -- How much have you been entrusted with?
May 24 Luke 16:16-18 -- The difficulty of the law
May 31 Luke 16:19-31 -- We have enough!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Congratulations to Laura!

Big congratulations to an old friend of mine, Laura Story. Laura’s album, Great God Who Saves, just won a Dove Award for Inspirational Album of the Year, 2009.

Back in “the day” (when I was in college), Laura and I were on a Young Life team together for a year or so. Laura was also in a band called Silers Bald (not to be confused with the mountain peak, from which the band got its name). I did some photography for some of Silers Bald’s early CDs, and got to know them quite well. I can remember how Laura was nervous about singing at first; for a long time, Silers Bald was fronted by a girl with a powerful voice named Holly Anderson, and Laura was (initially) intimidated about singing on the same stage as Holly. She’s come a long way since then!

These days, Laura leads worship for Perimeter Church in Atlanta, a PCA congregation. She also puts out awesome albums. Laura wrote the song, “Indescribable” which has become one of
the big worship songs in the last several years. Laura’s scheduled to do a concert at this year’s PCA General Assembly, which I’m looking forward to.

Here’s a video about Laura, including some clips from her award-winning release:

Laura, I’m proud of you! Congratulations!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Culture War problems...

These are such helpful quotes from David Gordon on the “Culture War”-- i.e., the attempt by Christians to get the world around them to conform to biblical principles:

The culture warrior refuses to acknowledge that true and significant cultural change can happen only when the individual members of the culture have forsaken their own self-centeredness, and have revolted against their revolt against God. Worse, the culture warrior assumes that coerced change in behavior is desirable-- that if we can pass a law that outlaws sin, this will somehow make people and culture better (when, in fact, we just become more devious and learn how to evade detection, adding deception to our other sins).


Such a view is contrary to everything the Bible teaches that its prevalence must be account for as a kind of blindness that is due to misplaced patriotism... The particular blindness of the culture warrior is that he permits himself to think God is pleased by coerced behavior; by requiring people to say, “one nation, under God” even if they do not yet believe in God (which strikes me as an instance of taking the Lord’s name in vain). The culture warrior’s religion and his patriotism are in conflict. His Christianity teaches him that God is not pleased with mere external confession of insincere religious faith; but his patriotism just cannot accept the fact that his culture is moving in directions of which he disapproves. He desires to be proud of his nation; and he therefore concludes (wrongly, in my estimation) that it is better to have a public display of commitment to Christianity that is the result of coercion than to have a decline in the public display of commitment to Christianity.


Haven’t we already had a historical experiment that is precisely what the culture warriors want? Wasn’t ancient Israel a nation whose constitution demanded obedience to the revealed laws of God, and didn’t its executive branch use coercion to attain such obedience? Did Israel not, effectively, have the Ten Commandments in its courthouse? Yet which prophet ever had anything good to say about the nation? ...If theocracy didn’t work in Israel, where God divinely instituted it, why do people insist on believing it will work in places where God manifestly has not instituted it?

[T David Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Preach (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Books, 2009), pp. 86-88.]

These are so good, and hit precisely at the root of the problem of the culture war.

My only concern is this: at the end of the second quote block, Gordon asserts that the culture warrior’s Christianity teaches him not to believe that God is pleased with mere external display of religious faithfulness (absent any true inward faith). But I’m not sure that this is something we can uniformly rely upon in today’s church.

What do you think: can we rightly assume that
every church, or even most churches, regularly and faithfully teach that outward religious living alone is not enough?

Laugh or cry?

This is fun-- and also such a waste of time and resources! Or is it, if it is that much fun for the participants?

