Monday, June 29, 2009


Here’s a great and amazing video. It offers a redemptive view of a tragic circumstance.

What I love about this short account is that these believers aren’t pie-in-the-sky about their faith or passé about their situation. They are simply grateful for what God has given them, and for the hope that He has redeemed, is redeeming, and will redeem this broken world.

I’m undone.

(HT: Glen)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Full of Christ

“You cannot be full of self and be full of Christ at the same time.”

~Paul Kooistra, in his sermon to the 37
th General Assembly of the PCA

Monday, June 22, 2009

Prayer 10: resources for learning to pray the Scriptures

I was challenged in college, and again in seminary (sometimes I’m hard-headed) to learn to pray the Scriptures. I’ve since found this a valuable and rich way to pray.

When we pray the Scriptures, we know that God approves of our prayers-- after all, we are praying His words back to Him! It can take some getting used to, however, to learn to do this. Also, we actually have to KNOW the Scriptures fairly well in order to be able to pray them!

I recommend the following as great places to start in learning to pray the Scriptures:
  • Face to Face, volumes 1 and 2, by Kenneth Boa-- these two volumes (subtitled “praying the Scriptures for intimate worship” and “praying the Scriptures for spiritual growth”) are set up in a daily devotional style, with each day (three months’ worth) including a prayer of adoration, confession, renewal, petition, intercession, affirmation, thanksgiving, and a closing prayer. (All Scripture passages are printed out, so it’s a great way to get acquainted with more Scripture, as well.)
  • Praying the Scriptures by Evan B. Howard-- while Boa’s books are designed to thrust you directly into praying the Scriptures, Howard gives a greater introduction to different types of biblical text, as well as different types of prayers, and how we find the two converging. This is much more of a “how-to” book, and gives a lot of insight into approach and method.
  • Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer by Eugene Peterson-- much more like Howard’s book than any of the others, Peterson walks us through different facets of the Psalms and discusses how these become prayerful tools. He focuses on things like language, story, rhythm, and liturgy (to name a few) and unpacks what they bring to our prayer life. Peterson has such a pastoral style that this book is an easy read; he has such rich insight that it will change how you read (and pray) the psalms.
  • Praying the Psalms: A Commentary by Stanley L. Jaki-- this book is just what the title suggests: one by one, Jaki works through the Psalms and draws out themes of prayer that are found within them. While there is some take-away in terms of how a psalm might be our prayer, Jaki focuses more on how any given psalm was the prayer of the one who wrote it. This is valuable insight, and protects us from taking a psalm out of its scriptural context and making it into something else.

Friday, June 19, 2009

G.A. 2009 follow-up

I’m back from General Assembly.

Before I left, I offered my hopes and expectations; here’s a follow-up:

Expectations and Anticipations:
  • Fellowship-- This was great, of course. I saw many guys I was eager to see, and a number of guys I wish I had time to visit with. Last year I missed most of the floor activity because I was with people; this year I devoted more attention to the floor, at the expense of the fellowship. Still, it was great.
  • Worship-- This was great also. My friend Greg literally blew everyone away-- some guy shouted, “now that was preaching!” from the back of the assembly hall when he was done. The rest was great too.
  • Doulos Resources-- I am pleased to report that we got Doulos Resources off the ground, and more. This is really going to be a great endeavor.
  • Seminars-- My seminar went very well. I actually only went to one other seminar, but I’m grateful that they are/will be available online.
  • BCO Amendment-- I missed this part of the reports, but from what I heard and saw it was never addressed. That’s because not all presbyteries have reported their votes on the matter, and it takes a 2/3 majority vote of ALL presbyteries to pass a BCO amendment. Hopefully it will pass by next year.
  • Overtures-- As usual, the overtures portion of the floor activities were the best-attended and most interesting, as well as the most contentious. There was an amendment to the BCO which had a number of difficulties, but it passed. The Overtures Committee recommended to answer the overture about the women’s ministry study committee in the negative-- which means they recommended that we NOT erect a study committee. A “minority report” was offered in favor of erecting the study committee. (This is exactly what happened in the 2008 G.A., as well.) The minority report was defeated by less than 20 votes, and in the end that overture was answered in the negative (no study committee). We’ll see this one again next year, I’m certain.
  • Ridgehaven-- This was basically a non-starter. Last year’s G.A. installed an audit committee who have basically turned the ship around for Ridgehaven, and they are now in the black and on a healthy trajectory, at the expense of salary cuts and removing most executive staff. Still, Ridgehaven remains intact as a ministry of the PCA, and that ain’t nothin’.
  • Brotherhood-- Prevailed. I sensed a greater spirit of brotherhood than before, even in the debates. We have a long way to go, but we’ve also come a long way.
If you’d like to read a great analysis from someone else’s view, check out Joel Belz’s “Closing Comments” at ByFaith online.