(HT: Johnathan)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Books, first quarter 2009

Well, I’ve been slacking on the book list thing. Here’s what I’ve done in the first quarter of this year:
  • Philip Yancey, Prayer. Good content, mostly, and written for a lay-level like the rest of Yancey’s stuff. There are a few points I can’t agree with theologically, but they are only a few in this large and comprehensive book. (7)
  • Scot McKnight, Fasting. Great book on fasting, which is a too-neglected subject in our day. McKnight’s work is solid here; I consider this a must-read for Christians looking to further their spiritual formation. (9+)
  • Hank Hanegraaff, Christianity in Crisis, 21st Century edition. I read the first version, and found this one as useful and interesting. Hanegraaff has tackled a difficult subject, and exposes the false teachings and dangers of the TV prosperity preachers of today. Look for a detailed review to come. (8+)
  • Tony Morgan, Killing Cockroaches. This was a good book, if a little odd. Another that I’ll review in greater detail soon. (7+)
  • Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers. Gladwell always floors me, and this one was great as expected. It wasn’t quite to the level of The Tipping Point or Blink, but he’s still out-writing and out-thinking 99% of the other writers out there. It’s about how certain people emerge to great levels of success and achievement while others don’t, employing novel and thoughtful theories from Gladwell. (9+)
  • Michael F. Ross, Preaching for Revitalization. This one was fine-- even good, at times. Ross loves the Puritans, it is clear, and dips his toe into the “if only we could be like the Puritans, all would be right in the world” waters a bit too often. However, he tackles an important topic and offers good counsel in many ways. (7)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sermon texts for April 2009

Update: I accommodated my changes for the last two weeks.

April 5 Luke 23:34 -- Jesus prayed for our forgiveness (Palm Sunday)
April 12 Mark 15:34 -- Jesus suffered for our suffering (Easter-- sunrise service)
April 12 Luke 23:46 -- Jesus died our death to gain our resurrection (Easter-- 11am service)
April 19 Luke 13:17-35 -- Who will be in the Kingdom?
April 26 Luke 14:1-24 -- A banquet for the unlovable

Where I've been...

  • I put an X by the states I have been to. The average is 8; how do you match up?
  • * Alabama X
  • * Alaska
  • * Arizona
  • * Arkansas X
  • * California X
  • * Colorado
  • * Connecticut X
  • * Delaware
  • * Florida X
  • * Georgia X
  • * Hawaii
  • * Idaho
  • * Illinois X
  • * Indiana X
  • * Iowa
  • * Kansas
  • * Kentucky X
  • * Louisiana X
  • * Maine X
  • * Maryland X
  • * Massachusetts X
  • * Michigan X
  • * Minnesota
  • * Mississippi
  • * Missouri X
  • * Montana
  • * Nebraska
  • * Nevada
  • * New Hampshire
  • * New Jersey
  • * New Mexico
  • * New York X
  • * North Carolina X
  • * North Dakota
  • * Ohio X
  • * Oklahoma
  • * Oregon
  • * Pennsylvania X
  • * Rhode Island
  • * South Carolina X
  • * South Dakota
  • * Tennessee X
  • * Texas X
  • * Utah
  • * Vermont
  • * Virginia X
  • * Washington
  • * Washington D.C. X
  • * West Virginia X
  • * Wisconsin
  • * Wyoming

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Two things I like about the PCA

There are lots of things I like about the PCA. Two things that have come to mind recently, both of which seem to be on the rise, and both of which make me quite content to minister in the PCA, are these. We could do a much better job at both, and there is plenty of room for growth. Still, I love these:
  • Striving to be inclusive when we don’t have to be exclusive. There is a certain required exclusivity in the church, and the Gospel presents that clearly. I’m OK with that. And I certainly acknowledge that there is a very vocal minority in the PCA that would prefer that we be as exclusive as we can be. But it seems to me that the majority (and a growing majority, at that) strives for being inclusive when we do not have to be exclusive. This is an encouraging counterpoint to dangerous sectarianism, and makes the PCA a friendlier environment to minister (and, incidentally, a friendlier place to hear the Gospel and get converted!).
  • Willingness to admit when we’re wrong. The Westminster Confession of Faith says plainly, “All synods or councils, since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both” (WCF 31.4). The more we remind ourselves of this, the better-- this sort of humility ought to ooze out of our meetings of Session, Presbytery, and General Assembly. I love the fact that this is a part of our confessional standards, and that I see more and more men in the PCA approaching their leadership with this spirit.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Suspicion on the basis of difference

Not long ago, I was talking with an acquaintance about the liturgy at Hickory Withe Presbyterian Church. I specifically mentioned that we were beginning to make use of the liturgical calendar more intentionally. He wrinkled his nose, furrowed his brow, and replied, “I don’t know... that’s sort of like the Roman Catholic and orthodox churches.”