Friday, June 12, 2009

General Assembly 2009-- hopes and expectations

The PCA’s 37th General Assembly is next week. I’ll be attending (which means I won’t be blogging!-- see you soon), and there are a number of things I have hopes and expectations about. I thought I would offer them here.

Expectations and Anticipations:
  • Fellowship-- General Assembly is always a great season of fellowship for me. I see guys I haven’t seen in a while, even years; meet new people and get to know others better. I love this part of G.A., even though (as in introvert) it is exhausting!
  • Worship-- the worship at G.A. is always great. This year, one of my very good friends, Greg Thompson, will be preaching for one of the evening worship services. Greg and I were in college together, and have remained close friends ever since. Greg is a fantastic preacher, and I love his vision for the PCA, so I have great expectations about this.
  • Doulos Resources-- I have been working with a few others to begin a ministry called Doulos Resources, and we will have our first annual Board meeting to incorporate at this General Assembly. I’m excited about the opportunities this ministry offers, and about working together with these men for Kingdom-minded ministry.
  • Seminars-- there are always a number of great seminars offered as a part of G.A., and this year is no different. The discussion between Ligon Duncan and Tim Keller on “deaconing women” should be great. A few others I’m looking forward to are: Paul Tripp on the Already and Not Yet; Ken Sande’s lectures on Peacemaking; and Steve Smallman on the continuum of evangelism and discipleship. Oh yeah-- I’m doing a seminar, too.
  • BCO Amendment-- there is an amendment of the Book of Church Order of the PCA under consideration that would allow Pastors to use variations of the questions for membership, rather than requiring their precise language. I think this is a great step in the right direction, and I don’t believe it weakens any adherence to the standards for membership at all. I hope this vote will pass.
  • Overtures-- there are a bunch of overtures on hand for things like forming new presbyteries, etc. Of course, I hope (and trust) that these will pass. But the overtures I’m most interested in (and so, likely, are most folks) are #5, 10, 13, and 15 which deal with women’s roles in diaconal and other ministry; and #2, 4, 8, 9, and 14, which are all proposed amendments to the BCO that I think are all valuable. I’d really like to see a study committee erected for the women’s roles and diaconal ministry, etc.-- last year’s rejection felt like a procedural matter, not one that had substance. As I said then, many will offer the counter-argument that “we have already decided this issue-- it’s in the BCO”-- but what became clear at last year’s G.A. is that some of the best minds disagree about just how clear the BCO is on the subject, and more work needs to be done to offer pastoral clarification.
  • Ridgehaven-- I think Ridgehaven is probably the best-kept secret of the PCA, and a few things came up at last year’s G.A. that suggested that there might be some trouble for this fine ministry. Since then, the long-time director has stepped down, and I know they have been in debt for over a year. I’m concerned about the future of Ridgehaven as a ministry of the PCA, and I hope that steps will be taken to protect and help that ministry thrive. I’ll be serving on the Committee of Commissioners for Ridgehaven, so I’ll probably get my answers before the assembly actually begins.
  • Brotherhood-- perhaps my greatest hope and prayer is for ever-increasing brotherhood among the commissioners. Every assembly of recent years has included an issue or two of substance, and one over which it is easy to become emotional. I long to see an attitude of love, deference, dignity, and humility embodied by all who participate in G.A.-- starting with myself.
Are you going to General Assembly? If not, you might tune in to check it out-- for the past several years, they have webcasted the whole thing! Check in here or here to find webcasts. Whether you are going, watching webcasts, or none of the above, please join me in praying for this year’s General Assembly.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Improv Anywhere

A while back, I mentioned my friend and high school classmate Charlie Todd, who has been quite successful at developing a name for himself in the improv world with his planned pranks at Improv Everywhere.