I said, “Sort of.”

He responded, “But aren’t you a Presbyterian church?”

Even though we talked about it for a few more minutes, I could tell the conversation was over at this point.

This fellow, and many like him, approach such matters from the same perspective: they are inherently suspicious of anyone-- or anything-- that is different from what they understand and practice. In this case, his experiences and personal practices had suggested to him that all Presbyterians had plain, unadorned, even stoic worship that varied not by season nor circumstance. Therefore, he concluded, any church that diverged from this path, even though they may be Presbyterian, was not practicing proper Presbyterian worship. They-- and in this case,
we-- must be in error.

Why must this be the case? Is it so that the Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox are
utterly wrong? Could it be possible that they might teach and/or practice some things with which we might disagree, but not all things? Couldn’t the same thing be true of other Christian traditions?

When faced with questions such as these, I’ve found that “Suspicion because of difference” will grant my premises. Yet, when it comes to actually practicing this, they have no interest, and in fact they are sometimes fearful.

This is natural, I think: we are all fearful of what we don’t know and understand. Most of us are insecure enough to interpret differences as a conscious and active condemnation of
our point of view, rather than simply a thoughtful and purposeful acceptance of another point of view. And we are prideful enough to look on something that is different from what we do, think, or feel as wrong by default.

But we must be careful when our default position is to be suspicious of something simply because it is different. Look at it this way: most, if not all, of how you spend your time today, what you think about, and the beliefs that you hold, are inherently different from what you did, thought, or believed a decade or two ago. In many of us, the differences are drastic-- and we are grateful that they are! In fact, if someone cannot honestly say that this is at least somewhat true of them-- that they are a good bit different today than 10 years ago-- then they either aren’t being honest with themselves or they haven’t demonstrated any personal growth over that time.

If I, 10 years ago, had met the “me” from today, would I even recognize myself? Would I be suspicious of the differences I saw in this other person? If that is true of me-- and you-- then shouldn’t we give those who are different from us some benefit of the doubt?

What are we looking for when we demand conformity to our own images in this way? Are we simply looking for affirmation? Are we attending to some deep insecurities that cause us to second-guess ourselves, and therefore others as well?

Or are we asking for some
shibboleth that Scripture itself doesn’t require? Tim Keller once said, “No matter where you are, there is someone to your right, as it were, who thinks you sold out the Gospel.” Is this what we’re getting at when we get so suspicious so quickly?

Two nights ago I had a conversation with someone who noted that, in visiting a different Presbyterian church, he had observed a surprising number of things that harkened back to Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and Roman Catholic practices. He was surprised.

“Why?” I asked him. “I think John Calvin and Martin Luther would have wanted it that way.”

“Do you really think so?” He asked.

“Yes-- after all, Luther and Calvin didn’t want to
not be Roman Catholic-- they simply wanted the Roman Catholic church to be biblically faithful.”

But we forget that. And we forget that our differences-- whether they be about worship practices, liturgical calendars, theologies of baptism, or how actively we must pursue a certain social agenda-- ought not be something that we are inherently suspicious of.

One of my favorite TV shows was (and is!) The West Wing. In one episode, a group of Chinese refugees were trying to flee religious persecution in their homeland, and President Bartlett (played by Martin Sheen) was seeking affirmation that they were legitimately Christians and not just being coached. Meanwhile, China is demanding that the refugees be returned.

Instructive. After all, this is the sum of it, and any further shibboleth that I construct is wrong. Let’s be a bit less suspicious.*

*Don’t get me wrong here: I’m not suggesting that it is wrong to have theological standards for, say, ordination-- but simply that when I don’t “get” the way another Christian practices their faith, I must be careful not to assume that their faith therefore isn’t real.