Charlie’s still at it, now with
a book and even an appearance on the Today Show:

Congratulations, Charlie!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The pace of ministry

We have an antique rocking chair at home that has been in my family for generations. I remember it sitting in my grandmother’s living room for years, with this blue flannel blanket draped over it. After that, it found its way into a barn for a season, before landing in my apartment before I was married. It has been in my possession since.

This particular rocker has a cane seat and back, which makes it
very comfortable to sit in. Unfortunately, it also means that the cane periodically wears out. I remember my mother having the back re-caned after recovering it from the barn, before it became mine. Early in our marriage, the seat also wore out. When a caned seat or back wears out, the result is a hole that unweaves more and more until essentially you have nothing to sit or lean on-- so the chair went back into storage for a long time.

Recently, though, I’ve been working on restoring it. I decided to do the caning myself, and even received a few special caning tools as a Christmas present last year. This process has been interesting, and a good metaphor for ministry, I think.

The cane seat of this rocker is held in place by a “spline” which is glued and wedged into a channel that goes around the entire seat. Replacing the cane means removing the old spline and installing a new one with the new cane. The work I’ve been doing so far has been mostly removing this spline.

You should know this about caning and splines: if they’re done well, they are VERY difficult to remove. Naturally, you don’t want the spline simply slipping out and the seat collapsing on you! Thus, getting the old one out is an intense act of labor, where I take a very small chisel and, little by little, begin removing parts of the old spline.

I had to start by finding the end, then gradually working the chisel under it. Once it was wedged in there, I pried out what I could, as gently as I could. From there, I worked my way around. At times, I had to shave off a little at a time until I got to the bottom of the spline. At other times, I had to work the edge away from the carcass of the chair, or split the spline with a larger chisel, or use a razor-blade to trim away parts. Underneath the spline is a good bit of glue, which also must be removed.

At the same time, I must be very careful with the carcass of the chair. While the old spline will be discarded and completely replaced, if I’m not careful I could do serious damage to the body of the chair. A slip of the chisel, or too much pressure from gripping in the wrong place, and my antique could break beyond repair. I also have to be careful with myself: my chisel slipped off of the spline and dug into the pad of my thumb once; now I’m cautious about where I place my hands!

This is laborious work. Sometimes it is quite rough and even violent. At other times it requires extraordinary gentleness. There are times when I must work for a while on an area, then leave it for another area out of frustration. Real, substantial progress is measured in inches and fractions of inches. All of it-- every shave of the chisel-- has a significant part in a larger end-goal.

From my point of view, this is what real ministry is like.

It is slow-paced and careful. It takes a long time. Real progress is made in very incremental ways. It can be frustrating. It can be rough and even painful, but most of the time requires gentleness-- and even the rough parts must be done with care.

Yet, all of it has a part in a larger purpose. And if that purpose is kept in view, every shave of the chisel is worth it.

I finished removing the spline last night. I have just a little glue left to remove, and then I’ll be able to replace the cane seating. I’ll post a picture when I’m done-- may it be a picture of the worthiness of a slow and careful ministry.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Prayer 9: what should we pray for?

John Piper wrote a piece way back in ’95 that covers this question by looking at what the early church prayed for. Piper identified 35 different topics, which included:
  • They called on God to exalt His name in the world.
  • They called on God for boldness in proclamation
  • They called on God for the healing of unbelievers
  • They called on God for unity and harmony in the ranks
  • They called on God for forgiveness for their sins
Read the whole article here.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


I’ve noticed, actually for several years now, that many believers have eschewed the label “Christian” in favor of “Christ-Follower”.

Now, there are some valid reasons for wanting to distance oneself from a label that has taken on too much baggage. In the earlier half of the 20
th century, those who wished to define themselves as faithful to Scripture as the inerrant, inspired Word of God called themselves “fundamentalists”; yet today that term is used almost as a slander, even by Christians. The term “evangelical” seems to be moving in a similar direction: it has become so broad as to mean very little, and now you have churches whose name (or even whose denominational name) includes the word “evangelical” who are actually the very antithesis of what the word was/is supposed to mean, and some folks talking about being “post-evangelical”.

But this new shift-- from “Christian” to “Christ-follower”-- is different. And maybe even a bit dangerous.

On the one hand, there are many in the Gospels who are called “followers of Christ” who, in fact, were not Christians; instead, they followed Jesus because they wanted to be a part of the masses who followed Him, or because they misunderstood His role as Messiah (and they wanted a military or political leader), or because they found the trappings of this world too great for them to take up their crosses as He called them to do. Jesus Himself seems, at times, to distinguish between being a “follower” and a “disciple” though this distinction is somewhat ambiguous.

And that’s a big part of the problem: when we simply talk about being a “follower” of Christ, where is the boundary drawn? Those who align themselves with His movement? Those who appreciate His philosophies and moral teachings? Or those who are regenerate, who have saving faith in Him because of the Holy Spirit? All three of these categories are, at different times in the Gospels, called “followers of Christ”.

On the other hand, when we decide that the term “Christian” is something to abandon, we must realize that we have abandoned a Bible word, not just a convenient label. Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28, and 1 Peter 4:16 all employ the word “Christian” to describe those who, in faith, are saved by grace through Christ alone. This suggests to me that God, through the inspiration of His Word, intends His people to be known as Christians (among other labels that He Himself gives, like believers, the Body, etc.)

What does it suggest when we decide that a Bible word no longer “works”? Should we do the same for sin-- why not just talk about “mistakes”? How about salvation-- should we call it “life-change”? Both of these have the same net effect as the rejection of “Christian” for “Christ-Follower”-- positively, they replace a term with a lot of history (and therefore a lot of baggage) with a more contemporary, less heavy-laden term; but negatively, they introduce ambiguity where the Bible word is clear.

Now, those who promote the “Christ-Follower” monicker will say that Jesus Himself appealed to the 12 Disciples with the call, “follow me”-- and that there is therefore good precedent for using that label. And that is true-- but Christ also called others with the same words, who did not answer the call. And I’m not one of those 12, and neither are you, and those guys fulfilled a very special and particular role in the early church, so we have to be careful of how much we extract from their experiences as normative for us today.

Besides, I’m not saying we shouldn’t consider ourselves followers of Christ-- not at all! My point is this: we aren’t merely “followers” in a sense that Christ is our great leader, and He will take us down the path we should go. If we have saving faith in Him, then our identity is much more than that-- we aren’t just followers of Christ, but are His adopted brothers, co-heirs, and are being re-made into His image. That’s why the label “Christian”-- which some have suggested literally translates as “little Christs”-- is fitting.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Truly Pro-Life... or just Anti-Abortion?

The murder of Dr. George Tiller over the weekend was an act of sin and a tragedy. Regardless of Dr. Tiller’s choices and actions-- regardless of his sins-- a single individual taking his life was the laying of claim to something that individual had no right to claim. In that lone act, the murderer completely undermined the very cause he is believed to have acted on behalf of (or at least attempted to): the Pro-Life Movement.

According to the Washington Post, the suspect, Scott Roeder, had alleged ties to the violent group Operation Rescue, admired the Army of God’s “Defensive Action Statement” and was, by all appearances, a ticking time-bomb for something like this to happen:

Fellow abortion opponents described Roeder as a foot soldier convinced that killing an abortion doctor is not a crime because it saves the lives of unborn children. In a 2007 Internet posting, a person identifying himself as "Scott Roeder" said Tiller is "the concentration camp 'Mengele' of our day and needs to be stopped."

If this sort of language doesn’t frighten you, I’m not sure what would. And if Dr. Tiller’s murder doesn’t appall you, then I would challenge you: is your “Pro-Life” position a matter of conviction, or one of convenience?

Christians have no grounds for taking such action; quite the contrary.
Albert Mohler stated it clearly and well:

In the case of Dr. George Tiller, the governing authorities failed again and again to fulfill their responsibility to protect all citizens, including those yet unborn. The law is dishonoring to God in its disrespect for human life. The law failed to bring George Tiller to account for what should have been seen as crimes against humanity. But this failure does not authorize others to act in the place of the government, much less in the place of God. The government must now act to prosecute and punish the murderer of Dr. George Tiller.

Misunderstanding what it really means to be “Pro-Life” leads us here, to this place, where those who claim to be acting on behalf of God and who coldly and confidently take the lives of others are regarded as the consistent ones.

Mr. Roeder claims to be acting on his Pro-Life convictions in murdering Dr. Tiller; yet, the leading Pro-Life organizations uniformly have denounced Mr. Roeder’s actions (ref:
American Life League, National Right to Life, Americans United for Life). Indeed, so are major leaders in the church, like Dr. Mohler.

And yet, the mainstream media concludes that this is damning evidence of our inconsistency:

[These denunciations] don't square with what these organizations purport to espouse: a strict moral equation between the unborn and the born. If a doctor in Kansas were butchering hundreds of old or disabled people, and legal authorities failed to intervene, I doubt most members of the National Right to Life Committee would stand by waiting for "educational and legislative activities" to stop him. Somebody would use force.The reason these pro-life groups have held their fire, both rhetorically and literally, is that they don't really equate fetuses with old or disabled people. They oppose abortion, as most of us do. But they don't treat abortionists the way they'd treat mass murderers of the old or disabled. And this self-restraint can't simply be chalked up to nonviolence or respect for the law. Look up the bills these organizations have written, pushed, or passed to restrict abortions. I challenge you to find a single bill that treats a woman who procures an abortion as a murderer. They don't even propose that she go to jail. [Slate magazine:]

The problem is that 99% of what comes out of the church as “Pro-Life” statements is really simply “Anti-Abortion” noise.
Most Christians don’t really know what it means to be Pro-Life in a consistent, worldview-driven way.

This is why
church-goers are more supportive of torture than non-church-goers.

This is why so many Christians who heard about Dr. Tiller’s murder released a sigh of relief instead of a groan of grief.

Beloved, we
MUST take up the reconsideration of what the idea of “LIFE” in our alleged “Pro-Life” position means. Ask yourself if being “Pro-Life” has anything to do with your views on any of the following topics:
  • Welfare
  • Government-supported healthcare for the poor
  • Infertility treatments
  • The death penalty
  • Care for unwed/teenage mothers
  • Domestic violence
  • War and peace
  • Care for the elderly
  • Use of contraception
  • Treatment of prisoners (domestic and foreign)
  • Pre-marital sex
  • Love and dignity for neighbor
  • Criminal justice
Like it or not, these are all of a piece-- your position on life, and not just the life of the unborn, is what dictates how you fall out on all of these. If you don’t know how your personal convictions about being Pro-Life speak to all of these, then you’re not being consistent.

Don’t feel too bad; very few Christians in our culture have even begun to think about this, let alone come to any conclusions. But when the conclusions come, it
almost always looks like something completely different from the actions taken by Scott Roeder. But think about what it would look like if much-- or even most-- of the church learned this sort of consistency? It would transform our culture.

Otherwise, we’re stuck with what we have today. And that’s a sad state of affairs.

More on Tiller, Roeder, and this issue:

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sermon texts for June 2009

June 7 Luke 17:1-19 -- Standing firm in the faith
June 14 Luke 17:20-37 -- Your Kingdom come...
June 21 Luke 18:1-17 -- Prayerful faith, faithful prayers (Guest Preacher: Doug Barcroft)
June 28 Luke 18:18-34 -- Learning to Repent

Bits and Tidbits, early June 2009